Friday, April 22, 2011

In Celebration of Earth Day

In honor of Mother Earth we share an excerpt from Jesse Wolf Hardin's Gaia Eros. Jesse is among the best artists to share his love of the earth. This excerpt comes from Chapter 3: The Song of Gaia: The Living Earth as Source and Mentor.

We must not expect that we can simply use the...image of Gaia to meet emotional, religious (or) political needs without allowing it to transform us in unexpected and radical ways. The spirituality of the Earth invitation to initiation, to the death of what we have been and the birth of something new.
—David Spangler

It was said that in the beginning nothing existed but the Great Mother, Chaos—a dark swirling of the elements in a vast cauldron of time. Atomic matter spun about wildly in a mad dance of self-absorption, as spiraling gases mixed and stirred within her being. It was said that from the disorder of this tempestuous womb, a child of order was born, cast at an ideal temperature at the perfect distance from the sun, a body, heart, and soul spun into a globe of minerals and chemicals, land and sea, fur and feather, tears and laughter. They spoke of it as a living entity manifest in intricate patterns that constantly rearranged themselves in service to the Whole, a breathing planet delivered into the black sands of a cosmic desert.

The ancient Greeks proclaimed this geobiological composite a goddess, and named this goddess “Gaia.” In Piraeus, Dodona, and Delphi they built beautiful marble temples to honor her—the source of life, wisdom, and thus of joy—places where she spoke to and through those oracles able and willing to make out her whispered guidance. Plato described the Earth as “a living creature, one and visible, containing within itself all living creatures,” and according to Xenophon, teaching “justice to those who can learn.” “The better she is served,” he counsels, “the more good things she gives in return.” Here is a relationship worthy of Homeric verse:

To Gaea, mother of all life and oldest of gods, I sing. You who make and feed and guide all creatures of the Earth, those who move on your firm and radiant land, those who wing your skies and swim your seas, all those you’ve given birth Mistress, from you come all our harvests, our children, our night of day. To you who contain everything, to Gaea mother of all, I sing.

Those people living closest to the land have always placed the Earth deity foremost in their system of worship. It’s easier to accept the primacy of an inspirited Earth when it’s directly providing one with all the things needed for a healthy and aesthetic life. Yet as late as the 17th century, these essential truths continued to surface:

The whole world is knit and bound within itself: for the world is a living creature, everywhere both male and female, and the parts of it do couple reason of their mutual love.
—Della Porta, 1658

This understanding survived the ascension of the sky gods and the new soteriological (salvational) religions, persisted even as humanity clustered more and more in its swelling cities, and receded only after the last of our connections to the land had been severed by the shears of scientism in the “age of reason.” Ideas are trivialized that betray the dominant system, while those ideas that serve its bent are encouraged and, in time, institutionalized. The model of the world that worked best for the merchants and corporations, the developers and colonizers, was no longer that of a living being requiring our respect and forbearance. The new model was one of a planet machine with gears and pulleys—a giant watch awaiting our enlightened improvements. The emotional, intuitive, instinctual self was increasingly discouraged in favor of the rational, the functional, and the quantifiable. The tribal dances largely gave way to marches, and the songs were forgotten.

While the Greeks abandoned their mythology of an Earth goddess long ago, it is by the name they gave her that the symbol of “Earth Mother” has reemerged in contemporary consciousness. This universal symbol has been powerfully revived thanks to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart’s 1970 paper “TheaGenesis: Birth Of A Goddess” and the subsequent writings of NASA researchers James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, whose “Gaia Hypothesis” postulates a self-regulating and intentional living planet. In a synergy of the scientific and the metaphysical, we find an increased recognition of the Goddess just as humanity seems to need the wisdom and alliance of the Earth the most. In 1985, a refreshing new conference asked the question: “Is the Earth a living organism?” committing what heretofore had been considered scientific blasphemy, while inquiring about something taken for granted by most indigenous peoples. To our “primitive” ancestors, intimate with the energies and physique of the planet, the Earth was almost universally experienced as a sacred living being and as their extension, source, and destination.

Scientists trained to focus exclusively on the parts, advised to specialize in a narrow field such as industrial chemistry or molecular biology, can hardly be faulted for a failure to envision the incorruptibility of an interactive whole. However informed they might be, professionals find themselves at a distinct disadvantage next to the broad vision of Earth-based peoples and the open minds of children. The sciences have narrowed their focus a bit like a flea, and while well versed on the nutritional offerings of a stretch of skin, they are likely oblivious to the overall form and function of the animal that bears them. The disappearance of general physicians able to diagnose and treat the entire patient is an analogy for this specialization of the sciences. No expert in one area is likely to be proficient in the other important studies, and few have opportunities for the cross-disciplinary experience necessary for a subsequent understanding of the symbiotic Whole.

Lovelock called the Earth’s regulatory self-controls, including both temperature and the composition of the atmosphere, “the song of life.” We participate by co-creating the very air we breathe, in alliance with the volcanoes and microbes, the various plants, and our fellow aspiring and perspiring animals. We might think of each individual being as a cell, grouped with others into cohesive organs of the planet body, each with specific innate functions that contribute to the overall balance and health of the Whole. When speaking of the human body, such a condition of collaborative balance would be called “homeostasis.” In the language of song, we refer to this interactive condition as multipart harmony, with all the performers delivering their diverse individual parts in key, and in perfect pitch with the rest. In our spiritual vernacular, we call this state “resonance.” It’s interesting that Lovelock’s conjecturing began with his contemplation of atmosphere, the “breath of God.” The air’s suspended molecules form the connective tissue, the bridge between our bodies and the trees behind us, the buildings ahead and those clouds floating languorously above. The song is the collected vibrations of every Gaian form and process, transported across a membranous transparency, carried through the air to every willing ear.

Because of the collaborative nature of this song, it could be said that we work in concert to maintain the composition of life—life orchestrated by a unifying presence, performed by a wide range of inspirited constituents with complimentary instrumentation. Lovelock himself saw no clear distinction between the proactive performers—rocks and whales, life and “nonlife”—“merely a hierarchy of intensity.” What he was describing was a scientifically posited reality previously expressed solely as a religious idea.

The Earth has developed systems that somehow recharge each other in the process of interaction, reacting and exchanging elements with no overall loss. In a natural state of balance, living beings actively give back to the Whole, equal to what they take, managing to consume their environment without degrading it. Gaia forms a single system that miraculously recycles its resources without quantitatively or qualitatively depleting its parts. While it lives off the sun, the sun doesn’t run down any faster as a result of the Earth utilizing more of its available energy. Gaia has set an example of nonexploitive partnership, an example for the planets of distant galaxies, and an example for us as well.

To the ancient Greeks, we were both blessed and cursed with the unique ability to self-reflect, and thus to imagine ourselves distinctly apart from the rest. The great oral tragedies told of the anguish of recognizing the importance of our individual assignments, coupled with an un-animal like awareness of our impending mortal demise. The key to inner peace was always in aligning oneself with the will of Gaia, adapting to her patterns, tapping her prevalent energetic momentum in the accomplishment of selfhood, the fulfillment of role. To this end, they regularly sought out divine guidance. Not “divine” as in other-worldly, but as in “divined”—derived from the greater, larger self, channeled directly from the inspirited planet holon. Those accepting of the living Earth have always moved close to it to hear the Shamans of Tuva throat-singing on the dirt floors, AmerIndians vision-questing in dug-out pits, and the early Irish opening to signs inside the “Tigh’n alluis,” the Celtic sweat lodge. Believing in Gaia, whether as a working mechanical model or as an inspirited being, it nonetheless becomes increasingly difficult to recognize her needs and communications as we tend to live further insulated from the land and the elements, further from the unobstructed Gaian presence we call “nature” or “wilderness.” The most valid impressions of the workings of Gaia are more likely to result from personal intimacy with the flesh of her being than from clever extrapolation. Our role within this Whole is clarified not by taking charge, but by adjusting to its organic tendencies, and by directly sensing the extant will of the planet organism.

Gaian consciousness is likely a synesthetic process in which it synthesizes the perceptive field of all its constituent beings. Consider the Earth made conscious through the combined complimentary perception of its parts, through the eyes of the hawk, the responses of plant life, the comprehension of deer, the sensation of fruit in a desert tortoise’s mouth, and the burgeoning hearts of children. I believe Gaia knows the galaxy through the dreams of its seekers, the magnetic-field sensitivity of migrating mallards, the holophonic echolation of whales, the wind-tugged strands of spiderwebs and the probing fingers of the blind: Gaian “body language.” If this exchange of information were between unconnected entities, we would call it “communication,” but because it occurs between constituent elements of a connective Whole, it is more a matter of “communion”—an open, simultaneous, wordless sharing with our living context, with the rest of the inclusive All. Communion is the immediate awareness of our immersion, while the rest of the time our subconscious body continues its exchange with the world minus any conscious acknowledgement. An awakening to the full experience is inevitably blissful and transformative, the state of self-realization and intense mindfulness also known as satori, samadhi, or enlightenment. It’s about reentering the depths of Gaian reality, deep seeing, tasting, smelling, dreaming, touching, and shaping the world that is us. A fully informed world.

We know the instruction and will of the inspirited universe through the deep empathic experiencing of Gaia, and we access the truth and experience of Gaia through the portals of the feeling heart. It thus appears we do ourselves as well as our evolving communities a disservice if we merely substitute a goddess Gaia for the more conventional, omnipotent sky god in our metaphysical pantheon. She is not some removed authority or elevated reference point, but the fact of and means for our sacred oneness. She is inseparable from the miraculous Whole, as we are inseparable from the song and miracle of her.

For all the readings of his sensitive instruments, Lovelock may have come closest to capturing the essence of Gaia when he spoke of that “song” of life. With the destruction of life form and terraform, there’s a loss of communicants. Notes are missed, then whole stanzas vanish forever from the summer winds, and from the curling faded page. Devoted to its modality, the value of its parts and the integrity of its composition, Gaia responds by innovating substituting passages—extending the bridge between codependent parts, speeding up or slowing down the tempo as necessary, drawing on the strengths of the remaining parts to fill out the texture of the Whole. It is the Whole that decides when our pitch is too sharp or too flat, and it is up to us to spot the key and meter signs, the signature that marks our entry into the piece in progress, our place in the arrangement.

The opus surrounds us, beckoning us to participate. Encouragement the acoustics of our bioregion, the overture of thunder, the rain’s riffs and licks, the bagatelles of the arroyos’ short-lived floods, the ocean waves’ tireless refrain. In the fugue of mating frogs, the counterpoints of shore birds, the ravens’ stuttering arpeggios, and the suite of wind-whipped pines. Each earthen entity responds from its own being, to the directives of its form, its place, its purpose: the soil slow, adagio, and the granite peaks adagissimo. The mourning doves, funerale. Delicato, little ladybugs. The soft flowers, sotto voce. Fiero, bold elk, challenging fellow suitors, whistling for your mate. Furioso, uncaged fire. Comedic coyote, burlesco, if you please. The bear, the volcano, fortissimo, hombres. And the people, when they must talk, make it important, make it poetic, parlato. And as long as you’re at it, why not make the delivery as sweetly as you can: dolce, dolce? From the dawn’s glorious fanfare to the sunset’s climactic coda, from life’s bold opening to its decrescendo and finale, we ultimately have no choice but to proceed from one movement to the next.

In time, we as a species, or at least we as individuals may be able to tell when our mortal expression lives up to that organic, inherited consonance. Like the Earth herself, we endeavor to find our perfect rhythms. To express ourselves in the key of life. To discover and enjoin the holy grail of song...the sacred song of Gaia.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is an internationally renowned artist, musician, and presenter on Earth-centered spirituality, and Pagan and magical practice. As founder of The Earthen Spirituality Project, a sanctuary and teaching center, he’s spent the last quarter century restoring and re-inhabiting an ancient place of power in New Mexico’s wild and enchanted Southwest. He is the author of numerous books, including Kindred Spirits: Sacred Earth Wisdom (2001).

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