Are you honouring your mother, or defacing her?
There is nothing more awe-inspiring, breathtaking or majestic on this planet than nature itself. Nothing created by humankind even compares.
All our achievements – the targets we hit, the numbers we clock, the reports we file – are mere pastimes. They don’t touch the soul.
All our material wealth, our accumulated riches and trinkets, our returns on investment are devoid of meaning. They record an achievement that is just froth on the surface.
The sage Nanak, observing elaborate religious rituals in the 16th century, urged humankind to look away from human artifice and look up and around. All divinity is found in the majesty of nature. The only ritual we need is to connect with all that is around us. The stars are our candles; the sky is the vast bowl in which they sit. To be prayerful, look up with awe and respect. Any human ritual you devise is a mere simulacrum of something far greater.
Each and every day, a beautiful sunrise occurs. The birds strike up their orchestra to herald another day. The light streams through the leaves; the insects begin their daily chores; the flowers open up for the business of the day. Each and every day, the sun descends peacefully, and a tranquility falls upon the earth. The stars in the expanse start to shimmer. The moon reveals itself. Peace descends.
All is in balance. Except the human being.
We are faced with this beauty, this perfectly poised earth, this remarkable oneness. Do we respect it, honour it, protect it?
No, we wish to change it, harness it, exploit it, ruin it. So that we can enjoy more man-made rewards. We put a wrecking-ball to what is natural, so that we can gain more of what is fake and artificial. We pull trees down so that we can have more concrete. We pollute oceans so that we can have more plastic. We kill animals indiscriminately so that we can have more toys to play with.
The remarkable science-fiction series The Expanse is set in a future where mankind has created new homes, on Mars and in the outer solar system. Why? Because we wrecked the earth. As one ‘Earther’ puts it, watching the new home on Mars: ‘…an entire culture dedicated to a common goal, working together as one to turn a lifeless rock into a garden. We had a garden and we paved it.’
You don’t know what it is until you lose it. Try spending a day in a windowless room to know the value of light and air. Spend a winter in cold and forbidding climes to know the value of warm sunshine. Listen to drills and hammers to understand what you lost when you killed the birdsong. Wait until your habitat becomes dry and barren to understand what you did when you uprooted the trees.
My words are also man-made, and they are also nothing. Nothing I write can convey the feeling of standing at the sea-shore with the water coursing around your toes, watching the birds fly home for the night as the sun descends and the moon pulls the water in and out. No combination of words would do it justice. A mere five minutes in the water will fill you with more awe than I ever could, even if I sat here for the next few years trying to describe it to you.
That is our heritage, our precious, unique treasure. All we have to do is leave it alone, respectfully, and treat it with reverence. We can have all the economic development we want by working with and around nature. We don’t have to harm it and ruin it. We have to stop participating in the greed-fuelled frenzy of wreckage. It is perfectly possible to be green and successful; to engage in projects that can yield a greater good, even past our lifetimes.
To develop at the cost of the creation around us is to deface and dishonour our own mother.
It’s a choice, and as a New Year dawns, perhaps we should each take stock. Are we protectors of nature, or its destroyers? What do we do, individually and resolutely, to ensure that no lasting damage is done in our name? What is our contribution to honouring our mother?
We have been gifted Garden Earth, this unique orb that sustains life effortlessly. Will you be the one who nurtured and cherished it, or the one who followed spreadsheets and paved it over?
(Sunday Nation, 29 December 2019)