By David Spangler*
In 1979, the British scientist James Lovelock published a book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. In it, he presented evidence that through the auto-regulatory systems of the biosphere, the Earth acted as a living organism. On the suggestion of this friend, the author William Golding, he proposed to call this organism by the Greek name for the goddess of the earth and the mother of all life, Gaia. This was the beginning of what was called the “Gaia Hypothesis,” co-formulated by Lovelock and the American microbiologist, Dr. Lyn Margulis. Although initially met with skepticism by their scientiﬁc colleagues, further research generated enough evidence in support of this hypothesis that it became accepted and graduated to becoming the “Gaia Theory.”
Since then, the term “Gaia” has come to mean not only the interactive systems of the living biosphere but also the spirit of the planet, its soul, if you wish. This is fully in line with the experience and thinking of our forebears who knew the planet as a living being and treated it as such. Gaia has become shorthand for total web of life on earth and its collective spirit.
The word Gaianeering was coined by Jeremy Berg, author of The Gathering Light and co-designer and illustrator of the Sidhe Card Deck. It means the art of thinking and acting as if we ourselves are an embodiment of this spirit of the Earth—the spirit of Gaia—and not only just our separate, human selves. As our power to aﬀect the planet has grown exponentially over the past century, so has grown our need to become skilled and wise practitioners of this art in loving collaboration with the life of the world.
However, we are not entirely clueless. After many years of expanding ecological awareness, we do know what some of the art of Gaianeering looks like. Add to this the insights of Incarnational Spirituality and research into the subtle realms, and a preliminary overview of suggested activity and practice is possible.
THE FOUR FACES OF GAIA
Gaianeering is the art of working with Gaia in our lives. Just what this means depends on how we deﬁne “Gaia.” To clarify this ma"er, I oﬀer four deﬁnitions, the Four Faces of Gaia, each of which can be represented by a key word. These are:
- Gaia as self-regulating biosphere; the keyword is PARTICIPATION.
- Gaia as a way of seeing and understanding the world; the keyword is PERCEPTION.
- Gaia as a subtle being, the World Soul, plus the collective spirit and energy of all the lives that participate with it to form the Earth; the keyword is PARTNERSHIP.
- Gaia as a new consciousness within individuals; the keyword is PRESENCE.
Gaianeering is the art of bringing these four perceptions or aspects of Gaia into expression as a living wholeness within us and within our world. Let’s look at these four more closely.
First, there is Gaia as proposed and explained in the Gaia Theory, initially proposed as a hypothesis by James Lovelock and later elaborated in collaboration with microbiologist Dr. Lyn Margulis. Here, Gaia is a codeword for the synergistic relationships and interconnections between the organic and inorganic parts of the planet. These relationships, developed over millennia, create systems that regulate weather, temperature, and other environmental factors to create conditions favorable to life. Taken as a whole, these self-regulating systems and their interconnections suggest the biosphere is acting as a single organism, a living planetary being: Gaia, in Lovelock’s term.
I knew both Lovelock and Margulis. In conversations with them, it was apparent that Dr. Margulis doubted Gaia was a true organism; she saw it more as an emergent “system of systems” acting in complex ways to maintain an environment that would sustain life. In a way, Gaia was a homeostatic loop of life sustaining life. If “Gaia” possessed any consciousness at all, she said to me once, it would be something equivalent to that of a single-celled organism.
Lovelock, however, championed the idea that Gaia was indeed a planetary being, a true organism, though he agreed with Margulis that if it did possess consciousness of some nature—and my impression was that he felt that it did—it would be at a rudimentary level.
What both scientists agreed on was the sensitivity of Gaia’s internal systems—the interrelationships between organisms, weather, temperature, and so on. Both agreed that human activity was coming dangerously close to disrupting some of these systems or causing them to ﬂuctuate towards extreme and unstable behavior. Climate change and global warming were indications of this, though there were others. In their view, it was possible to “kill” Gaia by so altering environmental conditions that the homeostatic stability—the capacity of Gaia to self- regulate in favor of life—could be lost with catastrophic results.
For Lovelock and Margulis, the importance of the Gaia Theory was not that earth was itself a living organism but that whatever it was, its balanced systems could be upset by human activity. Gaia for them was a call to change how we interacted with the earth and to realize that we could not continue to act as if the planet were somehow separate from us. We were an integral part of the web of Gaian life, and if that web were destroyed, we would be lost with it.
The act of Gaianeering with respect to this “Face” of Gaia is to participate in maintaining and nurturing the many environmental systems that sustain the balance of life on earth. It is to act in a “Green” and ecological manner.
*This blog post, excerpted from the essay "Gaineering", will be presented to attendees of our upcoming Gaineering Conference. Click here for more information.