Nina Simons: Cultivating Diversity, Intuition and Attention for Resilience | Bioneers 2017

NINA: It doesn’t
seem to matter how long any of us
may have anticipated this, this time of cataclysmic
climate chaos, escalating violence, and
infrastructure collapse. After so many years of learning
from brilliant Bioneers colleagues how much of our civilization needed
reinventing to avoid catastrophe, and recognizing the disastrous effects
climate chaos would bring, and knowing that ecological,
economic, political and cultural systems would
be stressed to the max, I have to admit
I still wasn’t ready. You see, I had imagined it
mostly in my mind. And as I am increasingly called
to notice where my intellect, much as I am thankful for it,
without being flanked by my other ways of knowing,
it’s simply not adequate to meet the new realities
that we’re facing. On one level I believed
we were each born for this time, called to accelerate
our learning. But these times of upheaval,
loss and uncertainty are causing me to reassess
my own inner-resilience and to question the readiness
of my own capacities. The serial escalating threats
have my heart racing, awakening within me
a heightened awareness of my own mortality,
but also an acute sense of awakened aliveness
each day, seasoned with searing
flashes of outrage. All of this seems to be
calling me to meet this tidal wave of violence,
destruction and uncertainty with a deepening resolve
and fierce dedication to co-create a world
where Mother Earth is honored as primary and sacred,
and where gender, racial, and economic equity, and
restorative justice are the norm. [APPLAUSE] We can do this. I’m also finding a
deeper understanding about the primacy of
our interdependence. As I see it, our survival depends
on reorienting our daily lives around mutualism, reciprocity
and respect in relation to ourselves, each other, all of life’s
creatures and elements, and the places where
we live and love. As we face these
serial disasters, people often respond
with a great desire to help each other. When people are in shock or grief,
and trauma stricken, perhaps we’re better able to
feel the truth of our relatedness, of our innate kinship
with each other, that experience
of interbeing that reminds us that our
fates are bound together. How might we elicit that
Golden Rule behavior and transform our habits,
laws and policies to reinforce it, not just
when we are in crisis but on an
everyday basis? [APPLAUSE]
Yeah. Well, faced with ever more
wildfires and floods, mudslides, earthquakes and
hurricanes, and immigrants, refugees and evacuees
fleeing with terror and trauma in so many places, while five men own as much wealth
as all the rest of the billions of people in the world combined, my animal body
simultaneously cringes and recoils in fear and is filled with a
burning desire to take action. I’m trying to learn
how to address trauma and increase resilience in myself,
in those I care most deeply about, and in the communities
I feel called to serve. I’m realizing that nothing
is going to be more important for us than this
capacity for resilience. We need to build our ability
to bounce back after disruption and remain centered and resourceful
after shocking events because these events are
increasing in frequency and scale. As I’ve been attempting
to develop my own resilience in community with the people
I feel tied to and have feel called to work with,
there are a few key pieces I have learned
I need to cultivate. One is trusting my body,
emotions and intuition. The second is really valuing
and cherishing diversity on all levels. And the third is learning
how to place my attention. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. An ecological study
showed that ecosystems with the greatest diversity of species
are the fastest to recover after disruption. While monocultures or areas
with fewer kinds of species take much longer to
rebound towards health. I’m convinced that the same holds
true for us humans as well. As a social species,
any collective that combines multiple perspectives, orientations,
and ways of perceiving improves the group’s
problem-solving abilities. Within ourselves,
if we listen for guidance from our bodies and our hearts,
emotions, as well as from our ancestors, intuition, nature,
and dreams, we may bring
greater wisdom, context and flexibility
to our interactions than if we’re guided solely by
our mind’s planning and imagining. In nature the places
of greatest fertility, innovation and invention
are the places where two or more
ecosystems meet. And where differences collide,
newness is born. And if we were ever in need
of birthing a new world, now would be
the time, eh! [LAUGHTER] And the diversity we need
to cultivate is not only about the colors of our skin
but reaches to the furthest starry edges of our
our human galaxy. It includes people of all ages,
genders, ethnicities, abilities, backgrounds, disciplines
and faiths. It also includes people at all
levels of financial well-being. As john powell recently noted
there’s one group that we systemically “other” today with hugely
damaging consequences while hardly ever realizing
we’re doing it – people living in poverty. In studies intended to
surface people’s views about often-stereotyped groups,
Americans consistently revealed a deep and distinct bias
against poor people, considering them both
unfriendly and incompetent. Turns out as a unique subset
of our culture, we often offer them neither
our empathy nor our respect, and yet, having been shaken out
of the moneyed world and forced to turn toward
a relationship economy, where connections to community
and the land and elements are the only safety net
they may have to rely upon, some may have real wisdom
to offer us all. [APPLAUSE] Yeah. These ecological and
human-enhanced disasters know no pigeonholing,
stereotypes or categorization. Living in gated, monocultural
communities won’t afford protection in the long term. [APPLAUSE] I’m feeling called–
thank you. I’m feeling called toward
an ever-deepening commitment to standing together for justice
to the public face of love. We are all in this together
and injury to one is an injury to all. We all have the same hearts,
connective tissue and spines. Our intimate and inherent interdependence
is palpable through our physical bodies which are gifted with
immense wisdom to sense, to repair, to celebrate,
to love, and to discern as we fill our lungs and bodies
with each other’s exhalations since the Earth is a closed loop
and recirculates everything. The cup of tea we drink today
may well have once been Cleopatra’s bathwater. [LAUGHTER] My wise mother has taught me
that when I listen closely to my body, it never lies. Sometimes upon hearing a comment
in a group that might offend or hurt someone,
though I may not be able to pinpoint what was off
about it with my ears or mind, I can feel it in the
pit of my belly. I’m learning to say,
My stomach just clenched; I wonder whether anyone
may have feelings or concerns about what was just said. My body also and thankfully
lets me know when it’s had enough of perpetual activity,
of responding to others’ needs without checking
in on my own. Although I’ve become deeply
patterned to override it. Since turning 60 and
entering my young elderhood, I’m learning to listen better
at least when it calls me to rest. The poet David Whyte describes
this so beautifully. He says rest is the conversation
between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of
giving and receiving, an act of remembering
imaginatively and intellectually, but also psychologically
and physically. Rested, we are ready
for the world. Rested, we care again
for the right things and the right people
in the right way. In rest we reestablish the
goals that make us more generous, more courageous,
more of an invitation, someone we want
to remember and someone others would
want to remember too. To move through this tumultuous time
I believe we must co-create safe spaces for ourselves and each other
to express the truth of what’s moving
in our hearts. Women have long been ridiculed
and derided for being ruled by our emotions,
but emotions are central to all human life. If we learn to heed
their messages, they can be
our best guides. And without their wisdom,
we’d have a dry and soulless world. We forsake feelings
at our peril as we become increasingly emotionally
illiterate and relationally hobbled, we not only become
lonesome and depressed, we forget to prioritize connection,
organizing, and coalition building, and we lose our
political struggles. Even anger can be
a positive force. It can be negative or
corrupted as aggression, violence or rage,
but in her brilliant book, The Language of Emotions,
Karla McLaren notes that in its purest form,
anger is actually the body’s way of informing us that a
boundary has been trespassed. Unexpressed or stifled,
emotions become toxic to our psyches. Intended to surface so that
they can wash and purify us, they’re meant to circulate
through their movement and expression, our body’s real-time
response to upsetting, exciting or
stimulating events. As the poet, Nayyirah Waheed,
so elegantly says, Expect sadness
like you expect rain – both cleanse you. And also grieve so that you
can be free to feel something else. [APPLAUSE] Yeah. She is amazing.
Thank you. When I find an opportunity
to express how much anger and grief resides
within me, perhaps surrounded
by trusted friends, in ritual, in a drum circle,
or alone in the woods, I am astounded at the volume
and ferocity of sounds that emerge from
within me. Sometimes when I realize
I haven’t cried for some time, I’ll watch a sloppy movie
just so that I feel permission to sit in the
dark and weep. I feel cleaner afterward,
with more energy circulating through my body, and readier
to face what comes. I’m also learning to listen
more attentively to the guidance that comes unbidden,
sometimes from a dream or as I awaken. Other times, a wild creature
will visit my path, a rainbow will appear just
when I need reassurance, or a flash of inspiration when
I—whose source I do not know. I’m learning to ask for
guidance from my ancestors, and to listen patiently
for however they might respond. Lastly, I’ve been
exploring a tension, choosing more intentionally when
and how and where I invest it. Since energy follows attention,
it’s my most valuable resource. The evening news and
opining pundits have become more intriguing
than most fiction as the details and
cast of characters and the seemingly limitless greed
of the plutocracy are revealed. I notice my tendency
to get mesmerized, to give over my attention to
tracking this detective story. I’ve been trying to reign
in that hypnotic impulse, select carefully where
to direct my focus, and spend more precious time
protecting and cultivating my psyche’s well-being. Lynne Twist suggests that
what we appreciate, appreciates. And I found it to be true
in nearly every area of my life. Perhaps it’s a basic
principle of relationships that we might all do
well to practice since we all long
to feel valued, attended to and appreciated
for the uniqueness that we bring. And then there’s meditation,
the practice of attending within. Long a reluctant, impatient
and poor practitioner, I’m discovering the value
of regularly and deeply turning my attention inward
to just listen, to check in with my
multiple ways of knowing, and to see if anyone
in the Council of Ninas has anything I need
to listen for. [LAUGHTER] A writer and teacher of
relational mindfulness, Deborah Eden Tull, suggests
that giving ourselves the gift of our full attention
is the subtlest form of self-love. I’m finding that a few minutes
a couple of times a day is making a
real difference, strengthening my
centeredness when I’m navigating
choppy waters, deepening my capacity to listen
and discern and to receive guidance. As I walk this time
when distraction and urgency seem to come at me
from every direction, and there’s just so much more need
than I can possibly ever address, the stillness that I am tending
within me is aiding me in discerning what’s
mine to do. There’s a gentle sense
of self-acceptance that’s causing me to feel kinder
towards others as I’m practicing it
towards myself. Somehow, intimate though it seems,
it seems to me a key part of cultivating my own resilience
toward becoming a better change agent and co-creator of
positive change, so I offer these words humbly
in case they might prove useful to you. This is my prayer
in closing. May we cultivate resilience
by listening for the wolves, owls and whale songs, for the wind’s whispers and
the water’s ebbs and flows, for the rustling leaves
of Aspen trees who weather storms by
holding each other underground. May we encounter each other
anew as sparks of stars, each glowing with a particular
radiance and light. May we heed our body’s calls
for cycles of listening for guidance and learning
what’s needed before we engage with
purposeful and collaborative action. And may we support each other
in exquisite tending and self-care. May we develop our
relational intelligence and kindle
our kindness, giving the wild horses
of our hearts reign to lead as we
remember the Earth who we were born from
and that everyone and all of life is
sacred and relatives. Again, Nayyirah Waheed,
who suggests this: 1) Rub honey into
the night’s back; 2) Make sure the
moon is fed; 3) Bathe the ocean; 4) Warm sing the trees. And she signs it,
Tend. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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