The Return

“As we finally become familiar with the language and the wisdom of the winds and the sea and the land and all the unnumbered forms of life that form the great community of the earth, we finally realize that we are earthlings, that we are born out of the earth, that we have no future except within the larger Earth community.” ~ The Emerging Ecozoic Period by Thomas Berry

In the 20th century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the earth. The desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. All human institutions, professions, programs, and activities must now be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship.”

“The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human at the species level with critical reflection within the community of life systems” ~ Thomas Berry

I have read one of the most life-changing pieces ever written. Thomas Berry is the friend I’ve looking for so long, a truly Earth dreamer and visionary. The piece is called “The Emerging Ecozoic Period” and can be found in “Thomas Berry, Dreamer of the Earth

His work and legacy can be studied from the amazing specialization that Yale School of Forestry and Environment has put together and made available for free through Coursera (or a small fee if you want the certificate) through four courses: Journey of the Universe: the unfolding of life; Journey Conversations: weaving knowledge and action; The Worldview of Thomas Berry: The Flourishing of the Earth Community and Living Cosmology (Capstone project, where we work on our own vision/dream and contribution to the Great Turning)

Through the last few years, I’ve came to the full realization of the mechanisms this society utilizes to keep us trapped. While we are born anew, with the amazing capacity of the healthy child to see the world as it is and become enchanted by it, we are quickly “educated” (even from birth) about separation, arrogance, entitlement, privilege and the full colonization of the Earth, including in many cases, the colonizing and oppressing of fellow human beings that happen to be “different”…we are made to cry and separated from the Mother, not just our human mother but the community-mother and the biggest Mother of them all: Mother Earth, from whom we come, depend and will eventually come back to.

I have fought to find my own dream, which I have realized is not “mine” but a piece of the dreams that have to happen (be realized) if the Ecozoic era, as Thomas Berry called it, is to be a reality…

I lack on the details of how this dream is to be realized, and as everything in life (like Joanna Macy wisely reminds us), there are no guarantees: I may jump and find that the pool was empty, I may break my bones during the fall, I may lose all I think I possess, even those I love the most. I’m full of fear and doubts: “what if, what if…” many of my doubts and fears are based on crude reality: I have a shared mortgage, I have a huge debt due to my ongoing studies and financing of gatherings, seminars, workshops, books…I have two kids, one who is completely stuck in denial of his own power and potential. They depend on me. I am not young anymore, I am not fully healthy and strong. I go through chronic pain, physical disorders and depression spells that debilitate me and keep me from socializing and force me to cancel commitments.

But what I carry is being carried by thousands if not millions out there. My strength may actually reside in not being the poster child for the work ahead. I don’t do yoga, I’m overweight, I don’t live off the land, my life is not simple, I don’t have the support of my partner of kids, I woke up to this only five years ago, after a deep sleep that lasted more than 25 years!

Thomas Berry says (bold and italics are mine):

“Even more than a reassessment of developments in the Neolithic period, we need to reassess the civilizations that came after this period that have dominated the planetary process over these past five thousand years. These civilizations provided the context for that vast expansion of the human realm. The great cities were built, human learning was expanded, the arts developed, roads were built, and commerce expanded. The great religious centers evolved, the temples built, the ceremonies made ever more gorgeous in their expression. All this went with a pervasive human arrogance in relation to the other members of the earth community. We need especially to rethink the sequence of events that have taken place in the Western world during the past few centuries, the period that we have designated as the period par excellence of “progress.”

He continues:

“During this period, which has been dominated by the ideal of “progress,” we developed our scientific understanding of how the earth functioned and how it could be controlled. We withdrew from our intimate relations with the natural world and increased our controls over the rhythmic functioning of the planet. Enchantment with ourselves and our supposed betterment of the human situation did not permit a critical appraisal of just what we were doing in the larger pattern of earthly affairs.

The Neolithic period, the Civilization period, and our modern period of progress have so far been judged not by their effects on the integral functioning of the planet, but by advance in our human controls over the earth, by our rational understanding, the abundance of our food supply, our control over illness, our consumer satisfaction, our capacity to travel more rapidly from one place to another, and by our capacity for communication. We judged progress by its benefits for ourselves. We were insensitive to the effects this was having on the natural world. We built our dams for electrical power and thus profoundly disturbed the flow of the rivers. We forced the soil to produce, not according to its own rhythm, but according to the demands we made through our chemical fertilizers. We took the petroleum from the earth and used it for heat, energy, fertilizers, plastics, fibers, and a multitude of other uses, little realizing that we were disturbing the wonderful balance of the elements that nature had worked out over the millennia.”

And then:

“But in the process, we have become autistic. We have lost our capacity for communication with the natural world in its inner life, its spirit mode. We find ourselves illiterate as regards the languages of the natural world. We do not hear the voices of the trees, the rivers, the birds, the mountains, the animals, or the insects. We have become a death-dealing presence.

We now have a new task before us. We must completely revise our understanding of the earth story, the life story, the human story, and the Western story; for indeed our new situation reveals the true reality of what we have been doing. It reveals the dark powers of both the humanist and the religious traditions of our Western world, powers that have now been communicated throughout the entire human community. Even beyond this, it reveals the dangers to itself that the earth brought forth in producing the human species. This danger was in the termination of the magnificent florescence of the Cenozoic period. That danger has become a reality in this late twentieth century. “

“The Cenozoic is definitely terminated. The life systems that were so significant in this period are now so severely damaged that they are no longer capable of continuing their successive waves of creativity. They are all in a state of regression. Our biophysical planet is under assault in its every aspect.

Yet neither Earth history nor human history is concluded. There is a future that is taking shape. A movement toward the healing of the earth can be observed even amid the many devastating processes that are still functioning. As we rewrite the story of the past and consider the realities of the present, we have already begun the shaping of the future. As we proceed with this immense task we need to recognize both our limitations and our possibilities.

We cannot make a blade of grass, but there may not in the future be a blade of grass unless it is willed by us, fostered and protected by us. There is a vast disproportion between our destructive and our constructive capacities. Although we can do almost nothing creative in the biological order ourselves, we can severely damage the entire biosphere of the planet. We can eliminate an immense number of species, but we cannot create anew any enduring species. The millions of species in the Cenozoic period were brought into being independently of any human influence.

A primary aspect of the Ecozoic period is that we recognize the larger community of life as our primary referent in terms of reality and value. This locating of the higher reality and the higher value in the larger community is absolutely primary. All species must be granted their habitat, their freedom, and their range of life expression”


“All the human professions must recognize their prototype and their primary resource in the integral functioning of the earth community. The natural world itself is the primary economic reality, the primary educator, the primary governance, the primary healer, the primary presence of the sacred, the primary moral value.

In economics it is clear that our human economy is derivative from the earth economy. To glory in a rising Gross National Product with an irreversibly declining Gross Earth Product is an economic absurdity. The only viable human economy is one that is integral with the earth economy.”

It’s time to return…

Some day, if you are lucky,
you’ll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.

Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows traces

of fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.

Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you’ve returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,
hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they-like you-must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings

~”The Return” by Geneen Marie Haugen

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