What is a Global Earth Exchange?

Each year since 2009 Radical Joy for Hard Times supports worldwide communities to connect with wounded places through the Global Earth Exchange. This is an event that celebrates curiosity, compassion, and generosity of heart and spirit as people offer their gifts of beauty in these wounded places. These events can be with a group of people or solo – ingenuity for expressing beauty is welcome whether it is land art, song, dance or any other personal or communal expression.

I love this practice and find that in the four years I have been participating that the earth, waters, air and all beings have become more alive and personal in my life. I have hosted groups and one year painted my car with Radical Joy Birds as my celebration. This year I did a solo event and here is the story I wrote for the Radical Joy website which really captures my ever-evolving personal relationship with my own homestead.

Never in my life have I rejected nature, particularly the little ecosystems that I’ve lived within. When I moved to my home six years ago, the gas fracking boom was taking off. Now there is a petrochemical plant being built in our community to process the gas byproducts with four more plants planned for the wider region. “Cancer Alley” is our new name.

Even while joining with other activists to protest these events, somehow I also withdrew and closed myself off from the wild life happenings at my homestead. I hardened and closed my heart. This year, I chose to do a solo Earth Exchange, feeling that I HAVE wounded my own eco-home here with my rejection.

I wandered, allowing the wild happenings to call to me–the snakeskin, the dark cool under the pines, the gnat at my ear, shadows, dew drops, the wind!  There was nothing for me to do other than allow my heart to be touched. I wasn’t struck by a lightning bolt of wisdom, or hit on the head with a snapping branch of insight. I was gently reminded of the resilience and unjudging stance of nature–She does what She does with or without my attention. But Oh! Maybe my reverence, gratitude and love will be felt by Her, and my heart wants to offer Her those gifts.

How might you celebrate a wounded place you know of? By the way, you don’t have to wait for the annual Global Earth Exchange – you can do this any or every day.

Requited Love

In many cultures, humans live indoors and are removed from the visceral experience of nature and have fallen out of love with the earth; however, the earth hasn’t fallen out of love with humans. We know we need the earth if only for the most basic reason, food. Do we know that the earth needs us? In “Webs of Power,” Starhawk writes:

“…nature wants to talk to us. Far from being better off without us, nature would be incomplete without human eyes admiring her and human voices singing praise, human hands tending, pruning, and gathering, human bellies filled with her bounty.”

We may need to relearn how to be in relationship with nature. Where to begin? For a start, with patience and curiosity. Step outside and observe.

To simplify, let’s imagine there are two paths to building a relationship with nature. The scientific or left-brained path means we identify plants, birds and other elements of nature. There is also the sensory, perceptual or right-brained path. This does not mean recreation in nature such as hiking or fishing, but more of a slowing down to appreciate nature through the senses.

I have been a backyard birder for years striving to identify species and learn about their behavior. Recently, I read Jon Young’s book “What the Robin Knows” and learned about the “baseline.” With this new knowledge, I was thrilled to notice a distinct change in the backyard chatter moments before a hawk zipped past me to attack a perched songbird. That I knew something was happening before the attack allowed me to feel very connected to my local community of birds.

Practicing more of a sensory path has opened me to appreciate a reciprocal relationship with the land and wildlife. I often focus on sound, scents, shadows and light, and nature feels different to me, more alive and sensate, not only something to be studied. This way of relating to nature feels more personal, and I now wonder how nature feels about me. This really is like a love relationship!

Here is a simple exercise that will invite a more right-brained sensory relationship. One way to heighten awareness and activate the senses is to remove one. Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. Birds, wind, rustling grasses, all take on a special significance when listened to so deliberately. Or focus on what you see. Shadows, light, and flight patterns that happen without labeling offers a much different experience.

Just step outside and observe. You may experience requited Earth love!

Is Nature Free?

pennsylvania-woodsWe all have access to nature. To be with plants, animals, insects and elements from the natural world, we only need to leave our homes. Even if we live in an urban environment there are parks, or blue sky above, the air, hopefully birds too. We can just walk out our door, no admission fee, no cost to us.

This idea of nature as free was prompted by a recent experience. In describing an ecopsychology workshop I was facilitating, a potential attendee asked: “why should I pay for spending time in nature when it is basically free?” I considered this. When I hear something is “for free” I think of receiving without having to give or offer something in exchange or return. I think this free perspective can lead to the disregard many people have for nature. This idea of nature being free feels out of balance to me, one sided.

The life coaching and “inner wilderness guide” work I do offers clients an opportunity to learn about their nature and the nature of others, in nature. Building a relationship with nature beyond recreation, relaxation, or as a food source, brings us into a place of exchange or mutuality. To express our gratitude to the natural world, or to dialogue with nature, invites relationship. Indigenous and earth based cultures consider all elements in nature as alive and as equally important as humans.

To deeply care about an other, whether a person, plant, moonrise or sunset, opens the way to caring and being in an interdependent relationship. We need this in our world today as we face unprecedented abuses to the environment.

How might it be to consider what we can offer to nature rather than what we get from nature? When did you last spend time with a tree asking “what can I offer you in exchange for your beauty, oxygen, and shade?”

Try this ecopsychology exercise: leave behind all devices, biking and hiking props, and canoes. Go into nature with only your curiosity and openheartedness. Wander until something draws your attention. It might be a large flat stone, a tiny crawling insect, a flower, animal, anything. Sit down, ask for permission to join this being, wait for the answer and if yes, become very still and present. (If no, search for another being.) Ask the question: “What would you like from me today?” And become even more still as you listen for the answer. You may think it is only your imagination when you hear a response. What if it is not your imagination?

Nature cannot be free if we want a healthy, clean world to live in. A relationship with nature, as with any person, is most full and rich when there is an exchange, when we give as much as we get.