BY SOFO ARCHON
Autumn Skye, Atonement
We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Everything alive is connected.
Yet most of us feel separate from nature. And from this feeling stems most of the suffering that exists in the world today.
The reason why we feel separate from nature is first and foremost because we’ve been physically removed from it. Ever since our childhood, many of us don’t have the opportunity to spend much time in natural surroundings.
This is especially true for children who grow up in big cities, who aren’t allowed to spend much time outdoors, and where natural spots are nearly non-existent. So, they rarely have the chance to climb trees, to listen to birds or to swim in the sea.
School is also contributing to our separation from nature. Conventional schools place children in artificial environments (e.g. classrooms), where they are forced to stay seated for hours upon hours every day and pay attention to a board right in front of them. Rarely do classes take place in nature, and when they do, they last only for a short while.
Most schools don’t teach children how to grow food. Therefore, most children don’t come in contact with plants and soil. All they learn about nature is through books, and even that knowledge is fragmented. That’s because school teaches children to see chemistry, biology, physics and other sciences as divided up in different compartments, and not as interconnected and interdependent fields, which they are. Hence, on top of the physical removal from nature, there’s also a cognitive separation that pulls us further away from it.
By the time we reach adulthood, many of us feel so disconnected from the natural world that we don’t want to spend much time in it. Nature feels weird, wild and even inimical to us. So we prefer to spend most of our time indoors, and we experience nature mainly in the form of products. For example, the food we eat has been grown, chopped up and often precooked before packaged and sold to us. We don’t feel the need to grow our own food — we can just find what we want in the supermarket.
Because we are not involved in the production of what we eat, we have no idea what it takes to produce it. For example, we often buy and eat animal flesh re-shaped in the form of burgers, not realizing that what we’re actually consuming is the parts of an animal that had its throat slit and was possibly abused throughout its entire life. The same applies for all our consumer choices, whether we’re talking about the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the furniture we have, the electronic devices we use, and so on.
But even when we hear about this, most of us are so desensitized that we don’t really care. Our separation from nature has made us treat it merely as a bunch of objects that lack sentience or inherent value. The only value it has, we believe, is what it can offer us. In other words, nature is out there for us to exploit. Animals don’t really suffer, we claim, and even if they do, ultimately they were created for us to eat, so why care if they are abused and killed? They serve the purpose they’re supposed to serve.
This mindset of separation has resulted in the destruction of the world we notice all around us. Currently, all life support systems are in decline. The sea is poisoned, so is the land, so is the air. And all that because of human activity. If we were feeling connected with nature, how could we choose to destroy it? We wouldn’t, for that would mean intentionally destroying part of our own body, since nature is our larger body.
As long as we believe that we’re separate from nature, we will keep on harming it, and that’s because we won’t be able to feel love for it. Love arises within us only in experiences of connection, so to heal our relationship with nature, we need to start seeing it as an extension of ourselves — or better, we need to start seeing ourselves as an extension of nature.
But how exactly can we snap out of the illusion of separateness? How can we dismantle our old, narrow sense of self and build a new one that embraces all that is alive?
This, my friends, is the biggest challenge of our times.