I think every child knows what it’s like to build a dam of pebbles in a creek, or try to build a wall around a sand castle to protect it from incoming waves. It’s a fun challenge but nature always wins. Strange as it sounds, this desire to pursue the conquest of nature has historical roots and global consequences. From Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the rise of Christianity and birth of Newtonian Science after the Dark Ages, humanity has been fumbling with this core dilemma of how we relate to our environment. Luckily we have some new fields of study and words to deepen our sense of this important relationship.
Eco-psychology is based on the principle that our environment shapes our psychology. There is some interesting research about Bonobo Chimpanzee in the Congo. They are often considered one of our closest-related primates. The Bonobo who live north of the Congo River live in a lush environment with plenty of food, are matriarchal, cooperative, and have very little violence. Whereas the same species south of the Congo River, where food is less abundant and the land is more like desert, are patriarchal, genocidal, infanticidal, and live in a constant state of war. There is still much research to be done before there are any final conclusions, but observations point to environmental factors having dramatic influence on social behavior.
There is a book, Saharasia, which even postulates that climate change and desertification over millennia created epigenetic and neurological changes, turning human cultures more patriarchal and warlike. Some say that the plagues and dark ages that Europeans went through prior to the Renaissance played a role in shaping a cultural relationship with nature. Since so many people were dying from the Black Death, a belief system that humans were being punished by God or being punished by nature began to take hold. This entrenched two divergent world views: the sinner/redemption story of Christianity (religion) and the Newtonian Cartesian Paradigm (mechanistic science).
Mechanism stresses an unbridgeable gulf between human beings and the physical world. Human consciousness has no role or place in Newton’s vast world machine. This sense of an alien physical realm was extended, in association with Christian influence, to the wider world of nature. Nature is perceived as wholly ‘other’ than ourselves, a force to be conquered and used. –Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence, by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall
Clearly there is a historical divide between the world of spirit and the physical, so it is no wonder that some people see themselves as separate from nature. Since Europeans went on to colonize a great portion of the world, they also forced this world-view on many of the indigenous cultures they invaded. Today we see this belief playing out with ill consequences.
If it was the fate of our existence in hostile environments of the past that shaped our ways of thinking, perhaps we can hack our own biology with concepts that allow us to experience a sense of harmony and connection with our environment?
Biomimicry is another term that helps us bridge the gap and conceptualize our place within the surrounding environment. The Biomimicry Institute says it best:
Humans are clever, but without intending to, we have created massive sustainability problems for future generations. Fortunately, solutions to these global challenges are all around us.
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.
The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.
We are not without our problems today, but if you have a moment to sit in front of a computer and read this blog, perhaps you have a moment to reconsider your relationship with the world around you. Do you feel like you struggle with your environment or do you feel supported by it? Is there a way that you might change your perspective to allow harmony with the flow of events in your life?
Acceptance, gratitude, compassion are spiritual attributes that make real changes in the way we live in the physical world. There are many modalities that have been used for centuries like meditation, prayer, yoga to achieve a heightened state of awareness and connection with the great life force that surrounds us. This is an internal shift, nobody can force it on you, it must be chosen.
We are at a cross-roads, we can destroy our environment, or use our wisdom to enhance and heal with it. What is certain is that our attempted conquest of nature is ultimately futile, like trying to hold back the tides. Are you ready to let go of the struggle to conquer your environment and open up to unlimited possibilities?
If so, you are not alone. Find your tribe, surround yourself by others who are making the internal shift towards a lifestyle that allows for harmony within and around you. Then we can truly start working with the rhythms of nature rather than against them. When science and spirituality compliment each other rather than clash we shall see some very profound changes in the way we interact with our environment.