Return to Eden

As I was walking the path leading to the Giant Steps on Bailey’s Island in Harpswell, MA, the voice of the surf splashing rhythmically upon the rocky seashore sang out to me. It called me to the sea, so I took a deep breath and allowed myself to walk out upon the rocky ledge. As I approached the water’s edge, I stared out at the infinite expanse of the sea.I breathed in her salty scents. I realized Nature’s breath was my breath. Her voice was my voice. Her yearnings were my yearnings. Her ions literally changed the composition of my body.

An urge to strip myself of clothing and jump into the icy cold waters came upon me. My common sense told me I would die of hypothermia and drown in the strong undertow. Yet, I attended to the fantasy, especially to the association of being natural and being free. These were one and the same in my mind.

Yet, when I go to work, or drive about, I don’t feel free. For example, I listened to Public Radio the other morning and heard the news about rising mercury levels in the fish we eat. I felt trapped in a Catch 22: the very fish that should nourish me so richly would now also poison me.

Later that day, my wife was telling me that the noise levels in the ocean were so high due to our sonar and other technologies that whales were no longer able to find each other with their own natural sonar. More and more, their mating calls go unanswered. Hearing the news was seminal to the conception of anger within me.

A sense of dread and hopelessness flared out of control inside of me. I saw how we are destroying our world and realized the problem has been exacerbated by the takeover of environmental policy in Washington by our current leader. All I could do was shake my fist in rage. I felt hopelessly powerless knowing I was unable to bequeath my grandchildren a healthy planet to live upon. I became ashamed to tell them that it was my generation that was responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in their future. Just behind this angry sense of powerlessness was a foreboding of doom in seeing a dying planet tortured by a psychopathic system designed to protect the wealthy.

Yet, deep inside, I realized the powerlessness was a cover up for an even deeper sense of power. I began to see that I fear my own natural power, because I fear that expressing it would open me up to attack from those intent on protecting a sick and dying system. I then realized that enough is enough.

I can no longer afford to stay quiet. I have to speak up on behalf of my granddaughter and grandson. Moreover, my angry voice is the voice of many other Nature-loving people. Indeed, Nature herself speaks through others and me. I can hear her voice in the nature-based spirituality groups, the ecopsychologists, ecofeminists, and deep ecologists.

These people often reinterpret the Adam and Eve story of falling from grace as being a reflection of our divorce from the natural cycles through the development of agricultural lifestyles. When we began to see ourselves as holding authority over the Earth, rather than as being one amongst her many children, we turned from grace towards the sin of arrogance and its consequences. As I think about this, it is interesting that Adam and Eve’s fall from grace reflected shame and a need for clothing, while my desire for freedom expressed itself a need to rid myself of clothing. The story of exile from the Garden of Eden is my story. It is all of our stories.

According to deep ecologists, the agricultural lifestyle that our culture developed was the beginning of our having to toil on this Earth, instead of being able to receive her bounties naturally through hunting and gathering. Indeed, it is well known through anthropology studies that hunting and gathering societies work very little in sustaining themselves and spend the majority of their time in leisure pursuits and other social activities.

The increasing movement of our “civilized” culture towards the toil of agriculture is recapitulated in the Bible’s story of Cain and Able, where Cain, an agriculturalist, murdered Able, a nomadic sheepherder. Over the ages, the agricultural, then industrial, and finally technological lifestyles have led us into more turmoil and enslavement. We, like Eve, are condemned to labor in pain. We also have become totally dependent on government and industry to sustain us. We have consigned ourselves to a world where our fate is in their hands.

I see how our dependency affects us every day at my work. I work as an in-home counselor with families containing children that exhibit oppositional and defiant behaviors. All of the families I work with are poor and are dependent on Medicaid for services. However, these services are provided at the whims of the government and industry and, therefore, at risk of budget cuts to free up monies for war and oil. The right wing can talk about family values all they want. The fact is that family values take a back seat to corporate profits in this country.

For example, today we have George Bush talking about cutting social security benefits while the trend in the airline industry is moving towards the deletion of pension plans. These acts put us in danger of a return to conditions during the Depression of the 1930’s where approximately 50% of seniors lived in poverty. Are these an expression of “family values”?

The security of the old is not the only way we have become dependent. We are dependent on the government, industry, corporations, and technology for educating our children. Indeed, our educational system is designed to mold our children to meet the requirements of industry and the military, Instead of promoting the unfolding of potential from within each child. Indeed, our system of education is influenced more by industrialists like Henry Ford than educationalists like Thomas Dewey. Is this an expression of “family values”?

Our family values further include working long hours away from our loved ones to pay off increasing debts created by the false need of maintaining a certain standard of living. Between childhood and old age, we work not for our deepest passions, but for “The Man.”

I load sixteen tons, and what do I get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store.

Way too many of us identify closely with these lyrics. Do we really want government, industry, and consumerism to have that much power over us?

While we oftentimes point the finger at the rich and powerful for these problems, we make ourselves willingly dependent by buying into the system they set up and buying its products. For example, when I think of my retirement from the work force, I become scared by the threat of benefit cuts. I am angry at the system because I trusted their promises to repay me the social security benefits that I paid into. However, apparently they are not going to make good on their promise. They have squandered my money, borrowing against it for priorities higher on their list than my security!

I can rage all I want about “them,” but my deepest insight is this: I have set myself up for this robbery by becoming dependent on a government controlled by rich special interest groups. I have put myself into this situation and it is I who needs to figure out how to make my life more secure. To use the terminology of the psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm, I have perpetrated an “Escape from Freedom.” I don’t think I’m alone in my quest to reclaim my freedom. Therefore, I am writing this article.

The way out of our dependence on the industrial-governmental complex is by returning to Eden where we live in harmony with Nature. Hence, we will find peace and the security of belonging, for Nature is our essence and our source. Essence is what the term “nature” means. The suppression of Nature outside is the suppression of the natural within us.

Abel needs to reincarnate himself so we can become who we are by nature. This is done through the movement towards sustainable communities and lifestyles whose reliance on goods and services are localized. Ultimately, within these supportive communities, the older person should have no worries, for the community will require, honor, and reward his wisdom, much as it was in the old days. Nor should the single mother feel anxious about the care of her children, because the whole community will see her children as holding its future in their hands.

Why toil by enslaving ourselves to hard labor when it is unnecessary? Consider the labor of a woman to give birth. There is a minor but growing trend towards natural birth where the woman in labor stands or squats to allow gravity to work with her in delivering her baby. This position is in contrast to the more dangerous method traditional in our society of having the woman lie on her back during labor. In this powerless position of surrender, she labors against gravity, dependent on the superior power of her physician who then receives the credit for having “delivered” her baby. This provides an excellent metaphor for how we have allowed ourselves to become enslaved and powerless in our labors.

Apply this metaphor to the noble profession of farming. We do not need to receive our produce at the hands of agribusiness. This monocultural farming is not good for the environment, causing deforestation, poisonous chemical pollution, erosion, and desertification. It is not good for the crop, providing a virtual uninterrupted feast for its predators unless it is constantly sprayed with poisons. Nor is its poisoned, nutrient-depleted produce good for us, the consumers. Permaculture provides a much more natural means of farming. It focuses on using naturally symbiotic combinations of plant and animal life in an ever-nourishing cycle. Once established, a permaculture “food forest” will replenish itself naturally on a yearly basis. While we may start off working hard to re-establish fertile soil and plant the appropriate food “guilds,” Nature herself takes over and does much of the work effortlessly so we can reap the benefits. Just as the woman standing when in labor is allowing Nature to work with her in the delivery of her baby, permaculture allows Mother Nature to work with the farmer in producing food. The philosophy behind these styles of labor is that we are not at war with Nature, but work symbiotically with her. As Jesus instructs, think of the sparrow and the lilies of the fields; they do not toil. Nature, or God, takes care of us if we let go of our need to be singularly in control.

It is my view that this movement towards freedom will provide a much better future for us as well as our children. We should not live dependent on the likes of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Carl Rove, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Enron, or Wal-Mart. Nor should we be running around like chickens with our heads cut off in a world that really isn’t interested in us, at best, and that wants to control us, at worst.

I do not suggest that we should rebel against the government and start another self-righteous war. If we do that, then we will become slaves to the same self-righteous mindset from which we are trying to escape. Like the pigs on Orwell’s Animal Farm, we would just become the new ruling class. Instead, we should band into communities that are partnership oriented and grounded in love. We need to learn to live on a sustainable scale in our natural, harmonious relationship to both our human and our more-than-human community.

The mentality of dominance and submissiveness is killing us. It is evident in our wars, reports of verbal, sexual and physical abuse, pollution of our air, water, and land and in the tyranny of corporate and governmental policy. We can become free of this tyranny. Our labors do not have to be in turmoil, nor do we have to be on our back with our legs up in the air in a surrendering position. We can reclaim our natural powers. May the spirit of Able arise from the ashes of our souls and lead our grandchildren into Eden once again.

Burl B. Hall and Merry Hall live in Maine.