At the heart of the challenges, we face in transitioning from a life-destroying culture to a life-honoring one is to disentangle the many underlying myths and narratives that subconsciously or consciously drive our behaviors. These myths include the myth of progress, the myth of infinite growth, the lure of materialism, and the assumption that nature is there only to serve our needs. These myths have, in part, been the underlying forces that have driven us to the present challenges of our age. I believe many of these myths are rooted in colonialism, and if we are ever to end this awful practice and its centuries-old impacts, we must address them. They drive both larger systems at play as well as each of us. And while we can look to broader
systems of power and privilege that sustain these myths, it’s important to realize that they are as much embedded in our individual hearts and minds–and thus, are worth countering directly. But here’s the thing: even if you understand these myths on a mental level, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to be rid of. Thus, while meditating on these myths and coming to understand them is fundamental to us creating a better future and vision for the future, it’s also in our actions where we can begin to address them. That’s the whole principle of “sacred action” that I talk about in my book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Based Sustainable Practices: engaging in behaviors that help us live in a more sustaining and sacred way. That’s also part of what I see as the necessary de/un-colonizing work we all must do.
One of the most important myths to counter is the idea of nature being at our disposal to use as we see fit–and for this, a counter practice that I share today is what I call “deep gratitude.” Deep gratitude is developing a consistent, mindful, and sustaining gratitude practice for the world around you.
Three Reasons to Practice Deep Gratitude
If you want to get right to the practice, skip this section. If you want to hear why I believe deep gratitude is critical and some of the things we need to counter, keep reading!
Nature Loyalty over Brand Loyalty. One of the problems with industrialization, consumption, and materialism is that we lack a true sense of gratitude for the earth that provides for us. The system purposely disconnects us from our food and the sources of our food and the land that sustains us. The system disconnects us from the sources of nature which provide the goods we use (e.g. the “distributed by” label). Instead of having gratitude for nature, which literally provides our every need (even very indirectly in this current age), we have brand loyalty. Companies and corporations steal that loyalty, cultivate it, and we somehow feel beholden to them. But the true source of our clothing, housing, food, and possessions is the earth, and thus, we need to cultivate gratitude and loyalty to the earth from which everything is derived. So one way we might realign ourselves with the correct loyalty (to the living earth) rather than the things that strip the earth of resources (Walmart) is by simply practicing deep gratitude.
The other thing here is that brand loyalty erases the other part of this equation: the people whose labor makes these things we consume happen. The hands that grow, and pick, and package, and ship, and sell. These people aren’t just cogs in a machine, their labor–which allows us to eat, have clothes, etc–also matters.
The Lure of Money. I another reason that gratitude matters is because of the disconnection and greed that money fosters. Money disconnects us and, like brand loyalty, cultivates a deep love and desire for money. If you think about it on an abstract level, the system is kind of bonkers: you labor for someone, and they give you money. Then you go to the store and use the money to buy what you need (clothes, food, etc). That whole exchange privileges money and wealth; what it doesn’t privilege is natural abundance or the earth from which all flows. Money disconnects us. Money creates a whole lot of intermediaries that distance us from the earth and from our fellow humans. We are the only beings on the planet who live in such a way. Everyone else for the most part (unless they are domesticated and live with us) depends directly on the natural earth for everything. At the same time, we can be grateful for our own labor that has produced the funds necessary to procure the goods that sustain us. Self-care and self-love is certainly part of the deep gratitude equation.
Nature is not Walmart. But what about things that don’t involve money or aren’t part of the larger industrial system? We still need gratitude. I have seen the ramifications of this lack of gratitude in many places, but perhaps none so glaring as in the wild food foraging community.I used to teach a lot of wild food foraging classes locally and regionally, and I’ve paused those classes (the verdict is still out on whether I will again in the future). Despite my best efforts, I watched people descend upon nature like pirates raiding a merchant ship. Nature was the treasure and they were treasure hunters. I watched a group of people–who I had just spent 20 minutes talking to about ethics, reciprocation, and gratitude–strip a patch of woodland nettles down to their roots before I could stop them. I’ve seen people I’ve taught in my previous plant walks posting on social media unsustainable harvests. I feel at least partially responsible for those actions. I’ve been kicked out of multiple foraging groups on social media for talking about the lack of sustainability of harvesting five gallons of ramps with the bulbs intact (my blog readers will know I have a deep love for these endangered woodland medicinal species!) I offer this example of wild food foraging because getting into the woods isn’t enough–the myths and materialistic forces that drive us there. So what’s the alternative?
Practicing Deep Gratitude
This all leads me to the practice of deep gratitude as a way of countering these myths. What I mean by deep gratitude is this:
Taking small moments to acknowledge what nature has provided to you and be in gratitude for those gifts. Thinking about the natural resources as well as the human hands that created, moved, and sold things to you so that you can be healthy, comfortable, and well-fed. Slowing down enough to be grateful for what you have and how it has come to you. Acknowledging the lives and labor that have produced what you will consume and giving thanks.
The practice itself is simple.
If you are consuming anything, have take a moment for gratitude. If you eat something, have gratitude. If you purchase something, have gratitude. You want to honor the life or resources that was given (because something is almost always given when we consume). Take a moment to simply express your gratitude and thanks for what nature has provided you.
For example, let’s say you are having a banana for breakfast. Spend a moment honoring the tree that that banana came from, the soil web that sustained it, the hands that tended that tree and harvested it, and those people who helped get it to you. If you are engaging in repairs to your house, be grateful for the materials–where they came from, what was given (the life of the tree for the board for your home), etc. Simply take the time to honor and acknowledge the earth that provided, the hands that provided, and be thankful.
If you harvested something directly, either from a garden you grew or from nature in the wild, be grateful. Before you harvest, ask permission. If you can, leave a small offering before you take anything.
Try this practice as often as you can–I suggest starting for a week and seeing how it goes. Even if you don’t do it for everything, start with one thing, like what you eat or what you wear. Practice gratitude at your meals, for example, or for anything new that you buy. I don’t think you can do this all the time, but if you do it some of the time, that is enough to help cultivate this gratitude within you.
I’ve been practicing this for some time now, and it has done a few things for me. First, I have paid a lot more attention to the steps and ways in which things get to me: if I’m eating a banana (which obviously doesn’t grow here in Pennsylvania), I think about the steps it took to reach me and offer gratitude to everything from the living earth to those who grew and sold it. Second, it affirmed the need to source everything as locally as possible (which I already do) so that I can offer my gratitude directly. For example, I buy milk from my local farmer. I can take a moment to thank the farmer and when I visit to pick up the milk, thank the cows and the grass that sustains them. Another thing this practice does is center permaculture ethics in my life: I am constantly thinking of the triad of earth care, people care, and fair share as I go throughout my day. I’m thinking about these ethical dimensions and drawing attention to both the earth-based and human-based ways in which others have touched me, nourished me, and helped sustain me. I’m stripping out loyalty to oppressive systems and instead focusing on what actually provides for me: the living earth and those others who are directly involved. Finally, this practice has created more joy in my life. Rather than rushing through a meal, I take the time to savor it, being grateful for a full belly and the beautiful asparagus from the garden.
Deep gratitude is a fundamentally transformational practice. It encourages you to slow down, pause, and be grateful. Being grateful makes things more meaningful, and our experience is richer for it. It roots us in the here and now and re-aligns our minds and hearts with the living earth. I think I hope you’ll give it a try (if you don’t do something like this already). I would love to hear your thoughts about how you practice gratitude in your life!
PS: I have a few updates on my new book! Thanks to all who have already supported me by purchasing it! First, I was featured on the latest Druidcast (episode 171) talking about my new book Sacred Actions. The book also has a number of reviews: one from Nimue Brown at Druid Life, one from Bish at the Druid’s Network, one from Dean Easton at A Druids Way, and one from James Nichol at Contemplative Druidry, one from Regina Chante, and more out soon!