New Year Musings and Mapping the 2024 Calendar

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Happy New Year and thanks to all of you who supported the Gaian Way with a year-end (or earlier) contribution. That support means a great deal to our little organization!

These past few weeks I took it easy—mainly resting after some family bouts of COVID* then flu, but that did give me a chance to do some end of the year planning and to crack open an excellent new book, Ultra-processed People. That’s one you’ll be hearing more of from me, but I wanted to share one insight from that book and some 2024 updates before diving back into standard Gaian Reflection programming next week. So let’s begin!

Holobiont Uncertainty Principle

In Ultra-processed People, Doctor Chris van Tulleken explores the problems with the modern, ultra-processed diet most of us consume (with the average American/Brit/Australian now getting about 60% of their calories from ultra-processed foods). But most interesting was his brief exploration of how cows instinctively know what micronutrients their bodies are in need of. As van Tulleken notes, cows eat dozens of different plants a day, and remember the taste, smell, and effects different plants have on their bodies—from a burst of extra energy to deworming properties (or even how eating one plant in combination with another can detoxify the latter). In other words, they’re not just grass-eating machines. (Interestingly, later van Tulleken shows that human toddlers can do this too, before losing their instinctual connection to their bodies from cultural conditioning—whether from parental guidance or food marketing).

But it’s one line that sparked an epiphany. Van Tulleken describes that cows depend on their microbiome to digest all these plants, just like us, and he notes: “The cow microbiome is so crucial to its survival that you could invert your idea of a cow and think of it as simply a vehicle for its own microbiome, a four-legged vessel transporting the microorganisms to the plants of their choice. Once you’ve done that, you can imagine yourself in the same way.”

This is not a cow. It is a vessel for moving around a vast microbial community. (Image by DALL-E with additions from Erik Assadourian)

Exactly. As uncomfortable as it feels, perhaps we are simply vessels for our microbiomes. There are certainly more of those cells than human cells, so why not? But of course, that makes us feel bad. Are we really just a beast of burden to shuttle our microbiomes around? One hopes not. After all, one benefits from a belief in free will, whether illusory or not.

But that brings the epiphany. It is easy to focus our understanding that cows (and humans) are one unified being—a holobiont made up of lots of microbial species, but the focus is squarely on the cow-aggregate. So why is it so hard to see Gaia as a holobiont-aggregate? For most of us, we see Earth as made up of trillions upon trillions of beings, but seeing them as one unified whole is really hard. However, it’s clear that it’s not either/or but both. We’re both us and vessels for our microbiomes. Gaia, too, is both the sum of many other living beings and a being in Gi’s own right. It’s like one of those Magic Eye illusions. A person can only see the image in one way until suddenly, one’s focus shifts and then he can see the other. But it’s worth seeing both. It is essential that we recognize the non-dualistic nature of cows, of ourselves, and of the planet we depend on and are part of.

What do you see in this Magic Eye illusion? Microbes, Gaia, or both? (Image generated by Erik Assadourian using Easy Stereogram Builder.)

Gaian Programming Update

Last year we had about two online events each month, sometimes more, when one regular event overlapped with another. This year, we’re going to adjust the schedule a bit to space offerings out better. We’ll have four celebrations for the equinoxes and solstices; four open forums at the cross-quarter days, and for months that there are neither of these, we’ll continue our quarterly Gaian Guild Support Groups. That totals twelve, one per month, with each of these are spaced out every three months.

To those we’ll continue to add in innovative author and practitioner discussions, book chats, and a series of Gaian Degrowth Pod (GDP) discussions—all designed to help deepen our understanding of Gaia and our relationship with Gi. We have eight who have signed up for the GDP so far. If you want to join this discussion/action group, simply sign up here (the first meeting is set for February 21 at 3pm ET)!** And we already have three great events scheduled for January and February, as well as annual Gaian holidays like Earth Day, Earth Overshoot Day, and #DoNothingForTheClimateDay. If you have ideas of conversations you’d like to lead, don’t hesitate to send me a note at

Here’s to a healthy 2024, and one lived fully in service of Gaia!


*My first time actually—and it came complete with a loss of smell, which fortunately I’m slowly getting back….

**The Deep Sea Mining Pod got less interest, so instead we’ll make that a specific one-time discussion sometime in 2024.

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