• Zhiwa Woodbury

Chapter Five: Pan-Gaian rEvolution: Entering & Shaping the Gaianthropocene

Updated: Mar 21

“If we give our belief to the earth,

She will believe in us.”

~ N. Scott Momaday

Query: Why is it so difficult for non-Indigenous people and modern culture generally to accept the idea that this living planet - of which we ourselves are integral cells - has a soul (psyche) or is, at the very least, a very sentient being?

As a life-long eco-activist of European descent who, over the last decade, has become gradually and increasingly obsessed with the collective psychology of our shared climate crisis, I know this query to be a loaded, multivalent question of science, politics, and moral philosophy. However, it is the spiritual dimension of this question that I’ve come to focus on more and more as Pachamama cries out in distress over our accelerating violations of her natural sovereignty.

I believe this question is rising from Earth, not my mind or intellect, and I believe it is demanding to be answered.

The politics of climate respond-ability was already complicated enough before scientists became radicalized, due to the trauma experienced by our front-line responders in our continuing war on Nature. Unfortunately, thanks to the lymbic cultural response to the alarms being sounded by our leading experts, science itself has now become politicized according to competing ideologies, rather than accepted as a shared body of facts and mutual assumptions to be acted upon collectively. That has given rise to the political crisis we now are gripped by. It should be clear by now to most concerned that if we do not untangle the complicated settler-psychology underlying this global climate crisis in a trauma-informed way, we will continue to struggle politically to bring humanity into any kind of proper relationship with the natural world.

In all the tumult and turmoil between science and politics, and especially against the background of a rapidly unravelling global ecosystem, it is all too easy to forget that the climate crisis, at its heart, is a spiritual crisis. The organic example of indigenous peoples still living in harmony with their rapidly shrinking environments should serve as a constant reminder of the spiritual dimension of this global climate emergency. Or, for that matter, a quick read of Pope Francis’ brilliant encyclical on the care for our common home, Laudato Si’, also serves to beautifully elucidate the spiritual dimension of our existential crisis:

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal… ‘The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.’ For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.

An existential crisis is, almost by definition, a crisis of spirit. If we fool ourselves hubristically by thinking that this is just another scientific puzzle to solve, the outcome is going to be bleak. That is the path we are on right now. I suspect that the masses avoid thinking much about this crisis because of some form of magical thinking by which either God will intervene on our behalf (as IF!) or, more prevalently, someone will invent something that will somehow allow us to go on our merry way.

When we finally stop to seriously ponder the existential dimension of what the human species is busy doing to the planet and all its inhabitants, when we get past the initial terror and dread, we cannot avoid asking ourselves, what it means to be human anymore. In the successive waves of global pandemic, with it's Holocaust-sized death toll, this existential question was really been brought home to us, first by the globally televised murder of George Floyd, then by the Capital Insurrection, and now by Putin brutally ripping open the scarred-over wounds from world war and Stalins steel curtain.

What does it mean to be human with exponential population growth, with mass extinction now underway, with unnatural conflagrations that kill billions of animals in one fire season - and then are quickly forgotten in the grips of global pandemic or the next unnatural disaster? What does it really mean to be human when our own primordial womb, the oceans from which we emerged, are literally being poisoned, plundered and choked out before our disbelieving eyes?


(To be clear, who are we, the non-Indigenous citizens of the world who fancy ourselves to be modern or progressed?)

Sadly, one doesn’t even have to be religious to ponder in quiet moments whether we humans, as a species, are good or evil. “Evil” here not in a religious sense, but rather in the sense of “live” spelled backwards — that which is against life, and thus gives rise to widespread and unnecessary, horrific suffering. That's my pragmatic definition of "evil." And this, I suspect, is the gnawing question that leads so many good-hearted, well-intentioned activists into a pit of despair, slimed with the twin lubricants of cynicism and fatalism. That is a hell-realm of our own creation, however, no matter how much we may insist on blaming others for our misery. (See: “shared responsibility,” ethical dimension, Ch. 6)

To view this life-and-death crisis in spiritual terms is not to exclude science - just ask any scientist who has suffered through his or her own spiritual crisis in the past decade. On the contrary, as any reasonably spiritual person would agree, it is the science which must inform our spiritual response - but not just the science of greenhouse gases! Endlessly obsessing over the science and math of "climate change,” on the other hand, represents a subtle form of spiritual bypassing, a different kind of denialism. While we certainly cannot discount the laws of physics, this crisis is not solely defined by physics. It is not just about humans and our technology. At an even more fundamental level, it’s about how we relate to the natural world.

Surely it is no coincidence that during the same brief span that the global and existential scope of our Nature-crisis has become readily apparent, the painfully relevant Gaia theory has proven itself to be predictive in the same way Einstein’s theory of relativity, and then quantum theory, have proven their mettle. What began as the Gaia hypothesis has now, with subsequent congruent discoveries in Earth systems science, already passed the gold standard of science, and become generally accepted. How else do you explain plants having intelligence and forests exhibiting shared awareness? Or entheogens, for that matter - a relatively recent discovery for non-Indigenous people like myself, a child of the 60’s.

But have we even really begun to integrate Gaia theory into our climate activism? Sure, most scientists now agree that Earth is not some inanimate object - the “third rock from the sun” - as our dominant ‘scientific-materialist’ world culture had always presumed. Instead, as most Indigenous cultures have always insisted, Earth is a living organism — a ‘self-regulating’ subject, not an inanimate object. A life-source to be honored - not a resource to be exploited.

Do any of our urgent approaches to solving the climate crisis incorporate this radical new orientation? Or do we still fear how that might make us appear to narrow-minded, profit driven policy makers?

New theories lead to new discoveries, and sure enough Gaia theory rather quickly led to the new field of plant cognitive ecology, or the study of plant sentience and intelligence, which continues to produce ever more-startling discoveries. Forests turn out to be thriving communities of apparently “conscious” trees who communicate with one another via a complex underground mycelium layer, or mycorrhizal “wood-wide web,” that resembles and functions much like the neural networks in our brains - and more expeditiously, via the pathways of other symbiotic organisms and the trees’ own pheromones, carried on the breeze. Thanks to this complex interdependent web of life, trees are able to live for centuries in community and, according to the perceived distress of individuals and groups, share resources like medicine and nutrients with one another. They even tend to treat family members preferentially, much as we do in the animal kingdom…

Trees are Ents!

We’ve only just begun scratching the surface of this vast plant kingdom of symbiotic cognition. But consider the ramifications and implications of these very recent discoveries for just a moment, and remember that none of this is a matter of “belief” anymore - the science is impeccable: Trees care about their children. The planet is a self-regulating living being. The lithosphere is alive with a chemically and cognitively charged neural network that spans the entire planet… Ours is not the only world wide web! And the other one is both ancient and alive.

These and related discoveries of an implicate biological order underlying all life on planet Earth just happen to be coming to our attention during this time of accelerating anthropogenic climate disruption of that previously hidden order, necessarily calling our entrenched worldviews into question.

This is synchronicity playing out on a global scale.

And up till now, we’ve called people “primitive” for believing that they could communicate with the plant world! In other words, these discoveries are arising in psychologically uncomfortable ways for Western civilization. It’s becoming quite clear to us now that the first peoples who we settlers slaughtered like animals - did you know there used to be a dark tribe in California that lived nakedly, peacefully, and innocently in the wods, as if in a Garden of Eden, until those gold-mad 49ers wiped them out? - those ‘noble savages’ we hunted as ‘game’ as recently as the beginning of the 20th Century (in Australia), these Indigenous peoples we subjugated the world over in order to ‘acquire’ our homelands, were clearly not savages or sub-humans, as conveniently presumed by the conventional Christian morality of colonialist cultures. They are, in fact, as it turns out, quite superior to we, their vanquishers and interlopers, in many of the most significant ways of being human! Like the notion of reciprocity, for example, which is far more civilized than anything we’ve come up with until very recently, with the new discipline of ecology.

We settlers are quite late to the game of life on planet Earth, as it turns out.

Yes, quite uncomfortable to come to that realization after all this carnage. I speak as a Mayflower child here, someone who has always enjoyed privileges historically unavailable to most human beings. My ancestors just happen to have been better at killing things, when you get right down to it - especially after the discovery of gunpowder! We've become so good at killing and displacing living beings, including human beings, that we are now a threat to the greatest living being of all - our Mother, Earth.

Apparently, killing is NOT the highest human trait!

Black Lives Matter is just the tip of the oppressive colonialist iceberg. While BLM justifiably condemns the systemic racism built into our “law and order” society, the inescapable truth of the matter is that Black Countries Matter, too - including most of those in the global South, from whom we settlers ‘imported’ actual human beings as slaves, as 'capital,' and whose lands and peoples to this day we in the colonial-cum-industrial North continue to plunder and oppress in order to support our accustomed, artificially bloated life style.

Can we the descendants and inheritors of this colonial, racist and inhumane legacy finally admit we were wrong? Is it really such a difficult thing to do? Is it not the only humane thing to do? Do we not still fancy ourselves as humane creatures? And isn’t that a big part of how we want to answer the question of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene??

Can we the capitalist Chauvins of the world, in other words, finally remove our knee from the collective gullets of the Countries of Color we still oppress institutionally? And are we willing to make amends to them now that it is those countries, ironically, who are on the front burner of global warming because of our plundering the Earth? Why do politicians never have to address these kinds of political issues?? Is that lack of accountability the whole point of hiding behind ‘American Exceptionalism’?

Can we finally mature as a species and recognize as a matter of ‘enlightened' science that we are all genetically the same for crying out loud, and that no humane excuse exists for continuing the oppression that has led us, along with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and all other species, right to the brink of this existential abyss?

If we the civilized ‘inheritors’ of Earth, our Mother and ultimate slave, can not bring ourselves to renounce this unholy inheritance of what cannot, by any moral right, ever be possessed, then what prospect is there, really, for resolving our chronic climate trauma? What prospect is there, even, for our survival as a civilization?

Trauma arises in relationship, and so trauma can only be healed in relationship, and humanity's dysfunctional, racist relationships are what is now perpetuating our global climate trauma.

These unnatural relations need to be dismantled, as is now painfully apparent, in order for us all to come back into proper relationship with Gaia.

That is the whole takeaway from viewing this existential crisis through the clarifying lens of trauma theory. And it's not nearly as difficult as we make it out to be with our opaque political lens of fight, flight and fright. If we pay mind, instead, to the emerging paradigm shift in worldviews, which takes on the appearance of dis-integration and re-integration of social contracts, and the derangement and re-arrangement of human relations, including all the messy politics implicated in these processes (e.g., nations without borders!), then we begin to see there really is a way out of this seemingly intractable crisis.

Objects vs. Relations & “All my relations”

To see the climate crisis as a spiritual issue means to understand that it is, fundamentally, a crisis of relationship. By appreciating this shift in perspective, we come to view the political and social upheavals being triggered by the growing urgency of the climate crisis as the symptoms, not the causes, of our escalating existential crisis. From this holistic, science-informed, moral and ethical perspective, a systemic transformation designed to root out all “power-over” forms of oppression becomes a philosophical and political imperative. It forms the basis for Pope Francis’ call for a new form of universal solidarity, an umbrella over the banners of all the emergent social justice movements.

A true spiritual crisis demands more than just the kinds of political and/or technological solutions represented by the Paris Accords and the Biodiversity Conventions. It calls instead for spiritual and moral evolution, which will take shape as outright revolution at this late stage of moral atrophy. This expansive sense of moral urgency is what sets Extinction Rebellion apart from previous environmental movements. XR is a movement that emanates from the collective heart of its adherents, arising out of their connections to Gaia, rather than just the ‘funder-friendly' and politically competitive organs of the environmental movement. As the great global psychiatrist of our age, Dr. Stanislav Grof, might say, it is only out of our collective spiritual emergency that we may finally emerge with a sense of spiritual urgency ~ and thus take a collective leap in moral maturity as a species.

So, from this ‘rational’ relational perspective, we come back to the three pressing spiritual questions facing all non-Indigenous cultures and people -- while noting, of course, that Indigenous cultures should be looked to for guidance in answering these questions, as the United Nations itself now recognizes, since ‘oh by the way’ they’ve been right all along anyway:

  • What does it mean to be human in an age where we are shaping the planet in our image and crowding out wildlife, birds, fish, and even insects?

  • How do we see ourselves relationally, in other words, and who do we want to be when we grow up?

  • How do we come into proper relationship with Gaia ~ the single most complex and breathtakingly beautiful form of life we’ve ever encountered anywhere in the Universe?

This point is worth repeating: Isn’t it strange and incongruous that we continue to look to outer space for other forms of life, or signs of higher intelligence, when we’ve only just begun to realize that we ourselves are interconnecting cells and organelles of a much larger organism than we’d ever before imagined existed? Gaia is magnitudes of order bigger than even a blue whale, after all, and as much as it taxes our imagination to see and appreciate this primal truth, just like those blue whales:

Gaia is a Sentient Being!

And just as apparently - though she would never claim this to be true - Greta speaks for Gaia, this small sea urchin of a child scolding us directly from her heart in the same way we would imagine our Mother, Earth, scolding her wayward children. A small child whose growth was stunted due to her inability to eat upon first intuiting the existential threat of our crisis, telling us grown-ups to grow up! On the world (UN) stage!! This is not only remarkable (think about what you were doing at 15), it is entirely unprecedented.

And the reason it works with Greta in ways it could never work for just any activist is because, due to that portion of the spectrum she is speaking to us from (her superpower, as she calls it), we know it to be true. We don’t even have to think about it at that point, really. We feel it directly to be true, because we are all organically connected to that larger organism. We feel it in our hearts, and then register it in our heads. Historically, only prophets communicate in that way, and only prophets are as unaffected by fame and attention as she is. Many of us old-timers in the eco-defense ranks have long pined for the kind of galvanizing leader for Mother Earth that MLK was for civil rights. None of us would’ve ever guessed that the answer to our prayers would be a mere child, though we have on occasion speculated mirthfully about divine birth (though hers is most natural, not divine).

Of course, I am not suggesting we should fetishize or form a cult around Greta. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am saying is that Gaia could not have chosen a more believable oracle at a more critical time than little Greta Thunberg from the Great White North, the land of melting glaciers. And I think it’s okay to honor that Gaian agency with all the respect that is due Greta (and her parents) personally. None of this can be easy for her. She’s clearly most happy with her labs, at home, not traveling around the world on trains and sailboats to speak to large crowds.

For what I’m saying about Greta being Gaia’s “chosen one” to be literally true, as I happen to believe, presupposes Gaian sentience. And that's the crux of the matter right there. That’s the button I’m pushing. Because while Gaia theory itself is no longer controversial, the idea of Gaian sentience remains uber-controversial, taboo even, and it raises a lot of thorny spiritual and theological issues that must be re-solved if we're to find the necessary ‘resolve’ to collectively respond in an adult manner to this life-threatening global emergency of our own making. It may seem discordant at first blush, but to be adults here, it is necessary for us adults to listen to the counsel of our children, and necessary as well for us settlers to listen to and follow the advice of the very Indigenous peoples that we’ve (mostly) displaced. Those will be the true marks of our maturity as an ecological civilization.

For reasons of scientific method, which turned out to be profoundly misguided, we who've always fancied ourselves to be the most “civilized” of beings for far too long refused to extend simple sentience (subjectivity, or the ability to feel) to non-human beings. This conventional ignorance was the result of a religiously-based bias that infected Western science right from the start, with the fathers of modern scientific method, Descartes and Bacon, each convinced in the religious view of their time that humans were divinely favored by God, and all non-human life forms lacked any meaningful interiority.

How ironic that science’s biggest mistake turns out to be a religious belief! (Then again, the idea that mind arises from matter is equally religious, though still the prevailing view). This same theistic blind spot, dressed up in scientific garb at a time when doctors still employed leaches to drain blood from sick people, also justified the doctrine of “manifest destiny,” by which we civilized types practiced genocide (unredeemed savages!) and routinely tortured animals. This shared ignorance - a kind of psychosis, really - culminated in the shameful preponderance of factory farms today, quickly and conveniently displacing the abundance of wildlife which Gaia had generated and propagated, and through which she and we all thrived. All of this heinous, inhumane suffering was the direct result of this obscenely immoral, scientific blind spot about one species having dominion over all others.

Even those who still believe that mostly are willing to acknowledge that “dominion” does not authorize the kind of abuse and genocide that has traditionally fallen under its biblical banner. We were supposed to be caretakers, after all, not undertakers.

Descartes and Bacon were grievously mistaken, in any case - on that we can all agree - and we're still paying for their sins. The body count here that precipitates mass extinction already includes about 80% of all wildlife, 90% of all big fish in the seas, and upwards of 75% of all insects, which tolling on its own justifies characterizing this era as the Great Dying 2.0. All of this unholy carnage has occurred in less than the span of one human lifetime, while our own world population has nearly tripled.

And all this carnage coinciding with the discovery that “our” planet is alive! It’s akin to discovering that you’re responsible for the subjugation and impending death of a Goddess! This is climate trauma. This, I feel in my gut.

So yes, uncomfortable psychology here. Too bad! No time for your white Christian pity parties! We need to grow up and deal. Many of us heard that message quite clearly during the global coronavirus lock down, collectively feeling like our mother had sent us to our rooms to think about all this bad behavior. And fortunately, many of us have been doing just that. The potential for sudden and unanticipated social change is building day-by-day.

The concluding chapter in this book, which is a salutary synthesis of the climate trauma hypothesis, grew out of the global social gatherings on Zoom that I’ve been participating in from the start of the first lockdown, informed by BIPOC voices. I've personally witnessed, in other words, this growing potential for quantum social change. If it wasn’t so real, there would not have been the reflexive pushback that we’ve seen everywhere in the world. By advocating for global sanity, we’ve unleashed our shadow side, as embodied by Herr Trump, Boris the Clown, Brazil’s Bozo and Vlad the Impaler. Of course!

Much like the cognitive dissonance we experience knowing the legacy of genocide America is founded on and then learning the beauty and wisdom of Indigenous culture from the living descendants of those our forebears displaced, now we so-called modern civilized and ‘encultured’ human beings, we the unjust inheritors and privileged consumers, are asked to acknowledge that the planet we’ve re-shaped for the sake of modern convenience — as with e.g. our very own god-like creation of omnipresent plastic — is none other than Gaia, a living, self-regulating sentient being Herself. Not just some blank canvass upon which we write the history of the human race, but a being in her own right, comprised of all beings, and with even greater agency than we enjoy (or thought we’d endlessly enjoy). She is, as her closest inhabitants have been trying to teach us since time immemorial, our sacred life source, with all that may imply.

And yet to this day, even in scientific circles, even amongst climate activists and leaders - and yes, even among classically trained psychologists (who mostly continue to perpetuate the separation of self and other/environment) - there remains this stubborn and inexplicable reluctance to acknowledge the planet-sized elephant in the room:

A living being is necessarily a conscious being.

We may not be able to conceive of the way this elephant thinks, but there she stands before us nonetheless, demanding to be reckoned with. Let's not make the same mistake with Gaia that we've made with Indigenous Peoples and all other animal species under the hideous pretense of "scientific enlightenment.”

And no, of course I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater, and return voluntarily to caves and huts (though that will surely be the end result of the hubristic path to perdition we’re following now). We have made grievous mistakes, but we have also made wondrous discoveries that are worthy of celebration, like space travel, quantum physics, the Hubble telescopic view of the Universe, and electronic communication. And yet we are slow to acknowledge the greatest discovery since Copernicus - Gaia may not be the center of the galaxy, but she is a living being worthy of adoration and reverence! Mother Earth turns out not to be a metaphor at all - but an intuited truth.

Perhaps this reflexive denialism of Gaian sentience is attributable to the simple fact that to finally face the inconvenient truth that Gaia is a sentient, living organism — to acknowledge her personhood, at least as a working hypothesis, in the same way we've begun to grant personhood to rivers — rather inexorably leads to the acknowledgment that she is the one, true sovereign! For who could reasonably pretend to exercise sovereignty over Her?

So yes, even we Americans must acknowledge that Gaia’s right to life may justifiably interfere with our own perceived constitutional rights to a luxurious life, mask-free liberty, God-given (obscene) wealth, and the pursuit of inadequate health insurance for all. Because even those diminished rights will be of little value to us once we’ve become extinct! Which is why it is criminally corrupt, by the way, for black-robed federal judges to throw children’s climate litigation out of court. How can they not recognize that a child’s right to life and the pursuit of happiness is threatened existentially by our government’s refusal to respond to the climate crisis? (Answer: the Federalist Society’s capture of the Republican Party, elevating corporations and money worship over humans and other living beings).

Just as with Copernicus displacing Earth from the center of God’s creation, sparking what became the Copernican Revolution in human thinking, so with Gaia theory humanity is being challenged to re-think our place in the natural order of things, along with the conceit that we’re the highest form of life in the known universe. Heck, we’re not even the highest form of animal life, if we’re honest about it. As Gabor Mate puts it:

“Now, what you see regularly in nature, no animal will foul their own nest… So [the] climate crisis is an example of just how denatured we’ve become; really separated from our own true nature, because no animal in the state of nature will destroy their own habitat.”

And just as with Copernicus, the idea of an intelligent planet has a religious spin, since a global sentient being does not fit very well into our Creation Story! All of the Abrahamic religions will, perhaps justifiably, fear that Gaia could displace God if people came to see Her as a being possessed of a higher intelligence -- an intelligence reflected all around us and even in us, if we were to so permit. They may even have to apologize for slaughtering pagans! This is the heart of what organized religions have always feared from science, and why they were so intent upon displacing pagan cultures and 'heathens' who worshiped nature and goddesses.

But this is no longer (just) a matter of religion. It's a matter of (unreligious) science. It's a matter of survival. And it's a moral imperative quite apart from any religious belief system, as Pope Francis's own Encyclical on the matter makes clear, speaking of her as an embodied sentient being:

"[She] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her... she 'groans in travail.' (Rom 8:22)" (Laudato Si).

One way or another, we have got to grok this pervasive Gaian sentience. This is what I’ve been thinking about during my own Puget Sound Lockdown for the past year or so. And I’ve come to some pertinent conclusions, which naturally lead to solutions.

The Mind of Gaia: it's not like ours!

To begin with, let’s consider an entirely different way of thinking and feeling our way across this challenging scientific, political, spiritual and religious terrain. As what I’m about to assert may seem controversial at first blush, I’m compelled to beg your indulgence by briefly setting forth my qualifications for saying it. This will also serve to provide some context for my assertions.

In addition to being a scientifically trained - thermodynamics by education, ecology by profession - life-long eco-activist and environmental lawyer, I’ve literally spent thousands of hours meditating in nature and on formal retreats with H.H. Dalai Lama and others in his lineage.. I’m a reborn Tibetan cave-dweller (this is not as extraordinary a claim as it may seem, as science itself has shown), probably an old Taoist soul as well, and in this life I am what Stan Grof refers to as a “psychonaut” ~ a determined explorer of all forms of consciousness accessible within the mindstream I happen to inhabit. Naturally, that includes some explorations of expanded states of consciousness induced by LSD in my formative years and, after decades of living with lay vows on the paths of kriya- and then high-tantra, one well-timed, life-and-death affirming experience with the profound entheogenic medicine 5-MeO-DMT, the so-called “god molecule” (other forms of DMT are referred to as “spirit molecules”). Thanks to my own karma and, more significantly, the kindness and wisdom of my teachers, all of these experiences have cohered into a very congruent understanding of, and insights into, the conscious phenomenon.

I was drawn to meditating in nature early on by my karmic disposition, and thus I feel I’ve been in a relationship with Gaia for as long as the climate crisis has been unfolding. Backpacking around the world in my early 30’s, I related to Her as Pistis Sophia, and thought of my meditations as an exploration of ‘gnosis’ (direct knowing). That privileged experience taught me that "the I that I am in nature" IS Nature. At the end of my time in Eden - four glorious moons in the Alps of New Zealand - I noted in my pocket journal how I'd arrived at that deeply intuitive conclusion:

I left society behind to escape time.

I let my ego go and escaped desire.

I let fear go and found heaven.

I let heaven go and found Earth.

Eventually, after getting in over my head with Taoist spiritual alchemy, I grounded this growing natural relationship in decades of disciplined, hours-a-day, highly structured Tibetan sadhana (path of gradual attainment), including annual spiritual retreats as well as long solo wilderness retreats. The great Hindu/Tibetan wisdom goddess Tara quite naturally displaced the wisdom goddess Sophia in my mind, since both are embodiments of the same archetypal energy. In Tibetan Buddhism, however, we recognize these deities to be projections of our own mind, choosing to work with a kind of sophisticated psychology that has been developed over millennia, even as we continue to relate to her as goddess.

While I have come to intentionally conflate Tara with Gaia, I have also come to recognize that Gaia is most definitely not a projection of my mind - she's just as ‘real' as I am. We’re both living organisms, and I am part of Her biome in the same way my own body is comprised of countless living organisms that are "not me”- what philosopher and systems thinker Ken Wilber refers to as “holons,” shelled wholes that build upon, integrate and then transcend the whole systems they include. While Tara is ‘just’ an archetypal energy, a symbol like the Marian archetype in Christianity that is deeply rooted in collective psyche, this divine feminine archetypal energy turns out to be quite congruent/coherent with Gaia’s own electromagnetic energy field — a field of generativity (eros) and light and sound that has given rise to life itself — and connects us with Her in the oceanic depths of Psyche, or soul.

That may not sound very ‘scientific’ to the casual reader, but actually science shows that deep dreamless sleep, meditative states, intuition, and memory all occur in the same brain frequencies (theta waves, as opposed to alpha and beta waves of our busy mind) as Gaia’s electromagnetic frequency (the so-called “Schumann resonance” of 7.83 hz), which is the field of energy in which our consciousness and the consciousness of the biosphere is at play in. So when we achieve a kind of intentional coherence or resonance with that narrow band of the spectrum of the electromagnetic sphere our mind inhabits, as with slowing our mind down in nature through meditation or contemplative walking (aka "forest bathing"), from a phenomenological perspective, at least, it makes perfect sense that we are in communion with Gaia. And for thousands of years, Buddhists have maintained that in the realm of deep, dreamless sleep we can experience the “clear light mind” of primordially shared awareness.

So at a minimum there is nothing unscientific about this common phenomenon. We've all talked about "communing with nature," have we not? But have you ever wondered how it would even be possible to commune with nature were nature not just as alive and aware as we are? This experience has always been deeply felt by those of us not unduly inhibited and disembodied by our pervasive social conditioning - and it is deeply humbling, as well. It is the perfect antidote, in fact, for the scientific materialist and anthropocentric hubris that has given rise to this existential mess.

Pachamama. Anima Mundi. Eve (‘life’). Gaia. In Buddhist cosmology, ‘maitri’ - a coherent field of holistic (unitive) consciousness by which we are connected with all that is alive. David Bohm’s “implicate order” (in Buddhism, the dharmadhatu). That's my spiritual container right there, one that will always be strong enough to process trauma within, and sadhana (i.e., formulaic practice) for me is a form of psychospiritual alchemy, or mysticism if you prefer, that is rooted in Earth, the prima materia (matter, mater, Mother). It isn’t really mysterious, though. It happens to be the electromagnetic current that animates all life (eros). The religious impulse is just one expression of that primal, animating force.

To sum up my more traditional quals, along with depth psychology and archetypal astrology, I’ve studied mind and mental factors (Buddhist psychology) under His Holiness the Dalai Lama, both directly and indirectly through his close, long-time student/collaborator Ven. Thubten Chodron, the founding abbess of Sravasti Abbey. After being initiated into higher tantra in 2011, I went on to study Atiyoga - highest yoga tantra, or Dzogchen - and other Buddhist doctrines under the tutelage of Dr. Steven Goodman (1946-2020) in the Asian Studies Department at the Calif. Inst. of Integral Studies — the same school where Alan Watts famously held court. I myself taught Buddhist theory at CIIS as a grad-assistant in the East/West Psychology Dept.

During that time at CIIS, I also studied and trained at Zen Hospice in San Francisco, a profound lineage that stretches all the way back to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. In the midst of that training I was inspired to write the academic paper, “Planetary Hospice: Rebirthing Planet Earth (2014)” (popularized by Joanna Macy) for a class on the psychology of death and dying. After graduating, I presented the model of collective climate grief to the Mind & Life Conference at Harvard (2014), followed that up with a book on climate grief, Climate Sense: Changing the way we think and feel about our climate in crisis (2016), and then published an even more widely circulated paper, “Climate Trauma: Towards a New Taxonomy of Trauma” (2018) in the professional, peer-reviewed journal Ecopsychology.

(So I ain’t just talking smack here! ; )

Psychospheric Sentience

Again, I offer this brief personal background as a way of qualifying the “quantum phenomenology” I now feel ready to share, , representing myself as a fairly reliable cognizer in relation to this pressing matter of Gaian sentience. Quantum phenomenology is an important new term coined by the esteemed contemporary philosopher Evan Thompson to describe our capacity, which can be developed in meditation, to observe our own field of conscious awareness.It speaks to a form of subjective empiricism associated with the science of mind that has been tested for many millennia now -- and intensely so since the founding of the world's first university, Nalanda -- as compared to the much more recent development of objective empiricism associated with Cartesian dualism.

It has thus become my firm conviction that we in academia, in the professions, and in our various non-Indigenous spiritual traditions, presently perpetuate our dysfunctional relationship with Gaia due, at least in part, to a conflation of the related phenomena of ‘consciousness, ‘mind,’ and ‘awareness.’

The climate movement, in turn, is falling short of its full potential to transform society because of this failure to effectively articulate our embodied connection to what is a living planet, with her supremely inherent right to life. Supreme, obviously, not in any religious sense, but rather in the very pragmatic sense that if Gaia has no right to life, then no living creature can possess such an inherent right. What is the point of my constitutional right to life, or the right of an endangered species for that matter, if we can’t honor and protect the rights of a living planet? To think otherwise is to view ourselves as gods.

Does anyone still believe we are in a position to exercise dominion over Her? If so, why are we so bad at it that She is dying?

Because we civilized types have managed to reverse this natural order, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a key to coming into proper relationship with Gaia, the natural world, Indigenous peoples, and human nature itself at this time of extreme existential crisis is to disentangle these conceptual strands of sentience and related orders of natural sentient being. If we are clear about this, it becomes much more difficult to deny the sovereignty of Gaia, and that sovereignty, in turn, can provide both the moral and legal imperative to act on her behalf (e.g., protecting and restoring terrestrial and marine ecosystems, along with their keystone species).

I will endeavor to make this case as simply as possible. Let us begin with what we call ‘mind.’ Mind is nothing other than a convenient label we affix to a constellation of subjective experiences of consciousness and awareness, more accurately viewed as a seemingly endless stream of thoughts and dreams and sensations and feelings, none of which considered separately nor all of which together have any independent existence that would support the label (e.g., no two minds are alike!).

Let’s not make the anthropocentric, hubristic mistake, then, of trying to explain or even point to Gaia’s mind. After all, we can barely account for the mind of an elephant, a whale, or a common crow! How could we be expected to conceive of the mind of a vastly more complex and evolved organism like Gaia?

I’m reminded of the great 14th Century Tibetan master Longchenpa’s admonition here:

There is no pointing to it: Mind is inconceivable.

While Longchenpa was presumably referencing the human mind, his assertion applies exponentially if we try to point to what might be labeled the ‘mind’ of a living planet, which would undoubtedly be vast and mysterious from our own, limited (and embedded) perspective. It is not unlike a Christian speculating about the mind of God, an endeavor that can only lead to unnecessary conflict with no hope of resolution. Or just consider how wrong and for how long we have been when it comes to speculating about the minds of animals! And we’ve just now discovered plant intelligence. So it’s self-evident that we non-Indigenous types are terrible at speculating about the minds of non-human beings

So we begin our analysis, respectfully and humbly, by setting that metaphysical quandary aside. (Whew.)

It is the conflation of consciousness with awareness that we really need to attend to here, since it is this confusion that prompts conventional humans to adopt a colonialist attitude towards all non-human beings. We’ve foolishly used self-referential measures (e.g., tool-making, language, etc.) to profess our superiority over other forms of consciousness we encounter in the natural world — even those that appear objectively to have superior brains to our own, as measured by intensity of folds and size, like elephants and whales. Then we profess shock upon learning that whales have personal names and sing to their babies, that crows use tools, gorillas enjoy pretty sunsets, bison mourn their dead, and elephants communicate over long distances via subsonic frequencies carried by Earth.

Science has never even solved the hard problem of explaining how it’s possible for immaterial, subjective consciousness to emerge from material phenomena like neurons, since this theory violates fundamental notions of causality; e.g., like arises from like, not from unlike, so it’s a bit like saying you can get blood from a rock. According to physicist and science philosopher B. Alan Wallace:

“[C]onsciousness is not physical or physically detectable, and its alleged emergence from chemical and electromagnetic activity in the brain is not comprehensible in terms of the laws of physics. Consciousness no more resides in the brain than it does in silicon-based computers or between the covers of books. It is not an emergent property or function of matter, and the unquestioned belief that it must be is the greatest superstition promoted by scientists today.”

Therefore, comparing something as ineffable as the subjective experience of consciousness between species is not only problematic, it's immoral in the same way eugenics was an immoral and illogical use of science to justify the genetic superiority of Aryan people.

So as with mind, we run into the same problem when trying to speculate about Gaia’s subjective conscious experience. We will likely never know what that experience might be like. At the same time, however, it is highly unscientific for us to presume that the most complex living organism in our known universe does not possess consciousness, simply because we're ill-equipped to explain it's content. Thanks to Gaia theory, we have now learned as a matter of replicable scientific experiment that plants are intelligent, and that they can even solve problems. But that doesn’t mean we can hook them up to an EKG, perform a CT Scan on them, or gauge their IQ relative to us. We're simply able to observe the epiphenomenon, or manifest results, of that intelligence in action.

The same must surely be true for Gaia, then. How incongruous it would seem to attribute intelligence to forests of plants and trees, which span the globe (even in the oceans, with mangroves and kelp forests), but deny intelligence to the larger organism they are merely the organs, or component parts, of!

Consciousness, according to the growing philosophical consensus around panpsychism, exists along a spectrum, and humans are as far from amoeba at the low end of the spectrum as we are from Gaia at the top end. And for all we know, our solar system might just be one cell in an unimaginably vast conscious being, as we can readily imagine when we compare the cosmos to our brain.

HELLO? In short, the takeaway from panpsychism is simply this:

We are conscious creatures embedded in a world of consciousness.

And that is the truly relevant inferential implication of Gaia theory, quite apart from the physical science of Earth systems.

But if we can’t really point to Gaia’s mind or consciousness, then where does that leave us in determining how to properly relate to Her? How do we relate to a being whose consciousness is so obviously superior to ours? Especially when, due to our prior scientific ignorance, we have for so long dismissed this being as subservient to us.

(That question should sound familiar ; )

That is our overarching concern, is it not? How do we wrap our mind around the idea of a Gaian sentient being in a way that is conducive to bringing us into proper relationship?

Which is precisely why I submit it is so important to focus on the deceptively simple, universal phenomenon of awareness. Because what we do know, both in our hearts and as a matter of common experience, is that it is awareness that unites us, even beyond species demarcations, with all that is alive, while our stubborn and ultimately unscientific notions of consciousness only serve to divide us all endlessly into self and other, self and environment, subject and object. If we focus on what we share in common with one another and with other life forms, then our differences will naturally tend to recede into the background, and we will be able to easily intuit how to come into proper relationship with all of our relations, up to and including Gaia.

When we communicate with our pets, to cite a common example, we quickly learn that we’re capable of sharing awareness with them in meaningful ways. This sense of shared awareness can be both playful and profound. The Lakota tribe, to cite just one source of Indigenous wisdom, came to know themselves as “buffalo people,” but not for the reasons that the colonialist mind might posit - that they depended on bison for their survival. Instead, it was because they co-evolved with buffalo, and very early on structured their family and social customs by observing the ways of the buffalo - a very complex social animal (and keystone species for grasslands on Turtle Island).

Similarly, in India there is strong evidence that human language originated, in part, from imitating the sing-song of birds! And Druids developed Celtic culture from a practice of seeking rebirth from within Earth mounds. The term "Druid" itself is thought to derive from a compound of "dru-wid" - "dru" (tree) and "wid" (to know). Not only were they right about forests being aware, but they’ve always been able to share in that awareness themselves! What these examples vividly illustrate for us is the incredible power of shared awareness to transmit lessons organically across species barriers, even plant/animal barriers, as well as showing how the notion of humanity itself includes other species.

Considered from this more sophisticated kind of co-evolutionary, symbiotic perspective, rather than Descartes’ theological scientific, objectifying and reifying perspective, there is really no room for holding one species superior and another inferior. And personally, as an ecopsychologist who firmly centers Gaia at the center of "self," I have a hard time imagining what it would even mean to be human anymore in a world that no longer included lions, tigers, polar bears, rhinos, Orca, giraffes, emperor penguins and gorillas, to name just a few of the charismatic mega-fauna that will succumb to an over-heated climate.

So here we can all appreciate that a taxonomy of awareness supports a more wholesome scientific worldview, which can thus be the basis of healthy biome relationship, than ranking organisms according to subjective views of arbitrarily measured “intelligence." Assuming some consensus here, reflective of Indigenous wisdom - or even just taking this as our working hypothesis for utilitarian reasons - let’s scale this commonly observed phenomenon of shared awareness way way up, by focusing on an even more relevant example for our current exposition of Gaian sentience.

This is where it gets fun!

Here is how Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell described the “Overview Effect” upon viewing Earth from the moon in 1971, when Gaia was still a burgeoning hypothesis: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” That is a highly trained scientist describing his conversion upon experiencing shared awareness with our planet - which he understandably conflates with ‘global consciousness’ - due to the quantum phenomenology of unitive sentience, and which has since turned out to be a common, if unexpected, experience for all these trained scientists who view Earth from outer space for the first time.

“Many astronauts have reported when they looked down on the Earth, they experienced radical shifts in consciousness, some of which can feel deeply emotional and promote a sense of connectedness with the Earth and with one another. Termed ‘the overview effect’ by White (1987), he described this effect as 'a profound reaction to viewing the earth from outside its atmosphere.’ This overview effect has been described by many astronauts as one of the most meaningful moments of their lives.”

Shaw, S. (2017), “The Overview Effect” (Psychology in Action).

In his book, The Orbital Perspective, NASA astronaut Ron Garan describes the feeling as being “flooded with both emotion and awareness.” And in a short documentary on the overview effect that is well worth pausing here to view, the effect is described as conveying a direct knowing (gnosis) “that the Earth is one system. We’re all part of that system, and there is a certain unity and coherence to it all.”

Pretty solid evidence of Gaian sentience from the leading edge of science -- the only humans who've ever physically encountered her ‘face-to-face.’ In that same film, philosopher and long-time climate leader David Loy suggests that this pattern of inter-subjective experience “seems to imply a new kind of self-awareness.” Ever the philosopher, Loy doesn’t specify whose ‘self’ he’s talking about — but I think we can venture a guess.

And, of course, let us not forget that it was this same astounding, life-changing unitive view of Earth from outer space that catalyzed the cognitive crystallization of Gaia theory in the first instance. We might even ask ourselves here: did Lovelock and Margulis really invent Gaia theory? Or was it instead bestowed upon them and us as a matter of conscious experience by the more highly developed, implicate consciousness of Gaia herself? From a limited scientific-materialist perspective, the former seems conventionally true. From the perspective of self-regulating planetary consciousness on the verge of a life-threatenting illness attributable to this one species out of countless species, the latter view seems equally feasible and sensible.

Instead of a human invention, Gaia theory and the overview effect should be seen as Gaian transmissions, in the same way our own body sends messages to those areas of our biome where a threatening imbalance develops. I’m reminded of how one of the greatest breakthroughs in chemistry, the “discovery” of the benzene ringed molecule, could not be rationally worked out, and only resulted from the German chemist August Kekule napping and dreaming of Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tale, from deep in our collective, archetypal unconsciousness.

I would hasten to add here that, while I’m not an academically qualified scholar of consciousness studies, I have researched this distinction between awareness and consciousness in Buddhist doctrine as part of my ongoing Buddhist and Depth Psychology inquiry. Western scholars in the know view the thousand-year old Buddhist scholarship objectively as a science of mind, developed empirically and tested continuously through vigorous debate and intensive contemplative analysis. In my own comparative studies I, like one of Western psychology's founders, William James, have found the 2500 year old Buddhist psychology and science of mind to be far more sophisticated and rational than the century-old Western psychology, which appears more like magical thinking to me than the exhaustive "mind and mental factors" approach of Buddhism.

This emergent phenomenon of Gaian awareness is of critical significance to these dark times we inhabit, and to our present overwhelming task, in what philosophy professor Sean Kelly characterizes as a “Second Axial Age” in his book Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation (2021). From Kelly's well-researched and reasoned perspective, the crisis we find ourselves in is a kind of crucible that is initiating our species into a "radically new kind of identity, or subject, on a planetary scale." This new identity, Kelly suggests, will be founded upon an a newly emergent global, even tribal, consciousness.

Here is what I consider to be an inescapable conclusion underlying this phenomenon:

Awareness is not our own.

Awareness is not something our brain generates, nor is it a faculty that we possess, in the same way for example we possess our sense faculties. To think in such a conventional way is a mistake of subjective appropriation, largely attributable to ego-grasping and the 'individualist' ethic that has metastasized into the Great Acceleration of our consumer culture.

To say “I am aware” is to assert “I am” in some self-existing Cartesian way, apart from all that I am not. This is what Descartes got wrong at the outset, based solely upon his conception of God.

Awareness is, instead, a kind of shared cognitive commons through which braided streams of consciousness flow like cognitively charged neural pathways and vastly intricate networks of luminosity, packed with information, all pulsing and vibrating at multitudinous, overlapping frequencies.

In relation to our subjective experience, awareness is a kind of field phenomenon we are able to consciously inhabit, with varying degrees of surrender, not a faculty within us. And though I’m not a religious scholar, either, I think it’s safe to say all mystical traditions would concur with this phenomenology. When we yield our ego to the field of awareness, we experience an open, spacious and unitive consciousness.

Accordingly, let us renounce "I think, therefore I am" once and for all! Instead, let us embrace: "We share awareness, therefore we are embedded in a larger conscious organism.” Okay, I know, not as catchy, right?

In Awareness, we are One.”


The full spectrum in which these integral frequencies of awareness are embedded can be considered to comprise a psychosphere (Skelding, infra) that interacts dynamically with the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the lithosphere. These various spheres, or realms of being, are Gaia’s vital organs, and they all function together to sustain her viability and vitality. By belatedly adding the psychosperic organ, we complete the organismic view of Gaia, and bring ourselves into accord with Indigenous wisdom.

Unlike Teilhard de Chardin’s “noosphere,” which is a planetary “sphere of reason” defined in relation to human intellectual development, the psychosphere is not anthropocentric, and does not imply that we are superior to all other species. It’s just another realm we inhabit, much closer to Jung and Pauli’s idea of a psychophysical reality. By adding a psychosphere to the integrated Earth system, we finally grant Gaia her natural sovereignty. And in that sovereign realm, we are now able to view ourselves as natural, or fractal, subjects of a much larger, integrated whole. This brilliant hypothesis of a psychosphere animates Gaia theory, and puts us in our proper place in the grand order.

‘Consciousness’ in Sanskrit - the language of the Vedas, humanity’s oldest science of mind - is vijñāna. The prefix vi- means “split” or divided, while jñāna means “awareness.” In other words, consciousness is just what we humans do with awareness, in the same way that breathing is what we do with air and seeing is what we do with light. Awareness is what our curious mind carves out of an inexhaustible, nonlocal and non-temporal cosmic mine -- or from the quantum perspective, a zero-point field -- of cognitively charged awareness.

Awareness-qua-awareness is pure, undefiled, largely impersonal sentient being-ness. It may well be what Buddha was pointing to with the profoundly non-conceptual term “suchness,” which pervades everything. It is an experiential phenomenon that we, along with any living organism, are connected with and can abide within whenever we are not distracted by proliferating, objectifying thoughts pitting self against all that is perceived as "other than self" (Sanskrit: anatman).

Awareness is not coterminous with mind any more than air is coterminous with breath. In fact, if it is coterminous with anything, awareness is coterminous with luminous space, as reflected in the term “the space of awareness.” Even Gaia, in other words, is likely embedded in this universal field, rather than representing its outer reaches.

To recognize awareness as phenomenal, with consciousness and mind as epiphenomenon (derivatives), opens us up to an entirely new way of being in the world and of it at the same time - a more humane form of sentience. This is what we are evolving into. It’s the key to recovering our indigeneity in relation to ‘all our relations’ in a world governed by Gaia’s regulating forces, and it represents a new, relational worldview centered on a more consciously interdependent (relational) existence in which Indigenous people can serve as exemplars and guides. Supported by this opening frontier of Gaian (or quantum) awareness, we will come to see ourselves more fully realized as relational beings, rather than the exploitive, objectifying and ultimately 'isolational’ human beings we’ve devolved into. As the fully awakened Buddhist Dogen put it seven centuries ago:

‘I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.’

This, I believe, is the kind of dizzying transmutation of the human species into a humane species that has been underway now for the last 3-4 generations in the western world, beginning with Einstein on a train, continuing through Jung and Pauli’s exploration of psychophysical phenomenon, and flowering with Lovelock and Margulis’ Gaia theory, as well as Grof and Maslow’s transpersonal psychologies, Deep Ecology and Ecopsychology’s ecological consciousness, and most recently with the consensus forming around Panpsychism - a philosophy of consciousness that is in accord with quantum reality and ecological thinking.

“Consciousness is the result of ripping reality into self and other.”Holocek, A. (2020).

Of course, the still-ingrained, if not dominant, Cartesian worldview even objectifies and atomizes awareness itself, treating it as self-generated or divinely bequeathed, something that is personal to us, like human agency. My awareness is thought to be somehow very different than your awareness or my dog’s. Mine might be refined, yours could be considered uncouth or even savage by comparison, while my dog’s awareness would be considered primitive or merely reactive. The awareness of a mosquito would not be worthy of consideration on this scale. And trees could not possibly ‘possess’ the kind of awareness we have now observed, as a matter of science, in forests.

But this is clearly wrong-headed, and has been the cause of much toil and trouble besides. It is only our thoughts that are distinct, and perhaps our feelings as well (though feelings can actually be characterized as well-rehearsed thought patterns). This deification and reification of self-awareness is how we tend to conflate mind, consciousness, and awareness into self, losing sight in the process of the truly unique, salutary properties of awareness.

In pure awareness, there is truly universal equality. It is a uniter, not a divider. One of the most revered Tibetan tantric masters, Jigme Lingpa (1729-98), in his seminal work on highest yoga tantra, put the matter quite succinctly:

This is the Nature, the natural state of the ground [of being].

It is known as Awareness,

the natural state of mind,

or as the natural state of all phenomena.

This is what is meant by the original ground.

(from The Fearless Lion’s Roar). Psychophysical through-and-through, as Jung, Pauli, William James and many others have directly intuited.

It is rather mysterious, is it not, and profoundly revealing that Buddhist epistemology asserts that the very field of awareness in which our consciousness is planted is also the ground, or the natural generative state, of all phenomena. And that this was also the fundamental insight that emerged from Carl Jung’s life-long collaboration with the Nobel prize-winning father of quantum physics, Wolfgang Pauli, regarding their respective experiences of ‘synchronicity' ~ the kind of inexplicable coincidences (often cumulative) everyone has experienced at one time or another in their lives, a force of Nature that can also be tapped into with sufficient intentionality.

This is where the science of mind (Buddhism, consciousness studies) and the science of matter (Quantum Physics, Panpsychism) are converging; i.e., on the so-called “Jung/Pauli Conjecture” that reality is psychophysical through and through. It is comprised of a realm of waves and frequencies, and it is comprised of a realm of quanta/particles and photons. And both realms are just different ways of experiencing the same realm.

This “original ground,” this natural, psychophysical background state from which all phenomena arise, including consciousness, has also become the foundation of the emerging quantum world view, what I refer to as "Quantum Awareness,” a relational orientation. For there is no other way, really, to explain the weirdness of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, by which the experimenter’s subjective expectations influence the physical outcome of the particle/wave experiment, no matter how carefully controlled. Very much like a magician’s trick: “Look, it’s a particle. Look again - it’s a wave!”

And there is no other way of explaining the ‘spooky action at a distance’ of entanglement. And there is no other way of 'logically' explaining synchronicity, etc.

Without real, fixed objects, there can be no real objectivity - no “thinking” or thinker that is separate from, and thus observing, reality. And yet this idea of objectivity just happens to be the primary directive upon which all scientific method is founded. Since that objectivity has been the foundation of our world view ever since Descartes and Bacon, blowing it out of the water didn’t just blow Einstein’s mind, it necessitated a new world view. Since that new world view is admittedly strange, involving ideas even Eienstein couldn’t accept - like non-locality (zero point field) and the spontaneous arising of matter and energy in a vacuum - it didn’t really pick up much momentum until one of its most useful applications, the internet, took hold, and people finally started to grok interdependence and Thich Nhat Han's explanations of interbeing.

Naturally, this emerging world view still meets with much resistance, especially from the more entrenched sciences, since it blows up the scientific materialist worldview that fuels our global economy. But it is especially dismaying that the institution of psychology, the very province of mind, still clings stubbornly to objective empiricism, scoffing at the very idea of subjective empiricism that has been studied and rigorously tested for millennia by Buddhist scholars and adepts. This archaic worldview thus precludes the APA from speculating about a psychosphere, or Gaian sentience, or even accepting the obvious psychological connection between climate trauma and cultural/individual traumas. Because that would mean the world has a soul, or Psyche, which is the same as saying Gaia is both living and sentient. At a time when this emerging, ancient wisdom is most relevant and needed, the profession of mental wellbeing is incapable of advocating for Gaia's wellbeing because, well - objective empirical orthodoxy!

Subjective empiricism is not only valid, as it turns out, one could even go so far as to substitute the word “subjective” for “psychophysical” here; that is, reality is subjective through and through. Proof? There are no objects in our universe - only relations - as proven by quantum physics. Objects are merely conventionally agreed to constructs of consciousness, and thus do not exist apart from conception. And we ourselves are merely referent points in what turns out to be a conscious —or “pan-psychic” (the prefix ‘pan’ meaning pervasive) — universe.

What could 'the stuff' of a conscious universe be, other than awareness?

So these are the outer parameters of the emergent, relational worldview from the world of quantum physics and its close relative, panpsychism. And this is why we have so much to learn from those traditions who’ve been exploring the deceptively simple phenomenon of awareness (jñāna) and consciousness (citta) so rigorously for so long. This is not about religion. Since we can no longer delineate science from mind, or mind from body for that matter, then what was previously considered to be a “science of mind” is now simply science.

Since awareness is the natural state of all phenomena, synchronicity - the experience of external circumstances corresponding with internal thoughts in what appears as a cause/effect relationship - occurs only within heightened states of awareness. There are no coincidences in a psychophysical world, accurately perceived. Humans reach the moon, look back and see Earth for the first time, science realizes we are looking at a living organism, names her Gaia, and we learn almost immediately upon naming Her, after granting Her agency of a strange sort, that she’s dying at our hands. That is synchronicity at a cosmic scale.

And all this in the brief span of a decade or two? Really??

So no, it’s no coincidence that we find ourselves standing on this existential, evolutionary threshold. It’s clear evidence of a higher intelligence, for which we need look no further than the horizon. Yes, Gaia is named after the Greek Goddess of Earth, but let’s not confuse this with having to invent the existence of an intelligent creator God to explain our own existence. Gaia is very much in evidence, and we are all part of her biome.

These are facts.

Everything is relative, relational through-and-through, and nothing actually possesses ‘thingness.’ Call that “nothingness” if you like, but it is nonetheless a scientific fact. As physicist Lorent Nottale puts it, there are no objects to be found anywhere upon ultimate analysis, there are only relations:

“If things do not exist in absolute terms, but do nevertheless exist, then their nature must be sought in the relationships that bring them together."

No objects, only relations. Can we appreciate why this undermines our old worldview so radically? It is the exact opposite of objectification - which is like a religion in our society (e.g., fetishizing young girls, demonizing people based on skin tone, both of which indicate the extremes we go to in objectifying others).

That simple, factual statement in and of itself describes a new level of ‘quantum awareness’ ~ a ‘whole’ (as in holistic) new way of seeing ‘things,’ or ‘grokking’ reality, in Heinlein’s apt phrasing. And as this newly emerging way of viewing the world relationally gains a foothold in our collective Psyche, as already reflected in a growing culture of awareness (e.g.'s: the virally popular Matrix trilogy; the mindfulness movement; Brian Swimme’s Journey of the Universe; David Attenborough’s nature films; Fantastic Fungi, etc.), we are finally experiencing more directly the kind of radical paradigm shift of the world on its axis that will, at some critical phase, precipitate a quantum leap in how we relate to the natural world in which we are embedded - physically, psychologically, socially, politically, etc.


This primary phenomenon of pure awareness also blows our ideas of linear time out of the water, since it’s no more possible to measure awareness by specifying the length of a single moment in time (so-called “momentary awareness”) than it is to delimit the outer reaches of the universe, or to describe a “moment of ocean.” Einstein intuitively grasped this. In a letter of condolence he wrote to a widow only a month before his own passing, he noted:

"Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

The Buddha, too, saw this fundamental truth: “The past is imperceptible, the future is imperceptible, and the present is imperceptible. The three times are equality. (From the Sutras of the Mother). Because if, in your mind (Einstein’s workshop), you really try to separate the past from the future in terms of time, you inevitably come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a present moment. It’s like sitting still in front of a large tree, which you know is growing moment-by-moment, and trying to perceive actual growth. And if a moment is our only present evidence of linear time, then that temporal interval, or moment in time, must itself have a beginning and an end to it - thus it is comprised completely of past and future. The present moment turns out to be endless or, as Buddha observed, the three times are one

Yes, you could counter that it is past and future that are disproven by the present, but the point is that it is awareness that ushers us into the indeterminate world of non-temporality and, by necessary implication, the thoroughly entangled world of non-locality. In popular culture, non-locality is referred to as the ‘butterfly effect,’ where events happening here - a butterfly flapping its wings - are seen to instantaneously change circumstances somewhere else - a hurricane forms. These notions of indeterminate time and non-local cause and effect, in turn, are what informs the strategic thinking of quantum activism, a new way of thinking about catalyzing social change, a kind of shape-shifting of culture and society, that is emerging in response to our existential predicament.

The leading proponent of quantum social activism in response to the climate crisis is IPCC Nobel laureate and social scientist Karen O’Brien, at the University of Oslo. In her illuminating book, You Matter More Than You Think: Quantum Social Change For A Thriving World, O’Brien discusses the concept of “resonant consciousness”:

“Our relationship to social consciousness depends on the degree of explicit awareness of our interconnections with others. Perhaps one of the important aspects of the idea of the Anthropocene is that our relationship to the Earth System is changing: humans are becoming more self-aware that their actions are influencing global systems. From the perspective of entanglement, when a [whole/part] of the system changes, the system itself has changed… Resonant social consciousness acknowledges a coherent [I/we] space of oneness, which has been described in philosophy and metaphysics as ‘pre-space,’ ‘the implicate order,’ ‘ultimate reality,’ ‘unus mundus,’ or ‘Source.’”

Quantum activism is based upon the limitless potential of awareness as an activating, unifying force of nature, and a powerful agent of change. By seeing actions as catalysts taking place in “morphic fields of resonance,” chaotic social disorder at any scale can be “shape-shifted” into higher, unprecedented social orders in direct response to concurrent shifts in collective consciousness. This is Prigogene’s theory of dissipative structures in action - order self-organizing out of chaos - which applies to all systems within the self-organizing organism we are part of, or Gaia.

It is curious that we in the activist community have largely failed to appreciate and avail ourselves of the dynamic potential represented by this new way of thinking - though Extinction Rebellion operates on such a ‘catalytic converter’ model of social activism. The creativity of their actions, in contrast to boring old marches, almost immediately catalyzed a shift in our collective consciousness that “caused” governments around the world to declare a climate emergency — which represents a big shift politically and socially, even though it happened in relatively short order. In contrast to the “incremental change” always favored by neoliberals and overly-political environmentalists, XR and Greta are prime examples of “collapsing the wave” of potential that is inherent in a globally connected economy.

At the same time the world is now being shaped by anthropogenic agency, we anthropoes have become close to fully interconnected in ways that allow for shared awareness on a global scale —including shared awareness of Gaia. Learn to mine that field of shared awareness, and no matter how impossible or improbable it appears, small groups and even individuals can change the world, by precipitating seismic shifts in collective consciousness. We can even aspire to shape-shift the still nascent, and thus highly mutable, Anthropocene into what Sean Kelly has christened the Gaianthropocene — an age of global human and other-than-human relational awareness.

A striking example of the activating potential of shared awareness was recently brought home to us by the murder of George Floyd 'live' on social media, with 9:29 of his excruciating trauma experienced empathically at the level of our hearts the world over. For a brief but historic span in time, it felt like the soul, or psyche, of humanity became an expression of the soul of the world, or Gaia’s Psyche. The world gasped, was aghast, and then grasped, seemingly as a single species in one fell swoop, the full scale and entrenched force of all the unjust oppression that is our inheritance. And with one, unified voice drowning out all the racists and fascists - for a moment-in-time, at least - [I/we] as ‘whole parts’ declared it intolerable. We demanded change. We as a species, I’m saying (for once). Humanity itself almost seemed to wake up in the empathic expanse of that intolerable breach. As noted by Howard W. French in NY Magazine:

"[T]he protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May [] prompted the most stirring reexamination of race, justice, and national history in the U.S. in at least a generation [and] had the remarkable secondary effect of inspiring social and racial justice movements in an extraordinary number of countries on several continents."

Overnight, support for Black Lives Matter leaped from roughly a 30/70 split to a 70/30 split - a reverse of polarity in public opinion reflected not just here in the U.S., but across the planet. That is the kind of transformative potential that is inherent in just under ten minutes of shared awareness. That is quantum social change in action.

This is a remarkable, but not an isolated, example. It comes on the heels of the #MeToo Movement, and Indigenous voices rising in a new way after Standing Rock’s 'Water Protectors' (not protesters) made their stand, expressing Gaia’s trauma most directly for the rest of us. And then, of course, there is the human catalyst that is Greta Thunberg, and the Sunrise Movement she inspired, acting in morphic resonance with Extinction Rebellion - which itself emerged from the shared awareness of a small group of activists who journeyed together with plant medicine, intentionally seeking guidance from Gaia (yes, she has a voice).

The role that shared awareness has played in the manner in which these movements quite suddenly crystallize, and then coalesce at a global, species-wide scale, is indicative of this new kind of activism at play in fields of resonance and coherence at all scales. This is what some systems thinkers have aptly characterized as ‘quantum activism’ - local actions having non-local effects without the normal cause-and-effect, chain reactions of the (already outdated?) networking campaigns we’ve come to associate with political movements. These burgeoning social movements seem bigger than politics, with politicians and corporations having little choice but to follow -- though obviously they also tend to spark emotional reactivity in the more traumatized segments of society that feel threatened by sudden social change, and triggered by its manifestations.

An age of growing quantum awareness is upon us, and we’ve only just begun to explore its catalyzing potential. In response to Pope Francis’ call in L’adauto Si, a quantum view of awareness is also the sacred ground upon which we can build a new, universal form of solidarity in defense of Mother Earth. Because, as already alluded to, awareness just happens to be the most fundamental unifying force in nature, fully capable of uniting us all with our (true) selves, with one another, with our life source, and with all other forms of life, since we all are in fact united in sentience, this felt sense of being, and since we all inhabit the “unus mundus” (lit. ‘one world’) of psychophysical reality. It is a field of unlimited generativity, the prima materia of spiritual alchemy. And as Robin Alfred pointed out in the first ever symposium on healing collective trauma:

"The more that we experience ourselves as an integral part of Earth, as an integral part of the planet, that in itself gives us the resources, both individually and collectively, to integrate and to transform the challenges that we face."

Systems thinker and social ecologist Mark Skelding astutely proposes calling this field of shared awareness the “psychosphere,” completing the rapidly evolving Gaian conversation between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. The revered lama Tharthang Thulku describes this field of awareness quite pragmatically:

"As space must be available for objects to appear, so awareness must be available for distinctions, perceptions and other mental activity to take place. Like space, awareness is somehow 'endowed' with the capacity to accommodate. As space might be considered the 'field' for objects, so awareness could be considered the 'field' for mental events. If awareness is regarded as a field, its accommodating capacity might also be seen as a dynamic 'field mechanism' in operation. Through this mechanism, the link between awareness and its content, like the link between physical space and objects, is there from the outset, programmed into the 'field'... In accordance with this mechanism, thoughts and perceptions gather together, mutually interacting to establish the field content."

Knowledge of Time & Space (1990), Dharma Publishing. And now, apply Sheldrake’s field theory to this conception of awareness:

“The morphic fields of mental activity are not confined to the insides of our heads. They extend far beyond our brain through intention and attention. We are already familiar with the idea of fields extending beyond the material objects in which they are rooted: for example magnetic fields extend beyond the surfaces of magnets; the earth's gravitational field extends far beyond the surface of the earth, keeping the moon in its orbit; and the fields of a cell phone stretch out far beyond the phone itself. Likewise the fields of our minds extend far beyond our brains… This means that new patterns of behavior can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible."

Our psyches are thus embedded individually and collectively in Gaia’s psychosphere, along with forests and every other living being, in a grand symbiotic, evolving sentience that itself finds expression in this unified field of awareness that stretches out into the cosmos as far as our imagination allows. One little girl makes a simple sign -- "Fridays for Future" -- that taps into this throbbing Gaian intelligence, sits outside a parliament building one brisk Autumn day, quite alone in her vigil. Someone else empathizes, snaps a picture, and the entire resonant field begins to shift in coherent ways that ripple out in all directions under her feet.

A very short while later, she ascends the world stage, unafraid and unaffected by her sudden fame, and scolds world leaders in a way that nobody else could have credibly done.

That is the kind of forceful power we are dealing with here.

Gaian Awareness is the ultimate unifying force of Nature - including human nature. It is the very medium of the interdependent, interpenetrating connectivity we all have a growing, felt sense of. We can feel Gaia in the biome of our gut. Without intending to downplay the trauma of dispossession forced upon Indigenous peoples, for all of us non-indigenous people who’ve suffered a rupture with the natural world in our own lineage and in our culture, especially during the Great Acceleration after WWII, the relational view that emerges from working with Gaian/Quantum Awareness opens up creative ways for us to cultivate our own indigeneity — regenerating the very ‘human nature’ that is so redemptive for our species. We will explore this neo-indigeneity in depth in the next chapter, and see how it fits into reconciliation and recovery from climate trauma. In fact...

Imbued with Gaian awareness, ‘human’ nature becomes humane nature.

Globally, this more humane nature can effect the kind of transmutation of the human species that is being elicited by this existential crisis. As Sean Kelly evocatively asserts, what we are going through may well be a necessary kind of “planetary initiation.”

This quantum field view of an organic ‘psychosphere’ also helps to explain why simple awareness remains such a vital and powerful force of healing, both individually and collectively, when we’re able to open to it, trust it, and surrender the fixity of our thinking to it. As every good psychotherapist knows, healing from any trauma begins with awareness of the fragmentation that trauma induced. Awareness is a spiritual elixir. Without it, with the kind of conditioned unawareness of consumer culture, we are left with the perpetuation of dysfunctional behavior and/or thought patterns that support trauma’s ‘feedback loop.’

The contemplative mystic Thomas Hübl points out that it’s only in this field of awareness, whether at the individual or collective level, that truth has a chance to emerge and be re-integrated. As his friend and colleague Srini Pillay, M.D. responds, “trauma is an opportunity for coming apart in order to come together again.” At the societal level of collective trauma, leading climate psychotherapist Steffi Bednarek points out that the "Great Derangement" - a term for the cultural component of our crisis coined by the novelist Amitave Ghosh - is symptomatic of the fact that periodically, societies need break down, appearing to be deranged in that process, in order to be re-arranged at a higher level of coherence.

Awareness is a source of both wisdom and healing. In awareness we become - or at least grasp our potential to become - whole sentient beings. This stands to reason, since it is only in awareness that we’re able to connect with our true nature, our human nature, which aspect of our psyche is naturally embedded and encoded in Nature herself. This conscious ecology of mind connects us, psyche-to-Psyche, to our very life source, Gaia, where we are greeted by a wellspring of spiritual nourishment. Hübl refers to these resonant states of shared awareness as “safe fields of coherence,” and it is by inducing them in large groups that he is able to heal collective trauma.

Healing Gaia’s trauma is forcing us to evolve our felt sense of awareness with a kind of quantum social leap, bringing a higher order of awareness out of the chaotic profusion of climate disintegration, in order that we may actually feel Her trauma as our own, and thus finally, actually respond as if our own lives depended on it. It is one thing to say “they do” in our heads, and quite another to really feel it in our heart. With a gut-punch like the Coronavirus pandemic, Gaia is sternly prodding us in that direction. And, as Dr. Scilla Elworthy pointed out in the inaugural collective healing summit:

We are capable of affecting very large systems

because we are connected with very large symptoms.

The kind of open awareness in which trauma heals, in other words, is humanity’s superpower in responding to the climate crisis. As Dr. Christina Bethell asserts in the introduction to O’Brien’s book:

“Healing our climate requires we heal and change individually and collectively… As we awaken to the possibilities and need for safe and nurturing connections and a sense of meaning and mattering, research suggests that we will naturally begin to reset our course toward flourishing and tap into our potential to transform our collective trauma into the inspired collective action we need to heal our hearts, our hope, and our climate.”


With this new appreciation for the power of awareness to resolve climate trauma, let’s take an even deeper dive into foundational awareness theory. Here is the profound lesson Buddhism can teach us in these troubled times.

In Buddhist cosmology, awareness is described as primordially unconditioned, completely uncontrived, because unlike our sense consciousness or other ordinary states of mind, awareness is not the product of causes and conditions — and yet it’s always present. As one would expect in a psychosphere.

Awareness is called ‘beginningless’ because it transcends the limited dimension of time. Buddhism posits a fourth dimension of time, actually, which is beyond but also inclusive of past, present, and future. This dimension is referred to as indeterminate time, and it’s with that kind of quantum view of time that we can conceive of awareness-qua-awareness.

Consciousness, in this tantric context, is simply a kind of fractal collapsing of the quantum wave of universal awareness, which we experience subjectively, and identify with. Awareness is the medium of conscious experience in the same way that the electromagnetic spectrum is the medium of various radio and television stations. Our brains act as transceivers, tuned into the frequency of our conscious mind-stream, able to transmit and receive signals to and from anywhere within the psychosphere we inhabit.

Intrinsic awareness is said to have only two qualities: luminosity and knowingness. The felt sense of awareness we experience as intuition, synchronicity, or non-dual absorption in meditation, are actually transpersonal by nature. These elevated states of consciousness, in other words, can be attributed to this largely unexplored (in the West) connection we have with intrinsic awareness. This primordial sense, which modernity paves over with ego-centered subjectivity, comprises the pervasive substrate, or implicate order, in which all of our individual minds are collectively embedded. It connects us consciously within what Ecopsychologist Andy Fisher describes as “one flesh”:

“All phenomena interweave as a single cloth or ‘common tissue’ [that] are mutually informative in their commingling with one another... because they are of the same elemental stuff.”

This view of psychophysical reality accords quite well with quantum physics, as confirmed by Heisenberg, who first discovered that matter behaved as either a particle or wave depending on what we measured for:

"The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine, and thereby determine the texture of the whole.”

This pervasive ground of awareness also accords well with Jung’s notions of the collective unconscious, except it turns out to be more accessible than Jung supposed. Indeed, tantric practitioners have been plumbing its depths for almost three millennia, and Indigenous people the world over have been utilizing Gaia’s sacred plant medicines to connect with this realm even longer than that. Western psychology is itself rather primitive, by comparison, as our clunky instrument of objective empiricism is not well-suited to the task.

While we're never really apart from this primal awareness, like fish in an ocean, it is nonetheless true that most of us in the modern world find ourselves perpetually distracted from it - especially to the extent we get caught up in the Great Acceleration’s consumer culture. It remains quite accessible, however, whenever our minds drop down into the brain’s theta wave frequencies — in deep reverie or meditative states, with contemplative immersion in nature, or even in dreamless sleep. Indeed, quite apart from experimentation, it is this transpersonal realm where most great scientific breakthroughs occur.

Theta waves, as we've already noted, are coherent with the planet’s own electromagnetic field of awareness. This explains why, when we slow our walking down in nature and synchronize our breathing with that slower pace, our mind slows down and we sense the symbiotic relationship we enjoy with the forest around us and the soil under our feet. Mind follows the breath, and when we slow it down, we drop into our somatic senses and feel entrained or attuned (atonement, at-one-ment, or maitri in Sanskrit) to our natural surroundings. This kind of “forest bathing” is quite therapeutic, providing a simple method for connecting with human nature. Once experienced, it can be replicated anywhere - even on the cushion, in silent refuge, simply by remembering the experience (since memory, too, is associated with theta waves). In sum, we can relate to the psychosphere as an ocean of theta waves in which we are immersed.

Make no mistake - this eco-therapeutic solo work, too, is a form of quantum climate activism. The only way we will ever come into proper relationship with Gaia collectively is if enough of us individually, and in community, make the effort to come into proper relationship with our own true nature. This is because when we act against Nature, we suppress and eventually deform our connection to human nature. That was essentially Mary Shelley’s point in writing Frankenstein; that scientific method represented the potential for creating a more monstrous version of us, quite apart from our natural selves.

Dukkha in Buddhism, or all the suffering and unsatisfactoriness associated with mundane life, is said quite simply to result from our failure to re-cognize (re-orient), appreciate, and act upon this intrinsic awareness. Similarly, trauma - more familiar to the Western mind - derives its power and effect over our behavior from our inability or unwillingness to re-cognize and appreciate it. Once we become sufficiently aware of our unresolved trauma, however, once we overcome our self-imposed taboos, we discover that by opening old wounds and allowing our heart to break, removing the scar tissue around our wounded, aggrieved inner self, we’re finally able to move through our dysfunctional patterns of behavior into higher levels of personal integration (integrity) and well-being. We recover a kind of wholeness that is naturally fulfilling.

So trauma has its purpose. It’s a portal into a more holistic spirituality — a ‘relationship with’ vs. a ‘power over’ orientation. By confronting our traumas collectively, as Thomas Hübl encourages and facilitates (his first three on-line symposiums were joined by nearly two hundred thousand people around the world), or as we’ve done culturally for George Floyd; and, by demanding resolution of our common traumas through some form of truth and reconciliation, we find that we’re more than capable of overcoming our oppressors, that their hold on power collectively rests upon our own tolerance limits — both generationally, and as a species.

It’s not unlike what Buddha was talking about with karma, just at a much larger scale. These patterned behaviors that cause problems in our lives can be released, and the energy bound up in them can be liberated. Through our own mindful and therapeutic engagement with awareness, we alter the relational field. Relationships can change quite rapidly in this hyper-connected world. As Hübl points out, trauma wants to heal, and “[w]hat seems to be in the way IS the way” -- a great lesson for social and climate activists.

Climate trauma is being felt at the biospheric level by all of us now. Gaia’s trauma is our trauma. This felt sense of existential distress is triggering all of our individual, epigenetic and cultural traumas at the same time. It commands our attention because we’re all, at some primal level, aware of the grievous, ongoing wounding of our irreplaceable life source.

How could we not be?

Indigenous people have been like the proverbial canaries in our coal mines in this regard. They’ve been trying to convey this felt sense of global distress to us for decades now, even before the scientists began sounding the alarms. And yet we still resist the necessity of acknowledging this new and previously unimaginable form of trauma as our own. To the extent that we’re cut off somatically from embodied feeling and empathy, we’re still able to externalize the threat and dissociate from it. To the extent we become embodied and aware, this becomes a personal existential crisis.

For example, as reflected in the way the media and mainstream psychologists talk about “climate change” and “eco-anxiety,” we prefer to think ourselves affected by, but still somehow separate from, this superordinate, biospheric trauma. It’s a reflexive psychological defense by which we protect, or contract around, our own wounded sense of small self, or our own broken hearts. That is, we know that we can’t feel one without being confronted by the other, and our perceived sense of overwhelm activates our limbic (primal) defenses of flight, freeze or fight, and all the related psychological dis-ease.

As already intimated, to willingly open ourselves up to that connection with all that is alive in the world demands that we learn to live with a broken heart. And this, in turn, calls into question the strength of our spiritual container, our faith. Which is why the best, most persistent climate activists tend to be those people with the strongest spiritual containers. They’re not afraid to face and openly grieve those things we are losing. By contrast, activists with the weakest spiritual containers tend to burn out after a relatively short span. I’ve witnessed this over and over in my decades on the front lines of ecosystem protection. It always looks like hope that ripens into despair because it isn’t grounded in an appropriate, all-encompassing spiritual worldview.

For all of the above reasons, I offer the following conclusion, gleaned from four decades of engaged eco-activism grounded in progressive spiritual development: The best way to scale the walls of inaction in the face of climate and biodiversity breakdown is by recognizing that Gaian Awareness is our superpower. Universal solidarity grounded in Gaian Awareness is guaranteed to give us the strength and resilience to face into the storm of climate chaos. It won’t be easy -- it’s too late for easy -- but this is how we can all become spiritual midwives delivering Kelly’s Gaianthropocene from the unnatural upheaval of the (clearly misguided) Anthropocene.


Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a contemporary Tibetan master who, like the Buddha, ran away in full bloom from the palatial monastery he inherited from his father, also a high lama, to live as a beggar and meditate in nature. His experience taught him that every practice for training our minds “is about waking up and becoming conscious of a universal reality that transcends the contents of our individual minds.” Which is why our worldview is inseparable from our spiritual container for processing climate trauma and grief.

Yongey further asserts that each of us can access this universal reality through “mere awareness.” In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying (2019).

So simple - yet so demanding!

But we don’t all need to go live in the woods in order to discover the magic of awareness. We literally share it boundlessly with every sentient being, including the ultimate ‘mother sentient being,’ Gaia. It takes constant effort, in fact, to keep ourselves separate from this ground state, forever constructing a solid sense of self out of what is only ever other. Anyone who’s ever been privileged to spend extended time in unspoiled nature - ‘alone’ or at least with an intimate other - already knows exactly what it feels like to communicate non-verbally and non-conceptually with Gaia. After awakening under the bodhi tree, the Tathagata (‘He thus gone’) was challenged by Mara to prove the authenticity of his unbounded, selfless expansion in consciousness. In response, he touched the ground of his universal seat with extended fingers, and uttered these six words that still have the power to astonish:

“Let the Earth be my witness.”

{{Gaia is said to have quaked in response, and let loose a rain of flower petals}}

How many of us are ready to let the Earth stand as OUR witness? This is our moment of truth, and we’re being viscerally challenged to prove our own worth as a species. Civilization hangs in the balance. If we prove unworthy of our status as Earthlings, civilization comes tumbling down and the darkest of ages dawns. We really don’t want to go there. The immense and pervasive suffering that would attend such darkness is unimaginable. We know this.

Clarity of awareness has the chthonian power to open our mind up into this radically different, ‘indigenous’ way of relating to ourselves, to our close others, to the trees around us, to the biosphere at large, and to the living meta-organism we in the West have named Gaia, who some call Pachamama, and who all intuitively recognize as our Mother. That is a powerful relationship, as any Freudian would have to admit! It is an evolutionary reorientation of self that is revolutionary in the context of the ego-centered consumer culture that is killing us.

This theory of Gaian Awareness is bound to be controversial in the context of both religion and the Rights-of-Nature movement. But the time has come for us to recognize Gaia’s personhood, whatever the implications, up to and including her natural sovereignty over us. I have it on good authority that She’s no longer willing to be considered a metaphor! She’s a meta-organism. One that’s tired of being objectified and exploited.

Stated in a language we can all comprehend, Gaia wants to live. Just as she originally and organically gave us life, now it falls on us to honor and protect her viability. For if Gaia does not possess an inherent right to life, then there is no point in having rights in the first place. That is true, natural sovereignty, unlike all the phony sovereigns we’ve propped up over the course of history.

Questions Left to Ponder

All of these cultural stirrings are oriented towards the same existential question we must answer for ourselves and as a species: What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene Epoch? And in answering this question, what is the role for human beings that is presently being forged in the fiery cauldron of climate trauma?

While it’s not the province any one person to answer these questions, I can’t resist pointing out that the one thing we humans are quite adept at from an evolutionary standpoint seems to be the cultivation and application of self-consciousness. Isn’t that what seems to set us apart from all other species? Could it be, then, that through this near death ecological experience already underway, Gaia is accessing the conscious organelle of the human species in order to advance her own evolution, by becoming aware of Herself in a new way?

I realize that is controversial, and prone to anthropocentrism, but it is at least worth pondering. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Gaian Awareness that is now dawning in our collective consciousness turned out to be integral to Gaia’s own awakening? Maybe this is what the individuation for a planet might look like!

As Brian Swimme first asserted in his influential documentary Journey of the Universe (2011):

“We live in that time when Earth itself begins its adventure of conscious self-awareness."

Why else would Gaia have refrained from simply shaking us off as a harmful viral strain by now? Stated alternatively, as Harvard's William Ury so beautifully puts it, why else would so many of us feel so called to become activated cells in Gaia’s global immune defense system?

Even though it may appear to us presently as an abyss, we may well be standing on the brink of Gaian [r]Evolution.

Who are we?

We are Greta. We are the Sunrise Movement. We are George Floyd, crying out for our Mother under the crushing weight of intolerable oppression.

( ( ( ( ( ( We are Gaia ) ) ) ) ) )

Gaia: Perfect Mind

(adapted from the Gnostic Scripture's "Thunder, Perfect Mind")

I am the first and the last.

I am honored and I am defiled.

I am holy to some and dead to others.

I am Virgin Earth and I am sacrificial lamb -

I bleed oil, breathe fire, vomit plastic,

my body quakes in anger!

I am Mother of all, Destroyer of worlds,

Forgiving and relentless.

Fragile. Resilient.

I am the members of my family.

Barren, with many offspring.

I grieve the loss of my children,

Ivory billed or single horned,

In water, in air, on land and beneath.

All my children are related

In equality.

I am awareness itself,

All conscious being

swims in my oceanic womb.

I am knowledge and ignorance...

the silence that is incomprehensible

and the sentience that overcomes forgetting.

I am the voice whose sound is mellifluent

the healing light, the radiant heart,

and the very cells of my body

Cry out in despair.

My Children! My Children!

In my weakness, do not forsake me,

and do not fear my power.

For I am she who exists in all fears

and strength in trembling.

I am she who is weak,

and I am fallen ill -

This pleasure palace cannot stand.

I am senseless, I am all wise.

Why have you conspired against me

in your counsels?

How can you profit

off of my spoils?

Don’t you know that I am you?

Don’t you feel our dying??

Feel my pain now.

It's no longer an abstraction,

nor just a mental affliction.

Feverish, damaged lungs,

Filling with water,

Heart breaking sadness.

I shall be silent among those who are silent.

And I shall appear and speak through

those who are brave.

How have you warred with me?

Why have you forsaken your Mother -

Your life source. Psyche! Eros!

I am the one whom you have called Eve.
and now you label Death…

You, Pluto. With uranium and plutonium,

Draining my blood, gouging my lungs,

Extracting my very bones for your

Apocalyptic funeral pyre,

Upon which you sacrifice lambs and children.



Gaia, Perfect Mind!

I am the one whom you have pursued,

and I am the one whom you have seized.

I am the one whom you have scattered,

and you have gathered me together to exploit.

I am the one before whom you have been ashamed,

and you have been shameless to me...

I — I am godless,

and I am Gaia.

I am the one whom you are awakening to,

though you have scorned me.

I am the unlearned,

and still the children learn from me.

I am the first peoples that you have despised,

and you dishonor me by killing them that protect me.

I am the one whom you have hidden from for too long,

and now you appear to me.

Now my time has come.

My children speak for me.

LISTEN! Listen to their voices.

Wherever you hide your self,

there I will appear.

Whenever you appear,

I myself will hide from you...

I am the power and the right.

I am the darkness and the light.

Now I enter into the midst of your prison,

which is the prison of the ego,

the great objectifier, that deadens.

And I say unto you:

Whoever hears my voice,
let them now arise from the Deep Sleep.

This world is not inert, not lifeless matter,

there are no things.

This world is consciousness first,

Mother and Child are One in All.

All is relational - All in One,

Come into proper relationship.

With, not over...

All Our Relations.

There is our power.

* * *

And Pluto wept, and shed bitter tears.

Bitter tears he wiped from himself, and he said:

“Who is this who calls my name?

and whence has this light come to me while I am in the chains

of this dark prison?”

And I, Gaia, said unto this broken and corrupted man child:

I am the intelligence of the Natural World,

of life itself - your true Life Source;

And I am the memory and thought of

your own Human Nature…

Pure, luminous and aware.

A flame that never is extinguished,

Rooted in me like a great tree.

I am the Tree of Life.

Arise and remember...

and follow your root, follow your heart,

which is I...your Mother.

Pachamama. Gaia.

Now become aware

of our deep and umbilical

connection -

Become Awareness in ME!

Now go forth in Nature,

And sin no more!

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