I’ve been so excited about the potential of helping to establish local Gaian groups—from figuring out what to call them (more on that next week) to seeing if others will join me in the adventure of setting some up—that I perhaps haven’t explained well enough why having local Gaian groups would be valuable (now and in the future), what they’d do, and why you’d want to join one (or form one).
In fact, this came up in a chat I had with a friend this past week—one I’ve been sharing this idea with for a while. She said, “What would these Gaian groups do?” I think I already had thought through that so much that I forgot to actually share this with you all! I see four major roles of local Gaian groups. Below, I’ll walk through them.
Reminding us of our Grand Goal
My wife recently picked up a book from the library, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. She likes to read passages to me when she’s struck by something, and in this case she read straight from page one. The author, philosopher William B. Irvine, begins his book by asking what you want out of life: a good job, a caring spouse, etc. But clarifies that this is actually what you want in life not out of life. What you want out of life is your “grand goal,” “the thing you believe to be most valuable.” As Irvine explains:
“Most people will have trouble naming this goal. They know what they want minute by minute or even decade by decade during their life, but they have never paused to consider their grand goal in living.” He then goes on to recognize that our culture and its “endless stream of distractions” make focusing on a grand goal extra difficult but without one, you lack a “coherent philosophy of life,” and without that, “there is a danger that you will mislive—that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive you will end up living a bad life.”
Whether you want to be an astronaut, a famous novelist, or just want to be happy and have a family, those are all fine goals, but they’re not grand goals. My argument—and at the heart of this somewhat crazy venture of trying to organize people other than myself to follow a Gaian philosophy—is that we all have one shared grand goal (even if we haven’t recognized that yet). And that is: to understand that we are part of Gaia, and depend utterly on Her continued health. And then, with that recognition, to work actively to heal and sustain Gaia (as I’ll get to below).
So a primary role of Gaianism and local Gaian groups is to simply remind us and focus us on that purpose. Step one in that is reconnecting us to Gaia (and helping to remind us of Gaia’s sacredness)—which considering our deep levels of disconnection (living in cities, the “endless stream of distractions,” work, driving in enclosed high-speed boxes) isn’t so easy. But an ecocentric spiritual practice can remedy that.
One way is to hold Gaian meetings/gatherings/services in natural settings. With forest bathing’s benefits so clear, and so aligned with the Gaian grand goal, it seems to make sense to integrate this (such as a walking or sitting meditation in the woods or a nature spot) as often as possible. But in threatening weather, or for diversity, I imagine some meetings and gatherings would be at people’s homes, or if this expands far enough, in community rooms in local libraries, whether focused on sharing Earth-centric poetry, a book discussion, a guest lecture, a sermon, or simply sitting quietly like the Quakers, to reflect on how our connections to Gaia manifest in our lives (and speaking when so moved). Ideally these gatherings are regular (dare I say weekly in this time-stressed reality we inhabit?).
So timewise, probably a good 35 percent would be devoted to the spiritual side of strengthening our connections with Gaia and recognizing Gaia’s sacred nature.
Learning Gaian Ways
A good 25 percent would be focused on teaching—and supporting—the Gaian community in living as healthily, sustainably, restoratively, and happily as possible. From helping teach those who no longer know how to cook and eat healthily and sustainably to do so, to helping others reduce screen time or live more simply, to talking about death and how to die well rather than fearing it, sharing information about raising children sustainably, dealing with eco-anxiety, and so on. This would serve as a far better tool than online green advice columns, with the actual peer support to make it happen (whether handing down kids’ clothes, connecting you with local resources, or holding you to your aspirations for yourself).
This would also include simply supporting people wherever they are in life (or in simpler terms, share your love with your community), whether that’s offering to babysit, visiting sick community members, or so on. Mutual support in its many forms is a key part of any philosophical community—keeping it, and its members healthy, happy, and connected. Of course, these activities would also help in keeping us sustainable—sharing resources, having social support (and pressure) to consume less, readjusting community norms (i.e. normalizing smaller homes, smaller families, less meat and travel, etc.).
Finally, simply creating a space to have open conversations on how we can help each other would also be valuable—i.e. along the lines of the Resilience Circles model that the Institute for Policy Studies tried some years back. (While the effort failed, if it were an embedded part of the Gaian community—formally or informally—it could help us consume less, be more secure, and have conversations now about how we could sustain ourselves and each other as the consumer era comes to a close.)
Sharing Gaian Wisdom
Another quarter would be sharing this Gaian Way with others beyond our community—what you could call missionary work. Of course some of that might overlap with the above two (an eco-lecture or cooking classes open to the public, for example, plus forest meditations and meetings) but other efforts might be specifically for the broader community. Environmentoring for community children? Repair cafes or river cleanups? Helping to organize or support local climate resistance efforts? What form this outreach takes depends again on the interests of the local group members.
Preparing for the Transition
Finally, while Gaian groups are not prepper groups, focusing some of the energy—say the remaining 15 percent—on being prepared for the transition ahead is simply wise. The transition is coming quickly and it’s not being handled well (mostly we’re handling it with the age old strategy of denial). As Dahr Jamail noted in one essay, “Each one of us, knowing what we now know, must take full responsibility for preparing ourselves for the adaptation required to live on this increasingly warming, melting world as civilizations and societies continue to disintegrate.”
This doesn’t mean hoarding food and stuff, though having a Mormon-style three-month food reserve is a good idea, if done respectfully and carefully. More importantly, preparing means maintaining the skills that humanity has honed and depended on for thousands of years (and that we’ve forgotten in the matter of a few generations)—whether basic medicine, midwifery, farming, hunting, foraging, food preservation, or martial arts. We should preserve modern knowledge as well, like conflict mediation and psychology, systems thinking and environmental sciences. So providing some of that knowledge would be part of a Gaian group’s mission. Yes, this, too, overlaps with community support and missionary efforts (cooking is a health and sustainability skill that will also increase your preparedness and is a good outreach activity). Forming a branch of Earth Scouts (a now defunct but eco-centric Boy and Girl Scouts effort) could be a nice way too—providing EarthEd skills to children of Gaian families and beyond.
Ultimately, the final form of local Gaian groups will depend on the conversations that occur now and as enough of a core group forms where activities beyond meeting, conversing, and connecting with Gaia can occur. In the meantime, simply beginning the effort to develop a shared culture and conversation around all this will be a good place to start! Hopefully you can join us mid-January as we begin this conversation.