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Guided by Gaia PDF Print E-mail
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by Jan Lundberg   
05 April 2012
ImageWhen I first heard of the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1990s, as formulated by chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis, I was skeptical but respectful of the idea.  I didn't rule it out.  But neither did I feel confident that the Earth is a living single organism.  Perhaps I was too caught up in scientific reductionism, and needed to have proof -- such as to sit down with Gaia herself.  So I took note of the notion and kept on trying to save and heal Earth.  

About this time, one small deliberate act regardless of the Gaia Hypothesis was that I stopped putting the article "the" in front of Earth, so as to use Earth as a name, or her name.  Is it unscientific or childish for our home planet to have a personal-type name?  If so, we probably need to be less "scientific" and more childish.  Do you remember your child-wonder when you were very young and noticed the trees' sound in the wind?  I thought they were talking to me. Many years later I remembered this after forgetting it.

As an environmental activist most of my adult life, I have loved nature as I always had. But I could relate to being sufficiently unaware of threats to nature's health so as to find it easy to keep consuming products, burning fuel, wasting packaging, etc.   Being one to care for and about Nature (capitalizing is my preference), I had always hated smog and exposure to pesticides, both of which I endured. From that stance I became a full-time environmental activist, so I was looking for any way to understand and overcome modern society's callous, short-sighted treatment of the planet's species and resources.  

I increasingly found I could relate to Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and also (somewhat separately) the infinite universe.  But my cultural conditioning, including being raised by atheist parents, and acquiring spiritual understanding catch-as-catch-can, kept the Earth's problems and ecological laws a somewhat disjointed (but beautiful) ball of wax for this student of Nature.

Activists commonly follow science with a deference to solid research, consensus and confirmation by the peer review process.  They need to do this to be convincing and appeal to rational citizens. There are some activists (and many more citizens, per capita) who are not so cerebral, but they are better at using their intuition and heart to decide where to put their shoulder to the wheel.  So the Gaia Hypothesis was a synthesis of the two varieties of activists and citizens, the cerebral or rational and those feeling through their hearts.  All very nice, but so what?  We had to simply get on with the job of protecting Earth and educating people so that they might appreciate Nature. Then they might act in their own self-interest for sustainability instead of short-term material gain, immediate self-gratification, or frivolity -- assuming they've got survival covered.

As an adventurous activist learning about science and society, particularly about natural systems and energy, I had let go of my life-long privilege and material security in order to find my path.  I knew from my previous business career of helping Big Oil and government that one needed training, professionalism, connections and do hard work to keep current and stay in business.  I figured that the same requirements would apply to creating a successful nonprofit institute, where I intended to establish a clearinghouse for energy information and policy with a conservation orientation.  

What I found was that there was little funding for the naked truth about oil, energy alternatives, population size, and ecological health.  So for years I just managed to keep our small group viable, with the help of many colleagues, volunteers, supporters and readers.  As the next phase of lowered funding took hold -- a consequence of both 9-11's effect on environmental funding and of family difficulties involving my old oil information firm -- I managed to get by somehow.  This served, unexpectedly, to connect me to Nature in a deeper way.

Years passed as I coped with a scaled-back standard of living, managing creatively to keep up my work despite needing to rely on the kindness of contacts, acquaintances and friends (not so much on family, which suffered from lack of unity and reduced resources). I started to notice that there was a kind of invisible safety net for me personally.  No matter what my changing situation was, involving very low income, uncertain but safe housing, having a laptop donated to me, meeting new friends and supporters, being recognized for my work, etc., I seemed to be rescued or aided by many an unexpected act.  For example, my funds might get down to $20 which which to buy food, postage stamps, and a subway ride.  I worried how a bill due at the end of the week would be paid, so that our internet connection, for example, would stay on.  But somehow it always worked out, day after day, weeks, months and years.  I started to observe to friends, "I'm surfing my cosmic wave and haven't wiped out yet."  After a few years of feeling this clearly, I began to integrate in my mind the sense of the universe and Nature as one, a sort of kind Earthly being. 

Hi! My name is Gaia or Pachamama or...

Gaia's appreciation?

I had already suspected years before that things often "happened for a reason," as if we each needed to get somewhere in our lives. But as this seemed to intensify, I was having more than my share of good luck.  Could Gaia -- assuming you believe she exists and that the globe we live on is not just a symbiotic jumble of beings, rocks, H2O, etc. -- be looking out for me?  Another question coming to me, more frequently, was whether the Universe (Gaia) was deliberately helping me keep up my work and lifestyle instead of letting me starve or, as Bob Dylan sang in Stuck Inside of Mobile, be "caught without a ticket and be discovered beneath a truck"?  I had to help myself by fostering good health and making new friends, and keeping alert, while listening to my intuition.  

But could it even be something more: that Gaia appreciates my efforts for her and is rewarding me?  Perhaps, but if so I definitely receive what Gaia thinks or knows I need, not what I may want.  I have some unmet needs, I often think, but at other times I marvel at my good fortune on a path I chose. Partly, doing what I believe in and want to do keeps life interesting and fun. As Goethe said, "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

Healing Gaia and ourselves -- one and the same

I have been a healer for most of my life.  (My main method is fasting, just water, for detoxification which raises immunity, rejuvenates, and produces greater happiness; a total, open-ended rest from modern stress is required.)  This probably has made it easy for me to think in terms of healing our Earth and healing humanity -- rather than only healing an individual.  As we know, a family needs to heal sometimes, as does a village.  I feel that Gaia wants to heal and be healed.  The Universe is kind, or else we would not be here.  Our species might, at this rate, fall by the wayside in evolution's story, and go extinct; it would be part of evolution that governs all life forms.  But if we do derail our species' longevity, we might not just thus "do Gaia a favor" and be "shaken off like a parasite or fever," but rather tip the favorable conditions for life on our special planet towards unprecedented mass extinction.  If we tip climate change over to the Venus-variety runaway greenhouse effect, does Gaia die?

Back to my own story, as to how I came to be "guided by Gaia":  after about six years of minimal nonprofit support that somehow did allow me to keep up, participate in fighting the plastic plague, offer eco-songs, get across my petrocollapse message to key audiences, and raise the profile of Sail Transport Network, some significant funding materialized a few years ago.  This allowed for a stronger effort to get the message out, work more closely with an expanding network of activists, and publish my autobiographical book Songs of Petroleum.  But the better funding, as helpful as it was to be able to travel further and more often, for example, did not raise by much the basic public presence of Culture Change and its projects.  And perhaps most relevant, for this essay's discussion, is that having significant money has always had little to do with how I happen to be feeling or how I am able to flow with the life force that I am a part of. I usually feel wonderful without money, without knowing where the next chunk may come from. My feeling that I am some kind of a "spiritual warrior" has increased over the last couple of decades. Yet, as Earth's life support systems start to ring alarm bells there is never any real peace.

Earth Mother figurine, 6,000 years old, found in France

In 2007 I had a dream wherein a female singer made clear, with joyous harmony and sweetness, that Earth could be healed if all the people sang together at once.  I awoke extremely happy, and before the dream wore off I noted the song and some lyrics.  This experience was powerful, and made me consider the strange possibility of an unproven, simple and magical cure for Gaia's and humanity's plight.  Irrational! Unscientific! Whatever; I have since had a strong sense of Gaia's being feminine, loving and benign.

But Gaia, or Mother Earth, or Pachamama (in the Andes), can be said to be undergoing rape, and screaming in pain or to get our attention.  My feeling this strongly a few days ago was confirmed in a new national interview with an activist/healer, Julia Butterfly, who taught quite a few people about the power of a tree over a decade ago:

"Nature is always communicating with us, but we've forgotten how to listen.  I think that's why there are more and more natural disasters -- more severe tsunamis and earthquakes and storms and fires.  All these disasters are nature talking louder and louder and louder, trying to get our attention."
 - Julia Butterfly Hill, The Sun, April 2012, interviewed by Leslee Goodman
Julia lived just over two years in a 1,000 year old redwood.  I knew from listening to her on the radio and talking on the telephone with her that she had a deep, rich connection to her special environment -- that of a huge ancient tree.  She felt its protection, and somehow did not die from her physical vulnerability high in the branches.  Pacific Lumber Company had tried to dislodge her, and thus kill her, by buzzing her with helicopters. (Oh, the privileges of private corporate property.) I had to allow that the tree-being and Julia were in a kind of constant communication of mutual respect.  The other thing I learned from Julia's experience was that we can "evolve in reverse" -- I saw a picture of her using her clasped foot as a monkey would, so as to hold onto branches all the more safely.  Living barefoot while using her muscles and her whole body on only the tree's terms had a physical effect.  I believe Julia when she says the tree, Luna, taught her a lot in addition to protecting her.

Julia's first national publication cover-presence / Charley Custer

I've always been a rational person, making fun of superstition and belief in the paranormal. I took pride in not bothering, until fairly recently, with "being in touch with myself."  I later made less fun of any hard-to-confirm beliefs, however, after a couple of paranormal experiences and interesting revelations that I had in meditation.  Yet I am ever more science-oriented than I was.  Evidence and empiricism are everything.  Understandably, when some facts or experiences don't fit with others' experience or their approved academic teachings, the label "unscientific" or "religious" may be dished out.  After all, just because a set of facts or events suggest a particular explanation or source, this does not mean there is no other reason or source for the facts or events.  "Luck" is what one scientist (engineering) wanted to apply to my experiences and feelings about Gaia.  Yet, was he himself being truly scientific when preferring to write it all off as "luck"?  

Feeling more at one with the Universe and Earth is a healthy idea for everyone, I suggest, because it promotes a peaceful and non-isolating attitude and philosophy.  If we go further and choose to honor the Mother Earth Goddess, as our foremothers and forefathers did for uncounted millennia before sky-god religions took over, we may feel better about ourselves.  This can both turn off those of a more "rational" or monotheistic sky-god orientation, while attracting others: like-minded spiritual people (some "pagans") who become friends and perhaps join in a kind of tribe.  Whatever the absolute truth of the Universe and its/her mysteries, if we could ever really know the whole, absolute truth, it would appear to be in our interest to align ourselves with Earth's fortunes and fate in any constructive way we might choose.  And who knows, maybe more visions of Gaia, or deference and reverence to her will, could then become so common to become universal.  We may then have almost completed a big circle of thousands of years, and are about to regain our lost way.  

Can it be bad to be guided by Gaia, or to imagine this for more than a moment?  It doesn't have to be intolerant of Christianity, Judeaism or Islam, but to coexist it would helpful if those religions' adherents maximized their Earth-stewardship aspects so as to be in partial accord, at least, with Gaia "worship."  The coexistence of the Catholic Church superstructure over the ancient indigenous Pachamama worship that prevails today in Andean countries may be a model worth studying. From a scientific standpoint, though, it would be wise not to emulate it if the Church continues to discourage birth control and prevent any abortions.

Gaia, or God, if you will, may love us. But on a finite planet that must be shared with all life, there can be too much of a good thing. That's us: humanity.

* * * * *

Further reading and listening:

Lovelock, James (1995). The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-31239-9

Singing the Earth into Harmony, Depaver Jan

Hill, Julia Butterfly (2000). The Legacy of Luna. HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-251658-2

Comments (6)Add Comment
thanks for the article. . . my sentiments as well. And we are not above the earth. We cannot continue to pollute and plunder.
William Burns
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I wrote in the Acknowledgments section of my book Songs of Petroleum, after thanking friends and family, of my gratitude for "My friend known as The Universe. I’ll explain: I have had the feeling many, many times that I have enjoyed a kind of fortuitous, unaccountable luck that has enabled me to keep going somehow, in good health, even in the face of having no money on more than one occasion. It is this 'surfing my cosmic wave,' and not wiping out, that has something to do with my ability to get through thousands of days and nights without the privileges and advantages I once knew from merely the accident of birth."
Jan L
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thanks for all you do/ne!

A-agreed: we are the walking-talking child of this beloved-living-breathing-holy-mother-HOME-planet by whatever name one wishes to call her; gaia, pachamama, tonantzin, hou tu, bhuma devi, geb, urantia,et al..

B-as a plant-planet-lover and gardener-farmer-forager of 55 years here are a couple of simple-simplistic 'observations' (!) that may help bring clarity and coherence to this 'subject:

1)'OIKOS'(ecos): the home, the hearth, the heart, the home life.
ecology: (ecos-logia) the design and order of the home life.
economy: (ecos-nomia) the care and management of the home life.
ecosophy: (ecos-sophia) the love-wisdom-power of the home life.

2) the water flowing thru the landscape is the life-blood of the community; whatever the species.

3) the only invasive-noxious-species on the planet is the human mind which has not surrendered to the heart!

4) over-population is not the problem and abortion-murder is not a solution! there are miles and miles and miles of uninhabited-habitable parts of our planet which are misused, unused, neglected and 'legally-unavailable' to one-and-all which can sustain the present and any future population.

5) it is a question of consciousness and distribution. if we shared, there would be no lack or want. decentralize-relocalize-back-to-the-land city-neighborhood-villages.

6)"HOW MUCH OF WHAT DO WE HAVE WHERE FOR HOW MANY FOR HOW LONG?!"---'the new accounting' per buckminster fuller is also 'the old accounting'. willingly and/or unwillingly we are 'walking-backwards into the future'.


much love
many blessing.
paz (friend of urban forager rebecca lerner)
paz que
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For Paz, I agree with you up to your 4) and 5) Yes, distribution and misuse are major issues, but the forager population of the world did not reach 100 million prior to agriculture which, as practiced over the past 10,000 years or so, has mostly impoverished Nature.
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Hi Jan, I think I know the feelings you describe, of being guided, spoken to, helped along, and supported in relationship with our kind and loving Mother Earth. For a long time I have felt supported by Gaia as long as I follow her 'orders' - the activities and directions that I intuit are in alignment with the benefit of ALL beings, the Ecosphere herself. It does seem to be a two-way, reciprocal relationship: I get helped as long as I'm on track. Some people experience this as a relationship with "God," but I find the relationship is vastly enriched by the fact that Gaia can speak through so many of her creations - the other species! The animals, plants, trees, wind, clouds, etc., can all be messengers if one is paying attention and listening. Of course, the First Nations of North America have described this relationship very eloquently, and we white folks are slowly learning to see beyond our alienating Western conditioning that has separated us from the rest of the Gaian family.

But the hour is indeed getting late for both Gaia and ourselves. It is agonizing to keep our fingers on the pulse of the planet as conditions deteriorate. And, for those of us who know we agreed to be here doing this work at this crucial time for our species and for Gaia, there is truly no way out. We can't distract ourselves with the trivia that occupies the attention of 'consumers.' In some ways, being conscious at this time is like being crucified, nailed to the cross of duality, unable to be either hopeful or despairing, optimistic or pessimistic, just being present and aware and feeling it all with a full heart. (I use the image of the cross in the Celtic sense, not the Christian.) It's good to know there are others who are awake and seeing and feeling the moment in a similar way. Thanks, Jan.
Suzanne Duarte
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for jan, and anyone else who thinks or feels 'it is too late' or 'there is no way out': do you have a garden and share food? do you save and share seeds? join the new millions who see and are now gardening-farming-foraging, and you will not think of feel there is no way out. there is no issue, it is a fact. do not worry. we have past the turning-tipping point. it happened in 1986. and manifested in october 2011
the 99% have been activated world wide; and are taking whatever local action is neccesary. we are taking this planet back en-mass: one place, one plant, one person at a time. once again, if you walk, bike, hitch-hike, bus or train across the americas(canada, usa, central america, south america) there are MILLIONS OF ACRES of inhabitable land that can support MILLIONS! the same is true on all of the continents!
more later. much love many blessings keep up the good work.
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