It’s been two weeks shy of a year since I started writing a weekly Gaian Reflection (yes, this is my fiftieth essay). And this coming week will be the fifth Gaian Conversation. That conversation will broadly focus on what the Gaian Way is all about—not just an aspect: whether ecocentric activism, or dying well, or Earth-centric meditative practices as other conversations did—but Gaianism writ large.
That’s got me a bit nervous, I admit.
In the beginning I wasn’t comfortable calling this a religion. I still waver. I think that’s because I want it understood that this is both a philosophy and a religion. For the religion averse—those who spent much of their lives as atheists, agnostic, undefined, never grew up in a religious community, or had bad experiences with organized religion—and for those who already have a religious tradition, I want this to be a philosophy that they can benefit from, and in the ancient sense of philosophical schools, have a community of practice around. And as the Gaian Way is science-based to its core, that is certainly possible.
But deep down, for me, Gaianism is more than that, and I hope it can be more than that for others. I hope it can be an organized religion. One with local parishes with parishioners who support each other in good times and bad. One that has a tangible impact on its community, leading the charge in advocating for and building a sustainable and resilient society—locally and globally. One with distinct and unique practices, stemming from the Earth, that offer wisdom, joy, and tranquility (we’re gonna need it), and attract others to its fold.
How many have heard the wise words of a Buddhist monk and said, hmm, maybe I should learn more about Buddhism? Or, as I have, seen the amazing works of Quakers leading efforts for peace, equality, and social change over the centuries, and thought I should attend a meeting. I dream that one day Gaians will garner the same respect and through that—and this is the important part—help reset human civilization away from growth and empire to a deep cultural understanding that we are part of and utterly dependent on the healthy planetary system known as Gaia—and should thus living accordingly.
Yes, I admit that sounds at best unrealistically aspirational. But Gaia is changing. Fast. Into a form that will not sustain human civilization or countless other species. I am not sure there is time left to stop that. There is a chance that Earth will change so quickly and so dramatically—once tipping points are crossed—that humans simply cannot survive. But in that case, any choice we make now is moot. The Earth will eventually heal and our legacy will be a mass extinction and a millimeter of plastic in the sedimentary strata. So we have to work on the assumption (or more accurately on faith) that there is still time to prevent the complete extinction of humanity and the loss of the cradle of biodiversity we have grown up in. And in that scenario, the hope is that we can sow the seeds of a new way, one that respects and reveres Gaia, and understands we are Her servants not Her masters. Otherwise, when the dust settles, we risk doing this all again.
I also want to be clear that, for me, this is not a millenarian movement—at least in the sense that someone with divine knowledge is going to tell you when the world is going to end or start anew. On the other hand, the scientific data very clearly reveal that the oceans will rise, the floods and fires will come, the pandemics will come, which will bring about major changes in how we live. In fact, I don’t even feel I need to make a case for this any longer—as I did for so many years as a sustainability researcher—as all of these have already arrived (with a flood in Michigan and a cyclone in Bangladesh raging at the moment I write this) and are increasing in strength.
But of course, this is only the first wave of change. More is just over the horizon. And how we respond will shape generations of lives. And note, “we” is intentionally vague. Clearly that includes policymakers and people affected by these disasters, but it also includes all people: do these disasters activate hoarding impulses and xenophobia, as refugees arrive after fleeing from their devastated homes, or does it bring out our impulses to share and be compassionate? Moreover, as we switch from spectator to subject, how will we respond to the disruptions and disasters that directly affect us? Will we be able to sustain our own humanity as we’re trying to find food enough to feed our families?
Again, this is where I dream that local Gaian groups will help in building mutual assistance and community resilience—providing knowledge now before a drum beat of disasters makes nothing but reacting possible, and solidarity when the disasters do come, both for Gaians in the group, and again, also for those in their broader circles.
Perhaps it’s naïve, but to lean a second time on the words of John Lewis, I’m working with a “sense of faith” that “what you’re moving toward is already done.” That there are other Gaians out there longing for this same connection, purposefulness, and belonging and are searching for a spiritual community as I am. And as Lewis notes, “If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you it is already there.” Through that faith, and the faith that there is still time to save our living planet, and humanity, I have dedicated myself to growing a Gaian community.
Thank you for reading this essay, and the others over the past year. And I hope to see you tomorrow, Tuesday, May 26th at 7:30pm Eastern on Zoom.
Go with Gaia,