Remembering our Relations
Originally published in Velocity Magazine, December 2008
“The earth is calling us to remember.” – Stephen Buhner
Once upon a time, not so long ago, every human had an intimate awareness of their connection to the earth. Daily we toiled to cultivate or harvest our food and medicine, relying on plant life for shelter and clothing, directly interacting with the natural world on a very intimate level.
Our survival, and as such, our health and vitality – are dependent on our surroundings. We are vulnerable to changes in the Earth’s condition – drought, temperature, dramatic weather shifts. Each of us are mini-eco-cosms, or reflections of the greater ecosystem surrounding us. If our environment is strong and healthy, it reflects in our personal health.
For thousands of years, humans understood this in a very personal way. However, with the dawn of the industrial age, we moved away from our family farms and into cities. We stopped growing our own food and started purchasing it in markets. We became disconnected from the source of our survival – Mother Earth – creating the illusion of independence.
Why have we, as a human species, strayed so far from understanding our symbiotic relationship with the planet and its resources?
Every moment of our lives, we are intimately interacting with nature, a mere thread in a beautiful fabric. Even in our urban center, the food we eat, borne from the sun and the soil, the water and the seed, nourishes us and provides us energy to move, work, play, and love. The shelters that protect us, and the clothes that warm us, were all once a plant or a rock or a four-legged relation. We quench our thirst with the same fluids that for millennia have been recycling within and above the skin of the planet. Every breath we inhale is but a sip of the atmosphere that envelops the planet.
Our very beings are a cocktail of natural elements – air, sun, water, and nutrients, cradling the delicate entwinement of sperm and egg, combining within the womb of our mother to come forth as a new living being. This being – an Ego, an individual identity – is wholly from and truly dependent upon the natural world – the Eco. The Ego/Eco relationship I first learned about from Jonathan Jenkins’ “Humanure Handbook.”
As Jenkins says, when we have balance of ego and eco, we as animals roaming this planet live harmoniously with the elements of nature that provides for us. This balance provides the basis for many ancient spiritual traditions, as it is our consciousness of this connection – our attunement to this balance – that allows us to embody a higher knowing of our actual self. When we lose sight of the Eco that sustains us as an individual, imbalance occurs.
When too much emphasis is placed on the Ego, we begin to see the Eco as an other, as an outer force. This lends to the development of human chauvinism – of other animal species, and especially of non-animal species. It leads to a system of education that idolizes the intellect, disregarding spiritual or ethical development. It creates a system of economics that leaves out ecology and creates a need – and in fact a greed – for material wealth. Most of all, it has led to a spiritual vacuum – what plant healer Morgan Brent calls the “Great Forgetting.”
Our society is rampant with depression, isolation, and fear. It is easy to see how, in our forgetting, we may fail to recognize those relations which surround us in the natural world, and thus fail to seek comfort in the depth of the woods or the waves of the ocean.
Scientist and plant researcher Albert Hofmann speaks to this disconnect of spirit:
I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward a new conciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and all of creation.
The Earth is, indeed, calling us to remember. She has also given us many tools with which to shift our perspective and to reignite the ancient memory of our oneness. I find that the plants speak the loudest in their attempts to reach out and reconnect us. The plant spirits that surround us may guide us to great healing – healing of our bodies, healing of our spirits, and healing of our planet.
We must start first with ourselves – by going within to reconnect our Ego with our Eco. I find one of the most intimate places to reconnect my spirit is recognizing the role the earth plays in my personal health. I reconnect by caring for my health with medicinal plants – what herbalist Rosemary Gladstar calls “the umbilical cords of the planet.” Every sweet sip of an herbal infusion to nourish my physical body reminds me of the many gifts provided for me by this planet, and allows me an intimate moment to reconnect with our connectedness.
While it may sound simple, using herbs as medicine is a powerful ritual to tap into the great web of which we are each a part. When we bring harmony to our personal Ego/Eco balance, we can then walk forward into the world to lead our brothers and sisters toward a greater shift of remembering our relations.