Many of us human people have rightly socially distanced and isolated ourselves from others over the past few months. Isolation that many have struggled with physically, emotionally and spiritually, but isolation that has so far helped prevent hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of needless deaths from COVID-19.
Isolation has been predominately isolation from human people and one that has allowed a rapid, enthusiastic and collective sigh of relief from the rest of Nature. We have seen goats in towns, air pollution falling drastically and far more insects and birds than we would normally expect. Non-human life has bounced.
But for human people, the isolation has been tough. We are used to our primary relationships being with friends, family and colleagues, exactly the relationships that have had to pause or move online.
As the social distancing eases we are beginning to restart those relationships but there is a far more important relationship that we need to consider. Our relationship with the world around us has been getting increasingly isolated; not just over the past few months but over the past few hundred years, possibly a few thousand years.
We have become followers of the gods of progress, gods that value material wealth and social status above all else. Gods that see humans as separate from the world, allowing us to distance ourselves from the pain of the Earth and Nature as a whole. We have filled our oceans with plastic, our air with poisons and carbon dioxide, concreted over woodland and removed mountains to get to the coal held inside.
Nature has become both our sewer and our store full of free goods rather than us being an integral part of its Being. We fail to understand that we are doing to ourselves what we do to Nature.
We have forgotten that we are part of Nature. We take from ourselves and pollute our lives. It is quite clear that humanity’s key problem is that it sees itself as apart from Nature.
And it is not just the “living” part of Nature that we are part of. While centuries of socially distanced isolation from the world around us has driven a belief that only human people are conscious and valuable, to the extent that even some people are more valuable than others, these beliefs are recent in our evolution as well as being wrong. The consciousness of non-humans may be different to ours but the wider world is conscious too. And of course valuable!
“A spirituality which focuses its devotion on the world doesn’t make sharp divides between the living and non-living” Sharon Blackie (2018), The Enchanted Life
It is unsurprising that the most recent world of talking computer screens, heralded over the past fifteen or so years by “social media”, has pushed our isolation further and faster than ever before. That is not to say that that there have not been huge benefits too. The idea of isolating during COVID-19 without the ability to at least see a screen with the moving faces of loved ones while we talk would have been unimaginably harder.
If we emerge from our isolation to reconnect only with human people, we will be failing to fill a significant gap in many of our lives. We know this intuitively. Looking at the beaches and parks in England as lockdown eases, we can see them full of people “worshiping” the Sun, feeling the Earth under their feet and washing refreshing Sea water over their bodies. People are instinctively drawn to the connections but many abuse these connections at the same time, the littering, fighting and drugs taking being symptomatic of a damaged relationship.
Nature will continue to struggle to heal while its most destructive people continue to do damage and continue to fail to recognise that they are part of her. As we emerge from COVID-19 there are far bigger challenges ahead. Climate change and the sixth mass extinction are far bigger symptoms of human people’s impact on non-human people. Without recognising, accepting and building the relationship with the world around us, without connecting with the non-human people, the animals, the plants, the hills, the sea and the air, we will continue to exploit and destroy both them and us.