For years in Africa I fought poaching, trophy hunting, the trade in lions and loss of habitat -- all fueled by human greed. The problems affecting the lion and wildlife are a portion of the ill health humans inflict upon the earth (and ultimately, ourselves).
Recently I began to understand that unless we address the health of the earth, collectively and holistically, the symptoms of our own inner health will persist and will worsen. The health of the planet and our own inner health are one.
The earth is our mother and, as I write, I can feel so deeply the pain we inflict on her. With every single tree felled, with every particle of poison we release into the air and pour into the soil, with every death of an animal by the hand of man and in the name of "sport," and with the callous leveling of land and places once natural to make way for so-called development in the name of "progress," the earth is wounded again and again. We are killing our mother.
A Crisis Of Our Own Making
The following two passages sum up the crisis we have created -- a crisis of only our own making but whose effects threaten all life:
Rainforests are felled at the rate of 15 million hectares [37 million acres] every year -- an area three times the size of Denmark. The oceans are polluted and overfished, coral reefs are dying in every region of the globe. The earth's protective ozone layer is weakened, and global warming could bring rising seas and climatic change. All these human-induced changes threaten us and every other species on earth. Today we are living through the greatest mass extinction of species since the end of the dinosaurs. [Paul Harrison, The Elements of Pantheism: Understanding the Divinity in Nature and the Universe]
There has never been a bigger crisis than the one we now face. And we are the last generation that can pull us out of it. We must act because this is the only home we have. It's a matter of survival. [Anita Gordon and David Suzuki, It's a Matter of Survival]
Have Humans Become Parasites?
Our harm of ourselves, our outer destruction and self-destruction, can be viewed as a modern disease. Humankind is a product of nature and throughout almost our entire evolutionary history on earth we lived in nature, a part of nature. But in these strange, often frightening modern times it is as if humans have become unnatural, have become like some alien parasites that feed so relentlessly upon their host that ultimately they will die, having consumed totally what their own survival was dependent upon.
In these modern times we have acted as though all things natural were only there to serve us and were infinite, inexhaustible. Separate from God and nature we destroyed, consumed and feasted. The more we took from the earth the more spiritually impoverished we became. And as individuals we became alone and isolated, surrounded and choked in the crowds of our kind. Disconnected from the whole, we acted as though we were above all other life. The reality is that in the modern age, we tragically became nakedly alone and separate from divine nature.
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The following passages hauntingly describe what has happened in these modern times.
Sacred beauty has been destroyed and defiled ... Once again the cult of separation has claimed its victims and the loss of course is ours. Wisdom has been reduced to orthodoxy, holistic spirituality has become narrow religious observance. The priestesses have become invisible. [Naomi Ozaniec, The Elements of Egyptian Wisdom]
It is a sad truth that since the Age of Enlightenment -- the intellectual movement of the eighteenth century which generated so much supposed wisdom and understanding -- the western path has led most of its followers to anything but enlightenment. Sooner or later most people come to realize that materialism does not bring happiness. But by that time, their spiritual lives represent such a void that it is difficult to know which way to turn for inner fulfillment. [Sue Carpenter, Past Lives: True Stories of Reincarnation]
Separation Equals Loneliness of Spirit and Disconnection
Nothing is meant to be separate from the whole. Separation equals loneliness of spirit and with loneliness of spirit comes disconnection. And when people are disconnected they become like the caged lion in a zoo. Though his food and shelter are provided, because he is separated from his kind and his natural habitat the zoo lion is lost to the whole, a facsimile of his kind. Because he cannot connect, something dies within.
The caged zoo lion is groundless, alone. Daily he walks the unnatural path to nowhere, endlessly pacing up and down, up and down, going nowhere. He is lost to the whole.
Are we now, in this modern age, becoming like the caged zoo lion? Are we now, individuals in the modern age, feeling that we too are walking the path to nowhere? Are we becoming (or have we already become) mentally and physically isolated from the natural whole?
The Path of Light
In my life I have walked many paths, some of which led to beautiful light while others led me into great darkness.
One morning, about ten years ago, my path led me into great golden light. That day I was walking with a lion. This is what happened.
My golden moment happened as I stood next to a young male lion called Batian in the midst of the African bush. Batian was then of an age when he would soon enter adulthood. The young prince was to become a king. He was maturing and I suspected that he had begun calling for the first time the dramatic song of a territorial lion, the leonine song that has been interpreted by some as meaning:
Whose land is this ...?
Whose land is this ...?
It is mine. It is mine. It is mine ...
Suddenly, as I stood beside Batian, at the start of a new day, he began to call, roaring to the dawn. My right hand was resting lightly on his flank. Batian's calls reverberated through the valley we were in, to the highest hills and within the ground we stood upon. The trees seemed to vibrate with his mighty song. Time stopped and through his calls I felt I was a part of everything around me.
A portion of my soul was enriched by a beautiful energy that I can only describe as the "connection energy of the earth." I was the lion, and the lion was me. I was the sky, I was the birds, I was every leaf on every tree, I was every grain of sand in every dry stream-bed, I was the earth and the earth was me. I belonged, and I was free.
Those were moments of wonder. And it was then that the true meaning of the lion's song crystallized within me. Lions call to the world --
I am the land, the land is me, I belong, I belong, I belong....
Like us, lions are social beings. Every lion in the pride has a purpose, and to me a lion's pride is the ultimate expression of the traditional African philosophy called "Ubuntu." Ubuntu is an expression of "I am, because we are, and since we are, therefore I am." It is an expression of connection, belonging, being a part of....
Standing beside Batian that day as he called began to instill within me an understanding of my true "belonging" to all around me, a belonging we can all share and historically, I believe, we all did share. It was my connection moment -- or rather my reconnection moment, when I felt reconnected with our ultimate mother, the earth. That moment sowed within me the early seeds of my later realization of the need of a "theology" of the earth to heal the external nature we have damaged and to heal our own damaged nature within.
The Need to Access Connection Energy
Years after my golden moment I have realized that the "connection energy" I felt is an essential energy to access if we are to free ourselves from the modern illness of loneliness of spirit and the brooding sense of no purpose.
Depression, loneliness of spirit and purposelessness deeply afflict people in the modern world. Loneliness is such an unpleasant state of mind that it is no wonder that the knowledge of its painfulness has been used by humans for punishments such as solitary confinement and exile.
We are now at the point, I sense, where we know (whether consciously or subconsciously) that we have to reconnect. In fact, our survival as a species could depend upon this. At this late point, we are finally learning that our harming of nature and the earth affects all life, not least ourselves. I sense that we wish to return to values of the earth, values of which we are a part, not apart from. It is time for us to reconnect spiritually with all things natural.
How Did We Become Disconnected?
At a point in Western human history, in recent times relative to man's actual existence on earth, we began believing and living a myth. The myth is called "Human Supremacy." As James Serpell pointed out in his excellent book In the Company of Animals, our Western perceptions about man and animals, and the distinct dividing line we have drawn between the two, lie in the Judeo-Christian philosophical tradition.
God, in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, made the distinction between the humans and the animals by creating us "in His image" and awarding man with "dominion over ... every living thing that moveth upon the earth." God told Adam and Eve: "replenish the earth and subdue it."" God also informed Noah: "the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air ... upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered."
On the myth of "Human Supremacy" James Serpell wrote: "The doctrine of human supremacy was a myth contrived from a mixture of biblical and classical sources which achieved formal expression during the 13th Century ... it dominated Western belief for the following 700 years."
The settlers of North America were imbued with "dominion over" views and beliefs. According to Serpell, "The self-righteous Presbyterian divine, Cotton Mather, and other New England Puritans, preached against wilderness as an insult to God, and recommended its wholesale destruction as proof of religious conviction." The following is how historian Roderick Nash described the average North American colonist's view of nature:
Wilderness ... acquired significance as a dark and sinister symbol. [The colonists] shared the long western tradition of imagining wild country as a moral vacuum, a cursed chaotic wasteland. As a consequence frontiersmen actually sensed that they battled wild country not only for personal survival but in the name of nation, race and God. Civilizing the New World meant enlightening darkness, ordering chaos and changing evil into good. [Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind]
All Things Are Connected
In turn nature, the animals and the indigenous Native Americans were persecuted and impoverished. The loss to nature is almost unimaginable. The Native Americans who lived with kinship of all life principles were horrified by the destruction caused by the European settlers. Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Lakota said, "Forests were mowed down, the buffalo exterminated, the beaver driven to extinction ... The white man has come to be the symbol of extinction for all things natural in this continent."
"What," Chief Seattle asked in 1854, "what is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected."
And Chief Seattle could have been speaking for all indigenous peoples colonized worldwide in the past (and for the wild lands and their wildlife) when he said:
"We know that the White man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he conquers it, he moves on. He leaves his father's grave behind and does not care. His fathers' graves and his children's birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother the earth, and his brother the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep and bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only desert."
In Africa, the land, its people and wildlife were also cursed by the European settlers armed with their "dominion over" attitude. On both sides of the Atlantic, the settlers brought to the land an obsessive need to try to subdue nature, coupled with disconnectedness and insensitivity. The white man's religious beliefs (unlike the indigenous peoples' beliefs) did not allow him to feel a part of the environment, but rather apart from it, seeing it as something from which to extract what he perceived as "wealth" to be used for selfish reasons. There was none of the reciprocity characteristic of tribal societies toward nature. The knowledge of the interconnectedness of man and nature had become lost to the white man.
The Journey From Sorrow, to Healing, to Joy
The West African shaman and scholar Malidoma Patrice Somé once wrote: "As part of the healing that we all deserve and all need, the natural world calls us ... shedding our own tears of grief for the violence done to nature and for the alienation and losses we have experienced in our lives will open the doors to healing..." [Malidoma Patrice Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa]
Sorrow can then be replaced by joy, joy that we can, if we wish to, feel again as a part of all around us. And what a joy this truly is. It is a loving joy, a joy that consists of feeling free and identifying yourself, your very soul in all things of beauty in nature. Who can really persecute you today for loving the earth, for loving yourself, for understanding that individuals are strands of the web of life, with us all having a purpose?
Instead of allowing feelings of groundlessness to pervade us, we can reach out again and reconnect. By embracing a theology of the earth we are creating a positive antithesis to the environmental values, or rather lack of values, which have existed for so long. It is the turning point. The path of reconnection lies in front of us.
Reconnecting with Nature and with Ourselves
How does one begin to reconnect? How does one reconnect if one lives in a city? I would like to offer the following reconnection exercise as a first step in the overall process.
Firstly, you do not have to be standing next to a lion roaring at the dawn to experience and access the earth's connection energy! In all likelihood you have already felt the connection energy in varying degrees, perhaps by seeing a beautiful sunset, or the sun on autumn leaves, or the beauty of snowflakes falling from the sky. We can feel the connection with the earth almost anywhere, for we exist on the divine -- we are touching it every day. Every step we take connects us to mother earth. We are a part of it and it surrounds us. We breathe it.
Each day, we all need to remind ourselves:
You are never lost or alone so long as you can claim kinship with everything that is. You are no more alone than the river is alone or the mountains are alone or anything in the Universe, for you are a part of the whole ... Every day you can come out and meet yourself in the sky's reflection, or the dew lying on flowers' petals or any other natural thing. Renew yourself in these things, identify yourself with them.... [Vivienne de Watteville, Speak to the Earth]
Meditation for Busy Towns or Cities
The following basic meditation exercise is particularly for those who live in busy towns or cities. Try to do this exercise once each day. It takes a little time, but you deserve to give yourself a little time each day. It will become easier with practice.
1. If you cannot surround yourself with natural sounds and sights (for example a field or a park) retreat to your sanctuary at home -- which is probably your bedroom.
2. If possible, play a relaxation tape or CD and sit (either on your bed or on the floor) in the position you feel most comfortable in.
3. Drop your shoulders and begin to relax. Breathe in slowly and steadily, hold your breath for two seconds, then breathe out (a little more deeply than normal). Try to breathe like this throughout this exercise.
4. Let tension drain away from you, first from your head, then from your shoulders and downward. Feel tension leaving you every time you breathe out. Let it leave you. Experience this for several minutes, and it leaves you feeling relaxed.
5. Feel calmness in your body. Still your mind. Breathe in slowly and steadily. Hold your breath for two seconds then breathe out. Feel the stillness, begin to feel grounded, anchored to the earth. Feel, through the heaviness of your relaxed state, your connection to the earth, to divine nature.
6. Relaxed, with tension drained away, tell yourself: I am with the divine. I am a part of divine nature. I am not alone, but a part of, upon and surrounded by the divine.
7. Repeat these words several times. This exercise, like everything else in life, will become progressively clearer with practice.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Seastone, an imprint of Ulysses Press.
To Walk with Lions: 7 Spiritual Principles I Learned from Living with Lions
by Gareth Patterson.
About the Author
Born in Britain but raised in Africa, Gareth Patterson has worked with lions in wildlife reserves in Botswana, Kenya and South Africa. Over the years, Gareth has been involved in many different wildlife projects and campaigns. He has studied lions in the wild, promoted the need for indigenous environmentalism, investigated and exposed the sordid practice of "canned" lion hunting in South Africa, and co-founded of the "Lion Haven," Africa's first natural habitat sanctuary for orphaned lions. Visit his website at www.garethpatterson.com