“The earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.”
What is nature connection? Why is nature connection important? Why is it important to, as Daniel Vitalis says, ‘re-wild’ ourselves? What is ‘nature deficit disorder’? What is biodiversity? What does it mean to be fed and nourished? What does it mean to be healthy?
I began this blog with a much quoted statement from Chief Si’ahl. I grew up in the Seattle area in the Pacific Northwest, but in a very different way than the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes that lived there for thousands of years in harmony with the environment. Instead of growing up harvesting food from the environment and creating art and culture in harmony with the local land base, I grew up as a citizen of the Pacific Northwest, an inhabitant of a city. This meant that most, if not all of my food, clothing, and basic needs were provided for with items imported from other places. A city by definition is an area that has overshot its land base and must import water, food, and clothing from other places. Instead of growing up eating wild salmon that were so thick they jumped up out of the creeks and rivers begging to nourish the local tribes, I sat down each morning to a bowl of bleached, refined, extruded, circular shaped wheat products from a cardboard box, covered in refined sugar, a fractured anti-nutrient used to help addict people to items that they would normally not eat under the most dire of circumstances, moistened with pasteurized, homogenized, pus filled, micronutrient free white dairy product known as ‘milk’ from a toxin leaching plastic jug. Not surprising then that I later developed chronic tonsillitis, anorexia, and clinical depression, in large part due to an almost complete lack of nutrition and a perniciously inflamed allergy sensitized gut. As is the chronic case with so many people in the modern world, I was undernourished and overfed, in a variety of ways.
As a child I moved mostly between our house, school, and church, with very little if any overt focus on connecting with the land base in which I was raised. I think we went camping twice in my childhood. Luckily I grew up in an era where things did not move quite as quickly as they do today. I was raised in a rural area with access to trees to climb, creeks to catch crawdad’s in, and parents who, when they got fed up with the noise and sibling rivalry between me and my brother and sister, simply said, ‘Go outside!’. So, by no design or intention on the part of my parents or community, I was gifted with the beginnings of nature connection and biophilia.
What began in my youth expanded in my 20’s as I was introduced to the hot springs in the Olympic National forest and learned to connect my entire body with the natural world. I started to backpack, hike, and camp more and was lucky to become connected with folks who knew the work of Tom Brown Jr. and other early western nature connection ‘pioneers’. Increasingly I began to experience the unquenchable desire to be in connection with nature, with all life, with all my relations. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, “I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked. I am mad for it to be in contact with me.” Gratefully I have begun to develop this madness more and more as I have grown.
E.O. Wilson defines biophilia as the ‘urge to affiliate with other life forms’. Many children today do not have the opportunity to climb trees, step their bare feet into wild water, or lay in a meadow of wildflowers contemplating the birds and the bees. Many kids today are whisked from home to school to afterschool programs and home again without ever having a moment of privacy, independence, and intimacy with the natural world. And if the kids don’t have the time or take the time, how many adults are? When was the last time you took your shoes off and climbed a tree, or laid your belly on the earth and felt the heartbeat of the mother? These things nourish us in ways we need to be nourished. Taking food into our digestive tract is not the only way or even the most important way in which we are fed. Babies who are not touched with love and affection wither and die in spite of being given food. We are wired for connection, and when we do not feel connected, we suffer.
NPR reported that in 2008 that we were entering an ‘era of mediated nature’, so that most of our access to nature is through a book or a plasma screen.
In cultures around the world and throughout history, in addition to an understanding of biophilia as a requirement to long term happiness and survival (‘Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth…Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.’), cultures also understood the experience of biognosis, that is, direct knowledge, wisdom, and nourishment shared between species.
The western Cartesian philosophy and trajectory has been built on the exact opposite postulation, that instead of living in harmony with an ensouled, enspirited universe, we are, as humans, the pinnacle of evolution living on a mass of molten rock hurtling through space, and it is our duty and purpose in life to subdue our environment to our will, and our right to subject all that is not sentient (which in the Cartesian model includes all on the earth besides humans, and has at times in the past and present also included human women, blacks, Jews, and other marginalized beings) to our dominance.
Riane Eisler has named this system a ‘dominator society’, and has called for a recognition and acknowledgement of the current paradigm and a to shift to a ‘partnership’ model in her book ‘The Real Wealth of Nations; Creating a Caring Economics’, a play on the title of the famous book written by Adam Smith in 1776 espousing the philosophy of capitalism and free markets, ‘The Wealth of Nations’.
Today we find ourselves in a planetary crisis. Global warming and super-storms are on the rise. Our economy is crumbling under the constant weight of ‘growth’ and the reality that our ease and comfort in the west is built upon the degradation and destruction of our own and other’s land bases. We are also observing chronic health issues, including obesity and diabetes in children and adults, with statistics showing that almost 50% of the population of the U.S. is obese, with its attendant health issues and suffering. Again, the reality of being overfed and undernourished on a variety of levels is showing us that in order to survive and thrive, we need to understand and approach our lives and world in a very different way.
We are experiencing rampant violence in our children and schools and observing growing emotional and physiological disorders that can be directly connected to our lack of, well, connection.
Richard Louv, in his book ‘The Last Child in the Woods’, coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, to describe the many issues of suffering that face us and our children due to our lack of connection to anything other than petrochemical technology and a human made reality. Instead of coming to the doctors with broken bones or sprains from climbing trees and running and playing, kids are coming to the doctor with repetitive strain issues from playing violent video games, which have been implicated in violent outbreaks within the school system leading to shootings and deaths. Children and adults are increasingly medicated for chronic issues of depression (anhedonia, or non-feeling, lack of connection) and other neurological ‘disorders’ caused by nature deficit, nutrition deficit, and toxic overload (again, this toxic overload comes to us on many levels, from the toxins we are ingesting in our foods, those we are exposed to in our natural environment, and the images that we are bombarded with through advertising and media).
What can we do about these things and, if you haven’t already been given enough information, why should we do anything?
Have you heard of epigenetics? The study of what is above genetics? Epigenetics looks at the ways in which our genes can be turned on and off like switches in order to activate latent potentials for health or disease. In the recent past in the study of genetics, there has been a belief that the genes we are born with determine how our lives will play out, regardless of outside influence. What epigenetics is showing is that what we eat, how we think, and how we behave and are treated will influence our genetic expression in our own lives and can even become heritable to our children and grandchildren for ‘seven generations’ or more to come.
How does this relate to nature connection and re-wilding you ask? Diversity of information received from the natural world, through the foods we ingest, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the images we are constantly exposed to, is engaging with our DNA to create who we are and who we become. According to Daniel Vitalis, plant information activates and deactivates our epigenetics. In the past an average human might have consumed at least 150 different plants a year, whereas in the present, we are consuming on average 30 or less (if we are consuming any fresh foods at all). The diversity of information provided from our diet (both food and lifestyle) allows for a diversity and strength within our genetic expression.
Vandana Shiva refers to the modern experience of agriculture and culture in her book “Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology.” Shiva writes “The monoculture of the mind treats diversity as disease and creates coercive structures to remodel this biologically and culturally diverse world of ours on the concepts of one privileged class, one race and one gender of a single species. As the monoculture of the mind took over, biodiversity disappeared from our farms and food. It is the destruction of biodiverse rich cultivation and diets that has led to the nutrition crisis.”
The well-known dentist Weston A. Price published his book ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ in 1939, demonstrating through his global research and extensive photography, that the modern western diet (particularly flour, sugar, and modern processed vegetable fats) cause nutritional deficiencies that are the ongoing cause of many dental issues and health problems. Due to the fact that the FDA guidelines are primarily decided by big ag, dairy, and meat industries, even though this information has been available for 70 years and more now, we are still getting fatter and sicker as a nation, and by spreading the western way of profit, growth, and monoculture, as a global community as well.
(The above images are from Price’s book ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ and show the vibrant health and structural integrity of people living on nutrient dense traditional diets connected to their community and their land base.)
What to do?
Eat local, organic whole foods from farmers you know and trust.
Get to know your farmers. Volunteer at a local farm. Know where your food comes from.
Cook whole foods at home for yourself, your family, and your community.
Avoid processed, denatured, fractured foods and food-like substances.
Eat wild foods.
Vote against big companies like Monsanto taking even more control of our food system and creating foods that produce high profits and extreme health and environmental degradation. Do you really want the creators of things like high fructose corn syrup to be in charge of what you eat?
Touch the earth with your bare feet.
“With an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 exteroceptors in the sole of each foot, your feet are among the most nerve rich parts of your body.” Exteroceptors are nerves that gather information from the world around you. That information is part of what keeps the biodiversity alive in your body and your mind. The earth and all its inhabitants are communicating with you, sharing wisdom and knowledge on how to be an earth steward, but we have to take off our ‘ear muffs’, our shoes, so we can hear and listen to the information we are being given. According to the Earthing Institute; “Contact with the Earth appears to uphold the electrical stability of our bodies and serve as a foundation for vitality and health. In an age of chronic inflammation and disease, “grounding” ourselves by reconnecting with the Earth beneath our very feet provides a way back to better health.”
If you have sensitive feet, you can start out simply by taking your shoes off on a sandy beach or grassy meadow and sitting or walking with your bare feet connected to the earth.
Begin to communicate with plants. Seriously.
In their book ‘The Yoga of Herbs’, David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad write, “There is nothing in existence that is unfeeling, nothing that is profane or unspiritual, nothing without a unique value in the cosmos. Life is relational, interdependent, interconnective, a system of mutual nourishment and care, not only physically, but also psychologically and spiritually.”
I am asking you here to begin to retrain your mind out of the Cartesian model and back to a new-ancient understanding of sentience in all things. Frawley and Lad go on to write, “Consciousness…is not merely thought, much less intellect or reason. It is the feeling of being alive and related to all life. Consciousness as pure feeling exists already in the plant and is hidden in the rock, even within the atom itself. Elemental attraction and repulsion are similar to love and hate, like and dislike. For this reason, the ancient seers of India held that the Self alone exists, that unity is the basis of all existence-that the unity of life is the unity of consciousness. By this they meant that every living thing is sentient, that everything was, in the sense of consciousness, human.”
The native people of the Americas sometimes referred to this understanding by addressing ‘all the people’, including all existence as relatives, and often referred to plants as ‘the first people’. To quote Frawley and Lad once more, “The proper usage of a plant or herb, during which its true power is released, implies a communion with it. The plant, when we are one with it, will vitalize our nervous system and invigorate our perception. This means giving value to a plant as something sacred…Each plant then, like a mantra, will help to activate the potential of cosmic life of which it is a representative. For this reason many ancient people have reverence for the plant kingdom. It is not superstitious awe, nor a mere sensitivity to beauty, but a reception of the power that plants bring to us.”
How do I communicate with plants, you ask? Drink teas made from wild herbs. Take herb baths and absorb the information and nourishment of the plant through your skin. Sit next to plants you feel drawn to and ask them questions. See if you get any answers. Listen.
If you’re not sure how to do these things, or if you even want to, hang in there. Stay open. Listen to your heart and your intuition about what is best.
Climb a tree.
Hug a tree.
Kiss a tree. Seriously.
“We did not weave the web of life. We are merely strands in it. What we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”