It is clear that to truly address the climate crisis, we must look to our relationship with the rest of the natural world. That relationship is in desperate need of conscious, deep healing.
As recognized in this compelling article from the World Economic Forum: “Alongside the technological revolution, we need an equally unprecedented cultural revolution in the way we connect with the planet.” We must renavigate that most fundamental of relationships and realign with this foundational truth: we are deeply connected with all living beings in an intricate web of interbeing.
The importance of the question we ask
And to set ourselves on the correct course in the critical work of healing our relationship with nature, we must begin by questioning our motivation for the work itself. If we are motivated solely by the desire to save humanity, then we still operate from within the mindset that got us into this mess in the first place. We are placing human needs above the rest of nature.
The question we must ask is not one of which relationship will best serve our needs, as humans, but what relationship will be most healing for the natural world as a whole, restoring balance and returning humans to their rightful place within a complex, dynamic system. We must acknowledge that we have been deeply mistaken in forming a society and way of life propelled by the belief that humans are in control of the rest of the natural world. We must approach the healing of our relationship with nature with humility, ready to learn from nature and ready to step down from our throne as kings of the earth, a position we never truly occupied to begin with.
An ecologically-drive worldview grounded in respect
When framed thus, the question of best relationship leads us to an ecologically-driven worldview in which we appreciate – at an experiential level – the truth that the natural world does not exist only to meet human needs and, worse still, human wants. We understand that we are dependent on the natural world and the many interwoven systems within and that those systems depend on an intricate balance in order to thrive. We understand that if we take too much or produce too much waste or ask too much of the natural world in any way, we throw those systems out of balance and the repercussions extend far into the future in ways that threaten our existence and the existence of many.
Within this worldview, we experience our interconnection with the rest of the natural world from a place of respect. We appreciate the many ways in which the natural world nourishes us – providing us with food, shelter, companionship and beauty. We recognize that, to the natural world as a whole, we are a small ripple in a vast pond. We have an impact and must be cognizant of that impact and, ultimately, the pond will continue, with or without our presence.
Lives grounded in this worldview are driven by respect for the chains of interbeing that connect us with all living things in intricate systems of reciprocity. These are lives in which needs are distinguished from wants and placed in the larger context of what is needed for the living world, at large, to thrive.
In particular, we must resume a relationship of profound connection to the immediate natural place in which we live. Understanding all the many ways in which we are connected with living beings across the entire world is a large undertaking for anyone in one lifetime. However, if we were to begin with the natural world immediately around us, the impact would still be great.
An understanding as old as human life
This ecologically-driven worldview is not new to humankind. In fact, for most of our existence on this planet, this was how we understood the world. This understanding drove how we lived our lives. And today, this way of living in relationship with the rest of the natural world is still alive and well in many indigenous cultures. A deep understanding of our interbeing with all living things informs every aspect of indigenous life, from spirituality to how food is gathered and prepared to how decisions are made.
As we look to both our own roots in nature-based cultures and to indigenous cultures today for guidance, however, it is very important to proceed with full acknowledgement of the incredible complications involved in the process. For centuries, these cultures have been exploited through colonization. As the colonizing societies pivot and recognize the importance of the knowledge and practices of indigenous culture, it is very understandable if native people are wary of sharing that knowledge and those practices. We must proceed in a manner that honors the centuries of exploitation and mindfully and humbly charts a new path forward. Colonizing societies have exploited nature and nature-based cultures. We have a lot of work to do to show that we will respectfully hold the essential teachings of both.
At the same time, we must remember the fundamental truth that an ecologically-driven worldview is the birthright of all living things, informed, as it is, by guiding principles available to anyone who takes the time and has the humility to notice these self-evident truths about how the living world works. And take the time we must. For ourselves, for our children and – importantly – for all the generations of all living beings to come, we must pause and reconnect to the truth of our interbeing and realign our lives to its teachings and rhythm.
The work, then, is to get outdoors, to open our senses, and to immerse ourselves in the study of nature, ideally experientially. We must set aside our egos and relearn our place, allowing the natural world to teach us about how we can take what we must to survive while contributing to the thriving of nature as a whole. I don’t mean this in a purely romantic sense. The process is complicated. In addition to observing the natural world around us, we must also reclaim a profound degree of self-awareness. We must learn not just from the rest of the natural world, but from our intersection with that world. It’s a tall task, but the lessons are there, unfolding every single day. We just need to show up to school.