Creating a new culture with heart & mind

I choose to embrace change because, after all, there is the possibility that we are writing a new chapter in human history that will allow both, ourselves and our non-human relatives, a more „species-appropriate“ and dignified existence.

For even if in the „western world“, the rich industrial nations, most of us are convinced that we have created the best (most humane) of all cultures that have existed so far – democratic, social, based on the principle of equality and the rule of law – something crucial seems to be missing.

The growing loneliness, an increase in mental and psychosomatic illnesses even in childhood, the unjust distribution of resources within societies, but also within the community of states, the growing aggressiveness in social discourse, the many armed conflicts in the world, the suffering of farm animals, the worldwide extinction of species – do we want to and can we resign ourselves to this?

Or is it perhaps time to get to the bottom of the causes and develop a new vision for living together on the planet?

Yes, I am grateful to live in a country where I am not locked away if I freely express my opinion, nor do I have to fear starvation if I lose my job. But is that enough to speak of a „good“ life? And above all – is that enough to leave our children and grandchildren a habitable earth?

If what we call culture is the way people live and shape their relationships under certain conditions, then „culture“ must also undergo a critical stocktaking from time to time. Especially when it clearly no longer serves a „good“ life.

I have the feeling that the current efforts to „save the climate“ are not only insufficient because the intended goals are usually not achieved. More seriously, in my opinion, the sole focus on reducing CO2 in the atmosphere cannot be the solution, because not only the climate is out of balance, but the entire organism Earth – and we ourselves.

It is stressful for us to witness the destruction of the natural world. Negative messages have a negative impact on the processes in our brain and affect our physical and mental health. Therefore, we need experiences and stimuli that motivate us and prevent us from permanently feeding negative emotions such as despair, anger and fear, thus influencing the process of change in a negative sense.

What does the heart say?

The heart. In our culture, the heart is an organ that pumps blood through our organism. Metaphorically, it stands for the world of feelings and love. We are sceptical about feelings. They seem to contradict logical thinking – and empirical science. At best, they belong to the realm of the arts, or to the private sphere.

However, recent scientific studies show that the heart has a neuronal structure similar to that in our brain and that the heart influences our brain functions. A strong magnetic field emanates from the heart, which influences the nervous system of other living beings. This field can still be measured several metres away from the body. People have known that the heart is the organ through which we relate to the world long before electro-magnetic radiation could be measured.

Whether we love or hate has a great effect on ourselves and our environment (flourishing or withering away).

The common denominator of indigenous cultures is the knowledge of the fundamental interconnectedness of all living beings and the sacredness of all life. The knowledge that every being, even the smallest, fulfils an important task in the structure. The living forces of nature also include the elements of water, earth, air and fire, which are honoured and taken care of. The indigenous world view is not hierarchical. Plants, animals and also the ancestors are „relatives“.

I was very touched by the fact that people of indigenous origin see themselves as „guardians of the earth“. As such, they are currently also present at meetings at the UN and at climate summits and share their view of things. The struggles for „their land“ and their sacred sites continue. Yet these people have a relationship to the land that is very different from ours. When they declare property rights, it is not about wanting to own the land, but about the possibility to protect the land from invasive interventions (fracking, waste disposal, etc.). According to their understanding, you cannot own land because it is alive.

I am convinced that the perspective of indigenous peoples, their wisdom and their knowledge of the ecological interrelationships on this earth can contribute a lot to solving the current problems. And dealing with the inner attitude of these cultures is like an elixir of life for me. In difficult times, when it feels as if everything is only getting worse and worse, then the remembrance of the interconnectedness of all living beings helps me and it feels as if something familiar is coming back to me. There is sadness, of course, but above all affection, joy and yes, – love too.

In „Climate. A New Story“, Charles Eisenstein criticises the fact that the measures to reduce harmful greenhouse gases in the public debate are once again only about numbers and technologies. As if we are not also affected on an emotional level when a forest is cleared and its inhabitants become homeless. Eisenstein encourages readers to allow themselves to be emotionally affected. The forest is much more than a CO2 reservoir. It is alive and when „our“ forest dies, a part of us dies too. Above all, every single being (in the forest and everywhere else) has a value in itself, regardless of its usefulness to us humans. It’s time to stop looking at – and treating – plants and animals like objects. We have known for a long time that „everything feels“. We had to ignore this when we decided to „subdue the earth“. For the reverse process, i.e. the return to the original partnership, the emotional bond is not only „allowed“ but even immensely important.

I feel why this change of perspective is important, every time an encounter with the human or non-human world or a text touches me deeply. When this happens, I feel alive, connected, at home. And I feel the need to attend to what is close to my heart.

Seeing with the heart, speaking from the heart – that means being emotionally connected. And this connectedness is the prerequisite for developing compassion and getting involved. People who are alienated from nature will not have the energy to stand up for it. It seems to me that the all-important question is whether we will be able to lift the feeling of being separate and feel the living world around us again.

I am very grateful that books exist. Books are no substitute for direct experience, but a text that comes from the heart can be a powerful impulse to look at the world from a broader perspective and to open up to new experiences.

I write these lines on a gloomy, rainy November day, knowing that many such days will follow. And although it is to be expected that contacts in the „real world“ will only be possible with many restrictions in the coming months, I welcome this time of „inner contemplation“ because I know that encounters do not only take place on the physical level.

Some authors leave such a deep impression that they become constant companions. For me, Robin Wall Kimmerer (professor of botany and member of the Potawatomi tribe, North America) is one of them. In „Braiding Sweetgrass“, the author gives an insight into her culture, in which people and plants „work together“ in partnership for mutual prosperity. A wonderful book because the author not only has something important to share, but is also a great storyteller.

I plead that we use the dark and cold season to develop a vision, because:

We are what we imagine. Our true existence is in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to at least fully imagine who and what and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to imagine nothing.
(N.Scott Momaday, „The Man Made of Words“, 1970)

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you again to share your thoughts with the readers of this blog. Comments and also longer text contributions are welcome.

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