Sometimes, when I am completely by myself in nature – and these can be momentary experiences – I feel such a warm kinship with the life around me that I want to embrace it, as one does with friends. Then I can press my chest against a tree trunk and forget my otherness, but then the worst part comes: shame arises from within me. How can I, as an adult, as a human being, hug a tree! Isn’t that kitsch?

Two difficult questions

No, it’s not, on the contrary. Kitsch is the imitation, the inauthentic. But in being connected to nature, the awareness flares up that it is the source of our existence. Ultimately, the call should be: Not back to, but back into nature! But how can we return to a place where we are anyway?

The call “back into nature” has become necessary because we parted with nature centuries ago so that we can subjugate it at will. But can you subjugate something that is you? Yes, apparently you can; you can do it by dividing yourself mentally and emotionally, creating an inner-psychic, cultural schizophrenia, splitting off “nature” as something alien – thus becoming modern.

What would a river be without an estuary?

“Back into nature” means changing perspective: It is not nature that is there for me, but I am there for nature. Whether I want to and realize it or not, I participate in the ebb and flow of the food chain, delivering my molecules to the great counter of life for further use. Returning to nature would be the end of the know-it-all attitude, the end of a Western attitude saying: “Nature, all well and good, but we can do better.” “Back into nature” would be the path from homo arrogans to homo sapiens.

“Back to nature” also means no longer understanding death as the very end, as the negation of life, but as the mouth of the river that releases us into the sea. It is true that there is no longer a river after the estuary, but what would be the point of a river without an estuary? But also: what would a sea be without rivers?

We don’t need an afterlife

What is the soul? As different as its definitions may be, we take it for granted that it is the carrier of our vitality. Anyone who exhales their soul is no longer what they were before. But then doesn’t every living thing have a soul, from amoeba to human being, from algae to vine? Can a living being be soulless or vice versa: can something soulless die? Nobody ever thinks of dead cars or a dead dishwashers. They are “broken”.

Aren’t body and soul one instead of being divided, as we are led to believe? Isn’t the separation of body and soul an auxiliary construction, first of all of monotheistic religions and later of materialism, which believes it can manage without a soul? Is a soulless biotope conceivable? Is that not a contradiction in terms? And is not the water of the biotope, the rushes and mosquito larvae, the frogs and the heron, the pieces of wood and the stones part of a complex whole, too? None of this is an arbitrarily replaceable “thing”, but something that has grown together and belongs, something born out of time. Isn’t it true that in nature there is only wholeness, and if we are part of nature, then we are also indivisibly whole. We do not need an afterlife for this. In an undivided, animated world, we can feel safe and carried forward even without transcendence.

Being edible

So if we want to “return to nature” – are you coming along? – then we leave the anatomical perspective, get off our high horse or Western ivory tower and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed, open ourselves to beauty, but also to death and the finite, which are the basis for the diversity and overwhelming abundance of existence. Then we are ready to relinquish our ego, which strives for security, distance and dominance, in order to discover a new, integral ego in contact with the world that we are. The Hamburg biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber goes one step further and talks about “being edible”. Longing for immortality, he says, is an “ecological mortal sin”. Coffins are our last attempt at separation, in the coffin we are not yet edible for the worm world, we delay our edibility a little longer; as ashes in the wild, however, we would be edible in a quasi-pre-digested form. Mysticism and biology unite in the realization of our edibility.

Where does the inner world end?

Returning to nature means recognizing that our siblings, too, have an inner world, that they perceive the world subjectively, just as we do. Ultimately, everyone knows about the inner world of all life, and to take it one step further: that there is an interrelationship between the inner and outer world. Everything feels, wants to be healthy and whole, can be happy or suffer, everything perceives, though not necessarily in the same way as “we humans” do. But who is “we”? You as a reader feel differently from me, the inner world of every person differs from that of others; that is our everyday experience. And if you have a dog or a cat, then that applies to them too, doesn’t it? Ultimately, this “we” does not exist, this statistical cross-section of the inner life of all people, but your and my inner world do as well as that of everyone else. But where does the inner world end, with which living being, with which species? Do only creatures with a nervous system similar to that of humans have an inner world? What about the inner world do birds, fish, snakes, insects and plants? Andreas Weber was able to observe under the microscope how unicellular organisms fearfully retreated from the deadly drop of alcohol on the glass under the lens. Do protozoa want to live? There is every indication that they do. Not only do we look at our fellow world, it also looks back – and presumably permanently traumatized by humans.

Radical reciprocity instead of romanticism

When we eat an apple, it becomes part of our body; in other words, part of an apple tree turns into you or me. The thought may seem baffling at first, and yet this process is normal in nature and even applies to stones, even though their transformation process into minerals and thus into plant nutrients takes longer than that of other creatures. There is nothing on the earth’s surface that is not involved in the great metabolism, and who knows: perhaps our planet is a molecule in the metabolism of the universe?

All of this is not about romance, but about a necessary revolution if we want to maintain the level of our civilization to some extent. People have romantic feelings towards nature, which they want to preserve for their own pleasure. To put it bluntly, concentration camp guards could also be romantics in their spare time. No, this time it is about a radical reciprocity and mutuality that grips us from the ground up and in which people take responsibility in a fundamental way for how they behave towards a sentient, vulnerable, equally worthy world. Then the search for meaning that has been going on for centuries ends, because we blossom in a very natural way in connectedness and because this blossoming only happens because every being is intertwined, linked and interwoven with the other. It is a blossoming of siblings.

Symbiosis instead of struggle

” Back into nature” would mean respectfully acknowledging that the other-than-human world does not consist of things that we can do with as we please or like; that we intervene in the world even when we cannot recognize life there. Because every intervention remains an intervention in the life currents and interconnections of the world, and only rarely – if ever – do we know exactly what the consequences of our actions will be. Our intervention may mean something different tomorrow than it does today. “Back in^to Nature” recognizes that life is symbiosis, not struggle. We are still resisting the embrace of the trees. That is why, according to Andreas Weber, we need “a revolution of the soul – and a profound realignment of our relationships”. Only then will we have a chance of a future worth living in that resembles the present.

For further reading:

Andreas Weber, Essbar sein. Versuch einer biologischen Mystik, Verlag think-Oya,
ISBN 978-3-947296-09-5, 26,80 Euro