Years ago, my brother-in-law, a retired geophysicist, invited us to join him on a trek across the lava on the island of Hawai’i so we could see red-hot flows making their trek toward the ocean – nature’s way of making the Big Island even bigger.
The hike was several miles without the aid of a trail. Having spent many hours on the flows, my brother-in-law had many words of advice as we prepared, but it was his final admonition, as we came within a few feet of the blazing river of lava, which lodged itself in some deep crevice in my brain. Since even the “cooled” lava had been molten not long before our visit, he warned, “If your feet get warm, move to a different rock.” There’s wise but useless counsel, I thought. Who would stand motionless in life as the soles of their shoes begin to burn?
I wonder if the same is true for humans as a species. To believe we can continue on our current path is folly. Our collective feet are getting warm – as is the global environment. How long can we keep from being scorched by an economic system based on digging up resources we turn into temporary trinkets to use briefly, discard and bury? How will we continue to feed 7 billion people, even as we become 12 billion, as farmland is increasingly turned into strip malls and housing developments? But then, to save corporate mega-farms is to preserve a different kind of ecological disaster. How long will Mother Nature – Pachamama – put up with a species that shows so little regard for the delicate balance required to support all life? At what point might she call a halt to our self-centeredness?
Our current thinking, and what flows from our thoughts, is in profound misalignment with the natural cycles of life. To continue thinking in Newtonian ways about how to “fix” Pachamama will further heat the rocks on which we stand. Our future depends on our willingness to be in, and of, this world – partner with Pachamama – in ways that are far more than adaptations of our current ways of thinking and doing. Our Newtonian infused minds want to plan, organize and manipulate – forge a future we believe is knowable and predictable. What if, we must instead, allow new visions of the world, and humankind’s role in it, to emerge slowly, and in unpredictable ways?
An image returns from my trip to Hawai’i. As I stood amid the endless black landscape, I beheld a tiny green shoot that found its way through the lava. It was there not because it planned, manipulated and organized, but simply by being there to rebuild the tropical paradise.
Humanity has always known how to be in the world; perhaps we have simply forgotten. The biologists Humberto Maturana and FranciscoVarela, in studying living systems, learned that health can be restored to an ailing system only by reconnecting it with more of itself. What would it mean for us to reconnect with other parts of the living system known as Gaia? Can we learn to listen more deeply for what is trying to be born? Can we hear what life is asking of us rather than telling life what we expect from it? Is it time we remembered ways of listening that transcend the rational mind; ways that penetrate our hearts as well as our minds? What if returning home means we need to stop, listen and allow the Universe to find us. Do we have that much courage?
The next moments in human history offer a boundless opportunity for learning and wisdom. We are standing upon a welcome mat, inviting us to co-create with Pachamama the next epoch of her future – not a future separate from humanity, and not a future for humanity separate from her. We are poised to rediscover our place as an important, but far-from-dominant species, and help create a future for a global life force, fully integrated, and intimately intertwined.
On a walk up the steep volcanic slopes of Oahu, I struggled to navigate a narrow, craggy, roadside path to avoid trampling a beautiful, carefully cultivated yard on the other side of the road. An elder tending to the lush beauty, called to me; “Please, walk here; it is safer.” If, collectively, we can find that voice of welcoming, generosity, grace and wisdom – and if that should become the dominant song of our species – perhaps, in the end, there is hope.
Roger Breisch is passionate about his family, community and ideas that cause him to rethink how he views the world. His life’s work is helping others ask questions that matter and is informed by his thousands of hours on a suicide hotline and work with a teen leadership program.