I recently saw a short video by Myztico Campo and Damaris Vazquez based on a fable written by Charles Eisenstein that depicts the concept of the necessary move humankind must make from treating the earth as “mother” to treating her as “lover”, an idea is based on Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’s “Ecosex Manifesto” of 2016.
In the fable, the mother is dying and the son is bereft. He pleads with the mother not to go, but she is adamant. She can no longer give as a mother does, endlessly, and her strength is waning. The son promises to not consume so much, to do better, but to no avail. The gifts the mother gave—and which the son accepted unthinkingly and did not treasure—the rivers and forests, the deep boundless ocean, the endless biodiversity of the animals and the plants, everything really, is disappearing.
And the son is heartbroken, alternately demanding, sobbing, or sullenly ignoring her, turning his back like a small child. He is us, of course, in the face of climate change. But while the mother is firm in leaving, as she fades she introduces a young woman, Tara, to the son. Unlike the mother whose endless gifts are bountiful and selfless, Tara must be coaxed, and seduced. The relationship must be reciprocal; in order to receive, the son must learn to give; in order to be nurtured, the son must learn to nurture. Unlike the mother, Tara’s love is not without conditions. It is dependent and contingent on the son’s actions. This doesn’t make her bad though, or fickle—their relationship demonstrates an evolution from a child’s selfish innocence to the selflessness of a mature relationship. It is the son’s time to step into devotion, to learn to love as a practice.
And of course, this is a fable, but it is a fable for our time. Mother Earth—Gaia—is dying, and though the fable paints it as a result of our careless inattention, it is in fact the opposite. Our collective predation of the planet has never been careless—it has been exact and explicit. Each cut and borehole, each highway and mine shaft has been a TECHNOLOGY and a SCIENCE. Centuries of violent extraction and willful exploitation have left an increasingly hollow shell of a planet through which we continue to benefit.
The climate we have grown up in the last 11,000 years is collapsing. It is, in the words of Bill McKibben, no longer the same earth that we were born into. The world is hotter than any other time in the last 25,000 years—not that it will become hotter if we don’t change our ways, in some distant yet to be realized future—it is hotter today, right now. Equally, atmospheric CO2 is higher than it’s been in the last 40,000 years. Carbon concentration levels have jumped nearly 200 points since 1900, from around 220 ppm to 415 ppm today. Your intolerant uncle at Thanksgiving is right—climate does change, and all those numbers have been far higher in the past—it’s just that life looked very different in those ages when no humans or hominids existed. It is so extreme that earth scientists are calling this age the Sixth Great Extinction.
Mother is dying and soon I—we—will be all alone.
But within the tragedy of the Great Death lies an opportunity, a possibility. I don’t know what that looks like yet—to claim that you do is to sell snake oil on the tilting decks of the Titanic. We still can only imagine the dystopia of abandonment, the grief at her absence. But there are practices which can begin to prepare us for what needs to happen, ways to return to balance. These lie in our approach to Tara who appears in the second half of the fable, and putting into practice the lessons we’ve learned from the heartache of abandonment, in our grief. We must learn from the Great Mother, now nearly gone.
These practices center on reciprocity, about giving back. It’s about evolving to move our center of focus from the I, from the source of ego, out into the world. It’s about recognizing the interaction and interrelatedness of all things, about realizing that not only am I not alone, but I am all things, intertwined already. My actions in the world are never mine alone, not even close. What I consume in this world, from the cheeseburger at a roadside diner to the iPhone in my pocket to the late model Tesla are intimately connected to everything else.
All things are delicately interconnected is printed on a wooden postcard made by the artist Jenny Holzer that I keep on my shrine. We must learn this in order to bring forward Tara, in order that we might flourish in new, dynamic and meaningful ways. In this dystopia we inhabit at the end of all things, and in order that life might make sense again, might radiate in the fullness and bountifulness of all that there is, we must change our ways, we must change our lives.
Tara invites us to do just that.
Time is running out though, and there is no guarantee that Tara is going to hang out indefinitely, waiting for us to get our shit together. It’s time to get to work, time to start showing up in everything that you do, not for the Great Mother—may we honor her—but for that other her, for Tara. Let us move our energy of devotion from “mother” to “lover”, as Annie Sprinkle says. Let us begin the practice of coming into communion with her, into community. Let us share and more importantly give, in all that we do. Let the great dance be a dance towards devotion rather than from it.
It doesn’t have to be huge actions—that’s the old story, the old myths that has us building systems and societies and laws that tell us what is permitted in our short lives.
Today, perhaps, you don’t have to be the hero, slaying dragons and riding into battle. Instead, this moment—maybe—calls for care, for attention, for generosity. Set the table for Tara, light candles, and cook for her. Make sure her glass is full with good clean water. Make this relationship everything in your life. Show up as a man (if you identify as a man), but do it for her, for the Divine in life, all life. Let the meal you prepare be simple but good and nurturing. Feed her as a divine being, for that is what she is—it’s who we all are, all the time.
Bring a level of conscious awareness to what you are consuming today.
EXERCISE: Consuming and Spending
This is not about being a hero, about slaying dragons. Instead, start and stay small. Become aware of your actions—how do you consume, and, in response, how do you spend your money?
Not, how do they consume and spend their money, but how do you, practically, expend that energy.
Bring a level of conscious awareness to what you are consuming today.
Where did this meat I am about to eat come from?
Who made this iPhone? What was their story? What did the face of their mother look like? What were their hopes and dreams?
Who made these sneakers? How did they spend their day after coming home from the factory? How did they practice joy?
If you rode the subway or went to the mall or took an airplane, think about all those people, all those stories of pain and joy, suffering and thrill, despair and hope. Be with them for a minute. All of them.
Become aware of the world in all its relations to you, and how those relations open up into other stories, other narratives.
Repeat the phrase; all things are delicately interconnected.
Like the mycorrhizal network spreading out under your feet in the forest, become aware of the distant connections, the far away inter-twinings of stories, the repetitions. Each one a story. Each one a part of a larger story.
Expand this further.
Where will you put your money today? Money is an energy in the world—it creates and destroys, it supports and denies. How are you moving that energy around today? What takes that energy from you? Is it constructive or destructive?
Become aware of what you spend your money on, and whether that benefits the world, benefits Tara, or is it mired in the old story of greed and exploitation.
Practice this awareness.
Know that you will fail, that you will become distracted.
Come back when you can.
Return. Again and again.
Repeat this practice as much as you can.
About the author:
Nico holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Art & Critical Theory, a MA in Eastern Philosophy as well as a MFA and BFA in Performance Art and Photography. As a university professor for more than 12 years, lecturing at the intersections of philosophy, art history, critical theory and climate change, he has brought together contemporary continental philosophy with Eastern self-awareness techniques to incite disruption and foster creation.
In coaching and working one on one with clients around the world, he brings a background in both Western and Eastern philosophy to the practice of dialogue and critical change. As a certified Breath Coach and Embodied Masculine Facilitator, he works with clients to ground and embody themselves in order to create the right conditions to transform their lives physically, emotionally, and philosophically.
Born in Madrid, and raised in Rome, Beirut, Hong Kong, Paris and New York, Nico has spent a lifetime traveling, teaching, and documenting the world, reaching peak flow while sailing across the Atlantic in a 26-foot boat and surfing winter waves off the coast of Maine, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. His bio will be complete when it reads that he lives on a remote Greek island, tending his olive trees and walking with his dog, silently contemplating the world. Click Here to learn more about Nico.