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• Meet nature as wise teacher
• Transform yourself
• Grow your gifts
• Live with intention
• Create laughter and joy
• Notice the darkness within
• Risk the unknown
• Transform the world
Barbara Meyers lays the foundation for engaging the natural world as wise teacher for both our personal lives and the well-being of the planet. She invites us to enter the world of nature to awaken our senses, our sensibilities, and our soul to answer profound questions regarding the meaning of life. Through stories, musings, and...
• Meet nature as wise teacher
• Transform yourself
• Grow your gifts
• Live with intention
• Create laughter and joy
• Notice the darkness within
• Risk the unknown
• Transform the world
Barbara Meyers lays the foundation for engaging the natural world as wise teacher for both our personal lives and the well-being of the planet. She invites us to enter the world of nature to awaken our senses, our sensibilities, and our soul to answer profound questions regarding the meaning of life. Through stories, musings, and practices woven together through the paradigm of the Native American Medicine Wheel, readers find direction for answering those questions, so that they may bring their unique gifts into the world and become effective stewards of planet Earth.
All the life rhythms of the insects—birds—flowers—animals and human beings Concur to celebrate one great symphony.... A symphony man cannot direct ... and should not try. Born with great powers.... Equalized by powerlessness Man cannot beat his separate drums.... Nor go his way unheeding. For he is an inseparable part of the Universe—Its grasses and trees—The wind and the wings. Gwen Frostic in The Enduring Cosmos
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is entirely known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world. Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth
A small blue moth struggles to free itself from a spider's web. Taking pity, I retrieve a small twig and free the moth. The web is ruined and, though free of the web, the moth remains trapped by the strong, silken fibers of the web. It will die a slow death unless some creature comes along to end its life. I turn and walk away. Are there things here for me to learn about myself, about community, about the hunter and the hunted, and about the circle of life?
In Common Ground, Uncommon Gifts: Growing Peace and Harmony through Stories, Reflections, and Practices in the Natural World, readers are led on inward journeys of discovery through outward journeys into the natural world. As such, it is a guide for individuals, families, and communities wishing to be effective stewards of their own lives and the life of the planet.
The title reflects the weaving of two concepts.
First, Common Ground acknowledges and celebrates that this is our planet. What is here is all there is. Every single being, whether animal, vegetable, mineral, or other substance, has a soul and shares this planet. Though many have known this through the infinity of time and space, more recently, we have lost sight of that deep knowing. With technology, industrialization, and a sense of superiority, we created dualities—man versus nature, mind versus body, sacred versus profane, us versus them, haves versus have nots, and civilized versus primitive among them. Relying on rationality and thought, we separated ourselves from the rest of life on the planet and claimed our superiority over all. Nature became a force to battle against and subdue. We demonized nature. We also demonized those who knew how to live in and with the natural world. The cost has been profound. Now we are faced with peak oil, burgeoning populations, climate change, and dwindling resources, all of which raise questions of sustainability. The cost has also been our isolation from our knowing of connection and interdependence that lives deep within our DNA.
Our deep knowing was reawakened back in 1968 when Apollo gave us the first view of planet Earth from space. The long-range view of "Earth-rise," this blue-green gem surrounded by the blackness of space, reminded us that we are all here as one. To survive and to sustain life here, we must honor the interdependence of all the beings that exist here.
That view from space helped us to re-member the words of Chief Seattle:
This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
Though we know this, when it comes to living what we know, we are woefully lacking. We live in a world of profiteering and consumerism. More is better—more money, more toys, more car, more house. Until I stopped watching television, I had no idea of the battering I was receiving with constant advertisements for some item I should have. Our choices are based not on need but on want. And our consumerism is the principle lever for building and sustaining our economy as well as our part of the world economy. With empty lives, how easily we fall prey to the hawking of wares. And most of this manufacturing—production, transportation, and delivery—has occurred without regard for natural resources, raw materials or the pollution of our Earth—oceans, air, and land. Now we are confronted with global warming, peak oil, water resources polluted by run-off, toxic landfills, and nuclear waste.
We have been willing participants and willing bystanders in this process. We have bought into unfettered consumerism believing it will fill our psychic emptiness. Instead we have found our emptiness unmet, while thinking that surely there is some other item that will fill us once and for all. Collectively, we have missed the mark. I want does not fill us. I want disconnects us from families, communities, states, nations, and the world. We have lost our connectedness to one another. Other beings, both human and non-human, have become mere commodities.
There was a time when the deep knowing of interconnectedness was honored. This was a time when human beings we often think of as primitive lived in concert with the natural world; a time when the natural world was teacher; and a time when human beings did not put themselves in the center of the circle. Not only that, but these indigenous people also knew that the Earth is not the center of the universe but that the sun is!
Of course, we cannot return to this way of life. We live in an ever more complex world. Technology is everywhere—in our hands, ears, cars, kitchens, living rooms, offices, stores, hospitals, schools, and so on. All of this continues to stress our natural resources, add to global warming, challenge our use of space and water, and raise issues of waste disposal. We celebrate our advances, but we have not weighed the consequences of these advances on our collective environment, both human and other. We have been unwilling to make hard moral and ethical choices about the costs of technology, not only to others, but also to our deeper being. Continuing on this path, not only will we bring continued destruction to this blue-green gem in the solar system, but also, in the process, we will destroy ourselves. What will we do when we cannot afford the cost of fuel to heat our homes or to run our cars and trucks? What will we do when we cannot afford the cost of food transported great distances? What will we do when there is insufficient clean water? What will we do when there is drought or the population outgrows the water source?
We are latecomers to this planet. Without any guidance or input from us humans, this planet evolved over millions of years into delicately balanced and interdependent ecosystems. When natural calamities and devastation occurred, the natural world adjusted and systems were slowly brought into a new balance. The planet's processes are primarily ones of creation and adaptation. We interlopers continue to upset nature's innate seeking of balance. The speed and degree to which we have intruded upon this delicate balance means that nature alone cannot right the wrongs. It is for us to take responsibility for our actions and seek ways to establish balance in the natural world and between the natural world and humankind.
It remains unclear what we can salvage and how we and the Earth will survive. Surely species have been lost, never to inhabit this Earth again. Global warming continues, Earth temperatures will rise, as will the water levels. We are beyond peak oil. Cataclysms occur with greater frequency. Population grows, as does the demand for food. And many questions remain. Why are there so many cancers? What do we do with nuclear waste? Why is there bee colony collapse? Why do dolphins beach themselves? Why are there so many natural disasters?
To address these problems and questions will require something more than technology. We need to be asking ourselves, "How can we re-discover what we have temporarily forgotten though it still lives within our DNA?" What must we do to re-member our Common Ground and re-find our rightful place in the Web of Life? The time is short.
This brings us to the second concept, Uncommon Gifts. The gifts are from the natural world given to us by way of our ancestors, the indigenous people who learned from their environment—the seasons, the stars, the moon and sun, the waters, and the flora and fauna. As keen observers, they learned how to survive and thrive; how to hunt, harvest, and share; how to prepare for seasonal changes by storing or migrating; how to conserve resources; and how to stay warm or to cool down. They learned how to make and use tools; how to carry, and eventually, make fire; and how to make a wheel. But their keen observations led to deeper learnings as well. These indigenous people saw their own lives reflected in the seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter and the rebirth of yet a new spring—and developed a spiritual belief system based on this knowing. They observed how groups of a single species form and live together and, from this, they developed roles for tribal members honoring the contribution of each to tribal well-being. They witnessed how important it was for the young to be transitioned into more mature roles and developed rites of passage, especially from adolescence into adulthood, to help ensure the regeneration of their society. And they saw how the old ones were honored and protected.
Their gifts to us are wisdom and humility. They learned that human beings are not the center of the Web of Life. Through experience, they learned that to disturb one strand of the web disturbs the entire web. This knowing lives in our DNA and we must find our way back to this wisdom and humility. We must learn from the wisdom keepers. To hold sacred the entire Web of Life, we must develop the moral courage to weigh the consequences of unfettered competition and consumption and the humility to take us out of the center of the web. To do that, we must also be willing to consider how we will build a regenerative human world in which our leaders in government, business, education, and religion have transitioned into healthy adulthood rather than the self-centeredness of adolescence. And we must be willing to look within ourselves and be willing to meet our own demons to grow into daring and caring adults and elders. In meeting the interior world of one's psyche, we each can come to know who we are, who we wish to become, the meaning of our life, the gifts to our community, and our place on the long strand of those who came before us and those who will follow.
When I speak of Uncommon Gifts, I do so not because they are rare but because we have turned our backs on what our ancestors knew. Our grandiosity and ego have taken us down the path of destruction. Now is the time to re-discover what we have chosen to forget. To return to our rightful place in the web, we can look to the natural world to help us to remember about birth, suffering, the will to live, community, love, death, transformation, and interdependence.
As our ancestors knew, we have much to learn about ourselves by entering into a relationship with the natural world. Common Ground, Uncommon Gifts is a guide for those who wish to grow more fully into successive stages of life and wish to be an example and a force for living in concert with all that is here. This is not a book for those who wish to return to nature to live a nativist life. This is a book for mainstream people who want to live in, contribute to, and impact the world. It is a grassroots book for seekers and doers who are committed to growing peace and harmony within the self, with other human beings, and with all here on this planet. Lone individuals can use this guide for their own growth. However, I have come to understand that it is in circles of communion that we can most effectively grow, change, and influence direction. In coming together in families or small groups, we can experience the natural world, reflect, discuss, make meaning, and take action, thus setting free the seeds of change to take root in ever-expanding circles.
Common Ground, Uncommon Gifts offers opportunities for individuals and communities to turn to the natural world as teacher and guide. Anecdotal stories, reflections, and practices offer opportunities for looking deeply into one's own journey. In developing ways to live mindfully in the world and to find common ground with all that is here, one is free to bring one's gifts more fully into the world of all beings, human and other.
I have chosen stories for two reasons. First, as an elder woman, I look back on my experiences in the natural world with both humility and gratitude for the teachings. I have been knocked down by the forces of nature, I have confronted many fears, and I have been lifted up in joy and wonder. These experiences have helped me to become more fully human. How can I not share these teachings, for I know these are not uncommon experiences for those who seek meaning and purpose in life.
Despite the considerable interest in self-growth and in finding purpose for being born into this time and place, most of us have not considered the natural world as teacher because of the duality between man and nature. Growth is a forever process and happens in a variety of milieus. What growth asks of us is a willingness to "let go," to not be bound by the known, and to be in the here and now. To do so requires both curiosity and courage. The natural world presents a ready and often unknown arena for meeting ourselves as well as other beings in this world. In so doing, we can find our common ground.
Second, storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. Regardless of its form or format, be it oral, visual, written, fiction, non-fiction, or poetic, story pulls the witness into adventure and experience so that the witness becomes participant. In these moments, deeper levels of consciousness both in the individual soul and in the collective are made manifest. In telling stories of the self meeting the natural world, the intent is to become a guide for those who wish to explore this "other" world as a resource for growth, meaning making, and connection. In the interface between self and nature, we find our rightful place in the Web of Life and become more effective stewards of the entire web.
Each story is followed by a reflection. Reflections are intended to take a single story and place it in the context of the larger story of one's life journey, others' journeys, and our connection to community—both human and natural. Through metaphor, hitching onto other stories, or reflecting on the here and now of everyday life, the intention is to re-discover the strands that connect us one to another and to all that is here. Reflections give us pause so that we can go deeper.
As a teacher, I am committed to experience being the consummate teacher. Whereas reading a story plants a seed in the mind that can be cultivated into action, experience demands a presence and a commitment that creates meaning and memory not only in the mind but in the fullness of one's being. We are more than mind. The practices offered herein can be done alone or with others. The intention is that they will reverberate, expand, and connect the doer more deeply with him/herself and with the larger world, both human and beyond. Many of these experiences can be done with children as written while others need to be modified and require supervision. Children are our future and carry our hopes for an Earth of balance and health. Beyond that, when we undertake these experiences with children, we discover the wonder and the spontaneity of the child-part that lives within each of us.
The stories, reflections, and practices are organized around the Native American Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel holds the four cardinal directions and the four seasons of the year as well as the four seasons of a life: east, spring and birth; south, summer and childhood; west, fall and adolescence; and north, winter and adulthood. The arc of the circle between north and east holds elderhood, death and then rebirth in the east. The Medicine Wheel honors the Common Ground of all beings here on the Earth. It reflects the wisdom and humility of the indigenous people.
Excerpted from COMMON GROUND, UNCOMMON GIFTS by Barbara A. Meyers Copyright © 2012 by Barbara A. Meyers. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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