October 20, 2020

Stepping into Nature’s Matrix

Swati Thiyagarajan

“Mere communion with nature, mere contact with free air, exercise a soothing yet comforting and strengthening influence on the wearied mind, calm the storm of passion and soften the heart when shaken by sorrow to its inmost depths.”

Natures web of life

All the way back in the 1800’s von Humboldt, a polymath, visionary and passionate explorer of natural history not only spoke at length about what we today call the web of life, but was also the first person to warn the world of human-induced climate change. More importantly, he saw nature for what it truly was, a complex interwoven fabric in which humans were threads. Nature was not just the foundation for all life on earth but the foundation of our mental, physical and spiritual well being. Von Humboldt was one of the first European thinkers to state this clearly, but indigenous peoples around the world had been living this philosophy for thousands upon thousands of years.

Life in the Great African Seaforest, connected like droplets caught in a spider's web.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, all things connect.”

We are nature

Today, if you pick up any book by a scientist, an environmentalist, or a natural history expert, they will all come to similar conclusions: That to survive we must regenerate, rewild and protect half the earth from extraction and at least a third of the oceans as well, and that, fundamentally, we are one with nature, and by degrading the living planet around us we hasten our personal extinction crisis.

A lot of us think we know this. And we do in an intellectual way. But I learnt and felt it as a fundamental truth for myself when I started diving every day and when I met my octopus teacher. My body, spirit and mind experienced it while being in the Great African Seaforest, and by seeing her place in that web of life. In the Seaforest she is the predator of more than 50 species and, at the very same time, is prey to dozens of others like seals and sharks. It was a stark lesson on the balance of living, sentient, biodiverse ecosystems and the interdependence of it all. If octopuses did not have short life spans or several predators, her intelligence would not have been crafted the way it is. By immersing in that world daily, I found my amphibious skin and the greatest truth, we are all a part of nature and not apart from it. We belong. We are nature. This is what deep nature immersion did for me. It made what I knew intellectually, a stark truth I experienced.

After the film we continue to look out for the decendents of My Octopus Teacher. Image 1: An octopus in dymantic posture. Image 2: extreme octopus camouflage display. Image 3: In the Great African Seaforest the Common octopus also inhabits the kelp canopy, perhaps both for hunting and for shelter.

What is deep nature immersion?

Nature immersion is when we are curious enough and are prepared to spend time and energy to really observe the lives of wild organisms around us. That time spent will allow us to step inside their secret worlds. These are worlds beyond our wildest imaginations. I have discovered fish that can surf out of water to catch their prey, fish and crabs that live partly upside down, cephalopods that catch birds, and much more. All their lives are connected by thousands of interwoven threads of survival. And our survival is woven deeply into theirs. Many of them do not need us humans to survive, but we need them for our future survival on earth. Their continued biodiversity is the life insurance policy for our children and grandchildren

We need the complexity of their interwoven lives to keep the ocean healthy, which allows us to breathe and which keeps the planet cool enough for us to survive. Wild spaces also allow us to see what we really are, the human animal, tethered to life through Mother Nature’s benign umbilical cord. In those spaces you discover that it is not just your blood, bone and skin, but your mental well-being, your design that is interwoven with nature. It is the reminder that, just beneath the very thin skin of the hyper-capital, hyper-industrialised, hyper-tech veneered human existence, we remain wild beings.
Listening, watching, and feeling into the intricacies of nature Craig witnessed the web of life around the octopus teacher. Artefacts, printed pictures and the first version of the tracking map drawn on an old cardboard turned into the final artwork that reveals the connections in the Seaforest.

Foundational diversity knowledge means hope

Glimpsing deep nature as I have been privileged to do, convinces me that we need to listen to our scientists who are saying that we need radical changes to keep large parts of the earth wild, and that we need to regenerate complex natural ecosystems. We also need to relearn the wisdom of our indigenous peoples. Large-scale ecosystems are our survival, as they are living habitats that support biodiversity. A recent report by the UN, an analysis of goals and actions set in 2010 in Aichi, Japan, where countries around the world made promises to protect and enhance biodiversity and promote sustainability by 2020, flatly states that not a single country has met either its targets or kept their promise. We are in the sixth mass extinction and today close to 70% of wild animals are threatened. About 75% of the land area is very significantly altered, 66% of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts and 85% of wetlands have been lost.

Biodiversity can be seen as the immune system of the planet, making its loss our greatest crisis that exacerbates climate change. If we regenerate and rewild ecosystems, not only will we be creating greater biodiversity, but it will also absorb excess carbon. Deep nature is not just a wonderful curiosity that keeps scientists and naturalists excited and curious. It is perhaps the most profound doorway to an understanding of how critical biodiversity is, and what it means to share our place in this living ecosystem we call Earth.

For me the greatest threat to humans is when our hearts begin to cool towards the wild, when we think we can live independent of it. That myth is very dangerous for our species and can easily lead to our extinction. Nature herself may suffer enormous losses in the process, but over time she will always bounce back and regenerate, perhaps especially if we humans were to become extinct. We have seen a small glimpse of this during this pandemic crisis and worldwide implementation of lockdowns. A pandemic that itself finds its roots in imbalances reducing biodiversity. That glimpse we saw during lockdown, when blue skies opened, clean rivers ran, and wildlife showed up in unexpected places, is called hope. When challenged we can make unprecedented decisions for the greater good. We know that nature is unbelievably resilient. Kelp forests for instance can bounce back into rich abundance in a decade if protected and regenerated. When you step out and spend time in nature, this is another truth that will likely finds its way into your soul – the truth of hope.

“The greatest landscape for the wild is the human heart and the greatest home for the human heart is the wild.”

Find your own wild teacher!

You don’t need the ocean or the mountains or the forests on your doorstep. In New York City I have learnt, there are 2000 ants for every single person. In New Delhi, every tree is a potential living ecosystem with birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. Life is everywhere. Just reach out and make the connection. It is the most important thing you can do.

I am convinced that the vast majority of humans, if given the opportunity to glimpse deep nature will naturally follow their ancient instincts and be motivated to put in place the natural wild insurance policies necessary for all our children’s survival. So go find your wild teacher and step into nature’s matrix fully to experience how you belong.

Watch our video below and visit #MyWildTeacher to learn more about how you can join our campaign and find your own wild teacher.

Edited by Dr Jannes Landschoff and Faine Loubser
Support Sea Change Project

be first to receive our stories

Join the Sea Change Community

By signing up for the newsletter, you agree to the Terms and Conditions.