Cultivating mutual reciprocities

This is the transcript of the fourth and final episode of REBIRTH, a limited podcast series produced by advaya, in partnership with Stella McCartney Beauty.

Listen to the curated audio version of this podcast, which weaves the main conversations and reflection prompts together on Spotify here, or Apple Podcasts here, or Acast here.

"If words can do something, if they can sink into the heart, open up new paths of perception, lead us to the threshold of a forest, this is all to the good. Then we must leave them. They’ve done their work. They got our bodies where they needed to be. At this threshold, we must thank them for their service, and lay them down. It is time to stop speaking and listen. Come to the trees: to forget and to remember. To forget the straightjackets of manufactured time and cubicles. To remember something much older than the Gregorian calendar and the forty-plus-hour workweek. Come to the trees: to touch and be touched by something more primary, more whole.” - Dr. Gavin Van Horn, "Breathing Trees"

Welcome to the fourth and final episode of REBIRTH, a limited podcast series produced by advaya, a platform for transformative education. I am your host, Tammy Gan, and this four-part series is produced in partnership with Stella McCartney Beauty, a conscious alternative to luxury skincare.

This episode features Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Executive Editor for Center for Humans and Nature Press, and co-editor, with Robin Wall Kimmerer and John Hausdoerffer, of the award-winning five-volume series, Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations. As we usher in springtime and we're urged out the door by our bodies, let us give in to the urge of being outside. May we learn to treat our bodies as receptive instruments. How do we develop kinship with the more-than-human world, with sprawling creativity and multiple intelligences? How can we receive with all our senses, leaving words behind? And how can this radically different orientation begin to restore frayed or fragmented relationships with the earth? In this closing conversation, we look at how we may tend to our bodies and ecosystems, in the season of new life, and receive guidance forward.

We begin with discussing kinship as a different relational way of living and being.

Tammy (advaya): I wanted to ground this by starting with the big series that you co-edited, Kinship. And I'm starting with that, because I think it might be quite a new idea to people who might be, say, interested in nature, or like being connected to the earth, but then don't really know how to reorient themselves and reconnect to the earth, and explore a different relational way of living and being. So I wanted you to share with us a little bit about what you broadly define kinship to be, maybe sharing one or two stories that you've recently resonated with or thought back about, for whatever reason, in recent months. So that's how we will start.

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Totally. So the Kinship project began, I mean, the seeds of it were kind of planted with, the ways that certain entities, natural entities, like rivers, and forests, and even mountains, sometimes, were being recognised as persons, in legal context. So in certain countries, in New Zealand, being a prominent one, where this happened in 2017, when the Whanganui River was recognised as a person with rights that could be defended in the court, [if there was] pollution or if it was abused in certain ways, then there would be the Maori people, who were going to be the caretakers of it, but they arranged this bicultural agreement with the New Zealand government, recognising the personhood of that river.

So I think that that's where those seeds got planted, because to think of... we don't usually think of persons... the conventional way of thinking about persons is to think of humans or to make them equivalents. But there's actually a really strong stream of thinking, in conceptualising persons, in a lot of different cultures, where there are non-human persons. Person just meaning, another being that displays agency and will, and that one needs to learn to respect, or be in good relation with. And so from that, we started to really talk about what kinship is and what kinship means and what it means to be kin with these other non-human persons. We wanted at the outset to really not define kinship as simply a genetic connection. Obviously, we're biologically connected to other creatures and evolutionarily speaking, we share in this great tree of life, or strawberry bush, as Mary Midgley once put it, a more spreading and lateral, branching bush of life, if you will. But we wanted to really highlight how kinship is about how we can engage with the world: how we relate to a world that's wildly alive with all sorts of creativity, with other-than-human intelligences, and think about the ways that we treat other creatures, other landscapes, mountains, rivers, rocks, trees as worthy of our respect and our honour and our reciprocity—the mutual reciprocity between us. So they're relatives. So how does that perspective, when we really practice that perspective, how does that change how we interact with the world? How can we make that more a part of our everyday realities? When we walk outside, walk out the door? How can we, by thinking of our kinship with this world, how can we begin to restore those relationships that have been frayed or fragmented?

One more that came up in several of the essays, in the book series, was remembering—how do we remember, not just in terms of our cognitive abilities, but re-member, like reactivate our membership into our home ecosystems by becoming good kin? So I think arguably, at least in my mind, one of the fundamental ruptures that we live in, that a lot of us live in, I should say, not all of us... is, we have been separated or divorced from, or orphaned from, the lands that we live on. We aren't living with them, we're living on them. And so, kinship is a real effort to once again, recognise and use that theme as a focusing lens to say, how do we remember, how do we come back to our relatives. So that's one piece of it.

And then, another thing that frequently came up in the book series, was the idea of kinning. Which is, takes that word that's usually a noun—kin—and makes it into a verb. And I think it's... kinship is better thought of as a verb, than it is a noun. It's an active orientation and engagement with the world. And that goes for the way that we characterise other species, oftentimes, not just in scientific language, where a species might be given a number, but in conventional, contemporary language, it's very common to, and I'm talking about the English language here, because there is a contrast with a lot of indigenous languages and even other languages around the world. But in English, which is so noun-heavy, the pronouns that are used for other species are often it. We'll say, Look at it, flying through the sky, or look at it crawling under the rock, and our children pick that up, and they learn to think of other creatures as objects, as its.

And we also wanted to really push back against that and say, No, these are she's and he's and they's and, they are not objects, they are subjects of a life, as we are. And so as we relate to them as subjects, we are, in bringing that into our lives and our hearts, our consciousness, and become other-regarding in that sense, then that language correction from it to a gendered pronoun, or a non-binary pronoun, reminds us of our relations to these other subjects, that they're not simply objects or background or scenery in our worlds, which is so often how they are treated, but they are engaged and connected and have their own sensibilities and their own ways of navigating the world. And so, a fuller ethic or a fuller ecological ethic in the world requires that we not just look at other humans as potential kin, but look at non-humans as potential kin. So, those are a few thoughts about how we were framing this project and this book, and what we were trying to put out there in the world, to invite people to think about.

Tammy (advaya): And this is like a little bit off the script, but it was occurring to me as you were speaking about these things... I was recently asked about when was your awakening, and what was your awakening? I kind of hate that question, but I also think that it's interesting how it relates to what you were talking about, and I was curious to, did you grow up with that sense of a knowledge or a feeling of being related to the world around you, or was that cultivated at some point in time? You know, how did that happen?

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Yeah, no. It's a good question, because you will get diverse answers from folks. Although, Gary Snyder, the poet, the award-winning Beat poet, who has gone on to write just some incredible books, including The Practice of the Wild—he says kids are natural animists. And, I think that that's probably true. Until we're actively guided away from that sensibility, by adults, who may be well-meaning or well-intentioned, but you know... [I think] that we tend to approach the world as if it is alive, as if it does have certain claims on us that we are... we treat those other animals as people in our worlds. And so, I'm sure, it's different for everyone, of when one starts to separate from that, and maybe there's a healthy process, psychologically speaking, of individuation, that you need to go through or, and then come back to, that perspective you had, later on down the line, but I mean, for me, so I think that that was just the natural way of being, and then, nature was always a place for me that, I would... I don't think it would be wrong to use the word sacred, it was the place where I was humbled, where I was in awe of what was around me, and I think that's a thread that was pretty consistent in my life. And then, had a chance to flourish later on, as I had more say in what I did, and where I went, and all of that sort of thing. So, I wouldn't say that there was any one awakening, as much as there was just a sort of growing encounters that fed maybe that natural animistic perspective.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for sharing that. Like you said, I think I do agree that kids do have that natural sense, and maybe there is a healthy, like you said, individuation process that you have to go through, and form your own identity. And then, that all comes back to the relationship between the individual and the community, which... that line has to be drawn, but also it has to be a little bit of a blurry line—anyway, that's a whole other kind of worms...

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: No, but I appreciate that. Because I think that you can... it is possible to just get stuck there, right? Like where you have such a strong sense of individuality, that you don't recognise that our very bodies are comprised of all different types of bacteria and fungi. And, our reason for being here is the symbiotic merger of different forms of life that lead to our being. So, the notion of even an individual is certainly a construct. I mean, I was reading this wonderful piece by a scientist who was in a team of people who were making the case that we are all... You know, I don't think he used the word holobiont, I think that comes maybe from Donna Haraway. But he said, we are all lichen. And lichen is this combination of algae and fungi that each benefit and they become they become one organism. And to some degree, we are all that, and we are all dependent, deeply dependent on the larger community of life. And so it's worth remembering that, and not maybe getting too hung up on your own ego trip.

Tammy (advaya): Yes, that's so true. And also a good way to segue into the third question, actually, on the topic of giving life and being a part of life. So for me, and I guess, for a lot of people who, I'm assuming, when you think about spring, I think they think about that desire to give life and to be a part of life, and like we've been saying, it's maybe inherent and natural to humans, that we've repressed and forgotten, but it is, in some ways, inherent, alongside our more-than-human kin. But I think, so... "giving life" is a very vague phrase, and also can be very badly misconstrued, and also used by people who don't necessarily mean as well. And so I wonder how you understand that idea of giving life, and how we might practice it, [and] how do you see that as a guiding principle, if it should be? [It's] an open question, but...

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Yeah, no, it's a good question. Because, I mean, in Buddhist terms, the prevention, or the lessening, of suffering, is often given as a kind of primary motive, and that's kind of a negative way of phrasing it. So the positive way of saying that is how do we increase the wellbeing around us, and give life? I don't know, well, you know, because it's... maybe we're doing a seasonally-themed thing here on spring, the first thing I think of is...

I used to be part of a community garden. I had this little plot that was badly positioned to where it didn't get maybe as much sun as it should, and I was not out there nearly enough to really watch and maintain and cultivate the seeds that I planted. And so, things got really scraggly really quickly, and then the deer got into the garden, and ate the stuff that... so I got very little out of the garden, with the original purpose of the garden, being to bring home some fresh vegetables and things like that... so that was off the table, but with the deer and the rabbits and the chipmunks and the squirrels getting the choice morsels that I was able to even manifest out of the garden. At a certain point, the purpose of that garden changed for me, and I just began to think of it as a wildlife donation, so rather than it being for my family's table, it was just bringing more food into the neighbourhood for the animals that already lived there. So that's one form of giving life.

But another thing that occurred to me was, I don't know how familiar people are with ecological restoration. But the basic idea here is that there are certain native species to any place that oftentimes are beleaguered because other plants have overgrown them, they blocked out the light, the aggressive, invasive species are very good at entering into damaged habitat and taking over, and thus decreasing the diversity of that place. So a kind of spring cleaning exercise, is that you clear those other species out so that the light can again reach the forest floor and the seeds that are lying dormant there. And I think it makes a kind of nice metaphor for our own lives, for being self-reflective, to look at what needs cleaning, what needs our attention, what can we let go of, what's not necessary; to stop every once in a while and be able to evaluate that in ourselves... is an act of allowing those seeds within us that have been dormant the space to grow and thrive. So, that's another way of giving life, I think.

And then maybe one final thought is... springtime is a time of migration and living flows of creatures, especially birds, but in the area where I live is an area where monarch butterflies overwinter, so they collect in the thousands, in certain spots, along the coast here, and it's really a phenomenal thing to witness. But I think the lesson here, if there is one, is that we can provide habitat for species on their journeys, on their long migrations, and that is a form of giving life, whether it's the simple act of planting milkweed for monarchs, or other plant species that are food sources for them; it requires us knowing the needs of other species, and then adjusting our own behaviours to meet those needs, and the cool thing about that is that that can happen, not just in rural areas, or areas that are considered wild or more natural, but having lived in the Chicago area, there are huge efforts underway for people just to plant backyards, vacant lots, discarded and disregarded pieces of land with those native plant species, where they become... the word that's used is refugia—they literally become a refuge for these other species on their journeys. So I think that's a pretty powerful way to think about how we might participate and contribute to giving life, and giving aid, and refuge to other species.

Tammy (advaya): I love those ideas and also the invitation to people who are also living in highly urbanised, and city places, [that] they too, can participate in this process of giving life, and it's not just that you have to up and move. Urbanised places also need that kind of care, and that rewilding. Again, off the script, but I think I want to go into [this idea] a little bit is... when you were talking about invasive species, that's always a very thorny topic. I wonder how you think about that. So a recurring theme in a few of the conversations on this podcast series is the idea that there's no "good" or "bad". Well, people fall on different ends of the spectrum for this, but like, some people position invasive species as like unwanted, things that we should get rid of, but then there are also other people who will say that that's a new ecosystem and community that's forming. And there are ways that I can see this beyond, more than human worlds and into thoughts about human communities and how they move around and migrate and shift and things like that, but just wondering what your thoughts on that is, what might be arising for you...

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Yeah, it's a big, it's a big topic, and I won't be able to do it nearly the justice that it deserves, but I can offer up a couple of thoughts, and we'll see where it takes us. So I mentioned earlier that one of ways that invasive species thrive, oftentimes, is in very disturbed environments—environments that we have disturbed, whether it's paving these places over or whether it's just trashing... disregarding their overall health, whatever it is... oftentimes those invasive species do the service of really coming in, stabilising the soil, keeping it from eroding away, there's a lot of things that can happen there. And plus, there should be also an acknowledgement that there's a spectrum. Some species which are invasive, might actually naturalise quite well, and not cause any damage, to the larger ecosystem, in fact, might serve the function of like... there are some invasive species that become food sources for birdlife, for instance, that they wouldn't otherwise have it there, and they make use of it. So, there's that going on, as well.

But I think that the thing to consider and always bear in mind is like what's the overall health of the system and overall diversity of the system? And, have that as a benchmark for what you're aiming for when you're trying to do acts of ecological restoration. And, one thing that I think is also important to bear in mind is to have a kind of a humility to what you're doing. Like, if you are removing other plant species, or even animal species, then to not do it cold-heartedly, or mechanically, a lot of times, I think we rationalise our behaviour, because it's hard, we're taking life, you know. And so, to somehow honour... if you have to do that, if you have to participate in that, or if you feel like it's necessary for the sustenance and the wellbeing of the overall system, then to not do it, without careful consideration and concern and honour for those species that have moved in; to find a way to do it with some sort of gratitude and respect, for why they're there, how they've been there. Yeah. So, those are a couple of thoughts.

But yeah, I think you're right in sort of raising the caution or concern that it can easily... the language can easily bleed into human-to-human metaphors and actualities where people are being treated as something that should be removed. And I mean, when you think that of humans, I mean, it's very... in the United States, at least, if you're not a Native person, then we are, in a sense, all of the European-descended peoples are invasive, so, bear that in mind, when you're throwing around those kinds of terms, that there can be some negative and nefarious overlap. [So,] again, take care, with how we use our language and how we use our hands, really, when we're thinking about ecological restoration.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, good words of caution to remember. And let's kind of move into a different space. So thinking about the trickster; the reason why I wanted to bring this in was because, I think, I want to honour the fact that people might be coming into this season, not with always an open mind, and not everyone is like feeling very excited, or renewed coming into this new season, people might be bringing mixed emotions, maybe with pain and grief or a sense of clarity, disillusionment with the current moment, I wanted to ask how you think that the trickster's energy might give us some wisdom or pathways as we shift into this new time, and also beyond that as well.

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: What is the trickster? What's the creature you associate with the trickster? I'm curious. The reason I ask is because the trickster archetype, it's in many different cultures. And, the trickster just sort of changes clothes and shape, but the main thing about this entity, this trickster archetype, though, is like that they're boundary crossers, that they play with these social conventions, and they sometimes are bad examples, to show... what you should be doing is not what the trickster is doing. From the Greeks, they had Hermes, who was known as Mercury, the messenger God, and for the Romans, for the Norse, it was... it's Loki. There's Eshu in West Africa, who Bayo Akomolafe writes very eloquently about, for the Lakota, it's Iktomi, the spider, in the Midwest, the tribes often had the rabbit as a trickster, and there's some of that in American folktales that have trickled into American folktales. Or even Looney Tunes, like Bugs Bunny, right, he's kind of a trickster archetype himself. And then raven is a very prominent one in the Pacific Northwest.

But for me, probably the most notorious one, at least in North America is coyote, and this kind of intelligence but goofiness, adaptability, in particular, I think are, the actual creature has these, that are then taken up into these oral narratives of coyote. And, at least one author claims that coyote is the oldest deity in North America, in that sense. Or we could say, figure or spirit might be better than deity, as part of these trickster tales. And I think coyote is a good one, it was, at least for me, because when I was living in the Chicago area, we had a couple thousand coyotes that were roaming through Chicago that not everybody knows about, but you'll see them sometimes, in the cemetery, or at night crossing the street or, walking alongside the train tracks, the Metro tracks, and to me, it was a very appropriate, that coyote as this trickster figure was now in our urban areas in the United States, because the adaptability of actual coyotes, biological coyotes, like fit really well with the symbol of trickster and how muddying these boundaries between nature and culture, between the urban and the wild, and so coyote was in our midst muddying the boundaries, those conceptual boundaries that oftentimes we create dualities or bifurcations between human artifacts, or human culture and those of other animals, and coyote just came right into the city and sort of [was] playing with that, in a way.

So I don't know if that necessarily answers your question about like, what we're doing with grief, and how the trickster can help with that. But I think one thing that this symbol of the trickster can make us aware of is when social convention has become deadening. When we are locked into a certain way of thinking or a certain societal way of doing things, trickster is often associated with a crossroads, where two paths meet, again the boundary, right, so we're at a crossroads in certain ways, right now, in terms of climate change, and disregard for our non-human kin, in terms of white supremacy culture that has reared its head in so many ways in the last few years... and, in my mind, those are social conventions that need to be challenged, and that an archetype like the trickster, guides us, in that way, in a certain sense, to challenge those conventions, to recognise them as the way things are being done, but not the way things have to be done. The trickster is always a disruptive force, that is always showing that the boundaries that we think are solid, are not. So we live in a time that I think is ripe for that trickster archetype, and can help us think about how do we enact new ways of being, and how can we move into unconventional possibilities, and open the space of our imagination? How can we literally think outside of the boxes that we've put ourselves and others into? I think that's the role of the trickster.

Tammy (advaya): I love it, thank you for sharing so many examples with us, I'm [feeling] called to invite people to who are listening to this, to find the trickster in your neighbourhood, or around you. I mean, I think a lot of more-than-human kin can probably fall into that category of trickster, whatever that may be, whatever stands out as like a trickster, whether that's a story, or a mythology from your culture, or something like I said, that's in your neighbourhood; that may give people a sense of renewed energy, hopefully, [and an] appropriate amount of disruption.

To shift into a closing, I would love for you to share a few offline or embodied, embedded in the earth practices for listeners to try out. [I think] very simple practices can be very eye-opening. So, yeah, would love for you to share.

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: Totally, yeah, well, we can start there because I appreciate what you said about simple practices, and I think it's really important that you don't mistake that you have to do these big grand gestures, and have these life-transformative experiences that are super dramatic. You know, it's as close to us as our feet, right? As just walking and falling into rhythm; our own pace with a kind of natural rhythm that our body has, as we walk... I think the phrase, Diogenes [the] Greek philosopher said, "Solvitur Ambulando", if I'm pronouncing the Latin correctly, which is, it is solved by walking. And, it might not be that we take a question out with us and get an answer, but at least there is a kind of, in the physical motion of walking, there's also a kind of, where we can turn things over slowly, and reflect on things, again, that sort of sense of pace. And, so I do like to walk. And I like to walk as much as I can, and in part, that's just a matter of me putting myself, my body out where I can have encounters, where I can be open sensorially to the world. If I can go barefoot, I will—because there's a sort of... feeling the world from the ground up, the tactile sense of being alive and being in the midst of other forms of life, that is, refreshing is almost underselling it, because it is a larger connection.

When we think of our bodies as an instrument, or as a medium to receive, and to be receptive to the world around us, we're no longer thinking of ourselves as separate from the world around us, but we are actually sort of exquisitely designed to receive through all our senses, what's going on, the larger conversation that we're a part of, so if I have advice to give about walking, it's a very simple thing, and that would just be slow down, it's not as important to get from point A to point B, as it is to be present to yourself, to what's around you, to where you are. Thich Nhat Hanh has this nice little [passage]... he was one who... the practice of walking was very important to him; he comes out of the Buddhist tradition, but he would just say, one of the phrases he said is, whenever you step down, you can pause every so often and say, I have arrived, I am home. So in other words, our destination isn't necessarily like up the mountain, or over the hill, or thousands of miles or whatever this long journey... it might be. But, it's good to reflect every once in a while that we are already where we need to be, we are already at home, in the world. So I think about that sometimes.

I think another thing that can be paired with that kind of walking, is just an awareness of one's own breathing, because breathing is our reciprocal act with the world, with the plant kin that we share this world with. So we're literally taking in what they're giving out, and we are giving out what they're taking in. And in that act, if you can become a little bit more conscious of it, or a little bit more aware of it, that sort of deep reciprocity that allows us to even be alive, can fill one with a sense of gratitude. And so sometimes I'll say, when I'm breathing out, I'll say you, and then when I'm taking in, I'll say me, and then I'll say, we, so this is a we thing, like it's not just us walking out there, it's not just us breathing, but we are participating in this. And so, those simple bodily awareness of walking and breathing as a reciprocal act, I think bringing that into our consciousness, reminds us that there's nothing that's inanimate. That this world... and there's nothing that's just background. That we are literally ingesting, and inhaling, the world and we are in turn, giving back, so it's kind of a fundamental relation that we have. So, that's walking.

The other little thing that I just want to throw out there is, just to ask folks, when was the last time you slept outside? And I don't just mean camping, I mean, laid back in the grass and just took a nap. When was the last time you stared up at the clouds through the flutter of leaves and tree limbs, and let your head rest on the earth, not just your feet? Who knows what dreams arise, out of those experiences? So, those are some things to think about, maybe as we're urged out the door by our bodies as spring comes in and the sun is shining more often now, I just encourage people to give into that urge and then really, treat their body as a receptive instruments, to what's going on around them.

Tammy (advaya): What's coming out for me in response to that is I was just thinking about Sharon Blackie's... her whole idea of listening to the land's dreaming. Yeah, when you said, like, what kind of dreams may arise, that was immediately what my mind went to, and lying down—or not necessarily even lying down, if that's not something that people are able to do—just like, being in the midst of nature in whatever form, and looking up through the canopy, and being a part of that, and then, yeah, like listening to the land's dreaming.

[Anyway,] those are really great practices. I hope people try them out. [And I guess these are just] different way[s] of approaching things that people are already doing—taking a walk, and breathing are all simple practices that we're already doing on the daily, it's just about how we open our senses to receiving more from the world. Yeah, and so to tie into the theme of rebirth, and to really close, I'm wondering if you could maybe read us something that either you wrote, or something you read, that is related to the theme, and that will leave us, for the entire series.

Dr. Gavin Van Horn: For sure. If you'll allow me, I will read two things, if that's okay.

I'm going to circle back to where we began this conversation, when we were talking about remembering, because I read Joy Harjo's poem, "Remember", and I thought, immediately, this has to be part of the Kinship series, if I can get her permission to use it, and I pursued it, and we got permission, and it's the first poem in the first volume, so it kind of kicks off the series in a way. But I think it's a really nice reminder of the Kinship themes, but also this idea of remembering. So I'm going to read that to you, and then I have something of my own that I'll close with. So this is Joy Harjo. The poem is called "Remember".

"Remember the sky that you were born under, / know each of the star’s stories. / Remember the moon, know who she is. / Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the / strongest point of time. Remember sundown / and the giving away to night. / Remember your birth, how your mother struggled / to give you form and breath. You are evidence of / her life, and her mother’s, and hers. / Remember your father. He is your life, also. / Remember the earth whose skin you are: / red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth / brown earth, we are earth. / Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their / tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, / listen to them. They are alive poems. / Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the / origin of this universe. / Remember you are all people and all people / are you. / Remember you are this universe and this / universe is you. / Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you. / Remember language comes from this. / Remember the dance language is, that life is. / Remember."

So that's Joy Harjo. And then I thought that it might be nice if I shared... it occurred to me that... another sort of tying together of some themes, and includes a little reference to one of my favourite poems by Robinson Jeffers, a poem called "Return", which is very synchronous with this idea of rebirth or spring, and the return of the sun and the light and our attendance to it. So, for a little context for this, I'm just gonna read you a short excerpt, it's a piece I wrote about my time in the Andrews Forest in the state of Oregon. It's a forest that includes a lot of old growth, so it's Doug firs, and huge trees, beautiful, variety of trees, but dominated by these Doug fir trees, that stretch vertically so high that your neck begins to hurt after you're there for a while, because you're always like looking up at the tree canopy. And while I was there, I was thinking about this relationship between when words were helpful, and when words began to get in the way of experience. And so I'll read you, I think, the passage will be maybe self explanatory, but it's the close of this piece, and it goes like this.

"If words can do something, if they can sink into the heart, open up new paths of perception, lead us to the threshold of a forest, this is all to the good. Then we must leave them. They’ve done their work. They got our bodies where they needed to be. At this threshold, we must thank them for their service, and lay them down. It is time to stop speaking and listen. Come to the trees: to forget and to remember. To forget the straightjackets of manufactured time and cubicles. To remember something much older than the Gregorian calendar and the forty-plus-hour workweek. Come to the trees: to touch and be touched by something more primary, more whole.

Among my favorite Robinson Jeffers poems is one called “Return.” In it, he writes, “I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,” comparing the continuous intellectual chatter in our brains to the breeding of “mouthless May-flies darkening the sky.” Things and things and no more thoughts, he pleads. Leave the words behind, even if you are compelled to write a poem about it later.

I lift my forehead from the Douglas-fir, eyes closed. Inhale. Earth. Green. Exhale. Bark. Humus. Inhale. Light. Needles. Exhale. Dark. Roots. Inhale. Hum. Silence. I take a few backward steps to better crane my neck upward and follow the lines of grooved bark into the sky. Before leaving #4 on the Discovery Trail, I kneel before the Douglas-fir that towers above the circular clearing. I do this without thinking. It is a response. A gesture useless to the market. A way of communicating what remains now that words have slipped away. If humans fall on their knees in the woods and there is no one there to hear, do they make a sound?"

Haile Thomas: In episode 4, we explored cultivating mutual reciprocities.

As the REBIRTH series comes to a close with curiosities to inspire thoughtful action, Gavin’s episode prompts us to move beyond a space of conceptualization and into sensorial understanding.

While reflection emerges from a seemingly intellectual place, the spirit of inquiry is not so much about the answer as it is about the act of questioning, the opening of our perceptive abilities to receive insight. And how that insight arrives, the shape it takes, may not be mentally tangible, but instead felt and heard in the silence, in that space between question and answer.

Our bodies are always listening to and receiving information from the quiet. And as we acknowledge the personhood, autonomy, and whole-bodied nature of our more-than-human counterparts, it underlines the ways in which we are disconnected from these Earthly anchors. The bodily forms of the natural world that possess spirit, wisdom, function, and language beyond mental perception.

This concept of kinship is inward reaching as well. Many of us lack connection and community with our bodies, these vessels run by intelligent and interconnected code, similarly reflected in other life forms. We are a source of wonder, too.

And our inability to comprehend this miracle within and around us has seemingly birthed a sort of dissonance in relationship to the whole.

But our bodies are our keys to kinship.

So as you’ve wandered between each episode, how have these conversations and reflection prompts felt in your body? What sensations arose, and what might they be moving you towards? Perhaps you feel moved to be more observant, still, conversational, or proactive as the thoughts offered begin to digest. Dropping into our sensory channels is the beginning of re-membering—rejoining community with life on Earth and becoming conscious of our role in this mutuality.

In closing, here are a few spacious prompts for uncovering pathways to further this conversation in your daily life.

  • What emotions have come up for me while engaging with this content? How is it speaking to me?
  • How can I prioritize and activate a state of wonder and deep listening more regularly?
  • How might bodily awareness support me in cultivating and nurturing a connection with nature?
  • How do I feel called to increase the well-being around me?
  • How can I enrich my care and respect for life? How might I give life?

This life is a dance of listening and responding…and also, simply dancing. Returning to play and presence. Just being here in the wonderment of the wild, in awe of the life in everything.

Thank you for joining us for this series. May you blossom with Spring, aware of the wilderness you are deeply intertwined with.

This is our wholeness.

Find further readings, resources, and video footage of this episode with subtitles on the YouTube playlist here.


Tammy Gan

Tammy (she/her) leads on content and storytelling at advaya.

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Gavin Van Horn

Gavin is Executive Editor at the Center for Humans & Nature

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Haile Thomas

Haile Thomas is a 22 yr old international speaker, wellness & compassion activist, content creator, writer, and co-founder of wellness teahouse Matcha Thomas.

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