The Sacred Balance
David Suzuki with Amanda McConnell The Sacred Balance – Rediscovering our place in nature
(Allen & Unwin, 1997)
Reviewed by Chantal Babin.
(Reviewed November 2010)
The stars, earth, stones, life of all kinds, form a whole in relation to each other and so close is this relationship that we cannot understand a stone without some understanding of the great sun. No matter what we touch , an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the universe.
Biologist David Suzuki calls on a writing expert, Amanda McConnell, to help him verbalise what he knows so well. The text is at times lyrical. Suzuki starts from the premise that we are literally air, water, soil, fire and other living creatures. He unravels the finely tuned intricacies and interconnections of the four elements as they constitute us as well as the natural world of the planet. This of course places us on par with planet Earth. We have forgotten. He blames our forgetfulness on the fact that, instead of addressing ecological concerns and although we share with the Earth our “inescapable biological nature”, we persist to focus on global economics as the only mission of humanity.
Suzuki reminds us that the 1992 Rio Earth Summit’s conclusive statement of the Conference began with: ”Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course...”. Such unprecedented consensus that natural systems might no longer absorb the burden of current human practices seems today more of a reality than a prophecy. We should not forget.
If ever we doubted the belief of many indigenous cultures that the earth and us are one, Suzuki convincingly brings the proof. He scientifically explains how we are part of nature in the process of fulfilling our physical and physiological needs. Studying the presence of the four elements within and without our bodies he demonstrates with minutiae their crucially essential role in human biology and physiology. The four elements fulfil our “non-negotiable human needs that must be met by any society that aspires to a sustainable future and a high quality of life for its citizens.”
He stresses the importance of air: our own breath and that of all living things. Air is constantly within us, even on the exhale, preventing the alveolar sacs of our lungs from collapsing. Although breathed in and out of our bodies air never undergoes metabolic transformation. A physical substance as well as a universal glue it binds us all together. Deprived of air we die.
In his chapter ‘The Oceans Flowing through Our Veins’ Suzuki reminds us of the primordial role of water in our environment; and that its role is equally crucial within us. More than 50% of our bodies is water. Our blood and our sweat have retained the salt of the oceans of our birth. Like air, water is essential for our survival. Dehydration kills.
Are we not also made of the earth? From Adam, the Hebrew adama meaning “earth”, to various mythological popular creeds human beings believe they are made of the earth. Whilst we are not literally made of the earth we could not live and survive without it.
Without it where would we grow the food we need? and where would the animal realm feed? That the earth be a mother is a follow-through. The notion spread widely amongst ancestral cultures that the earth is the feeding entity in our lives, the food provider. Her gifts are a godsend, out of gratitude arose the notion that the earth is sacred. Without food we would die. Is there fire in us? Yes, our bodies produce heat. We are homeothermic animals maintaining a constant temperature. Our main source of heat is our metabolism, a burning process of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. A rising temperature guards us against invading infections. The body’s thermostat is remarkable in activating the processes required to maintain that constant temperature of health.
Indeed the four elements inhabit us just as we inhabit the earth. The four elements are necessary for life, within and without us. Remove one of the four elements and death follows. Suzuki’s argument is convincing.
The earth is the kin that protects us. We are the planet’s guardians. And conversely we need the planet to guard us, we need its clean air, its water, its soil and the sun. We also need biodiversity. We have ignored our interdependence. We have exploited the earth ruthlessly to serve our consumer’s needs. Some statistics should suffice to convince us: we have deforested 2/3 of the planet’s pristine forests since the industrial revolution. And for those of us who have so far turned a deaf ear Suzuki reminds us that “although extinction is as necessary to the evolutionary process as species formation, it has accelerated at an unprecedented rate as a result of human depredation”. Let’s not forget.
An expected advocate of biodiversity, Suzuki urges us to protect the web of life around us of which we know too little since we learn as we go and also to restore what has been destroyed, to stimulate, one way or another, the natural processes of regeneration.
This can only happen through the law of love; Suzuki calls on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory to follow through his argument. Once our basic biological and physiological needs are met, a new constellation of needs arises and so on; we require shelter and protection; then love, our connection with others, the romantic love that leads to procreation, the filial love and parental love that nurtures, the family love and beyond. It is our responsibility as parents to inculcate ecological principles in our children, this will ensure their own survival, that of their children and so on. It is our responsibility to care with love for the planet, in doing so we care for others. Failing to understand that if we keep destroying the planet the human race will eventually become extinct is irresponsible. In considering the need for love, Suzuki argues that one of our problems with the planet is relational, we need to relate differently to it, to adopt a different attitude. Because the earth and its life support systems meet our fundamental requirements, Suzuki asserts that “they are worthy of reverence and respect; that is, they are sacred”.
Our connection to nature is where the sacred lies, it should replace our frenzied mercantile and pitiless behaviour. In other words the task of humanity does not lie in increased production and consumption leading to a more buoyant economy.
We need to find a new story. “Homo Sapiens: Born of the earth” is a stated truth in Suzuki’s book; he also observes that we have cut ourselves from nature, indeed in cities we are
divorced form the sources of our own existence, from the skills of survival and from the realities of those who still live in rural areas, we have become dulled, impervious, slow.
We know that we are increasingly faced with toxic pollution endangering species of which we are one.
Through disconnecting ourselves from nature we deny our spiritual needs. Therefore the task of humanity is to reconnect with our natural sources, to redefine our actual place in nature, and to restore the ecological balance which Suzuki sees as sacred. Lest we forget.
A book worth reading.