Many times, people use the word “Nature” to refer to a place where they can feel peace, relaxation, and connection to their inner selves, away from busy city life. I believe there is much more to it. A week ago, I was walking through a forest with trees in all autumn colors you can imagine. I heard the dry leaves crunch below my feet and the birds chirp. My brisk walking pace slowed down and for just a moment, I stopped, closed my eyes, and listened to the melodies of the wind passing through the crowns of trees. I started yawning, not from boredom but from a deep feeling of security, sanctuary, and relaxation. Suddenly, I became aware of the weight of my feet on the uneven surface below. I felt the wind caress my cheek, just slightly. Just like that, I felt connected to the life around me of which I am an intrinsic part. I could see my relationship with the Earth in my mind, like thousands of invisible glowing threads connecting me with every bush, tree, human, water droplet from the morning rain, bird, and squirrel around. Then, a humble reminder filled my being: I am Nature, too. It is the quintessence of me.
The health of ecosystems and species populations around the world is deteriorating fast. Much of this destruction has occurred in just two human generations, demonstrating how fast the foundations for life on Earth can be jeopardized and have their dynamic balance compromised.
A few years ago, I made an alarming observation that completely changed my game plan. In many countries and cultures, ecosystems and nonhuman beings are seen as human-owned objects whose reason for existence is to be exploited and used for human benefit and economic profit. This is a dominant narrative and permeates almost all spaces in which economic power is fostered and decision-making occurs. This is disturbing because such views defy the natural laws that govern life on Earth. This model only benefits the few, jeopardizes the rights to life and respect of the many, and unmercifully destroys the preconditions for life on Earth.
A pillar within this narrative is how “Nature” often is spoken about, through an insidious lens of a dichotomy that separates the human being from “Nature” and, arrogantly enough, states that humans are somehow superior to Nature. I consider this a cognitive illusion, which tries to portray Nature as disconnected from us. This is concerning, to say the least, because by maintaining this dichotomy in governance systems based on anthropocentric violence against nonhuman life on Earth and limitless economic growth, humanity is contributing to the irreversible collapse of ecosystems across the planet. To halt this, I will try to peel back the layers. Expose the core through my own story.
Am I more nonhuman than human?
If I ask you to think about Nature, what does your mind reveal? Humans have unique understandings of Nature and our interactions and emotional bonds with the world around us shape the meaning each of us gives to the word “Nature”.
For me, Nature is a process I am intrinsically part of. It is the web of life composed of interactive and reciprocal relationships that connect every organism on Earth into one planetary and complex interdependent ecosystem. Nature is not an object nor a collection of objects, but a process of crisscrossing interconnected relationships.
I believe we must understand that we are Nature too. Nature lives within us and around us because we as humans are Nature too. In which ways are we so intrinsically interlinked? Here’s one: At this moment, I carry 1.5 kgs of air, “non-human” Nature in me. Without it, I die. Let’s throw in a second example. A 2018 study found that human cells make up only 43 percent of the body’s total cell count and what remains are microscopic creatures. If this is true, where does “microbe” within me end and “human” begin?
What is my point? I cannot separate myself from the water I drink, the food I eat, or the air I breathe. So, how do I best understand this intrinsic connection? Through stories, like the one I shared at the start of this article.
Words configure reality: The power of story
I consider myself a storyteller, something we as humans always have been. As a storyteller, I must learn the power of my story, what value I place in the words I use, and how those words configure my understanding of reality. I have to begin asking myself what it means to be “human” on a living planet with a complex web of diverse life. I have to begin asking myself what “Nature” is. I have to begin asking myself how I use words and how those words make up the stories that I construct about the world and myself as a member of a large community. Words have power because the way we use words produces and reproduces patterns, values, and perceptions. How do these stories shape the view we have of who we are and of our relationship with the world around us? How do we create powerful stories of a new paradigm, and have those stories navigate us through ecological crises? Dare to confront received and entrenched beliefs.
Dissecting assumptions of the old paradigm
I, like many others, constantly confront assumptions of the old paradigm of human specialness. Understanding the origin of those assumptions and being able to dissect them in our mind is essential in order to build a new sense of identity and relationship. By re-discovering word and story, we are re-discovering identity and relationship. In this case, relationship with the Earth. As we re-discover, we begin to understand the world around us in new ways.
One of my greatest life lessons so far is this: By constantly re-discovering my story and understanding the meaning I place in the words that construct that story, I can better understand and meet the needs of today’s ecological reality and effectively implement actions needed to transform the norms that shape today’s decision-making around wildlife, climate breakdown, and more. So, dear reader, I invite you to start taking action by asking yourself: What is my story? What is my message? How can I use my story to convey my message and build a deep relationship within the web of life on Earth?
Read ‘Changing the world by re-discovering your story’, by Hana Begovic, on the #EarthTongues blogTweet