I knew I should have waited on that post; there was more to say on the subject, in fact, a whole different approach to take.
Sure enough, the next morning, I awakened with the thought, “the earth that we knew — the only earth that we ever knew — is gone… just as it has always been.” Every moment the earth is gone and a new earth arises. This is the message we find presented in Buddhism, Teilhard de Chardin, evolutionary spirituality, Alfred North Whitehead, and by so many spiritual and scientific teachers. Do not cling to the past; the nature of the world is change. So I chide myself for submitting to the grief so deeply without acknowledging the forward momentum of the universe and evolution, bringing with it seeds of possibility, and a whisper of hope for this planet.
And then… my recent reading of Paul Shepard’s Coming Home to the Pleistocene helps me make sense of this deep grief that seems to defy my “awakened” understanding of the ever-changing nature of the universe. In the chapter, The Relevance of the Past, Shepard explained that the human invention of the notion of “history” as a “linear sequence of ever-new events” is a “way of perceiving human existence that poses and destroys its predecessor, the mythic world, which sees time as a continuous return and space as sacred.” According to Shepard, this modern mode of seeing views the past as “a highway on which there could be no return.”
Shepard’s book explores the idea of returning to the alternative understanding of the human mind (as it evolved in the mythic world of the hunter gatherer), where time allows a deepening of experience, an enfolding and embodying of all that preceded into the present moment, so that nothing is lost and there is constant return. In this view, the past is not lost or inaccessible; rather it is available. This is realized in the deep knowing of the land and its sacred geography, including a “complex knowledge of place, terrain, and plants and animals” contextualized and understood in seasonal cycles, myth, tradition, and “sacred associations” and symbols.
So, my deeply acculturated Western mind cries apocalypse, and indeed, apocalypse is upon us. But, now I am reminded that our past in all of its richness and depth is with us, accompanying and even carrying us through this great journey of loss, change, and healing. The information, wisdom, comfort, strategy, and strength that are available to us are billions of years in the making, encoded in our genome, and our greatest allies if we are willing to embody history as humans have done for 99% of our existence. To do so, we have to submit to our full human nature as earth beings, take a stance of sincere learning and deep humility, and seek out the wisdom held in trust for us by the land and all its beings, and by some remaining traditional wisdom keepers.
The earth that we knew, from long, long ago, is here, present in every moment, willing to ally with us for healing and change. Are we willing to re-enter the relationship with our whole selves, take the plunge, make the shift?