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Listen First

I often ask myself, What can I do to lessen suffering on Earth right now? More specifically, how do I live, and make a living, without causing more harm? And how do I bear witness to the destruction and grief without losing hope? Clearly, I have a lot of questions.

As a former high school teacher, I am no stranger to questions. It wasn’t uncommon to be bombarded by questions before I even started to explain a lesson. I’d take a deep breath and suggest, “How about you let me give you the details and how-to’s and then if you still have questions, you can ask them when I’m done?” This approach mostly worked. Students could listen for what they thought they needed (explanations and directions) and then also hear my invitation to be creative. Afterward, some still had questions like, What if I do it wrong or it’s no good? In an attempt to quell their insecurities, I’d remind them that their expression of the assignment was what was important, not my expectation of it. I also reassured them that I’d be there to support them every step of the way. Over weeks, months, and sometimes years, students began to trust in the process of listening and believing in their gifts.

What if I applied the Listen First strategy to my own questions? Surely, my greatest teacher, Mother Earth, has messages for me. When I take time to step outside and open my senses, she often says things like, Remember to rise with the sun. Slow down. Observe. Have you hugged this tree? This plant’s medicine is perfect for you. Listen for the birds. Look for patterns. Help others to remember their connection to Nature. Create art. Share your words. Stand under the stars. Rest. Dream.

Biomimicry teaches us that answers are all around us and it “...offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. It is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what remains hold the secret to our survival.” ( Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute, points to the brilliance and intelligence of all life.

The good news is that we’ll have plenty of help. We are surrounded by geniuses. They are everywhere with us breathing the same air, drinking the same round river of water, moving on limbs built from the same blood and bone. Learning from them will take only stillness on our part, a quieting of the voices of our own cleverness. Into this quiet will come a cacophony of earthly sounds, a symphony of good sense. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997).

If you are searching for answers like me, then I encourage you to look to the natural world. At first, you might have the same worries that my students had: What if I do it wrong or it’s no good? Or worse, What if someone sees me wrapping my arms around a tree? My only assurance to you is to trust your heart and know that Mother Earth is here supporting you every step of the way. Trust in the process of listening to nature for ideas and solutions. With a little practice, you’ll soon understand her messages.

A good place to start is outside. After you take a few deep breaths, look around, and notice what or who is calling you to engage. Then, create something. You can gather fallen leaves and petals and shape them into a design. Or collect a pile of sticks and build a miniature structure. In the making of these simple creations, which I call expressions of gratitude, you might notice that the barrage of questions born out of fear and doubt begin to transform into a flash of child-like joy that can give you a sense of belonging and provide a solution to something you've been thinking about for a long time. Do this exercise daily or as often as you can, and be curious to how things shift for you.

I’ll be here for you as long as I’m able, but the Earth is here for the long haul. Reach out to either one of us. We’d love to hear from you. Happy Earth Day 2023.

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