Loving Earth

To save the Earth, we must fall in love with her, writes Robert Koehler, taking his inspiration from the work of Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics.

Koehler and Eisenstein say that in the trajectory of human evolution, we have been locked in the selfish adolescent phase for a long, long time, just seeking to take what we need from our Earth mother, without thought of giving much in return, or of the reality of finite limits.

When we fall in love, Eisenstein says, “perfect selfishness falls apart as the self expands to include the beloved within its bounds.”

I remember falling in love like that as an adolescent, and as a young adult too.

It’s true that when you’re in love, the boundaries between the self and other dissolve, and you exist in a harmonious utopia of mutual beneficence.

But at least for most of us fallen humans, that kind of all-encompassing love doesn’t last forever.

It can’t.  It’s too intense.  Eventually the first ecstatic glow fades and the angelic beloved assumes normal, human proportions, with all the associated warts and odors and quirks of behavior and thought that our human bodies and minds possess.

What happens to love then?

If we are compatible for the longterm, the initial heady crush transforms into a much more solid platform of respect, shared interests, and deep concern for each other.  We care about each other, we enjoy being together no matter what we’re doing, and we respect each other’s views, goals, and talents.

We become partners in the truest sense of the word.

Is it necessary to go through the romantic, boundary-dissolving “falling in love” stage to get to the mature relationship of partnership?

In our culture, we believe it to be.  Our young people, tutored by every aspect of media and pop culture, assume that being swept away with love is a pre-requisite to successful marriage.

And yet how many of their parents, who followed that same script, ended up in bitter divorce fights?

Although I understand the intent behind Koehler’s and Eisenstein’s valorization of “falling in love” as a model for the depth of passion needed to fuel successful environmental action on behalf of the Earth, I am not convinced that this is the right message to be sending.

Young people today may still harbor romantic dreams, but they live day-to-day in a casual hook-up culture that prides itself on separating sexual enjoyment from commitment.

Fifty percent of their parents have made the journey from early romance to disillusioned divorce.

Another 25% or so of adults are either unhappily married, or unhappily single.

The “falling in love” model thus hits home with too few Americans to be effective as a rallying call for environmental action, and it is too limited a metaphor for the depth and breadth of passion that we must summon now to be effective Earth stewards and activists.

Instead we must love with the unconditional devotion of a mother for her child, with the sincere, selfless wish to see that new life grow and prosper and move forward beyond us.

We must love the Earth with the intensity of devotion that recognizes that for her to thrive, it may be necessary for us to part.

Earth has loved us with this kind of pure altruism all these many years of human emergence.  Now, as in the terrifying story of The Giving Tree, she has given so much that she has practically sacrificed herself entirely.

Nothing we can do to the Earth will wreck her forever.  Forever is a long, long time, in geologic terms.

But there is still time to shift from heedless destruction to the kind of loving tending that the Earth herself has modeled for us all these years.

There is still time to develop the kind of deeply caring reciprocal partnership that will last a lifetime, and beyond.

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  1. Martin Lack

     /  April 22, 2012

    Very nicely expressed sentiment, Jennifer. However, I must confess that I get a little uncomfortable when people talk about the Earth as a “she” – even if their name is Evo Morales.

    May be it is because I cannot ever remember my Mum telling me she loved me, or maybe it is because I am a member of the 50% who are disillusioned and divorced (I am not sure which came first). However, I do not think we all need to “get in touch with our feminine side” in order to solve the problem (although women clearly do have much more of a nurturing instinct – I will grant you that much).

    Clearly then, I am no eco-feminist. But neither am I a misogynist. I believe that men and women are equal; and that we should recognise and celebrate our differences. This includes recognising and celebrating the nurturing instinct of mothers; but it does not mean we all must embrace New Age thinking and/or animistic or pantheistic ideas (not that you were saying we should)…

    To me the problem is quite simple (as is the solution). The problem is our attitude to nature. We will have zero chance of preventing anthropogenic climate disruption, ecocide, and/or societal collapse unless or until:
    1. We stop treating nature’s capital as a source of income – E.F. Schumacher.
    2. We stop ignoring the fact that nature has inherent value – Robert Goodin.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 22, 2012

      Thanks so much for expressing these thoughts, Martin! I too am uncomfortable with talk of the “sacred feminine,” etc. But at the same time it’s undeniable that MEN have been at the forefront of the destruction of our planet. What do we do with that fact? I am thinking a lot about this these days and would love to hear more views.

      • Martin Lack

         /  April 22, 2012

        I very much agree with you there, Jennifer… Although I am not an ecofeminist, I have a great deal of sympathy with this part of their manifesto. If we had more women in the boardrooms of our big companies we might well not be in the perilous position that we are.

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