To Be at Home on Earth
by Morwen Two Feathers
(This article appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Gaian Voices.)
Each of us has our unique sense of "home," while the concept of home is central to human experience, and plays a part in history, social conflict and world politics. We think of "home" as not only a place where we belong, but a place that belongs to us. And in these days of "homelessness" and concern for "homeland security," I wonder if there is a sense of home that is not divisive, that does not depend on boundaries that separate us from one another. What would it take for all people to be at home on Earth?
Most readers will know about the Aboriginal people of Australia, whose language, culture, and very definition of themselves are intimately tied to the features of the landscape of which they consider themselves a part. Their sense of self is indistinguishable from their sense of place. This way of being is shared by many other indigenous peoples, indeed, it is part of the meaning of "indigenous." When indigenous people leave their place, they are in a real sense no longer themselves. In contrast, modern people carry their sense of self primarily within their own bodies. No matter where we might travel or choose to live, we are still ourselves.
This notion of self as separate from place can be understood as a response to the mobility of modern life, especially in the US where our national identity was created by waves of immigrants leaving the lands of their ancestors. The willingness to cut ties to any particular piece of land is a sort of prerequisite for participation in Modern culture.(1) The price weve paid for being modern is our connection with Gaia.
As the cultural ideal of individuality comes to supercede commitment to either community or place, our sense of self is increasingly contained within our own bodies, which go with us everywhere. And yet, for people whose identities are located within their bodies, modern people are strangely disconnected from their physical selves. Modern culture teaches us to regard our minds as the source of our human beingness, and our bodies as housing our selves, not being our selves. We treat our bodies as vehicles maintained by the mechanics of modern medicine, or else as facades to be shaped, manipulated, decorated, adorned, and displayed in order to influence the regard of others. Most Modern people are as alienated from their bodies as they are from the land.
In recent years, however, a new worldview has been emerging. In "The Cultural Creatives," Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson document a growing acceptance of mind-body connection and "alternative" healing modalities, as well as high awareness of environmental issues and broad acceptance of the Gaia Thesis, the notion that the Earth functions as a single organism and everything is related. (2)
The 50 million people 25% of the adult US population! -- that share this basic worldview range on a startlingly diverse religious continuum, from the essentially atheist, scientific understanding of the nature of organisms and systems theory, through progressive interpretations of mainstream religion emphasizing the sacredness of nature and the responsibility of humans as stewards of the natural world, all the way to deification of Gaia. Yet while the Cultural Creatives have great differences in religious affiliation and belief, they share an ethical approach based on fundamental understanding of the interconnectedness of all things on this planet that is our home. This approach is reflected in a high level of participation in movements for social justice, peace, and the environment. There is also a growing recognition that we are all here in bodies, and that the body is not simply an imperfect machine or an inferior container, but rather the essential ground of our connection to the larger whole. And this shift in perspective has huge implications for our ability to be at home on Earth.
As we come to experience ourselves as a cell in a vast living organism that is the Earth, our sense of Home shifts. When we are citizens of Gaia, home is everywhere. Our sense of being home is experienced deep in our bodies, fed by entrainment with the rhythms of life that pulse inexorably all around us. (3) For Rhythm is the mother tongue of Gaia. Light waves, sound waves, brain waves and heartbeat, cycles of the sun and moon and seasons, this is the stuff of which our world is made. Audible and inaudible, visual and kinesthetic, rhythm shapes our reality from before our birth. "Scientific studies have shown that our moods, emotions, thoughts, and bodily processes are rhythms of chemical energy." Indeed, research indicates that "vibrations give form to the material world rhythm shapes matter." (4)
Perhaps this is why drumming and dance evoke such a powerful response in so many people. For in entrainment with community-created rhythm lies the most essential homecoming of all: the return to the bodys innate connection with all that is. This is not an intellectual concept of home, but a visceral knowing. I think it is no accident that the emergence of the Cultural Creatives coincides with the rise of the community drumming movement. This movement is not a self-conscious attempt to emulate traditional or indigenous cultures, though these cultures do indeed place a high value on the drum and on community music-making. Rather the contemporary drumming movement is an integral part of a new culture, an emerging new paradigm that melds the ancient understanding of the interconnection of all things with a scientific worldview. And drumming is the soundtrack of the new story of Gaia, the story that tells of how humans may heal our relationship with our Home on Earth.
In many places, people are coming together in circle around the fire, to drum and dance and connect with each other and the Earth. Across all boundaries of religion and race, age and station, the people gather in rhythm to commune with Gaia. Each circle is unique, a living rhythmic being with its own life cycle. Yet each such gathering of pulsing drummers and swirling dancers has the same potential to transform the participants and bring them to that ecstatic place where the particular dissolves into the universal and the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. When that potential is realized, each fully embodied person shines with beauty, and the location of the circle becomes irrelevant because everyone is simply Here Now. This place is perhaps the most profound Home of all.
None of this is to diminish the importance of those specific places we identify as "home." And yet I think that the potential for human sustainability on Earth, both environmental balance and world peace, depends upon expanding our definition of "home" to encompass the whole planet. Thats why my home is filled with drums. In coming home to rhythm, I have found a way to be at home on Earth.
Footnotes:(1) Capitalized, the term "Modern" is used here in the way it is defined in "The Cultural Creatives," by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson. They describe Moderns as members of the dominant subculture of the U.S., "people who accept the commercialized urban-industrial world as the obvious right way to live." p. 27. (2) Research by Ray and Anderson indicates that more than half of adult Americans "agree with the people who see the Earth as a giant living organism" in short, the Gaia Thesis. p. 167. (3) "Entrainment" is a term borrowed from physics, where it refers to the tendency of rhythmic systems to synchronize with each other. Layne Redmond defines it as the "ability of one rhythm to draw another into harmonic resonance with it." p. 174. (4) Redmond, pp. 170-171.
Ray, Paul H. and Sherry Anderson. The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.
Redmond, Layne. When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1997.