European School of Governance, position paper #124 by Julia Hayden.
Our world is sick. Our Mother Earth, who we assume to nourish, cure and protect us, is not able to fulfill her task much longer. She is out of balance. How do we pay attention, now, to the pain, the illnesses, the depletions that are devastating the living biosphere that gives us life?
Our expectations on our world are high. We demand light, warmth, energy and for miracles to happen. We take sunrises, photosynthesis, geysers or childbirth as givens, call them “life,” and forget how special they are. We consume Earth´s resources, as if they belonged to us and take ourselves as important as never before. We are concerned only with ourselves, our individuality, our personal worth, our own purpose. We are sunbathing in our egos and telling heroic stories of what we would do, if one would let us do, in place of truthfully making a change happen on behalf of our beautiful Planet.
But, as we are concerned so much about ourselves, why do we often recognize too late, that we are sick, as in, sick enough to stay home from work, get rest, or even seek medical care? Many of us allow the demands of work, of competition, of egos to drive us on, ignoring the growing signs of injury, dysfunction, and illness – only stopping for care when the pain or symptoms are so severe that we cannot continue. In many devastating instances, the outcome of a lack of awareness or a deliberate strategy to ignore the pain is permanent disability or even a terminal diagnosis.
When we deny our body system, we are lacking on awareness. When we lack awareness, our body tries to get in touch with us via pain, fatigue or malaise. When we negate the environment around us, we are missing empathy. When we are missing empathy, our surroundings make themselves recognized by poverty, terrorism, diseases or starvation. Overall, when we are not listening to the screams of Mother Earth, we are neither connected, nor humble or respectful of life.
When we ruin connection, humbleness and respect to life, we overhear Mother Earth´s cries and do not notice her sickness, the climate change or the Ocean´s malady. What are we going to do about the state of our world, if we cannot develop awareness and empathy for our own minds, souls and bodies?
By the time any of us take our chronic pain, loss of energy or permanent tension seriously, the so-called “soma-somatic” effective chain has already hit. We might suffer from incessant headaches due to an immense tension from the shoulder blades all the way to the muscles of the pectorals.
The therapist we visit watches us move in a very strained way, looks into our flushed face and palpates our tensed structure. He does not go for our shoulder and neck, as we suggest, he rather starts working in our guts. “The liver”, he might mumble. As soon as the therapists’ fingers dig deep beneath the rib cage, we possibly feel a connection from the area of our chronic pain all the way down to the toe. With these kinds of “strange” things happening in a Physiotherapeutic or Osteopathic Session, we might be acquainted nowadays, as they are no more “strange”, after a while.
The holistic body has become normal to us. One sensation in any part of our body leads to another, which might have an impact on a third, which affects even a fourth and so on. This is what we call the soma-somatic effective chain, the “communication” or “interaction” between cells, organs, muscles, nerves and other parts in order to keep the body balanced, the energy level high and the feeling of well-being on its height. If any tiny or bigger part of our physical system is permanently under stress, a “too much” feeling occurs. Too much pain, muscle-tone, food, exercise, sitting or dieting creates the demand for parts along the effective chain to react, as being in balance is the basic goal of our physical system.
Our feeling shapes our thinking. For this reason we need to be well organised in our somatic system not only to feel physically good, but also in order to positively think about, to relate to and resiliently take part in life. Taking this in account, we already are on the next layer of the effective chains, which we call the “psycho-somatic” chain, the impact of the body on our mental state of being, as well as reverse, the mind influencing the physical system. If the equilibrium in our body fails even for a bit, we tend to feel bad, weak, tired, stressed or at worst, in chronic pain. The consequence for our thinking system, in reacting negatively to the physical burden we carry, is unavoidable.
Feelings bring about thoughts. Thoughts create beliefs and values. Beliefs and values lead to actions. Actions design the communication and interaction with the world around us. These skills directly affect our language and behaviour.
Feeling pain, exhaustion or fatigue brings about thoughts of despair, surrender or depression. Despair, surrender, depression and other psychological phenomena lead to pessimistic beliefs, loss of self-confidence, pathos or faithlessness — and to a degradation in our own value system. These feelings make us vulnerable to wanting to bring back “balance,” but in unhealthy ways – cheating on a partner, gambling, being ruthless, overspending.
This despair and loss of value can seem normal when everyone around us is also suffering from a lack of awareness and empathy. The stress creating the headache and tension also manifests as anger or anxiety, and then as we seek balance without awareness, we may “medicate” by mistreating others and our environment. We are taken with our own selves so much, that we are neither aware of it nor empathic with others anymore. As we believe ourselves to be right about everything we chose to feel, think and do in our lives, we tend to accuse the others of being the reasons for our malaise.
The ability to reflect gives us the chance to re-feel, re-think and re-act each time a new situation occurs. When we are balanced in our body, balanced in our mind and balanced in our soul, we can react with more ease, more bravery, more optimism and in a positive, noble, sensitive and caring way. We can increase our awareness and our empathy to reconciliate with ourselves and with our environment as we communicate and interact with the world around us. This is the so-called “socio-somatic” effective chain. If we keep in touch with our environment, if we are empathic, if we are able to notice the effects our feeling, thinking and acting has on the environment, we fulfill what it needs in order to make the world a healthy, resilient and happy place.
Our planet is our health
As we think about the need for change and a healthier planet, we should think about the effective chains through our bodies, our feelings, our relationships. The Earth warns us about injury, illness, destruction, in the same way that our bodies and minds warn us – with signs, symptoms, and sensations throughout the effective chains. The symptoms of climate change, dying organisms and other catastrophes are the signs that Mother Earth is sending us, that the pain is great and that the load resulting from what we, as all societies that live and use the earth, is too much.
Like waves in the ocean, living beings exist in different functions, forms and shapes. Like the ocean to the waves, Mother Earth to us is our source of life. Waves in the Ocean become infinite, as the ocean gets calm, just the same as living beings on the world become boundless, when our Mother Earth regains balance.
Health we can only have as a whole. The Gaia Hypothesis says that everything depends on everything else; the world in the Anthropocene will live and die with us. This planet and all its life, this human civilization, can only survive through us. But we need to be not only aware and empathetic, but respectfully active in recognizing and reconciling how we connect and care for ourselves and the entire living biosphere with the goal of collective balance and health. Our pain and disease, and, our well-being and health, and Mother Earth’s, are interconnected. The Earth cries out, and so do our own bodies. To answer these cries, we must become aware, empathetic, and bring care, all the way, from the cellular level and out to the Universe.