The Big Picture (Part 2)
The Larger Context for All Human Activities

By Michael Dowd

Earth Day, 1992

Continued from "The Big Picture, Part 1

Human Destiny

Our present situation, I think, can be summarized by the following three sentences: 1. The glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth. 2. The desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. 3. Therefore, all human activities, professions, programs and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. — Thomas Berry

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the diversity, stability, and beauty of the life community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise. — Aldo Leopold

In this last day that the Universe has reflected on itself in and through Homo sapiens, for nearly 23 and a half of the past 24 hours we were in the tribal-shamanic period of Earth's cultural development; as hunter-gatherers. This is also known as the paleolithic era or Stone Age. From 11:20pm to 11:40pm, we went through the neolithic village era. Writing developed at the end of this period and, with it, the beginnings of "recorded history." The next nineteen minutes, to 11:59pm, is the period of the classical civilizations, or the age of the classical religious cultures. For the last sixty seconds we have been in the scientific-technological-industrial period. During this last minute we have toxified the air, water and soil upon which all life depends to such a degree that we are now faced with the possibility of a collapse of the planetary life-support systems, or ecocide.

The human is an expression of Earth. We are totally dependent upon the health of the community of Life for our own health. Our own healing and destiny, as individuals or as a species, depends entirely upon our relationship to the land, air, water and life of Earth. What we do to the planet, we do to our self.

It is, of course, possible that the destiny of Life may not include a human expression much longer. This will certainly be so if the destiny of the human becomes the desolation of the Earth. But whether or not our species survives, Earth will continue to evolve, eventually healing the damage done by us. The Milky Way galaxy will continue to spiral, with countless new solar systems being born, living and dying. And the Universe will continue to expand and grow more complex for billions of years after our solar system is but a distant cosmic memory. We are part of an awesome and divine Universe. We are also only a very small part of it. We must keep this perspective in mind when discussing "human destiny." Humility may be the single most important attitude of the heart we will need if we are to continue into the future. Humility and survival go hand in hand. Pride goes before a fall.

We are now at what may be the most significant turning point in the Sacred Story of Life since the 185 million year Mesozoic era, the age of the dinosaurs, came crashing to a close some 65 million years ago. That was when the dinosaurs all died out. The last 65 million years have been called the Cenozoic era, the age of the mammals and the flowering plants. As a direct result of human activity over the past two hundred years, we are now bringing to an end this 65 million year age! It is important to see things from this larger perspective.

Today, species are being eliminated at a rate faster than perhaps any other time in history. Biologist Norman Myers, a specialist in the rain forests and vegetation of the world, says that we are bringing about an "extinction spasm" that is likely to produce "the greatest setback to life's abundance and diversity since the first flickerings of life almost four billion years ago." Thanks to our addictive industrial culture, we are altering the geological structure, the chemistry, and the biological systems of the planet on a scale that would normally have taken millions of years. Yet we are accomplishing this feat in a few short decades.

As the Cenozoic era collapses around us, the logical question becomes, "What's next?" Geologian Thomas Berry suggests two possibilities. The first possibility he calls the Technozoic era. In the Technozoic, humanity would continue to understand "progress" in terms of increasing mechanistic control over the forces of nature for its own superficial, short-term benefit. Through continued scientific innovation and technological cunning, we could create delimited artificial environments to "protect" us in isolation from our despoiled and dying world. The Technozoic would be an isolated hell of existence. Humanity would become ever more alienated from the rest of Life. In the long run, of course, it could not even hope to last. Without spirit, matter decays. The Technozoic could never be sustainable.

Another possibility, perhaps the only viable option for humans, is what Berry calls the Ecozoic era. The primary aspect of the Ecozoic would be the deep somatic awareness of the natural world as our larger body, as our larger self. All species would be granted their habitat, their freedom, and their range of life expression. The Ecozoic would further be characterized by our harmonious alignment with, rather than domination over, the biological processes of the planet. This would require abandoning many of our destructive mechanistic technologies. The natural world itself would be taken as the primary referent for all that we do, and the primary model for all our technologies. In the Ecozoic, all of our activities, professions, programs, and institutions will be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. This is the way of human destiny!

When we see things from a larger perspective, it becomes clear that something more is needed to "save the Earth" than recycling our paper and glass, not using styrofoam, and driving our cars less. Specifically, two things are absolutely necessary if the human expression of Earth is to continue into the future.

As a species, we must make a profound shift in consciousness in the direction of deep ecology if we are to survive. We must grow from seeing ourselves as discrete, separate beings that walk around on Earth, to feeling and knowing ourselves as an expression of Earth. Our thinking and behavior must align with, and flow out of, the reality of our situation: the planet is our larger body, our larger self. We are dependent upon the community of life, air, water and soil in every conceivable way. Unless we make this shift in conscoiusness, we will continue to be a "cancer," a parasite, consuming its own host environment. We will survive only with the spiritual guidance and awareness of the body of Life as a whole with its billions of years of evolutionary wisdom.

The second thing necessary for the human expression of Earth to survive is for human beings to live in ecologically sustainable communities. We must live our lives in deep communion with each other and with our bioregion: sharing possessions and dwelling space, growing food together in a way that enhances our lives and the soil; laughing, working, playing and celebrating together; and, in short, living in love with each other and with all of Life. We must create ecological communities where we can be most truly ourselves, where we can experience loving physical touch, where we can share our finitude and brokenness and feel loved unconditionally, and where we are both supported and challenged to be all that we can be, especially for future generations.

None of us asked to be alive at this moment in Earth's history. We did not choose to be born at this juncture in the Story. We were chosen. Each of us has been chosen by Life to be alive and to participate in the most significant geological and biological transformation in 65 million years. This is a fact! Can you feel the sense of personal destiny, or a sense of mission or purpose, that such an awareness awakens within you? (If you want to, take a few moments and allow yourself to feel your connectedness to the larger body of Life, and your place in the Sacred Story of Life.) Thomas Berry calls this awareness "the grace of the present moment."

The degree that we live the values of the Ecozoic era now will be the degree to which we participate in its inauguration. Love and Truth must be our guiding realities. As we love Life with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we will quite naturally love our human and non-human neighbor, and our planet, as our self. That is the true state of affairs. Living the values of the Ecozoic requires being lovingly truthful and gently honest with ourselves and with each other. It means being real and open with the Life that is our Source, Body, and Destiny.

We are all stories within stories within stories, as we discussed at the start. The Great Sacred Story of Life is the biggest story. This story, the Universe story, provides the context for, adds meaning to, and affects the destiny of every other story in existence. That is why everything in human affairs must now be seen in light of this "big picture" in order to have any lasting meaning for present and future generations.

For peoples, generally, their story of the universe and the human role within the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. Only through this story of how the universe came to be in the beginning and how it came to be as it is does a person come to appreciate the meaning of life or to derive the psychic energy needed to deal effectively with those crisis moments that occur in the life of the individual and in the life of the society. Such a story... communicates the most sacred of mysteries... and not only interprets the past, it also guides and inspires our shaping of the future. — Thomas Berry


Andruss, Van, Christopher Plant, et. al. Home! A Bioregional Reader. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990. An excellent introduction to bioregionalism, which is the North American equivalent to the Green movement in Europe. Presents an exciting vision and strategy for creating sustainable communities and cultures in harmony with the the limits and regenerative powers of Earth.

Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988. This book is an enlightening and empowering presentation of our modern cosmology. Berry explores the implications of our common creation story with regards to energy, technology, ecology, economics, education, spirituality, patriarchy, bioregionalism, Christianity, and more. He also includes a very helpful annotated bibliography. A good introduction to perhaps the most prominent eco-theologian (or "geologian") alive today.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam Books, 1980. Bateson shows how we must think if we are to be reconciled to our true nature - how to "think as nature thinks," and regain our place in the natural world. Weighty reading, but well worth the effort.

Capra, Fritjof. The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. A fascinating look at how discoveries in the sciences over the last century are ushering in a whole new way of being human. Capra, a physicist, compellingly shows how we have reached a time of dramatic change, a turning point for the planet as a whole.

Cogito. Alfred B. Starratt, Box 65190, Baltimore, MD 21209. Published twice a month, subtitled "A Journal Promoting the Healthy Human Spirit; Inspired by Love - Guided by Reason," Cogito is consistently excellent.

Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1985. A fundamental exposition of the philosophy of deep ecology.

Devall, Bill. Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: Practicing Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1988. A good guide to embodying the deep ecology perspective in everyday life.

Dowd, Michael. EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity. Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty-Third Publications, 1991. A resource for individual and group study. Thomas Berry says of this book, "A clear, delightful presentation of a Christianity that is alive, guides us, and evokes within us those spiritual energies that we need to assume our religious responsibilities for the fate of the EarthÉ. Truly a handbook worthy of its subject, a guidebook for those who teach, a textbook for all of us who are learning."

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987. A synthesis of feminist scholarship, archaeological research, and dynamic systems theory, this book draws heavily on what has been learned during this century about the neolithic cultures of Old Europe. Eisler insists that we must replace our present dominator model of human relationships with a partnership model, if we are to survive into the future.

Ferris, Timothy. "The Creation of the Universe" (90 minute videotape). PBS Home Video, 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211; (800) 776-8300. Communicates what we know scientifically about the origin and nature of the universe in an exciting and understandable way.

Fox, Matthew. Creation Spirituality San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1983. A Spirituality Named Compassion. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981. Fox, a controversial Roman Catholic theologian, explores the riches of the Christian tradition from the perspective of our new scientific cosmology. He breaks a lot of new ground.

Fox, Warwick. Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism. Boston: Shambhala, 1990. An academic history and analysis of the deep ecology movement, with an exhausive bibliography. Suggests that the distinctive feature of deep ecology is the notion of an expansive identification with the natural world: Earth as our larger self.

In Context: A Quarterly Of Sustainable Culture. Context Institute, P.O. Box 11470, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. A first-rate journal about thinking and living in harmony with nature.

Jantsch, Erich. The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution. New York: Pergamon Press, 1980. This significant work examines the inner dynamism of the Universe from its origin through the development of humanity, and within human social systems. By "self-organizing" Jantsch is refering to the fact that the entire Universe, at all levels, can be understood as an organic, developing whole; a living system.

LaChance, Albert. Greenspirit: Twelve Steps in Ecological Spirituality. Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1991. A practical guide to withdrawing from addictive consumerism and living a profoundly down-to-earth lifestyle. This book is a powerful synthesis of the new cosmology and a twelve-step recovery process.

LaChapelle, Dolores. Sacred Land Sacred Sex - Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life. Fine Hill Arts, Silverton, CO: 1988. Earth Festivals: Seasonal Celebrations for Everyone Young and Old. Fine Hill Arts, Silverton, CO: 1973. Earth Wisdom. Fine Hill Arts, Silverton, CO: 1978. PO Box 542, Silverton, CO. 81433; (303) 387-5729. Sacred Land Sacred Sex looks at how our Industrial Growth Society has brought the world to the brink of ecocide. It also points in the direction we must move to be saved from this fate. It may be the most provocative and comprehensive treatment of the topic anywhere. Earth Festivals is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers.

Laszlo, Ervin. Evolution: The Grand Synthesis. Boston: Shambhala, New Science Library, 1987. A very readable synthesis of new natural and social scientific perspectives on the nature of change within a self-organizing Universe.

Lovelock, James E. The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988. Healing Gaia: Practical Medicine for the Planet. New York: Harmony Books, 1991. Lovelock, in 1972, was the originator of the Gaia hypothesis: the scientific understanding that the planet Earth, as a whole, is best understood as a living being; as a self-regulating organism. These books include the latest findings of scientists concerning Gaia. They also point in the direction of planetary health.

Macy, Joanna. Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1983. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1991. Macy's work is a wonderful synthesis of experiential deep ecology, despairwork, general systems theory and engaged Buddhism. Both of these books contain a wealth of wisdom and compassion essential for the healing of our world.

MacGillis, Miriam Therese. "Earth Learning and Spirituality" (5 hour videotape), New Earth Education (3 hour videotape), and "The Fate of the Earth" (90 minute audio tape). Global Perspectives, P.O. Box 925, Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 996-4704. Each of these is an excellent popularization of the work of Thomas Berry.

Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991. A hard hitting critique of our modern technological society and the direction it is taking us, contrasted with the ongoing struggle for survival of the native traditions. A disturbing, enlightening and extremely important book.

Mills, Stephanie, ed. In Praise of Nature. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1990. A collection of essays, book reviews, and quotes from some of the leading nature writers of this century. A very helpful bibliographic source.

Plant, Christopher and Judith. Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990. A collection of interviews with some of the leading bioregionalists of our time.

Rifkin, Jeremy. Biosphere Politics: A Cultural Odyssey from the Middle Ages to the New Age. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992. A fascinating and most important look at how our changing notions of "security" have led us to the brink of ecological apocalypse. Rifkin also shows us how we must think and live if we are to survive into the future. A good companion volume to LaChapelle's Sacred Land Sacred Sex.

Sahtouris, Elisabet. Gaia: The Human Journey from Chaos to Cosmos New York: Pocket Books, 1989. An excellent introduction to the Gaia theory - the scientific understanding that Earth itself is alive, rather than being merely a planet with life on it.

Seed, John, Joanna Macy, Arne Naess, et. al. Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988. This collection of essays, group exercises, and poetry is an invaluable aid to personally experiencing the planet as one's larger self.

Shepard, Paul. The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game. New York: Scribner, 1973. Thinking Animals. New York: Viking Press, 1978. Nature and Madness. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1982. Shepard's work is important in understanding the historic and paleohistoric causes of our estrangement from nature. His writings are forceful and insightful.

Snyder, Gary. The Old Ways. San Francisco: City Light Books, 1977. Turtle Island. New York: New Directions, 1974. The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. In both his essays and his poetry, Gary Snyder provides deep insight and inspiration regarding "living in place."

Spretnak, Charlene. States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age. This book is about reclaiming the core teachings and practices of Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Goddess spirituality, and the Semitic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) for the well-being of the Earth community as a whole. Spretnak focuses on the wisdom of each of these traditions in light of the new cosmology.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story. Santa Fe: Bear & Company, 1984. "Canticle to the Cosmos." Tides Foundation, NewStory Project, 134 Colleen St., Livermore, CA 94550. Swimme is a physicist who has studied extensively with Thomas Berry. The Universe is a Green Dragon is an alluring introduction to the new cosmology. "Canticle to the Cosmos" is a 12-part video lecture series designed to be used for academic classes, small group study, or for personal enrichment. It is excellent!

Swimme, Brian and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992. It is quite possible that this book will be seen historically as one of the more significant works of the twentieth century. It is a telling of the story of the Universe with a feel for its spiritual dimensions, and clearly indicates the role of the human in this sacred story of life. Must reading.

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