September 24, 2023

This week in the Bay Area we’ve experienced life out of balance: the sun’s light is the wrong color, the sky is hazy, we can almost see and feel the fire particulate matter in the smoky air we’re breathing.

In that context, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Op Ed by Robin Wall Kimmerer in the New York Times, “The Turtle Mothers have come ashore to ask about an unpaid Debt.”  (If the Times won’t let you read it without subscription, you can watch Kimmerer deliver her essay on YouTube.)

Many of you know Robin Wall Kimmerer from Braiding Sweetgrass, her book that took me months to read. Each page was so rich with description, details, and concepts, I had to just put it down and “digest” what I’d read. Then pick it up and read the section again and put it down again. Sometimes I read a line over and over because it was like uplifting music. My brain begged, “No space for any more input today. Let it simmer.” Simmering went on for a day, a week, or 2 weeks. I savored it all.

For those who don’t know of Kimmerer’s work, in addition to being an incredible writer, she’s a botanist, longtime professor, who is also steeped in her Indigenous people’s teachings and culture. Throughout her career and her life, she’s discovered how to bring the two often-disparate strands together, expanding students’ and colleagues’ worldviews. And mine.

A basic teaching of the Potawatomi Nation that Kimmerer belongs to is of gratitude and reciprocity. Give thanks for what we’ve been given. Pretty basic. In addition to that, we’re asked to reciprocate. Sometimes offering gratitude serves as reciprocation, it’s enough. But more often, it isn’t enough.

Like this week, with smoke-filled air, I can still be grateful for air to breathe. I expressed gratitude that I was a practiced mask-wearer and put on my mask outdoors. What could I give back? Not adding to the air pollution: instead of driving, walk or take transit when I could. That’s not much, but it’s what I could do.

When we pick flowers, we give thanks for their beauty and fragrances; sometimes that’s conscious, sometimes unconscious–but we wouldn’t pick them if it didn’t please us. Right? Is there some way to give back to ensure flowers will be there next year? We can be sure to leave more than we take, so bees and other insects, maybe even hummingbirds, have food and along the way pollinate the flower, so seeds develop, to feed other birds and be spread by the wind. That’s within our power, even though the amount of rain and the quality of soil is not–unless the flowers are in our yard. Then we can water them, and improve soil, avoid using chemicals that kill pollinators, insects, and other soil-friendly microbes. Again, not much, but it’s what we can do.

For too many decades, the “collective we” in the USA have been taking more than we’re giving back. The wider we can spread values of gratitude and reciprocity, the greater the number of people practicing such. I like to think it adds up, like that saying, “Think globally, act locally.” And even if it doesn’t, at least our neighborhood is a bit more resilient and friendlier. And maybe we, you and I, can feel a bit more at peace during these chaotic times.

A question for each of you, dear Readers: In what way can you give back today? What will you do to act on your gratitude to the planet’s ongoing giving? And/or a friend’s or family member’s generosity to you?

And, bringing this back around to the idea of Integrative Bodywork, since that’s what I do, please give thanks to your body for all the years it’s been supporting you! And a special thank you to areas that seem “problematic,” since they’ve been working extra hard to keep functioning through their challenges.

Once you give thanks to your body, consider what ways you’ll reciprocate to give back to it: Exercise? A change in exercise routine? More rest? More healthful eating? Following up on doctor’s suggestions? Massage or bodywork? Meditation? Having more fun and play in your life?

Whether regarding the intimate landscape of your body or the larger landscapes of a nearby park, waterway, or even planetary balance, please do make time for gratitude and reciprocity today. And every day.

Thank you.