Decolonizing Self and Nature: Part One

This evening I went out to photograph the sunset. I was rewarded by great beauty, and by loons calling back and forth across Lake Champlain. The evening was warm, although a damp chill set in as the sun descended. The day’s cloud cover had begun to break up from north to south, and the sunset was reflected on the calm waters of the lake.

I was reminded that a calm mind and heart are much like a still lake, a metaphor commonly used in both Native and Buddhist thought. Deep mind reflects the sky, and all that surrounds. Meditation, and much ritual and ceremony, support the development of a still mind and heart, and our awareness of Self.  Of course, we experience many weathers and are not always calm. If we remember, we can turn to Nature to renew deep heart and mind.

Therapist Therapy remembered this turn to Nature, and wrote about it in post about a kayak to the Salmon people, a trip where she found renewal. Lynn is a therapist in training. Last week two of her class mates gave a presentation on self care, a presentation that pointed her into the wilds.

I go by myself and make the short hike to the river.  As I arrive at the river’s edge I feel quite alone in a big green forest… I don’t see any birds or animals, and I don’t see any fish.  I wonder for a second if I will need to try a different area.  As I scan the river I spot some seagulls and then some dead fish.  A carcass here, a carcass there, I spot more and more fish carcasses.  I turn my eyes down to the river while my thoughts slow down a little, and as I peer into the water an army of enormous salmon materializes in front of me.  A few emotions wash over me that are hard to identify… something to do with the realization that I’m not alone, and a feeling of awe as I absorb the sheer number of them in what was moments ago, just a river.  I think I actually gasped.  There are hundreds of immense, scarred, battle-weary fish that seem to be standing still in the water, facing upstream.  It takes a few minutes of observation to know that they are actually moving forward, ever so slowly.  Their doggedness, suffering, and ultimate demise will give rise to another generation which will slip out of the river unnoticed, thousands of tiny fry on a mission.  It helps widen my perspective from ‘me and all things to do with myself’, to the natural world around me and its own timeless agenda.

We live in a time when we are offered endless opportunities to abandon Self, and to feel diminished in doing so. Yet, Nature is always close by, inviting us to turn to her, to find renewal and healing in her presence. We are after all Nature, unimaginably wild, and profoundly complex. We are incomprehensibly more that what we buy or own, even though we are told our purpose and meaning is primarily economic. We are greater than our bodies, anchored as they usually are in time and space, although we are assured by a colonizing, materialist culture that we are only our bodies. Our lives and stories are richer than the stories offered to us by any media.

Our lives and bodies may be colonized, yet we can turn to Nature to be reminded of our freedom. We are people of the land, although we may live in cities. We are made of the Great Weathers, the Elements, and the Winds of the Four Directions. This knowledge, once regained, calls us to acknowledge our bond with Pachamama, and to offer resistance to those who would diminish her, and thus, us. From this realization may arise strategies, including psychotherapies, for decolonizing ourselves and our lives. I discuss this further in Part Two.

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