It’s mid-November and autumn moves quickly now, descending in the decaying fruit of plants and fungi, and evident in the growing darkness. It felt good, at this time of falling and unraveling and transition, to gather, reflect and to creatively envision our work together as the people of the Salish Sea Spiritual Ecology Alliance. Autumn as a season, with its ecological and astronomical signs, as a soulful being expressing the life of the Earth, is a time well-suited for harvesting what’s past and seeding what will grow in the coming months and beyond for SSSEA.
Reflecting on the Past – SSSEA’s Forest Day, 2015 Convergence
In preparation for that gathering and visioning process last Thursday evening, I reflected on what’s past, specifically one day of our 2015 Convergence. Several themes emerge from that event that may resonate and feed our shared vision.
SSSEA’s 2nd event of the 2015 Convergence happened on the unceded, traditional and ancestral territory of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking Musqueam people at Spanish Banks West and Pacific Spirit Park. It was a privilege to have sχɬemtəna:t Audrey Siegl, who serves as an advocate and activist for indigenous sovereignty, indigenous women and the Earth, welcome us to her peoples’ territory and speak and sing from her heart.
It was a delight to share that blustery time where the forest and ocean meet, in conversation together and with the surrounding forest. Those teachings, as you may know, were diverse and holistic, including storytelling with poet and storyteller Nadine Pluzak; contemplative forest school skills with Roland Campbell of Soaring Eagle Nature School; foraging with ethnobotanist Bryce Watts of the Forager Foundation; forest ecology with forester and community builder Robin Clark; nature-based meditation with actor and meditator Matthew Spears; forest gardening with permaculturist Laura Walker and ancient forest activism with forest conservation expert Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance. To close the day, Emily Townsend facilitated a community dialogue about the dualism/nondualism of the human-nature connection. It was our good fortune to have a truly invigorating mix of teachers and topics. Here are a few of the themes that emerged from that day:
One of SSSEA’s intentions for the 2015 Convergence was to embody Joanna Macy’s Spiral of the Work That Reconnects, and our Forest event was a day of skill-share workshops exploring the 3rd component of the Spiral: Seeing with New Eyes. To “see with new eyes” is to awaken to the reality of our “inter-being” (as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it), our intimate and living connection to all that is. Through activities like identifying and learning about medicinal and native plants, doing contemplative practice like meditation and yoga outside, we connected with inner and outer nature. Nature (re)connection, according to many ecological thinkers, is one key to the individual and collective transformation required to bring about an ecological society.
Deep connection with nature can be cultivated through contemplative practices which develop sensory awareness, concentration and deep listening. Seeing, feeling, hearing and experiencing what is present outside and what emerges within us – the very ground beneath our feet, the feel of wind on our cheeks, our sense of self in relation to the elements – feeds the sense that “we too are nature”. But neither nature connection nor contemplative practice is not about connecting with nature as a ‘wild’ and unpeopled place.
Allying for Decolonization
While the “purpose of SSSEA is to facilitate a deepening of our spiritual connection to place, landscape and ecology”, this cannot be done honourably or justly without – to barely even begin – acknowledging the original peoples of these lands and waters, who have lived here since time immemorial; who have had/have an epistemology and identity woven with a sacralized and animated sense of place, land and ecology (see Kovach). But as Musqueam elder Jeri Sparrow writes,
Our traditional territory has been taken from us according to European settlement and colonization. Part of the teachings people need to know is how vast our territory was. It’s not this little 450 acres that we have now. It’s much, much larger and it meant so much more to us.
While acknowledgement of Musqueam serves to bring a decolonizing lens to a geography that otherwise continues to colonize through repression of the natural-cultural history of place, it is surely just a beginning – an absolutely necessary one – in allyship.
To be a settler, according to UBC professor David Gaertner, is to “perennially be aware of guesthood and to guard against the complacency and entitlement that comes with “making oneself at home” in Indigenous space (physical, ideological and epistemological)”. According to Gaertner, a settler-professor at UBC, the foundation of good protocol in Indigenous territory is self-identification. He cites Joy Harjo (Creek) who writes, “protocol is a key to assuming sovereignty. It’s simple. When we name ourselves… we are acknowledging the existence of our nations, their intimate purpose, insure their continuation.” On Forest Day, SSSEA was welcomed to the territory by sχɬemtəna:t Audrey Siegl, but I know that I did not identify my self in the way Gaertner suggests. There is much to learn.
What does it mean for the diverse group of settlers that make up SSSEA to ally for decolonization? As settlers on these lands, how do we consciously participate in reparation and solidarity? In their striking article Decolonization is Not a Metaphor, Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang state strongly that decolonization is a process that involves the repatriation – that is, giving back – of land to Indigenous peoples. Decolonization as a process is “not a metonym for social justice”, it is “incommensurable” – it does not fit and it is not comfortable.
Activism for Forest and Biodiversity Conservation
SSSEA’s Forest Day was also focused on connecting with the forest of the Salish Sea bioregion, one of the most significant ecologies we inhabit – and of which much has been lost. The work of Ken Wu (https://www.ancientforestalliance.org) and Douglas Tolchin (http://www.salishsea.org) – both present at this event – inspire action on behalf of old-growth forest conservation and the restoration of Salish Sea native biodiversity. Ken Wu’s call to protect 2nd growth forest so that it may become old-growth weaves into Douglas’ vision to return natural animal populations to 50% of their historic levels. Douglas is currently working to ensure that the interests and leadership of the Coast Salish peoples’ of this region are forefront in the Salish Sea Bioregional Marine Sanctuary.
Forest Day was just one of the four event days of our 2015 Convergence. Each held its own rich thematic elements and each may guide our visioning. Additional reflections were offered from the group gathered at the Kits Neighbourhood House last Thursday.
Back to the Season, and the Visioning
As we began our small visioning gathering with a centering prayer-space and practice to enter the here-and-now, the contemplative character of the autumn season seemed to guide and ground our vision for creative engagement. Suresh Fernando shared his heartfelt description of the human search for widening circles of family and belonging, and the need for love to be the ground of action. Several poems were read.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours: Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
This road demands courage and stamina, yet it’s full of footprints!
Who are these companions?
They are rungs in your ladder. Use them!
With company you quicken your ascent.
You may be happy enough going along, but with others
you’ll get farther, and faster.
- Rumi, Selected Poems
The character of these poems speaks to the group’s core values, which became distilled through the process of reflection and brainstorming. While we did not explicitly identify our vision and values in the form of a group mandate, we largely emphasized the confluence of spirituality and ecology, represented well by the terms “interpath” and “earth-centered”. But the core value and intention of our coming together, our most basic value, revealed itself as friendship. Thanks to Fleurette for drawing this up in her stories, Anam Cara, the spirit of our visioning meeting and the thread we at SSSEA may follow forward together.
In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”
Check out John O’Donohue’s book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom