Pathways to Integration: Rediscovering the Song of the Earth

by Maddy Harland. An excerpt from The Song of the Earth, Gaia Education’s Worldview Key

It isn’t a coincidence that we speak about ‘earthing’ or grounding ourselves to establish or maintain a sense of stability or a still centre in our frenetic modern world. Often on completing a meditation practice, we ground ourselves by visualising our ‘roots’ going deep into the Earth to echo the lotus plant, a symbol of spiritual elevation, with its flower above water and its roots deep in the mud of the pond, spanning three physical mediums.

Connecting with nature can be a deeply healing experience. It can stimulate positive experiences, make us happier people, bond a group together, and prompt a shift in worldview, from separation to integration. I remember once walking on the South Downs in England one sunny day and becoming aware that everything in the landscape was infused with sparkling, dancing energy. It emanated from every blade of grass, every stone, the sky, the clouds and even the lone figure walking (me!). I became strongly aware that the landscape and myself were made of the same essence behind the forms and that I was part of a greater unity. It was blissful.

There are many ways in which we can connect with nature and experience the intelligence and inter-connected web of our beautiful planet Earth. Working together in groups is especially fertile ground as not only does it bring a greater connectivity with nature, it also can enhance the group’s sense of identity. We do not always have to initiate formal group sessions either. Cooking a meal over an open fire, playing music together with household objects as percussion instruments, making art from local materials, sleeping under the stars, or swimming in wild water can all engender this kind of awareness. If the group is to be together for four weeks, creating a small but biodiverse salad garden is another technique. Gardening opens our awareness to the changing elements, microclimates, the quality of water, the seasons, the local wildlife and the process of growth. There is little more miraculous than growing food from seed, and to appreciate the pattern inherent in the form and be an agent of its fulfilment by good husbandry. Planting seeds can also be a deeply symbolic act as we can plant our intentions as individuals or as a group as we sow.

Breathing With Nature

Another technique for a group to share is to go out individually and silently into a natural area, agreeing to meet again in about 20 minutes. Treat it like a meditation and encourage everyone to slow down and be silent. As you walk, sense what you are drawn to. When you are attracted to a plant or tree, ask for permission to visit it. If you do not feel invited, move on. If you feel you have permission, sit with the plant and explore it with your five senses. Breathe with the plant, exchanging gases. Imagine how the plant is providing you with oxygen and you are providing the plant with carbon dioxide. Both of you need each other. Visualise symbiosis. Imagine how long this planet’s ecosystems has depended on this exchange of gases. When you have finished, express your gratitude to the plant or tree and the natural area. When you gather together again, ask the group to share their experiences and how it felt. There is no need to interpret, explain or compare experiences. Just share them without judgment. Thank each other for doing this activity together.

The Biotime or ‘Phenomenal’ Diary

Max Lindegger, the ecovillage designer and permaculture specialist, told me a story about the farmers in Northern Thailand. “One muggy afternoon, I expected it to rain any minute. I noted that our farmer was watering his vegetable seedlings. “Why bother?” crossed my mind, “Nature will do it very soon!” Next door the farmer lit the stubble. I wondered why? “It would rain soon anyway and kill the fire!” But it did not rain! How did the farmers know?” Tang, one of our students told me the following: “Because farmers observe all the time and have done so for many years (and many generations) they note even slight changes. Ants will leave the soil, looking for higher ground and even shifting their eggs before heavy rain. A few hours before rain, insects will be attracted by light. Farmers make use of these phenomena, and set lights on ponds to attract insects to where fish can eat them. Farmers will listen to the sound of crickets as their sound changes when it is about to rain. Frogs will start to ‘sing’ before the rain arrives. When the seedpods of Tamarind curl up tight and are crunchy, cold weather is not far away. Earthworms will rise to the surface and often die and this is an indicator of cold weather coming.

“‘Phenomenal’ calendars have been part of many cultures. I remember a story from Native Americans that described ‘the time to plant corn is when the size of oak leaves is equal to the size of a squirrel’s ear’. This is more accurate information than a planting date as it is likely to relate to soil moisture and soil temperature.

“Many of these observations can be scientifically proven but some may simply be beyond science. Before the Tsunami of 26th December 2004 hit a small isolated island, the local Shong people left for higher and safe ground. None died. When asked how they knew a disaster was about to hit, their response was simply, ‘Our ancestors told us.’”

It is useful to note the subtle changes in the natural world around us and it deepens our connection as well as provides a useful record in a world of changing climate. Acquire a book with blank pages (enough to have at least half or a whole page for every day of the year). Start on January 1 and write the day (but not the year) in its allocated place. Then simply start a diary of biological events. This can be when a species of migrating birds like swallows arrive or leave, when you see your first favourite wildflower, when a specific fruit tree come into leaf, when your poultry lays the first egg of the year, or when the fish begin to spawn… Allocate a colour for each year and make a key at the beginning. That way you can identify what year relates to each entry and begin to make annual comparisons on seasonal changes. You will be surprised by the results.

This article is an excerpt from the Worldview Key, a collection of articles collated in the book ‘The Song of the Earth — A Synthesis of the Scientific and Spiritual Worldviews, offer background material to the curriculum of the Worldview dimension of both Gaia Education’s face-to-face Ecovillage Design Education programmes and our online Design for Sustainability programmes.

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