Membership in Life
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
In the end all our troubles come down to not treating each other well. Between humans; between humans and other species. If we did there would be very few problems, if you really think about it. The question is why we don’t we treat each other well, when it would make everyone happier and everything would work better. There are many factors. Generations of unhealed trauma. Biological hardwiring for fear, territoriality, and status. Brains that grew too fast, so our forebrains are not yet up to the task of controlling our emotions at the same time as we have the brilliance to create atom bombs. Culture has not really been up to the job of teaching us self-discipline and holding us accountable to high ethical standards. Without these two, constant strife is inevitable.
How do we contribute towards changing this? How do we live our values, and apply them to building institutions? Our goal at Earthfire is to change how we see and therefore treat, nature. But in order to be true to our belief that we need to treat all life well, we need to treat people well. Each of us as an individual sacred expression of Life.
Thus ideally we would grow organizations organically, based on the needs of the members and modeled on how nature works, rather than imposing human constructs. For example, banks; or our entire system of money. Our institutions are based on, and brought into existence from ideas; thought-forms brought into reality. But our thought-forms are constrained by the limitations of our culture, imagination and still developing brains. (There is hope!! Witness the growing movement of mindfulness and spirituality infusing more of our lives, expanding how we use our brains).
As Earthfire grows as an organization our primary values have to be decency, and considering the impact of our actions on other living beings. What “business model” do we use, or do we use none at all? How do we balance creativity and flexibility with needed structure? How do we grow an organization with membership and donations without treating people as “targets” and “audiences to grow;” rating people in terms of their wealth and ability to donate, rather than as fellow beings? If we take profound emotions such as empathy and tenderness and use them to manipulate people into giving money, what does that do to our soul?
Rather than a model that says “give us money and this is what you will get,” it works better to focus on finding ways to help each of us contribute in our own way to the common vision. Is it possible to grow an organization using a radically different model, transforming how we think, rather than adjusting old ones? But this is what we need, possible or not, in order to transform how we are living on our Earth. We need to question our most basic cultural concepts. To develop models based on decency, integrity, consideration of all Life forms, and on the organic, creative, resilient, adaptable unfolding models in nature herself. We need to create cultural “containers” for decency.
I lived in a culture like that once on the border of Tibet. True it was small, but it worked beautifully. People were happy. All had enough to eat. All children were lovingly taken care of. The land and animals were honored and protected. The focus was on community and spirituality.
We may think that is idealistic. But very simply, if we don’t make this shift voluntarily, forces beyond our control will shift everything for us and in ways we probably won’t like.
At Earthfire, with the input of the animals and the land, we are struggling with the process of how to build this way, stay sustainable, and stay true to our values. We depend almost entirely on donations and they are never enough to carry out the vision of living in harmony with Life on a large enough scale to make a real impact. We are working on developing a membership. But we don’t want the old model of asking people for money and give them a tote bag while the “experts” take care of it. That exchange doesn’t work and really doesn’t honor us, our abilities and creativity, or our responsibilities, having been given the gift of Life. We are all in this together on this one planet, and we must be all in this together rather than relying on organizations or experts to do the work and thinking for us. That approach hasn’t gotten us very far.
We need the heart, innate wisdom, common sense and creativity that it is innate in us to be awakened and nurtured. While we do need people to contribute financially, we are trying a model where even more important than that, each of us contributes of ourselves, as real members of the community of Life. Our gifts, thoughts, actions. This the basis of our online conversations, where we share and explore and support each other. This is the basis of our year-long Council of All Beings membership where being a member means daring to contribute your own insights and courage.
I don’t know if this shift in perception of what membership means will work. It means giving of ourselves in our local community and to the community of Life, in addition to donating financially. Are we ready to make that personal shift and be profoundly involved in Life? Does it go far enough in transforming how we build organizations? I don’t think so, but its a good beginning.
We each are potential members of a Council of All Beings—the invitation is there from nature all the time. We are inherently members of Life. What responsibilities and joys that brings! To my way of thinking it is the same as belonging to, being a member of, a family. It is an inexpressible joy and beauty, and also includes sadness, pain, frustration and hard work. It is no different. We work together to overcome our weaknesses and self-orientation; to learn from and respect others, and this leads to a rich, meaningful life. To help each other bring out the best in each other — which is often spectacular. This applies to talking about our personal family; the family of humans, and the family of Life. What other way is there to live?
Membership in Life | Photo by Earthfire
There are people working to build new models of organization and change based on aboriginal wisdoms of how we relate to the Earth, and by bringing people out to the land to experience in ways the ancients did. I will explore this next.
This is a huge and vital topic. There are people all around the world trying new approaches. We welcome any input you may have. We explore this further in our year-long Council of All Beings. If you would like to donate and join the Council of All Beings, you can do so here.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.