Thinking Like an Ecosystem

by Seetha Ananthasivan

Thinking Like an Ecosystem

Sustainable Living is not heavy stuff all the time. We will transition into a more wise and sustainable civilisation when quite simply we learn again to love nature. When we learn to be part of the world of plants and trees and buzzing bees and so many creatures going about living their lives – much more happily than us humans!

Every species and eco-system emerges on earth, evolves and grows following some principles. Sometimes they go extinct, collapse or renew themselves differently too.

Human beings have been around on Earth only for about 2 million years – if you count from the time when we stood up on our feet and called ourselves Homo Erectus. The Earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago, and life is supposed to have emerged about 3.5 billion years ago.

If humans came on earth only 2 million years ago, Nature has been evolving life for 3,498,000,000 years before humans! Let’s also not forget that Nature produced us – we are part of Nature, we are Nature too.

If Nature with her ecosystems kept life going on Earth for such a long period – her rules, her principles of sustaining life must be really the most important things to learn. But strangely we don’t get to learn much about Nature’s principles in school or college. That’s a huge disconnect!

By neglecting to find out and live by principles of Nature – which provides our living context for all time – we seem to have created so many ecological crises for ourselves – climate change, water famines, land, air and water getting polluted and people overcrowded in cities that is consuming our resources like crazy. When we go into a school, college, organization or community, we are supposed to learn their rules and follow them. Even a family has many unwritten guidelines to live by. So don’t we need to have some common understanding of Nature’s principles so even children can understand how we can live with ecological wisdom?

All of Nature, all ecosystems seem to follow the same principles – and our bodies are eco-systems too – the easiest place to observe for ourselves and understand them. Thinking like an eco-system is what we need to do- but so many centuries of gradually moving away from Nature has meant that intuitively thinking like Nature is difficult for most of us. But it is possible – the best way to make a beginning is to spend as much time as we can in or near forests, water bodies, farms or watching the sky, trees or animals. Another way is to understand some of the principles or aspects of ecosystems or Nature, such as diversity, incessant flow of resources and energy, interconnectedness, infiniteness, mystery and much more.

  1. Nature is diverse our bodies have thousands of kinds of cells and about a thousand kinds of bacteria. Can we accept and value diversity – also in our minds, our families, class rooms and societies? In a field where just one crop is grown, the land gets degraded in a few decades or less, while land with a rich biodiversity of plants and trees as well as insects, birds and other organism will thrive and get “rich” with life.
  2. Nature is always in flow – flow of energy, flow of resources, flow of thoughts and feelings. As long as life exists in a creature or organism there is flow, communication, relationships. There are cyclical flows and flows of self-regulation.
    Life is about processes much more than about things and objects. When we respect this flow in ourselves and between ourselves and other people and ecosystems, we experience life more vibrantly; we feel more healthy and joyous.
  3. Another principle of Nature is interconnectedness, closely aligned to flow. Every cell in the body connects with others. If we have a terrible pain in one toe, the whole body knows and responds. Sometimes just one key species being killed or a foreign species being introduced can wreak havoc in an ecosystem. We have several kilometers of blood and lymph vessels and nerves running all over our body doing a magnificent job of interconnections. Our brain-minds too are capable of incredible interconnections. They help us experience greater wellbeing when we connect with the people, Nature and other creatures around us.
  4. Nature is energy – both potential and kinetic energy. All our lives 24/7 our entire body, every cell in it is pulsating with energy. When we are alive we have energy to move, to eat and do many things. When we die, this energy to move disappears, but we disintegrate and go back into the earth to either provide minerals for plants to grow or become food for other organisms. So too in groups and organisations we create, we need to learn from Nature how to keep energy alive – not for the profits of the top, though, but for the wellbeing of everyone!
  5. Nature is also infinite, mysterious and never fully knowable – hence we can call it sacred too. We have 3 trillion cells and 30 trillion bacteria in our bodies. We are yet to know fully how our body functions – but not following principles of Nature we have messed it up a lot! All the human inventions and discoveries have unfortunately given humans an excessive arrogance. We need to understand again that civilisations that have been sustainable for thousands of years have ingrained in them a culture of valuing Nature as sacred. We in India are fortunate to have such a culture – so let us revive a sense of sacredness about Nature and Mother Earth!

Nature is so complex that many people spell out her principles differently. And there is much much more to understand – So this is not a perfect, neat set of principles, but something convenient for us to help re-imagine and re-design our lives if we want to try to harmonize with Nature.

Imagining ourselves as an ecosystem and as part of an eco-system is a great way to enjoy and love life with a serene acceptance. Just spend some time every day - listening to the birds chirping away, watching insects going about their business or play often with pets or little children. There is so much we can learn from them about thinking and living like an ecosystem – which will be living sustainably on our planet too.