by Joanna Macy (Dec 21, 2012)
We participate in many flows of becoming, from our own life to the lives of our family, community, and world. Each flow can be thought of as a story that moves through the players in it. With our individual self, the plot revolves around our personal adventures, gains, and losses. With our family self, the narrative can be traced back through our ancestors and extends into future generations.
The term ecological self describes the wider sense of identity that arises when our self-interest includes the natural world. When we include the natural world, we are brought into a much larger story of who and what we are. Recognizing ourselves as part of the living body of Earth opens us to a great source of strength. The expression “act your age” takes on a different meaning when we see ourselves as part of an amazing flow of life that started on this planet more than three and a half billion years ago. We come from an unbroken lineage that has survived through five mass extinctions. Life has a powerful creative energy and manifests a powerful desire to continue. When we align ourselves with the well-being of our world, we allow that desire and creative energy to act through us. When asked how he handles despair, rainforest activist John Seed replied:
“I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.”
The understanding that we are an intrinsic part of the living Earth lies at the heart of indigenous belief systems around the world. Describing the traditional view of the world he grew up with in Malawi, Africa, theologian Harvey Sindima writes, “We live in the web of life in reciprocity with people, other creatures, and the Earth, recognizing that they are part of us and we are part of them.” […]
All the individuals on a team may each be brilliant by themselves, but if they don’t shift their story from personal success to team success, their net effectiveness will be greatly reduced. When people experience themselves as part of a group with shared purpose, team spirit flows through them, and their central organizing principles changes. The guiding question moves from “What can I gain?” to “What can I give?”
We can develop a similar team spirit with life. When we are guided by our willingness to find and play our part, we can feel as if we are acting not just alone but as a part of a larger team of life that acts with us. Since team involves many other players, unsuspected allies can emerge at crucial moments; unseen helpers can remove obstacles we didn’t even know where there. We think of the additional support behind our actions as a form of grace. This poem expresses well the grace that comes from belonging to life:
When you act on behalf
of something greater than yourself,
to feel it acting through you
with a power that is greater than your own.
This is Grace.
Today, as we take risks
for the sake of something grater
than our separate, individual lives,
we are feeling graced
by other beings and by the Earth herself.
Those with whom and on whose behalf we act
give us strength
and staying power
we didn’t know we had.
We just need to practice knowing that
and remembering that we are sustained
by each other
in the web of life.
Our true power comes as a gift, like grace,
because in truth it is sustained by others.
If we practice drawing on the wisdom
of our fellow human beings
and our fellow species
we can go into any situation
that the courage and intelligence required
will be supplied.
–Joanna Macy in Active Hope. [Creative comic above by Dharma Comics ;-)]