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Nature :: Spirit — Spirituality in a Living World
21 minutes | Nov 7, 2022
Living Your Animal
A mother doe once tried to attack my dog to save her fawns. She was single-minded about protecting her young. Not a hair of separation between mind and body. Are human beings this committed? Today we look at our response to COVID, and how kids are getting so sick right now. We’ve left the children unprotected, and we've done it through minimizing and denying some of the serious risks of the virus. What is denial? It’s a gap between mind and body—believing reality is different than it is. And we may be the only animals capable of it. So becoming more truthful is akin to becoming more like animals. Carl Jung called it “living your animal.” To him it meant becoming humble so that we can treat others fairly. We compare Jung’s view of animal morality with those of some animal behavior scientists. We compare it also with spiritual traditions, such as yoga and Zen, that try to help people bring body and mind into unity. And we touch on the practice of spirit journeys (or shamanic journeys) and how similar the practice is to what Jung called active imagination. When it comes to COVID, we need a lot more of "living our animal"—more single-minded purpose, more dedication to protecting our young, and more acting from a mind and body joined as one.
22 minutes | Sep 19, 2022
What We Truly Burn For
With climate change scientist Kimberly Nicholas, and her book, Under the Sky We Make, as our guide, we talk today about how to cut carbon emissions at home. Ordinary Americans have more power than we think! Most Americans belong to the top 10 percent of income earners in the world—the ones burning most of the carbon so the ones who can stop most of it too. How do we stop burning fossil fuels? By, as Kim suggests, living close to “what we truly burn for.” Can we learn to say yes to our genuine needs and our most deeply held values—and only to those? What might it look like to choose “what we truly burn for” when it comes to climate? From Kim we learn three choices that will reduce emissions the fastest: going plane free, car free, and meat free. So when I applied my deepest values and needs to these three climate actions, what did I discover? For one thing, that contemplating changes can be scary! But as Kim writes, we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be brave. So here’s to being brave together and cutting our own household emissions as fast as we can. And maybe, just maybe, life gets easier when we do.
24 minutes | Jul 9, 2022
Facing the Past
We take a cue from the Aymara people of the Andes, who experience the past as in front of us, not behind us.So today we face the past: first the recent past, in June, of devastating Supreme Court decisions and horrifying Congressional testimonies about the former president’s attempted coup.The events are related, and we dip into the deep past to understand their connections. We explore the first law code written down that survives today, the Code of Ur-Nammu in 2100 BCE, and how it protected status, wealth, and the power of men over women. Through routes both direct and indirect, it became the “cradle” of modern law. So those who are trying to keep white men at the apex of power are inspired by a vision of society going back, not just fifty years, but five thousand.We explore how to make social inequality strange—how to challenge lingering ideas in our own minds that wealth should bring status, that owners get to decide, and that authority "naturally" looks white or male.A different social order IS possible, and we look to the Aymara again for an example of a society that rejects hierarchies. To the Aymara, hierarchy is the opposite of affection. They choose affection because they say it's the only way that people can thrive and the Earth can regenerate.
24 minutes | May 16, 2022
So last year, in my mid-sixties, I discovered that I’m autistic. But what took me by surprise wasn’t the diagnosis, it was the overwhelming feeling of relief. Why so much relief? We talk about that today—how I, like many people, held an extremely narrow view of autism; how autism consists not of one spectrum but of eight or ten different ones; and how each autistic person is their own colorful configuration of things in life that may be harder for them and things that may be easier. I muse on how being autistic (without knowing it) led me early in life toward meditation and toward connecting with nature, and how it laid the foundation for working today in nature spirituality. We talk about some common misconceptions of autism, and I reflect on my work life as an autistic person. We also review what slime mold taught ecologists about loners and outliers. Finally, we celebrate the radiance of an Earth that, in Darwin’s elegant words, has brought forth “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.”
12 minutes | Apr 17, 2022
Kissed by a Fox: From the Audiobook Coming Soon!
Did I really get kissed by a fox? Yes, I really did—many times!—by Rudy the red fox, who lived at the wildlife rehab center where I was volunteering. Rudy's story opens chapter 4 of my first book, Kissed by a Fox: And Other Stories of Friendship in Nature, and this recording is taken from the audiobook version now in production. I can't wait to make the audiobook available to listeners everywhere!
20 minutes | Mar 6, 2022
Looking Toward the Dawn
The everyday miracle of the sun rising into our sky and powering our Earth can become energy for our hearts and minds too, in the meditative practice of looking toward the dawn. What does it mean to look toward the dawn? It means lifting our eyes, metaphorically, from what’s right at our feet and looking toward new developments coming on the horizon, then aligning our efforts with their life-giving power. How do we tell which developments are truly life-giving? We use some examples cited in the recent IPCC 2022 report on climate change to discern things that are truly new from things that grow out of old or destructive mindsets. Black poet Audre Lorde provides inspiration with her sentence: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And because the image of looking toward the dawn arose during a spirit journey, we talk a little about how a spirit journey works and how to integrate the images that arise during a spirit journey into everyday life.
26 minutes | Jan 29, 2022
Cultivating Nature Spirituality
How does a person start practicing nature spirituality? Today we look at what nature spirituality is and how to begin on this path—with two simple (but maybe not easy!) practices: opening the heart and widening the perception. We outline differences between the mind and the heart and talk about why opening the heart may feel vulnerable or strange at first—because modern Western public life places the mind first. We show how serving the mind leads to personal and cultural imbalance because the mind allows only a narrow view, while the heart sees a more spacious and compassionate picture. So it is crucial, especially at this moment in time, to place the mind in service to the heart. Is it possible for people, individually and collectively, to live from the heart? Yes! We listen to the words of Indigenous teachers from both Africa and Alaska who talk about how they learned to live from the heart and how following the heart leads to wiser perception and more ethical living.
22 minutes | Dec 5, 2021
Where Did We Go Wrong?
How did Western culture get so disconnected from nature? Some people point to the scientific revolution of early modern Europe, with its quest to control nature. But where did those early scientists get the idea to conquer nature? Today we look at the famous theory of historian Lynn White in 1967—that the creation stories of Genesis taught medieval Christianity to “subdue nature.” It’s a theory that people still repeat today, even though most of White’s evidence has been refuted. We look especially at how centuries of Jewish teachers interpreted Genesis—as a cautionary tale about what happens when humans fail to take moral responsibility. If two religious traditions can read the same creation story in opposite ways, what does that say about how creation stories actually work? And where, again, does that urge to conquer nature come from? Notes and links following the transcript.
20 minutes | Oct 30, 2021
Seeing Each Leaf
Insights from a Yurok man, shared with an anthropologist, guide us in learning from the spirit of a tree. The Yurok man’s three-sentence teaching leads us through some wide-ranging reflections: on how spirits are different from ghosts; on how Yurok ways of knowing are similar to and different from Western ways of knowing; and what it takes to live responsibly in loving relations with our more-than-human kin. The Yurok man said it all starts with “seeing each leaf as a separate thing.” So how do we do that? Let's find out!
17 minutes | Sep 17, 2021
An Entwined Place
“The world is an entwined place.” Dr. Teresa Ryan, of the Gitlan tribe of the Tsimshian Nation of the Pacific Northwest coast, offers a sentence both evocative and profound. It is the worldview of her people, and it also describes the fungal web of mycelium hidden under the forest floor. Dr. Ryan studies this mycorrhizal network alongside forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard, who showed that the fungal threads link the trees and plants of a forest so they can communicate and share nutrients. Today we explore the worldview of reality as a connected place—how metaphorical threads of connection link all things; how these threads, like mycelium, are invisible to our physical eyes; and how this hidden network provides a good metaphor for Spirit. If the world is an entwined place, then all our current crises, from climate change to a pandemic, find their origins in forgetting connection, forgetting relationship. And the remedy for these ills is engaging in practices that soften the heart and remind us that we are connected so we can act with respect and care toward all beings.
18 minutes | Aug 1, 2021
What's Good for Creeks
When a reporter shows up to interview me about the small land trust I just founded to preserve an urban creek, and he asks the tough “why” question, I hear myself say something I’ve never even thought of before: “Because what’s good for creeks is good for people too!” Twenty years later, the truth of it only grows more clear, with climate change causing mega-storms, and rivers and creeks around the world in distress with both flooding and drought. We revisit the words of legal scholar Kelsey Leonard of the Shinnecock Nation: We need to protect water “in the way you would protect your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your aunties.” Water is our earliest beloved, and water is life. Some meditations for increasing our love for water as well as close-to-home ideas for working for the well-being of rivers, creeks, and oceans.
21 minutes | Jun 27, 2021
Why Doesn't Everyone Love Diversity?
Bright fish and corals dazzle the eye at our local reef—gifts of millions of years of diversity. Ecologists tell us that the most resilient ecocommunities are the most diverse, and diversity offers the same benefits to human society. Then why are so many white people afraid of diversity? Political psychologist Karen Stenner shows how this fear is central to authoritarianism. Today we look at a pattern of authoritarianism going back in Western history to the Roman Empire. Rome's intolerance for religious differences led to the Christian doctrine of original sin, which taught people they needed help to be good. Then subservience was drilled in to people through a thousand years of feudalism. We also look at my Mennonite ancestors—on both the giving and receiving ends of social control. For most of these two thousand years in Europe, people believed—and treated others as if—social cohesion depended on similarity. The upshot? Tolerance is a recent achievement in Western history. So it’s no wonder that a third of white people across Western democracies remain uncomfortable with diversity. The good news—overcoming discomfort with differences is possible, and nature provides tremendous inspiration for it. Data, studies, links to further reading available with the transcript at priscillastuckey.com/nature-spirit/.
22 minutes | May 28, 2021
A Duty of Care
Diana Beresford-Kroeger learned “a duty of care” for the natural world from her Celtic aunties and uncles, as she writes in To Speak for the Trees. Today we listen to three more Indigenous voices on how their communities build care for land and people into the fabric of life. These three are Dr. Mary Graham on how Aboriginal relationships begin in the land; Claire Hiwahiwa Steele on caring for land and people in traditional Hawaiian society; and Oren Lyons on the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, of North America. Among each people, caring for land and people is how to be a human being—how to live peaceably with others and how to survive in a sometimes challenging natural world. We also look, for contrast, at how caring for land and people, while handed down in Celtic tradition, got lost in European history and did not form the foundation of law in the young United States. So how to bring love and care back into public life? Lots of questions and lots of ideas on where to go from here!
17 minutes | Apr 10, 2021
Going on a Spirit Journey
Going on a spirit journey is a spiritual practice, like prayer or meditation, that can help a person navigate the challenges of life and find their place in the family of Earth. Today we ask, How is a spirit journey like other kinds of meditation? Or like other kinds of prayer? We give special attention to the process of preparing the mind and heart for a spirit journey by committing oneself to serve love, not serve the ego. We talk about the kinds of impressions that can arise during a journey—images, sounds, feelings, hunches—and how to learn from them after the journey ends. We also talk about how to discern which messages are coming authentically from Spirit. And of course we address the question everyone asks, especially when they're just beginning this practice: “How do I know I’m not just making stuff up?”
17 minutes | Mar 6, 2021
An Inheritance Problem
An ancient story from the Roman Empire about inheritance sheds light on a problem we have inherited today—a system of law that protects property and shores up severe inequality. In the ancient story, a teacher sharply criticizes property and its role in maintaining inequality. Years ago, when I first read Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), I found a parallel critique of Western inequity and social hierarchy, and I glimpsed a world where “normal” looks more like equality. What can an ancient story tell us about choosing equality? About writing laws to promote life on Earth more than to protect property?
17 minutes | Feb 3, 2021
Committing to Your Hunger
How does an animal find food? By committing to their hunger—unlike humans, who often second-guess ourselves about our hungers. There’s an old idea in Western culture that animals are innately violent and possessed by their appetites while humans operate by rationality instead. We look at the ancient source of this idea: a poem by Greek poet-farmer Hesiod around 700 BCE. But oops—Hesiod was confused! He mashed up “how animals eat” with “how humans settle disputes,” setting up a mistaken idea of the predator-prey relationship that carries down to our day—we still talk of dogs and cats as “enemies.” In fact, we have a lot to learn from animals and their appetites: (1) by identifying what they’re truly hungry for, they contribute their niche to the ecocommunity; (2) when they are full they stop eating, unlike capitalism, which goads people into reaching past “enough” to “more than enough” (profit); and (3) they take delight in the hunt—a model for a world beyond capitalism, where humans do not work for others’ profit but instead engage in work that satisfies our souls as well as bodies. We need, in other words, to become more like hungry beasts.
15 minutes | Jan 8, 2021
Finding Sweetness in Bitterness
A Sufi teacher long ago told me, “In life, there is always sweetness and bitterness. Every sweetness holds a bitterness, and every bitterness holds a sweetness. Find the sweetness in the bitterness.” Amid bitter events of the past year—and the current week—we dig for pockets of sweetness. We find sweetness in people’s determination to keep working for equality and justice, even when they feel ground down and weary. And we find sweetness in the natural world, where Life keeps regenerating and experimenting and oozing more life. Especially during environmental crisis, it is crucial not to give in to despair—it will sap our will for change—but to keep seeking and finding consolation in nature. Some ideas for connecting with the animal and plant relatives nearby, even in winter, and for keeping the soul fed with wonder, awe, and reverence.
14 minutes | Dec 25, 2020
Filling the Hungry with Good Things: A Christmas Meditation
The Christmas story of the baby born in a manger follows, in Luke, the revolutionary song composed by his young mother, Mary, while she was pregnant. She sang about God upending the social order by filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty—a vision of social justice that modern people have all but forgotten. We delve into her song, “The Magnificat,” showing how relevant it was to her time, when a few wealthy families controlled most of the riches of the Roman Empire—and how relevant it is today in similar times. The story of the baby in a manger is a story of poor people in desperate circumstances taking shelter among the lowliest—the animals. In light of Mary’s “Magnificat,” the Christmas story says that true peace is found in true justice—in following the way of sharing and equality. May the blessings of justice become real in our time.
15 minutes | Nov 21, 2020
A Crocodile, a Virus, and the False Promise of Supremacy
As the pandemic rages through the country, we ask: How can so many people be so convinced that the coronavirus is not real, even when they are dying of it? We challenge Western culture’s idea of survival—that it belongs to the strong. What if humanity's best survival skill is humility? When a crocodile attacked philosopher Val Plumwood, it shattered her “desperate delusion” that human beings are supreme. The truth is shocking and much more humble—that human beings participate in the universal feast, and we too can be prey. The “desperate delusion” of dying COVID patients includes yet another kind of supremacy: the idea of whiteness. We draw on psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl’s 2019 book DYING OF WHITENESS to understand how the fear of losing white status leads people to support policies that sabotage their own health. Metzl calls it “the false promise of supremacy,” because supremacy is maladaptive. Surviving requires being humble enough to see our shared vulnerability and to respond appropriately. So do only the strong survive? Maybe it's the humble who survive, because they are living with eyes wide open.
14 minutes | Oct 31, 2020
The Law Is in the Ground
“The law is in the ground,” said Doug Campbell, an Aboriginal elder. What did he mean? Western law, by contrast, starts with the idea of protecting property, which means that owning things becomes central to Western values and status. To imagine what a law of the ground looks like, I talk about what it took to recover from a postviral syndrome many years ago—a complete reordering of priorities to place my health absolutely first. At this moment we need to reorganize our cultural priorities to place the health of the Earth absolutely first. It will mean transforming the law—and one way to do this is to place the rights of nature into law.
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