There are many great love stories that have been written, lived out, and shared throughout human history. All of these stories share some similar elements; a mutual longing for intimate connection and forces within the universe that present some type of barriers or obstacles that separate the lovers until the mutual longing overcomes all of these tensions and unites that which was separate as one. And the greatest love story of all time has these elements common to all our stories of love, except the scale of the love is immeasurably much greater. The greatest love story of all time is much longer than the movie Titanic and it has much more epically extreme swings of emotion; from electric hope and conviction to soul shattering sadness and doubt. The greatest love story of all time (http://occupylove.org/) is the story we are all apart of; the love story between humankind and nature.
Khalil Gibran has reminded us to “forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair,” and humans reciprocate this intense desire for connection with nature by celebrating and being in awe of what gives us life. Carl Sagan adds that “it makes good sense to revere the sun and the stars…because we are their children”. Over time we are reminded of this and while looking up at the sky on a starry night it seems almost obvious that we are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole, to be immersed, to be re-connected. This was the original meaning of the word religion, re-ligament, to reconnect, and the most followed religious leaders of our time attempted to teach others how to connect to our true nature; to connect to love. It has been said that Buddha was not a Buddhist, that Jesus was not a Christian, that Mohammed was not a Muslim; that they were all teachers who taught love, and love was their religion.
Since the beginning of civilization, humans have grappled with reconciling their unrivaled power to create and become conscious of the miracle of life with their utter powerlessness of their frailty as they cling to the edge of a “pale blue dot” that we call earth. We as humans have stubbornly transitioned from viewing our species and our planet as the center and purpose of the universe to a more humble understanding of our place in the cosmos. It took thousands of years to have our perspectives wrestle and play charades with the truth that the sun does not revolve around the earth, that our galaxy is not the only galaxy; that in fact our universe might not be the universe but simply this universe. We have been undergoing a spiritual process of humility in which like C.S. Lewis has said we are not thinking more or less about ourselves, instead we are thinking of ourselves less.
As this sinks into and saturates our shared consciousness, we are becoming more and more open to the possibility of accepting ourselves not as we wish we were but as we are. And, this creates the possibility for humankind to reconnect, for we have been profoundly disconnected from nature, others, and ourselves for so long it is like we have been underwater holding our breath for what feels like forever; our desire to connect is as strong as our desire for our next breath after we surface gasping for air.
Recent neuroscience research has made significant contributions in our understanding of our profound interconnectedness. As John Muir has said “tug on anything at all and you’ll find it’s attached to everything else in the universe”, which is similar to how Leonardo da Vinci encouraged us to “learn how to see; realize that everything connects to everything else.” For example, mirror neurons within our body respond similarly to others pain as if it is our own; we have the same visceral and chemical reaction within our bodies whether it is our pain or others. The body does not know the difference. In fact, as humans have evolved so has the elasticity of our ability to empathize. Our ability to empathize has stretched from being constrained solely to blood ties, to religious boundaries, to national boundaries, and it seems at this point that human empathy can be considered to be a boundless force (See The Empathetic Civilisation). We can see pieces of ourselves not only in our own children who resemble us, but also across cultures, across species, and in non-human forms such as lakes, thunderstorms, and plants. Did you know that the difference between chlorophyll and blood actually comes down to the difference between magnesium and an iron atom?
As Kurt Vonnegut has said, “We are all so close to each other in time that we should think of ourselves as brothers and sisters.” Elizabeth A. Johnson might add that “woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone is kin in the radiant tapestry of being.” I felt this when, as a part of the Primate Field School in Rwanda, I observed a chimpanzee steamily grasp and bite into an apple in a way that can only be described as exactly the way I eat apples. The first crisp crunch made me drop my binoculars and raise two fingers to my quivering lips to extend a kiss to the universe in appreciation for this opportunity to see myself in nature. And the truth is that you do not have to observe a chimp eating apples to make visible your true nature. Nature asks us to consider our true nature consistently throughout our days, if we are truly listening.
The great re-unification of humankind and nature is an embrace that could literally shake the cosmos to its knees due to overwhelming joy and bring all of humankind doubled over, panting and out of breath from having our hearts covered by glacier size chills that migrate swiftly and radiantly across every inch of the human body. It is in each reclaimed breath that we can become conscious of the interconnection between that breath, ourselves, and the rest of the universe. We can feel our interconnection and interdependence as each breath requires a merging of our inner soul with the soul of the universe. Each breath reveals our wholeness. I can only hope that we all continue to pay attention so that we may have constant reminders to acknowledge and illuminate the sacred intertwining of our humanity with nature that has always existed. As Darwin emphasized, “attention if sudden and close graduates into surprise, and this into astonishment, and this into stupefied amazement.” This is what it means to be inspired. To breathe in. To take it in. To realize that we are living the greatest love story of all time.