(Image by Alex Grey)
Can I share a secret with you? It’s my own personal vision statement, formulated back in January as part of a visioning workshop I facilitated. (If you’re interested in clarifying your own vision, I’ve collected a few resources that may be helpful.) I was amazed that I could boil it down to three words: “Awakening to Gaia.”
There’s a bit more. It continues thusly: “a transformation of consciousness in myself and others, toward an ecocentric perspective and a sense of divine possibility in life.” But those first three words really encapsulate it all for me.
That was eight months ago, and so far I’ve kept it mostly to myself, a secret. It’s a personal statement, after all, so that’s highly appropriate. It’s something on which I reflect, which provides guidance on setting priorities, goals, and plans. It helps me stay focused.
It means something to me, and that’s probably sufficient for a personal vision statement. But as a rule, I’m not interested in keeping secrets. I’m a communicator by nature.
I’m curious to know if I can articulate what this phrase means to me, such that other people might understand and not think me a crazy person. What does it mean, awakening to Gaia? Sounds straight loony — at least, some people would think so.
I understand Gaia to be a metaphor for the co-evolutionary, interconnected, planetary ecosystem. Stronger formulations of Gaia theory are more controversial, so these distinctions become important. The science behind co-evolutionary Gaia seems pretty solid, though there is hardly a consensus on the value of the metaphor; in other words, scientists support the concept, even if they don’t like the name. The value of the metaphor is aesthetic and affective. Picturing the Earth as mother goddess fosters biophilia (an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems), and the name lends itself to poetic expressions.
Awakening to Gaia means awakening to the reality behind this metaphor. To awaken to Gaia is to recognize our interconnectedness, our radical interdependence, our participation in the web of life. To awaken to Gaia is to recognize other animals and plants as our distant cousins, to recognize that our kinship extends even to rocks, to the sea, to the atmosphere. To awaken to Gaia is to recognize these realities, to become more fully alive, alert, aware, involved, and mindful. To awaken to Gaia is to wake up from the zombiefied slumber of American-style consumerism, to come alive to what it means to be a social primate in the 21st century. Awakening to Gaia means awakening to oneself, to one’s own potential, to one’s own responsibilities.
This awakening is no abstract exercise but a transformation with profound consequences. The dominant narrative of Western-style industrial growth society has been predicated on a view of the Earth as inert matter for human exploitation. In light of the fact that we are now living through the sixth great extinction, on the brink of global ecological catastrophe, awakening to Gaia is crucially important, as it provides a basis and an impetus for right action.
It’s not a one-time deal. It’s more of an ongoing process. I’m not preaching from some sort of purified pinnacle of imagined perfection here. Far from it. Awakening to Gaia is something I aim to accomplish more fully every day.
Though I’ve experienced this awakening in glimmers and fits my whole life, it was only a few years ago that I was able to put a name to it. There’s a power in names, and in the metaphor of Gaia, and that power gives me pause. There’s danger here, of sloppy thinking, of complacency, of becoming fixated on the metaphor and losing sight of the underlying reality it represents. And yet, on balance, and after years of consideration, I think the value of the metaphor may well be worth the risks.
On this autumnal equinox, I found my intentions coalescing into form, both symbolic and actual. I found myself giving voice (in ritual, with my circle) to my commitment and dedication to this vision. I also found myself convening a meeting of people interested in working together for social justice, grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and peace.
So, too, with this column I rededicate myself to this vision: Awakening to Gaia.
Join me if you will.
The Author: Bart Everson
What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?
In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism,Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.