Having just returned to Cornwall makes me especially aware of the earth; ancient Celtic lore is intrinsically connected to the earth as the Mother Goddess, in fact, the valley I live in is referred to as her landscape temple. Here I am acutely aware of Earth!
But really every civilisation generated their own myths and stories about this stable, seemingly immovable ground that with the 'kiss of rain' turns into a fertile field, abundantly supporting life. When we talk about the earth, we mean the planet, including all that is unfolding from it – when we talk of Earth, as one of the Five Elements, we mean simply “the ground” …or do we?
Yes, the earth is the ground on which we stand; it locates us in space. Odd how we have no difficulty in accepting that plants and trees need to be firmly rooted in the ground or the wind will kill them; yet we forget that we too need to acknowledge our need for grounding. Of course we have a choice (in more ways than one) where and how. And each location on the “body of earth” has different features and textures. In places earth has a loose surface of gravel and sand from where a weed is easily pulled up; in vast other areas that ground is covered by water; in yet other places she appears as the most waterlogged swamp where only specially adapted life can exist. In some, she has heavy clay soil, rich in minerals holding things firmly in their place and other places have wonderful, rich fertile soil where much can grow (and so on).
Nearly everywhere we find people, tribes and nations that have their roots firmly planted in the fields, paddies or forest, and not only people but also all manner of plants and animals. Earth provides for all, there is no other source other than her. And once we have lived, earth takes us back! All - good and bad, beautiful and ugly, she does not judge; Earth holds all.
As I hold a bit of earth in my hand and muse over its magnificence, I suddenly realise that not I am holding earth, but that the earth is actually holding me. The spot where my feet touch the ground, the earth is holding me; that I hold earth in the palm of my hand, is just another convenient illusion. Gravity, the core of earth, is holding both, so that we don’t 'fly off' or dissolve. It holds me, as I hold it. I could not hold it without being held by it. It gives total stability, unshakeable security to me and all else. She holds the trees, the houses, the water, the cars, the factories, the good people, the bad people, the crops and the weeds, the tiger and the mosquito. She holds all creatures whether we deem them useful or not, whether we deem them dangerous and harmful or not. She just holds!
What she holds goes through a cycle of change; seeds become plants, become trees, become rotten wood, become compost; becoming flowers, becoming seeds, to becoming plants; a baby lives, becomes an adult, grows old, dies - but at no time does the earth let go! There is no escaping; her job of holding is never done!
She is the playing field where Water, Fire and Air sport; throughout she remains stable, true to her task, holding without judging anything unworthy.
Not so long ago I sat in a Cornish Fogou to meditate. A Fogou is a prehistoric earth passage with one or two chambers; built into and fortified by granite boulders. It was reputedly used for ceremonies, healing or simply as a shelter in times of tribal fighting. To sit in the bowels of the earth reveals her potentiality. There is nothing but stillness, yet that stillness has almost tangible potency, a fullness that can only be experienced, not described. As womb she is also grave; beginning and end, life and death, death and rebirth – life itself is contained in her.
Hold a handful of Earth, smell it, see it, pinch it between your fingers; what is it that you actually hold? A melange of many things! On a physical level we could answer: it is fibres, water, grains of sand, minerals, even crystals; a conglomerate also found on other planets!
Then there is the chemical answer that talks about feldspars, lime, H20, alkaline and acid balance, but also about pollutants, poisons, pesticides and radioactive waste.
Then there is a biological answer; it talks about millions of microbes, living organisms, cells, plasma, plant fibre and more; compost really – embodying decay and fertility, the spectrum of Life.
Even the most barren looking desert sand holds microbes and seeds. It became abundantly clear to me when one day travelling through the centre of Australia, I witnessed a 'miracle.' It rained, and within a few hours the 'barren' desert-earth changed into fields of flowers as far as the eye could reach.A synergetic mixture, where the whole has become stronger than all its parts. This mixture takes on a new character.
What is it then, that we mean when talking of earth?
My handful of earth used to be a granite boulder eroded during thousands of years, yet as much as it contains ancient particles, it contains last year's leaves and living organisms born today. 'Now!' Earth speaks of a stability that adapts - is not static; for earth a thousand years are no different then yesterday or tomorrow; despite continuous change it maintains its integrity!
Looking again at the handful of earth, I am reminded of my grandmother; on her sideboard she had a white china pot filled with earth. We used to lift the lid as children and look at its dark, almost black, crumbly consistency, and wondered how one could have 'dirt' as an ornament. But of course for her it was not an ornament, neither was it dirt, but a reminder of her homeland. She was a refuge from Silisia, and this handful of earth was her link to her past, and moreover it was her emotional support now. It was a link to her mother, and her mother's mother.
As we saw in the onset, many cultures consider 'earth' as mother. In Sanskrit (root of many of our familiar languages), the word for mother, for earth and for clay is the same: MATA. In Egypt, the syllable MA not only stood for mother but also meant to see, and the hieroglyph was that of an eye, its meaning was truth. Earth, mother and truth - powerful shared roots. The 'womb of all life' makes a strong image, no wonder she is heralded as the archetypal goddess , Gaia or Bhumi - a living organism, symbolising truth and sacredness.
One night in a certain place in India, I went to bed, just as usual. As soon as I relaxed, my feet felt like they were on fire. The burning sensation turned to intense heat inside the soles of my feet; then I saw actual flames around my feet. It was so real, I was perplexed and disorientated, yet the fire crept up my legs, encircling my calves and stayed there with painful, consuming heat. Gradually the fire moved up to my hips and into my pelvis; there it stayed, for what seemed a long time - then moved up to my chest. My feet were engulfed in flames; the rest of me seemed burnt by that heat. I saw the flames, yet was not scared, more mesmerised as my thoughts repeated:
'I walked on sacred Earth; all day I walked barefoot on sacred Earth; walked on sacred Earth; stood on sacred ground.'
This awareness of earth as sacred was lost in our Western civilisation due to the influence of a branch of Greek philosophy, which focused on 'soul-less-matter'. Such matter could be dissected, exploited, misused and destroyed at will, which is exactly where the focus on the material world took us.
However with the new physics, awareness returns to matter as intelligent light which communicates with the observer (and so earth becomes Earth again). Earth is not as our senses perceive - dense dead matter - but moving, conscious energy, even light. The Celts (as many indigenous people) were aware of this, and thus saw the world as both worldly and 'otherworldly', experiencing Earth as a divine (beyond human).
Travelling through the Rift Valley in Africa, this quality drew me to walk barefoot, sit, lie, meditate and gaze at Her; getting absorbed – lost to powerful feelings of a timelessness sense of mother qualities, of the origin of creation. Earth wisdom is knowing that we exist only within her. She holds us, she provides – into her we dissolve.
Earth itself teaches us to look deep into the centre of things, deep into the essence of ourselves. It teaches us to look beyond the appearance and discover our original nature as sacred beings. What looks like a handful of dust, or dirt, smells of compost (a musty, wet rotting material), tastes slightly sour and feels a mixture of rough particles and smooth slimy clay - is actually a form of divine consciousness, a form of light, a form of God.
Holding my handful of Earth – it fills me with awe! Matter shares consciousness; consciousness is awareness: as such earth is a living, intelligent organism that knows. There is only conscious energy, source and manifestation, sacred is profane and profane is sacred.
The Australia Aboriginals of the Northwest, especially in the Kimberleys, have a beautiful way to express this in the story of Nangina. He is the first man. Originally sleeping in the ground, he wakes up and discovers nature and all that is around him. He feels the power of the spirit in himself and he recognises it as the source of all life. Although it is overpowering and he sees its frightening omnipotence, he bends it to his own will, using the energy of fire to transform his food, himself and his environment. Laying fire around his abode, he keeps his mountain of origin sacred, Ngalenga. In the act of naming things, he identifies himself with all things and their destiny, grass, birds and animals that have emerged from the earth. His own inner spirit gives them life by giving them names. As a 'spirit-being' he is a Wandjina; as an 'earth-being' he is Nangina, who takes a wife, gives her home and shelter, gives order and law and dreams a spirit-child into his wife's womb. Other tribesmen infringe on him and he imparts his wisdom to them, assuring continuity. Then he allows himself to be killed, to become a dream-painting on the walls of his place of origin; in this way his spirit merges back into the earth and becomes Wandjina, the sacred dream-time painting drawn with earth, on earth (rock). Nangina Wandjina the first man shows us: There is only One; Wandjina the original source is Nangina in it’s earthly form
Being in union with its different forms Earth instructs us to accept this world as it is! Be content.
Can we learn to be without judgement? It is hard; we judge people for wearing different clothes, having different hair or lifestyles or even for eating different food. We judge people because they laugh differently... talk differently... smile differently... play different games in the playground... buy different brands of consumer goods etc. Our judgement means we do not respect that person; worse even we deny them the sacred kinship.
We are in desperate need of re-educating our minds!
Not just for other people's sake, but for our own; we pass the most terrible judgements against ourselves: I am not good enough... capable enough... clever enough... slim enough; I am too big... too small... too timid... too loud... too ugly... too... These self-judgements are constantly reinforced by families, schools and society. Which parent has not fallen into the trap of calling their child too slow, too thin, stupid, fat etc.? Or less obvious: we call our children... very clever... very beautiful... very talented etc. These judgements, positive or negative are harmful, and yet they are ingrained in our society; we take them as 'natural.' The only way out is… to stay in our Centre. To be like the Earth, firm in our acceptance of life
as it is – without judgement yet with compassion!
The scriptures advocate a way out: awareness and discrimination.
We need to open our ears, listen, understand and decide: that is not worth listening to! No need to judge.
We need to open our eyes, see, understand and decide: that is not worth seeing! No need to judge.
Usually, we are closed off, stuck in routines, and thus repeat the same old patterns of behaviour, of mistakes, of pains and disease. It is our lack of awareness and our profusion of judgements, which keeps us in quicksand, rather than fertile Earth.
Our judgements take ridiculous forms; we judge it as more profitable to live in an urban environment - but than feel isolated from nature, separate from life and lonely.
We judge that eating a Hamburger is more important than the rain forest! (Cutting down forests to create grazing land for cattle).
We judge that mining uranium for atomic power is more important than the sacred sites of the Australian Aboriginals; and commit genocide to an ancient culture.
By implication, I judge that burning petrol to drive my car is more important than the acid rains caused by exhaust fumes that destroy the forests. We judge that the street children of Brazil have less right to live than us, or we would not allow their poverty to drive them into the sewers. The list is endless.
Our attitudes, built on hidden judgements, penetrate every niche and corner of our existence.
Let us wake up, and learn from the Earth to hold creation safe, and be responsible without judgement, to hold and respect each other so we all can flourish.
Let us return from our musing thoughts to focus on the 'real earth.' Have a look out of your window, or imagine being in a park. Look closely at the earth. On it lies a stone, it just lies there... see the tree, follow its root - they just root there, held by earth... See the person walking, the feet touch the ground, they just touch, held for just the right time by the earth.
Earth holds the tree adequate to the tree's need, so that it will not get 'blown over.' Look at the house. It stands there; the earth provides it with a base. People walk, sit, run, even lie on the earth; it just holds them in whatever position they choose.
To appreciate earth, we would need to change our 'glasses.' Normally we look at a stone and think 'it is too grey,' it 'is useless,' etc. We look at the tree thinking, 'it needs pruning;' ' it is big; too big?' or we might even think: ' it is beautiful;' yet all this - positive or negative - is built on judgements.
We never see the earth reject something because it is ugly, or hold something too tight because it is beautiful; can you see how holder and held co-operate? We look at the house and say: "How cosily it nestles in the valley," or "how dangerous it is so close to the road." We look at the people and think: 'He is careless walking on the grass.' We look and our mind judges; we see the world around us through a veil of conditioned judgement; the sad thing is that we miss appreciating what we really see. If we really look, without our judgmental projections, we see earth’s self-less generosity.
We too can give such self-less service to our children, our parents, our community, our employers, our friends and our enemies. A mother provides selfless service, without knowing whether her love will ever be returned by baby, child or adult. She holds and loves without expectation of reward!
Yet if the mother does not take care of herself with adequate rest, food, enjoyment and so on, she will not be able to provide for the baby. Self-less does mean 'without ego' – not 'without caring for oneself!'
In the Mahabharata, one of India’s most revered texts, is a section where Krishna explains that the duty of a warrior is to fight 'with detachment from the fruit of his labours.' This is selfless- service; to do what is necessary with detachment from 'the fruits of our labours' is most foreign to us. We can not imagine to - 'just give,' 'just do' - without thinking of the result, because we want to achieve something, get somewhere. We want the fruits, and to eat them. And we forget that as soon as we have eaten them, hunger and desire raises again the desire to yet get another fruit to eat. The 'desire' to have, never seems to sleep.
How self-less, generous action can be performed, we need to learn from the earth. We need to re-educate the mind, cultivate a different attitude: something in our mind-make-up has to shift.
To give quality time to our children, rather than dash off “doing our own thing”- that is not easy.
To do a job well (even cleaning the toilet) without expecting to be praised or paid, is not so easy.
To give a friend, partner, husband or wife love, acceptance and support, without waiting for them
to love us in return; that is not so easy.
To give to the poor, sick and old of our time, care and love without thinking: I hope one day in heaven (or in my own old age) this good deed will be rewarded ; this is very difficult for us.
We are brought up in a culture where the thought prevails: if we simply give generously, without wanting something in return 'we would never get anywhere!'
To give freely is difficult, because we judge the giver, judge the gift, and judge the act. "Aunt Sue was 'unfair' to give me some socks for Christmas! She should have thought more 'what I want'; I don't like the socks." This is not the way of the Earth - she is infinitely patient with us.
Driving around this weekend, I am reminded of the patience of the earth. She does not rebel when we pour hot tarmac all over her; when we bore holes into her, spray her with pesticides and even bury toxic chemicals or radioactive waste in her. She holds it all, processing it with infinite patience, transforming it to the good of all, even if it needs thousands of years (as in the case of nuclear waste). Such patience is timeless, we need to learn from the earth!
I m p o s s i b l e, you might say! “No business can survive on that, we need to innovate, change, grow, act, push, press! There is no growth without push. Not even learning can be without the desire to acquire knowledge! If we are content and sit on our backside, nothing progresses - no science, health or educational program can be carried out if we are content with the status quo.”
W r o n g! Contentment doesn’t mean doing nothing- it means doing the appropriate thing! How can we recognise right, appropriate action? By forgetting what we want the outcome to be; -
- simply doing what is necessary.
There is, no doubt, a lot more to contemplate about the Earth; I leave you to proceed on you own journey of contemplating the richness of the earth’s teachings. But before that, let us summarise:
Earth is that energy-field, that form of energy, which holds the potential for physical evolution; it is rich and plentiful. It shares its riches generously; it nurtures and supports indiscriminately; it is non-judgemental, giving. It synthesises opposites (life and death); it stabilises, balances. Earth is the quiet centre around which activity revolves; it is tireless in serving others; it preserves (family, society), it is compassionate and sympathetic to all in need, it re-cycles; it is strong, it holds and protects.
It is these attributes that are the treasure of what we call Earth, it is these attributes that we can learn from Her, who we call Earth.