It’s funny, the Gaian Way lives on the fringes of the Internet. A small website, with a small newsletter and social media following, and a small community of practitioners. Not what I’d call trendy. But a few weeks back I was interviewed by Rachel Donald for a podcast called Planet: Critical, and when I described some of our practices—meditation, fasting along the moon cycle, celebrating the equinoxes and solstices (the wheel of the year)—Donald replied, “A lot of that sounds very vegan, Bali, Instagram, influencer culture.” Her observation took me aback. Both because I don’t see it that way, but also because I could immediately see how Donald (or others) could see it that way. All we’re missing are the lululemon tights.
But that couldn’t be further from reality. Let’s look at meditation. Meditation is a practice that is at least 2,600 years old, but may be even 7,000 years old. Over those centuries, it has infected culture after culture, religion after religion, probably because it has been shown time and again to help deal with pain, suffering, anger, and so much more. Modern research—supported by the brain sciences—shows the true power of this practice. And I use that word intentionally. As Steven Laureys in The No-nonsense Meditation Book notes: “Meditation isn’t something you believe in, it’s something you practice.”
That gets to the key point: the Gaian Way, while a faith-philosophy, is rooted in science to its core. The planetary sciences first and foremost, which demonstrate that we are part of Gaia and utterly dependent on Gaia for our ability to survive and thrive. And the sustainability sciences: to demarcate what living in a right relationship with Gaia, other humans, and other species really means. And the psychological and other social sciences to help make it easier to live in a right relationship with Gaia and all others.
For example, a few weeks back there was a New York Times article on how dieting fails and instead provided research and advice on mindful eating. Getting control of eating behaviors is key—both for living a long healthy life but also for not overconsuming resources. Fasting, like meditation, has been shown time and again (across ancient and modern traditions) to help disrupt mindless eating behaviors, and help reclaim mindfulness around eating (as well as improving health, reducing weight, and increasing the joy of eating). Reading this article, it’s clear there’s more we could be doing to foster a healthier relationship with food in our overabundant consumer food environment: even simply asking oneself how hungry one is before eating (as the article suggests). But as with meditation, and fasting, the goal is to help incorporate opportunities into one’s daily, monthly, seasonal, and annual cycles to reflect and redirect unhealthy behaviors to healthy ones. The other bonus with our moon fasts—which I freely admit is practiced in other religions too, such as some forms of Buddhism—is that it reconnects us with the moon cycle, something too few modern humans are connected with any longer, and yet historically has been key to navigation, hunting, fishing, planting, and so on (and probably will be again in generations to come).*
The Cyclical Nature of Things
For me, I think the best example of how the value of practices ebbs and flows comes from learning karate at the Hidy Ochiai Washin-Ryu dojo in Middletown. My instructor has been practicing with Master Hidy Ochiai for more than 40 years. In the 1980s, thanks to The Karate Kid (and a wave of other karate movies), karate had a golden period here in the US. Today, it’s in a period of long decline. I see that in the current attendance versus stories of old and in the number of defunct dojos around me. But all of that is irrelevant. Martial arts is a powerful physical and mental discipline (and like meditation, refined over centuries) that provides strength, confidence, the ability to defend oneself, and a better aligning of the body, mind, and breath. Whether it’s en vogue or not makes no difference.
Meditation may be on the upswing—trendy, supported by smartphone apps and Netflix series, and promoted by an array of celebrities—but putting that all aside, meditation, regularly, and ideally practiced in nature, can play a key role in mental conditioning and reconnecting us to Gaia.**
Most importantly, learning to meditate now, when things are still going relatively well means you’ll have this skill for when things start to go less well, and then badly (both personally and societally).*** I started meditating in earnest back in February of 2020 (just ahead of COVID actually), and it has helped me process the pandemic (though I was still learning and getting comfortable with meditating). And now it has been essential in helping me deal with my continuing back issues, for example: separating myself from the pain, allowing me to stay in the present rather than worrying that I’ll never have full capability again, recognizing that my suffering is small compared to others, and that I have much to be grateful for.
Frankly, now that I’ve experienced meditation, I can’t imagine not meditating. And when a day does go by where I didn’t make time for it, I can really feel the difference. That’s not me trying to be an influencer, but discovering a wisdom practice (far later than I wished I had) and sharing that with the Gaian community. And when meditation is no longer cool (replaced probably by some sort of VR transcranial magnetic stimulation helmet) I’ll still be out on my back porch quieting my mind and connecting with Gaia.
*Of course, that’s the whole other (and even more central) aspect of Gaianism: intentionally and deeply rebuilding our relationship with the living Earth, the land we live on and are part of, and so on. Those practices perhaps are as ‘faddy’ in some circles as well—but are even more central to the Gaian Way.
**These two Gaian Reflections introduce you to the ongoing conversation of the value of meditation: “Setting a Gaian Meditative Practice” and “Is Meditation an Escape or Fundamental to Change?” And here is a link to the many Gaian-meditations that you might want to try, such as the Four Directions of Forgiveness, The Tree Meditation, The Corpse Meditation, Nine Breaths with Gaia, and so on.
***And let’s be clear, as we age our health declines, and meditation can be a powerful tool to navigate that. But this also applies to the inevitable societal disruptions driven by the ecological changes now locked into our future.