I have just finished reading Rupert Sheldrake’s The Rebirth of Nature and even though it was published in 1990, over thirty years ago, it speaks to the present moment with even more exigency.
Sheldrake argues persuasively for the sentience of Nature and the urgency of re-connection. He warns that if we continue down this path of economic pillage and industrial rape we will lose the compliance of the natural kingdom, a circumstance I fear has come to pass with COVID. That Nature has soul and sentience is disputed by the mechanistic fraternity and their tenet licences the incursion of corporate industry, a reductive racket built on the premise of infinite growth.
We ignore people like Sheldrake at our peril.
His belief in the sentience of nature is shared by such illuminated minds as Alexander Pope who wrote this in 1711.
“First follow Nature, and your judgement frame
By her just standard which is still the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear unchanged and universal light.”
Universal light, an interconnected field of resonance permeated with collective memory and unrealized potential fuelled by imagination. Sheldrake speaks of a changing model.
Page 70 “For three centuries, from the time of Descartes until 1927, physicists lived under the spell of a powerful illusion. Everything was believed to be fully determinate and hence in principle, though not in practice, entirely predictable.”
But in reality, or at least perceived reality, life spins on a dime, moving with an inherent spontaneity that argues for impulse and curiosity rather than mathematical formulae masquerading as physical law.
Page 71 “And this chaos, openness, spontaneity and freedom of nature provide the matrix of creativity.”
In short Sheldrake argues for mindfulness and sentience in the seemingly inanimate Universe that self-organised via a grid of mathematical equations that predicate growth, infinite growth at that.
But infinite growth is an illusion as powerful as the addiction to money as a measurement for spiritual worth. Many of us are concerned that the unchecked pollution of the earth will have dire consequences.
Page 124 “The realization that we are polluting the earth, upsetting the balance of nature, and changing the global climate points to the same conclusion (that we are all earth’s children). The destructive forces unleashed through economic development and the growth of technology have taken on a life of their own, proceeding in blithe disregard for their planetary consequences. And they have been accompanied by an unprecedented growth in the human population. These processes now seem unstoppable. But our activities are not separate from the earth. We live within her. If we disregard her in pursuit of our human ends, we endanger our own survival.”
But despite the pleas of a younger generation bannered by the brave Greta Thunberg and supported by the legendary Sir David Attenborough, it seems economic growth is still bastioned over ecological health. As Sheldrake says, how willing you are to accept a mind-driven universe depends on your tolerance of mystery. In a world that is shamelessly self-aggrandizing and run by toxic masculinity as exemplified by the morbidly unimaginative corporates and the stultifying privileged and the psychotically greedy, stone-neck politicians like Trump and Johnson it is difficult to calibrate the vitality of mystery and the power of beauty for its own sake. People who tunnel their lives in ever-diminishing spirals of habitual thoughtlessness may well consider themselves masters of their own domain. And this insouciance masquerading as masculinity and privilege is inhibiting the development of their own souls and denying the greater reaches of sentience and the interconnection of life.
Page 170 “Each of us faced with the mystery of our existence and experience has to try and find some way to make sense of it. We have a choice of philosophies: the mechanistic theory of nature and human life, with God as an optional extra; or the theory of nature as alive but without God; or the theory of a living God together with living nature. Each of these views can be elaborated intellectually, each can be defended on rational grounds, and each is held with deep conviction by many people.”
Or we can tune into that space within where soul chimes with resonance and “feel” what makes sense to us. Our conclusions will doubtless depend on our willingness to entertain and allow mystery.
Page 174 “The earth is all we have – a world of finite resources. We depend on our planet and those resources for our survival. We are part of a fragile interdependent network called LIFE. If our planet dies, we die…The way we live now cannot go on forever. We must change or face extinction.” (British Green Party pamphlet 1989)
1989. How shameful and cavalier that we have carried on rowing down the toxic river of denial.
Page 177 “Faced with the prospect of impending doom, we need a spirit of repentance that is not just individual but collective. The imbalances which threaten our world are not just the fault of a few greedy people in power; we are all part of the economic and political systems that have proved so destructive. At the very least our political and economic systems will have to change radically if we are to live in greater harmony with Gaia. The only question is, how radically?”
I take hope in the fact of this book and people like Rupert Sheldrake that it is not too late to restructure our relationship with the earth. But first, and most pressingly, we must restructure our relationship with money and with each other. It is not enough to simply hat-tip to waste management and consumerism. We have to reduce our consumption of everything and it would behoove us all to learn how to live off the grid and on the land. To understand and respect Nature’s rhythms and cycles and to match our own cycles of rest and activity to hers. As long as we blindly brace a philosophy of rampant growth and retrace the rutted footsteps of generations of worker bee ancestors we will never free ourselves up long enough to observe the mysteries and feel awe.
The Rebirth of Nature is available on Amazon