Face, Embrace, Transcend

Practice of the Week
Face, Embrace, Transcend

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.

Evolution gave us cravings for sugary and fatty foods. These desires served our ancestors well in the eons before the invention of donuts, but now they undermine our health and well-being. Evolution also gave us aggressive tendencies and fight-or-flight adrenaline responses. These also were helpful in our prehistoric past, but are not well suited for modern life.

On the other hand, we evolved highly collaborative brains that could build on each other to develop all the technologies of contemporary life. Along with aggression and fear, we have leanings toward intimacy and compassion, order and cooperation.

We are prone to greed – and also to generosity. The world we create depends on which of our impulses are encouraged or rewarded.

By recognizing all aspects of our nature, we can better manage those aspects with limited functionality for the modern world, and better cultivate our compassion, and the parts of our nature that can help us create a sustainable future.

Something else evolution gave us: an attraction to the natural world. Time spent in nature is healing and can help us tap into the better angels of our nature.
“An unexpected psychological benefit from intimate bonding with nature is the awakening of creative mental processes. It enlivens the dance between the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This playful dance is the essential generator of creativity." (Howard Clinebell, Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth)
Healing our world and healing ourselves are deeply intertwined.

Our capacities for community building, creative problem-solving, gentle nurturing, and curious exploring will all be necessary to realign ourselves toward an Earth-healing lifestyle.

To address global problems and heal the damage our species has inflicted on the Earth, we will need to transcend our limited vision, and see a bigger picture. Evolution programmed us to respond to immediate, physical, local threats -- if we didn't, we would perish. However, the threats to our well-being nowadays come not from obvious and immediate threats, but from invisible sources like air and water pollutants, climate change, and over-population.

To create healthy communities, and to heal ourselves as individuals and as a society, approach the problem in three ways: face up to the parts of our evolutionary legacy that don’t fit modern times, embrace and build upon the helpful aspects of our evolved nature, and transcend the aspects of our evolutionary heritage that limit our vision. Call it Facing, Embracing, and Transcending—the three point plan for creating the future.

There is so much to do. We'd better get busy.


1. The Shadow Knows. In your journal, choose one aspect of yourself that is sometimes a source of a problem for you: an unhealthy habit, a quick temper, a phobia, a tendency to be anxious. How did was this aspect likely functional for your ancient ancestors? Explore the mismatch between what might have been helpful in the past and what is now problematic. You may want to go slowly and revisit this topic several times in order to fully explore it.

2. Love's Legacy. We are wired to connect deeply with others in loving, intimate ways. Loving feelings produce endorphins in our brains that enhance our health. Create a collage of photos of the people who have loved you the most deeply over the course of your life, and those whom you most deeply love. Focus on those people with whom you have a soul deep connection, regardless of formal relationships. Your collage can be a temporary one of photos placed on a table or your altar that lasts only a day or so, or you can create a framed permanent version to remind you of those who have blessed your life with love.

3. The Visible and the Invisible. Take your journal, and find a place outside where you sit and be still. Begin by paying attention to what you can hear, see, feel, and smell about your immediate environment. After about 10 minutes, pick up your journal and reflect: how would the sensory information have helped your ancient ancestors survive? What possible risks are not detectable to your senses (air toxins, radiation, greenhouse gases, etc.)? Finally, focus your attention back to your immediate environment and spend another minute or two observing it again. Has anything changed in the time it took to do this exercise?

Group Activities

Cultivating Community. Gather your group together for a potluck dinner for the sole purpose of enjoying each other's company. This event should have no other agenda. No seriousness allowed! What sort of evening would your group enjoy? Perhaps dinner and dancing — have some one bring a boom box and some old disco tunes. Maybe a game night would suit your group better, or a picnic with a campfire afterward. Later at home, participants should actively reflect on the time spent just having fun with the group. Consider these questions: How do experiences like this one help cement a community together? How might they help foster the creation of truly sustainable communities in the future? Next time the group gathers, share reflections.

Questions for Group Conversation:
  • How can we as a species transcend our evolutionary programming in order to address the challenges that face us on a global scale?
  • How can we reframe global challenges and present them to the public in a way that is in harmony with our evolutionary programming?
  • Think about the lifestyle of prehistoric hunter-gatherers, and then about our contemporary lifestyle. Where are the mismatches? What behaviors, desires, or traits served our forbears well but cause us problems today? How can we address these problems?
  • What aspects of human nature do you consider to be good or bad? Would the categories be different if our circumstances were different?
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