Love beyond the anthropocentric gaze

What if we looked at love through the lens of nature? Would this change the way we do things? This is an invitation to become more observant, to see love outside of the anthropocentric views we usually know it through, and let that be a reminder that this force, that counteracts everything that helps oppressive systems survive, exists. Everywhere.

There is a forest where a white flower blooms for 7 hours and then dies. This flower has an incredibly enticing smell and very sweet nectar. How can a flower pollinate if it is alive for only 7 hours? Because of a love story. The flower’s sweet smell attracts a species of bat native to that part of the world, who, as they eat the flower, pollinate it. Because of the lack of nutrients in one flower, this bat must eat from hundreds of them, therefore helping many of them reproduce despite their short lifetimes.

But deforestation threatens this love. A smaller forest would mean fewer flowers, which would mean fewer bats. If this relationship is severed, both species will disappear.

Nature’s equilibrium is balanced because of relations, because of Love. Planet Earth is filled with Love stories. The water of rivers and its banks are in a perpetual dance to make the river itself, to allow for life to grow, and for the water to not stagnate. Tides and oceanic movement are also the fruit of a loving relationship, that between the Moon and the Earth. The consequence is the abundance of marine life that we have spent years studying, admiring and bathing in. The Earth holds us through Love, we are alive because of it.

Our views of love are anthropocentric, which means they often lack perspective and feed into the arrogance that gives us permission to uproot trees from their environments, overuse resources, and pollute the seas. As biophilosopher Andreas Weber says, “‘The Earth is currently suffering from a shortage of love’,” and it is perhaps exactly this lack of love that contributes to homophobia, racism, transphobia, sexism, and violence. When our environment suffers, our bodies suffer. Our culture has separated its understanding of love from the ways of the Earth, and it's time to remember.

What if we looked at love through the lens of nature? Would this change the way we do things?

I want to take humanity out of the picture for a moment. I want us to step out of our own being, become liquid, merge with the earth, the sky, and the roots of trees and simply observe. Right here, in the soil, is where most love stories are born.

“Ecosystems are love stories. Our most profound ways to relate and to feel, to exchange and to be touched, are ecological forms of gifting life, of loving. When we discover ecology as the vibrant love story it really is, we can unlearn the violent habits of our civilisation.” This was one of the introductory texts I read for the course Ecology of Love.

If Love is a practice of aliveness, as Andreas Weber says, then nature is the greatest teacher of love. Plants adapt to all sorts of challenges; in Piccadilly Circus in London, where cars, people, pigeons and other creatures tread on concrete with their weight every single day, there is still space for a plant to grow. Sometimes in the crack of a marble step, between cobblestones, plants find a way to flower so that they can continue to live.

“We are attracted to ‘nature’ because it charges us with the realisation of our erotic desire for life. In an erotic ecology, to live means to love”, writes Hannah Close. Ecosystems are manifestations of Eros: they are love processes that are physically present in the domains of living connections where life feeds more life.

When we slow down and observe, we can let nature speak to us in a clear way. In one of her essays, Sophie Strand speaks about connective tissue disease as a mycelial metaphor: “Our wounds don’t show up in our bodies,” she says, “they show up in our ecosystems. When we feel pain, we must ask where that pain is asking us to look. What plant, landscape, ocean, or mountain, resonates with our particular plight? How can we let personal illness galvanize us into a greater connection with our ecosystem?”

So what happens when we observe? Ants carrying tiny pieces of wood somewhere, vines intertwined with dying trees giving them colours, lichen living peacefully on the trunk of a tree. If the dimensions of love are care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, as bell hooks defines them, then Nature teaches us all of them, sometimes all at once. Mycelium networks are an example of essentially all those things. The act of care is passing information from tree to tree, often saving it from danger, the commitment is the consistency of its presence under a forest’s earth, the responsibility and respect lie in its role and existence, and its knowledge is years of carrying intelligence from the forest’s life.

And this happens constantly. Humpback whales carry the songs of their families for miles around the world, only to consistently and trustworthily come back to the same place to give birth and teach responsibility to their cubs, who will then teach it to the next generations. The constant cycles of natural behaviours, including humans, are what teach us that there is an inherent love story in many places we would not notice.

Humans too are relational beings, mostly born into communities, our mother’s birthing process is mostly aided by a group of people: be it nurses, doulas, friends, or partners. To be human is therefore to be born into some sort of caring relationship. The lack of recognition of this love brings us to a place of suffering.

Recognising and defining love is a practice of liberation. In All About Love, bell hooks describes Love as something that can be defined, and measured, not something that is incomprehensible unless felt by an individual. Defining love is an act of collective care that counteracts the capitalistic and patriarchal ways of teaching love, which can be isolationist and individualistic. The reality is that the systems that currently make our world are hierarchical, and that power is often defined by violence (military force) and economic prowess. But underneath these dominant narratives is a world where people, plants, and animals, measure power as an act of care, trust, and the ability to exchange love in different languages, be they touch, observation, communication, caresses, or care. It is so important to remember that these ways exist, that Love exists, and nature is constantly reminding us of this.

We can write love stories about nature, and love letters to nature (like Pablo Neruda), and perhaps this would bring us closer to understanding that what we see are reflections of our behaviour and potential.

This is an invitation to become more observant, to see love outside of the anthropocentric views we usually know it through, and let that be a reminder that this force, that counteracts everything that helps oppressive systems survive, exists. Everywhere.


Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a writer and curator exploring social justice, ecology, feminism, and art through a poetic lens. Her work is aimed at softly deconditioning from the systems we inhabit, she does this through sensorial essays, workshops, and talks. Writing and ritual are at the center of her research, which wants to highlight the revolutionary character and power of creativity, inner knowledge, and art, focusing on deconditioning through storytelling. Her work in community infuses poetry, ritual, movement, dialogue, and critical analysis.

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