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14th GCGI International Conference


The Fourth GCGI and SES Joint Conference, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

OUR SACRED EARTH: Spiritual Ecology, Values-led Economics, Education and Society Responding to Ecological Crisis’

Villa Boccella, Tuscany, Italy, 28 August-1 September 2018

A Reflection from Susan Eirich*

Group Photo-GCGI-SES Lucca 2018. Photo Credit: Angela Bowman

My overwhelming reaction was to the warmth of the conference - and warmth allows people to open to new possibilities. Really, it had the form of a conference, but the feel was that of humans concerned about the fate of the Earth, coming together to share their wisdom, research, thoughts and hopes about what can be done, and what they are doing. It could almost have been around a campfire, but instead it was at an Italian villa built in the 1600’s, farmed sustainably for hundreds of years for grapes, wine and olive oil.

Several themes ran throughout the conference: that relationship and interconnection are the essence of life on every level, and perhaps even the source of life; the importance of joining head to heart so we act from deeply felt and intuited values; and truly including wild animals, plants, and the Earth in our circle of community. This idea of including all Life in our consideration has led to the emerging field of nature’s rights.  As one speaker noted, “There is no environment. We are the Earth’s extended body.” There was the theme of healing, from the incredible courage of the One Community Institute City of Hope initiative at Auschwitz, to be built on the very the site where the atrocities occurred, to the calming and healing qualities of the Earth accessed through Earth-based educational programs, and aboriginal wisdom received through The Dreaming.

It was such a rich conference it is not possible to do justice to all the presentations and conversations. They ranged from careful, precise academic work to deep spiritual understandings. Here are a few ideas that capture the imagination:

  • Questioning may be the meaning of life.
  • If we change the story we change the future.
  • Make part of the business school curriculum being outdoors.
  • The concepts of Eco-crime; Eco-spirituality; Ecological consciousness.
  • The universal calming effect of being in contact with the Earth, and what that implies.
  • Don’t wait for leaders. We all carry the power of solutions.
  • Real solutions are big solutions.
  • Economics is a human study. Economics must be rejoined with values.
  • Justice is a state of mind – not an external ministry.
  • Our institutions are built on faulty foundations, accepting the logic of the market.  
  • Happiness for humans is belonging -  being in community. And that is also where true healing takes place.
  • Exploring whether ending poverty is a pipe dream or an essential element of a sustainable and harmonious world.
  • It takes massive energy to maintain our separation from nature.
  • Our system of law treats living beings as objects or property, an economic paradigm assuming endless growth that is coupled with the destruction of nature. We need laws that recognize the intrinsic value of nature, and a legal framework that aligns with ecology to sustain life. This is beginning to happen.
  • Cell life, the basis of all life, has a globally distributed and emergent quality. There is no one place we can point to in a cell that is “life.” It is in the relationship of the parts that life emerges. Death is when connections are broken.
  • All Life is sentient. It is not all conscious, but it is sentient. That includes animals, plants and the Earth.  
  • Our Earth is a massive information processor and source of information. We can ask the land what it wants and use that as a model for developing lifeways not just to the sustain us but help us thrive. After all, our Earth did generate Life and the incredible systems that sustain it.  
  • The Earth is waiting for us to invite her in.

I mentioned the warmth of the conference. Warmth creates a sense of safety. A particularly thought-provoking presentation suggested that we humans, who were all originally indigenous peoples, have been colonized and traumatized since the beginning of agriculture and have carried that burden from generation to generation for 10,000 years. Without a sense of safety, we cannot drop into our hearts and come up with a loving, Life-oriented culture based on heart values.

Trauma destroys our sense of safety, and the ensuing intense inner state of chaos is so terrifying that the human brain copes by shutting down. This leads to losing sight of the big picture; of our connection with the Earth; of the long-term consequences of our actions, and focusing instead on threats, a sense of urgency, details and the immediate.  From that position we continue a semblance of life. Born into it, we see this coping method as normal and hold it up as the ideal. Over 10,000 years we adapted to a traumatized world, and to feel safe we need more - ever more, which is a driver of capitalism. In addition, with the growth of a sense of separation from the rest of life and the importance of individuality, we have lost the profound sense of an interconnected community that supports healing from trauma. The result is a need for things to replace an inner sense of security we have lost, the ultimate driver of capitalism.

I personally think part of the problem is also innate, lying deep in our biological hardwiring, and we need to find cultural ways of overriding it. This includes education that develops use of our forebrain, including mindfulness practice. I think development of spirituality is another way of overriding and integrating our biological wiring. These approaches, along with many others presented at the conference all have value to consider. We also need to find ways to combine spirituality and practicality, which two approaches are often separated, with disastrous results. Another way of saying it is the quote from Kamran’s introductory talk, “Material and spiritual are the two wings of existence of the human being. Like the bird, which needs two wings to fly, we need them both to live in a balanced way and fly to our goal. A bird with one wing cannot fly, it goes round and round in a circle, until it is exhausted, out of breath and drops dead.”

We have the capacity to move towards a sustainable world where all Life thrives, using both our incredible creative brain power and our innate spirituality.  This conference, both the careful creative thought that went into designing and convening it, and the hope, care and talent of those participating, moves us forward in that direction.  I look forward to the next one, and to keeping in contact with each other until then. It was an honor and a delight to be part of it.

All these ideas, via papers, and videotapes, will be available on the GCGI website.

*Susan B. Eirich, Ph.D. GCGI Senior Ambassador, Co-founder of Earthfire Institute, a non-profit wildlife sanctuary and retreat center near Yellowstone National Park, Susan is an inspirational voice for all life. She has lived with rescued wildlife native to the Rocky Mountains of North America for 25 years. With degrees in psychology and biology, she works to bridge scientific and spiritual understandings of wild animals and connections between all life. She has lived and taught around the world, always trying to see through others’ eyes.