Witness the rebirth of a culture
When a child is born, there is an understanding and compassionate person who attends the birth and ensures a happy outcome. We are about to witness a different kind of birth, or perhaps rebirth, of a culture and this article discusses how we could nurture that process with all the necessary skills and compassion. Human society is about to change and this change is happening because of what we call the “environmental crisis”.
Any human culture can be understood as an education of consciousness through shared imagination. The culture we share teaches us to “feel” the world, the things that matter to us, the changes to which we are sensitive. Watch our news media every day and you’ll see what interests us right now, the things that make us say “Whoa” and “No” and “Really” and “I don’t believe it.”
This reveals a rather strange mishmash of concerns, but one that emerges strongly today has to do with our relationship to the Earth. It’s like the ground is moving under our feet. We may have grown up with the idea that human beings could do whatever they wanted. If there was a problem, we could solve it. If there was a challenge, we could invent our way out. However, something new is happening. The power of the Earth becomes evident. We must recognize that we absolutely depend on the Earth as a great and powerful living system upon which all life depends. This will usher in a new type of culture, an Earth-centered culture, in which we will come to feel our relationship with the Earth. And it will be a new day for humanity.
So how can we witness this great change taking place among us? How to make childbirth as painless as possible? How do you ensure that the resulting culture is truly healthy?
First, we must recognize that this change is profound. It cannot be solved simply by changing our economic system, although serious economic changes will surely result. It won’t be solved by insulating our homes, although that is certainly a vital step along the way. This change we are experiencing is cultural, it is linked to the way we perceive the world and how our consciences are educated.
To find how to help with this, we need to dive deep into human societies of the past and examine how they were formed and maintained. Traditional societies have learned what I call the art of creating a shared imagination. This allowed very large groups of people to work together and could, I believe, be of vital importance to us today as we recognize the need to cooperate as never before.
In this article, I will try to describe a new movement that could spread across the world and usher in the culture we seek.
This movement is called Neighborhoods for the Earth. Everyone has a neighborhood. In China, Russia, Outer Mongolia. In Africa, India, Europe and the UK, we all have neighborhoods. With the rise of digital services in the so-called “developed” world, the era of daily commuting and “bedroom” cities is coming to an end and neighborhoods are once again becoming the primary social space for many people. It is above all the place where you feel like you belong, where you meet people face to face, where you spend time and where you build a community. For this reason, neighborhoods are a great place to nurture something new. They are also relatively small, so the mainstream of everyday people can meaningfully participate and feel included.
To me, neighborhoods are a bit like the bacteria that first colonized the earth. They are everywhere. They are numerous. And they are paramount, existing in human culture “under” our policies, our leaders, our cities and our nations. As such, they are well placed to change our culture.
If we want to unlock this great change and bring about a new culture, there are two simple practices, stemming from the art of creating a shared imagination, that we can use.
The first is to recognize the power of the festival. Festivals have been the means par excellence throughout human history to develop social cohesion and move our imagination. In traditional societies, festivals were often associated with the imagination of a higher power. Festivals these days can celebrate our relationship with Earth, which is truly a higher power, but now described to us by science. Thus, we inaugurate festivals in every neighborhood of the Earth that focus on celebrating our relationship with the Earth. The word “celebrate” is important here. Parties can take many forms. Different peoples will want to express them in different ways and it will be a pleasure to hear how communities interpret this, but we should rejoice. A festival is not a time to wiggle your fingers. There’s a lot going on that we should feel bad about, but now is not the time. If we can celebrate, then we can hope, and our hope will ignite our imaginations of new possibilities for humanity in our relationship with all that lives on Earth.
The second practice is also associated with neighborhoods. It is the setting apart of places with the deepest respect for nature. We need to reconnect with nature and we can do that in our region. Again, there will be many ways to do this. Some of our cities are currently concrete jungles, where it seems the only creature is human. Meanwhile, our countryside can be cultivated so intensively that there is no space left for anything else, no hedges, few trees or wetlands, or even paths. that we humans can borrow. The challenge is for each neighborhood to recognize and nurture nature’s potential to flourish in its own region. It’s about designating spaces where nature takes precedence, while humans retreat and interact only with great care, much like a traditional society would treat something it considered sacred.
Such setting apart of places for nature in our local community will not only help nature to thrive, it will change us on the inside. These special places will become, for us, a microcosm of the Earth itself, where we can learn from our impact on nature and feel this connection.
This “Neighborhoods for the Earth” initiative could meet three vital needs of human beings at this point in our history. It might help us to feel our relationship with the Earth, instead of just knowing on Earth. It could help us engage the mass of everyday people who feel overwhelmed by the issues we face. And it could allow us to work together across the world, neighborhood by neighborhood, creating a wave of support for positive change.
We are fortunate to be alive during one of the most important periods of human existence on Earth. Historians of the future will examine in detail how we ended up in our current situation and what we did in response. There is no doubt that difficult times are ahead. Some of our young people are already aware of our situation and are struggling with eco-anxiety. Some adults adopt a kind of nihilism, a desperation for the future, which can lead to strange conspiracy theories and even denial of reality.
On the other hand, “Neighborhoods for the Earth” could bring hope, not to replace all the very meritorious reform efforts that are already under way around the world, but to underpin and reinforce them with a new consciousness, uniting human beings everywhere in positive action, making us all feel like we can actually do something, and bringing about a new Earth-centered culture.
It’s the promise. Now we have to make it real. At the start of 2022, we have just recruited the first neighborhoods to this movement. Each neighborhood will apply its own imagination and ideas to form its festivals and set aside places for nature and we’ll see what happens. It is open to anyone, or any group, who can, even timidly, feel their way of implementing this in their neighborhood. We will attempt to create a suite of resources to support this process, sharing best practices around the world, to inspire others. The initiative will remain the property of the community. There is no big organization behind it and no big bucks. Each district will be responsible for what it does.
More news and resources will be announced on this site as they are developed. In the meantime, please use the contact form here to tell us what you’re up to and we’ll create ways to share it.
Teaser photo credit: Wye Marsh. View from the bridge over the canoe channel. By Óðinn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2760942