By Madronna Holden
I am going to go out on a limb here. I am going to assert my belief that there is something mysterious in the life of the natural world that wants to reach us, to touch us (to heal us). Even though we cannot prove this, we can tell its story as if the larger-than-human world is trying to communicate with us–and therefore change the way we live. Perhaps by telling our story differently, we may create a partnership with the world we share, move toward a flourishing future for those who inherit the results of our actions on this earth.
We do know (courtesy of the Gaia hypothesis) that the natural world exhibits a system of balance built up over millions of years. We barely understand the complex mechanisms by which all the parts of this system tune themselves to one another. Surely they do not all speak English! Thus it is incumbent on us to try to try to understand that larger-than-human language instead.
If this sounds too quirky for you, imagine some of its results. There is Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock, who stated she attained her knowledge by “listening to the corn”.
Each of us can try a parallel approach in our everyday lives, telling the story of our relationship to the world as if it were speaking to us. Here is an example. One of my students has an autistic child who has from birth had a remarkable connection with the natural world, believing, for instance, that everything is alive and also that we should be saving the world’s wild seeds. Set this in context: autism rates are currently skyrocketing and a substantial portion of that increase is caused by exposure to human-caused pollution.
Ancient cultures speak of the wounded healer, which gives us a way to tell this story. Here is a child wounded by harm to the natural world who also carried with him into life a profound motivation to heal that harm. This sense of purpose is untaught, something in a language humans do not regularly speak, to which it is sometimes very hard to listen. But from listening to this child his mother learned much of her own environmental awareness.
We need our science (the kind that truly listens to our world) to right the environmental crises we are currently facing: we also need our stories. We need metaphors in the ancient sense of the word: metaphors that “carry across”, that create a bridge (with all the water of mystery flowing beneath it) between ourselves and the larger than human world.
When the great tsunami ravaged Asia a short while ago, some traditional tribal peoples did not suffer the damage of more “civilized” peoples. On a simple level, their mangrove swamps were still in tact to ameliorate the effects of the tsunami. But something else as well: they say they listened to the animals who told them the storm was coming and moved to higher ground before it hit. How was this? By the way they moved? Did they note their restlessness? Or perhaps they understood them in a language more complex and profound.
Imagine listening to other living things (and to one another) in this way–and then acting as if we are in partnership with the natural life that sustains us.
Imagine understanding storms as bringing us light (haven’t you already seen this in the way the wind illuminates the world by means of movement, the way the rain washes our world into its glowing potential)? Don’t we create our own form of chaos when we take up the broom to sweep our houses clean?
And isn’t it the things which are most inconvenient to our habitual way of doing things that have the most to teach us, bringing us to our own larger selves?
You are welcome to link to this post. Note, however, it is copyright 2008, Madronna Holden. Feel free to email me if you wish to use or copy it.
Filed under: Ecofeminism, environmental philosophy, Environmental psychology, Health, Health and healing links, Hope and vision, Our Earth and Ourselves, worldviews | Tagged: environmental philosophy, Environmental psychology, wounded healers |