Natural systems find strength through reciprocity. When the wolf eats a deer, she chooses the weakest deer, thereby strengthening the herd. When the Jay eats an acorn, she plants many more in the ground, leaving them to grow and feed generations of her offspring. All animals that live in the long run reciprocate in some way or other, with the land they live on, and with the lives of those whom they eat. All animals “tend” the wild either consciously or unconsciously. Even humans. Indigenous hunter-gatherers did this for 3 million years and continue to provide examples of this integration between humans and “nature” today. Though our agricultural food systems don’t base themselves on reciprocity, this does not mean that we can’t find ways to do so in our own lives.
Many ways exist for us to reclaim this relationship with the world. Some work as spiritual modifiers, reminding us of this connection on an inner level. While other methods can work in the physical world of habitat restoration.
Breathing shows us one of the best examples of reciprocity in nature. We breath in oxygen. While in the lungs, carbon from our body bonds to the oxygen and when we exhale, carbon dioxide comes out. Plants breathe in this carbon dioxide, and break the carbon away, using it to grow. In turn, they release oxygen. To keep life going, we pump these gasses back and forth between one another, keeping ourselves alive and inextricably linking our lives together: two sides of a process who cannot live without the other.
Breathing, feeling gratitude, and connecting to plants in this way feels rewarding and leads to a deeper connection. However, it doesn’t change the subsistence activities that we rely on to live as well. For this we need to plant back the foods that we eat.
Activity Part One: “Breathiprocity”
Go outside and find a plant or tree that calls to you and stand in front of it. Take in a deep breath, smelling the plant and imagining the connection between you and the plant. Hold the breath in your lungs and imagine the carbon in your body bonding to the oxygen. Breathe out your breath onto the plant and feel the plant in turn taking up that oxygen and breaking away that carbon to use for its growth. You may want to brush your teeth first (Just kidding!). Trying this for a few minutes. Breathe on plants and take in breaths. Feel gratitude for the plants with each breath you take in, and feel them taking in the breaths that you release.
Activity Part Two: “Planting Back”
Breathing, feeling gratitude, and connecting to plants in this way feels rewarding and leads to a deeper connection. However, it doesn’t change the cultural aspects that prevent us from rewilding. For this we need to plant back the foods we eat. Choose a Native plant that you eat, or would like to eat, and collect seeds or buy them from the local garden shop. Spread them in your yard or anywhere you know they will grow. When you eat these plants in the future, imagine how they make you feel healthier, stronger, and alive. Feel the gratitude for them. As you plant the seeds in the ground, imagine the plants growing and flourishing. Feel that same connection that you feel with the breath exercise.
The benefits of this activity reach beyond your body to the earth and the community of life. The heart of rewilding involves removing the separation between humans and “nature.” Therefore, to make this separation long-lasting, we must perceive the natural world as an extension of ourselves. This exercise shows the connection in a practical way and in a psychological way (perhaps even “spiritual”).
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