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My Body, the Earth: The Earth, My Body

by Carolyn Raffensperger


March 16, 2011

I struggle to understand the spiritual and ecological nature of being a living being, a small piece of the incarnation, a bit of the Earth. Growing older has only added to the mystery as my body asserts its own wants and needs in different ways than it did when I was younger. Because I am an environmentalist, I suspect I can only treat my body as I would the Earth. I can only treat the Earth as I would treat my own body.

I offer these fledgling thoughts to you, fellow travelers, to map against your own experience.

1) The body is a gift of the ancestors. Their choices, their ecological context, their human cultures, are present in my body.

2) The body is a fractal of the Earth: it is both representative of the whole Earth and a piece of the Earth. It is made of ocean water, the breath of plants, the ground from which we came and to which we will return.

3) The body is a community of organisms, primarily bacteria. It is not one being but many. It must be in Martin Luther King’s words, “the beloved community”.

4) Each being has a place in the world. This place is relational, physical.

5) Sex is necessary for most species to guarantee their future. The Earth depends on fertility, fecundity.

6) Sex is essential for community survival for more reasons than procreation and future generations. Sex helps regulate power. It promotes bonding and creates boundaries of affinity.

7) There are no minds separate from bodies.

8) A body is a wholly dependent being. It is dependent on its ecological community.

9) The signals we give are of beauty and warning: attract the pollinators, repel your predators. Both signals are designed to modulate intimacy.

10) The world is a world of intimacy and it is a world of physical intimacy – not necessarily sexual intimacy, but biological intimacy. Spiritual and emotional intimacy ripple into the biological sphere. Biological intimacy creates a spiritual and emotional charge.

11) The body is porous. Air, water, food, and in the case of the female of many species, the pollinator.

12) Some species have a pleasure principle. The others (ok, mammals, mostly carnivores) have a penis bone (see: baculum, oosik). Humans and dolphins thrive on pleasure.

13) As Barack Obama said, “if Mom is happy, everybody is happy.”

14) Rhythm, not time in a line, sets the pace of the body. This means cycles and circadian rhythms reign.

15) Biology trumps sociology. If you doubt this, watch someone who has a full bladder try to sit through a boring meeting.

16) Health is membership, in Wendell Berry’s words. Health is therefore, participation. Health is therefore, intimacy.

17) Health is the capacity for an individual or an ecosystem to renew itself, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold. If the self cannot renew itself, the community is damaged. If the community cannot renew itself, the individual is diminished. Health is a reciprocal blessing.

18) Health and intimacy are predicated on reciprocity. I give the gift of breath to a plant and she gives her breath as a gift to me.

19) Intimacy is made of the constant flow of giving and receiving. Intimacy does not exist without reciprocity.

20) Death is the only certain truth of a living Being. It is the gift we give back to the Earth and is the sum of all of her gifts to us.

21) Intimacy and reciprocity are the central principles of the Earth, my body.

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Carolyn Raffensperger is an environmental lawyer and serves as the Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, a national think tank.

Also see ”Acting as if Future Generations Matter” by Carolyn Raffensperger in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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