Is the Earth the Garden of Eden?
The story of the Garden of Eden can be read in two fundamentally different ways.
One, the standard version, links agriculture to a fundamental waywardness in human nature that cannot be corrected but only controlled. Men are sentenced to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, while women, the land and the plants are forced to bear the fruits of their wombs in pain and suffering. This is the story that we are living out in our society and our current food system.
But the other way to understand the Garden of Eden is as an allegory not of original sin but of original bliss. As babies we do not perceive any difference between ourselves and the world. We and the body of life, of the Earth, are one.
We lose this feeling of mystical connection as we are acquire speech and are conditioned to think of ourselves as separate beings. Actually it is not so much that it gets lost as forgotten -- which also means it can be remembered. The feeling of “my” eyes looking out through the eyes of a mountain lion, “my” heart beating in the body of an earthworm, can be experienced in the heightened states of awareness brought about by spiritual practices or as a flash of insight.
In his book Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia, Stephan Harding speaks of such epiphanies as "Gaia moments," which come about when we use our imagination and our heart to relate to the Earth.
In the book, Harding tells the stories of several scientists trained in the conventional humans-are-separate from-nature worldview whose Gaia moments change the trajectory of their research and their lives. Why is that? Realising that the Earth is a living being and that all of the seeming “objects” of the natural world–plants, animals, rocks and water—are just as much “subjects” in their own right as we are, aware and filled with feeling, marks a turning point. It is a profound shift in perspective not only to feel accountable to our fellow beings but also to feel seen and known by them in ways that we do not know ourselves: particularly in our weakness and in our wildness.
The great irony of humanity’s “achievement” in shaping the natural environment to the desires of our egos (chief among them the desire for predictability) is that we have exiled our souls from their home in wonder and beauty. Why do we feel more expansive in mountains and forests? Why do we become reverential watching the sun drop into the ocean? At least part of it, I think, is the sense of peace that comes with coming home after being so far away for so long.
If we understand the Earth as the Garden of Eden, our exile from it is only in our minds. Our bodies and our souls remember. And we can find paradise again in the gardens we create in a spirit of human creativity aligned with the intelligence of the cosmos, and the Earth herself.