It’s changing the climate, it’s stressing animal habits, it’s creating the next big global extinction event, and it’s melting the ice caps at a rate unprecedented to modern civilization. We are squandering fossil fuels that took millions of years to form on industry that’s meant to make our lives easier, but has only made us increasingly stressed and unhappy. We are surrounded by gadgets and technology meant to create a global village, and we can have discourse with a virtually unlimited number of people anywhere in the world, all while sitting in the warm comfort of our living room. The options of where we can travel, live, work and play are almost endless, restricted only by finances. We can ease our discomfort at a moment’s notice by turning up the thermostat or Googling the answer to a frustrating conundrum.
And yet, our souls are withering. So many of us feel untethered in a sea of meaninglessness and distraction.
We have lived in the blip of time known as the Industrial Age, during which we increased our population from 1 billion to a world of more than 7 billion people in just a matter of 150 years. There will never again be a time like this on the planet. In another century or two there will be scant fossil fuels left to extract. The disease of modern civilization will eventually overtake us, and we will inevitably return to a way of life that’s both less complex and yet more arduous for our species.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t change the trajectory of evolution into something better, or that we can’t somehow start to heal the disease of Industrial Civilization. We can. All it takes is a subtle shift in how we view ourselves and the world we live in.
Healing can happen for the soul and for the planet when we stop trying to conquer, control or use nature, both for our “lifestyle” and for ego-gratification. True sustainability can occur when we see ourselves not as separate or above nature, but as intricately tied to our environment in ways we may not even be able to consciously comprehend. What we do and how we live has an impact on everything around us. The way we perceive the natural world and the way we interact with it (or not) can also greatly affect our physical and mental well-being.
When we use nature for ego-driven pursuits or as validation of how “special” we are, we are actually contributing to the feelings of inadequacy that compel us to seek out those experiences in the first place. Whatever we do, it can never be enough. There’s always someone better at the endeavor than we are, there’s always an untouched wilderness to explore or one more unclimbed mountain to scale.
When we give up hyperbolical pursuits and instead seek the pleasure of just being in nature, a completely new experience unfolds for us. We sense a deep, ancient acceptance of who we really are. Like the dark clouds that form on the distant horizon, we are not always benign, rather, we are capable of both creative and destructive forces. We are not unlike the lightning that sparks the fire that rips through ten thousand acres in a matter of days, killing thousands of trees and animals while at the same time providing the conditions that make way for new life and a better adapted ecosystem. Our lives are stories filled with beginnings, endings and transformation and in the end, the unavoidable tragedy of entropy. When we spend contemplative time immersed in nature, we see the entire universe reflected by all our senses, and we are grateful for the gift of consciousness. We feel truly at home.