Earth Day, also known as April 22nd, has always held a special place in my heart. First of all, it’s my little brother’s birthday (shout out to Zach!) — but also it’s the one globally acknowledged day that truly includes everyone. It’s a day devoted to honoring our strange, precious existence on this rock that turns through space, bursting with all the vibrant complexities of life as we know it. Most importantly, Earth Day serves as a reminder that this existence is shared. We share it with each other as human beings, with the bees that pollinate fruit and flowers, the trees that transform carbon into oxygen, the soil that transforms death and decay into fertile ground. As Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon put it in their book Earth Prayers, “We cannot escape our involvement any more than we can escape breathing the air that has traveled from plants thousands of miles away.”
That we are fundamentally connected to each other is, to me, the highest truth there is. But these days it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes it feels like this world is crumbling apart from all the divisions we’ve created within ourselves, within the human race, and between humans and our wild ecosystem — our home. This home which has provided for us everything that we need to thrive — fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, a paradise of other lifeforms to feed ourselves with, a wealth of materials to build our dwellings and power our ever-evolving inventions, endless mysteries and deep silences to contemplate. So how did we get to where we are now? To this place where our air and water are being poisoned, our food pumped with toxins, and our dwellings & endless inventions resulting in mountains of waste and the devastating loss of natural resources? Where so many human beings are suffering from profound loneliness, hurting themselves and others around them? Where plant and animal species are disappearing from this planet entirely, forced out of their habitats? How did we get here and what do we do about it? Why are public displays of respect and adoration for our Earth reserved for one day out of the year instead of every day?
For a long time I’ve been itching with these questions, and though I’ve come up with my own set of answers for my own life, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Because as much as I sometimes wish I could, I can’t save the world by myself. It takes a village. It takes a whole planet. We’re in an overwhelming predicament, to be sure — the most overwhelming I could possibly imagine. With something so large and abstract, it’s easier to understand why some people’s reactions involve ignoring the issue or denying its existence entirely. Denial is a state of grief, after all. We have a lot to lose and the fear, anger, anxiety, and the need to distract & avoid are natural responses with which I am familiar. But we have to talk about it. Dig deeper to the root of the issue, not only regarding the condition of the external world but the conditions of our souls and our bodies. We cannot escape our involvement.
Out of my own deep need to talk about our earthly situation, I was moved to create a space where this conversation would be encouraged and held with care, which in my experience has been difficult to find. I wanted this to be an uplifting and empowering space open to everyone, infused with magic and opportunities for healing and growth. What came into form was a community art show held on the week of Earth Day of this year, exploring what it means to be human on this planet today. The concept evolved out of a solo art installation I created for Earth Day in 2016 called “Church of Earth”. After finding out about a local art venue open to community use, I was inspired to use it to create my own sacred space/religious experiment, based on the divinity and equanimity of nature. This project allowed me to merge my search for a spiritual identity with this pull towards healing and reconnecting to the Earth. I filled the room with artwork and altars I created to express a sense of the sacredness and healing I find in nature, with the hope that it would move others to consider their own healing journeys.
While the original Church of Earth installation was a priceless opportunity for me to better understand my own relationship to nature and my own need for healing, this year’s Earth Day Art Show expanded the concept to allow for learning from the experiences and perspectives of others. I wanted to include as many people as possible in the spirit of connection, conversation, and community. What resulted, after 6 months of scheming, organizing and inviting everyone I knew to participate, was a group art show with over 20 artists, in a local community space transformed into a secret-garden-enchanted-forest-earth-church.
The room was filled with insightful contributions from a diverse group of humans. These contributions included a sculpture made of animal bones, a dreamcatcher made out of a bike wheel, broken glass, & a black oil-like substance referencing DAPL at Standing Rock; photos of nude humans wandering in the wild, a display comparing the practice of factory farming with that of small-scale family farms; collages meticulously built with dried flowers and plant material, a frozen sculpture of the earth made out of found trash which melted over the following days; heartbreaking poetry and essays, a song, a movie called “Global Warming: A Romantic Story” featuring a polar bear & grizzly bear hybrid; several gorgeous digital animations, a hand-sewn silk vest depicting night & day, and an interactive piece where visitors could water an ailing bamboo plant with love (just to name a few). Seeing all this artwork come together was a humbling and fascinating experience for me. The diversity on display reinforced the importance of these kinds of gatherings because we can learn so much from the unique perspectives of each other. We all relate to this human experience in different ways and have our own particular role to play.
In addition to the artwork, the space held a variety of events throughout the 5 days of the show. There was a daily noon meditation led by my friends Kevin and Yossi, which allowed people to experience the space in a different way. During one of the meditations, the frozen Earth sculpture was notably warming, accenting our meditation practice with a rhythmic “drip” in the background as the earth gradually melted into its metal trash bucket. On Earth Day itself, local Earth-protector & professional wild man Casey gave a talk on Permaculture and the importance of regenerating our soil, followed naturally by a worm-composting workshop featuring live worms! That evening we had an Open-Mic, featuring a range of thoughts, music, poetry, and even an Earth-themed magic show from some brave & interesting humans, supported by a compassionate audience.
Besides the artwork and the events, there were other ways for people to participate, including a small reading library with earth-themed books, a “creation station” with arts & crafts supplies, a wish jar to make aspirations & prayers, and free baby tomato plants for visitors to take (courtesy of Kevin).
Admittedly, by the end of the show I was exhausted. It’s taken me a while to recover from all the energy that went into it (which is why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing this and edit all the photos!) but the experience of sharing this space with such a kind, curious, thoughtful group of humans was more than worth it. Though there are many more conversations to have, actions to take, and healing to take place, I felt that we did something important here by coming together to acknowledge & celebrate our existence on this Earth. I learned so much from everyone involved, and was proven again how much we need each other, or at least how much I need you all. None of this would have been possible for me to do by myself — it literally did take a village. I’m so grateful to the Art Lab for offering this space, to everyone that listened to me ramble and helped build the vision for this event, everyone that took the time and care to share their creative works, who helped setup the show and take it down, who donated to help cover expenses or lent me materials, who led and/or participated in an event, who walked in the door with an open mind. I don’t know what the experience was like for anyone else, but for me it was ultimately what I needed it to be — a place for community, a place to process what’s going on, learn from each other, and reconnect.
As intimidating as the state of our world can be, there are so many positive things happening and reasons to celebrate. There are so many things we can do right now to heal this Earth — but I really believe the most effective and meaningful way to do that is to start by healing ourselves. This healing process can take many different forms, and doing this Earth Day show was part of mine. It helped me learn to trust myself and the people around me, that I don’t have to make sense of this world alone. It was a reminder that magical experiences can arise out an empty room — that we are the ones shaping our destiny. That through confusion and distress and loss there can be joy, togetherness, and new growth. To quote Beyoncé: “If we’re gonna heal — let’s make it glorious.” I imagine I’ll continue seeking out community experiences like this and working to become a better facilitator. I look forward to the day when Earth Day is no longer just a 24 hour period on the calendar, but a way of living in harmony with ourselves, each other, and our world.