Australia is burning, Puerto Rico is quaking, the polar icecaps are melting, and koala bears are reportedly headed toward extinction.
What can we do when the madness of the modern world overwhelms its magic?
We can seek kinship.
Rewind to a cafe in Ireland. There’s a pot of tea on the table, three of us are deep in our mugs…
…. and I’m bemoaning the lack of goddesses in the Old Testament.
All my Celtic friends had goddesses they could use as archetypal role models: they had Brigid for healing (and oddly also for blacksmithing), Danu for communing with nature, and The Morrigan for when they needed to tweak fate and alter destiny. All I had was a smitey god who occasionally parted seas and burned bushes (and you better bet I was reading “burning bush” as a metaphor for what happened to any feminine-style role models who might have dared appear in this male-centric tome).
“The Old Testament is stunningly bereft of goddesses,” one of my Irish friends agreed. “But have you heard the story of the Jewish people bringing the ark of the covenant to Ireland?”
She launched into what was possibly a completely fabricated tale, a story never confirmed by archaeologists, in which the high priests of Israel brought the ark of the covenant to the Hill of Tara after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. She ended her expose with “so your people are our people and our goddesses can be your goddesses!” and innocently crunched a bite of shortbread.
Years later, this stunning bit of cultural generosity was repeated when I mentioned to a Native American man that I didn’t know how to relate to the land I was living on because I didn’t have actual roots there. He said, “some of my people say that we descend from the lost tribe of Israel, which would make you my cousin…”
It doesn’t matter whether the Torah ever made it to Ireland or a lost tribe ever landed on the shores of Turtle Island. It doesn’t even matter if I happened to meet the only two people on the planet who would say such kind and possibly outrageous things.
What matters is that both of these people chose to seek kinship. Their impulse was to find a way, despite our differences, to create connection between us.
Even as computers make it easier to communicate across oceans and linguistic divides, we’re finding a myriad of ways to create a modern day Babel. In our search for individual identity and purpose, we draw lines between ourselves and others. This affinity for categorization is built into our biology: our brains are designed to catalog differences and to trust those most like ourselves. At one point in human history this brain tic was probably life saving, but in the present tense, where we live in multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-sexual, and multi-abled societies, we need to bring to consciousness to this lizard-brain desire to divide “like” from “not like.”
Categorizing is also how we build our individual identity. We say “I’m this, I’m not that.” The zeitgeist of our times further encourages categorization and separation in very public ways: social media profiles highlight our differences, turning what makes us unique into a social statement, and then demanding that everyone around us stop what they’re doing to honor our special selves. As a person who had to announce to her family of origin that she wasn’t going to follow their sexual mores and social codes, and then demanded that they accept her anyway, I do get it. Ironically, even as I stepped away from the rules and realities of my family of origin, my lizard-brain continued to divide “like” from “not like.” Ultimately, I found myself once again feeling like an outsider within my new community.
The most ancient part of our brain never realizes that to feel acceptance we stop have to stop dividing.
When people ask me “what can I do to help the Earth?” My answer is seemingly simple and perhaps sideways from what they had in mind:
Stop drawing lines between yourself and those around you. Stop seeing yourself as separate from the trees and the birds and the rocks. Seek kinship.
It’s the divisions that will be our undoing. We’re in an age of environmental upheavals of a type we have not experienced in generations. We’re already seeing catastrophic environmental destruction and mass migration. What we need are humans who are balanced, grounded, rooted, thoughtful, and kind. What we need are people who look out at the world around them and see the living, breathing organism of which we are only a small part. What we need is for every person to have their basic needs met so they can engage their creativity to help solve the problems we’ll all be facing now and in the near future.
What the Earth needs is for us to begin to recognize the lines we’re drawing between not only us and our fellow humans, but between ourselves and the rest of the (non-human) world.
Sometimes these lines are obvious and easily identifiable like the lines drawn by border walls or refugee camps. It’s easy to see that these are divides (and the question becomes whether or not you support the division, but the fact of the division is unconvertible). Sometimes these lines are more subtle: they’re the boxes we draw around our gender and sexual preferences, they’re the lines around spiritual and wellness practices which could help us all to heal. The most ancient part of our brain never realizes that to feel acceptance we stop have to stop dividing. Click To Tweet
Keeping others from stepping into practices which speak to their soul will not help us reclaim lost knowledge or repair broken lineage. What if, as my Irish friend suggested, there are enough goddesses to go around? What if we begin to look at the universal energies and archetypes from which specific spiritual and wellness practices emerged? What if we see kinship and common roots?
Additionally, when we forget that many of our spiritual and wellness practices are not rooted in human agency but in connection with the collective unconscious and the natural world, we dishonor the very roots of those practices. Elderberry wants to share her medicine not only with those of European descent but with any who need it. White Sage has taught me more than any other plant despite the fact that our roots grew in different soils. Kinship is also acknowledging the agency of the natural world as separate from our human culture and desires.
How can we support the Earth? We can start envisioning a new future. What would it be like to look at another human being and begin, in your mind, to list the ways in which they are just like you? Our primitive brain wants us to divide, our modern brain must be taught to unite. Our primitive brain wants us to divide, our modern brain must be taught to unite. Click To Tweet
At the height of wildfire season in Australia, a social media post went viral. It was true in the way that the ark of the Torah being buried on the Hill of Tara is true, in a “perhaps” kind of way. This viral social media post claimed that traditionally territorial wombats were herding other animals to the safety of their underground wombat-burrows.
We are all looking for a safe place to be our individual selves. And while there’s little evidence that wombats were willingly providing safe haven, it’s incredibly reassuring that so many of us humans wanted to believe it.
“To our eyes Aspen trees are individuals, but in their roots and hearts they’re one.” Turn to page 128 in The Illustrated Herbiary to see how joining roots can heal the whole.