I keep a tiny scrap of a sticky note hanging above my desk. It’s torn on two sides. It really is just a scrap. And written in pencil, it simply says: “the elements are our ancestors.” I can’t remember when or why I wrote this down. But I remember how that moment of realization felt. It was one of those transformative moments of deep inner knowing. The veil of ignorance and separation was briefly lifted and I was able to see through the conditioning that has trained me to understand myself as different than nature.
Space. Air. Fire. Water. Earth. These elements are our ancestors. We come from them. We’re made of them.
Take a moment to feel into your mineral filled bones. The flowing rivers of your blood. The acidic fire of your belly. The breath in your lungs. The yards and yards of space inside your digestive tract. Just like all the plant life and all the animal life that we share this planet with, we are made of the elements.
We cannot be separated from the earth. We are the earth. We are embodied beings made of all who came before us.
We are Nature.
Waking up to this truth is one of the most important, urgent calls of our life. Our belief in separation has led us down a dangerous path. I’ll admit that sometimes I’m overwhelmed with pessimism about the likelihood that we’ll be able to reverse the trajectory we’re on regarding climate change. But I’ll also share my deep faith in the power of transformation. We human beings are a brilliant and fascinating species. We’re capable of wild and great things. We can create epic change.
But one thing I know to be true—after years of studying, practicing, and teaching the science of transformation—is that sustainable change, true transformation, doesn’t happen without love.
In order to change the future, we have to change our hearts. We have to fall in love. We have to break through the myth of separation and see into the truth that whatever happens to the earth happens to us. Whatever happens to us happens to the earth.
For me, the path of trying to move through the myth of separation toward the reality of connection—the path of falling in love—has come through the practice of season keeping. My human ancestors and yours, wherever they come from on this planet, lived in connection with the cycles and the rhythms of the seasons. Their lives depended on the patterns of weather. And yet in the disconnection of our modern world, many of us have been trained to think that ‘talking about the weather’ is nothing but meaningless small talk.
In his poem “Reading the Big Weather” William Stafford ends with the lines:
This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.
In my journey of falling in love with the earth, I have fallen in love with the continuous scripture of leaves. The ever changing patterns of weather have become a deep part of my spiritual practice. As I try to remember that I’m not separate from nature—that I’m not separate from the earth—I practice paying attention to how the external weather patterns are shaping and informing the internal weather patterns happening within my body and mind and heart.
Every year, as the earth moves around the sun, we witness the ever shifting energies of expansion and contraction. These two fundamental energies of the universe need each other. Despite what our culture likes to proclaim, we can’t live in continual expansion. And, of course, the opposite is true. We can’t live in perpetual contraction. Life requires balance.
Through the continuous scripture of the leaves, we participate in these energies. We participate in the emergence of spring, the fullness of summer, the release of autumn, and the rest of winter.
I invite you to hold these four seasonal energies in your mind and body. What do you think of? What do you feel?
Emergence. Fullness. Release. Rest.
We move through this cycle every day, every lunar month, every year. We watch this cycle in the life of every creature—every plant, animal, and human that we know and love. The reality of this cycle—emergence, fullness, release, rest—is one of the truest aspects of being alive. When it comes to the reality that everything is always changing, the earth is one of our greatest teachers.
And yet, paradoxically, if I asked you to describe the earth element, I imagine you’d start with something like stability. Which is the opposite of change! If you’re anything like me, then you think of things like rocks and mountains when you think of the earth element. You think of solid ground under your feet. You think of deep roots and the essential nature of root energy.
As I meditated on the earth element this week, I was continually surprised. The earth can’t be boxed in. Multiple things are true.
I’m reminded of the story about several blind men deciding what an elephant is like based on the part of the elephant they were touching. I grew up in the land that’s currently referred to as the northwest corner of the United States. In addition to a whole host of cultural conditioning, this particular patch of earth shaped who I am and how I understand the world. Depending on the land we call home, our experience of earth and seasons and weather is very different, which means we’re different. Our geobiographies matter. The earth is vast and multiple things are true.
The earth models change. And the earth models stability. These two truths aren’t opposed to one another. They live in relationship with one another. And I think they leave us on fertile ground.
What can we learn about our world and ourselves in the space between constant change and grounded stability?
This question, which is worthy of deep, ongoing meditation, is where I’ll leave us. But first, let me close with a prayer.
May we remember that separation is a myth. May we remember that we’re not separate from the earth. We come from the earth. And one day we will return to the earth. Let us offer gratitude for the gift of life. Let us stand on the earth and feel into the reality that we stand on holy ground—always. Let us fall in love with the earth and her seasons. Let us honor the cyclical nature of life and being. Let us also honor the stability of ground. Let us learn from the trees and grow deep roots. Let us honor the land we call home. Let us vow to sustain the earth as the earth sustains us.