When i started the Nature Calling project, it was meant to support us to do more ‘deep listening’ – to wind down our minds from the hustle bustle and to check in with the ancestral wisdom that arises in our psyche and in our bodies, which speaks of our at-one-ness with nature as well as the way we negotiate our relationship with it. How we work with the other animals, the plants that are also our kin on earth, the elements and the places we inhabit. With the whispers from our ancestors, who evolved in close contact with the natural world, with the songs of the land and of the breeze, with the flow of the waters and the shades of light and dark we walk through and sit with.
But now we find ourselves in transition. 2019 has been the most momentous year yet for climate crises and people everywhere are waking up to the horrible situation we are in, since climate science has been ignored by the corrupt politics of fossil fuel subsidies and corporate handouts. Joanna Macy, heroine of the Work that Reconnects and Active Hope movements, points out that we are ‘awakening together‘. This is a good way of shifting up and out of the meditative space, where, if we quieten down enough, we can practice what Thich Nhat Hanh suggests: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.”
The fires in Australia have been the earth raging, as if all the anger it felt at the way we have been treating it over recent centuries welled up and burst forth in a devastating conflagration. We Australians that want to care for our Country the way its Traditional Owners always did – with love and care for the places they knew were alive and listening, feeling and responding to us – wouldn’t be surprised if some pointed out the horrible karma of the current moment. As our ‘leaders’ plot to open new coal mines in the face of all climate science and ecological wisdom, we burn. As Australian ‘representatives’ hinder serious climate action at every level, our forests are razed by an inferno at a scale unimaginable mere months ago. As corporate interests, fossil fuel lobbies and evil mass media barons like Rupert Murdoch continue to undermine the conclusive evidence that we must completely transform modern society yesterday, millions of animals burn to death and the lands and waters that sustained their lives is destroyed, leaving only ash in its wake. This is Nature Calling today. Is it karma at its most brutal and immediate?
As usual, it’s more complex than that. If karma operated like this, there might be some justice to the way it wipes out ecosystems with a swipe of its hand. As it is, the rules of capitalist extraction have been based upon the law of colonisation – hit new territory, conquer the people (kill, divide and enslave), ‘discover’ the resources, and take them. For personal use, first, then for market. As such, the scenes of the worst devastation are often far flung from the centres of power that instigated the theft; the British deforest Ireland, the European powers leave abandoned gold mines everywhere, the Japanese strip Malaysian and New Guinea forests while protecting their own … the list is endless. But now that colonisation has left so many places bereft of the riches they once boasted, the powers that be must turn upon their own populations and feast upon them instead. The elite at the top of the pyramid must be fed on something and the slave classes that make up the majority at the base must send the profits up. Whether the bottom rung is black or white, far flung or close at home; this matters not. The ‘shadow places‘, as Australian ecophilosopher Val Plumwood once called them, can be beneath our feet now, if that is where the coal seam gas deposits lie.
Likewise, the ‘earth system’ itself operates in a way that means effects from one place, one people, one unsustainable practice can be felt further on down the river. As climate scientist Will Steffen explained to me in the Nature Calling doco, the ‘oneness’ of the earth’s biosphere, the way it all effects each of its parts in a whole system, is a kind of Gaia hypothesis without the necessity of intent or teleology being built in. All things being equal, life on earth will right itself, as if it were intelligent, according to its own laws, of which we are a part. But this system has been tampered with to such a degree that it is broken, at least in parts. When Traditional Owners burnt off small parts of each area, with low fuel fires in a mosaic design, new growth appears and many plants flourish in a sort of co-evolution. Game is flushed out of the forest and hunted in a strategic manner, new grass attracts foragers the next season, and many trees and other plants throw seeds out into the ash for regeneration, according to a timeless cycle.
When we burn too much fossil fuels and add to the greenhouse gases, we heat up the atmosphere. When we continue to build the ‘urban sprawl’ over arable land to extend our cities endlessly, with large houses that require air conditioning in summer and heating in winter because mainstream design fails to take advantage of the freely available energies of nature, we ensure unsustainable futures. When we carve out National Parks and don’t allow removal or burning of any fallen wood, we ensure fuel loads build up dangerously. When we clear and poison the land, log the forests and dam the rivers, it dries out and becomes a tinderbox. Where we used to have a serious bushfires at the end of summer – the February Dragon, as it was known – we now have almost year round danger and the most insane fire of all time starting before the year is out … then we have the result from a set of actions. Karma, if you like; causality, in terms of the laws of the physical world. “Unprecedented” became the word so many have used to describe it. The cumulative result of uncaring, selfish, human practices, adding up and multiplying according to the exponential logic of capitalism – and climate science – in the 21st century.
What nature is saying now is: wake up and treat me better. Or this is how you will be treated in response: burnt off like a pest from the planet’s back.
But what do the ancients say about karma, no matter how unflinching and seemingly unfair it may seem? They say we should learn from it. Dissolve greed, hatred and ignorance, attempt to dissolve personal ego, develop compassion, abide by your principles, work with your social and natural environment instead of against it, cooperate rather than compete, and deepen and prepare your soul to journey on beyond this life as if it will be weighed and tested upon your death. The Christian belief in an afterlife is just one version of this archetypal pattern: the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead both operate along similar lines, and countless other cultures reckon that this life is merely a glimpse into the oceans of time, a momentary opportunity to experience embodied consciousness, this time in a self-aware primate form on a beautiful, rare jewel of a planet.
So, here we are. With practice, we can evolve under the most trying of circumstances. In fact, the trying circumstances are the ones that test us and allow us to show what we are made of, to stand up under pressure, but also to give in when we need to. To let go of what we don’t need and to stop being so self-motivated when we can. Modern society has shown itself to be hopelessly anthropocentric. Take this opportunity to embrace all of life and treat yourself as both the centre of the universe and as a generous being capable of emptying your notions of self on behalf of life and its countless beings. This is karma; this is Nature Calling; this is the ecomythic; this is life.
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