Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature by Osprey Orielle Lake

Educators and psychologists, artists and activists, elders and leaders have all asserted that at the core of our global societal and environmental crises is a need to change our fundamental personal values and what we uphold as meaningful in our lives. Personal transformation is critical to mitigating our global crises. While we teeter on a precipice without knowing the outcome, it’s encouraging to remember that unprecedented changes have occurred throughout history, positive shifts that at one time seemed impossible.

Many of us have drawn upon examples of these shifts for inspiration: from the abolishment of slavery to women’s suffrage, from the end of apartheid in South Africa to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from unchecked industrial pollution to the restorative Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, from green technology moving from a fringe venture to a critical and fast-growing contribution. And although each of these changes still faces ongoing struggles, we can see and experience the worldwide benefits of these paradigm shifts as they occur. Yet these changes came about in our human realm only because the root causes of the problem, the suffering or imbalance, was first recognized by individual people who changed their minds, thus changing the world around them.

The outer geography of our human presence on Earth will change on a larger scale only when our internal geography changes, and not before. We require a new cultural story and societal dream for this new approach to be realized and in order to formulate Earth-honoring choices as we journey down this road less traveled.

Thomas Berry articulates this in his landmark book The Dream of the Earth: “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”

To find new cultural and personal stories, and to learn from their subtle sensibilities, is to first hear them. Through deeper listening, we can become present to an alive world, one in which we can learn something new. Maybe we can find something we have been searching for, something that comes to us because we have been listening to the stories of woodlands and creeks, glaciers and deserts, polar bears and honeybees.

The warning of imminent biological doom from scientists makes it clear that we need to choose and act quickly, as well as wisely. To draw upon our full potential as a conscious and conscientious species seems imperative at this critical juncture, and that will require not only external information but also knowledge from our innermost being. Taking time for inward reflection is not only intelligent but also gives us the necessary vision to move forward. To paraphrase a Japanese proverb: Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.

This kind of visioning or inward contemplation begins with quietude so that we can listen to a deeper, more mature voice inside and to the natural laws and rhythms of the Earth. When we allow ourselves to be intimate with nature, we can remember that we are inseparable from the community of the rivers, forests, and animals around us. We can remember that all people, all species, share one sky.

This intimacy with our living planet is one of the most crucial components in generating deep care of the Earth and each other, and it may be the very inspiration that fuels the “collective will” that climate leaders are telling us is necessary to make the change to new lifestyles, new values, new justice, new legislation, and a new, post-carbon economy.

The natural world offers us enduring lessons in design, sustainability, balance, and ecological health while also echoing back to us our sacred place in the greater community of the Earth. With insight gained in the stillness of the mountain, desert, or forest, as well as in a city park or home garden, we can be more certain that our actions will address long-term and enduring goals, a larger vision, bound also to bring us deeper satisfaction, and not just immediate superficial fixes.

When we sit with the quiet of nature we are reminded of time, that it can take hundreds of years to grow a mature tree, thousands to make a mountain, but only a day or a year to destroy them for short-term gain. It is here in nature that we can best learn the practice of foresight, of actually seeing ahead, and adopting the long-term goal of care for “the seventh generation,” an elegant concept of sustainability long held by the Iroquois Nation in their Great Laws. We need laws that will not harm future generations. What would happen if meetings held by world leaders and decision makers were to take place over a slowed-down, two-week period in a wild forest or mountain wilderness – instead of within the insulated urban chambers of the most frenetic cities?

Osprey Orielle Lake is an advocate of environmental justice and societal transformation. She is the Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus and on the Board of Praxis Peace Institute. Osprey’s perspectives as a renowned sculptor and public speaker on environmental issues have been featured on national and European television.

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