There's this one fundamental belief that I've been thinking about a lot lately, as I examine and re-examine my stance on what's happening in the world right now. This belief is one on which many of my decisions and values are based and, seems to me to be so fundamental and far-reaching that it could totally transform how things are done here on earth: do you believe we are a part of nature or apart from it? Its funny that in modern life, this is even a question. In any previous iteration of life (pre-"civilization") the answer would have been unthinkable. Humans were seen to be completely and inextricably interwoven with the environment around them, dependent on the gifts it provided and in relationship with every rock, plant and animal with which they came into contact. And it wasn't just the physical elements of the world that formed the basis of these relationships, but perhaps more importantly, with the spiritual aspects of that world as well. I've thought a lot about the ramifications that the loss of this way of thinking and feeling has had on humans and the modern world, and, I have to say, the results are pretty frightening. We are drifting further and further from a framework of understanding ourselves within the context of the natural world, and, this kind of separatist thinking has had very serious consequences on the decisions that are being made in regards to our health and survival as a species. Here we are with the greatest advances in technology the world has ever seen, but with higher rates of depression, anxiety and chronic disease than ever. What's the deal? There are several ways we have missed the boat, and many of them have to do with our disconnected way of life.
-Interrelating: Our bodies, since we appeared on this planet, have evolved with the natural elements that exist here. Knowing this, I am always suspicious of anyone who tries to tell me that exposure to things that have always been a part of human life are harmful. Separating ourselves from nature has led to an us against them, war-like mentality towards elements of our natural environment. This kind of thinking has led to a lot of fear. We are afraid of exposure to the sun, afraid of being in nature, of the dark, of wild animals, and most fearful of all: germs! Yikes!
Here's the really funny thing: did you know you are actually made up of more bacteria than human cells? That's right, more of you is "germs" than you. And studies on the microbiome are now showing its relationship to nearly every function of our body, from digestion and immunity to cognitive and emotional health. And guess what? We also have a virome, wait what?!? Yes, a community of viruses that lives harmoniously, and with purpose, within our bodies. There are also uncountable numbers of viruses all the time in the air we breathe, in healthy soil and in water. We are literally immersed in a sea of them! While viruses can make us sick, they actually serve a very important biological purpose. In many ways, they are responsible for the process of evolution. Viruses are little packets of genetic information that bring us genetic updates, helping us adapt better to our environment and the stressors we are exposed to. Sometimes this poses a challenge to the body, particularly when it is out of balance. But in a healthy, balanced system, and a vast majority of the time, these updates are often asymptomatic or only result in, at worst, a mild period of adjustment.
Knowing, then, that we have a whole host of organisms living symbiotically within us, we can see our bodies reflecting the outer world by functioning as a whole ecosystem. As anyone who studies ecosystems knows, a healthy one requires a wide and wild variety of life-forms interacting in such a way as to create resilience and maintain balance. If this is true, then it is actually quite important that we expose ourselves to bacteria and viruses to create stability and maintain health! We need internal diversity, and to get it, we actually NEED to have our hands in the dirt, and we NEED to come into contact with a wide variety of humans, plants and animals! What we don't need is ultra-hygienic, lifeless environments that take away the opportunity to build up that diversity. If you can let go of the war mentality, you'll see that you are a perfect microcosm of the world around you. Make that world good and your health will follow suit.
-A life with meaning: In our modern lives, it is so amazingly common for people to struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation. While there are undoubtedly many contributing factors, I am certain that a lot of it has to do with the way our modern lives disconnect us from what is truly meaningful. Imagine that you were part of a closely woven tribe where each person knew their role, where each was appreciated, valued and celebrated for their individual gifts. And then, on top of that, you saw yourself as deeply connected to the land where you lived and to the plants and animals that lived there. They literally feel like your extended family, so much so that you thank and honor them every day of your life. Imagine that you take place in ceremonies and rituals that give life rhythm, meaning and create a sense of deep connection and support. Imagine that life feels like a gift everyday, and yet, you have no fear of its end. Its just another step on the journey. Now, can you imagine feeling any sense of isolation, existential depression or anxiety about life while feeling deep connection, affirmation of who you are and your value, having work with a clear purpose, and supporting and being supported? Let me be clear here; I don't mean to glorify tribal life or say that that it is what we need to go back to. I'm just saying we could learn a few things from these ways of life. Feeling connected to each other and the natural world in a meaningful way seem like pretty important components of a balanced mental/emotional way of being, and we've all heard that regular states of gratitude, reverence and appreciation are practices that help us feel happier and more satisfied with life. By placing value on and incorporating these elements more fully into our experience, we are sure to see a shift in the health and emotional stability of people everywhere.
-Long-term vision: So, here we are in one of the biggest health crises in history, and yet, there is no discussion about one of the most fundamental underlying causes of it all, namely, failing human and environmental health. If we could shift into this viewpoint of being connected with nature, things would become so much simpler and more obvious. If we are a part of nature, why would we destroy it? At this point, there are so many toxins in our environment, so much destruction of natural land, and also, so much removal from these processes that we can blithely put them out of our minds and carry on with life as usual. Coming from a place of respect and honor for the natural world shifts things on such a deep level. We would change the way we eat, the way we live and the way we consume. We would support innovation that protects and restores the environment rather than breaks it down. We would require our businesses to operate sustainably and with an eye towards the future. I believe that there is more than enough creativity, technology and problem-solving skills out there to get us out of this mess we're in. But its not going to happen unless people start making it happen. Change is needed, now! Plugging back into natural ways of living and being allow us to gain back health for ourselves, and create an environment where future generations can thrive.
So, what can we take from all this? How can we make shifts that will truly impact our current situation? Maybe take a few steps back and instead of caving into the stress of the moment, think about what brought us to this pivotal point in human history. I would argue that our disconnection from nature is a key component, and contributes greatly to the atmosphere of fear, scarcity and our willingness to give away our power. Faith in the natural world and our connection to it gives a perspective that is grounded (literally), adaptive, curious and evolving (just like life), resilient (like a diverse ecosystem) and connected (just like all of us). This is where our future lies. Be held by the life around you, think about your choices and connect. Know you are a part of something much greater than yourself, because you are. The answer could be just that simple.