Editorial Note: I do not share the optimism with which Zhiwa ends this article, but I wholeheartedly support awakening Gaia whenever and wherever we can.
I approached the winter solstice this year feverish and aching from head to toe, a nasty virus attacking my biome, while at the same time trying to give attentive care to my 91-year-old mother. My mother is afflicted with vascular dementia — over a decade now of tiny neural bombs going off in her brain, leaving a darkness in their wake that shows up in MRIs as ink blots splattered across her brainscape, These neural clearcuts have the cognitive effect of inducing a constant state of dissociation from reality.
It is very hard caring for your mother when you are feeling sorry for yourself and not exactly full of life. In spite of my long-time, committed dharma practice, I am really bad at being sick. The thought occurred to me in the feverish acheyness of this most recent affliction that if life was like this all the time, I’d choose death.
Naturally, I couldn’t help but see my high holy day situation as a microcosmic experience of our climate crisis. Feeling, caring, heart-centered human beings everywhere feel afflicted by our mother’s condition now. Her fever is at a pitch, and her organs are starting to shut down. We who still feel connected with the natural world, who still exhibit human nature, are cursed by the knowledge that she is our responsibility, because we feel powerless to act in salutary ways.
Emerging from the deep darkness of this longest night, alive in this day and age when the forces of darkness are at their height of power, with whole nations ruled by corporate-fueled, demented autocrats determined, in direct response to her plaintive wails, to intensify the plunder of our Mother’s life sources, I now find myself bathing in the global unnaturalness of a sunny, warm Chicago December day, convalescing in the flight path of one of the world’s busiest airports, while the Land Down Under goes up in flames, and the Amazon burns in a global funeral pyre upon which the ashes of executed Indigenous activists are spread, their great sin to advocate for Gaia’s right to life.
And that is what it comes down to now for all of us collectively and for each one of us individually. The great struggle for Gaia’s life. And we humans, as is our nature, will only fight and make sacrifices for the ones we love. That is the way we are wired. All the humans in the world who love life, who love nature, in touch with their own human nature and its divine, umbilical connection to the natural world, are in varied stages of awakening with the searing awareness of Gaia’s trauma.
We are called to defend our Mother. Against all of her aggressors and transgressors.
One of the cruelest things a human being can do, something that everyone agrees is a war crime, and a crime against nature as well, is to assault, strip, and rape a mother before her children’s disbelieving, traumatized eyes. And yet that is precisely what the racist megalomaniac Donald Trump, the fascist clown Bolsonoro, and the Anglo-Saxon man-children Boris and Morrison — the collective Id of our colonized world on steroids — are doing to those of us who are awake, aware and connected to Mother Earth.
This is Climate Trauma.
Just as with the example of a mother’s rape, Her trauma is our trauma. We inhabit a climate of trauma, which corporate sponsors try to soft-peddle as “warming” or “change.” It is biospheric trauma. An existential threat comparable to slow-moving nuclear missiles filling the night sky, causing us to doubt the advent of a new day.
But I wonder if we in our traumatized state, and with a lifetime of conditioning as victims in an increasingly hostile world, have not actually mistaken who the true victim is here?
Whose trauma is this, really?
Since participating recently in the first ever on-line collective trauma summit, breaking taboos with over 50,000 global citizens around the world, and having participated from afar with Extinction Rebellion UK for most of the past year as well, I’ve recently awoken to the critical importance of really coming into proper relation with Mother Earth — with our language and actions — if we are to successfully shape-shift the global zeitgeist by which we remain enslaved to the forces of darkness. Oil and coal. Poisoned waters. Dying oceans. T.S. Eliot’s nightmarish blight on the land.
The ideas of rebellion and revolution are naturally attractive. But as MLK and Ghandi, Jesus and Buddha all foretold, only the combined force of our great love can effectively counter the imposing and intimidating forces of darkness aligned against us and armed to the teeth. On this the winter’s solstice, we are asked to remember that darkness is no other than the absence of light. And only light dispels the darkness.
We are the light-keepers.
They have weapons and propaganda on their side. We have ideas and moral goodness on our side. We face them now across the abyss of an Armageddon they have willed into being. And there is no escape route, no way around them.
And so it becomes imperative that we be crystal clear concerning just what the object of our love is. This is the lesson of Standing Rock, which gave rise to AOC, the Sunrise Movement, and a tidal force of Indigenous voices united in their wisdom. As our Indigenous leaders have shown us by their courageous actions, we are Protectors. That is all.
And our Mother’s Life is at stake. We will make no compromise in defense of Mother Earth.
Because she is alive, after all. Every scientific discipline agrees on this point. Just as there is consensus across all scientific disciplines that the world is on fire with climate change, so there is agreement that Gaia is a living, breathing, self-regulating organism. We have yet to come to grips with the implications of that new science.
In bearing this message across the waters to Extinction Rebellion, and voicing it as well in the nascent collective trauma community, I’ve begun to notice that there are some kinds of taboos here that I am implicitly violating. Taboos that prevent us from expressing in public, or even in conversation with each other, our deep and abiding love for our life source.
And yet what other banner unites us with more compelling force than the fierce love of our Great Mother, the source of all life? Indigenous wisdom has always seen Her for who She is, because of their unbroken connection to all of life.
With the ripening of science since the quantum revolution, and the interconnected, interdependent world view that is still emerging as a result, triggered by the catalyst of seeing our home from space, rising over the moon’s barren horizon, and the ‘pale, blue dot’ as seen from Saturn’s rings, we know in our hearts that She is a living organism. We even have time-lapse videos of her rhythmically breathing. And those of us who are awakening to Her forgiving embrace, those who feel Her deep and abiding love, intuit and understand the plunder and plight of planet Earth as our own personal psycho-physical distress, our shared spiritual pain.
And the implications are staggering to us!
Because we are entangled in the very means of her asphyxiation with poisoned gases, we are collectively contributing to the spontaneous combustion of her magical lungs. It is none other than we who have filled her oceanic womb with plastic waste from our throwaway consumer societies.
Yes I know there are those desperate to absolve the lunatics in this capitalist asylum by singling out the architects for ultimate blame. To me, unless you happen to be Indigenous and still living immersed in nature, that amounts to a rather convenient form of denialism. I’ve actually seen the authors of this blame game using twitter to express their self-righteous outrage at the 100 or so corporations singled out for blame.
Hello? What was it that Jesus said as the crowd was about to stone the adulteress to death?
I am someone who owns no autos, eats no meats, takes trains not planes, and lives in a tiny house. But I’m not casting that first stone. I believe in the politics of collective responsibility, and am thus desperately counting on, and contributing to, a Blue Tsunami general election in 2020, when America finally Awakens to the Extinction Rebellion that is afoot in the world. As Leonard Cohen liked to croon, “Democracy is coming — to the U.S.A.”
The inconvenient truths that come with accepting Gaia as a living being are difficult to bear. We are letting our Mother down! And I realize that in an ego-driven culture it is uncomfortable to speak in eco-driven ways of our love and responsibility for Gaia, our Mother and the Mother of All Our Relations. As a male baby-boomer raised here in Chicago, I realize especially how difficult it is for men in our culture to express love openly, let alone to advocate for it’s expression! We are conditioned instead to express violence (the National Anthem?) and trauma (silent cowboys). We are conditioned to advocate for competition and overthrow, not protection and humble submission.
But now is the time to come together collectively for protection and submission, not to further divide ourselves from like-hearted others with anger and division. And to do this, in turn, we are simply called to the truth of our predicament.
Gaia is real. And if it is true now, as many countries are recognizing, that nature has rights – including rivers and monkeys – then what, pray tell, are the rights of Gaia?!
That is the kind of necessary implication that has the great potential to unite us all under one banner, with truth and justice for all — in Gaia’s name. For the love of Gaia.
We know already that the rain forests are Gaia’s lungs by which she breathes, and coral reefs are her ovaries by which she reproduces, and icecaps are integral to her temperature-regulating system.
We know too that the oceans are not just her womb, but also her circulatory system, along with the winds and clouds. We are slower to acknowledge that coal seams are her bones, laid down by ancient trees, or that oil is her blood, the remains of ancient dinosaurs.
From death she takes life. Water itself is in every molecule two parts life, each hydrogen atom having originated in the birth of a star, and one part death, every oxygen atom expelled by the fiery death of a star. That is Her equilibrium system!
Certain fish, once-ubiquitous in the oceans, are her kidneys, though they are failing now as we’ve sucked most of them up in giant industrialized vacuum cleaners and fed them to factory-farmed chickens and pigs, and to our pets as well.
We’ve broken her bones, sucked out her blood, and fouled her breath. We’ve tortured Her higher forms of intelligence — elephants and whales, dolphins and bison. Boiled her nurseries, bleaching them bone white. Given her a fever that shows no signs of breaking anytime soon.
These are the distressing implications of acknowledging Gaia as a complex life form, a living being. These are the uncomfortable truths that reinforce our taboos against avowing love for Her. Who among us is grown-up enough to own up to the responsibilities that attend these violations of the sacred? And more importantly, who is not? And why?
These are not rhetorical questions! I am not trying to be impertinent here. But leaving these questions aside for another day, there are empowering implications to honoring this broken relationship as well.
Gaia’s trauma is our own. And the only way to begin healing from trauma is by acknowledging it. So underlying the distress of the dystrophic implications we will find a growing sense of personal and collective empowerment. What would it mean to honor Gaia’s trauma? What would She tell us about coming back into proper relationship? How can we heal Her once we’ve given up our victim identities and turned the focus instead on Her healing?
One of the taboos, I suspect, of acknowledging Gaia as a living, breathing and self-regulating organism is that it forces us to give up an ego-centric psyche and personality that we are constantly being conditioned to identify with, as good consumers, for an eco-centric psyche and integral personality that is quite humbling. We don’t really do humility in this day and age.
Because what are we, really, in relation to Gaia? We go from this solid sense of personal identity to the realization that we are but small cells in the biome of a larger, vastly superior being. As above, so below. Just as I, a human being, am composed of 9 trillion cells that each have their own, non-human DNA, and only 1 trillion cells that share my own DNA, so Gaia, a planetary organism, is composed of trillions of relatively tiny organelles with their own DNA, quite different than her own coded strands of life-stuff.
We are those tiny organelles! To think of ourselves in this way is just as shocking as it was when we first learned that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Just as giving up the geocentric view of the universe meant giving up the idea that we were uniquely favored in the cosmos, so giving up our ego-centric view of the world means giving up the idea that we are truly individuals first and foremost, or that our species is itself somehow favored in the world.
We are nothing apart from Gaia. We are part of Her biome, like the gut cells in our own biome.
The humility in that statement is the exact counterpart to the hubris that has given rise to the Anthropocene — the myths of endless growth, better living through chemistry, and the idea of technologic superiority.
And now the counter to the dystrophic implications. Technology got us into this mess, and it is also being utilized to undermine the dominant paradigm — but it will not save us.
Only Gaia can do that. There is wisdom and efficacy in submitting to the superiority of Her dominion.
Because she is immensely resilient. If we enlist Her aid and support in exchange for our protection and submission, She and She alone has the power to reverse the carbon cycles fueling this biospheric collapse. Yes, of course, we must demand an end to this fossil fueled madness. But not just fossil fuels, either — the ongoing plunder of the planet, the inhumane factory farms, and the oceanic Holocaust that is industrialized fishing.
Stated in shorthand, we must all adopt the infinitely wise Indigenous view of Nature as a Life Source, not the destructive, soul-impoverishing view of nature as a resource to be exploited and thrown away. This profoundly exploitative objectification of Gaia is reflected back to us in our equally soul-crushing objectification of women and girls, as no less an authority than Pope Francis eloquently stated in Ladauto Si’:
[O]ur common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us… This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her…
Yes, Her Too!
But at the same time we are eliminating the armaments of death and destruction wielded by our insanely unnatural leaders, following the examples of our compatriots in Hong Kong, South and Central America, UK and even Lebanon, we must also demand what we are fundamentally for: the regeneration of life!
That is where true hope lies!
It’s a head versus heart struggle now. Ego versus Eco. Division versus Unification. Destructive lies versus Regenerative Truths. Death and Rebirth, not annhilation. It’s an Existential Epic. You cannot remain on the sidelines of this struggle, because just as there are no borders that can keep biospheric trauma at bay, so too there are no longer any sidelines.
It’s game on.
According to the ego-centric view of the climate movement, we must overthrow the means of production and establish a more perfect world using renewable energy and magical technology like AI. According to the eco-centric view of Gaia’s Trauma, we must simply honor all life. We must assert Gaia’s Right to Life, and demand it be respected by those with the means of desecration.
If you think that sounds pollyannish or “new age,” you are just not in the know.
One World, Indivisible
No less an authority on life than E.O. Wilson has told us that if we dedicate half the living planet to life, Gaia will reciprocate by drawing excess carbon down from the atmosphere. Her fever will break and begin to abate, and sustainable life will be re-established in our collective home over the same time it takes us to transition away from fossil fuels.
If that sounds radical to you, it should. But there is already a detailed plan now for protecting existing biodiversity on the third of the planet that is still intact (with the creation of marine and terrestrial wildlife sanctuaries), while rehabilitating enough of the already degraded biosphere with simple protections (with the creation of climate transition zones) and minimal interventions (such as re-introducing or protecting keystone species), getting us from a third already functioning to half the planet, and restoring a functioning climate.
This One Earth Climate proposal is actually up for global adoption in 2020, as is the recovery of America’s leadership in the world. That is quite a coincidence. The International Biodiversity Conventions will take up the Gaia Solution in Kunming China next October, and the Green New Deal will hopefully take shape at the same time as part of a sweeping popular mandate, building upon the 2018 Blue Wave, that will emphatically throw the rotting carcass of the criminally cruel GOP out of power once and for all here in the U.S.A.
Nothing less is acceptable, and nothing more is needed.
Gaia demands that this come to pass now. It is a matter of life and death.
Her life. The death of what has until now passed for ours.
Happy New Year. Resolve to make 2020 the year we turned back the tides, and turned the corner on a brave new world.
One World. Without Borders. United in Defense of Life.