It seems fitting that on the day we celebrate Juneteenth, we also take a moment to reflect on our individual and collective relationship to freedom in this country. In the last few months/years/decades/centuries we have seen the lack of freedom for black people made a spectacle and a rallying cry for reckoning with wrongdoings that have never been righted. We have been here many times before, and still Martin waits for his dreams for our country to be realized.
Then there is our relationship to freedom on an individual level–the sense of sovereignty and self-determination that we experience over our life’s energy, labor, intellect and creativity. The questions I sit with today are: what do I still allow to get in the way of my sense of freedom? How much of the barriers to liberation are self-created?
My spiritual practice teaches me that craving and desire to control are at the core of my suffering, and therefore a barrier to my freedom. In addition to this are the incessant mental loops that translate into self-created suffering that take me away from the beauty and gift of this present moment. I have come such a long way to realizing my ancestors’ unfulfilled dreams, and I have also realized a few dreams of my own. Yet, the next stage of evolution for me, and for humanity I’d say, is to understand that freedom is not truly given or taken away. Freedom is a state of consciousness, available to us all, always. I believe knowing this was essential to my ancestor’s survival.
There is no denying that the current paradigm we are living within has been incredibly effective at disconnecting us from this truth. This white-supremacist-patriarchal-profit-rules-everything system we inhabit has been prolific at implementing physical and mental intimidation tactics that deter us from questioning authority, and erase our intrinsic knowledge of our own divinity.
Many of us are waking up to the realization that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are clearing the path for those aspects of our lives that are truly important, learning to shut out the noise, choosing to listen to the quieter voices within and without that remind us that life is sacred. Those of us who do get to choose how to direct our life’s energy (and it is unfortunately too few of us) have a responsibility to do so in ways that uplifts the human spirit, that counters the narrative of competition, violence and destruction. We must continue to find ways to mirror each other’s light in a world that can sometimes seem overwhelmed with darkness.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Assata Shakur
“It’s resignation”, he said. “What I feel as a Black man living in modern-day America.” I let these words hang in the air and slowly make their way down to the path we walked upon. The sound of dry, crispy leaves underfoot making it harder to hear his words across the distance that the pandemic imposed upon us. My heart felt the weight of those words, of his in-the-moment reflection, of years and generations of experiencing the constrictions that white supremacy and patriarchy create for the human spirit. I wanted to hold him tight and let the beating of our hearts remind him that he is not alone on this journey. I wanted him to feel the strength of my love. Instead, I just listened.
We talked about what it means to really know yourself, and if it is actually possible to truly know another human being. Of what it means to feel at home, and what it takes to listen to and heed to the needs of our souls. Of the discernment that is required to distinguish between a real need and a want, the incessant never-enoughness, striving-for-something-else that saturates our society.
All of this was a byproduct of a group conversation we had in early December with our compañera in joy and struggle, Beatriz Beckford. She helped us to create a space where we could share with each other glimpses and glimmers of who we are, of what supports our thriving and what inhibits our growth. The seemingly simple prompts that she offered us created ripple effects in our hearts and in our connections with each other that we are still discovering. This conversation was but one of the side-effects of the medicine we received in that two-day gathering.
It’s been almost two months since that initial conversation took place, and I can’t say that I have any clear answers to the questions that were sparked, but I am moving closer to being at peace with the not knowing. It’s taken me 9 years of being in relationship with the founding members of Earthseed Land Collective, and 4.5 years of living on this land to realize that we are just now beginning to really know each other.
It brings me back to the importance of our mission statement, and it’s abiding wisdom that will bolster (and perhaps haunt us) for years and decades to come: remember and reimagine our relationship to ourselves, each other and the land in pursuit and practice of collective liberation.
This has not been and will not be a linear journey. This work of letting people into our hearts, being vulnerable, disclosing our hurt spots and growing edges is challenging (to say the least). I am learning that building beloved community is not for the faint of heart, and that it requires a daily recommitment to our greater work and an ability to check our egos when they start to get in the way of our growth. Yet the gift of this hard work is immeasurable: the ability to connect deeply to another human being, to be supported and loved along this treacherous path called life, and if we’re lucky, to get to witness the unfurling of our spirits.
May we all move closer to experiencing and witnessing the unfurling of our own and each other’s spirits.
As we commence the last month of a very tumultuous year, I feel my whole being yearn for the respite and introspection of the winter ahead. These months have held so much for our tender human hearts that I have found it challenging, impossible at times, to sit and write about the impact of these experiences in my life. I’m sure I’m not alone with these feelings.
This is the beginning of the end: of a calendar year, of a hurtful and hate-filled presidency, and hopefully… of our forgetting how deeply interconnected we truly are.
As the sun set last night I made my way to our garden, to close up the chicken coop and harvest some kale for dinner. The clouds were hot pink in their last dazzling hurrah before darkness. While there I ran into Tahz, one of our master farmers and soil wizards at Earthseed. He reached out to touch me, to show me how cold his fingers had gotten while tending to the garden.
Much to my surprise he wasn’t at all disgruntled by the frigid weather, instead I saw a twinkle in his eyes, I would even say he was excited about the upcoming season. When I asked if this was due to the promise of rest that winter offers a farmer, he said that was only a small part of it. What Tahz was more excited about was what cold weather meant for the soil.
Winter also means the soil gets a moment of rest, he explained– a reintegration of sorts. I wondered if like us, the soil also takes a moment to reflect on all that it has held and to prepare for whatever may come.
We get to experience endings all the time in microscopic and monumental ways on this land. Oftentimes with regret, but sometimes with sweet release and celebration. I am certain that there is more heartbreak to be experienced, more loss to grieve in the months to come. And right now I am grateful that in this in-between time, where we simultaneously get to honor the goodness and the necessity of the sacred pause.
“Breathe, Zawadi, Breathe!” These words expressed as intervention, not during a time of distress, but because laughter had overcome my daughter. She was turning purple, her eyes full of tears, she was laughing so hard that her basic bodily functions (like breathing) were momentarily derailed.
There were four of us in the circle that day, three girls ages 8-13, and myself as their host and informal facilitator. It was a relaunch of our ‘black girl magic club’ that we began last year, but had been put on hold in the last few months due to the pandemic. We had opened our circle talking about the impact the coronavirus had on our lives. One of the things we all missed most was being able to be together in this way, telling stories, sharing what was on our hearts, and laughing so hard we forget to breathe.
We gathered outdoors, under the cedars, just above the pond. We had all been holding so much in the first half of 2020. In addition to severely restricting our lives, we had all, in some way, been feeling the ripple effects of unnecessary violence and the corresponding demand for justice it had inspired.
Our world is on the precipice of either unraveling or resurrecting—both equally uncertain and possible. In that moment there was nothing more important for us to do than be in each other’s company, remembering the divinity of our bodies, reconnecting with drum rhythms that were gifts from our ancestors, affirming our connection to a strong and resilient lineage of people who had learned to fly.
I have made a decision not to live cloaked in foreboding darkness. Not in rejection of darkness itself, because that too is a part of life, but in an acceptance of the gloriously complex and light-filled beauty that is life. Every single moment offers us an opportunity to choose joy—a state of being so much more deeply abiding than it’s more fickle and evasive friend, happiness.
In that moment, under those cedars, wind caressing our skin, the choice became so very easy. We reconnected with our breath—letting the waves of laughter wash out all of the unnecessary gunk. It was a full body experience of joy, just what our weary hearts needed most to survive the end of the world as we know it.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying. Said the river I am part of holiness. And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water. [From “At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver]
For a while the turtles kept crossing my path on my daily walks at Earthseed. Then came the snails. Both reminding me of a few important and relevant aspects of surviving this life:
1) Slow can be good, and sometimes slow is essential. Although we live in a society that would have us believe otherwise; a society that indoctrinates us into thinking that we are only as worthy as what we produce or achieve. We are conditioned to behave like a polar bear I once saw trying to survive captivity at the zoo. His fur turned gray and long, swimming in tight circles, over and over on the same path, because it was the only one available to him. Because the sensation of pushing through cold water, the feel of it against his fur, was the only thing that kept him connected to his wildness. I wonder if he stopped moving, what would he have to face? How long will it take to realize, this trauma, these wounds, those questions, would have to be dealt with inevitably?
2) Only our exoskeletons need to be hard and calloused. This world can often be cruel and hell bent on convincing us (People of the Global Majority) that we are disposable. Developing our shells and choosing to retreat into them as often as possible is part of our defense, and part of how we keep our tender-bright-hearts intact. And they are not the whole of who we are. We are so much more than our defenses. We eventually make the choice to emerge from our shells, to share a bit of who we are with others, to be vulnerable. We risk being wounded for the possibility and delight of real connection, of beloved community. As Audre Lorde says, “without community there is no liberation.”
3) Even the slimy creatures are holy. It’s so much easier to wax poetic about a gorgeous flower, or a baby bird than a snail–so moist and strange. In the human realm, it is often easier to discount, disregard and demonize fellow humans that disagree with us. Their ‘slime’ justifies our categorization of them as enemy. Enemies not worthy of our love or our vulnerability. We chose to retreat to our shells, or allow a part of our hearts to harden. The menacing questions for us to face are: when will we re-emerge? When will we allow our hearts to soften again? What are the real costs of hardening our hearts in this sometimes stone cold world?
Yet on their shell snails carry an emblem to garner our respect, and to remind us that they too are ‘part of holiness’. The fractal, with its precise mathematical equation, replicated on the micro and macro scale throughout the natural world, and even in the Milky Way galaxy that is home to our solar system. It is/they are here to remind us of the divinity that surrounds us, and the divinity within us. It is/they are here to remind us that it/we all belong/s.
On the full moon in June the all-black-man-crew of Earth-Bound Building arrived at Earthseed Land Collective. With them they brought a trailer full of timber framing, equipment and supplies. Enough to create a solid foundation for a 16×32 outdoor learning center just below the fire circle that has held so much for us in the last 4 years of being on this land.
After 3 long days of work, they assembled a solid wood structure, an edifice of courage one could say—for what they have endured as black men in a society that has not necessarily invested in their thriving. Together they defied the forces that have threatened to disconnect them from their inherent divinity. Reconnecting them with their ability to create and to see the beauty of potential to its natural end point.
Not that it was easy, and no one ever said it would be. The amount of physical labor invested was not for the faint of heart. The equations and precision required would leave those preferring simple calculations by the wayside. These men understood viscerally that what they were doing had implications far beyond them, and they brought the rigor to match.
Equally important was that amidst all of the hard work there was laughter, appreciation and celebration. We know that this too is how we honor the legacy of our ancestors. That we come to this work by our own choosing, under our own terms, and with a lightness of heart that would make them proud. Yes, we are the realization of so many compounded dreams.
It is essential to capture this moment. It is imperative to tell our own stories. As we effort to decolonize our spirits and our imaginations. In attempts to remember how very powerful and capable we are. May all our children grow up in a world where they are surrounded by enduring examples of the magnificence of black and brown people.
As I walked my daily path in the woods yesterday and came upon my favorite bend in the creek, I was stopped in my tracks by your presence.
You see, I’ve been a great admirer of yours for many years. Your exquisite grace, the slow beats of your very broad wings, your long purposeful beak and winding neck. It seems the whole world pauses to marvel at your beauty when you depart from the earth into the sky.
The day we encountered each other, we were both taken by surprise. But you noticed me before I noticed you. In that moment you took flight, emerging from the shallow creek into the nearby treetop, just far enough to listen in as I shared some words of awe and admiration:
Great Blue Heron, you have been an essential connector for me and the more than human world. When I moved back to North Carolina in 2004 after having spent 15 glorious months in the wide open spaces of Sedona, AZ I felt claustrophobic with all of the tall greenness of this state. I didn’t know if I would find the divine as easily as I had in the high desert, with its dramatic red rocks and bright blue sky.
And then I found you.
Your beauty emboldened me to spend more time near the river, in the woods, learning to be quiet and observant so as to receive the many gifts the natural world has to offer.
For this I will always be grateful.
Thank you for choosing Earthseed as a resting place along your path. Thank you for allowing me a moment in time to share all of this with you. Thank you for continuing to inspire and bless my existence with your marvelous ways.
May we all learn to glide, swoop and soar through life as gracefully as you. With gratitude and respect, ~Zulayka
Ardea Herodias: Our most familiar and frequently seen wader, the Great Blue Heron has shown a remarkable increase in numbers across the state since about 1980. In fact, it was very poorly known as a breeding species as late as the 1970’s, with nesting colonies few and far between, mainly in remote swamps. However, with the great increase in beaver ponds, and a smaller increase in reservoirs and other man-made lakes and ponds, Great Blues have taken advantage of these new freshwater wetlands. Birds now nest in most of our counties away from the mountains, and nesting colonies are often easily visible around the upper ends of reservoirs and at beaver ponds. The species forages mainly at freshwater ponds, lakes, and streams; however, they also feed in brackish waters, especially at coastal impoundments, and rarely in salt water. Unlike most other waders, the Great Blue shuns nesting on coastal islands with other herons, egrets, and ibises. Instead, birds nest mostly by themselves, or with Great Egrets and/or Anhingas, with nests placed mainly in living trees — almost always in standing water — to deter predators.
Reconnecting with Ourselves, Each Other, and This Land
I come here to listen, to nestle in the curve of the roots in a soft hollow of pine needles, to lean my bones against the column of white pine, to turn off the voice in my head until I can hear the voices outside it: the shhhh of wind in needles, water trickling over rock, nuthatch tapping, chipmunks digging, beechnut falling, mosquito in my ear and something more—something that is not me, for which we have no language, the wordless being of others in which we are never alone. After the drumbeat of my mother’s heart, this was my first language. —–Robin Wall Kimmerer, from Learning the Grammar of Animacy
Today we honored the Winter Solstice at Earthseed by spending some intentional time listening: to ourselves, each other and this land. In a society that is so chock-full of noise, where we spend so much time in front of THIS screen, taking moments of pause, where we can actually listen carefully, become precious gifts,
We walked intentionally. We sat quietly on the forest floor. We listened. We reconnected with our breath. We heard each other clearer.
We remembered that when we cut through all of the clutter and chatter what is REALLY most important, is our ability to love ourselves and love each other. If we don’t get that right, then all the rest seems meaningless and empty. As we mark the end of another exhilaratingly beautiful and excruciatingly heartbreaking year, may we continue to grow our relationships stronger, rooted evermore deeply in the practice of love.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for the support, encouragement and inspiration you’ve offered along the way.
Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.
We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she will continue to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one.
—The opening paragraphs of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicized version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.
Today, many people across the United States of America gather with their loved ones to offer collective gratitude. This holiday has some heartbreaking history attached to it (to say the least) and we are currently living through some heartbreaking moments. Yet somehow, today we can choose to focus on the many gifts this life offers. In particular, the MANY gifts that we have received, and continue to receive the people who were indigenous to this land long before its European ‘discovery’. We are so thankful. (more…)