Nature, Yoga

Humans as Part of Earth-Centered Community


COMMUNITY: (ecology)  a group of interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat.  

Even though it often seems invisible in the vast operations of our human society, in which human desires trump the rest of the earth community, in actual fact, we are ecologically “one” with all other forms of being on this planet.  We are part of that interconnected web of living and non-living forms of being that together form an Earth Community.  Each and every piece of the whole is important.  And yet, every year, human activities result in extinctions of numerous species — 17,000 species worldwide are currently known to be threatened.

What has led to this precarious situation?  According to Thomas Berry, a respected Roman Catholic theologian of the later 20th Century:

“The deepest cause of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans.”

Isn’t it amazing how disconnected we often are from the natural world that sustains us?  Locked indoors all day and night, with only a general awareness of the natural environment that provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.  What time DOES the sun rise?  Were the stars visible last night?  How is today’s snow different than yesterday’s?  Which tree species dropped its leaves first this fall? I am amazed to think how I often lack detailed awareness of even the simplest things.

When we practice yoga, we are deeply conscious of the cooperation of the parts that make up the whole.  Balancing in Vrksasana, imagine that suddenly the left leg has a mind of its own — and no concern whatsoever for the rest of the parts, much less the whole — so that it just does whatever it wants to do, moving to and fro, frantically.  What would happen to such a Tree?  How would it look and how would it feel in the body?  How long could you balance before the pose collapsed onto the mat?!  Now imagine that we are that self-centered, blind part of the Earth Community…  If we could actually step back and view the earth impartially, what would we see?

During the last years of his life, Thomas Barry often spoke  about “The Great Turning.” His reference was to a collective, conscious return to a deep, sacred connection with the natural world.  Even here in the U.P., his work has inspired many religious and non-religious alike to reclaim a more respectful understanding of the planet.  But how?  How does one shift from an anthropocentric way of thinking to a broader awareness of ourselves as one small part of an ecological whole?  Barry seems to suggest that “recognition” — or in yogic terms, awareness — is the turning point:

“Once we recognize that a change from a human-centered to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value is needed, we might ask how this is to be achieved and how it would function. We might begin by recognizing that the life community, the community of all living species, including the human, is the greater reality and the greater value.  The primary concern of the human community must be the preservation and enhancement of this comprehensive community, even for the sake of its own survival.”   ~ Thomas Berry, The Great Work

By simply embracing awareness, we make change possible.  By practicing mindfulness of our interconnectedness to both our human community and the entirety of the Earth Community, we convert our awareness into action.  Meditation becomes motion.  And so, I believe that developing a realistic understanding of our connection to the natural world allows us to witness to the real power of community:  that is, when we are in healthy community with ourselves, other humans and nature, then we see what can be achieved when people of all understandings (political, religious, etc) choose to work together toward common goals based on a context of humans being one small part of an Earth-centered community.   In Thomas Berry’s words:

“Strangely enough, it is our efforts to establish a thoroughly sanitized world that have led to our toxic world. Our quest for wonderworld is making wasteworld.  Our quest for energy is creating entropy on a scale never before witnessed in the historical process.  We have invented a counterproductive society that is now caught in the loop that feeds back into itself in what can presently be considered a runaway situation.”  ~ Thomas Berry, The Great Work

What have you learned during your on-the-mat yoga practice about your personal sense of community?  How can you transfer those gleanings to your life off the mat in ways that help you and others move toward a balanced, Earth-centered community?


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