al amor de la vida
adverb : in harmony with life.
A paradigm consists of a community’s ideals, observations, and practices. It contributes to a collective sense of reality and undergirds how the community organizes itself into the future.1 The global community has been assembling a paradigm of interdependence, a worldview and way of life that biologist Kriti Sharma calls radical contingency, physicist Fritjof Capra calls the systems view of life, and I here suggest calling living al amor de la vida. I write as a poet: the new words feel like they perform a function. First, I translate the neologism out of Spanish slang and systems theory into conversational English. Then, I offer some guidance for use of the words. Finally, I provide a colloquial bibliography outlining my education in the paradigm, in case it helps with yours. This paradigm concerns our belonging, in humanity and the biosphere.
I propose that vivir al amor de la vida, literally “to live to the love of life,” means to live in harmony with life. The phrase resembles two other Spanish idioms, two more expressions that don't translate directly word for word: estar al amor de la lumbre—literally “to be at the love of the flame”—to be comfortably close to a fire; and ir al amor del agua—“to go to the love of the water”—to go with the current, the flow. These loving idioms about alchemical elements resonate with both the nature of life and skillful living. Broadly, “al amor de” indicates a copacetic relationship with something generous and perhaps wild; the phrase can mean keeping integrity even across hazards, boundaries, contexts, and scales. Estar al amor de la lumbre and ir al amor del agua, hence, vivir al amor de la vida. I’ll elaborate on all three idioms while I unpack living al amor de la vida.
In life, fires, the hydrosphere, and love, risks abound. We sometimes succumb to the hazards. Floods, flames, infections, and fights break out! Tragedies happen. We also find happiness. In making joy, we manage chances.
We do all this while the generous wild—whether fire, water, or life—permeates inside and outside, while it transcends the boundary between the inner and the environment. Every one of our cells performs oxygen-based biochemistry that strongly resembles combustion: whenever we cuddle up to a flame, another kind of fire, our metabolism, also keeps us warm from within. Flowing water, an intricate current, makes up about 60% of our bodily mass—we go swimming and boating as unusual whirlpools. Even setting aside the life within our own cells, a rambunctious, living microbiome constitutes more than half the cells of a human body. (Our microbial genes outnumber our human genes between 100 and 1000 to 1 and dance a staggering repertoire of biochemistry.) We tend and study ecosystems as little ecosystems unto ourselves. Systems theorists consider such “al amor de” boundary-jumping a defining characteristic of life. Organisms make boundaries and at the same time remain open to flows of matter and energy from their environment. Organisms seek good relationships within and without.
A context, or environment, usually includes events unfolding at multiple scales; meanwhile, an event that occurs at a particular scale (e.g., microscopic or macroscopic, instantaneous or nigh eternal) can cross contexts. Both contexts and scales likely cross boundaries and entail risks for a traveller. Rather than try to tease the two terms apart any further, in addition to the planet-bound examples I already mentioned, I’ll simply illustrate a few relationships al amor de fire, water, and life at our solar system context and scales. We can consider nuclear reactions as yet another kind of burn and notice that the Earth flourishes al amor del Sol, that our planet orbits at a sweet distance from the fusion-hot Sun while warmed from within by fission.
Water made up part of the swirling nebula cloud that became our solar system. Most of it now resides even further from the hot Sun than the Earth, past an “ice line” where it tends to freeze unless salty or pressurized. Comets sometimes carry water to planets by crashing into them and might have doused the young Earth, leading to our present oceans. Life? While we don’t yet know if happens anywhere in the universe besides Earth, we continue to find places in our solar system and beyond where it feasibly could. Here at home, researchers recently noticed microorganisms residing much deeper within the Earth’s crust than previously known, which could change how we look around for life. Ultimately, our Earth is at the love of the Sun, goes to the love of ancient water, and may or may not live to the love of a living universe.
Estar al amor de la lumbre. Ir al amor del agua. Vivir al amor de la vida. From a perspective of contemporary systems theory, these words can functions across dangers, edges, environments, and magnitudes to provide insights about life. Vivir al amor de la vida can describe living in harmony.
Next, I’ll offer usage notes: ways to live to the love of life in a practical sense and ways to use the words.
Life on Earth currently faces challenges. Through unskillfulness or hazard, many humans have strayed far from the love of life. I’ll organize an account of this disharmony, plus what to do, again by fire, water, and life.
Human malpractice with fire and metabolism has disrupted the comfort of la Tierra al amor del Sol, of how the Earth blooms with life alongside the Sun. Even though the Sun has become 25% hotter over the past few billion years since life began, the Earth kept a steady internal temperature thanks to stabilizing feedback loops, some of which include the metabolisms of organisms in their function. Humans suddenly, explosively combusting the remains of ancient organisms plus upsetting the metabolisms of contemporary ones has spewed vast amounts of carbon gas into the atmosphere and disrupted the feedback loops. Humans tipped the Earth’s balance into heating. To avoid utter catastrophe, at the very least, 80% of currently known fossil fuel reserves need to stay underground, unburned…possibly to the dismay of fossil fuel companies who still count that fuel as an economic asset that they plan to sell. Many climate scientists recommend "drawdown" which consists of reducing human net carbon emissions to zero; supporting the ecosystems that currently draw 40% of existing carbon emissions out of the atmosphere; and building a more just and peaceful human society. We need to quickly make safe, efficient transportation, housing, and cooking globally accessible. Only two forms of nuclear energy—reactions that place less carbon in the atmosphere—can safely help with this: solar energy from the Sun’s fusion and geothermal energy from the Earth’s inner fission. The fission that humans perform poses too many hazards, including warfare. Anthropic fusion does not seem viable in a useful span of time. Fire offers great insight into living al amor de la vida.
With respect to water, humans have poisoned, mutilated, or overdrawn fresh waters; caused glaciers to melt; and heated the ocean. All of this alters aerial patterns of fog, rain, and snow. We urgently need to improve how we collectively go with the flow because no biochemistry happens without water. Cell membranes simply can't take shape. Drought kills. We need to restore waterways and halt global warming.
Obviously, living well requires keeping good relationships with the non-living and the living. I’ll focus on the latter below. Many humans live incredibly far from the love of organisms by keeping billions of animals and plants in tortuous conditions for food all while killing off whole ecosystems, even their own wild microbiomes, in the only mass extinction event caused by a single species. Agroecology—wisely growing food according to the principles of diversity and resource cycling—can bring the food system back to health on macro- and microscopic scales. Habitat restoration can bring billions of organisms back home.
Humans can use the words vivir al amor de la vida, and live by them, in myriad ways (which can cross hazards, boundaries, contexts, and scales). A mystic might describe their experience as a sense of living al amor de la vida, a profound feeling of connectedness that motivates them toward ethical behavior. The citizens of a city might declare that they plan to build apartments al amor de la vida, utilizing state-of-the-art regenerative practices for peoples in places so that the residents can more easily live al amor de la vida themselves. A country of people might resolve to better live al amor de la vida then proceed to grow, ferment, and eat local vegetables. Parents and communities might vow to raise children al amor de la vida, to nurture each child’s social and ecological life. A person can specify that they wish to die al amor de la vida, with a low-carbon ceremony that respects their dignity and comforts the living. Humans might enact vivir al amor de la vida in innovative, meaningful ways.
This adverb phrase resembles the adjective ecological; the verb systems thinking; the nouns wu wei, bodhicitta, and buen vivir; and the interjection pura vida. It can help train users in systems thinking, the demonstrably pragmatic skill of considering distinctions, system parts and wholes, relationships, and perspectives (DSRP theory). It also helps solve a linguistic problem that systems thinkers sometimes encounter: that the phrase “systems thinking” can feel aloof.
I'll close this section with a caution. Just as maps don't always correspond well with landscapes or models with systems, important differences can emerge between words and the world. Sometimes, utterances cease to serve. When is "living al amor de la vida" "greenwashing"? When is it a lie?
I list the influences in loose chronological order of their primary innovation.
An asterisk (*) indicates a major shift of an oral tradition incorporating a written tradition.
These teachings and teachers hail from all over the Earth; they often converge with or influence each other.
For now, I list the teachers from whom I have learned the most and omit many.
Teachings; schools; teachers.
Organisms and earth formations are family members to care for and who give care in return.
Kincentricity; indigenous ecology*; Robin Wall Kimmerer, Enrique Salmón.
Phenomena depend upon one another. A person can cultivate an awareness of this fact and a feeling of caring love toward all sentient beings. These lead to devotion to their/our well-being and alleviation from suffering.
Dependent co-arising, metta, bodhicitta, enlightenment; Buddhism*; The Buddha, Nāgārjuna, Thich Nhat Hahn.
The universe is in continual flux and humans can live in harmony with it.
The Tao and Wu Wei; Taoism; Lao Tzu.
Vast, loving forgiveness. This kind of grace seems, at least to me, needed sometimes.
Mercy; Christianity*; Christ.
Living organisms are all kin related and often enter into mutually caring relationships with one another. Land masses are materially dynamic and teem with living organisms. The metabolic processes of living organisms can affect the life-sustaining characteristics of the local and global environments.
Evolution, symbiosis, ecology, Gaia; recent science; Charles Darwin, Lynn Margulis, James Lovelock.
At the level of the smallest particles yet observed, the universe is dynamic and relational. Phenomena depend on each other.
Quantum mechanics, entanglement; recent science; Albert Einstein, Edwin Schrödinger, Neils Bohr.
The “births and deaths” of stars generate materials and habitable conditions for life; the study of seemingly distant, abiotic systems is also the study of life.
Cosmology, astrophysics, and big history; recent science; Carl Sagan, David Christian.
Systems can usefully be studied at multiple scales in terms of boundedness, networks, emergent behaviors, nonlinearity, and adaptation.
Systems theory, autopoiesis, complexity; recent science; Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Ian Stewart, Donella Meadows, Melanie Mitchell.
Human beings display an affinity for living beings.
Biophilia; recent science; E.O. Wilson.
All living beings have merit and actions should be taken for their benefit.
Deep ecology; recent spirituality and science; Arnae Nass.
Sensually vibrant, equitable, caring relationships might pervade society, politics and economy.
The erotic; feminism; Audrey Lorde.
Syntheses of the above.
Systems View of Life, Work that Reconnects, Deep Transformation, Radical Contingentism; Fritjof Capra,1 Joanna Macy, Jeremy Lent, Kriti Sharma.
Select examples of how I enact this paradigm, how I strive to work al amor de la vida, comprise my website.