William Prescott has for many years been helping people throughout the country expand their sense of planetary awareness and connect with graceful forms of planetary service. He currently lives in Seattle.
THIS IS SUCH A CRUCIAL TIME in the life of the earth that the cognitive models we use now – the stories we tell each other – can make a greater difference in the actions we take than at any other time in human history. The choice between ecological devastation or an earth that moves to an entirely different level of unparalleled beauty, order, and realization is largely up to us. And so we need models and ways of thinking that will encourage us to do what has never been done before, since obviously nothing less than a radical shift in humanity’s relationship with the planet will be adequate.
There is no lack of available ideas, but the crucial ideas seem to me to be fewer in number. They are, first of all, Creation Spirituality, which reconciles spirituality and physics. Second is General Systems Theory, which allows us to see in terms of wholes and the interaction of wholes as opposed to seeing the world as an assemblage of fragments. Third is the Gaia Hypothesis, which demonstrates that the whole earth operates as if it were a living organism. Fourth is the approach of Deep Ecology, which shows us the physical realities of global interconnectedness. Fifth is the work of Ilya Prigogine on dissipative structures, which implies that most large systems are open systems, interconnected with each other, inherently unstable, and therefore necessarily given to change. And finally comes the visionary philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, which are among the seminal works of this century, and which outline the entire sweep of cosmic, planetary, and human evolution. They also indicate that the burden for the fulfillment of evolution now lies in humanity’s hands, and that the press of evolution toward that fulfillment will push humanity to a higher state of being and consciousness.
Yet, as intellectually inspiring and useful as these are, if they only touch our minds we will still be missing that which we most need. What good is understanding our cosmic heritage or the nature of change if we do not feel a deep sense of personal connection to the evolutionary process, and through that develop – not just individually but as a species – a pervasive common sense of purpose?
How do we awaken this awareness? How do we move from the immaturity of thinking our lives are about us, to the maturity of knowing and enacting our evolutionary role in the life of the earth? How do we move from thinking about the earth as if we were separate from it, to thinking as the earth, as the eyes, ears, heart, and mind of the living earth? We are talking about a change so unprecedented that we have only the onrush of evolution and the imagined reflections of the future to guide us. Where do we turn?
It seems to me that we must turn to the nature of evolution itself. If we are the result of evolution, then it is by only riding the essential force that has carried us this far that we will truly move forward. And not surprisingly, the essence of evolution is love. I say love because that is our poor human word for that which the greatest spiritual heroes of human history have always reported to be the primary force in the universe. By love I mean something more than the allurement that is the metaphysical equivalent of gravity. I mean the force that not only sustains everything everywhere, but which also uplifts everything, and draws every thing toward higher and higher expressions of itself, purer and purer articulations of itself, until finally the forms and process of evolution are consummated in the highest essence of evolution. From this perspective, the general push of evolution is not nearly as strong as the pull of love toward evolutionary culmination. We are drawn into the future by a force more attractive, more powerful, than any gravity imaginable.
The secret, then, is to follow the impulse of love. For what is evolution itself but love’s embrace of the entire cosmos? The purest impulse of love is to literally embrace everything, and by the purity and unqualified intensity of that embrace draw everything into a higher state of being. And so the movement from thinking about the planet to thinking as the planet can only take place by means of a profound and heartfelt embrace of all things in one’s perceptual field, an embrace so deep that the individual loses the usual sense of separation and begins to merge emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with that which is embraced. This is the very force of evolution bearing us naturally toward higher expressions of itself. It is an embrace that gradually extends itself to the whole world at once, a merging which finally becomes so complete that you begin to sense the whole earth looking through your eyes, thinking with your mind, and feeling with your heart.
How can you do this? The methods that I teach are mostly progressive series of meditative techniques for working with the planet. Unfortunately they are hard to describe in an article like this, but they are, after all, only inventions, and any sincerely dedicated individual can find his or her way toward planetary consciousness by following the impulse of love and surrendering to the force and direction of evolution. I can, however, recommend a few methods that may prove helpful.
As often as possible consider the effects of your life on the ecosphere – I mean this to be an ongoing sort of mental practice. At all times and in all situations consider the effect of all of your actions on the ecology of the planet. Even go so far as to consider the effects of all your thoughts on the mental ecology of the planet, and all your emotions on the emotional ecology of the planet.
If you do this sincerely, even for a few minutes, you will probably go a little bit crazy. Or you may find yourself being overwhelmed, dislocated, aghast, anxious, etcetera. That’s fine. That means you have been temporarily dislodged from our usual chauvinist, homocentric orientation. Now the real work can begin. As soon as you find yourself overwhelmed at the enormity of interconnectedness and our responsibility toward that interconnectedness – and before you have a chance to get deeply reactive (reactiveness usually appears as a desperate desire to fix it all now) or to simply shut down – do whatever you can to become the planet and look at it from the planet’s point of view. The method I recommend for "becoming the planet" is as I have mentioned above: embrace the world so fully that you become the heart and mind and eyes of the living earth. Don’t just merely imagine yourself to be the earth, but rather extend yourself out in your awareness until you encompass the globe; open your heart more and more until it becomes one with the whole earth. (If this seems daunting to you, let me point out that this is part of what we are made for. The very fact that we are each individually capable of psychological and spiritual growth indicates that we have the kind of internal make-up and "circuitry" necessary for this kind of cognitive change, and more. It is only unusual because it is not yet common.)
Once you have "become the planet" to whatever degree that you do, try looking at the same issue or issues that had previously been so overwhelming to you, but now from the planet’s point of view. Then if you find yourself drawn to change what effect you are having on the world, you will be acting based on what the planet perceives to be best rather than on what you perceive to be best for the planet. You will have moved from human value about the planet to true planetary values. Let me caution, however, that this process must be done sincerely. A superficial attempt will produce a superficial result.
An alternative method is to keep an "earth diary" and note in it all the major ways you have affected the planet on a given day and what they look like from your point of view. Then, in the evening, perhaps as part of some meditative discipline, embrace the earth and look at the same ways you affected the planet from the planet’s point of view. Then change things based on what the planet seeks, rather than basing your actions on your evaluations.
There are, of course, deepening degrees of awareness that come from this approach to planetary consciousness, just as there are deeper degrees of embrace, and deeper lessons that emerge from that embrace. For those who continue this practice, many will radically change who they are and what they are doing. People are often attracted to changes that are in line with the principles of Voluntary Simplicity, Deep Ecology, Bioregionalism, and so on, but their reasons for being attracted to these changes are quite different from the desperate, reactionary – and even self-righteous – flavor of many quite goodhearted people who sincerely love the earth and are truly trying to help, but from a human perspective.
I think the reason for this is that most kinds of fearful or desperate reactions to the multi-leveled crises of the ecosphere come out of separation from the earth. The empathy that many people feel with the earth’s "pain," and the attendant emotional reaction to that "pain," is almost always a matter of human projection. The earth does not feel moral outrage. People do. Viewed from the point of view of the planet, that "pain" is a lesson and a challenge. It is certainly not an excuse for rejecting most of human endeavor and opting for having as little possible impact on ecological systems as possible.
A good example of this has to do with transportation. Any ecologically aware person decries the current expensive and toxic use of fossil fuels in most forms of individual and mass transportation. Many people try to avoid using that kind of transportation as much as possible. It is a moral issue to them. But, from the planet’s point of view, it is more important to develop alternate means of transportation (even if that development process uses fossil fuels along the way) than it is to take a moral stand not to take planes or use cars. (By the way, it does seem to me that it is a good idea for us to be able to transport ourselves easily, from the planet’s point of view.) This is not to say that there is no value in the example of a moral stand, but that we so often get caught up in the quest for personal moral purity, that we forget to do the smartest thing from the planet’s point of view.
Another example of the conflict between planetary values and human values about the planet can be seen in the conflict between proponents of ecological preservation and proponents of ecosystem management. The first group wants to reduce human impacts on the Earth to a bare minimum and let the Earth take care of itself, while the second wants to totally "domesticate" the natural world for human purposes. Both of these implicitly treat humans as separate from, other than, the Earth. But these aren’t the only options. It seems to me that from the planet’s point of view, high level forms of planetary management will be desirable when humanity becomes the self-reflective conscious mind of the planet. Humanity will then necessarily serve as one of the self-regulatory mechanisms of the planet. This will be management, and will almost undoubtedly involve many forms of technology. But it will not be humans managing the planet. Certainly that would be disastrous. It will be the planet managing the planet, and will be possible because humankind has come to fulfill part of its evolutionary function in the life of the earth.
My point in this example is that it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water, not to dismiss all notions of large-scale ecological management as inherently evil merely because all previous attempts at that have been deeply misguided. It will be much more difficult for humanity to rise up and live out the true meaning of its destiny in the life of the earth if the ideas that we champion as individuals committed to change discourage the prospect of true globalism, simply because we don’t see how it can be easily pulled off. Thus we limit our vision to applying second-rate ideas that do seem possible in reaction to bad ideas that are obviously not feasible.
This is only one of the major global issues that we face. Clearly, as long as we face these issues from the point of view of human values we will never transcend human values and the conflicts between those values. A radically different approach is needed for us to work with these issues in a truly new way, a way that is synergistic with the life and evolution of the planet.
How wonderful it would be if the great discussion about our relationship with the earth, which is taking place in so many forms throughout the world, could begin to take place from the planet’s point of view. How wonderful, and how different. The view is so much broader there, the interaction of patterns so much clearer. And even though there would be disagreements – for the planet thinks somewhat differently through different minds – we would have moved so much closer to what evolution intends for us that the discussion would be totally different: the earth discussing the earth.
My friends and students who have used the methods outlined above generally report that they are able to think about and take on more and larger issues, whereas before they had been unaware or overwhelmed or angry or deadened. And as they take on more, the question ceases to be "What am I going to do about these dilemmas?" and becomes "What can the planet best do through me?" With this shift also comes the unusual sensation of the whole earth as being one’s own body, of somehow being able to sense and feel the whole earth in the same way you can sense your own body. This seems to me to be what’s in store for us all. So why not start now?
The first step is a matter of love. The first step is to open your heart and to embrace the whole earth so purely and intensely that you become one with it. This beginning is best described in a poem by Miriam Dyak (© 1985):
The directions are very simple:
Become the Earth’s heart,
As if you could swallow it
and let your lungs pump the force
that so effortlessly shoots
fire through crystals oaks warblers
into a thousand simmering layers of song.
And now that you are the Earth’s heart
let all the love that has burned like a secret engine
that has kept watch like a bride in the tower
while time grew up impenetrable and thorny all
let it in blinding purity rise spiralling to the sun.
This assumes you know what love is –
like a single cell suddenly knowing what blood is
and rushing with true joy to the heart.