Human Nature, Natural Cycles & Civilization – Summer 2016

Writing by: Dagny Pottersmith

Photography by: August Allen

Human Nature:

Here and now is your experience as a beautiful and curious creature, a tender human being, living on the surface of a delicate planet. Earth’s boundless biodiversity and wild architectures are brilliant, mysterious, and alluring. Spending time with plants, animals, and the land is physically and spiritually replenishing in a novel way. Perhaps you can feel in your heart the residue of times when you were immersed in Nature; hiking a beautiful mountain trail, wandering the ocean’s edge on a sandy beach, or affectionately tending to your garden. Such meditative moments are endowed with a feeling of equilibrium between groundedness and elation. Our personal encounters with the organic world are laden with an undeniable sense of belonging. If we allow ourselves to be open to her, Nature draws us in, embraces us, and welcomes us home. Our affinity to the natural world has been given the name “biophilia”. As Edward O. Wilson writes, “biophilia … is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature” (Wilson and Kellert 31). In addition to this innate affinity, we intuitively interact with Nature in an effort to feel better in some way, and it often fulfills or surpasses our expectations. It has been scientifically shown that Nature experiences actually improve mental well-being (Bratman et al. 1). Humans have a deep existential connection to the Earth, other life forms, and the natural world, and we can derive some of our most profound healing from this connection, yet civilization necessitates desecration of these things in order to be sustained.

Natural Cycles:

Before the advent of civilization, recognition of our innate connection to the Earth, reverence for healing found through Nature, and honor of the intrinsic value of other life forms, were elemental to the lifestyle of prehistoric humans (Oelschlaeger 16). For more than 5,300 generations, humans lived in small, nomadic populations as primal members of creation. They mobilized in sync with the seasons and cycles of the Earth, maintaining relative balance within the ecosystem. Such a balance required human population sizes to remain lower than the carrying capacity of a given area (Marten 12). Hunter-gatherers could only be sustained by what was available to them through Nature, keeping the population within the it’s resource limit. This also required groups of humans to take only what they needed to survive, and make use of everything they took, informing a humble worldview with balance as a priority.
Ancient, and contemporary, Indigenous cultures practiced living in accordance with Natural Order Laws, such as “‘The Law of the Cyclical-Spiraled Movement of Life and Its Processes’(easily discerned by Indigenous People in their close communion with the seasonal cycles of gathering, planting, water, etc.)” (Bracho 42). Prehistoric humans were practically and psychologically situated within a Gaian context, wherein “all life is mysteriously bound together in a benevolent and harmonious cycle of life, death, and birth” (Oelschlaeger 18). They lived from an intuited ecological awareness, and by virtue of their connectedness to the web of life, ancient indigenous populations existed healthily, in relative equilibrium with the ecological world for hundreds of thousands of years. These cultures were, and are still, predicated on maintaining harmony through ceremony and ritual, offering thanks and praises to the Earth for all she has provided (Bracho 42). The lifestyle of nature-based cultures illustrates the fundament for sustaining populations in such a way that humans, other life forms, and the natural world can thrive in wholeness and vitality.1

Civilization Changes Everything:

Around 10,000 B.C.E., the nomadic lifestyle gradually transitioned into the systemic domestication of animals and plants i.e. agriculturalism. It is likely that population pressures and/or climate pressures were driving catalysts of this revolution. Producing an agricultural surplus seemed like the ideal solution for feeding a larger population in an uncontrollable climate (Oelschlaeger 25). Over time, sedentism and agriculture allowed for the accumulation of material goods and a novel increase in population. In short, these factors were the perfect recipe for unprecedented social and technological change (Oelschlaeger 30). Vaneigem writes, “a subsistence mode that was symbiotic with nature was replaced by a system of social relations determined by the appropriation of a territory, cultivation of the land and the exchange of products or merchandise” (qtd. in Manicardi 12). Essentially, this revolution rendered humanity exceptional to the aforementioned law of “the cyclical-spiraled movement of life and it’s processes”. Humans began controlling and soon exploiting Nature, manipulating the land to feed growing numbers of people. The evolution of society posterior to the advent of agriculture has paved the way for modern civilization, whose run has been considerably short term with only 500 generations to present (Oelschlaeger 30). In this time, “humans have pressed nature into its role as provider of the resources to sustain burgeoning populations” (Oelschlaeger 1). Enrico Manicardi notes, “pushing the productivity of farming established the ground for the emergence of a new mentality unknown to Paleolithic humans: the economic motive” (22).

A mere 10 generations ago, the practices of extracting and burning fossil fuels for energy, and the mechanization of production, as opposed to physical labor, were initiated. These new technologies enabled humans to produce and consume at an accelerated rate. In turn, the human population has since been increasing exponentially (Marten 15). To support a population growing at this rate, coupled with  our highly mechanized and technological lifestyle, we extract unimaginable amounts of resources from the Earth. Accessing these resources necessitates the destruction and pollution of habitats, whole ecosystems, and precious elements. Even though we have developed the ability to extract and produce greater amounts more quickly, we cannot support our entire population adequately, as Gerry Marten writes, “ erosion, depletion of soil fertility, accumulation of toxic chemicals and numerous other forms of soil damage can cause … carrying capacity to decline in a vicious cycle (positive feedback loop) of inadequate food supply and inappropriate land use” (Marten 15). It is simple to understand that supporting exponential growth in a environment with finite resources is unsustainable.

In addition, our practice of fossil fuel combustion emits large quantities of Greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, into the atmosphere, causing increases in global temperatures and a disruption of global climate regulation (EPA, “Climate Change: Basic Information”). Simply put, our industrial civilization is disturbing the delicate balance and vitality of global ecosystems.

While many of us are familiar with these scientific facts, they are difficult to swallow. They also do not address a facet essential to our current situation, a more spiritual aspect of the environmental crisis, which is rarely is mentioned in mainstream discourse. A slightly deeper approach to environmental degradation and climate change has the potential to touch human beings more tenderly than cold, hard science does. From a deep ecological perspective, we are desecrating a living being that we are all innately connected to. Since we are intimately affiliated with the natural world, destruction of it is also the destruction of ourselves. The world we are so deeply connected with, the Nature we once revered for thousands of generations, the world that heals our minds, bodies, and spirits, and teaches us lessons of utmost importance, is subject to potential annihilation for the purpose of fueling our civilization.

Healing: the return to well-being and wholeness:

Modern industrial culture will have a tumultuous time initiating changes to our current lifestyle if we don’t truly know what, or who, it is we are changing for. As long as dominant culture regards material accumulation and economic progress as the keys to happiness, fulfillment, and success, desecration of the natural world will not cease and heartfelt motivation for sustainability will be lacking. In order to preserve Earth’s natural brilliance and vast biodiversity, we will need to recognize them as essential to our personal well-being and survival. We will then be in the position to revolutionize the way we live, out of genuine love for Creation.

It is necessary to address the environmental crisis holistically. There isn’t just one exclusive approach that can bring about the kind of change needed to preserve Earth’s vitality. It requires all of our hands, heads, and hearts working together, using each and every one of our personal expertise to make an effort to mitigate further destruction of Nature and adapt to a sustainable way of living. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Though it may seem like it at times, we do not need to stand by and wait for politicians and corporations to declare a crisis, as Naomi Klein writes, “mass movements of the people can declare one too” (6). As this transformation brews in our cores, it is imperative to keep our eyes on the skies of healing.

As Chellis Glendinning writes, “human well-being and wholeness depend on, and exist in constant and complex intimacy with, the well-being and wholeness of the Earth” (21). Healing this intimacy entails re-establishing the balance of our existence with the processes and cycles of Nature, honoring all life forms as having intrinsic value, designing and activating sustainable practices that work in tandem with the varying ecosystems rather than opposed to them, as well as re-evaluating our personal and collective priorities, and then some. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. And, indeed, we have already begun.

What you can do:

  • Know that you are a whole, capable, and powerful being. Be open to the support systems around you, and receive guidance from the natural world, your relations, and your intuition.
  • Cultivate personal candor about the way you live, find honesty in your endeavor to adjust and contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle. Become deeply aware of your personal consumption.
  • Educate yourself. Be a lifelong student. Find reliable sources and increase your knowledge of what matters to you. Offer yourself to the Earth, and listen for her guidance.
  • Stand tall, rooted in integrity, drawing strength from the abundance that surrounds you. Walk your talk. Take creative action in service of the planet, your community, and all life forms.
  • Have faith. Take time to look at and feel the emotional weight of the world, while keeping faith in your purpose and in your people.
  • Create space, in yourself and for others, for mistakes, learning, and growth. We are all on the path of practice.
  • Participate. Participate in your personal sphere of existence. Participate as a highly important, valuable member of your local and global community.
  • Praise the Earth for providing you with all you need to fulfill your purpose here.

Notes:

  1. The description of nature-based culture outlined here accurately encapsulates a state of consciousness which “embodies an intimate and respectful communion with Mother Nature,” however it is important to recognize that nature-based cultures should not be romanticized, “nor should we deny that they have also been subjected to their own degenerative process, in a cycle that seems to have been inescapable for all humanity (Bracho 33).
  2. To read more about the various repercussions of the Neolithic revolution outlined in this article, refer to “The Idea of Wilderness : From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology” by Max Oelschlaeger

Works Cited:

“”Energy Flow in Ecosystems.”.” n.d. Web. <http://www.ck12.org/>.

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous : Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. New York : Vintage Books, 1997; 1st Vintage Books ed, 1997. Web.

Bracho, Frank, and Donald Trent Jacobs. “Happiness and Indigenous Wisdom in the History of the Americas.” Unlearning the Language of Conquest : Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America : Deceptions that Influence War and Peace, Civil Liberties, Public Education, Religion and Spirituality, Democratic Ideals, the Environment, Law, Literature, Film, and Happiness.Austin : University of Texas Press, 2006; 1st ed, 2006. Web.

Glendinning, Chellis. My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 1994. Print.

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything : Capitalism Vs. the Climate. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2014; First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition, 2014. Web.

Klinger, Lee, and Donald Trent Jacobs. “Ecological Evidence of Large-Scale Silviculture by California Indians.” Unlearning the Language of Conquest : Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America : Deceptions that Influence War and Peace, Civil Liberties, Public Education, Religion and Spirituality, Democratic Ideals, the Environment, Law, Literature, Film, and Happiness. Austin : University of Texas Press, 2006; 1st ed, 2006. 153. Web.

Luther, Rachel. “Synesthesia and the Phenomenological Experience: Implications for Ecological Mindfulness and Beginning Scholars in Science Education.” Cultural Studies of Science Education 10.1 (2015): 215-27. Web.

Manicardi, Enrico. Free from Civilization: Notes Toward a Radical Critique of Civilization’s Foundations: Domination, Culture, Fear, Economics, Technology. Ed. Alice Parman. Green Anarchy Press, 2010. Print.

Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness : From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991, 1991. Web.

Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life. First Harvard University Press, 1992. Print.

Wilson, Edward O., and Stephen R. Kellert. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, D.C.: Shearwater, 2013. Web.

Dagny was born and raised in Boulder, CO, and is a senior Environmental Studies major at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. She is passionate about wandering the land, praying with the Earth, loving humans and other living creatures, singing songs and speaking words, eating yummy food, planting seeds, and yoga, the path of practice. Dagny aspires to live simply, and to make an offering of her life to the Most High, moment by moment.