Gaia as the Furthest Lichen

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Contents

Quote of the Day

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people.
Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world,
they will live in accord with the world.
But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world,
as yours does,
they will live at odds with the world.
Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world,
they will ACT like lords of the world.
And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered,
they will conquer it like a foe,
and one day, inevitably,
their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet,
as the world is now.”

― Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Though for the Day

How are the organisms that make up the Body of All Life held together by the relationships between them? Understanding this at a visceral level will help us to not just accept the intellectual notion that we are members of the Body of All Life, but will help us to get in touch with that truth emotionally. Being in touch with this truth emotionally will allow us to live our lives as if that truth mattered. It will help us to make our day-to-day little choices in-line with our understanding of why that truth matters. We know that the Body of All Life is simply an intellectual concept. It is not a person and we doubt very much that it has personal qualities of any kind. But as social beings, we relate emotionally to other persons. In order to create a personal relationship with the Body of All Life, we suspend our disbelief in much the same way that we do in order to fully enjoy a movie or novel. We imagine the Body of All Life as a person, Gaia, and we imagine talking to this person in order to develop a personal relationship with her. We also use the image of ourselves as an Elephant and a Rider to keep this split between our emotional automatic largely-subconscious minds (our Elephants) and our rational controlled conscious minds (our Riders) front and center in the imagery.

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are riding your Elephant through a valley on a high arctic island. It is dry and cold. Barren rocky slopes strewn with boulders stretch to the horizon. You are hungry, thirsty and cold. You are worried about what your purpose is in this world. Nothing else alive is visible. Except, suddenly you notice that in a crack in the glacier worn rock nearby there is a tiny dot of orange. Your elephant turns and lowers its head for a closer look and you see through its eye that the orange splotch is a tiny bit of lichen clinging to the crack. Your elephant is hungry and reaches out its trunk to pluck this tiny morsel from its crevice in order to eat it. But as it extends its trunk, it sees that there appears to be a human face embedded in the surface of the lichen. You hesitate. Then the face moves and speaks in the voice of a powerful woman, "Welcome to the edge of my domain, little one."

You know that this voice and face are the voice and face of Gaia, the mother of all Life on Earth. Your doubt and confusion swirl within your mind and you find you are filled with questions for this all-mother, "Gaia, I am hungry, why do I suffer from hunger?"

Gaia responds, "Little one, you are hungry because you are an animal. You have evolved a relationship with me in which you must eat some of your fellow organisms, some of my body, in order to survive. This I gladly give you, for you are another part of my body and I care for all of the parts of my body." As she speaks you become aware that she is not only a face in the lichen but also a human woman standing beside you looking you in the eye. She is the Earth-mother, "I make all parts of myself grow and be fruitful. One reason I do this is to provide for all other parts of my body. With a sweep of her hand, she instructs the lichen to grow and it spreads out along the crevice in the rock in both directions becoming a profusion of orange. Your elephant feeds lustily on the lichen sating its hunger while still leaving behind dots of living lichen to grow again.

But more questions swirl within your mind, "Thank you, Gaia. But I am also thirsty, why do I suffer from thirst?" You look deeply into her eyes in search of your answer.

Gaia responds, "Little one, you are bound by many relationships to me. Thirst is one more. You have evolved a dependency on fresh water as many parts of me have. But the dependency is there because it has been reliably sated for hundreds of millions of years. At first Terra provided fresh water to my land based parts, through the cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. But I have enhanced this cycle." All around you the ethereal ghost of a forest appears, "I invented transpiration in vascular plants. To the natural precipitation of the Earth's water cycle, I have added twice again as much water through my forests. Forests hold ground water in their spongy soils and keep it from running off to the sea. Then they raise it through their tall trunks and evaporate it from the surfaces of their leaves, tripling the cloudiness of the sky and tripling the fresh rain that falls on the land. Through the forest parts of my body I give you an abundance of fresh water. Enjoy it little one." The ghostly forest fades and it begins to snow. Some of the snow melts and a rivulet runs down the lichen filled crevice toward you, pooling behind the thickest clumps of lichen. Your elephant sucks up these pools with its trunk and squirts the water into its mouth sating your thirst.

In the beautiful green of her eyes and the friendliness and love of her smile you find deep comfort. Still more questions swirl within your mind, "Thank you, Gaia. But I am also cold, why do I suffer from the cold?"

Gaia responds, "Little one, you see me as ancient beyond imagining because your lifespan is so short. This is true for all my parts. But in actual fact, I am young. For billions of years, I was but a thin layer of bacteria covering the globe. My power to intervene in the weather was limited. This world was sometimes covered in ice, and sometimes all the ice melted and the temperature threatened to rise to the boiling point of water. I was just lucky it never did, for that would have all but ended my Life. It is only the last 600 million years that I have begun to grow in complexity and power. Six hundred million years is young for a planetary biosphere. Planets last for billions of years, even tens of billions of years. I am still clumsy. Ice ages rasp at me; hot times threaten to overwhelm me. Yet I have been lucky to date. I live on a planet with an abundance of water. It takes a great deal of energy to freeze or melt ice. As long as there is both liquid water and frozen ice on the surface of this planet then the temperature will remain anchored near the freezing point of water. Because of this long term stability of temperature, many of my parts, including you, have become dependent on temperatures in a tight range. Do not worry, as the eons pass, I will gain more power still. In another half a billion years, I will learn to control the temperature of this world and you will always find comfort."

You are not comforted by this answer, "Gaia, I will not live to see that time; will I suffer from the heat and cold throughout all of my lifetime?"

Gaia responds, "Little one, you are expressing such ingratitude as to almost make me angry. I have given you great stores of fossil fuels. You have used your minds to give yourselves the abilities to keeps spaces both warm in the winter and cool in the summer. What have you given me in return? I have described to you how my plant parts allow me to provide to my animal parts with food. I have described how they provide fresh water to all of my land-based parts. I have left out how so many of my animal parts provide services to my plants. Earth worms and ants help decompose organic matter so that my soils are richer and my plants grow stronger. Bees and wasps and birds and mammals spread my plants' pollen and seeds. Herbivores keep my plants challenged forcing them to evolve into ever stronger forms. Predators keep my herbivores in balance. What have you done to earn the fossil fuels and comfort that you take for yourself?" Gaia seems to have grown into a giant woman, standing above you she looks down at you and your elephant with a stern face.

Your love for Gaia, your Earth mother, makes this rebuke sting, "I am sorry Gaia, but what is my purpose here on this world. I am lost and do not know how to earn my keep. Am I a bad child deserving only of extinction." Your elephant trembles and looks up at Gaia with fear in its eyes.

Gaia squats down and looks into your elephant's eyes. You see love there staring back at you. "You are an experiment. You have a quick intelligence that I have never achieved before. I cannot tell you what your purpose is. You must find it before it is too late. I have confidence that you will. You are like a child, clumsy and foolish but always learning. Learn what this intelligence can do for me. Do not aim just to repair the damage you have done. Go further; find a way to increase my power or scope or robustness or diversity beyond what it has ever been before. I am an ambitious mother. I want to grow in power and scope, in robustness and diversity. You are one of my hopes. Find your destiny and fulfill it for me."

Gaia's vote of confidence, her willingness to risk so much in order give you a chance to contribute using your unique skills, give you a rising sense of hope and pride. "Thank you, Gaia, for this chance. I will prove myself worthy. I will find the purpose that justifies the sacrifices you have made for me. I will repair the damage I have done and more. I will find my way to contribute to your glory and ambition. I will find a way to help create a beautiful future for Life."

You embrace Gaia and she holds you and you feel the warmth of her love for you.

You awake from this vision as from a dream. You open your eyes and look, as for the first time, at the world around you. You see the technology and infrastructure of humanity, not as something separate from the natural world but as another expression of the striving of Life for something better. Humanity is alive all around you. Humanity is part of Gaia, the body of All Life. Humanity must find a job to do, work that benefits Gaia as a whole, work that increases her scope, her power, her robustness or her diversity. Only then will humanity be able to pay for what it has taken and what it has destroyed. Only then will Gaia's investment in us make the returns of which she dreams.

Amen

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