We all learn about something called the “food chain” in biology class.
The way it is taught (or at least the way it was taught to me) is highly intellectual. More virtual-reality than reality-reality, even.
We see a diagram in a textbook of a guppy and then a frog and then a snake and then a fox and so forth and so on…all the way up to so-called apex predators like eagles and lions and sharks.
In all this, only rarely do we ever see a picture of ourselves.
If we are pictured at all, we are right up there at the tippy top, like the candle that is on top of the cake topper that is on top of the icing that is on top of the cake.
We get the message. No hungry predator is going to get us. Ever.
Like, oh look, how nice. See how nature works. Let’s study it. Memorize the order that each species gets eaten in. Make an “A” on our next biology test.
We don’t feel threatened….not even a little. It isn’t intimidating. We might feel a little sorry for the frog on the paper diagram (but not as sorry as we feel for the frog sitting right in front of us on the lab table, belly side up, reeking of formaldehyde).
We aren’t afraid for ourselves, is my point. Because the food chain is there for us to learn about them. It isn’t for us to learn about us.
On the cusp of a brand shiny new decade, without any real warning at all, homo sapiens – our own species – suddenly reentered the food chain of life.
We didn’t see it coming because it didn’t come from the place we were taught it would come. In other words, our predator didn’t try to attack us from above, like through artificial intelligence or aliens.
Instead, it has made a sneak attack from below.
It has come from a place so low on the food chain totem pole, so unremarkable and unassuming, so microscopic we can’t even see it.
Suddenly, we have become urgently vulnerable, preyed upon with single-minded ferocity by a predator that is both alive and yet not alive.
Many of us feel deeply afraid or even panicked. Some of us feel numb. Others of us have snapped into prepper mode, stocking up on the types of (toilet paper) necessities people only buy when we are expecting to survive for a long time – to literally outlast all the others.
It is only natural, of course.
We are not used to being a participating member of the food chain. We are not used to literally being all in this together. We are not used to having to make the really hard choices for the sake of our own personal survival, let alone the survival of those we love, or strangers, or everyone.
We are not used to waking up and walking through our days with one eye always trained towards any hint of a threat, of danger, of a hungry predator who wants – intends – to eat us for lunch.
But we are also the only species on the planet who is not used to this.
The guppies, the frogs, the snakes, the foxes, even the eagles and lions and sharks, they know that even one single second of absentmindedness can and might be their last.
My yoga teacher, Adriene Mischler, always asks us to “notice what it feels like to be alive today.”
What does it feel like? What does it feel like to you, to be alive right now, today?
What does it feel like to suddenly rejoin the food chain of life, ready or not, want to or not, and know that each day and even each moment, each breath we breathe in and out from this day onward carries both risk and opportunity?
It makes me wonder if this explains our seeming enormous collective need for nature right now, in that we need mentoring so desperately at a level we have never needed it before. How do we do it? How do we handle the fear? How do we cope with being under constant threat which demands that a portion of our attention, energy and focus always be reserved for the sole purpose of furthering our own basic survival?
How do we adapt to living from this split mind, and not later, not after we’ve studied the problem and made official-looking diagrams about it and published it in a respected peer-reviewed journal and, finally, added it to the curriculum for the next generation of students?
How do we set our mind to just go out and live, RIGHT NOW, knowing that our deadly predator could be anywhere, hiding on that doorknob or this dollar bill or that bag of chips we so casually plucked off the grocery store shelves and started snacking on without remembering to sanitize, wash, scrub, safeguard.
One moment of inattention. That is all it takes.
Maybe this is why so many of us are out in nature right now that governments are having to actually close down popular local parks on major holidays just to keep us apart.
Nature knows. Nature is the mentor we need. Nature understands how to live life in the moment, doing everything that can be done to survive and at the same time understanding it might not be enough.
Nature remembers and truly has never forgotten that we are all in this together. We need each other and that need isn’t always pretty. That need sometimes means someone gets eaten so someone else can eat. But that need also sometimes means odd alliances form between the unlikeliest of new friends.
Nature has a respect for life and for this planet that feels very authentic and responsible. Very adult.
And nature is a great teacher. But nature is not a gentle teacher. In fact, nature’s motto might be “learn fast or die.”
I truly believe we can learn fast enough. We have that capacity. Will we use it? The whole food chain of life on this small round blue planet is watching us, waiting to see if we will accept our natural place and preserve our little link in the chain intact.
Or if we will, once again, break it.
With great respect and love,