Prelude: What we Can Learn from Being Still

Suffering the locked down blues in your home? You are not alone. Longing too for the moments when you felt the freedom, power and pulse of the planet in the mountains, the oak woodlands, the savannahs, and the coastal forests? I imagine many of you like me love to be outside, explore new environments, enjoy new cultures and experiences. So, I have a question for you. In your nature adventures (near and far) can you recall one special moment — once stepping back and just marveling at a tree? Great, #MeToo!

Trees are a wonder. They simply stand tall and proud in one singular, solitary place their entire lives. Imagine that for just one exhalation (exultation), inhalation. How many of us during these COVID19 days can now truly appreciate the truth, tone, and temperance of a tree?

What patience… what endurance… what resilience, acceptance, peace, and calm, the tree must have, right?— to accomplish this unimaginable (to me) feat…to stay rooted in one place, not just for a couple months, but for one’s entire life!!! This reflection got me thinking… perhaps the naturally resonant energy emanating from the forest is so positive and pure, precisely because the trees stand still. Now forced to remain rooted in our homes, is it possible that we could use this time of solidarity in solitude to recalibrate our natural resonance, remember our natural life purpose, and re-connect to Our Planet? What if you closed your eyes and for a moment, tapped into your creative mind, challenged yourself to remember the smell, the detail, the light, the ambience, the texture, the tone, the feeling you had in front of your special tree? Can you remember what it was like to be still, to be grounded and connected, rooted next to your tree and yet still free?  The good news is that you can take a virtual walk in your woods and refresh, recreate, regenerate, re-emerge, anytime you need… We are supremely fortunate that way as a species. We are conscious; we can dream and imagine and control our response to our current reality with our thoughts…and with our intentions, create new internal realities to endure the crazy world externalities.   

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Back to Reality

I recently learned that in my home in the Italian Alps the number of those affected in our little valley just climbed today to 700 and the death toll is now at 82. My mom lives in the Newport/Irvine County COVID 19 hotspot in California. And, one of my brothers and family are Staying in Place in their New Jersey home- also a hotspot. So, be sure I share with you, your pain and grief also in writing this piece. And that said, I do believe the way through this dark, scary night is by both honoring our sacred sorrow and igniting our inner hope, and in that way recognizing the greater truth of our current global chaos-crisis and opportunity.

Could it be that amazing grace is now leading us home? Families are forced to face (mirare– look at the wonder and miracle of) each other—cook, clean, play together– contribute to the family tribe. Is it possible that this global pandemic is forcing us as an entire human civilization to re-root ourselves to the people and in the place we call home and to expand our view of home and connection to include every living being on earth? Remember Pope Francis’ Laudato Si? In the silent peace that follows the pain, are we beginning to see the re-growth of healthy tree branches and the re-sprouting of barren winter stems with new spring buds outside our home? Truth be told…Spring is still happening… and now. Mother Nature is active outside our doors… breathing cleaner air, sprouting upward into clearer skies, singing more robust and noise-cancelled bird songs, emerging from snow-covered havens into crisper, richer light.

At the same time COVID 19 is locking down, shutting down, and slowing down human civilization in her tracks. We are beginning again to actually notice spring, to long for that connection to nature, even as on average in the developed world we spent 90% of our time (pre-COVID19), indoors. Why is it that we only really appreciate something or someone when she’s gone or unattainable (like Avatar’s unubtainium)? We are a crazy species. However, the good news is — this plague will Pass-over and a new Easter season, a new Eid will come. And, just like other moments in history, like the Black Plague, a new re-birth, a new Renaissance of creativity and intelligence and connection to ourselves- to one another and to the natural world, will return.

Yes, these are tumultuous and trying times. I am with you. But these are also exiting and truly transformative times— as every level and lever of society is being disrupted… to regenerate itself. Nature has now forced us to evolve. And in this moment, we can learn a lot about building resilience from nature – from our fellow mates in the biosphere – the other 8.7 million species, who have adapted to a changing planet over 3.8 billion years. We are not unique in our Homo sapiens growing pains. Every other species been forced at one point or another to figure it out—to survive– to adapt to massive disruptions in their environments and epic natural disasters, like our current pandemic. So, there is a lot of wisdom about how to survive in the wild kingdom. (If you’d like to explore further, during COVID 19 I am posting a podcast with clips from a book I am writing called Naturally Intelligent by Design– 365 days and ways that animals adapt to and thrive in their changing world, complete with exercises for families to do together.)

And, in the spirit of “Combatting COVID19 with Compassion” (a campaign NI Media is launching with Ricky Kej, Earth Day, WHO, and partners) this Easter Week; I would like to dedicate this article to all those affected by COVID-19. May we be happy, healthy, and whole. OK, I now offer you a few of my reflections on Thriving Globally from my California redwood grove family home to your family home. I believe this the perfect moment to literally stop and listen to the natural drumbeat of the earth and to remember the lyrics of the forest trees–who must remain rooted in place with branches held high during every tumultuous storm. I hope these insights help you better ground– safely and serenely into your current home situation, as we—the global forest—stay standing.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

The Tree

First, when I speak of the tree, imagine I am speaking about your special tree (above) and the over 60,000 species of perennial (persistently growing) elongated wood stem plants, worldwide. The many species of trees in many forests have evolved from Archeopteris spp. (416-358 million years ago)and adapted to ecosystems spanning the earth from the Ocean to the Mountain. When I refer generically to the tree, I am alluding to an entire group of living organisms with the potential (due to the timeless telomeres at the end of their plant cells) to grow infinitely and to live eternally. I am referring to over 3 trillion living stems rooted to Planet Earth today, numbering more than the stars in the Milky Way. That said, these perennial plants dominated many ecosystems before humans settled; and have lost until today 50% of their global tree population since we started building urban jungles. The greater tragedy is that accompanying human development and deforestation, over 50% of nature’s wildlife- many resident in these forests, have also disappeared—gone — not fishing, but extinct. The disappearance of Our Planet’s Garden of Eden is clearly accelerating. Thus, perhaps Nature Is Speaking… and it behooves us to listen to what the forest has to teach us about reconciling with one another and nature in a new way-every day, so we all thrive into the future, together.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Seven Life Lessons from the Tree

Anyone who claims that they are thriving right now in this moment of turmoil is not being 100% truthful. We are all in some ways suffering from physical isolation and the disruption of our lives and work. And, these times of chaos are the tides of our times, driven by the storms that make the tree’s roots stronger and stems straighter, revealing true resilience and character. If you really spend time in the forest and get to know a forest grove, I have discovered you will notice many things. Their stems are not perfectly straight, especially when they are younger trees…. And the young saplings, well, they are quite spindly, weak, and vulnerable looking. Fire scars abound. Most every mature redwood tree has some charred portion (usually on the downward wind side of the tree), where a fire has burned and smoldered, and tried and tormented and tested the tree’s strength and resilience. The older the redwood trees get and the thicker their bark skin, the less vulnerable they become to those ground level disturbances. They even self-prune the lower branches to keep their green growth points in the upper canopy where the light shines and higher intelligence lives. It also seems that their stems straighten; as they establish a broader base of stronger roots into their fluffy, duffy dark forest home soil.

Lying for hours next to the mother tree in the center of the next generation grove in the eerie creaking and softly swaying sounds… oh the stories the trees will tell, the life lessons we have to learn, while the trees we continue to burn. There are so many laws of nature we have forgotten… and interdependent connections to nature we have allowed to rotten.

One needs a lifetime to experience and to share. Do I dare move beyond the threshold of opening the door to nature’s abundant wisdom? What truth about humanity will I find there?  But never mind… Here at least are seven reasons I have found to hope and lessons from the tree to cope with the darkness when it is near.

“Never lose hope, my dear heart, miracles dwell in the invisible.” Rumi

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Lesson One: Learn to Breathe

Lesson Two: Defy Fear, Grow Against Gravity

Lesson Three: Network, Share, and Protect Our Common Forest

Lesson Four: Conserve and Optimize Resources

Lesson Five: Be Inclusive

Lesson Six: Think in Circles and Seasons

Lesson Seven: Fearlessly Face Death and Life…

Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD, Natural Intelligence Media is committed to awakening Natural Intelligence in the World. She produces multimedia content — books, films, and podcasts with her creative companions that aim to inspire everyone, everywhere to live a happy, healthy, naturally intelligent life.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

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  • Catherine Cunningham, PhD

    Mission Possible: Awaken Natural Intelligence in Our World

    Natural Intelligence

    Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD is an ecologist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and media host producing films, interactive experiences, and online multimedia for international clients who are focused on positive economic, social, and environmental win-win-win solutions to global conservation and climate change.

    Catherine has travelled, written, photographed, and filmed in 70 countries, producing creative films and music videos in support the UN Global Goals and the human+nature planetary health narrative. Visit Natural to see where her work has premiered internationally. Over 20 years, she has interviewed hundreds of global thought leaders to promote sustainable solutions to climate change and conservation in creative ways. Catherine has written numerous articles on climate change, nature, and regeneration. She’s currently writing two books: “Naturally Intelligent by Design” — a fine art science and culture book for families and “Natural Intelligence”— a guidebook for well-navigating a post COVID-19 world by following nature’s principles. Partnering with Eurovision News and Events, Catherine is also an independent media host— producing content on nature, climate, and regeneration; syndicated globally by EuroVision’s News Direct. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and Medium. She currently produces communications for the Prince Albert II Foundation and participates in programming @ the World Economic Forum on Climate Change, Nature, and Biodiversity. As an university educator, Catherine taught undergraduate and masters courses in corporate sustainability communications at Arizona State University; global sustainability at Chapman University; biology, ecology, botany, and environmental science at Denver State College and Front Range College. In 2016, she designed one of the first university courses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also online), contributing to youth action on the UN Global Goals. She also created a post-graduate program with UNESCO on the MAB (Man the Biosphere) reserves. Catherine earned her PhD in Ecosystem Science at ETHZ in Switzerland, studying climate impacts on mountain ecosystems. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters degree from Utah State in Ecology. Catherine speaks fluent English and conversational Italian. She loves creative collaboration, media production, mountaineering, outdoor sports, yoga, wellness, and travel.