First published in The Huffington Post
The recent UN Climate Change Summit, the marches in New York and around the world, once again brought into our collective consciousness the need for real change. As did the shocking news of the global loss of species. The vital need to protect our ecosystems is part of a cry that embraces the whole earth, from the smallest creature to the vast oceans.
And in the midst of this call to cease our globally self-destructive behavior is a story that touches each of us, every day. It is in every bite of an apple, every bowl of rice, every piece of bread we butter. It is the essential and elemental story of seeds, how we are losing our heritage, and how this effects our soul as well as our body.
As I take my walk these early fall mornings, I pass by an old apple tree with gnarled and empty branches. Only a few weeks ago these same branches pushed over the hedgerow, laden with red and golden fruit. Nature's generosity is one of life's wonders; and yet, seeing these empty branches, I am also reminded of the hidden sadness of loss, knowing how once in this country we had around 5000 apple varieties but now mostly grow only 15 varieties.
Accordian, Camack Sweet, Haywood June, Sally Crocket, are just a few names of what has been lost. Like apples, all seeds, our most essential source of sustenance, are losing their biodiversity. They are suffering the same fate as much of the natural world, with many varieties being made extinct—75 percent lost from the world's fields: yet another example of what our mechanized world is destroying, the ecocide we are witnessing.
And yet behind this visible tragedy is another deeper sorrow, the loss of the stories of seeds, stories that have nourished our souls for millennia, just as the fruits of seeds have nourished our bodies. The story of the seed planted in the earth, germinating, growing in the darkness, breaking through the surface towards the sunlight, is one of the most ancient stories of fertility. These stories tell of the mystery of death and rebirth—both the outer, physical rebirth of nature as winter turns to spring, and also an inner transformation, reminding us that we too can descend into the inner world, the darkness within us, where we can experience the secrets of the soul, a spiritual rebirth. Stories of seeds not only connect us to the seasons of the Earth but also to our sacred inner nature.
These stories of the soul are part of our human history, our spiritual and mythic heritage that has nourished us with the sacred meaning of life—as real as grains ground into flour. For example, the myth of Demeter and Persephone speaks of the mysteries that belong to the sacred feminine, mysteries that were practiced at Eleusis in Greece for over a thousand years.
In this story, Persephone, the maiden, is gathering flowers in a meadow, when Hades—god of the underworld, who had fallen in love with her—carries her off into his kingdom. Here he gives her the seed of the sweet pomegranate, because of which she has to remain in the underworld for part of the year as Hades' queen and wife, returning to the surface every spring.
The seed eaten in the underworld images the mystery of fertility and creativity that transforms a girl into a woman and gives her the instinctual knowledge of conception and birth. This ancient feminine mystery embraces life and sexuality and reveals its sacred meaning—an inner and outer transformation. And yet as a culture we consider this to be just a myth—how many women today are nourished by this knowledge, feel its primal power?
Just as we need to treasure the physical seeds that remain, valuing life's diversity, so do we need to remember the stories of seeds, to keep alive this inner mystery of life and rebirth, of transformation in the darkness. Stories of seeds are in our sacred texts. In the Gospel of St. John there is the simple image of a grain of wheat falling into the ground, and through its death "bringing forth much fruit."
Without such stories and their images our souls are not nourished and we forget our connection to the Earth and its rhythms, and the seasons of our own soul. We remain stranded in the surface masculine world of science and technology, starved of an inner nourishment essential to our well-being and wholeness. As the powerful interests of agribusiness claim ownership of seeds, destroying their diversity, there is no place for planting and harvesting as a meeting of spirit and matter, no opening to the inner world—no place for the sacred.
What can we do? How can we respond? First, we can witness what is happening. Just as we need to become aware of how we are destroying the beautiful and fragile Earth, the wonder of her diversity, we can also recognize how we are forgetting her stories, this loss of the sacred. And from this awareness we might begin to feel the grief, the soul's sadness, both for the outer ecocide and for the less noticed but just as tragic spiritual desolation caused by our forgetting. We are losing our own heritage, stories of life's sacred meaning that we should be passing onto our children. Only from a fully felt awareness can we respond, can we remember and reclaim the symbol of the seed, its myth and how it speaks to us.
Part of the tragedy of our present culture is that all our attention is on the outer, the physical world. And yes, outer nature needs our attention; we need to act before it is too late, before we ravage and pollute the whole ecosystem. We need to save the seeds of life's diversity. But there is an inner mystery to a human being, and this too needs to be rescued from our present wasteland; we need to keep alive the stories that nourish our souls. If we lose these seeds we will have lost a connection to life's deeper meaning—then we will be left with an inner desolation as real as the outer.
Coming home I cut an apple for my breakfast cereal and taste its sweetness. I feel how this food is alive. In the words of Vandana Shiva, "It is not just pieces of carbohydrate, protein and nutrient, it is a being; it is a sacred being." Just as we need to stop our soil from becoming toxic, we also need to keep alive the soul's sacred stories, before it is all too late. Protecting both seeds and their stories are vital to our survival.