Earth Day (April 22) gave me reason to pause and reflect on my relationship with Earth. Using the framework of personal relationship to examine this brings an interesting perspective.
What kind of relationship do you have with the planet? Is it what the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber characterized as an I-It relationship, or the fuller I-Thou?
For you, is the Earth simply the backdrop for what is happening in your all-important human life? Is it the taken-for-granted supplier of your material needs, without so much consideration for its needs? In other words, is it all about me? That would be I-It.
To have an I-Thou relationship, you have to open your heart to the planet. You have to love it—not in the way we want to gobble something up (that, too, is I-It), but in a way that we care about its well-being. Those with the deepest I-Thou relationship may even honor the planet as a living being, giving her the name Gaia.
Few of us have this level of intimacy with the planet as a whole, but when we open our consciousness to Nature, for example, Nature opens in magical and mind-blowing ways to us. How wild it must be to feel kinship on an even larger scale.
In an I-Thou relationship we honor the holiness of the Other and the sacredness of our bond. Far cry from the I-It relating which most of our interactions fall into.
So, how is your relationship with the planet?
We know from experience that a close human relationship needs a certain amount of tending. Here are some questions you might ask of a human relationship that you could also ask about your relationship with the planet:
- Do I appreciate what I’ve been given?
- Do I give back in return? Do I do so with a loving heart?
- Do I express my affection? (you’ve certainly heard of hugging trees!)
- Do I keep increasing my understanding of the Other’s needs?
- How fully do I communicate?
How might you communicate with Gaia? Besides things like talking to plants, we communicate with Earth through our actions, sending loving thoughts, prayer, and ritual.
It becomes more of a relationship as we treat it like a relationship.
Love in action
Many in the environmental movement have learned that fear and guilt aren’t such great motivators. When the news is too threatening, we turn away. The crisis on the planet kicks up our defense mechanisms and we bury ourselves in distractions.
A better motivator is love. A better motivator is real relationship. One of my inspirations right now is the author Marc Ian Barasch. I recently came across his beautiful article about how the Green World Campaign grew out of a simple idea for healing the planet. I’ve since exchanged several emails with Marc and what impresses me most is the heart behind his dedicated course of action. Of course he was primed by simmering in the work that went into his best-selling book, The Compassionate Life. There comes a time when compassion and love naturally issue into action.
Celebrate what you can do
From a psychological view, it’s better to reward people for doing right rather than guilt or shame them for what they’re doing wrong. So the concept of tracking carbon handprints (how you’re helping) as well as carbon footprints (how you stress the planet) is a good one. It’s motivating to see what positive you can do.
There is so much that we can do: supporting environmental organizations, making greener purchasing choices, simplifying. On a light note, after a report about the No-Poo movement in the Huffington Post, I stopped using shampoo and hair care products. No real difference, except nothing to buy and no plastic bottles to throw away. Who knew it could be so easy? We seldom stop to question our way of life.
Maybe a good use of Earth Day is to use it as a prod to review our relationship.
Here are some questions for starters:
- What small changes have I made this year that are better for the planet?
- How could I be more aware of Earth? What helps me feel connected?
- What might the planet ask of me? What gifts am I not using?
It would be fun to hear other experiences about this, so please do comment below if inclined.