Category Archives: Values

Forgiveness

Here is another chapter from the book I am writing. I hope you enjoy! Blog by Valerie

Ho'oponopono Blog en Español de Mabel Katz Archives ...Some years ago while working with practicing Jews and Christians, I realised the underlying process many of them were continually going through: judge an act as righteously right or wrong, confront moral failings within oneself and others, then forgive and let go by giving anger to God or Jesus. The depth of potential existential judgment is so intense (e.g. eternal damnation and social ostracisation), that it can be very hard for people to acknowledge ‘wrong’ behaviours. I have experienced numerous instances of trickery of someone intending to forgive and let go (or deciding to avoid an issue), resulting in hurtful and confusing passive-aggressive behaviours. Often the underlying issue emerges years later after so much resentment has built up and trust eroded that the relationship becomes very hard to repair. (Image from here)

I was taught this judgmental process by Jewish family members, and had it reinforced by community members while growing up. I am thankful that another process was also taught to me by some Frisian ancestors: the process of accepting. I became consciously aware of this process as an adult when I worked with Tom Lake (now retired), who founded the International School of Shamanism on the foundational process of ‘unconditional love and acceptance.’ Belle Noir Magazine | Big. Beautiful. You.: Fearless ... Though it may at times seem more painful in the moment, I find loving acceptance brings me immeasurably more ease and peace than judging. I then discern what, if anything, I need to say or do when I experience hurt or realise I have caused hurt in another being. I remember Tom saying to me once that even when he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, if someone tells him that his actions have hurt them, he chooses to apologise because it is not his intention to hurt anyone. I appreciate the humility in that, and that it also helps hurting hearts to remain open to an ongoing relationship. (Image from here)

A common misconception is that a process grounded in acceptance means we make excuses for concerning behaviours. That is not my experience at all. In fact, working among Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory, I heard lamenting from many community members about how Western ways have eroded their traditional forms of justice and created more intense and seemingly never-ending conflicts. In many Indigenous Australian cultures, when someone broke a traditional law, a member of the aggrieved family would ceremonially spear a member of the offender’s family. This ceremony created an opportunity for everyone to accept what happened, because the aggrieved party could admit wrongdoing and face a consequence that would then restore their social place in the community, and the offended party could act as a channel for spiritual retribution. This is referred to in English as ‘payback.’ The spearing could hurt or kill someone, or it could miss them altogether, and the outcome was accepted as the will of the spiritual realm. Once the ceremony was done, the issue was let go, and relationships were restored.

Feud (TV series) - WikipediaNow that the Western justice system has criminalised the payback ceremony, many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory struggle to reach forgiveness with their Indigenous science of justice. I heard about someone who had been in prison for years as ‘Western justice’ who was released and immediately had to face spearing if he wanted to see his family and community again. I heard about family members of an offender being beaten up until someone agreed to be speared in place of the offender in prison. I heard about decades-long violent feuds involving multiple generations where many people didn’t even know how the feud had started, but no one felt justice had been satisfied. I even heard about someone trying to sue someone else for using sorcery against their family as payback instead of spearing. It’s a mess. (Image from here)

Whether a spearing ceremony resonates with you or not isn’t the point; the point is, it was working for these peoples for many thousands of years. Their shared understanding of the world, its laws, and the intervention of the spirit realm supported people to admit and face consequences for ‘wrong’ acts and then reach a space of collective forgiveness and letting go of the issue. For me, such a justice process accepts that being human inevitably includes engaging in some ‘wrong’ acts. In traditional Indigenous justice processes, it was very rare that anyone was seen as unredeemable, and even if they were, it tended to be seen as someone’s spirit being overcome by a disease such as Wetiko rather than a failure of their individual moral character. We are all influenced in our sense of self by stories and projections from others, and I encourage you to consider how you feed this in the following exercise.

Exercise: Reflect on someone you dislike and feel some aversion towards, whether it is someone you know or a historical figure like Hitler and fill in the blank: He/She is  _________. Consider the meaning of saying someone ‘is’ a trait such as ‘evil’, or ‘too selfish’. Is that their identity in your eyes? Do you judge it? How might you be hurting them, and yourself, by holding these stories and projecting that onto them?

♥ De Coração a Coração ♥: HO'OPONOPONO E UM POUCO MAIS....Though we may not be able to ceremonially heal with the people who hurt us or people we have hurt, we can do spiritual ceremonies on our own to change the way we hold people and what we project. Shifting our perspective requires us to hold paradox and avoid binary and judgmental thinking. In traditional Hawaiian culture, people use “Ho’oponopono, the traditional conflict resolution process…[to] create a network between opposing viewpoints…that allows dualistic consciousness to stand while becoming fully embodied by the ecstatic love of Aloha”[1]. In Hawaiian science, illness is caused by breaking spiritual law and requires the offender, aggrieved, and their entire families to forgive themselves, each other, and seek forgiveness from the spirit realm before the illness can heal[2]. The traditional Ho’oponopono ceremony has been adapted for outsiders to practice forgiveness by Hawaiian kahuna Morrhah Simeona and her student Ihaleakala Hew Len[3]. Though these teachings have been criticised as being New Age-y and deviating from traditional teachings, I find one of the basic elements useful and include it as part of the exercise below. (Image from here)

Forgiveness exercise

Ground and centre yourself and create sacred space. Bring to mind someone who has hurt you. Imagine that person’s face and see them saying the following to you in your mind’s eye: “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” If it feels okay, imagine saying the same phrase back to them. Be with any feelings that arise.

Next time you feel hurt by someone, take some time alone and then do some eye-gazing and say these four sentences to each other. Notice how you feel.

[1] Colorado, A. (2021). Woman Between the Worlds: A call to your ancestral wisdom. Hay House, p. 128.

[2] Veary, N. (1989). Change we must: My spiritual journey. Institute of Zen Studies.

[3] Vitale, J., & Len, I. H. (2007). Zero limits: The secret Hawaiian system for wealth, health, peace, and more. John Wiley & Sons.

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Faith, hope & trust

Blog by Valerie

Talking with a few people this week, it seems timely to share my perspective on these concepts and how I work with their energies. Though there can certainly be overlap between them, I hope clarifying the way I think about and hold these is helpful for your own thinking.

  1. Faith

I experience faith as a big, deep energy. Words that relate closely faith for me are ‘reliance’, and ‘belief.’ I experience existential fear to be a flip side of faith. When I have discerned that the fear I feel is existential and not due to being in imminent danger, I lean into faith and practices that support me to maintain and heal it. I am relishing this Michelangelo quote of late, reminding myself to have faith that everything happens at the right time. 

michaelangelo quote

Where we place our faith can have huge consequences for our life experiences. For example, if I place my faith in getting THIS JOB I applied for, that is setting myself up for a big crisis if I don’t get the job, or if the job doesn’t work well for me. If I instead place my faith in something bigger like ‘the right job finds me at the right time’, then if I get the job I may breathe a sigh of relief, and if I don’t, it will likely be easier to accept and wait for something better.

I have found that placing faith blindly leads us to be let down, and even lose faith in faith altogether, leading people towards nihilism. You can live in nihilism if you want, but having spent time there and with people who are choosing to be there, I found it too bleak and painful. If placing faith in certain things supports me to live a more fulfilling life and embody my core values (peace, play & passion), then I will do so. I think the below quote is a good warning sign for loss of faith altogether, and I think it often comes with over-placement of faith into things, then experiencing existential crises, and not knowing how to work with faith in other ways so giving up on it entirely instead.

disbelief in magic

My view is that faith ought to be grown through an iterative process. We place faith in something (I suggest starting with an affirmation that feels good, like ‘Life is always here for me’ or something to that effect), then we see how it feels to live with faith in that space, and when it is challenged whether it would feel better or worse or neutral to place more faith there or elsewhere. Placing faith in life always being for my benefit has been very beneficial for me – so that even when hard things happen, I look for the lesson in letting go and the space for new support and adventure that is seeking to come through. Placing faith in this also ensures that I limit identification as a victim. Even when I AM victimised in some way, I do not take it to an existential level, because I choose to place faith in there being an important teaching (or two or three or twenty) in my experience of victimisation. 

Faith, for me, is something we build through an iterative process over time that supports us to navigate the mysteries of life.

2. Hope

obama-hope-shelter-copyI see hope as a more fleeting, softer and elusive energy laced with personal egoic desires. I might choose to have faith that the right job will come to me at the right time (which will likely require me to do a bit of work putting myself out there), and if I feel excited about a particular job I just interviewed for, I may HOPE that will be the one that comes through. This is why I found the energy of Obama’s Hope & Change campaign less exciting than many people. I feel like many people placed FAITH in his presidency resulting in meaningful change instead of HOPE, and thereby set themselves up for huge disappointment (Image from here.)

Hope is a smaller, lighter, more specific energy that I associate with words like ‘wish’ or ‘desire’. The best way to use of hope is to express more specific desires and wishes without expectation or attachment to results.

3. Trust

Trust, like faith, is a big energy for me. Where faith relates to my interactions with the unknown, trust relates to the constants in life that I can rely on, things ‘I know’. Trust relates to truth for me. I trust that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. Trust for me, is a ‘knowing,’ which can be something we just have or find within ourselves. In Buddhism people refer to ‘transmission’ of certain ‘knowings’, meaning that if you find a ‘truth’ within yourself you can project that into someone else when they are open and receptive to it and awaken that truth in them. 

One of my mother’s favourite phrases was ‘Trust but verify’, which to me means there is no trust at all, by design. When I expect not to be able to trust, there is no room for trust to grow. But if I start by being willing to doubt myself about this, then I am open enough for some hope, and then maybe some faith to come into my life. And faith can become trust as we learn that we can rely on certain things. I grew up feeling that life was hard, and that someone was always out to get me (that was true! I was being abused!). But as I grew up and moved out on my own, I dared to hope life could be better than that. Then I dared to place faith in the idea that life was always for my benefit and there was a positive purpose to all the pain and trauma I’d been through. At first that was an idea, but then I started to see it and experience it more and more. Over time my faith was challenged, and still I kept being able to come back to that idea, and over time it has become a truth for me. I am now able to trust it. And when I met someone who doesn’t have that knowing, I can see  them because of the journey I have been on.

As I stay true to myself – by being authentic and following through on my words with actions (even inside the little agreements I make to myself in my own mind – I am able to build trust with myself and be a trustworthy person. That allows me to build trust with another person, even someone who has struggled to be around trustworthy people. Sometimes I don’t follow through on my word, or my words run away with me and I have to chase them and either apologise and make amends or do things I would rather not or at a pace that is not very smart. But in moments when I  am able to help awaken other people from a myth that they are an eternal victim in their own life, that no one and nothing is trustworthy, then I experience the gift of that journey, which helps makes the painful betrayals I’ve been though feel worthwhile.

4747714-James-Baldwin-Quote-Trust-life-and-it-will-teach-you-in-joy-and

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Befriending our fear

Blog by Valerie

“You can never conquer fear, it’s always going to be there…Walking in beauty involves encountering fears, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and getting beyond them, so we can have joy, happiness, confidence and peace in the four areas of our being.” — Wally Brown, Diné (Navajo) historian/lawman

Fear is a challenging energy for us humans to be with, and we often use its influence on us to justify actions we otherwise would not allow. It may be tempting to remain in denial and avoid deepening our understanding of our primal nature, but that limits our ability to enjoy fulfilling lives and realise our deepest dreams. In my blog about addressing addiction, I shared some tools I use for facing fears and increasing my sense of safety. It’s one of life’s beautiful paradoxes that we can learn to be safe with our fears.

fairyfireHere’s an example from my life lately. Our new home is being heated by a fireplace (image to the right). The first few weeks we stayed here, I woke up during the night coughing and struggling to breathe. Being unable to breathe properly feels incredibly scary and triggers survival fears very quickly. At first I thought the house was too dusty (it was), and I did deeper and deeper cleanings. That helped a bit, but I was still struggling. Then I realised the fire was emitting such a dry heat that I needed more moisture in the air, especially at night when I’m not drinking much liquid. So I started using a spray bottle to fill up the room with moisture before I went to sleep. That helped, but was not enough. As I kept waking up with coughing fits, I practiced breathing through it and being with the fear, and my mind and body started to feel more peace as the realisation settled that yes, this was scary, but it did not mean I was dying.  As a next step, I have put up a DIY humidifier consisting of a wet towel hanging from the ceiling which slowly evaporates over about 24 hours. And now I’m sleeping through the night without a coughing fit. But I noticed today when I swallowed water and it went down the wrong pipe, though my body was dramatically coughing to expel the liquid, my mind was relaxed in the knowing that this was not going to kill me, and my emotions remained steady with just a bit of embarrassment that a friend was visiting and worrying seeing what I was going through.

When I first started waking up in the night with coughing fits, I told Lukas it felt like I was drowning and I kept getting images of gasping for water in my mind. As a young child my parents told me a story of how I almost drowned in a baby pool once, so it’s possible that embedded a deep fear in me that was coming up now. In general, I have been processing a lot of survival fears since we have settled into a new home. Practically, it’s somewhat insecure with a month-to-month lease agreement, but it’s more secure than nomadically moving around and finding a new place to stay every week or two which we were doing the first half of this year. It’s exciting to move around that much, and we learned to live very simply and minimally, and to enjoy daily pleasures of being by the beach, in the bush, cooking with limited tools and ingredients, and snuggling under the covers with hot tea and TV.

fearmoneyquoteIt also takes a lot of energy to be in survival mode, to watch your savings drain, and maintain faith and trust that you will settle again at the right time and place. Each time I have been on that journey alone or with Lukas, the eventual landing has been better for me and us, and this is no exception. I feel so much safer for all the fear I have faced over the last year of not having our own space, that now we are resettling into this house, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to be borrowing this for a while. I know none of these earthly spaces are ‘mine’ in an ownership sense. (Image from here) And part of how Lukas and I honour that knowing is by:

  1. Renouncing the buying of land that in our eyes is all Aboriginal sovereign land, and avoiding playing the role of colonists buying intergenerationally stolen land;
  2. Having immense compassion for friends and community who choose a different path of buying land, as facing survival fears is a very personal journey;
  3. Taking time to get to know the country we’re on by paying our respects to important landforms, learning some words in traditional language, building respectful relationships with Traditional Owners who live here; and
  4. Waiting for the synchronicity that led to Lukas’s new work and our settling into a new home; ensuring we do not force ourselves onto the country and that we feel welcomed to settle and become part of the dreaming of this particular paradise.

ringland signFor 7th generation colonial settler Lukas, renouncing ‘owning’ of property is a lifelong path of facing fears and healing from ancestral ‘taking’ of land. When we visit Ringland’s Bay and the other areas around Narooma named after his ancestor, a ship captain buried in style in Bermagui Cemetery, we feel connection with place and pain. When we are with Traditional Owners who are our friends and talk about projects to facilitate healing people and country, it makes our journey into the pain and fear feel very worthwhile.

fearquoteIt’s so empowering to have enough space with our fears to act instead of react, and to be able to discern which feelings of fear are life-threatening (there’s a gun, get out of there!) versus which ones may feel life-threatening but can be healed (that person’s judging me, which hurts and feels socially scary, but their judgment isn’t going to kick me out of society, so I need to protect and comfort myself). It makes this famous quote make sense to me, and is inspiration to continue befriending our fears (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), especially with covid creating limitations in the physical world and opportunities for us to be more intimate with our inner worlds. (Image from here)

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We are Enough

Blog by Valerie

Picture1In social environments, it seems to feel proportionally less safe to be oneself the farther we identify from collective norms and ideals. There is a concept in mathematics called ‘regression to the mean’. It is basically the idea that when you put some ice into a glass of water, the ice will tend to melt and take the form of the water; in essence, it is about assimilating into a collective norm. Yet assimilation is a dirty word for many people, because we want to celebrate our uniqueness as well as being part of a peoples. (Image from here)

Picture2Feeling safe to celebrate our difference depends on culture and context. These social wounds keep us trapped and unable to trust ourselves, each other, non-humans, and Spirit/God/oneness. Our capacities to heal and seek retribution are also based on cultural values and intergenerational traumas. Cultures that are more welcoming of outsiders seem to encourage healing and embracing collective wounds for transformation, whereas cultures that are more exclusionary seem to ‘other’ people and tend towards separation and seeking retribution. Fear of retribution can keep us trapped and unable to trust. It is as if there is a collective trauma belief that says, ‘if we let them in, they will hurt us.’ In my experience with Judaism, and what I am learning are my deeper Sumerian cultural roots, there seems to be a collective belief that ‘we can’t trust anybody.’ My own grandmother told me that as a child, and I asked her incredulously if I couldn’t even trust her. She didn’t answer, just stared at me in silence. Living in this social environment, I never felt safe. In fact, I felt terrified to even take up space. One wrong move could find me terribly punished, kicked out of the group, or worse, judged irredeemable by God. Despite constantly striving to be ‘a good person’, it never felt like what I did was good enough. I got used to feeling terrified that threats of judgment, punishment and retribution were always imminent. I worked hard to learn the rules I might break and the triggers I might set off that would result in my being punished. But I wasn’t in control. My brother had a habit of breaking rules and refusing to admit it, so we would both be punished. This was scary, too, because I didn’t know when the punishment would happen, or how intense it would. It felt safer at times to intensely control and punish myself so that I maintained a sense of autonomy. It also seemed safest to play the part of Narcissus’s lover Echo, to hide my own voice rather than put myself into danger, because I depended on dangerous people and their approval for my survival. It wasn’t safe to be different, much less to celebrate it. (Image: Echo & Narcissus by painter John William Waterhouse

Picture3For most of my life I felt terrified to take up space. I felt like no space was ‘mine’ existentially or practically. For example, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to lock my bedroom door. I used to get dressed in my walk-in closet so I had some privacy and warning if my mother was coming into my bedroom. It took many years into adulthood – and practically ending many formational familial relationships that were untrustworthy just as my grandmother had told me – for me to become trustworthy to myself, be authentic and celebrate my difference, and surround myself with trustworthy and authentic people. By trustworthy, I mean people who say what they mean and do what they say, and when they can’t follow through on something, own it, apologise, forgive themselves, and make amends if needed. By authentic, I mean people who know their core values and practice embodying them in everyday life.

Picture4It is still unsafe for me in many spaces where my values conflict with the collective. But I don’t feel a need to constantly strive towards some central ideal, nor do I feel like it’s me against the world at war. I feel peace in myself for accepting who I am and doing my best to navigate the collective morass, and for cultivating spaces where I, and others, are free to be. In this way, I can embody the knowing that we are enough. (Or ‘good enough’, whatever that means.) (Image from here)

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Gifts of Colonialism

Blog by Valerie

When we grow up feeling like no one’s in our corner, that life is us against the world and we can’t trust anyone, many of us go on a journey as adults of learning how to put ourselves first and practice self-care and fiercely healthy boundaries, as well as learning about personal limits of meaningful sacrifice and resentment-building martyrdom. Sometimes those of us with this wound feel the pain of it so acutely that we can’t focus on much else. We need the wound to heal so badly that we start to believe our needs matter more than others’, and like a baby crying to be taken care of, we often look for external care-taking even as adults, which tends to result in giving our power away and ultimately feeling victimised, reinforcing our distrust wound over and over again. People say when we don’t learn a lesson at a small scale, the universe keeps providing the lesson in bigger ways until we get it or it gets us. When this happens at a large scale, where many people share such a wound that it becomes an intergenerational trauma, entire families, cultures, and communities can collectively reinforce the wound in each other and embed it into social structures. (Image from here.)

TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Colonial Mentality

There are spiritual lessons in everything, and I’ve been thinking recently about the following teachings of colonialism:

  • corruption of power – giving us the opportunity to recalibrate how we view, carry and share power and re-order our social structures and governance;
  • corruption of trust – giving us the opportunity to let go of control within a separated individual identity to flow into a communal and interconnected identity;
  • corruption of belonging – giving us the opportunity to heal the wound of abandonment by feeling the grief and loss of disconnection from the Earth and allowing us to seek adoption by the country and traditional owners where we live;
  • corruption of faith – giving us the opportunity to re-place our faith into the creation of new cultures and institutions inclusive of all human and non-human kin to fulfil our special (species-specific, or speci-al) role as caretakers of this planet.

I’ll share a few stories and thoughts about each of these gifts.

Mahatma Gandhi Quotes Power | das leben ist schön zitate

Power: When power becomes too concentrated and reaches a human limit, people tend to explode out of their lands like volcanic lava and end up scattered all over the world spreading stories about how they didn’t steal or impose on others, ‘they conquered’ and ‘won’. Any superiority trip (an existential hierarchy) is corrupt, and it seems to me that over successive generations (such as after a colonial land grab), the nature of power becomes apparent to more and more people and passion for social justice activism and Indigenous knowledge revival emerge to re-balance us.

Trust: As a child, I didn’t have anyone around me I could fully trust, and I never felt safe because I wasn’t. I trusted untrustworthy (ill, innocent and/or naive) people as a survival strategy. So I learned trust through experiencing deep betrayal. It has been a powerful mirror of what not to do. Today I’m a highly sensitive person with increasingly fierce boundaries, and I find the fiercer my boundaries, paradoxically the gentler I am with people close to me. Seeing trust as a path and practice, as opposed to a given or a ‘should be’ taught me that it can be learnt and earned. And it showed me that at times I need to extend trust for practical reasons even if it feels dangerous, and at times that I can hold it back to protect myself from painful experiences. (Image from here)

Belonging: More painful than my wound of sexual abuse is my wound of maternal abandonment. I have felt for most of my life like I cannot cry enough to express this profound grief and pain. Lately, though, there are moments where I can hold this gift with awe. Last week I met a Walpiri lawman Wanta Jampijinpa Steven Patrick who has worked for years to share his understanding of Ngurra-kurlu (the home within) with his people and others. He told me the metaphor of Milpirri (see below), a festival he facilitates in the community of Lajamanu in partnership with a dance company in Brisbane every two years: the hot air from their desert country rises up, and the cold air from the sky falls down; as the air mixes, thunderclouds are formed that unite the energy and send lightning and rain to the earth, connecting the hot and cold air (the Aboriginal/yapa country, knowledge and culture and other/kardiya knowledge and culture from overseas). He asked me why so many people who come to his community want to share their culture and knowledge and do not learn from him so they can be adopted where they live and “we can all be Australian.” (Image from here)

Will There Be Faith? | Peg Pondering Again

Faith: Though growing up I was ostensibly taught to have faith in Western governments and their supposed ‘democracies’, capitalist markets, cleverness of mind, quick-wittedness, physical beauty, and a watered-down version of Jewish law, I steadily lost (or never placed) my faith in those spaces. Instead, I learned to have faith that peace can emerge from any violent conflict; that all trauma be healed; that there is value to experiencing evil, disgusting, and dangerous things. As Dr. Marcus Woolmbi Waters, a Kamilaroi man, wrote in his most recent column in the Koori Mail entitled Let’s not lose sight of who we are: “I am no victim of colonisation…We are survivors, enduring and ancient, who maintain a fight for justice and truth…Yes, our trauma is deep, it is intergenerational, it is historical and resides deeply in the present, but we are not our trauma” (emphasis added). (Image from here)

I am reminded of one of the biggest gifts of colonialism that we are still unpacking: a conscious awareness that we are all one big human family despite our diverse countries, cultures, communities and the conflicts between us, and that we are all in this together, human and non-human, in holy commun-ity. (Image from here) In the immortal words of Johnny Cash:

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Facts in Right Relationship

Blog by Lukas

Across the globe an increasingly dominant worldview sees reality as ultimately physical. There are various expressions of this worldview in Western philosophy, including:  logical positivismempiricismphysicalismscientismnaturalism and causal closure. I would sum them up as follows: the only true reality is physical and material, and direct observation using the scientific method arranged into cohesive logic is the only way we can “know” and thus make statements about what is meaningfully and objectively “true.” The highest form of expressing a true statements is one that results in a “fact”, something that is “proven” true by evidence.

There are some been some big dissenters. Pragmatist philosopher William James, popular with a lot of Western Buddhists, asserted that something can only be said to be objectively true if there is subjective value to that being so. This is often misunderstood as saying something is true if it is subjectively valuable to someone, which is not the same. Commenting on the subjective value of truth itself, his idea of “radical empiricism” asserts that any philosophical worldview is flawed if it stops at the physical level and fails to explain how meaning, values and intentionality can arise from that.

There is no doubt that Western science is physically powerful, and this power seems to validate the worldview underpinning it. On a social level, Western science delivers great physical control into the hands of they who dominate physical resources. What we are left with is a very powerful confirmation bias that minimises the importance of other ways of being, and of experiencing and knowing reality. Far from seeing this kind of thinking as our saviour, I consider it responsible for much of the deepest suffering in the world today. Considering the medicine wheel, we have traded a lot of physical comfort and knowledge for much greater insecurity in emotional, psychological and spiritual realms. To me, the very existence of facts, and Western scientific epistemologies more broadly, can only ever be tools that exist in a complex relationship with subjective experiences that defy physical description. Core to understanding our experiences is an understanding of that which is meaningful in our lives, including how we materialise that meaning, both of which are based in values and worldview. Wise application of values can help us place logic and objectivity into proper relationship with our experiences.

Confirmation Bias in 5 Minutes - YouTubeHowever much one tries to be “objective”, behind all science lies priorities and values, and this affects what ends up being considered real or true. Values inform priorities which help us develop meaningful goals as well as guide us how to err when faced with the inevitable uncertainty of complex systems. And, hard is it can be, values help us remain undistracted and unattached to the vicissitudes of life, and prioritise process over outcomes. By asserting the primacy of process, I am not rejecting consequences in favour of pure deontological “moral” frameworks. Rather, I am stressing that such frameworks are, amongst other things, methods for deciding how we ought err in uncertainty, to be used in combination with thought processes reliant on logic.

The wisdom, or dare I say the “truth”, of our values can be observed pragmatically over time and space in ways that are supra-rational as well as rational, relational and subjective as well as objective. Such dualities and the potential for them to be paradoxical are, I believe, intrinsic to the human experience. Their relationship to one another does not need to “make sense” intellectually. Subjectivity and supra-rationality are not antithetical to science or empiricism. Buddhist science is based on experience-based enquiries into the nature of mind and consciousness, and Indigenous science is based on people learning themselves and their land through subjective and relational ways of being. Whom would you rather ask questions about the nature of mind, a Buddhist lama or a cognitive scientist? And whom would you rather ask questions about sustainable land management, a Western-educated ecologist or a local Indigenous Elder? Your answers to these questions says a lot about you and your worldview.

Positivism Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...I think the most dangerous application of logical positivism, particularly when applied to complex social and ecological systems, is the predictive theoretical model. In modern society, it is often used instead of intuitive wisdom, Buddhist science, or Indigenous science to complement or replace Western scientific observation. A model, like anything, is ultimately uncertain, and decisions have to be made about what to assume and how to err. To demonstrate my point I am going to use to examples that come from a relatively closed and simple system, aeronautical engineering. I say “relatively”, because despite the ability of physical science to predict things like aerodynamics and metallurgy with a high degree of accuracy, when building an aircraft there is no “best” design, only “best effort” at matching design and engineering to values and priorities such as safety, fuel economy, speed, capacity, manufacturing cost, etc. The advantage of this field is that theoretical models can usually be tested, preferably before people fly on the plane! But not always. (Image from here)

Example 1.
A380 engineers used theoretical models to ascertain the wing strutting they hoped would meet wing strength certification regulations. Models were tested with wing stress tests (weights literally placed onto the wings), which determined that they needed to improve the struts. They added extra struts, thus increasing the weight of the aircraft and reducing fuel economy. This, along with incorrect modelling of the aviation market, led to a beautiful, safe, unprofitable plane. But the value of placing safety before profits shone through, and not a single person has died on an A380. (Image from here.)

Example 2.
Boeing wanted an updated fuel-efficient 737 model to compete with Airbus’s A320 NEO. The 737 has slightly shorter landing gear than the A320, and thus could not accommodate the latest generation of super fuel efficient turbo fan engines, which have a large diameter. To create a whole new airframe (the core of an aircraft) is a lot more expensive and time consuming than an incrementally new model, so the engineers were asked to “make it work.”

They ruled out re-designing the landing gear because it would be too heavy, bad for fuel economy. They changed the way the engine was positioned on the wing, but this altered aerodynamics and made the plane prone to stalling in certain circumstances (when close to the ground). To compensate, they installed software that would take control of the plane’s elevators and aggressively point the nose of the plane down in the event of a low altitude stall. This system took its cue from a single sensor.

You might think that such a system would require extra pilot training, but this would have raised the effective price of the plane, and Boeing were keen to sell it to budget airlines in the developing world, and besides, the system would only run in the background, and in the event of a failure could be disabled the same way pilots had been trained with other Boeing planes. The American regulators, by now more or less run by ex-industry workers with vested interest, approved the plane to fly.

We know what happened next. Two sets of pilots were so scared that their plane was trying to crash them into the ground that they were unable to work out that the problem was an automated system they knew how to shut down. A lot of people died as a consequence.

Disregard for consumer safety and the law - Product Safety ...There are numerous errors of logic identifiable in Example 2 without questioning values too deeply, and these should not be ignored. But I think those errors were proximate causes of flawed values. The aeronautical engineering profession must be based on a deeply held commitment to safety above profit. They, and their regulators, should err on the side of safety. I cannot help but think that government backing of the A380 project — considered a public interest project — had something to do with the values underpinning their decision-making. The risk of producing an unprofitable plane is not as catastrophic to the public purse as it might be to a purely private enterprise. But it also has something to do with the physical nature of the wing test showing a “fact” playing into biases in the Western world. Feelings of unease in the pit of Boeing engineers’ stomachs that I am confident was there were too easily rationalised and discounted within a worldview that puts physical knowing — or its poorer cousin, physical modelling — on a pedestal. (Image from here.)

My commitment to living a process- and values-driven life is why the Australian government’s response to the Corona virus did not align with my values, even if I am grateful for the outcomes we have had so far. In March I saw them erring based on certain values and priorities, but that was not at the centre of societal dialogues. Discussions about values seem increasingly missing in favour of myopic searches for evidence of “fact” or inter-group conflict. What I seek is dialogue based in values that utilise facts once people see and trust where each other is coming from. When we see someone like Trump acting the way he does, it is tempting to malign his refusal to listen to “facts.” But this is only part of the story. The problem for most of us is that we do not like Trump’s values. As physical “facts” continue to gain power both in terms of physical change in the world and as a dominant worldview, dialoguing on values will only become increasingly important. Facts are not the solution to bad leadership, and an increased emphasis on evidence-based “facts” can quickly become a vehicle for even greater trickery and corruption.

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Toilet paper wars (from the Western worldview)

Blog by Lukas

The odds of any one individual getting the Corona virus are so far quite low, and the probability of severe symptoms or death even lower. Making individual decisions based on this low probability is therefore, on some level, the rational thing to do. But on a long enough time scale — which in this case could be a matter of weeks — self-interested rationality becomes catastrophic. For some it may be physical, and for others psychological, emotional, and spiritual.

Perhaps the most visceral example of self-interest creating collective chaos in recent times is Australian toilet paper hoarding.

I will analyse this phenomenon from three frameworks of Western thinking starting with the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It goes like this: two prisoners are being interrogated. They have only two choices, rat on their mate or keep silent:

  1. If neither rats on the other, they both get one year in prison (two total years from a collective perspective);
  2. If one keeps his mouth shut and the other rats him out, the rat goes free and the one staying silent gets three years in prison (three total years from a collective perspective); or
  3. If they both rat on each other, they get two years a piece (four years total from a collective perspective).

Rat White Background Pictures

If one’s individual goal is to avoid as much jail as possible, the most “rational” self-interested thing to do is to rat, because if you are acting in a self-interested fashion, so too might be the other prisoner. If you rat, you have a chance at going free, and your worst case scenario is only two years. Cooperating is a good option for the individual but is irrational because it cannot be relied upon and comes with the greatest personal cost. But this thinking falls down if one has confidence in the collective values of the other. The IRA were famous for fanatical silence under interrogation, such was each member’s commitment to the collective cause. For our prisoners, the cause could be a desire to collectively serve less time. Applied to our toilet paper example, it means that the decision to hoard toilet paper is like ratting on your accomplice. If you can’t rely on the other’s collective values, or even their spirit of selfish cooperation, it is best to join the hoarders. Best case scenario, you are fully stocked for months; worst case scenario, you will have a decent amount. Under no circumstances will you be left with none. (Image from here.)

The tragedy of the commons The tragedy of the ...Another famous idea is the “Tragedy of the Commons”, an 1833 essay now part of the Western cultural lexicon. This is the idea that a common resource, for example grazing land, can easily become depleted or destroyed by individuals acting in their own self interest, i.e. grazing their own herd without regard to the long term effects on the land. This was in fact an argument — a terrible one if you ask me — for the morality of the enclosure movement, which was the creation of legal property rights over what was previously common land in the Britain, the idea being that an individual owning land will take better care of it, because it will be within both their interest and power to do so. This could mean that rather than our being trusted to collectively or cooperatively manage the supply of toilet paper, an authority needs to “own” the supply. This is perhaps like supermarkets ‘taking ownership’ of the situation and setting limits on TP purchases. (Image from here.)

Jesse's Café Américain: This Is Moral HazardA third framework of interest, and perhaps most relevant to our toilet paper dilemma, is the idea of Commonize Costs — Privatize gains. Also called “Moral Hazard” during the Global Financial Crises, it is an individual maximising their self-interest by being selfish with any benefits derived from their interaction with a common resource and offloading any negative consequences to the collective. In the toilet paper case this is people hoarding a personal stash and leaving the consequences and chaos to others to deal with. They got in early and those who didn’t can be damned. If this behavioural trait is common in a group, those with the most community-minded instincts or values in relative terms lose out (i.e. those who didn’t buy extra TP because to ‘do the right thing’ and now have none). (Image from here.)

Looking at these articles on Wikipedia, it struck me how much that I think ought be deeply ingrained wisdom and self-evident knowledge has been studied intellectually and quantified as ‘evidence’. This is borne out by people acting like they need this kind authoritative guidance and advice before believing something is true. For example, the Tragedy of the Commons article mentions a study finding clear evidence that the culture of the people had something to do with how people treated common land! It is truly shocking to me that this needed to be studied. I do not wish to sound totally negative about the usefulness of these ideas. But it is clear to me they are fundamentally limited by ignorance of the worldview and cosmology from which both the behaviours and our attempts to understand them emanate. To me, the sheer complexity of systems at play in all of these circumstances call for indigenous thinking and science. From this vantage point, how to look after a common resources is self-evident, an idea antithetical to the Western scientific mind. (Image from here.)

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Our Primal Nature

Blog by Valerie

Right now it’s easy to feel survival fears, to observe deeply ingrained panic behaviours and to hear people talk about ‘these strange times.’ I understand the sentiment, but I think it’s strange that so many of us have become used to unsustainable and imbalanced ways of being; where our grocery store shelves and medical centres rely on supplies shipped from across the planet, where in countries like Australia the government has created a “free market” (more accurately a corrupt gambling scheme) for one of our most precious elements: water; and where ultra-deep sea mining and drilling is going into the Earth’s crust in our seemingly endless exploitations of this planet.

Crocodile and fishCrocodile and fishCrocodile and fishCrocodile and fishimage22Crocodile and fishI’m reminded of a beautiful book called Singing the Land, Signing the Land written by European-Australian researchers in collaboration with Yolgnu indigenous scientists and traditional knowledge-holders. The researchers remind us that in the European Middle Ages, “nature actually was a book to be read, like the Bible, in order to discover God’s purposes. There were ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones’.” And the Yolgnu hold up a very telling mirror when it comes to how they, and their European-Australian counterparts, see the crocodile (which the early Australian-European explorer quoted below mistakenly referred to as an alligator). Consider these two very different views:

I see a crocodile as an animal that is part of me and I belong to him, he belongs to me. It’s a commoness of land ownership. Everything that I have comes from the crocodile. Crocodile, he’s the creator and the land giver to the Gumatj people. In my group of people, and the forefathers, we have always treated crocodile in a way that it is part of a family…Aboriginal people, through thousands of years of living with crocodiles, never have considered that they are dangerous animals. We have always lived with them. They lived their own life and we lived our own ways, as long as there is common respect for each other.–Gularrwuy Yunupil’u

I had stripped to swim across a creek, and with gun in hand was stealthily crawling to the outer edge of the flat where my intended victims were, when an alligator rose close by, bringing his unpleasant countenance much nearer than was agreeable … My only chance of escaping the monster was to hasten back to the boat, and to cross the last creek before the alligator, who appeared fully aware of my intentions…the race began. I started off with the utmost rapidity, the alligator keeping pace with me in the water. After a sharp and anxious race, I reached the last creek, which was now much swollen; while the difficulty of crossing was aggravated by my desire to save my gun. Plunging in I reached the opposite shore just in time to see the huge jaws of the alligator extended close above the Spot where I had quilled the water. My deliverance was providential, and I could not refrain from shuddering as I sat gaining breath upon the bank after my escape, and watching the disappointed alligator lurking about as if still in hopes of making his supper upon me.–John Lort Stokes

(Image from the book, cited as art by Bede Tungatalum, Bathurst Island entitled Crocodile and fish, woodcut).

I was recently listening to an Aboriginal Australian view of the St. George & the dragon myth in which Europeans first saw their animal, primal nature as a scary monster, then attacked and tried to kill it. And then re-enacted that nightmare in the form of colonisation, slavery, exploitation, and all manner of destruction around the world. It reminded me of some of my previous learning about serpents. It is thought-provoking to consider how in Judeo-Christian mythology the serpent enticed Eve into mankind’s fall from Eden, whereas other cultural myths about serpents include:

  1. creation of life emanating from underground and water-dwelling part-human part-snake beings called nagas in Indian and Buddhist mythology;
  2. water, the coming of spring, resurrection and rebirth associated with meso-American winged serpent God Quetzalcoatl;
  3. the Hopi’s annual snake dance honoring serpent God Awanyu celebrating water, fertility, and the arrival of spring;
  4. the rainbow serpent creator God of Aboriginal Australians that controls the water;
  5. Fu Xi and Nu Gua who had male and female heads and snake bodies and created human life in Chinese mythology;
  6. the kundalini snake that animates the body and spirit in Vedic mythology; and
  7. Western medicine’s use of the Asclepius symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff to represent healing based on Greek and Roman mythology.Rainbow serpent and snake

Interesting note for Western culture: Freud cited a fear of snakes as fear of the penis. While many cultures see snakes as wild and potentially dangerous, they are generally highly respected and seen to symbolise fertility, the creation and resurrection of life, springtime, and a connection with water and emotional wellbeing. On the medicine wheel, water is often connected with our emotional life, and since snakes are connected with water, a negative or fearful view of snakes is linked with negative or fearful emotion. (Image from the rainbow serpent link.)

These myths, and especially creation stories and the emotions they evoke are embedded into the foundation of a culture’s collective psyche. When creation stories evoke negative or fearful emotions, these emotions emanate beneath the surface of conscious everyday thought, and other aspects of culture are built on top of them. This is something for those of us carrying Western creation stories to consider. Tyson Yunkaporta points out that in Greek mythology the ouroboros was meant to represent infinity, but “how can this serpent be a symbol of infinity if it will eventually eat itself?” I too find this symbol disturbing and have a visceral memory of someone I was getting to know showing me a silver ouroboros ring she had made, which so repulsed me I must’ve expressed that in my energy because we never met again. I find the symbol to be celebrating sabotage or suicide, but it seems many people feel otherwise! I am trying to understand, for as the authors of Singing the Land, Signing the Land say, “The world is now too well connected to allow the luxury of alienation within one conceptual system.” I hope our current circumstances are helping remind us of this and of our innately interconnected primal nature.

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Alienation & Judgment

Blog by Valerie

I was perhaps one of Earth’s most alienated of beings, and by that I mean that I did not sense belonging here. My cultural context was such that I had no sense of relationship with my earthly and cosmic habitat…Earth/Nature itself was devoid of real consequence; it was human activity upon it that was of consequence…but even then they had to control its waywardness with sprays and fertilizers. It was a big dead ball of dirt…from which we would be saved by ‘God’ eventually…Here in the South Land, the supernatural Christian drama of God and Jesus was completely unrelated to place. It was a particularly cerebral religion, and in that sense barren – devoid of ceremonial recognition of the fertile Earthbody.–Dr. Glenys Livingstone

She goes on to describe how when she was growing up in Queensland, Australia, her schoolbooks from the northern hemisphere showed the moon phases in mirror image to the moon here, the path of the sun was described as clockwise from east to west which is not how it travels here, and the seasonal celebrations were out of whack with fake snow in the middle of summer for Christmas (that still happens and weirds me out!).

Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil by Paul Levy

I see this on individual and societal levels. It seems to be a common form of wetiko, the psycho-spiritual virus of supremacy common in colonialism, some cultures and religions. In our bodies and by our nature, it’s SO much easier to live in sync with the seasons, be present in our environments, accept experiences without judgment. So why don’t we? I feel that as a whole we have become alienated with aspects of ourselves and our environments. Because this is so painful, rather than face those wounds and work through them, we deny, avoid, and dissociate. When we feel hurt we: (1) say we forgive but carry resentment around instead, which becomes an emotional bomb that detonates at an unexpected time, (2) don’t say anything, resulting in resentments, passive-aggressive behaviours, and ‘faking it’, and (3) take some space to try to manage our own emotions without confronting the conflict, but the conflict keeps occurring in a painful holding pattern.

5 Most Effective Conflict Management Styles (+When To Use ...

If I try to let something painful go and can’t, or if I feel like I need to address something in the moment so it doesn’t get bigger, my approach is to directly, honestly, bring it up with the person. I don’t ever intend to judge, and if someone does experience me as judging, I want to be told. If someone does something that hurts my feelings and I care about the relationship, I will either let it go or tell them. And if I do something that hurts someone, I need them to let it go or tell me so we have the opportunity to work through the pain and maintain integrity. Conflict creates opportunities to deepen intimacy, to heal, and to learn about ourself and someone else. I accept that navigating conflicts is part of being human. (Fodder for another post: Do you know your conflict style(s) ala the image above from here?)

What I find, though, is that we can know someone for a while, even a few years, and the first time we express annoyance, or say we feel disrespected or hurt, and directly, respectfully, confront a conflict, the other person does (1), (2), and/or (3) to avoid being honest. This prohibits intimacy and integrity and destroy relationships. I saw this behaviour in a new light this weekend through a relationship with a friend. I realised the way she identified as Christian is grounded in her human family, not the Earth, which placed humans hierarchically above the rest of nature. Even though she talked with me about my cosmology, expressed interest in indigenous healing, and was struggling with painful and deep patterns of narcissistic abuse. In my experience, narcissism can only heal through re-orienting ourselves into a holistic worldview.

holistic

There is a pattern to the universe and everything in it, and there are knowledge systems and traditions that follow this pattern to maintain balance, to keep the temptations of narcissism in check. But recent traditions have emerged that break down creation systems like a virus, infecting complex patterns with artificial simplicity, exercising a civilising control over what some see as chaos. The Sumerians started it. The Romans perfected it. The Anglosphere inherited it. The world is now mired in it.–Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta

He goes on to say:

Narcissism is not incurable…Entire cultures and populations recovering from this plague have been left like orphan children with no memories of who they are, longing for a pattern they know is there but can’t see…There are so many adolescent cultures in the world right now, reaching for the stars without really knowing what they are. Adolescent cultures always ask the same three questions. Why are we here? How should we live? What will happen when we die?

But if everyone around you sees the world through the lens of human supremacy except for one person (like your weird friend Valerie), are you willing to believe that person? In my experience, it takes a courageous person who’s ready for a new form of freedom, and even when we ask for something and it’s handed to us, sometimes we can’t see it and still reject it. I find it really painful watching people get so close only to give up and destroy their relationship with me through disrespect and existential judgment. I know they’ll get another opportunity, or two, or three, to heal the wound, but not with me. I use honesty and directness to maintain fierce protective boundaries…

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Reciprocity & the Resentment-Denial Dance

Blog by Valerie

This week I am moving through some grief. I had known that a friendship would end had been observing it fade away for a while, and I was hoping it would just fade and drift gracefully into nothingness, but that was not what occurred. Not only was there a calling out of disrespectful behaviour that resulted in denial, blame, and spite being projected onto me, but following that was additional denial about the state of the relationship. I felt resentment that my former friend was so in denial that she needed me to explicitly spell out that we had already co-created the ending of our relationship, and this resulted in even more blame and spite being projected onto me. What a mess of pain we were in.

It reminded me of Torres Islander writer Nonie Sharp‘s concepts of mateship and in-mateship, where in-mateship creates feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, denial. She says that the very presence of superiority creates shame, and a fear of shame causes people to oscillate between seeking revenge and prestige, resulting in psychic bullying, social violence, and denying reciprocity; if you judge someone as an inmate, you control & define social and existential boundaries. I see this as narcissistic…

lotusIn processing this resentment, I realised that when there is a lack/denial of reciprocity in a relationship, we dance between resentment and denial — resentment within the person who feels stifled/unseen because the other person isn’t holding them in wholeness, and lack/denial/not good enough within the other person who feels cut off from their wholeness (and may or may not want to heal that rift inside themself). Those of us who live with an Earth Ethos embody a knowing that we are all interconnected, and we are not lost playing out myths of superiority and inferiority based on existential judgement.

In some people’s minds I “cut off” this friend, but I have not experienced this. I can no more cut her off than I can cut off the air I breathe; she has become part of me and the space she has in my heart and mind will remain throughout my life in a linear sense of time, and is always there in a nonlinear sense of time. Thoughts and feelings related to her will emerge, and I will pray and send love and feel pain whether we are actively engaged in our relationship or not. It was and it is, and through time and space relationships move through various forms, or trans-form.

Reciprocity is a core Earth Ethos value. As Potowatami writer Robin Wall Kimmerer says:

In the old times, individuals who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counselled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished… It is a terrible punishment to be banished from the web of reciprocity, with no one to share with you and no one for you to care for.

My view is that such punishment/banishment on a mass scale underlies the current mainstream Western culture and results in the extreme levels of narcissistic wounding we are witnessing. Aboriginal writer Tyson Yunkaporta explains:

In Dreaming stories, Emu is often a narcissist who damages social relationships. These stories teach us about the protocols for living sustainably, and warn us about unsustainable behaviours. The basic protocols of Aboriginal society, like most societies, include respecting and hearing all points of view…Narcissists demand this right, then refuse to allow other points of view…They destroy the basic social contracts of reciprocity (which allow people to build a reputation of generosity based on sharing to ensure ongoing connectedness and support), shattering these frameworks of harmony with a few words…They apply double standards and break down systems of give and take until every member of a social group becomes isolated, lost in a Darwinian struggle for power and dwindling resources that destroys everything…

Australian Indigenous Astronomy: July 2011Yet in Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the Emu is so highly regarded that people traditionally organised their lives around following the wisdom of the Dark Emu in the sky, which is the constellation of darkness within the Milky Way. The image is from here and shows the Dark Emu during one season of the year, and corresponding rock carving honouring the Emu in Sydney.

Something that I continually find challenging in embodying reciprocity is moving through a world where so many people around me believe in individuality and are lost in saviour complexes that convince them they are working for the collective good. I live on land my ancestors are not indigenous to, and I do not yet know what lands my mother’s family is interconnected with. And when I move through the dance of denial and resentment in an intimate relationship, it helps to remember that once I fully see the Dark Emu I will be wiser and more capable of orienting myself in my centre; and as this unfolds, it helps to have compassion and keep strong in my convictions of the worthiness of this healing journey, as Rumi reminds me. Wuradjuri healer Randal Ross said that we don’t realise how free we are until we see that freedom disintegrate; and I feel that correspondingly, those of us who have been abused and denied are re-membering how free we are through calling it out with compassion and creating healthy, whole lives in the midst of collective wounding.

Exercise: Consider this Robin Wall Kimmerer quote and how you might apply it in your life: “Restoration is imperative for healing the earth, but reciprocity is imperative for long lasting, successful restoration… We restore the land, and the land restores us…The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart…For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend[] on it.”

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