To truly perceive all life as interconnected challenges many of our most automatic assumptions about what we are and what we need. It can lead us to see the world not as a battlefield or a trap, but as a wellspring of our body and mind, and so intrinsic to our well-being that it can be more aptly viewed as lover or larger self.
Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted.
The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. It not only impoverishes our emotional and sensory life—flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic—but also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information.
As Earth’s record attests, extinctions are as plentiful as successful adaptations. We may not make it this time. Natural systems may unravel beyond repair before new sustainable forms and structures take hold.
When we mourn the destruction of our biosphere, it is categorically distinct from grief at the prospect of our own personal death. Planetary anguish lifts us onto another systemic level where we open to collective experience. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings.
By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime.
The greening of the self helps us to reinhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey, wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned in school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us to survive.
By setting it in opposition to eternity, we have come to perceive time as an enemy. We strive to conquer it. And now, thanks to our technology, we are in great danger of succeeding.