Last evening, my daughter and I watched the documentary “My Octopus Teacher.” What an amazing experience. As a result, I’ve been thinking about all of the ways we humans mistreat our environment and the ways we have chosen to misrepresent the Genesis passage by claiming that God instructed us to dominate, use, and misuse nature and its many resources for our own selfish purposes. There is a vast difference between living within our environment and using only what’s needed to sustain life by serving as Nature’s stewards …not in the ways we have convinced ourselves that we can live apart or even outside of our natural world. Living apart from nature is an illusion, of course. We cannot exist apart from our natural environment any more than the octopus can, but the results of our efforts have been both amazing and tragic.
I was reminded of the book Ishmael as I watched the documentary. In Ishmael, the author refers to the importance of only using what we need…none of this accumulation of riches, hoarding, shopping as a form of entertainment, etc. It’s one thing to can and preserve summer’s abundance or to butcher enough meat to sustain one’s life. It’s another to accumulate for the sake of accumulating and to measure one’s worth based on how wealthy one is. My Octopus Teacher reminds me that we have evolved to live within relationships, not to lord it over others, to respect all forms of life, not to use and abuse other life forms and the many resources Nature puts at our fingertips. I was thrilled by the evidence of octopus intelligence, octopus emotions, its adaptation to its environment, and its awareness of the dance of life and death. In the same way, I am often awed by our human capacity to think, create, invent, and devise, but I am also horrified at the many ways we use violence, fear, hate, and ranking in order to dominate and mistreat others.
There Is absolutely no reason we should not find ways to improve life. The problem lies with our unwillingness to do so in careful and meaningful ways. For instance, instead of cleaning up after ourselves, we are content to pollute and destroy, all for the sake of accumulating wealth and making excessive profits. But the Genesis story reminds us that our human role is to be stewards and trustees of our environment, not rapists and murderers…for isn’t that what we are, rapists and murderers, when we kill just for the sake of killing and strip the land of its resources, just because we can?
It’s easy to be part of the problem. Being part of the solution is far more challenging as that involves making major changes in our thinking and behavior. It often takes something as dramatic as spending a year learning to observe underwater sea life and interacting with an octopus to alter our approach to life. Not all of us have that option, however. Yet we all can practice gratitude as a way of becoming more aware of the many opportunities and blessings that come our way – day after day. Gratitude teaches us to appreciate what we already have. Gratitude reminds us that our needs are actually few and that less is often the road to happiness and contentment. After all, the more we have the more we need to be afraid and to protect our excess.