“If you found yourself in front of a respected elder, and only had one question to ask, what would that question be?”
The question lingered in the air enigmatically as those huddled around the campfire paused to contemplate it. The entire scene, in fact—the crackling fire, the 20 some illuminated faces of those surrounding it, and the vast starry sky above—felt like something of an enigma, profound and deep and so out of the ordinary.
Despite the novelty, this scene, with its depth of conversation, crackling fire and expansive sky, is quite typical for this constellation of humans. The people huddled around the fire are participants of the Weaving Earth Immersion.
From their website: “The Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education fosters a learning environment that is inspired by contemporary insights and grounded in ancestral wisdom. Guided by nature, we endeavor to draw out the vital contributions we each have to make to the great work before us.” Located in Sonoma County, CA, Weaving Earth hosts programs and workshop for adults, children and teens in nature connection, applied permaculture, ancestral skills, community building and honoring life’s transitions. The heart of the organization is their nine-month adult immersion program, which meets for three days every week. The days are full of shared meals, intentional time for connecting with nature, workshops, training and reflection time and their nights are full of storytelling, music and camping on the land.
There is also a children’s program that runs parallel to the adult program. While the children have their own program, it is clear that the two are closely interwoven. The morning I joined Weaving Earth, the kids were literally running circles around the adults, choosing whose back to jump on and who would be the next victim for their riddles. It reminded me of that cliché but all-too-true aphorism that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, here it is, a whole village of loving adults, present for the upbringing of a few children.
The value Weaving Earth places on community hints at something larger and more vital to their philosophy: connection. They are founded on the premise that, for most of their existence, humans have lived in tight knit villages and in deep connection to the Earth. The break in that pattern is the root of many larger issues today. “When I look at the world, I see evidence again and again that we are in a profound disconnective state”, says Sam Edmondson, a former participant of the WE immersion and current staff member. “The disconnected state is shown by the way we are plundering resources that we all depend on, and is actually jeopardizing the future of life on the planet. (…)The root of the problem to me is that separation, and that is where we have to go, directly addressing that separation.”
Weaving Earth addresses the need to reweave those severed threads of connection by supporting its participants to cultivate deep and embodied relationships with themselves, others and the more-than-human world.
This is such a vastly different approach to global issues than that taken by almost any organization I can think of. Weaving Earth acknowledges that the notion that humans are separate from nature is actually a paradigm and not a fact. We have, in fact, for most of human history lived in profound connection to the natural world; it is something that is literally stitched into our DNA. But, through a series of developments including agriculture, colonialism, genocide perpetrated against indigenous people, slavery and the Industrial Revolution, humans started to extract themselves from that belonging in nature and oriented towards extractive and dominating relationships. Weaving Earth acknowledges that living in that paradigm is what has enabled us to start acting so destructively towards the Earth, and is working to shift that paradigm.
The program is deeply grounded in nature connection, which is often a launching point for fostering deep connections in other arenas. One of the foundational tools Weaving Earth uses to cultivating a relationship with the natural world is perhaps the simplest, which is a sit spot. “It is simple: it is finding a place close to where you live, it could be out your front door or the park down the street, and making it a daily practice to go and sit in that one spot to build a relationship with what is there and to see how it changes over the course of the seasons”, explains Edmondson. “That builds a really powerful ecological awareness.”
Fostering a deep ecological awareness naturally spills into self-discovery. “It often brings up a lot on a personal level. For me, it has become a sanctuary. I go to my sit spot when I am feeling overwhelmed by the world and it is an anchor point for me to breathe and relax and quiet my mind. It has helped me again and again to see what is the right next step in my life.”
This self-discovery, or inner tracking, is another major aspect of Weaving Earth’s programs. Inner tracking is learning to read one’s inner landscape—our emotions, our relationships, our past, the arc of our journey—like reading the land when tracking, learning to interpret its shape, imprints and movements. Becoming in touch with one’s own story is essential to the heartfelt response Weaving Earth imagines for the world today. “People come into the world with a purpose, a set of gifts (but) we don’t necessarily know what that is. In the modern experience, I don’t think that we live in a society that does a good job of pulling those unique gifts out of people. What (Weaving Earth) is doing is to put people in touch with that sense of: ‘What is the thing that I came here on this planet to do?’ We are encouraging people to look for that gift and give it. And, when we do that, the world can only become a better place.”
While participants in the Weaving Earth Immersion program are learning to tend their inner landscape, they are also learning to tend the outer landscape of the earth. Training in applied permaculture is a key aspect of the program. “Permaculture is a world view that is the exact opposite of the dominant one we are living in: a paradigm of extraction and unlimited growth in which certain people and ecosystems have become expendable. Permaculture is the orientation that resources can stay where they are so that there is a self-renewing health and fertility.”
Participants also receive training in tracking and ancestral skills. These skills both foster a sense of connection to nature, but also one’s self. “To go out and harvest the materials to make a fire and then to build that fire is such a profoundly empowering and transformative experience for people.” It helps in building inner resilience, confidence and a deep sense of safety.
The impacts of such a practice are profound. “We as human beings exist on a spectrum of possibility. There is the spectrum that goes from cooperation to competition. The competitive side of things, the domination side of things is what has been emphasized in the last couple thousand years. But that is not necessarily who we are. There are lots of examples of culture and powerful Indigenous wisdom that shows other possibilities. Weaving Earth is really about investigating those other possibilities and looking at what a strongly Earth connected orientation can be (…) so that we come back to a sense of interrelationships and start to make different decisions about the world.”
I cannot say again how important this work is, of remembering that full spectrum of our possibility. Gratitude to my many friends over at Weaving Earth, for reminding us of that spectrum and inviting us to orient towards connection.
The rhythmic lyrics of Bob Marley poured out over the radio as I careened down the highway on my way to work. It was one of his lesser known songs—Coming in From the Cold— but one of my favorites. In typical Marley fashion, the song has bouncy rhythms while his vocals reverberate basic lyrics. In this case, most of the song is some derivation of “In this life, this sweet life, we’re coming in from the cold.”
Tears streamed down my face, I thought yes, that is what I want. I want to come in from the cold.
Let me explain: I have been in a two month funk lately, a strange malaise that I could not quite pin down. It was very vague: I felt tired, uninspired and disconnected from my sense of purpose. And I found myself watching a lot of Netflix.
I cannot say exactly what created this funk. I am sure it was some combination of the emotional upheaval of the holidays, having some involved projects at work and not taking time for the things that feed me. The large quantities of Netflix probably did not help either. Whatever the reason, I do know how it affected me. It silenced my channel.
My ideas about why we are here are grounded in the context of the Great Turning, the idea that we are at a unique and pivotal moment in planetary history where the future of human life is uncertain. Our questionable future is because of our industrial growth society, a society where we view people and the planet as expendable resources to be exploited for profits. If life is to survive on this planet, we need to make a drastic shift from an industrial growth society to a life sustaining society, one that acknowledges the right of all life to continue living. That is a massive switch that is going to take all of us participating fully.
Each person holds a unique piece of this shift, a gift or contribution that is theirs and theirs alone to give. There is something that needs to be done that only you can do, or a way of being that the world needs that only you possess. You have something to give and if you do not give it, the world simply will not have it.
Poet David Whyte calls this the shape that waits in “the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky” (What to Remember When Waking) and “the truth at the center of the image you were born with” (All the True Vows). Poet Mary Oliver hints at this by saying “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination (…) announcing your place in the family of things.” (Wild Geese) and asking us, “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (The Summer Day). The Quakers refer to it as your vocation, from the Latin word vocare, to call. It is your calling. That thing, beautiful and mysterious, that ceaselessly calls you to it.
For some this is their paid work but for many it is not. Elizabeth Gilbert describes it as that thing that you would do no matter what, even if you knew you were bound to fail, something that you love doing regardless of any guise of success or wealth or fame.
I especially love Martha Graham’s description, “There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Lately, because of my funk, my channel has been closed. For me, my channel has to do with writing, being a witness and story teller to this world in the time of the Great Turning. I have not been doing that, I have not been writing. And it was not just that I have not writing; I was not being the fullest expression of myself, not living out the deepest and most vibrant way I knew.
And it hurt. I felt sad and isolated and exhausted. I felt disconnected. It felt like, after a raucous, celebratory party, where all your favorite people where there and you sang and danced and ate delicious food and engaged in equally delicious conversation, the next morning you then wake up in your lonely apartment to nobody but your silent appliances and everyday life. Everything looks the same and nothing is wrong, but you still have that memory stored in your body of how alive life can be, you know there is something so much wilder and more vivid that you want and it wants you back.
That is what I want. I want to live in that connection and aliveness, I want to choose that end of the spectrum of human potential, the part that is fully alive and fully connected and celebrating all that life has to give. Like Marley said, I want to come in from the cold.
So, here it is. I am writing again. This is me coming in from the cold.
And, in case you are needing to do so also, here is a little inspiration from Bob Marley.
There is so much bad news in the world and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. Lately, it’s been the Syrian refugee crisis, and especially America’s response to it, that has been particularly hard to handle. But, if we are going to be truly alive in this world, I think we have to take it in and let it transform us. Here is a poem I wrote about doing that for the Syrian refugee crisis.
Feeling a little bummed about hate speech from Donald Trump? Holiday consumerism got you down? If you are needing a little inspiration this holiday season, look no further then Prince Ea’s newest video, Man vs. Earth.
Prince Ea is a 27-year-old spoken word poet whose art focuses on social and environmental justice. His videos, which have gained millions of views on YouTube, pair inspirational lyrics with beautiful images. In his latest video, Man vs. Earth, he frames human impact in planetary terms: if the existence of the Earth were condensed into 24 hours, human’s existence would be the last 3 seconds of that 24 hours.
And look at what we have managed to do with that 3 seconds: species extinction, war, and global warming, to name a few.
But Prince does not linger in gloom and doom. He quickly reminds us of the incredible gift that life on this planet is.
“We were given so much, the only planet with life–1 in a million, no really, one in a billion trillion trillion. (…) So how are we not a miracle?”
This is a powerful invocation; I have countless times heard people referred to humans as a virus on this planet, or the scourge of the Earth. This strikes me as not just hopeless and disempowered, but down right unproductive. The more we self-identity as a destructive species, the more we will act that way.
But to remember that we are a miracle offers the opportunity to act like a miracle. Prince invites us into a bigger way of being, of acknowledging the wonder of our existence and our innerconnectedness and living from that place.
Prince’s video helps us find agency amidst climate change; he reminds us that, as much as we are the problem, we are also the solution. “It is our duty to protect Mother Nature from those who refuse to see her beauty. (…) When enough people come together, we too will make waves and wash the world into a new era.”
Another thing I love about Prince Ea is the fresh approach to environmentalism. The face of the American environmental movement is often white and middle class and lets face it, can sometimes be a bit dry. Prince blends science with art with hiphop into a compelling message about taking action.
There is so much madness in this world and we always have a choice about how we respond. I honor those who choose hope, action and art. Thank you, Prince Ea, for being a voice of inspiration and sanity.
And thanks for making environmentalism a little bit cooler!
As Project Manager at the Mindful Life Project, Salina Espinosa-Setchko runs programs that teach mindfulness, yoga and performing arts to over 6,500 students in the Richmond, CA’s school system. Located north east of San Francisco, the city of Richmond was once ranked as one of the most violent cities in the US. While violence has decreased, the Richmond community remains a heavily impacted and under-resourced community. The work of the Mindful Life Project is deeply transforming that by giving the children the skills to understand and relate to their own, often traumatic, life experiences. Read More
Cars whiz by on a dusty thoroughfare in a small California town. I stand in a circle of 8 people. Patti Dunton, a Salinan woman, walks around us and sings in Hokan, her native language. She explains that this song, the Bear Dance Song, offers protection and strength to those who hear it. I can’t help but think how apt this song is for those in the circle right now.
I have come here- Mission San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel, California- to join Caroline Ward Holland and her son Kagen Holland on the Walk for the Ancestors. The two, both of Tataviam decent, which is a tribe that once flourished in present day southern California, are walking to all of California’s 21 Missions to mourn the egregious violence and destruction that happened to Native peoples at them.
The walk is in response to the Pope’s recent canonization of Junipero Serra. Serra was the Franciscan monk who colonized California and brought Catholicism to its Native people. While the Catholic Church celebrates this conversion, in came at a nasty price.
Historians agree that Serra forced native peoples to abandon their culture, enslaved them and sometimes worked or beat them to death. Tens of thousands of natives died at his hands and were often buried in unmarked graves. Carolina and Kagen have found shackles and bones at various Missions.
When the Pope announced he was granting Sainthood to Serra, native communities across California were devastated. “In light of the canonization, I didn’t know what to do”, explained Caroline. “I felt helpless, and like I was being completely disrespected. And that, not only did our ancestors pay a heavy price for being colonized, but it’s happening to them again by the Pope deciding to canonize Junipero Serra.”
Caroline transformed her grief into action. Originally, she and her son were just going to walk from their ancestor’s village- which is now the parking lot at Six Flags Magic Mountain- to the San Fernando Mission, but their inspiration quickly grew. “We decided to walk for all the ancestors because hundreds of thousands of people died at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. Three weeks later, and we were on the road.”
On Sept. 8, they began their journey at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, the furthest north of the Missions, and have been walking south, covering anywhere from 10 to 30 miles a day on foot and by bike, and camping or staying at people’s houses along the way. During colonization, the missionaries started in the south and pushed north, so Caroline and Kagen are moving in the opposite direction as a gesture of pushing back.
They are walking with a fierce political message- calling for the missions to be learning centers to educate school children and the public about the genocide that occurred there, calling for businesses on Native land to pay honorarium taxes to local tribes, and for people to contact their local officials to find out what they are doing for local tribes.
And, perhaps, most of all, their message is about truth-telling. ““It’s easy to walk and tell people what went on when you’re telling the truth. (…). This walk is about the truth.”
But at the same time, they weave the spiritual with the political. “We are walking for our ancestors, to let them know we understand their suffering and we respect them.”
Caroline and Kagen shared stories of seeing signs of their ancestors in creatures they encounter, and a wrong turn that led them to a crystal. They are now carrying the stone and, at each Mission, hold a circle led by local tribal elders where people hold the stone and share from their hearts. “All these people are putting their stories into the stone. When we get to San Diego, that stone will have all of our stories in it”, explained Caroline.
And as I listen to the devastation in the stories they carry, it seems they have no choice but to weave the political and the spiritual. Before entering each Mission, the gather facts and figures about what happened there. They share stories of hundreds and in some cases thousands of natives that died and are buried in unmarked graves at each site.
At Mission Solano, there was a list of names of the 800 natives who died and are buried there. They read each name aloud in a long and heartbreaking litany of the dead. When Caroline asked where they were buried, the woman working pointed to the parking lot. As they walk from Mission to Mission, acknowledging the truth of what happened, it seems the two have undertaken a 650-mile, two month long grief ritual.
Each Mission offers grief but also the opportunity for healing that grief. “(At each Mission) we talk about what we need to do for healing. (Each Mission) is a session for healing”, said Caroline.
And it’s not just the cultural trauma of the natives they are touching; along the way, the two have stood in circles with many non-Native allies. “A lot of people who are not indigenous and who are in solidarity with us, I know (their) hearts are breaking because they can’t believe their ancestors were horrible murderers. (…) That’s cultural trauma on the other side.”
Caroline and Kagen seem to stand at the unique fulcrum between despair and hope, teetering between both extremes. What they are doing extends far beyond themselves as they walk the 650 miles to California’s mission, touching local tribes, speaking truth, inspiring action and touching their ancestors.
They two are like weavers, traveling from Mission to Mission, touching in to and stitching together with threads of connection the tribal peoples of California and non-Native allies into a beautiful patchwork quilt of solidarity and truth. And, when they arrive at the final Mission in San Diego, neither Caroline and Kagen nor the thousands that they touched along the way will be the same.
“When we get to San Diego, (we won’t be) the Fernandeno band of Indians, the Ohlone band of Indians, we will be the California band of Indians.”
To learn more about the Walk for the Ancestors, or to get involved, visit www.walkfortheancestors.org or Like them on Facebook.
The best way to start this is by giving an example.
Right now, I am cloaked in the warm sunshine of the early morning. I am grateful for the sunshine. I am grateful for the way it dances on my naked toes and face, the way it streams and dapples through fruit trees and bushes and illuminates flowers. I am grateful for the way it beams through the dark void of space to reach our blue and green planet. I am grateful for the plants it touches and their miraculous ability to convert that sunlight into nutrients that nourish the entire planet. I am grateful that, eons ago, this alchemy created an atmosphere that makes life possible.
This is gratitude. This is my expression of it.
I could go on for pages and pages about all the things for which I am grateful. Gratitude seems to be one of those positive feedback loops, where the more you express it, the more gratitude you have to express. And the more you express it, the better you feel.
Gratitude has recently garnered attention as science is starting to document this phenomenon. A great deal of research has found that feeling and expressing gratitude positively impacts mental and emotional state, leading to improved wellbeing.
People who consistently journaled on gratitude were found to exercise more, complain of fewer negative physical symptoms, feel more optimistic, and make more progress toward personal goals. Similarly, a gratitude exercise helped create a positive state of alertness, enthusiasm, determination and attentiveness. People who expressed gratitude were more likely to report having helped or supported someone recently.
I’m glad gratitude is getting this attention; it is well deserved. But, at the same time, the power of gratitude extends far beyond wellbeing. Gratitude has the potential to completely transform ourselves and our world.
In our capitalist system, citizens are regarded as and act as consumers. Their primary function is to consume the goods and services that fuel the economy. This ethic of consumerism hinges largely on a feeling of dissatisfaction. We feel the pressure to “keep up with the Jones’” because there is something about us that is inherently not good enough. Capitalism fuels a certain amount of malcontent, which in turn fuels consumption. And this consumption comes at the cost of exploitation of the Earth and human beings.
The reason gratitude is so powerful is because it directly pushes on that feeling of inadequacy. Capitalism teaches us to acknowledge what is insufficient; gratitude teaches us to acknowledge what is not just sufficient, but what is beyond good enough and is worthy of praise. Gratitude is an expression of what is already perfect as it is, what is a blessing, what is more beautiful and wonderful than our wildest dreams.
By consistently practicing gratitude, we cut right through the inadequacy that fuels consumption. We start to grow a muscle that acknowledges what is already good and notices less of what is not good enough. Our perception of the world actually starts to change. Instead of giving mental airtime to the voice that says my TV screen could be bigger and flatter or my income higher, gratitude turns the microphone to the voice that says, “Wow! Look at how amazing the world is!”
As we transform our inner thoughts, our outer actions change too. When we move from a place of gratitude, we move differently. Instead of rushing to buy the newest iPhone or taking another trip to Costco, we might favor time tending to relationships or doing something that feeds us. Suddenly there are fewer things that we need and more things that we love.
And think about what might change if all of us- or even a large portion of us- started thinking this way. Think about how our interactions with each other might change. Think about how our relationship to other beings and the Earth might change. Think about the wasteful industries that could crumble, the exploitative markets that might fail, and the new structures we might build.
Think about what a world bathed in gratitude might look and feel like.
So, I hope you will join me in offering gratitude, fervently and abundantly. This could take the form of a daily journal. You could start a practice of sharing with your friends or family before a meal. You could pick up a pen and make a list right now of three things for which you are grateful. You could leave a comment at the end of this blog post about something you are grateful for.
And, even if you don’t do it because you believe that it’s going to push on an exploitative capitalist system, at least you’ll end up a little healthier in the end.
I have a certain interest in beginnings, stemming largely from my somewhat tenuous relationship with them. I am a dreamer, with a head full of ideas and a love for possibility. But then, having dreamed very big dreams, I often find myself in the awkward place of asking, “Ok, where do I start?”
This question has morphed into what I have to claim as an obsession with beginnings. Whenever I see someone doing inspiring and impactful work in the world, I can barely wait to ask them, “So, how did you get started?”
The question of beginnings came up profoundly when talking to Anne Symens-Bucher. Anne is the executive assistant to Joanna Macy, a dedicated worker on behalf of the Great Turning, and a corner stone in founding Canticle Farm. Read More
Like one drum beat, crying out into an otherwise silent night, it begins. One brave and wild drum breaking the silence.
And, slowly, like Christmas lights on a tree being lit up one by one, more and more drums join in until suddenly the sound gives way to an entire chorus of life, celebrating our joy, celebrating this precious life.
This is how it happens: just like drums calling each other to come play, one story of hope inspires another story of hope. One story of resilience inspires another story of resilience. One story of joy reclaimed inspires another story of joy reclaimed until suddenly we find ourselves again as a people, engaged in actively building the world we want to create. These stories ripple out and have effects that we could never imagine. Read More