“The Four G’s of Enough-Ness” from Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Excerpt Psychology & Personal Growth Society & Politics
by Carolyn Baker
The following is an excerpt from Carolyn Baker’s Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse, which looks at the relationships and community we will need to weather our challenges ahead. The book considers how we relate to partners, children, neighbors, animals, resources, food, creativity, beauty, aging, death, our bodies and emotions, and the work we do.
The Four G’s of Enough-Ness
Indigenous traditions for millennia have assumed that mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, meadows, wildlife—all of nature are living beings with which we are intimately connected. In fact, in some Native American tribes, these entities are referred to as “people.” For example, some tribes speak of trees as “standing people” and rocks as “stone people.” All elements of nature are deemed sacred, and because they are sacred they are to be related with—a principle Thomas Berry emphasizes in all his work.
However, the purveyors of industrial civilization, assuming their separation from nature and therefore perceiving it as inert matter rather than sacred substance, had no relationship with it and therefore felt perfectly justified in using it to their own ends. Whereas the indigenous mind perceived nature as sacred, civilized humans compartmentalized and objectified all aspects of nature and began calling them “resources” to be acquired and distributed throughout their disparate empires.
Thus, we are being compelled to transform our relationships with nature, matter, and money. The notion of these as sacred necessitates a redefined relationship with them based on their sacredness and our inextricable connection with them.
A transformed relationship with nature results in four fundamental, pragmatic responses that invariably impact our sense of enough-ness and therefore our definition of a “good life.” In fact, I would argue that the real “secret” of abundance is not so much a law of attraction but the capacity to practice these responses with respect to all resources, both natural and human.
Few inhabitants of industrial civilizations actively contemplate the myriad ways in which nature provides for them. At the beginning of the day we awaken from sleeping on a bed most likely constructed from a variety of materials extracted from nature. Perhaps we stumble from our beds to the shower where we drench ourselves in gallons of water and generous portions of soap and shampoo. We consume a breakfast nature has provided for us, and then it’s out the door and into a car powered by fossil fuels. Whatever our work may be, it would not be possible to do it without electricity. Throughout the day we may handle many natural materials such as paper or plastic, which have their origins in the earth. At the end of the day we return to our homes that are constructed from numerous materials provided by nature, we consume another meal, and eventually return to our beds. Whatever synthetic materials we interact with, they are available as a result of massive quantities of energy and natural resources to which we give little thought as we use or consume them.
A rich, contemplative exercise would be to spend an entire day noticing the natural materials we use or interact with and the benefits they provide. An even richer experience would be consciously giving thanks every time we encounter a gift from nature. Obviously, we have so many that if we contemplated each one, our hearts and minds would have room for nothing else. Yet ceasing the mindlessness of taking these for granted and instead giving quiet, conscious thanks for them is an invaluable spiritual practice. In doing so any sense of lack or not-enough-ness is tempered by the abundance with which most of our lives are replete. What is more, this kind of practice slows us in terms not only of how we move in the world but also of how we consume and relate with nature’s gifts. From this state it is impossible to mindlessly waste or use more than we need.
Invariably, as a result of practicing rigorous gratitude our hearts are softened and we begin to feel grief in relation to what is being lost on our planet. Whereas we may have already felt sorrow about the removal of mountaintops, the poisoning of oceans, the burning of rainforests, the extinction of species, and the melting of glaciers, we now feel it more poignantly and viscerally. Why should we open ourselves to this kind of anguish? Why not just remain oblivious to what we consume?
Again, we must return to the indigenous perspective. A Native American witnessing the destruction of our planet who knows that all the elements of nature are her relatives may weep because her family is being massacred. This is an entirely different reality than the environmentally moralistic one that tells us we should consume less and protect natural resources more.
In a later chapter we will consider grief in more depth. Yet suffice it to say that grief changes who we are and how we behave. In addition it is an essential aspect of experiencing and living enough-ness in a world of downsizing and economic contraction: although the world around us may be shrinking materially, grief produces expansion of the heart and magnanimity in our relationships.
Grieving may be considered a classical feminine response to loss whereas guardianship may be experienced as more masculine. Because we have engaged in a deep practice of gratitude for nature’s gifts and then have allowed our hearts to be broken as we consciously consider the abuse and extinction of nature, we are invariably motivated to protect what is left of earth’s bounty. We willingly assume a responsibility for guarding some aspect of nature. Our commitment may be to a small piece of land around us, the wildlife or livestock nearby, or a local lake or river; at the same time we may choose to engage in larger efforts to protect the earth by joining with other earth stewards in more extensive endeavors that include entire rainforests or geographic regions.
Guardianship does not imply we blow up bulldozers or sit in trees to avoid their being cut down. Rather, it is an attitude of stewardship and protectiveness toward the earth. On the one hand, we cannot single-handedly prevent the destruction of this planet. And if the earth is destroyed, as it has been in prior epochs, it will eventually regenerate. It is both terribly fragile and awesomely and fiercely resilient. Nevertheless, we need to become guardians of its well-being, perhaps not so much for the benefit of the earth as for ourselves and for the enrichment of our own humanity. As with grieving the earth’s losses, which are also our losses, in becoming earth guardians we discover the depths of our humanity and perhaps access a quality of humanity previously untapped.
Quite naturally and effortlessly, gratitude, grief, and guardianship compel us to give back to the earth community with our time, our skills, our financial resources, and our very lives. When we engage consciously in the first three Gs, the desire to give back follows automatically. Giving back does not mean that we sacrifice fair compensation for our efforts but rather that how we live and how we relate to the earth community become gifts. Consciously giving back means we have become aware of the gifts we brought with us when we came to this planet, and we have a sense of life purpose and the role our gifts play in it. Giving back also enhances the flow of energy from ourselves to the earth community and ultimately back to us.
Often people entering their sixties and seventies who have chosen to retire or perhaps work less speak of having time to give back to others. Unfortunately, in our culture the concept of giving back has been relegated to the last years of life with little sense of living our lives as if they were a gift to the universe from the moment of our birth.
From my perspective the notion of using the law of attraction to achieve one’s desires is a concept born from a human ego intent on achieving what it thinks is best for itself. The belief that “I deserve to prosper” or that “every day in every way things are getting better and better” or that “abundance is my birthright” is just that—a belief. The ego feels entitled and is adept at convincing us that we should lack nothing.
The Four Gs, on the other hand, are aspects of an embodied spiritual practice that flows from the deeper self. They touch us on every level—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Rather than reinforcing ego-based decisions about what we think we need or should have, the Four Gs flow from the soul that is exhilaratingly present in the body and profoundly engaged with the world and its fluctuations, heartbreaks, joys, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities. They do not locate us beyond them but fully in the center of them as part of, not transcending, the human condition.
Thomas Berry spoke of conscious self-awareness, meaning that nature is humankind’s most stunning resource and through conscious self-awareness in humans, nature becomes aware of itself. Just as nature needs the human to know and complete itself, we require the more-than-human world to discover the meaning of our existence.
We most wisely discover, appreciate, and apply our resources when we live in intimate relationship with the earth community. As Berry so beautifully articulates:
We need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world, from a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the written scriptures to a spirituality concerned with justice only for humans to a spirituality of justice for the devastated Earth community, from the spirituality of the prophet to the spirituality of the shaman. The sacred community must now be considered the integral community of the entire universe, and more immediately, the integral community of the planet Earth.
Excerpted from Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse by Carolyn Baker. (c) 2015, North Atlantic Books.Tags: Grief & Loss Sacred Activism Shamanism Carolyn Baker