belonging

Ceremony is a vehicle for belonging – to a family, to a people, and to the land… the one thing that was not forgotten, that which could not be taken by history: the knowing that we belonged to the land, that we were the people who knew how to say thank you.

…What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself? A homemade ceremony, a ceremony that makes a home.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 37-38

What does it mean to belong? Rather than thinking of belonging as ownership or control over someone or something, we should think of belonging as a state of being in a particular set of relationships. Imagine yourself in a web of forces representing your relationships with other beings: your parents, siblings, friends, trees, water, land. Some are thicker and stronger than others, pulling in one direction, while others are thin, long, and in tension, representing the strength and nature of your ties.

You are a terrain, a landscape which allows for different flows of relationships. Steep, jagged cliffs represent difficulties and disconnection, while open valleys might mean flexible, public relations. In any case, the landscape thrives not as a single mountain from which everything flows outward, nor a chasm which sucks everything in. It is a complex, diverse field, in which we navigate every day and can find where we really belong.

Ceremony is what can transport us to that world, and enable us to experience the breadth of what connects us all. We should visit this place as often as we can, lest we lose our way.

gifts

A gift creates ongoing relationship… [it is] something for nothing, except that certain obligations are attached… That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage… the currency of a gift economy is, at its root reciprocity… from private goods to common wealth.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 24-29

I was just thinking about gifts. Christmas just passed and all the while leading up to it, there were talk of gifts and one of the most awkward questions I hear every year, “what would you like for your gift?” I’ve never easily answered this question – well maybe as a kid I asked for chocolate or stuffed animals – but in my more mature years, I’ve never felt comfortable asking anyone for gifts. It feels too much like some superficial exchange, a thoughtless Secret Santa.

The earth gives to us every moment. My mother gives to me each and every day. What more could I possibly ask of her, especially during a time that has become the prime celebration of commodification?

Still, pushed by the Gregorian calendar, deafening carols, and family wishlists, I give in to the season, tricking myself into thinking I could make someone happy with a dishcloth, when I could be doing the dishes; dumplings, when I could be cooking dinner; books, when we could be making stories worth writing; and money, when we could be building common wealth.

There’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s as if these gifts are slowly cutting off my relationships instead of creating them. It strips away my attention, time, and care into scraps of gift wrap and loose ribbons. Gifts are made every day, but many are received without appreciation. I think if I understand and take time to be thankful for all the gifts I receive, I can truly give back meaningfully. Because I want to give back. To my mom, my partner, the land, the trees, and all the critters in between.

slow down

Slow down, breathe deep, and look around. What can you hear? What do you see? How do you feel?

…forests matter at a more fundamental level than most of us realize.

– Peter Wohlleben, Introduction to the English Edition in The Hidden Life of Trees, xi

Forests and mountains never cease to amaze me. When I think about the mountains I’ve clambered across and the trees that have sheltered me, I think, “if only I could stay here – if only this was home.”

What I like about these questions is that they could take place at any instance, anywhere. Whether we’re hammering away in dingy cubical at work, blazing a trail through a snowy forest, or wiggling through crowds of people, we should “slow down,” wonder why we aren’t at peace like the trees in the forest, and act in ways so we can be.

becoming indigenous

becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it… our relationship with the land cannot heal until we hear its stories

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 9

As someone born and raised in bustling cities, how can we take care of the land in our concrete, steel, and glass towers? We dare not even touch the earth, as asphalt rolls and sizzles at our feet. Inside hulking, chortling machines, we make our way to fluorescent square footage, where we go about our “work” – not to heal the ground, but to exploit it. We are everything but indigenous. We are foreign and strive to be alien.

I am detached, but I want to be joined.