Spreading reverence for our planet
"This temple is both concrete and theoretical. It’s art and it’s an altar. It’s yours and it’s mine. Theoretically, may it represent your own conception of Spirit, Earth, and Psyche. May you find reverence here. May you find the sacred. May you find connection. May you find joy. It served me in my construction of it, and I hope it serves you as well." - Sally, Temple Builder
I invite you to ask the question, “What unites us?”
What unites us with these trees that we have the luxury of walking through each day?
What unites us with the owls and coyotes that sing their songs to us at night?
What unites all humans despite our different races, cultures, and status?
The answer, now and always, is our planet Earth.
Earth as primary context
The Earth is our one common denominator uniting all species of plants, animals, and humans within an interconnected web of being. This planet emerged from the elements alchemized within the primordial stars whose explosive deaths paved the way for our solar system to weave itself together around our Sun. Three seats back from the Sun sat Earth, who underwent 4.5 billion years of tireless evolution in order to gift us with the lives we live now. To even allow for our current reality, Earth had to brave several hundred million years of turbulence and suffering before she could stabilize enough to evoke the conditions for the first cell of life to emerge. From then on, life would evolve from the single-celled organism to the multicellular animal, so on and so forth, until the human emerged from this swell of interconnected diversity.
Humans and our most direct ancestors have existed on this planet for nearly six million years. Modern humans, Homo sapiens, have been traversing this planet for around 300,000 years. 12,000 years ago, we began settling in Neolithic Villages and 6,000 years ago, our villages morphed into larger-scale urban centers. While we’ve seen the effects of this trajectory today, what this timeline also demonstrates is the cosmic drive for connection through evercomplexifying dynamics. Through globalization, humanity has amplified this drive to its furthest extents, where now, all human systems—social, economic, political, ecological—are woven together in both subtle and extreme relationships. What has become increasingly more clear in these last few years is that the failure or success of one system will affect the failure or success of others. We are now facing an ecological crisis. Our foundational system is failing and the repercussions are showing up around the globe. Within the last few decades alone, carbon dioxide levels, nitrous oxide levels, methane levels, tropical forest loss, ocean acidification, marine fish capture, and domesticized land area have soared far past dangerous thresholds.
Our way of life in the Western world is in large part thanks to runaway progress, capitalism, and patriarchy—I’m emphasizing runaway here to denote that it is the extreme variations of these constructs that are the problem, not the ideals that ignited them and that we ceaselessly cling onto in validation for our excessive behaviors. That being said, runaway might also demonstrate just how much the original ideals of each construct have distorted over time and now present as material achievement and competition, greed and exploitation, hierarchy and domination. The Western way, however, is a construct and a very new one at that. It’s not even a good construct considering after less than 300 years of its implementation, this way of life has proven itself completely unsustainable and seems to be driving humanity toward the brink of our own extinction.
In the grand scheme of our Earth-human history, however, our Western way counters the way in which humans have been living in relationship to our planet for hundreds and thousands of years. Perhaps one might argue that it’s evolution, that advances in science and technology have allowed humanity to live easier, that anything from before this epoch is primitive and therefore, ignorant. I’m not so sure this logic adds up, however, if we look at our current trajectory. We’re headed for turmoil—if we’re not already in it. The way of life that we have inherited is not the way of life we are obligated to pass forward to the future generations. For those of us living during this critical period in our planetary history, there is a responsibility for us to assume, should we choose to take it.
Before we can unravel the destructive implications of the Western way and before we can bring forth a new reality here on Earth, it requires that we as individuals awaken to our role within the planetary narrative. The human story is a story of becoming. It’s a journey with no clear destination and our directions are vague, but first and foremost, our job is not to let the story end.
The reality that we are being called to recognize today is that our planet is the irreducible foundation for everything else. It’s no surprise that a crisis in the ecological realm will be the force that—hopefully—catalyzes humanity’s shift in consciousness from a competitive existence to a cooperative one. The Earth is one large sentient being made up of many parts, you and me being two of them. After 4.5 billion years of evolution, the Earth was able to create a brain and a nervous system complex enough to understand and hold the grandeur of her own reality. The Earth becomes conscious of herself through the vessel of humanity and through us, the Earth is yearning to recognize the fact of our interconnection, that no one thrives unless everyone thrives. This is the reality and understanding that we are to bring forth into a new age.
Earth is a living being that has been around far longer than you or me. She is wise and giving, but can be ruthless if we choose to ignore her guidance. As we face ecological crisis and the domino effect of systems collapse that will inevitably follow, it is paramount that we turn to her counsel and reconnect with what has been lost over the past several centuries. If we want to survive, a good place to start is at the root of it all. We need to restore our connection with our planet. We need to restore our connection with each other and uplift the voices of the repressed, especially women and indigenous cultures. We need to feel our connection within the Whole.
Feeling—the way humans are capable of feeling—is a unique and powerful capacity. Feeling is the experience of our interconnection. It’s how we relate deeply with one another when language will not suffice. By tapping into feeling, we tap into each other. This is a necessary next step in our human becoming and reverence for the planet is a powerful impetus to get us where we need to go. This is why I’ve built a temple.
"By tapping into feeling, we tap into each other"
The process, revelation, and the call
This temple began as a final project for one of my graduate level classes entitled, Jung and Nature. The idea came to me as a hit of intuition as I walked past a pile of french broom branches that our neighbor, Rico, was purging from his yard. I knew I needed to build something from these branches, something in nature, something to contain and represent my own psyche. That’s about all I knew from the start. Within the Western diagnostic paradigm, my psychic patterning presents anywhere within the spectrum of major depressive disorder to manic depression, neither of which can wholly characterize my inner world, but both demonstrate the emotional extremes of being a conscious human trying to navigate a world that is very clearly unwell. On the one hand, our global society is barreling down a trajectory that will end in collapse if the majority of humans are unable to break free from the chains of the Business as Usual paradigm. On the other hand, I am lucky enough to know this Earth as an immaculate act of cosmic creation and I feel ecstatic to be a part of it and to be a witness and participant in its magic. Our reality is a paradox, and that realization alone is an incredibly hard one to hold. We’re joyful or we’re depressed because to be one or the other is easier than holding both at the same time. But the ambiguity of paradox, I am finding, is a new state of consciousness—it’s a cosmic sensation. The fact that our psyche can even hold it tells me that this is part of the human becoming—feel it all, the Earth wants us to. This is the gift of the human experience.
But somehow, in the last century or so, the Western paradigm has pathologized the human condition in whomever and however it might show up. It slaps a bandaid on top of our suffering because if the problem is solved, well hey, that’s progress—but it’s not resolution, it’s not healing. The pathologization of the human condition is a passed down behavior. We don’t need to uphold it. Instead, what if we took the bandaid off and opened ourselves up to our suffering. Humans were created to feel. In allowing ourselves to feel both our joys and pains, we become increasingly more connected with our inner nature and increasingly more interconnected with one another.
Surprisingly enough, Jung was the ultimate misfit. In public, he held himself together well. He was an esteemed psychiatrist practicing and studying the empirical science of psychology in the late 19th century. His public persona was in total conflict with his private Self, whose ideas he kept stowed away, careful not to bring any controversy into his work. These two forces combated against one another in Jung’s unconscious until, inevitably, the tension boiled over into his conscious mind and Jung experienced his own psychological break. The Tower in Bollingen was his solution. Over the course of 12 years, Jung built by hand a four-towered house on Lake Zurich going solely off the intuition that by working with the Earth, he would simultaneously be working through his own psyche. It’s no surprise that throughout this time and beyond, Jung became much more public about his private Self. This is how the unconscious behaves—leave it ignored for too long and it will find a way to grab your attention.
In all likelihood, Jung’s Tower was probably the catalyst behind my own intuition to put earth and psyche to work and much like Jung, I didn’t know what I was doing or how exactly it would pan out. The moment I started building, however, I knew I was constructing a temple, a place for reverence and an altar to the sacred. But the more I weaved these sticks together and the more this temple took shape, my vocation began to shimmer through the woodwork. This was no longer a school project, it was an integration of personal meaning. My calling to work with Spirit, Earth, and Psyche in both myself and the collective was manifesting before me in the form of this Earth Temple. I found the task supportive, spiritually, psychically, and energetically, and was pleased, if not surprised, that all three spheres of my life deepened within the same time frame of building this temple. With reverence and respect, I was communing with the Earth and she was communicating right back. Like the sticks that create the three walls of this temple, my psyche was weaving itself together, sometimes in ways that were not always conscious to me.
The actual project of building this temple was immensely rewarding. At first, I thought it would distract me from a maelstrom of emotions that were emerging and felt too hard to hold. I enjoyed feeling like the misfit as neighbors passed by and asked what I was doing. I felt validated and connected when these same neighbors expressed admiration in the work. At certain moments of building, I deepened my connection with the temple. I remember the moment when it became a she and when she became beautiful. In hindsight, I recognize that the temple didn’t distract me from my inner world, instead, she held and supported me while allowing my inner world its own expression. As I write this now and reflect on the experience, I am realizing the magic in just what exactly happened out there and my reverence continues to unfold.
Jung believed that nature is psyche, and after spending several months exploring this idea, I wholeheartedly agree. Banished long ago into the collective unconscious, the Earth and her wisdom are now boiling to the surface. She is making her presence known while simultaneously offering guidance. My advice, if this temple and its message speaks to you, is to open yourself up to the paradox of it all. Let these woods mirror your psyche and your psyche mirror these woods. The Earth contains mountains of wisdom, but she doesn’t communicate through the intellect. We have to feel it. We have to feel it all, and know that by feeling it all, you’re allowing the Earth to feel herself through you. The Earth has the capacity to withstand any emotion that emerges through you and she will hold and support you whenever it feels too hard.
It’s another intuition, but I think it’s a strong one—through the act of feeling into our reality, both the immense joys and pains, we will cultivate the capacity to connect deeper with the planet, with ourselves, and with one another. Once we remember our most fundamental reality of interconnection, compassion and cooperation will follow. Who knows what will come after that, but it’s an encouraging base to build from.
Let this temple represent Earth as well as our Human Becoming. Allow it to deepen your reverence for both. I encourage you to leave an offering or say a prayer before you embark on a hike up the trailhead. While in the presence of nature-psyche, start a dialogue and ask for wisdom. Listen with all your senses. Feel her out. Feel her presence. Look out for signals sung by the birds or messages delivered in the wind. Trust yourself to intuit her guidance. Afterall, you are the vessel of the Earth’s consciousness in one large interconnected reality. Enjoy the paradox.
Support the initiative
If you’d like to make a donation, all proceeds go directly into Sally’s not-for-profit project, Ocean Women Collective, a collaborative space offering free and low-cost psycho-spiritual support for women. Learn more, here. Donate through Venmo (@sallysmithyoga) or Paypal (email@example.com).
If you’d feel more comfortable donating directly to an organization, please give to the Indigenous Environmental Network, a nonprofit formed by grassroots indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues. Donate via Paypal, here.