“This, in essence, is the hypothesis that Lovelock and his close collaborator Lynn Margulis were to call “Gaia.” The idea significantly modifies the central Darwinian paradigm of modern biology. Competition – natural selection at the species level – becomes much less important than the overall integration of living things within a symbiotic global network. The basic unit of evolutionary survival becomes the biomass as a whole, which may select species for their capacity to enhance the liveability of the planet.” Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

There can be said to be three interpretations of Gaia; scientific, theistic and philosophical. The science, which I have described briefly, is basically about looking at the Earth physiologically, as a body, and the practical implications of that. But I’m not a scientist, so although I take an interest I can only explain it up to a point. Theistic Gaia is the view that the Earth is sentient, and is literally seen as a single living being. Not something I believe in, but the image is interesting and certainly useful in a poetic sense.

What really interests me is a Gaian-based philosophy. This stands somewhere between science and theism, using scientific ideas and mythological images as a model that we use to view the world and as an ethical guide.

For a while we have had a view of evolution as something competitive and the Earth as an arena in which this biological struggle is played out. Although science is not meant as a tool to give us meaning or ethics, anything that gives us a view of the world, whether myth or science, also gives us a sense of meaning and ethics. Sometimes it is obvious though mostly it is subtle.

The view of competitive evolution has become a tool to legitimise a “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself” attitude. In this view the Earth is a resource and the world is seen as a hierarchy of power where the strongest preys on the weakest. And to some extent this is true, if you see the relationship between some species, and individual organisms of the same species, you will see there is a competitive, even violent, relationship. However, in the same way the classical view of physics breaks down in quantum mechanics, the localised competition of species breaks down in the broader ecological view. Each species fulfills a role in the bigger ecological system; any competition is just one aspect of a cooperative network.

Can the body’s major organs compete with each other? Can the heart win or lose against the lungs? Of course not, they are major organs and are completely and utterly interdependent with one another. However, minor organs or biological features can compete. A species of fish whose ancestors got trapped in a cave system lost their eyes because there was no need for them. The digits and claws of whale ancestors have eventually receded to be replaced by more useful flippers. The long grasping digits on the feet of our tree climbing ancestors have been reduced to small stumps on the end of our feet. But these minor “competitive” adaptations are relative compared to what is going on in the whole body.

We can use this analogy to look at the Earth. It too has major organs, species or certain groups of species that cannot be replaced. For instance, I remember in a biology class being taken out by my teacher with the class and being asked “Can plants live without animals or can animals live without plants?” No one answered plants, and yet that was the answer. Most plants, because they get energy directly from the sun, are self-sufficient, so if the animal kingdom inexplicably disappeared many photosynthesisers would be able to survive. Not so with animals.

There is, what I consider, to be a myth about humanity as the “dominant species”. We might have become very powerful and intelligent but that’s a very superficial dominance. Let’s put it this way, prey do not depend on predators but predators depend on prey, the foundation of a building does not depend on the upper floors but the upper floors depend on the foundation. This echoes a fairly Taoist principle and gives a different spin on Jesus’ “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

We owe our existence to the almost omnipresent microbial lifeforms, like bacteria, that were the first life-forms to exist and surely will be the last ones to exist. When Gaia was young this was, and still is, the basic components, “major organs” or major organisms, that sustain her existence. Without them nothing larger, like humans, could exist.  So it really does turn the concept of dominance on its head. We owe our existence to life-forms that are smaller, simpler and far less intelligent than us, which is humbling really.

We are left with an image that humanity is an interesting but unimportant contribution to the Earth’s evolution. We are left with the principles of respect, humility and cooperation. A good starting point for how we might conceive a Gaia-based philosophy. But this philosophy isn’t just for individuals to choose, as one philosophy amongst so many to pick and choose from; it is the context of all other philosophies. In a sense all organisms are gaian by default. All organisms derive their evolution from a long history where biological traits are developed within an ecological context. To defy this context is to upset the balance and threaten your own existence. Only humans need to make a mental effort to align with gaian-based principles.

This philosophy is something that has to be built into the structure of society itself, a structure that operates with respect, humility and cooperation to the home it depends on for its existence. We cannot go on thinking and acting the way we do, seeing Earth as a resource to be used and abused in service of commercial consumerist philosophy, and other humans and other nations to be viewed as opponents to be beaten in some never-ending economical and fashion-driven race. This cannot work anymore, there needs to be a reform in human civilisation and I think we are waking up to realise it now.

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“You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.” Robert Shaw

“Before Lovelock used the name Gaia, people could not really grasp his ideas at all. His friend, the novelist William Golding, suggested the name of the ancient Greek mother-goddess, Gaia. And when Lovelock tried that name, people began to understand him.” Mary Midgley

One of the problems with Gaia is that she’s very difficult to see. Of course I can see the Earth, it’s unavoidable, but when I say Gaia I mean the self-sustaining living system; a planetary ecosystem or even superorganism. I can’t directly see the all of the processes that go into the whole planetary system and certainly not in just my short human lifetime. It is too large and complex and even today’s science suffers from that limit, itself being quite a young human experience.

If you try to know Gaia by isolating one part, like the atmosphere, a forest or an ocean surface, you lose sense of the “big picture.” To get a sense of what Gaia is its best not to get too carried away with the details because you might lose the context. And here is where we replace the reductionist and atomistic way of seeing things for something holistic or “top-down,” that uses physiology as a model and metaphor for understanding the Earth’s living systems. This requires some intuitive or peripheral viewing to begin to work with, that can be adjusted and refined as our understanding of its workings become clearer.

I say peripheral because it’s one of those things that catches your attention out of the corner of your eye but seems to disappear when directly looked at. Put another way, it’s like when you like too closely at the details of a painting and you lose sense of what the pictures is because all you can see are colours and brushstrokes. Looking at the details of a painting, or of the Earth’s living systems, is a useful and necessary way of learning how the whole has come together, but to get a good view of it all we really have to “fly with the eagles,” get a view of the whole landscape as a working body.

Maybe it is an imaginative metaphor or poetic license. Maybe it is simply a lens through which we can view the Earth and our place on it. The fact is humans have been living with these lenses for a long time, and even science has to use metaphors as it struggles to create language for concepts that are beyond our immediate experience and accessible only through the imagination. By such lenses we are inspired and guided by a vision that has a bearing on our sense of meaning and morality.

Now I want to suggest an exercise, to “connect” with Gaia without intellectual analysis. If you have access to natural surroundings, go there and sense Gaia around you. You can visualize it in your mind, and you can feel it in your heart but also you can connect the experience with your body, letting it resonate through your being. Take any or all examples and see how it feels.

Feel that the Earth is a body, something that can be healthy or unhealthy, that evolves and changes depending on the forces acting upon it and within it.

Feel that Gaia is something to have a relationship with, or as a web of relationships between sky, land, sea, Sun and all organisms that has been evolving since life first appeared on Earth and to which humans are just newcomers.

Feel that life was just a passenger on a volatile rock but that grew and became a very influential force on the planet, where all organisms evolved together to keep the Earth alive.

Feel that water is the lifeblood of Gaia, that it also pumps through you.

Feel that photosynthetic life absorbs the energy of the Sun and then finds ways of sharing that with other organisms, along with nutrients.

Feel that the air you breathe and the food you eat are a source of communion with all other living things.

Feel humanity as an intelligent parasite living off of Gaia like an energy-hungry and resource-greedy disease.

Feel the outcome if humanity carries on like this.

Feel that humanity, like any disease, is killed off by its host in order to be healthy.

Feel that humanity chooses a different fate and works towards a healthy symbiosis with Gaia, directing our intelligence to work in harmony and collaboration with her.

In feeling Gaia this way we embrace a worldview that guides our attitudes and actions to a very different relationship with the Earth than we have now. Personifying the Earth has little to with defying science and more to do with engaging those aspects of the human psyche that cannot be convinced by intellectual analysis alone and creating an empathy with the very system that supports our existence. Harmonious planetary relationships require that we can feel with Gaia, not only think with Gaia.

“Do we really want to be the bureaucrats of the Earth? Do we want the full responsibility for its care and health? There can be no worse fate for people than to be conscripted for such a hopeless task – to be made forever accountable for the smooth running of the climate, the composition of the oceans, the air, and the soil. Something that until we began to dismantle creation, was the free gift of Gaia.” James Lovelock

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.” R. Buckminster Fuller

Just remember this, Gaia has been evolving without conscious and intelligent intervention long long looooooooooooooooong before humans arrived on the scene. If we weren’t so troublesome we’d be considered as an interesting afterthought, adding a conscious quality to an unconscious evolution. Just because we are the “conscious aspect” of Gaia that does not mean we need to start running the show. As I said before, Gaia’s been getting on fine without us AND we still haven’t learnt to run our own show, let alone Gaia’s. We’re treating our planet badly, we’re treating each other badly, and if we carry on down this route then we’ll end up being our own worst enemy.

First things first, we need to recognise our emerging global civilisation as an integral part of Gaia, that we depend on her and our only means to survive is to cooperate with her by aligning every aspect of human culture, society and civilisation with the living Earth. We need to do this by aligning with each other. You and me we have to admit we live on the same planet, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide anymore, and have no choice but to cooperate and coordinate with each other. Right?

Easier said than done, I know, but its worth our survival isn’t it? We’re in for a stormy nightmare, but if we really value this planet, the life on it, and humanity’s participation with it we can do it. Altogether now; Yes we…. you know the rest Obama 😉

But even if we achieve this we should never think we can run the show, all we can do is to add a conscious element to an unconscious evolution, as an enhancer not a controller. But wouldn’t it be beautiful if we used our arts, sciences, religions and cultures, not only as something to enhance human life but the living Earth as well. Hold that vision strong and clear in your mind; it’s our compass, our orientation, that will guide us along that long and hard road we have ahead of us for harmony to be restored .

“If life on Earth were suddenly to cease, all the hundred-plus elements that make up the surface, oceans, and atmosphere would react until no more reactions were possible, and a state close to chemical equilibrium was reached. The planet would become a hot, waterless, and inhospitable place.” James Lovelock

One thing that I often use for tag in my blog is the word Gaia. This is a loaded word so it’s best to really be clear in the way I use it. I don’t mean a conscious entity that is embodied in the Earth itself that so many people associate with Gaia. Rather I think of the scientific idea that was first set out by James Lovelock in his Gaia Hypothesis and later explored in the Earth System Sciences.

Let’s start with an experiment. Find a small object, say a penny, and hold it between your fingers above the ground. It is now in an energy rich state. Now drop that penny and watch it fall to the ground where it bounces, rolls, flips and/or slides to the ground and finally stops any movement. It is now in an energy poor state, no more energy is able to be extracted from it, unless the floor develops a hole where the penny can continue falling.

Here’s another image of energy rich and energy poor. Think of a car; the fuel that goes into it and the exhaust fumes that come out of it. The fuel is energy rich, ready to be transformed into kinetic energy. The exhaust fumes are energy poor, no more energy is able to be extracted for the car’s movement.

James Lovelock once worked with NASA to investigate if there was life on Mars. At some point he came up with the idea that perhaps the atmosphere of Mars could show signs of life by virtue of interacting with it. Mars’ atmosphere is energy poor, with chemicals comparable to a car’s exhaust fumes, whilst the Earth’s atmosphere has an energy rich chemistry. If the Earth had not developed lifeforms it would have fallen (like the penny) to the same fate as Mars, a dead, lifeless rock incapable of supporting or even developing life.

Somehow the collective action of life on Earth stops entropy from make the Earth irreversibly lifeless and keeps it inhabitable. Free energy from the Sun’s own entropic decay is “collected” by life through photosynthesis. This energy is exchanged with the environment, like the atmosphere, and with other organisms, where it takes on energy rich qualities in a balancing way that means that life can live on the Earth.

In a way it’s like having a system of organisms attached to your exhaust fumes that aborb those chemicals and, using the Sun’s energy, turn them into energy rich fuel that goes back into the car to power it, or another system of organisms that use the Sun’s energy to keep that penny in the air to stop it from falling to the ground, with the added bonus that by doing so it makes the existence of life possible.

That is a very simplistic explanation leaving out many details, which doesn’t do the theory any justice at all. I could talk about homeostasis, chemical equlibrium, disequilibrium, Daisyworld, the albedo effect, glacials, interglacials, the Milankovich effect, global warming, climate change, greenhouse gases,  defining life, neo-darwin evolution, Gaian evolution and other facts and theories that James Lovelock has woven together to create a compelling picture of the Earth’s life. All I want to do is introduce one aspect of it from which other aspects can be explored. My reference for this is James Lovelock’s Healing Gaia, though there’s plenty of other books about it, and lots of information on the internet. Just do a search of any of the terms I used above.

Gaia theory as a whole is just scientific theory, yet it is gaining credibility all the time, especially within Earth Systems Sciences. Parts of it have been proved and parts of it have yet to be proved.  So far it is the best image we have of the Earth as a self-sustaining system, an image that is being confirmed, modified and updated all the time by scientific research. But from this theory we can grasp a feeling of the world around us and how we fit in with it. Personally I have no doubts that Gaia Theory has something to it, that somehow the Earth is alive in some sense, that somehow it is an interdependent system and that there definately are consequences to our actions within it.

“Let us feel and obey the urge aroused by the great need of healing the serious ills which at present are affecting humanity; let us realize the contribution we can make to the creation of a new civilization characterized by an harmonious integration and cooperation, pervaded by the spirit of synthesis.” Robert Assaggioli

 

“Whether we own it or not, most of us are deeply influenced by Christianity. With so many years of history, it could not be otherwise. We are influenced by it even if we consciously reject it.” Jim Pym, You Don’t Have To Sit On The Floor

The context: a Druid message board and I ask whether or not those trying to recreate a pre-Christian worldview (known as a Reconstructionist) take into account the history of Christianity and its influence on them? For instance, I had a Christian upbringing and the society I grew up in has had a heavy Christian influence built into it, can I legitimately disown this Christian influence to reconstruct a worldview that is more or less extinct?


 I was thinking of the value of the Christian worldview to the unfolding of history. Its claims of exclusivity have been detrimental, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s what I think of as a human-based worldview, much like Buddhism. Originally, it came from a Jewish background and it could have stayed that way, as one type of Judaism amongst others, like the Pharisees and Saducees of its time. If St Paul hadn’t converted it may have stayed that way. But Paul took the message further and broke its original Jewish context to make it more universal. In some of his writings he talks of men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, all united “in Christ.” For me, this is an important aspect of Christianity and other human-based worldviews; it transcends local cultural boundaries and brings humanity together into the same basis for understanding each other.

 

In theory, it’s good. One example is in Tibet, where Buddhism “defeated” the native shamanic worldview. But it didn’t try to subdue it, it understood that the native worldview had its own valid expression in the world. All it did was to take the native practices and beliefs and bring it into line with a Buddhist understanding. Buddhism (in this case at least) respected the continuity of Tibetan culture but also had something valuable to offer to Tibet that it may not have found for itself; a common HUMAN understanding as opposed to a worldview in which only Tibetans can understand. Here we have a healthy mingling of a local worldview and a universal (human) worldview.

 

In Christian Europe, things were quite different. I think originally Christianity was like Buddhism in that it was something that didn’t impose itself on other cultures but could find itself happily “seeding” itself amongst different cultures because it wasn’t so constrained to local cultural views, like Jews, Celts, Vikings, Arabs, Romans, Greeks etc. Its basic human element meant it could fit almost anywhere (Rome, Greece, Egypt, Israel etc). I think when the Roman Empire took hold of Christianity that was when Christianity became a force to dominate the world with (because that was what the Roman Empire was doing) but this time it was doing it on a religious level, using Christianity’s universal human quality as a tool to dominate the world with, seeing themselves as the sole custodians of a human religion (as opposed to a local tribal religon) that gave them the rights to feel superior to their “pagan” subjects, who they saw as unenlightened “yokels”. A view that has tainted European thought ever since. Another problem (and one that Buddhism hasn’t been clean of either, except for some female Buddhas) is that women weren’t a valuable part of it, often being seen as somehow “less than human.” Perhaps something that some pre-Christian worldviews can help us resolve but once again, despite nominal “goddess worship” women have sometimes suffered the same.

 

But still, the Roman Christianity couldn’t completely convert the native cultures. Often the Christian worldview they imposed had to be adapted to native practices as much as it adapted the natives, so we often see old Pagan celebrations hidden beneath a thin veneer of Christian language. Then later, with the Protestant Reformation, there have been attempts to shed even this and get down to the basics of a human worldview without the trappings of culturally specific practices.

 

The universal human quality of Christianity is the aspect that I feel is the best of the legacy that it represents. In it I am black, I am white. I am man, I am woman. I am HUMAN. I think in this day and age though, Christianity’s true nature could be revived through the gentle clarity of Buddhist understanding and more able to shed its “Roman” quality of Imperial Domination and the Jewish God’s claim to exclusivity. But that’s my own idea and various interfaith efforts are working towards this.

 

For me to reject the Christian legacy of my culture’s history is to deny a universal human worldview, to once again divide humanity up into local tribes. For me the true legacy of Christianity is human unity, which is why I don’t believe in rejecting it nor in reconstructing a pre-Christian worldview as a replacement. What I do believe in is what I’ve recently taken to calling Reconnectionist Paganism.

 

For me, this is to go beyond the Christian-centric vision of history we have. It seems that history has forgotten about what happened before Christianity in Europe. The Pagan roots were hidden and denied by Christianity (unlike the spread of Buddhism, possibly). For me, the coming of Christianity in Europe was not the problem. The problem was the suppression of Pagan culture. We could have been more peacfully united in a human-Christianity, where local tribal cultures still flourished and yet had a common human understanding “through Christ”. That did not happen though and the Roman and Jewish baggage that Christianity had aquired skewed our historical identity so that we forgot about Pagan Europe, or at least denied its identity. Paganism, for me, is about reconnecting the roots of my British-European identity to a deeper, pre-Christian, one. But I still maintain my Christian heritage, especially its Humanist elements.

 

The problem, for me, is that if I adopted the Reconstructionist approach and tried to learn to think like my pre-Christian ancestors (Germanic, Celtic and/or Norse) I’d be learning a worldview suited to the way the world was back then, when you stood for your tribe against the potentially hazardous forces of nature and competition against other tribes. In this day and age, when we’re in such a small and delicate world, with powerful technologies at our disposal, this tribal worldview (fragmented and competitive, like Celtic cattle raiders or Viking pirates) is not to our advantage, we are in desperate need of basic human values of collaboration and common understanding, something we can find in the Humanist elements of Christianity (at least in the heritage of the Western World).

 

But humans are not an isolated subject, we cannot have a Humanist worldview without recognising its wider context; that of our living planet. For me, this offers another common worldview, alongside our common humanity. It is the universal context in which we have all evolved within and carry on evolving. In this stage of history, we need to develop a “Gaian” worldview especially since our influence on the environment is so powerful that we cannot afford not to coordinate and focus ourselves together, with the same worldview to orientate ourselves.

 

The Earth is ONE thing. Humanity is learning this, but in a detrimental and destructive way. No matter what culture you are in, no matter where you live, no matter what beliefs and values you hold dear, we all live under global influence, the collapse of which will be universal, affecting every human being (and plenty of other species as well). Favoritism is not a part of this system, so either we have to find a coherent way of thinking and behaving within the living Earth or go extinct, along with all the worldviews we have developed.

 

On one level, that of the planet, there is conformity. But at the same time there is room for diversity as the diversity of species and ecosystems (and even worldviews) can attest. Then the “conformity” I’m talking about is not conformity at all otherwise our ecological diversity would not be possible. Instead, I talk about coherence and synthesis.

 

As a student of Psychosynthesis (founded by Robert Assagioli), I view my life as a single, progressive, path and the various aspects of my personality as a coherent whole working towards synthesis. So too with the history of things, which I view myself as a “synthetic” part of. Humanity is on a coherent evolutionary course, despite appearances (we are diversified as a species but at present humanity is undeniably going through a process of globalisation).  For me, the course of our historical developments i.e. practical (agricultural, industrial) or spiritual (monotheistic, polytheistic etc) are legitimate ways through which humanity, as a coherent whole, express what we are, what we have become and what we are becoming.

 

For me, to deny my Pagan heritage is to cut away at a root of my human identity, depriving it of a vital part of what my humanity is. On the other hand, denial of the more recent Christian developments is to regress, depriving me of a vital part of what humanity, for me, has become. To be “totally Christian” or “totally Pagan” I see as an impossibility in these times where both have played a fundamental part in our evolution as a species. I cannot just “baptise” my past away, thinking it is not a part of my spiritual journey.

 

To be honest I don’t care about whether there is one God or many gods or none at all. I don’t believe that’s neither important nor REALLY relevant to our present place in history. What I do believe in is humanity and the Earth. I seem to remember one fiction book’s take on King Arthur where he was asked what he believed in, the old polytheist religion or the newer monotheistic religion. His reply was something like “I don’t know but I know I believe in humanity.”

 

I’ll add to this “I believe in Gaia,” that humanity cannot regard itself in a separate way from its ecological context, although a distinction can be made. Humanity’s current process of globalisation means that all the cultures that have found themselves estranged from each other, diversifying from each other, are now converging, with our new atmosphere of international travel, communication and politics. This is a very volatile time, where incompatible or competing cultures are finding themselves at odds. We grew from Africa and spread around the globe, becoming diversified. But because of the inventive, communicative and organisational nature of humanity, the process of globalisation seems an unavoidable part of our evolution.

 

My view of Druidry is coloured by this. I do not view Druidry as a local Irish-British-Gaulish “wisdom tradition” to be reconstructed but something that could have found itself growing beyond this culturally bound context. The Druids I view as an intertribal network, providing different tribes and different cultures with a common way of understanding and communication, at its heart I can see that it may have had humanitarian values. I wonder, if the Roman Empire had not invaded Britain, and later Christianity had not usurped the Druids, that Druidry may have expanded and evolved across Europe, uniting fragmented tribes and their different pantheons with common principles. Speculation, true, but one that influences how I practice my Druidry. What’s more, what the “humanitarian” Druidry does that Christianity and Buddhism often don’t so much is to consider the importance of our environmental context, it has a place for humans within nature. It is mainly seen as an Earth-based spirituality.

 

The Conclusion: For me, this is perhaps best summed up in “To be “totally Christian” or “totally Pagan” I see as an impossibility in these times where both have played a fundamental part in our evolution as a species.”

My journey through Paganism helped me recognise and integrate a deeper pre-Christian identity that was within me and within my culture. But also I see the evolution of humanity as one process, and all of its world views, developments and challenges are part of that process, from the dispersal from Africa and subsequent diversification to the global reconnection we are going through now. Ultimately I view myself as a Gaian, because within the living Earth all of our worldviews has developed, from Animism to Materialism, Shamanism to Scientific Pantheism, Nihilism to Idealism, Polytheism to Monotheism, all have grown within humanity, and humanity has grown within Gaia. Our ideas are as much a part of Gaia  as we are.

 

Haysden Country Park, Tonbridge, Kent

“A short saying often contains much wisdom.” Sophocles

This is the quote that defines this blog, at least its form. I can be inspired by a quote and write something about the subject or I can write about something and find the quote that really helps focus what I’m saying. But it doesn’t really define the philosophy, or philosophies, that I talk from. Saying things that are “my view” (and it is) doesn’t help because I could be experimenting with any view whatsoever; from cake baking to the Apocalypse, without regards to where I’m coming from or going! Although all of this is my view, and I’m not using it to represent anything else, I live in a larger world that I exist as part of and can’t just write these blogs as though I come from out of nowhere or “out of the blue”…
So, I want to start this blog afresh, and give it some sort of focus. Then a quote inspired me (surprise surprise!)…
“We are not living on the Earth, we are part of how it lives.” David Richo
Aha! There we have it.
I want this blog to be a part of how the Earth, Gaia, lives, because humans emerged and are evolving within Gaia, as do all of the views that we hold, (and even if they sound unGaian, they still cannot exist without her!). Whatever we do is a part of Gaia, not apart from her, whatever I talk about, the sense, the orientation, of these blogs is Gaian, even if I never actually mention Gaia or planetary scale ecosystems in the Grove of Quotes.
My views might sound Christian, Pagan, Ecopsychological, Psychosynthetic, Environmentalist, or Humanist because all of these have influenced my way of thinking. But they are all Gaian, they are all Gaia, because they originated within Gaia and are sustained by her… so long as humans are honourable and work to the benefit of our living home.