Lesson 19: Pachamam – We are one ecosystem

On my travels in South America, the local communities introduced me to the concept of Pachamama, a Quechua word for Mother Earth. Principally it means that we are all connected to the broader ecosystem. We need to pay our respects to Mother Earth and treat it with a lot of love and care. It is a simple fact of life that we, in the modern world, have forgotten.

Today there is much concern about climate change. It is indeed an existential crisis, and we may not have much time to sort out the coming struggles. It is quite clear from the pandemic brought about by COVID 19 that we are a vulnerable species.

Yet we are very myopic in our actions. We clear land, wipe out species, pollute the environment: in the name of progress. While these actions may not have an immediate impact, the planet will feel the effects in due course.

During my expedition to Antarctica, the expedition team briefed us on the growing population of whales in the Antarctic oceans. It was heartening to know that whales are back in the oceans after almost being extinct. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the European whalers hunted the fur seals, elephant seals and whales in the seas, killing millions of animals. In many products, including food, cosmetics and lamps, manufacturers used whale produce. Due to excessive hunting, the whalers nearly wiped out the whale population. It has taken decades of work between nations to bring back the whales in the Antarctic seas.

In the same oceans, there is another problem brewing. We were told of the excessive overfishing of krill by large trawlers in the waters. Greenpeace’s study confirmed that krill fishing vessels were also operating near penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds. Demand in China and other nations are fuelling this trade. It is another era, but with the same old problem. Krill are an essential food source for many whale and penguin species. The decimation of the krill population could potentially have detrimental effects on the marine ecosystem in our oceans. According to Greenpeace, the penguin population could drop to a third by the end of the century due to krill biomass changes. The connected ecosystem on our planet is delicately balanced. Issues of hunting, overfishing, clearing of lands etc. can tip the balance, resulting in climate problems, which we are not prepared to tackle.

I found the reverence to Mother Earth very meaningful during my time in the Americas. During a visit to a native family in the Peruvian Amazon, I had the privilege of learning more from a local Amazonian native. He and his family had built a homestay business where travellers stayed and spent some time in the Amazon forest. He kept the environment damage to a minimum. He and his family took from the forests what was needed. He gave back by taking care of the surrounding woods and planting trees.

The circular relationship of giving and receiving was quite prevalent here. For millennia, different cultures have revered the planet as it provided us with everything we need. There are many initiatives in the Modern world to protect our resources and endure that the inter-connected system flourishes. In many European nations, alternative sources of energy have replaced the wide use of fossil fuels. Germany and Iceland are leading the change. Countries such as France, the United Kingdom and many others are not far behind. When I was in Costa Rica, I was pleasantly surprised to know that renewable sources power 90% and more of the country. A small country in Central America is leading the way. Such initiatives can only help mitigate climate change risks though a lot more is needed to ensure the system functions optimally.

The Human Body, too, is an interconnected system. Over the decades, we introduced various forms of toxins in our bodies. In the Western world, the prevalent use of antibiotics, medicines and other drugs has resulted in considerable antibiotic resistance problems as an example. Modern science has proven that we cannot survive without certain microorganisms in our gut, the microbiome. Processed foods have replaced natural foods in many diets. The gut bacteria needed for a healthy human system are affected by the numerous chemicals and other additives from processed foods, causing increased cases of multiple gastrointestinal diseases, cancer, and heart diseases driven by poor nutrition. Plastic use has increased, resulting in plastic and microplastic in our waters and marine life. It has come back to our diet when we drink the water and eat the fish. We cannot escape from this fact that what we do to nature comes back and affects us. It is the result of being part of a delicate, interconnected system.

In Nepal, I met an older American gentleman who has been coming to Pokhara for Ayurvedic treatments. Ayurveda is an ancient practice which focuses on the mind and body connection. It prescribes food as a form of medicine and helps the body heal with a diet change combined with yoga. This practice is very similar to the methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In both these cultures, food is medicinal and essential to a healthy human system. Many in the world swear to the efficacy of these holistic practices. I don’t have personal experiences with any of these practices, but I can vouch for the positive effects of natural food on the body. As I started to lose weight, I stopped eating highly processed food (I still eat in small quantities at a low frequency) and replaced it with natural food: Vegetables, Salads and Fruits. Medicine practitioners have always emphasized the need for proper nutrition. The traditional medicinal practices take the concept of food further. They believe that food can heal various diseases as different herbs, roots and plants can help address the cause of a problem rather than just the symptoms modern medicine addressed. I don’t know whether these practices are beneficial, but I have met many people who can vouch for these holistic practices. They believe ancient wisdom can help solve modern world problems.

Today, we have a significant mental health crisis in the world. Depression and Anxiety are prevalent, and other psychological illnesses are growing in numbers. In South America, among the natives of Peru and Ecuador, Ayahuasca is widely used as a body and mind cleanser. The hallucinogenic drug from these roots can help the individual connect to the broader universe. I was too scared to try, but I have read about people who found the exercise life-changing. It does come with its challenges, primarily if the shaman does not administer the drug correctly, causing fatal consequences. Today, modern medicine proves the ancient wisdom of these drugs by effectively treating mental health problems. Studies have proven that psilocybin, ketamine and ayahuasca have helped improve the lives of patients struggling with depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Ancient wisdom have always emphasized that we were far more connected than we were ready to accept.

I am convinced that we must listen to our forefathers and their pearls of wisdom. I am sure that the world will pay a heavy price for our resources’ mismanagement sooner or later and I dread the day when large scale wars, climate-driven, mental health crises, mass migration, food scarcity and flooding become the norm.

The Natives of the Americas are right: We should revere Pachamama.

Isn’t it time that we adopt the concept of Pachamama core to our lives?

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