Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer's Lesson: What Is Wealth

by Allison Ewoldt and Sarah Anne Edwards

Wealth, or the lack thereof, has been on the minds of many these long and often hotter, wetter, colder or drier summer days. Pundits compete daily with their predictions for when the recession will end and the economy will “recover.” Will it be 2010? 2011? Those like Robert Reich and Gerald Celente claim that our current economic difficulties are not going to end and that we’re in for a long-term—perhaps even permanent—state of decline.

Meanwhile, I have many friends and colleagues who are suffering financially, as I imagine you do, too. They’re looking back on a lifetime of thinking they were, or someday could be, wealthy. Now they’re sensing that not only will they most likely never be wealthy but find themselves slipping into what feels more like poverty. For so long so many have held fast to the American Dream that they’re the wealthy in waiting, but now they wonder.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my fellow ecopsychologist and dear friend, Allison Ewoldt, and the subject of our global economic woes came up. She told me that our discussion reminded her of a Reconnecting with Nature workshop she had attended a few years ago where participates were inspired to ask nature, "What is wealth?" What she experienced that day had such a great impact on her life and her relationship with money that she decided to capture it in an article so others could also benefit from the wisdom she gained. Here is how she describes her Reconnecting with Nature activity on that memorable afternoon:

"Our physical reality is formed by energetic attractions we perceive through our senses, so Reconnecting with Nature activities begin with our sensing an attraction in nature. Usually as I go into nature something claims my attention right away, but this time was different. As I walked alone along a forest path asking permission from nature to learn its lessons on wealth, I waited for something to attract me. Everything looked beautiful, but nothing in particular caught my attention. As time went by I realized that this time my attraction was not the vibrant color of a flower, the beautiful song of a bird, the strength of a massive tree, or the softness of the moss on a rock. It was the forest in its entirety. This attraction held my attention, so I sat on a small boulder to ‘listen’ as its wordless lesson began.

How does one express a non-verbal, purely sensory experience in words? Something is always lost in the translation, but I will try. As I watched, a wealth of diverse, teeming life before me became apparent. I saw:

· The insect attracted by the flower, gaining sustenance from it as it helped in-kind by assisting pollination.
· The plants reaching for the life-giving energy of the sun and sharing it with the caterpillar.
· Roots attracted to the damp, moist earth while holding the earth in place.
· The ‘dead’ leaves and trees transforming before my very eyes into new earth for new life.

As I became aware of the exquisite interconnected richness of the forest, my consciousness shifted and I stopped seeing separate entities. Instead, the physical reality before me became a beautiful, continuous flow of mutually attractive relationships collectively giving rise to Life. Everything was receiving just enough energy to sustain itself in health, returning energy in like quantity back to the web of life of which it was a part. Even death of an individual element gave rise to the health of the whole. I began to sense myself as part of this whole—and I, too, experienced the seamless flow of energy, the joyous fulfillment of mutual support and reciprocity.
'Ah,' said my rational language-based brain, never too happy to be wordless for long and thus determined to translate my nonverbal awareness.'This is the lesson about wealth you are seeking. True wealth is a seamless flow of energy shared through a web of mutual support and reciprocity that’s held together through our natural attractions. When we experience a separation from life’s supportive web, the result is fear and fear blocks our flow of life-giving energy, damming it up and leading to greed. In blocking the reciprocal flow of shared energy we disrupt the intricate and exquisite balance in the web of life, and soon many problems arise—poverty, crime, degradation of the environment which sustains our very lives … the list of negative consequences is almost endless.

'The irony is that those who take and hoard more than they need without giving back equally, thinking that this makes them 'wealthy,' are really impoverished of spirit and bereft of the true joy and fulfillment that only being in the flow life can bring. Energy flow, besides being the basis of wealth, is also necessary for health—individual, social, and environmental. When energy is blocked—again, because of fear, the major symptom of disconnection, and trauma—the result is illness. Health and wealth are really identical. They’re the result of a seamless energy flow of mutual support and reciprocity.

'Then an additional thought occurred to me. Energy flow, besides being the basis of wealth, is also necessary for health, individual, social, and environmental. When energy is blocked -again, due to fear - the major symptom of disconnection - the result is illness. So you see? Health and wealth are really identical. They're the result of a seamless energy flow of mutual support and reciprocity.

'As we returned to the workshop at the appointed time and shared the wisdom gained from our attractions in nature, our personal values shifted closer to those of the web of life of which we are a part. And we felt wealthy beyond measure."

After Allison told me about this experience during a recent visit with the Ewoldts in Tucson, her husband Dave, who is a sustainability consultant, added, “True wealth can be best measured by the number and quality of mutually supportive relationships an individual organism can create and maintain. When set against the backdrop of the web of life that has been evolving sustainably for eons, we see that finding a support network of mutually attractive relationships is actually the prime activity of all living organisms. The living systems that we humans create would reflect a higher degree of wisdom were we to mirror this process. This type of wealth is naturally abundant.”

Then Allison summarized her lesson from nature about wealth in one simple sentence:
“There is no profit-taking in nature, and the prevailing concept of profit is the key to the unsustainability of our current economic system.”

I believe this particular summer in all it’s unfamiliar diversity of temperatures and weather features brings a particularly timely lesson. We’ve been taught to measure our wealth in dollar signs and material possessions. But I see neither dollar signs nor possessions in the wild forest that surrounds our home here in Pine Mountain. Instead I see abundant health and wealth. I see that seamless flow of energy of which Allison speaks and I wonder, how might we find such wealth in our lives? How can we use the opportunity today’s economic upheavals present to rearrange our lives so that accumulating dollars and possessions need no longer fill the bulk of our days, but that instead we might simply enjoy being part of the miracle of Life itself?

Summer, the growing time, provides us with a hint. Maybe what we see in our economy today is really both a decline and an incline. If we look at the origin of these two words we find that decline is from the Old French decliner, "to bend and turn aside,” or from the Latin declinare, "to bend away from.” Incline, on the other hand, is from the old French encliner or the Latin inclinare, meaning "to bend or bow toward."

Could the feelings we’re experiencing now as we grapple with today’s economic and environmental conditions represent a deep need to turn away from a way of life that has not been truly nourishing and to lean or bow toward our desire for the true sense of health and wealth that comes from being part of a seamless natural flow of energy with its joyous fulfillment of mutual support and reciprocity?

If, like the plants of summer, we were each to reach deep into the earth of our being and draw on the great innate wisdom there, a new way of life might sprout and flourish for us to harvest. That life might look quite different from our lives today, but might be far richer than we can imagine now.

Blessings of Summer,

Friday, May 8, 2009

Between Winter & Spring: A Bridging Time

Our mufflers and mittens have been stored away. Our boots and heavy coats packed up. The porch furniture came out today. The forsythia is in bloom. The Jays are building a nest in the eaves outside the bedroom window and the Mallards are mating.

But our nights are cold and the days are only almost warm. Each day I think, "Ah, today I'll dress for Spring," but before breakfast ends I've put on socks and a sweater. Not long ago I trotted out to get the paper, ready for a warmer day and stepped right into powered sugar morning. Everything from forest floor beneath my feet to the pines above on the highest mountain peaks was covered with a light coating of snow.

Even our house isn't warm yet. Winter lingers in the corners. Outside the Poplars still have no leaves. Some days it's warmer outside for a few hours than inside and I throw open the windows to let in the fresh air. Other days we still turn on the fire.

It takes awhile to get from where we've been to where we're headed. We're in the bridging time.

I don't know why I'm impatient for Spring this year. I usually love for Winter to linger, as it tends to do here in the mountains sometimes even into June.

Maybe it's because we're also in a bridging time in our lives and in our country. Most all of us are in some stage of bridging from a more predictably affluent, convenient way of life to something less certain and not so plush and efficient as we've grown accustomed to.

Unlike nature, though, which always takes its time and doesn't mark seasons by a calendar, we tend to want to know when things will start and stop. We like clear demarcations. We like our weather and our lives to be "good." We don't like uncertainty. We want a reliable weather man. Yet this is a time a great uncertainty.

So Spring maybe taking on a new meaning. It's arrival may give us hope of a return to what we've known. Certainly it has always been synonymous with new beginnings. Perhaps that is how we would be best served to look for meaning this Spring. Not as a return to a fantasy way of life where we can grow and grow and borrow, and borrow and accumulate ever more and more - bigger, better, faster. But instead a bridge to a new way of life that doesn't put our households, our livelihoods, our families, our nation, and our Earth in such jeopardy.

Today being a pleasantly sunny, almost warm afternoon, we were outside chatting with our next door neighbor. "It's so lovely out today," we were all exclaiming. Then our neighbor said "I'm so glad to hear positive news about the economy! So glad to get away from all the endless spreading of fear."

I had to think about that for a moment. Yes, I hate to see us driven by fear, yet my fear is that we'll think we can go back to living beyond our means - personally, nationally, and on a planetary level. Then we will have much to fear. That's what got here. But fear has brought us in line. Shaped us up. We're spending less, saving more, living more simply, learning to do many things for ourselves we'd nearly forgotten how to do. Now the ardors of a recessionary winter are beginning to ease. New ways of life are budding.

It's a bridging time. Can we cross the bridge to an yet undefined way of life we'll participate in shaping, not from fear of living forever in a harsh Winter, but in anticipation of a new Spring?

Blessings of Nature