I am fascinated by mythic stories. Origin stories and creation myths say a lot about the culture that tells them. The Garden of Eden story is a familiar one to many modern Westerners, coming out of the Abrahamic religions.
Joseph Campbell has an interesting interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, of Adam and Eve’s Fall, as a slipping into dualism. The fruit is from the Tree of Opposites – good and evil, yes, but also male and female, light and dark. Before they tasted its fruit, Adam and Eve were one, in harmony and paradise. After the Fall, we have a dualistic state. We have a separation from nature and God is also separate from nature.
I usually think of the Eden story as being about expulsion and exile from the garden (nature), which on one level it is. This dualism is an interesting nuance. That my “fallen” state is to be caught in appearances, seeing myself as a separate being: from other people, from God and from nature. As long as I think it’s about getting back to the garden, I’ll never find peace in my current state.
What if this duality isn’t something we humans are doomed for all eternity to struggle against and try to escape? Maybe Eden – Paradise – was a stage in our development. Rather than see everything afterwards as the consequence of our failure, a fallen state (sinners, separated, cast out), what if by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Opposites, we grew up, ready to go out and encounter the complexities of a world of contrast and conflict.
Not fallen. Evolved. Because I don’t typically see it that way, because I feel shame at my condition and chafe at the discomforts of duality, I am missing its delights. I don’t only have Paradise now. I can experience Paradise and Hell, and every state between the two. And I am up for it – but not if I try to face it alone. I need other people, my family, relationships and community. And that includes my relationship with all the beings of the natural world.
Eden is within me. Evolution, as Ken Wilber observes, is a process of “transcend and include,” which means that I carry with me every prior stage of my development. I can access it at any time. I am not doomed for all eternity to be outside the Garden wall, in the wilderness looking in with longing to return.
Wildness is also a part of me. I am animal, part untamed and uncivilized. I am equipped to navigate the rapids of duality – that’s why I am here. Rather than try to escape my exile, maybe I can make peace with it, with duality. Eden was where I came from but I’m not meant to go back there, as to a place. It’s my past. If I accept this life in duality, what choices will I make?
Campbell is helpful again here. He says that systems are a part of being human. We are all part of, subject to, the rules of a system. The question is, are we going to let that system eat us up? Or are we going to rely on our and cultivate our humanity? Sometimes this looks like submitting to domination (say, in Nazi Germany) versus living in the knowledge that we are, essentially, free. That each of us is a sovereign whole, spirit and form. And we have a purpose that calls us. As Campbell puts it, heaven/paradise/nirvana isn’t a place; it’s a state of being. We have the ruby red slippers already and can go back home to Kansas any time.