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Renewal: How Nature Awakesns Our Creativity, Compassion, and Joy

by Andrés R. Edwards, New Society Publishers, 2019

 

INTRODUCTION: Forging an Emotional Bond with Nature

 “We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own-- indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder.”
-- Wangari Maathai

“While science may lead you to truth, only imagination can lead you to meaning.”
-- C. S. Lewis

“We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”
-- Wendell Berry

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Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould declared, “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well -- for we will not fight to save what we do not love.” [1] As one of the “younger” species inhabiting planet Earth, we humans have embarked on an epic journey to redefine our relationship with the natural world. Our journey begins with the cognitive science breakthroughs that are revealing the impact of nature on our behavior and emotions, and expands outward to encompass a compassionate way of coexisting with nonhuman species and the air, soil, water, minerals and ecological processes that support all life on the planet.

Since we have gradually forgotten the importance of nurturing our emotional bond with nature, we are in a new epoch of remembering. Native peoples such as the Salish from the Pacific Northwest embraced a state of mind where we use our hearts to live by and to help the power, beauty and magic of nature flourish. In more recent times, environmentalist Rachel Carson reminded us that “it is not half so important to know as to feel,” emphasizing the importance of our emotional connection to nature rather than relying solely on our intellect. [2]

Biologist E. O. Wilson expands on our emotional connection to nature through the biophilia hypothesis, which describes our “innately emotional affiliation” to living organisms. [3] And marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols promotes our emotional bond with nature through neuroconservation, focusing on developing a conservation strategy rooted in our neurological responses to nature, especially water. As Nichols points out, “It’s time to drop the old notions of separation between emotion and science .... Emotion is science.” [4] All of these ecological visionaries show how we need to rekindle our feelings about nature and blend our scientific breakthroughs with our emotions.

Recent cognitive studies, aided by technologies such as the CAT scan and the fMRI, have shown numerous physical, behavioral and emotional benefits from being in nature. These include being healthier through reduced stress, blood pressure levels and risk of cancer; and being happier, more compassionate, grateful and creative. But more important than what we take from nature is what we give back.

An ecocentric ethic asks: “What is our responsibility as stewards to give back to the natural world?” One way of giving back is by embracing a compassionate way of living and developing restorative initiatives that help people, other species and the environment to thrive. This is a reciprocal relationship rooted in embracing our interdependence with nature and taking actions that enrich our connection with it. Douglas Christie reminds us that “our ecological commitments, if they are to reach mature and sustainable expression, need to be grounded in a sense of deep reciprocity with the living world.” [5] This reciprocity beckons us to shift away from short-term objectives and quick fixes and instead adopt a long-term, resilient vision for the future -- one in which we play an integral role and take responsibility for its fruitful outcome.

Renewing ourselves and nature also involves a biomimetic approach in which nature is our mentor and teacher. We are already using nature’s 3.8 billion years of experience to learn how to generate abundant renewable energy, grow healthy food crops without depleting the soil and water table, provide safe drinking water, design efficient transportation systems and access to medicines and develop new ways to eliminate waste and pollution and stabilize the climate.

We have much of the knowledge needed to achieve these objectives. Now we need to streamline the social-political systems that act as barriers. We can do this by remembering ourselves as compassionate beings who care for one another and for the environment. Taking care of each other and nature begins by emulating nature’s living systems so that we live in harmony with it. This approach is based on a model not of scarcity but of abundance. It involves recognizing that although we have an important role to play as a dominant species, we depend on nature for our survival. It’s a relationship where we “give” and “take” so that everyone thrives.

Our relationship with nature also benefits when we practice the precautionary principle (“better safe than sorry”). When we consider our responsibility as stewards of the Earth with humility, we gain a broader perspective to make wiser decisions that affect all life on Earth. Many of the planet’s global systems, such as the climate, are impacted by our actions. Following the precautionary principle in implementing a new technology, we take action only after ensuring a safe outcome.

By nurturing our innate curiosity and our affinity for nature we can renew our respect and admiration for the natural world. We are learning, for instance, about the remarkable ability of bees in designing their hexagonal-shaped honeycombs, crows in communicating dangers across generations, caribou herds using swarm intelligence and evading wolves with precise movements and trees that communicate with each other about impending droughts. These examples ignite our passion for nature’s genius. This passion is a recipe for falling in love with and protecting nature. Witnessing nature’s genius stimulates the creativity we need to devise ways to enhance rather than degrade the environment.

The altruism of nonhuman species inspires us to emulate their acts in our families and our communities. Brazilian ant species sacrifice themselves to protect their kin by sealing the colony’s entrance and dying in the cold overnight temperatures; female bats share regurgitated blood to nourish other bats in need; and honey bees fatally rupture their abdomens after using their stinger to protect the hive. These altruistic acts illustrate how nature mirrors the best qualities in the human heart.

Nature can teach us how to live compassionate, creative and joyful lives. Our hearts grow as we remember the importance of loving nature. I hope the stories in this book inspire you to discover how you can make your life and nature thrive by nurturing a reciprocal, enduring relationship with the natural world.

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Notes

1. Stephen J. Gould. "Enchanted Evening." Natural History, September 1991, p. 14.

2. Rachel Carson. “Help Your Child to Wonder.” Woman’s Home Companion, July 1956, p. 46. [Cited April 6, 2018]
https://training.fws.gov/History/Documents/carsonwonder.pdf

3. Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, eds. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Shearwater, 1995, p. 31.

4. Kevin Zelnio. “A World Ocean.” Scientific American, June 8, 2011. [Cited April 7, 2018]
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/a-world-ocean/

5. Douglas E. Christie. The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology. Oxford University Press, 2012, p. xi.

 

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