Is the Gaian Way a Hippy-dippy Fad?

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.”

Meditation is crucial. Fancy pants optional. (Photo from Renate Hille via Pixabay.)

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).*

Science meets spirituality: observing the moon from the International Space Station. (Image from Scott Kelly via NASA)

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.

“I am at one with this plant, I am at one with this planet.” Now let me increase magnetic stimulation to really feel that. (Photo from dlohner via Pixabay)


*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.

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2 Responses

  1. Healing Hawk

    The “ancient wisdom” comes from people who couldn’t pass 5th grade today. Only priests could even read. There’s ignorance, and it’s okay when facts aren’t available, but when facts are available, it’s a decision to be ignorant and to remain ignorant due to a belief system. This is what fundamentalist Christians do. About the 10th or 11th century: the Dark Ages.
    We’re neck-deep in the Sixth Mass Extinction aka Runaway Climate Change. We know how to stop it. Anyone can do it – grow green plants, the more the better, but if everyone’s doing it, no one person has to do a whole bunch.
    If someone makes a decision to ignore the fact that healing Gaia’s carbon cycle will give our children a future better than the present, when the carbon system it so far from homeostasis that Gaia no longer has integrity (wholeness) enough to do what we can do for her.
    If someone knows that and still won’t help, I consider that person a sociopath, one who hates people enough to ruin their chance for a future, even if it’s not optimal yet, or, worse yet, just blows it off no matter the consequences for others, including Gaia. The Gaia Lovelock sort of created with Margulis. I think they did a logical process of close observation.
    I’m fairly certain that people here don’t read what I have to say because it doesn’t fit into a sound bite, because when I do, I’m not giving enough information to give the information from which I got these facts, because they are facts, not my opinion. I get the idea that I’m the crazy guy here who should be ignored. When I get into opinion, I’m pretty much out of my element. I don’t get a faith that ignores facts, and won’t even take a look at the chance to inform oneself.
    I had a sitting practice for 10 years, 20 minutes twice a day, and once a week with a teacher. One koan I recall was, “Can man live without killing?” When I see the full moon, which I do every month, I stand and stop thinking, just let whatever comes float into me. I live in full blown Gaia in this wildlife habitat that I just observe, and feed because the habitat is three quarters of an acre in the riparian corridor of the Blanco River.
    I’ve followed Lovelock and Margulis as they’ve articulated the Gaia they observed, and Lovelock still observes. It’s something like beholding, a sacred act, to behold a living being who is every living thing on Earth. That’s hard to comprehend, but that’s what she is, and the life system is self creating and also managing, when it has a chance.
    I feel like you blew me off, last time I wrote in here, and I realized that wasn’t about me but about you trying to keep your idea together in the face of facts. If you read my last post, you can’t help but see how what I’m talking about happens, and what it is. Faiths (save fundamentalist faiths who can’t change as the facts of life change. Gaia doesn’t stay the same from one second to the next and neither does any living thing, whether they believe it or not.
    Mental illness does not mean cognitively challenged. It means my behavior gets out of hand from time to time and if people take it personally, they apparently haven’t studied Don Luis. I work in principles, not personalities, and seek to harm no living thing if they aren’t trying to harm me, and blowing me off instead of checking out the truth I bring about the Gaia Lovelock and Margulis developed. I’ve followed it from the beginning. I believe it.
    But I ask people to change, to be where Gaia is, not where she was, and to live with her, not for her, to grow into the ability to follow what Gaia does now. What she does now is work at correcting what capitalism ruined.
    The reason I have no respect for New Age fluff is because they didn’t dump capitalism. Every one I know or have known looks to make money according to capitalist dogma.
    Gaia fulfills most of the stuff I learned in the Baptist church God provides, except Gaia is a discovery and God is a human invention. Many of the characters in the Bible lived and made a history, and that history is now known. The Christmas Story has no basis in actual history. Romans made it up from old crap.
    There is no reason for Gaians to reject facts, because when you do, it is a hippy dippy fad, making it up as they go without even learning the science. If you read “autopoietic Gaia and-the-Carbon-Cycle”, you’ll see that I’ve been telling the truth all along, after studying this thing for 24 years.
    And there it is.

    • Erik Assadourian

      So many good points in here. So going end to beginning: yes, that’s right, ignoring facts and trying to capitalize on a practice converts the practice from a wisdom practice to a fad. If we start selling special meditation mats, you’ll know this has become corrupted!

      Your point about Gaia being discovered is a really powerful one. I agree. Rereading Parable of the Sower recently, the protagonist notes she’s simply ‘discovering’ her eco-religion not inventing it. Gaia and the Gaian Way are discoveries not inventions–in the same way. Ancient peoples understood that the Earth was a living being. And then we forgot (caught up in our own greatness). But then a few scientists reminded those who would listen that, yes, the Earth is a living being and let’s call it Gaia. But that’s where it stalled. Knowing the Earth is alive and that we are part of and dependent on Gaia for our wellbeing means we must live accordingly. Consuming less, reproducing less, and healing the land. It’s scary to think we probably won’t though. I’d argue that’s not because we’re all sociopaths but caught up in the game of life as mapped out by our dominant consumer culture. Sadly it’s easy to do even for the most passionate of Gaians and environmentalists.

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