We Are All Stardust

“Our purpose is simple – to love, to love each other, to love all life, and to love our earth.” — Anthony Douglas Williams, Inside the Divine Pattern

I came across this quote on Facebook. It spoke to me, so I reposted it to my Timeline. Shortly afterwards, Liz, a dear friend of mine, commented on my post by writing, “You can love ‘all life’ in the abstract, but not in reality, in practice.”

This got me thinking…

I’ve been teaching Classical Rhetoric this term, and consequently I’ve begun to reflect upon the importance of defining terms during a debate or discussion. When individuals approach an issue with differing frames and definitions, they can easily talk at cross-purposes even when they fundamentally agree on an issue.

In this case, what do we mean by “abstract”?

If one thinks of the Earth as a living organism of which we are a part, one can then recognize that all beings are integral to that organism — we are all interconnected. On a superficial level, I prioritize: I like most dogs, yet I dislike most spiders. But this is trivial, meaningless. A belief in interconnectedness serves the deeper purpose.

“In practice” — if we implement a sense of mindfulness — we can love all beings. I’m reminded of the words of Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh: “A flower is made of many non-flower elements. The entire universe can be seen in a flower. If we look deeply into the flower, we can see the sun, the soil, the rain, and the gardener.” It’s easy to forget that every tree, flower, human, dog, water droplet, blade of grass has been recycled, reused, reconfigured a million, million times. We are all stardust.

Why not return to spiders?

I have an irrational phobia of spiders. I don’t like them because I fear them, but when I reflect upon their presence, I also love them. Along with me and my fellow humans, they exist as part of this incredible Earth. When I die, my molecules will be reformed and ultimately some of those particles will help to make spiders. Indeed I come from a long line of spiders. This does not seem like an abstract concept to me. It seems very real and very important if we are to alleviate the destruction that our species is wrecking upon the global ecosystem(s).

It may also be important to define “love.”

For me, love used within this context is about respecting, cherishing and “seeing.” I also recognize that for me, this is a spiritual concept, so I see it as something imperfect that I aspire to.

Liz and I are closely aligned in our environmental world views and values, so it was fascinating to me that we were having a philosophical debate about a quotation that we both — in essence — agreed upon. Later in our discussion, Liz pointed this out: “We are basically having a mild intellectual debate over semantics when in principle we agree about “loving the earth” as a good and necessary thing.”

It seems to me that our disagreement represents the enormous difficulty that we face when communicating about the environment. We are each invested in a system of paradigms, beliefs, values and epistemologies that are deeply personal and at the same time reflective of our culture, our upbringing, our nationality, our ethnicity and our past. Yet here we are, all breathing the same air, all drinking from the same water supply, all dependent upon the health and well-being of this remarkable planet. We all walk upon the same Earth.

I often turn to Thich Nhat Hanh when I stumble for words to express the human condition: “[The Earth] brings us to life and she welcomes us back to her when we die. If you look deeply and feel this connection to the Earth, you will also begin to feel admiration, love and respect. When you realize the Earth is so much more than simply ‘the environment,’ you will be moved to protect her as you would yourself.” In fact, we are one and the same. We cannot separate ourselves from the Earth. What greater purpose can we serve than “to love, to love each other, to love all life, and to love our Earth”?

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