Reconnecting to the earth

I’m just coming to the end of reading an inspiring, heart opening and perspective shifting book - Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She brings together her life as a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology with her culture and heritage as a Potowami American Indian.

I am experiencing tangible shirts in my sense of relationality to the land. Kimmerer has opened me to a deeper depth of exploration of the potential of living with a greater sense of reciprocity. If I am taking from the land (as we all do in order to survive), what am I giving back? Mother earth is generous in her bounty to me – how am I receiving her generosity? How might I live my life grounded in a lived reciprocity between land and people?

As I went for a run this week, I could no longer run past the litter on the road. It felt like I was ignoring the needs of a good friend. As I joined our local group of Himalayan Balsam[1]pullers on one of our regular summer working parties, I had a lived sense of feeling like I was supporting a loved one who is struggling – in this case the loved one is the land on which my feet are resting. Each Himalayan Balsam plant we pull out makes space for native plants to re-establish – in a small way it allows me to offer back to the land in reciprocity for all the gifts she has bestowed on me. As I garden, I have a more vivid sense of how my actions and interventions can encourage diversity of native plants so creating homes for nature. I feel intimate with my small patch – and am endlessly messing around – capturing seeds, drying them, redistributing them, clearing space for certain plants to flourish, creating compost….Kimmerer has re-sensitised me in ways I appreciate. Supported me to rediscover how to more deeply embed myself in the living web of things. I also have a sense of how the practice of mindfulness can nourish this relationality. It is a relational practice, and just as we can intentionally develop kindly respectful connectivity with ourselves, we can also do this with the land. 

The other piece that emerged for me as I read her words was related the benefits and limits of science. It has become the predominant authority of our time - and there is much in this that I appreciate. It is the water I swim in here at the university. I love the inquiry that is at the heart of good research, the willingness to suspend judgement and let the data do the talking, and the emphasis on discovering what really works. It is though also really helpful to be reminded that science doesn’t have the monopoly on truth. If we combine scientific understanding with care and relationality – and Kimmerer would say with indigenous ways of knowing - the intentionality with which we engage in the world has a different and more connected feel to it. There has been many challenges over the years to teaching and researching mindfulness within an academic context. There are tensions in shining the light of science onto mindfulness which is essentially all about loving connection. But I feel re-inspired about the importance of bringing these worlds together.  

There is much practically that needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions and restore biodiversity. Integral to this is the reawakening, reconnecting, re-inhabiting, and re-hearting ourselves in relation to the earth. I feel completely aligned with Kimmerer’s view – developing a personal relationship with the land and its living things awakens our love for this world, and with this we discover lost parts of ourselves. In restoring the land, we restore ourselves.


[1]Invasive alien species that crowds out native plants

Publication date: 4 September 2019