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Reflections on Issue Twenty-Two
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Thank you to everyone who had a chance to read Issue Twenty-Two over the past week. For those who have yet to read it, the reflections from other readers below may be a good starting point, or you can read “Conversational Silence” first.
I’d like to acknowledge the support of the many people who shared the previous issue within their circles, and warmly welcome the new subscribers to our community.
The Understory reflections between issues share thoughtful comments from subscribers that expand upon and challenge parts of the previous issue. The reflections are a way of surfacing the community to build greater intersectionality in relationships and ideas. Please consider this an ongoing invitation to comment directly on Issues and the comments of others. This shared space becomes richer from the diversity of perspectives and contributions.
I am grateful for the comments added this week, and hope they will provide further value to you in thinking about how to approach climate conversations within your circles. There is no single approach to climate conversations. Good conversations are inherently dynamic and responsive to the people participating. By thinking of a climate conversation as an invitation, we begin opening deeper spaces between difference to nurture a culture of care across our personal, professional, and civic communities.
As Shared by Peter Tavernise
“I read your opening quotation with no small measure of both recognition and disquiet, having as you know been steeping in alternate narratives which, on balance, are more embodied, holistic, reciprocal and...I could go on with that list for a few pages.
I may have shared with you the recent article from the Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change by Melanie Goodchild (Turtle Island Institute). She writes about the treaty wampum belt between the Dutch and the Iroquois nations being two blue lines, two rivers flowing side by side in mutual respect and with a pact of non-interference. We know how that experiment ended, and whose fault that was entirely. We continue to perpetrate those deep, tragic inequities, whether we are conscious of them or not. The assertion at the end of the paper is that we need to be able to see with two eyes, and value both rivers, which may be just what is needed for most people still standing in their own culture(s). But I was left with the feeling that no, perhaps instead our rivers must merge as we near the ocean. Perhaps this is my own hubris and foolishness, but it is a gut-level feeling that Gaia needs no less from us than to renew or re-establish our connection to Her (and to our own bodies, and to each other, and the more than human world). And we can't seem to do that while still standing firmly, only, in ‘our’ river, with mighty few exceptions (Somatics being one viable avenue I've raised frequently).”
Thank you, Peter, for inviting me to delve into Melanie Goodchild’s article, which has been in my reading stack for a few weeks now when shared by Charles Holmes. I can see why the article came to mind. First, it is deliberately formatted as a conversation in multiple parallel streams with Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Roronhiakewen (He Clears the Sky) Dan Longboat, Kahontakwas Diane Longboat, Rick Hill and Ka’nahsohon (A Feather Dipped in Paint) Kevin Deer. Goodchild reflects the intention that “in writing this article together we are attempting to reflect and perhaps model, a more relational disposition to collaborative knowledge creation and sharing.” The deliberateness of form alone demonstrates how writing might be conceived more as a conversation. Much of the article is framed in two-column: divided to reflect Haudenosaunee two-column thinking as evidenced in the Two-Row Wampum belt (Tekani teyothata’tye kaswenta).
What stood out to me in seeing the wampum belt was the visual spaces before, between, and below the two dark rows. Goodchild labels this the fruitful terrain—“a particular teaching place, a place between epistemologies”—and yet these between spaces are often the ones that we ignore or are blind to altogether. The simplest way to understand a conversation is in two vertical columns that are both independent and yet responsive to another. However, it is in the between spaces, those spaces of inquiry and understanding, where the complexity and transformative powers of conversations lie.
Referencing Asch, Borrows, & Tully’s book Resurgence and Reconciliation (2018), Goodchild describes the two-row wampum as recognizing both independence and interdependence simultaneously. With shared intentions and understanding, this represents a powerful model of reconciliation between “Indigenous peoples and settler peoples” as Goodchild notes. It is the stark reality of broken intentions that Peter is reflecting upon—both the violation of recognized and valued independence and an interdependence without dominance. Through so many levels of loss, the importance of Indigenous independence is just now beginning to be more widely recognized and embraced. But our challenge in this moment, and perhaps part of why the recognition is happening now, is because the other river sees value in the Indigenous perspective as a guide towards a sustainable future. As Peter described in a previous post referencing Tyson Yunkaporta, fragmented settler cultures need the influence of intact Indigenous cultures but not necessarily the other way around. Given that it is impossible to have a one-way merger, I am just beginning to understand the complexity of Goodchild’s vision of peaceful independence and interdependence.
I’d like to share part of the opening narrative by Kevin Deer that elegantly expands the section of Issue Twenty-Two on how climate conversations must first begin within each of us:
“I laid down on my back almost naked and covered my body with handfuls of this rich black soil. As I covered my body with this soil, in my mindset it was like these hands and arms came out from Earth and began to hug me, from my first mother...Change is going to happen from people going inward within themselves and along with going back to having communion with their first mother, Mother Earth. That’s how change is going to come, from our Earth Mother. Because if this could happen to me it’s going to happen en masse … and many people who are spiritually grounded are going to know what’s happening, but the ones who never connected to the Earth will not know what’s going on.”
The vision of “en masse” reconnection that Kevin Deer describes happens through those “spiritually grounded” enough to be connected. For the many others who stand firmly in their own river of separation, a literal and metaphoric vertical column of independence, many of us are needed to stand by their side in companionship helping to guide a journey of interconnection. I see this as the merging of rivers within a culture rather than multiple rivers flowing into one sea.
“I heartily embrace your emphasis on the need for connective conversations. I would add to your fine list of exemplars leading this movement (your 4th paragraph) Margaret Klein Salamon (climateawakening.org), Frederic Laloux (The Week), Alex Evans + Kate Pumphrey (A Larger Us), the good folks at Pachamama Alliance (Awakener series, and Gamechanger intensive), and Dr. Josie MacLean (one of the three founders of the Climate Coaching Alliance and who has been working with communities in Australia along these lines for two decades).
Love Jay & Grant's static vs. dynamic authenticity framework, which maps pretty well to the Carol Dweck fixed vs. growth Mindsets, and other coaching models around moving from victim-hood to self-authorship. Glad to see them embracing the paradox you outlined ‘... the paradox of dynamic authenticity—we become more authentic by acknowledging our own inconsistencies—better aligns us towards the future we want and creates the invitation for others to do the same.’ Amen. Adyashanti has said all spiritual truths are inherently paradoxes, and part of the process of enlightenment is becoming comfortable with embracing such paradoxes.”
I now realize that the act of creating a list is by its nature more exclusive than it is inclusive. I should have been more cognizant of that when putting my list together. One of my greatest joys in working on The Understory is the web of relations that it both acknowledges and extends. Each issue and the reflections shared by the community invite many new connections and deeper explorations. Thank you, as always Peter, for extending the web of connections further in all that you do.
“Just gobsmacked at the concept of applying moral injury to the climate space. I've colleagues working with moral injury with non-combat veterans, and this makes so much sense to apply here as well. How we work with people to help them move from programmed 'uncaring' towards 'recaring' -- from dissociation to re-association and re-connection, would be the project. And yes, self- and other-forgiveness is needed as well as reconciliation and restitution.
My sense is the spiral of silence is ending, though perhaps I am in my own bubble. But even some of the more politically and economically conservative folks I know seem to "get it" and be talking about it in a new way since the past two years of fires, and climate mayhem like the freeze in Texas. Also the conversation seems to be helped when we expand it beyond just carbon to pollution, ecosystem collapse, the entire picture. We heal our tendency to isolate and categorize by bringing in whole systems views and systems thinking.”
Weintrobe’s writing that connects our broader cultures of “uncare” with our current state of biodiversity collapse, rising social inequality, and poisoning of our water & skies profoundly affected me as well. The picture that is being painted for us by so many of the writers quoted in The Understory is what a culture of care or “recare” as Peter called it can look like. We must envision it before we can begin moving toward it. Issue Twenty-Two was an attempt to envision conversations of care within ourselves and within others.
I too am heartened by the notion that the spiral of silence around climate change is ending. But I continue to wonder what are the conversations being had that are breaking the silence? In the Reflections on Issue Sixteen, I shared David Abram’s distinction about talking about nature rather than to nature. Abram found that in healthy cultures of interconnection and reciprocity people talk to the ground underfoot, to the wind, to the mountains. In Issue Seven I shared Robin Wall Kimmerer’s reflection of being raised by strawberries, and recognition that by perceiving the word as a gift both she and strawberries were transformed.
Perhaps acknowledgement is the first step in the process and is unto itself worthy of celebration. At the same time, per Peter’s comment above, time is short for the much-needed rapid change, and acknowledgement and awareness if disconnected from bigger questions may find us standing aghast looking back at what we have done wondering how we could have done it. That is not the side of the two rivers I want to be standing upon.
As Shared by Mike den Haan
“There are so many threads in this piece that I want to follow and pull. I need to sit with it for a while. For now, the link with religious narratives is a powerful reminder for me. I began reflecting on my own experiences within a religious community which held strongly to a narrative framework of forgiveness, redemption, a ‘darkness’ within and the ‘light’ we can all share. This framework was a foundational bond, of sorts, and held people together even through rigorous disagreement. While there were still limitations to the framework and its bond (partly why I had to leave), it was a lesson I will never forget. It is also a teaching I did not, until now, connect with climate conversations. I now wonder how much more is possible. How better can I engage in climate conversations by finding that place of common ground/trust/moral foundation first? And the language of forgiveness is also one I’m familiar with, even if I have not ensured the practice is turned onto me as much as I need to turn it on to others. Again, a teaching from my long-ago community (and my current community) that I can move into this space. Reminds me that these conversations; about climate, about our future, about shared connections, are sacred, spiritual even.”
I would like to offer a deep thanks to Mike for further expanding what I had begun to surface around the sacredness of these conversations. Mike’s comment also inspired me to spend a little more time with the writing of Fred Luskin on forgiveness, which I would like to share a part of here. In “What is Forgiveness,” Luskin writes of three stages of forgiveness:
We begin by acknowledging the harm done by ourselves/someone else and sitting with the loss that resulted from that harm.
The next step is to permit ourselves to feel the suffering. He clarifies that it’s not about letting go of the event, but rather transforming our response to it.
The final step is sharing it with others. A body of research supports that those who turn toward human connection to share their grief and harm become much more resilient. Conversations are central to healing.
After writing Issue Twenty-Two, reflecting upon it, and reading these comments, I become increasingly captivated by what such spaces of climate forgiveness might look like in our cities and towns. Where might they be? Who would participate? What is the invitation that would inspire people to show up?
As Shared by Jennifer Harvey Sallin
“Wild authenticity is dynamic. It is in an open state of learning, acknowledging, and embracing our inconsistencies in a creative dynamic that propels us toward the future we want to live in.
Domesticated authenticity is static. It uses consistency as a proxy, and keeps us from openly and creatively using our inconsistencies and paradoxes as a fuel for learning and growth.
In rewilding ourselves, we also rewild our concepts about life, meaning, and relationships. This means we rewild our interactions with others as well, taking our conversations out of the known and static, into the unknown, creative, and dynamic, so that we can imagine and generate new possibilities for our shared future.”
I revel in the precision of language. How the turn of a single-world can open up new evocations, and expand meaning into greater depths. The way that Jennifer flipped “dynamic” to “wild” unlocked even more powerful language for describing our possibilities for growth through vulnerability and openness. The contrast to a “domestic” authenticity alludes to the taming of broader possibilities within each of us and in our relationships with others. Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing in a nature-based framing to this concept of authenticity that indeed helps us better envision those new possibilities as we seek a healthier living “wild” planet together.
I hope this week between issues provides the space for further discovery and reflection. Go forth and make a difference in the week ahead. See you next Saturday with Issue Twenty-Three.
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Why I Write The Understory
We have crossed the climate-change threshold from emerging to urgent, which demands a transformative response. The scale of the issue demands not only continuous focus but also the courage to take bold action. I've found that a persistence of climate consciousness improves resilience to the noise and distractions of daily life in service of a bigger (and most of the time invisible) long-term cause.
The Understory is my way of organizing the natural and human-made curiosities that capture my attention. Within the words, research, and actions of others lies the inspiration for personal and organizational journeys. I hope that my work here will help to inform not just my persistent consciousness, but yours as well.