“Joanna Macy writes that until we can grieve for our planet we cannot love it—grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.” – Robin Kimmerer
Sometimes I walk deep into the woods (or into the desert or the mountains for that matter) solely in search of the absence of human sound. It’s alarming to me—the lengths we must go in these times to escape the grind of the industrial world.
It is when the last footprints of civilization finally fall away that I really feel the Earth move up through my feet, touching lightly my heart. When I finally stop and close my eyes, relaxing into a moment of silence, I feel something extraordinary. When there is nothing but my breath and the bird calls and the wind in the pine needles and the warm rock cradling my ankles, all sense of limitation falls away.
When I hear the sycamore leaves flutter, I come as close as I can to feeling what Rod Stryker in the Four Desires describes as “shakti”, or “the power of the soul”. It is the infinite and indomitable piece of human spirit that cannot be lost.
As I edit a report encompassing the broad range of environmental issues that I spent the past year researching in Costa Rica, and consider doing similar (albeit less formal) writing in the coming year concerning ecological challenges facing the United States, I treasure these moments more than ever.
As Costa Rica experiences rapid modernization, food production has changed dramatically in response to foreign investment, the arrival of multinational corporations, the use of heavy machinery, and the manufacture of synthetic chemicals. A shift towards mechanized, monoculture food production and industrial fishing has altered not only the land and sea, but also the livelihoods of “campesinos” and subsistence fishermen, and what were traditionally small-scale, local food systems. Many family farms have transitioned out of diversified, primarily subsistence agriculture, and have been transformed into plantations or large-scale ranching enterprises. Traditional fishermen are being pushed out entirely.
The environmental results of this are dramatic—including drought, ecosystem collapse, erosion, climate change, species extinction, poisoned water supplies, poor human health outcomes, and a loss of culture and traditional knowledge.
Truthfully, a lot of what is going on in the world, and a lot of what I study, is fundamentally violent. But paying attention to the violence we as a species continue to both consciously and unconsciously enact upon our Earth and each other only makes my walks in the woods feel ever more essential. I rely on the spiritual experience that the wilds provide me—the chance to go home—as a source of restoration and a reminder of our boundless power and agency to create change.
Environmentalists are often labeled as depressing, their words and warnings brushed away. But outrage should never be diminished.
Why is it that our society so often chooses shut down when faced with the consequences of our modernized world, and the pain implicit in so many of the systems in which we participate? Why do we turn away from the danger we face in the future if we refuse to rethink the way we live and treat the world? Do we really fear that we are not enough, that we do not have the individual power to make a difference?
Or do we know that we are more than capable to change the world, and it is that power that we fear?
We have to be braver than this.
As we move further into this century of both intense ecological destruction, and an intense awakening to it, we must remember that despair paralyzes. To succumb to passivity is to be blind to power of the Earth and our power to heal.
We are called again and again to take off our shoes, listen to what the natural world has to tell us, and to remember why we are here: to celebrate and protect all of this world’s beautiful Creation.
“Suppression of our natural responses to disaster is part of the disease of our time,” wrote Robin Kimmerer.
It is time, people, to come to the woods.