The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Environment: It or Us?

Since the 1970s there has been much concern for the environment. Just what is this thing called
environment that is of concern?

The English word environment comes to us from Old French. The prefix en suggests in or into. The stem of the word is from viron, meaning circle, circuit. Thus, the Old French word environer means “to surround, enclose, encircle.”

Which is how the term environment has come to be understood: as all that which surrounds us, outside of us, but, significantly, not us. We reside in our environment.

In western tradition, it is only fairly recently that the sense of our environment being outside of us has started to be questioned and challenged.

The word itself, although being used in the 1600s, did not really start to be used until the Scottish historian/philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, translated a German word used in a text by Goethe as environment in 1828.1

It was to be more than a century before the word began to find parlance in the English language. Beginning in the 1940s the word began to trend upwards in usage. With the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 70s the word began to be used significantly more frequently, reaching a peak in about 1997, and trending back down again since then. Today the word environment is used approximately 95 times in every one million words – roughly the same frequency with which it was used in the mid-1980s.

The common use of, and meaning given to, the word environment remains as “all that surrounds us” and commonly also thought of as the “natural” surroundings, rather than artificial, or constructed surroundings, although this can vary from person to person considerably.

However, not many within the westernised world would consider environment to include human beings. In this way of thinking humans observe the environment, and interact, objectively, with it (in both positive and negative ways.)

Yet, there is no distinction. The environment is not an “it” out there.

Indeed, many indigenous languages have no pre-European contact word that translates as environment. The Haida people of the islands off the tip of the Alaska Panhandle refer to other-than-human creatures as their brothers and sisters. Trees are not simply trees, but tree people.2

This is a distinctly different way of seeing the world. It is one that does not divide me from my surroundings.

Perhaps the most explicit sense of an indigenous understanding of this that I have found is that provided by Jack Forbes. At the end of his book, Columbus and Other Cannibals, he offers a poem/prayer speaking of the Native American understanding that there is no such thing as my environment as distinguished from me. Here is part of the poem/prayer he calls The Universe is Our Holy Book.3

“The Old Ones say

outward is inward to the heart

and inward is outward to the center

Because for us

there are no absolute boundaries

no borders

no environments

no outside

no dualisms

no single body

no non-body.


We don’t stop at our eyes

We don’t begin at our skin

We don’t end at our smell

We don’t start at our sounds.


I can lose my legs and go on living

I can lose my eyes and go on living

I can lose my ears and go on living

I can lose my hair, my nose, my hands, my arms

and go on living.


But if I lose the water

I die

If I lose the air

I die

If I lose the sun

I die

If I lose the plants and animals

I die.

For all of these things

are more a part of me

more essential to my being than that

which I call “my body.”



1. The German word used by Goethe was Umbegung.

2. Peter Knutson & David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders, Allen & Unwin, Toronto, Canada, 1992.

3. Jack Forbes is of Powhatan-Renape, Delaware-Lenape, and non-American background. He is the former chair of Native American Studies at the University of California, and in 1961 founded the Native American Movement. He is the author of several books, including Columbus and Other Cannibals, Seven Stories Press, New York, revised 2008 (originally published in 1978)

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