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Strayed from the Garden

 Having Strayed       
     from the Garden of Eden

      by Steve Serr

It is so hard for humanity to perceive itself as a part of Gaia. We see ourselves, by and large, as separate: walking across the Earth or flying through its air as if we were somehow just visiting. Indeed we generally think of ourselves as ‘showing up’ on the Earth when we are conceived (or in a more superficial way when we are born), and ‘departing’ when we die, all of which of course forces a metaphysically necessary religious proposal of souls, perhaps separating from the body at ‘death’, and inhabiting somewhere else, forever, or for awhile.

We are like fish trying to observe water when we attempt to understand our inseparable integration with Gaia. The plurality of ‘individuals’ attempting to understand its unity: the part, trying to understand the whole. When, however, Gaia is understood as a ‘constant creating’, a forever churning, in combining and recombining, then the part’s immediate connection with the whole becomes blazingly apparent. We cannot understand the human-Gaia relationship from a human perspective, for this is like a fish attempting to understand the fisherman, the water, and itself. It is simply beyond its means.

However, we, just like Gaia, are creators. We stride across the Earth, creating. Every displacement of the soil by the tread of a human foot creates a landscape that was not there before. Gaia is full of creation, incessant creative acts of innumerable moments of incomprehensible numbers of creations. We, and Gaia, are the same. A motion, a process, a river.

We are already a part of Gaia and this cannot be otherwise. Yet, perhaps we don’t feel this often, if at all, or at least we are not conscious of doing so if and when we do. Moreover, we as a species are doing innumerable gross things that hurt not only other human beings, but our Earth itself. Spoiling this Gaia in which we belong. Why? Because we are not acting in accordance with our true nature.

It has become popular in intellectual circles to grin sarcastically at such a concept as ‘true nature’. It is so easy to dismiss such a nature as hurtful, spiteful and mean spirited when humanity’s glaring spoilage of itself and its environment is truly observed. Moreover, it is increasingly easy to shake one’s head at humanity when so many try so hard to convince themselves that life is good. We smile at one another without feeling love. We eat our meat without thinking of the pain of the animal that was killed. We shop in the nice parts of town and avoid seeing the hunger and poverty. It is a comforting illusion of oneself and the world that holds much of the human world together. Intellectuals have such fun with this.

However, if we do listen to our true nature, we are consistent, one human being to the next. We are compassionate and do not want to hurt others, nor do we want to hurt ourselves. It is not the nature we were born with. The child is naturally sympathetic. This is also observed in the adult when he or she listens to their conscience. However, the persona we adopt can inflict ill. Social pressures can motivate us to adopt a persona. Then, we can act in an uncaring way.

Humanity has strayed from its own true nature. Perhaps we are the first of Earth’s organisms to have been able to achieve this disturbing feat. Maybe we are the first planetary being to be able to adopt a persona, or adopt such a degree of persona, rather than move through the world as our true self.

Religious literature attempts to make sense of humanity and the world. The Christian Bible, for instance, tells an innocent tale from an earlier time when an angry god rails cowering people out of an Earthly garden of delights so that these humans would suffer, a fitting end for having ignored the god’s demands. It is an early, more childish form of morality, one constructed from injunctions. But then, these were early times.

The Garden of Eden, as was the name of Gaia in this tale, consisted of a complete interdependence of humanity with the Whole. The breaking of a rule happened, and this tale tries to make sense of why humanity suffers. Rule breaking demands punishment.

God, however, is a human, albeit not very mature, conception of how Gaia is put together with humanity in it. Rule breaking and a powerful god who enforces rules, were early attempts to understand how it is that humanity walks through the Earth without feeling a part of it. Separated from the Whole. Cast from the Garden.

The being that strayed from its true nature is the creature in the story who was cast from the Garden.

If, however, human moral development became arrested with the help of religion at an early stage of ‘morality as rules’, and the more simplistic and not-very-developed idea of spirituality is arrested with the same religion at the childlike notion of a punishing god, then we remain lost. We are unable to truly see ourselves, and instead assume a fallen nature.

If then, humanity was not cast from the Garden of Eden and if we were not goaded out of such a complete interdependence with Gaia, did we throw ourselves out? Did humanity itself hasten itself from that primal place? I think not, for even as the religion points out, it was glorious.

I think we strayed.

Like a ship veering off course, only here the confusion cannot be placed on heavy winds, fog or powerful seas, but rather, on the curious human biological development called the forebrain. Here evolved an item enabling any human being to adjust their behavior as well as their sense of self, from their true nature.

This is not something a fish can do, nor, I think, a skunk. Nor a dog, well at least not very much, or very well. I can tell, for instance, when my bulldog places her ponderous head on my knee at around dinnertime that it is for food, not out of adoration for myself, though that may be the look in her eyes. Skillful, yes, but not so much as a baboon, and certainly not so well as a human. When an organism begins the development of self-reflection, then lying can begin: a way of behaving that is at odds with self recognition. This can become so automatic, that the deviation is forgotten. In human beings, the persona can come to guide the human.

True nature, however, is living in complete accordance with what one truly feels, and with an honest appraisal of the world. It is very simple, really; harming another human, or the Earth is a very misguided act, for it only results in negative consequences. In the case of harming a human being, pain can come back to us from the human who was harmed, or from his kin, or as in the early moral stages discussed earlier, by a punishing law. In later moral stages, one can feel pain from a punishing conscience. When we harm the Earth, we harm our home. We are tossing filth into our well.

I believe that humanity was not cast, nor cast itself, but rather, strayed from Gaia. It was probably not from conscious intention that we moved from a state of concord with the world around us. That would be unnatural. It would be like consciously choosing to put our hand within a flaming chamber. Though we might adopt a persona that felt a need to inflict pain on ourselves, I don’t think this is what originally happened. No: at the first sense of unhappy consequences, we would have withdrawn our hand from the flame. With respect to the world around us, we would return to behavior with which the state of concord could be maintained.

Any child stepping into a rowboat attempts first, to keep it steady. It is only later that, perhaps with mischief, such rocking is attempted that the boat became swamped. Then, the child returns to maintaining a steady craft.

There is, however, a happy element in this admittedly rather tragic seeming tale, which is that throughout all of this, human beings have the power of choice. We can choose whether to stray from our true nature, or not. In this manner, we can choose to live in concord with our Earth or not.

Choice is power. Considerable power. It offers the ability to create, or destroy.

© copyright 2010, Steve Serr