My post from last week generated an incredible amount of discussion from people from all walks of life. So rather than continue to talk about soil (which is now scheduled for next week), I wanted to take another week to explore this idea of straddling the edge, seeking balance, and largely failing to do so. To recap from last week, I shared about my own increasing difficulty with being in balance and having a foot both in the consumerist/materialist culture and an increasingly difficult workplace and also pursuing a path of land healing, nature spirituality, and homesteading. I talked about feeling forced to stay in the culture literally destroying the planet to be able to pay for the privilege of having a piece of land and doing some good work there. I talked about how I keep feeling that was growing harder to achieve some balance and keep a foot in each world: once, post-pandemic, I feel that I am losing that balance and really struggling.
What I was sharing clearly resonated, and so many of you shared your stories on social media and here on the blog. I want to take some time to honor those stories and the space we’ve all found ourselves in, and generate more conversation and ideas for moving forward. Here are some of the broader threads that I found in many of the stories:
- Some people are in a similar boat to what I described in my own story—feeling forced to keep a foot in the broader culture to keep their family going, pay the mortgage, and pay for the privilege of having a patch of earth. They also describe a piece of land or area where they are doing deep healing, regenerative work, and/or connecting with nature in some meaningful way. And they describe the disconnections between these two spaces and orientations.
- Some people expressed longing for that piece of land, but also recognized that significant barriers existed for them: aging bodies, health challenges, financial challenges, or family members who were unsupported.
- Some people were on land but are still struggling—being alone and watching the entire larger situation continue to spin out of control. Even those who have built something or regenerated a patch of land may have found themselves struggling with recent extreme weather, an aging body or disability, or isolation. Feeling the work is larger than them, they can’t do enough.
- Regardless of the circumstances, many people found themselves feeling very isolated and alone—feeling like they were disconnected from communities (especially local communities). Many in rural settings noted that people around them were not like-minded and they felt the need to hide or be insular. In cities, people noted that others were often so busy with their own commitments and it is hard to build genuine community.
- Many expressed deep concern about the future of the world and the future. For example, one person said that she felt she was on a “sinking ship” and didn’t even know how to proceed or make plans due to the ongoing climate disruptions she has faced and her region has had.
- One of the patterns I saw across stories was the willingness to talk about and embrace the changes the world—to be present, to be here, to hold space, to witness, and obviously, to do everything they could as they were able.
A few things really struck me about these stories. One, the incredible strength and resilience that many people have in facing all that is happening in the world and how so many are rising to the occasion to navigate it and to create a better world. I’m also struck by these many stories’ points of similarity—regardless of who you are, how old you are, your ability or disability, your place in the world, your life, your work, where you live, how much land you have access to….we are all feeling the challenges of this age. The need to create something better, and different, and return to the embrace of nature. It is a heavy weight upon you, and perhaps the ability to just talk about it, to give it voice, was a powerful opportunity for all of us—to grow, to share, and to come together.
But it also, to me, speaks of a broader pattern. It is hard to be awake and alive, observing and being truly open to seeing what is happening in the world. It is much easier to bury your head in the latest gizmo and distraction, to live in your head or in a screen or a virtual world, and by doing so, numb yourself to what is going on. The courage and strength expressed by people who are awake, alive, and paying attention are meaningfully present.
There is no doubt that a lot of us would love an exit strategy. and I think one of the frustrations present in my own story as well as the stories of so many others who shared is that the exit strategy doesn’t exist. We have no control over these larger patterns. And all of these things cause great difficulty. So, some ways forward and to continue to hold space for these beautiful stories, I share some thoughts. I write these things as much to remind myself of them as I do to share them with you! I also hope that others will share their own points of wisdom.
You are enough.
Sometimes we all need to hear it: you are enough. Sometimes, I say to myself how I don’t think I’m doing enough, that what I am doing isn’t making a difference, that despite many of my best efforts and the efforts of so many others fighting hard—we are still spiraling around a darker future.
So, let’s take a deep breath, together, and remember: we are enough. You are enough. Just living in this world today, finding a path forward, doing the good that we can do: all of this is enough. To take care of our families, a small patch of land where we are, to root ourselves in nature and seek her wisdom—this is enough. You can meditate on this as a mantra, put it on your wall, or just remind yourself of this when you need to hear it.
Grow where you are planted.
A second thing that I like to remind myself is that it’s not about embracing some kind of far-away fantasy but rather embracing my life where I am now. I need to focus on that life and do the things I feel are important to help myself, the living earth, my family, and my community. Thus, a theme I keep coming back to is “grow where you are planted.” When the acorn drops to the ground and is carried off by a squirrel and buried and forgotten, that acorn sprouts right where the opportunity exists. The acorn doesn’t wait for better circumstances, the acorn just takes the chance they were given and sees what happens.
I think we humans are used to assuming a lot of free will and agency, that we have more power to do things than perhaps we do. Here in the US, at least, a fundamental part of being an American is this myth that we can do anything, be anyone, go anywhere, and we have the freedom and liberty to do so. But you know what? That is a myth, and anyone who is not white, male, heteronormative, Christian, and privileged learned the power and confines of that myth at an early age. But still that myth is embedded into our subconscious and perhaps we still carry it with us. So, feeling as though we don’t have enough power to change things is difficult. And yet, this is a matter of orientation.
Where our acorn drops and is planted is not always up to us. And it is enough to make what we can of the spot where we are planted in this moment.
Things are difficult, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. And it’s ok not always be ok.
It’s weird to think about right now—for so many years, I knew that this future was likely to take place. I knew that climate change would be ramping up as I grew older, I knew that this civilization was in decline, and I had a number of mentors, family members, and so on that spoke to me of these things. I read and educated myself, and obviously have been doing everything I can for most of my adult life. But for the earlier part of my life, there was always something that felt “far off” about it the challenges we faced—the urgency is not present when you aren’t seeing the far-off effects. I think this is hard-wired into our biology: we are very good at immediately responding to something (a fight or flight response) but we have not evolved to handle the scope and enormity of what is occurring.
But the more that time passes, and the further we move into these larger-scale changes, the less this becomes an intellectual thing and the more it becomes lived experience. And there is no substitute for lived experience. And if this summer has taught us anything in the Northern Hemisphere, it is that the time of stability has ended. There is no doubt that it is a very hard time to be alive.
And so…wow. Things are really difficult. They seem to be growing in difficulty, and while many people got very burned out during the pandemic, culturally, we haven’t stopped to take a breath. The hits keep coming, with more intensity, and people are frazzled and drained.
There is power in simple acknowledgment that things aren’t ok. That we aren’t always ok, and we don’t always have to be ok. Find our communities, find the people we can talk to, and find solace in the living earth.
Think about how much of the broader news and cultural problems you may want to be exposed to—I find things like journaling, retreat (including “going dark” and avoiding too much technology), reflection, and really creating a buffer between myself and the outside world.
Leverage change where you can.
In my book, Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices, I shared the concept of permaculture on Zones of Influence. Zones of influence are working to target your efforts in the places that are closest to us. If you think about it this way: you have the most control over yourself: your actions, your feelings, your responses. You have influence over those people around you—your family, your friends, your local community, the living earth. The further out you go, the less influence you have. Thus, you can leverage the most change in places where you have the most influence. It is really important to recognize what areas you have a lot of control over (yourself) and what areas you have a lot less control over (the rest of the world) and leverage change in the areas where you have the most control.
This principle helps quite a bit—I think one of the more serious challenges we have is thinking we have the power to change everything in the world. But we don’t. Instead, we have a great deal of power to change things near us, and if we focus our efforts in that way, we can see good results.
But these local efforts still can have a huge impact. I’ve been teaching and talking about the concept of refugia for a long time—these “refuges” are places of cultivated biodiversity and pockets of life. This kind of approach could be one of the most important things you can do—cultivate life, and create a space for healing. Lately, I’ve been thinking about cultivating refugia not only for plants but for people too. How do we create small pockets of life with high levels of biodiversity, in ways that allow us to make a difference and seed the future? That’s a pretty exciting thing.
I’ve written about resiliency quite a bit on this blog: about the ability to adapt to change, to difficult circumstances, and to bounce back from adversity. I’ve shared the stories of the Raccoon and the Japanese Knotweed to learn about resilience, very resilient beings, that can teach us lessons to bring in our own lives. All of these things will help us, as human beings, shift into the requirements of the age.
While I think this varies tremendously in cultures across the world, resilience is often not something that is well taught due to compulsory educational systems, whose high-stakes testing and systems of performance and failure actually create individuals who fear failure and change. I had the opportunity, for work, to make trips to the Czech Republic, and compared to the United States, I was extremely impressed with their resiliency. Why? The Czech people lived under both Communism and Soviet rule for a good part of the 20th century, and they had to learn to make do with a lot less—nearly every family living in a village has mature food forests–abundant orchards, fruit trees, and gardens. Mushroom hunting is not a hobby, it is a way of life, and learning how to take care of one’s needs is just part of the culture. This also creates very resilient people, people who have learned to grow strong through adversity. When I compare this to some of the ways in which people in my own country (the US) have very little resilience, it shows the contrast and makes me realize how far I—and my community—have to go.
Whether or not we want it to be the case, I think we are all now in a time where resiliency will be necessary to thrive in the future. I’ve made it a point to start practicing this now in any way that I am able. I still feel like I have a long way to go (many of us in the US do). To me, meditating on these concepts and doing my own shadow work about my fears (fear of failure, insecurity, etc.), reflecting on how I am handling adversity and my attitude towards things, as well as working spiritually with resilient plant and animal teachers is helping me cultivate these new sets of skills.
Find a spiritual practice that gives you peace and stability.
Another thing I’ll share here is about developing a spiritual practice that helps you manage, adapt, and embrace the uncertain future. For me, a foundational part of my interaction with the world is my spiritual practice as a druid: the relationships I cultivate with the natural world and the spirits of nature; my core daily practices, of meditation, protection, and interaction in nature; my lifestyle changes and choices of living more gently on the earth; and the land healing practices that I have committed to. All of these are things that remain with me through it all—they are practices that I can depend upon, lean into, and really embrace when things get tough. And they give me meaning and purpose in my life and keep me going through these rough patches.
Enough is Enough: Allowing for Radical Change
A final thing that I will share here is that sometimes the balancing act becomes too challenging. You can’t do it any longer, and you are at the end of the rope. Give yourself permission to see an entirely new life for yourself. My take on it is that if we are now in an unprecedented age and that means conventional thinking, work, and activity isn’t always working any longer. Give yourself permission to think and act in new ways that help you build that better tomorrow. Think about the philosophy of “I can” “I believe” and “I dream” and make those a reality!
Just writing some of the above reminds me that even in the darkest times, there are still possibilities for the future. Possibilities for change, for finding a new balance, and for doing good work in the world. I remember to embrace the joy of living—of being alive—and remind myself that everyone in every age has had their challenges. These are ours, and we will learn how to navigate them joyfully and meaningfully.
Readers, I would love to hear your own suggestions–how do we move forward, given the challenges we face? What is your best advice, things that have worked for you, ideas that you want to share?
My next article for Spirituality and Health Magazine on nature connection is available here, so please check it out! https://www.spiritualityhealth.com/connect-with-nature-spirits-animism
I am also particularly excited to share that my book on land healing (a book I’ve been working on for a very long time) now has an official release date of late March 2024. Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Practices for Healing the Earth. I do not yet have preorder information, but if you are subscribed to my blog and/or my irregular newsletter, you can keep updated about the release date.