As fields turn into "lots," lots into subdivisions, suburbia into urban sprawl - how to we reestablish our connection with nature? Through our dreams.
- By James Inabinet
- Photos courtesy Pexels and Pixabay
I recall driving up to one of my favorite spots near the beach, a lovely grove of small live oaks surrounded by bushes, native grasses, wildflowers, marsh on one side, and an occluded view of the beach on another. Though it’s been a while, I remember it vividly, arriving to find the place ... gone. Bulldozers had pushed every living thing aside; red clay revealed a place to build a house. When I drove off, I noticed several vacant lots nearby, all nearly devoid of trees already, mowed just enough to keep the forest out. Why not just build this stupid house on one of these? The ground is already prepared; all the builder would have to do is build.
I care about our little corner of the world and the nature of its nature. It’s beautiful! What are we to do in the face of its destruction? What are we to do when these places of beauty are destroyed for a house, a strip mall, or a parking lot? In the north part of the county, it seems like we rub nature out to have grass to mow. Maybe we do it because we can, and who’s to stop us? Why stop us? Humans are like toddlers in a room full of crystal. Stuff is going to break just because we’re here. We don’t even think about it. I feel like this must be what hell really is.
For more than fifty years, I’ve watched the capitalist industrial machine do its thing in light of its promise to create a heaven on earth through progress – this is heaven? I’ve watched the diminishing natural world in its uncontrived beauty, any part of it one “un-thought-out” financial transaction away from bulldozers. Finally, I’ve watched the vast portion of humanity caught in the middle in a crushing vise: a dissolving industrial world on the one hand, a destroyed natural world on the other–and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Over and over, I’ve been asked, especially by young people, “What are we going to do?” I’ve groped for an appropriate response for decades. If we’re toddlers in a room full of crystal, how might we pass into adulthood? We become adults when we become mindful of what we do, mindful of how what we do affects our world–the world. With mindfulness, we might begin to take responsibility for our stumbling around; we might see how pushing every living thing aside is breaking the crystal. Eventually, we might choose to stop breaking it. Communion with nature is, I think, a viable path to developing this mindfulness. That’s why I’m so preoccupied with it.
The philosopher Thomas Berry, in The Dream of Earth, postulates that we become “earth adults” by dreaming earth dreams. To “re-inhabit the earth in a truly human manner,” he says, “what is needed on our part is the capacity for listening to what the earth is telling us .” The truth is, we don’t listen, and for the most part, we don’t even ask. Our cultural style normalizes our behaviors. What’s needed is to step outside of these norms for more than a minute so we might move into a deeper relationship with our planet home.
How do we step outside of our norms? Berry says through dreams. Dreams are “uninhibited creative spontaneity,” a way to think outside of the box. In Earth dreams, we might deeply experience our individual and collective “visionary power” as we immerse ourselves in the depths of our own being. When in communion with nature, our “dream-seeking” may occur within the context of the living Earth. By dreaming earth dreams through communion with nature and attending to them, we may ultimately grow into human adults on earth and change what are considered to be our normal ways of being on earth, our “norms.”
To be sure, this is not turning our backs on culture and technology; we simply cannot survive without it. It perhaps enlists better versions of both. “In the beginning was the dream,” Berry said, and everything arises out of the dream. Everything we know, see, and think, including consciousness itself, began with dreaming, including current versions of “societal norms” for living on Earth. “Our sense of progress, our entire technological society, however rational in its functioning, is a pure dream vision in its origin and in its objectives .”
What we need are better human ways to live on Earth. Perhaps these might arise through “revelatory vision,” our waking dreams. Dreaming earth dreams awakens us to nature. This awakening, evoked by communion, can elicit profound creativity, the power of artist and poet in all of us, enabling us to creatively grope towards complete expression of the numinous mystery of the cosmos–as adult humans. Communion with nature can elicit such a “mythic, imaginative dream experience.” That’s my dream.
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