Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Building relationships with nonhumans

The most important practice of an animist life is to live consciously in relationship with nonhumans. This can take various forms. One can relate to The-Land-On-Which-One-Walks, which is not ancestral land necessarily, but the land on which you live right now. One can relate to the nonhumans who nurture and support you, who are commonly called food, water, building materials, fabric materials and so on. One can relate to animal people, or green people, or to the devas and forces, or to particular rocks or waters, to cloud people and other sky people, and to greater-than-human beings.

In all of these relationships, I would suggest that one not attempt to relate in structured, ritualized ways, but as one would relate to a fellow human being. So, consider, how do you interact and build relationships with your family, neighbors, and friends? With some, you become deeply intimate. With others, you have a more formal relationship. In every case, it begins by reaching out and communicating in some way.

Let's use friendship as an example. A friend may support and nurture you, but that's not why you are friends with that person. You are friends because you like him or her, you're drawn to him or her. You may enjoy the same activities, share tasks, offer one another wisdom and solace. Support goes both ways: she helps you get to work when your car breaks down, you bake cookies for her birthday.

The relationship doesn't appear out of thin air one day. Let's say you meet at a party. You talk and find you both love antiques. You call her when you're going to an antique show in a nearby city and she keeps you company. You have lunch one day, and then you get together for dinner with your spouses. You both want to lose weight and decide to exercise together. Your friendship grows. Twenty years down the line, she is the one you call when you get the bad diagnosis. She is the one who waits with your husband in the hospital waiting room, and the one who organizes the card shower and the one who cries with you because of your loss. Your empathy has entangled your roots. You can't imagine life without her.

Just so, a friendship with nonhumans is something developed over time with individuals. I have many tree friends, and feel like I've been accepted by the local green community. But it takes time to develop friendships with individuals, whether dogs or trees or humans. I get together with a particular tree. We talk and I learn about the world through his or her eyes. I sing to him or her . . . I find that trees love human singing. We hug. We hang out together, spend time, get to know each other. What is that huge scar on the trunk? How does he weather out the winter? I appreciate Mr. Tree. I share water and we drink together.

Discussing relationship building for various kinds of relationships with all the many different kinds of nonhumans would take a whole book, but this can give you the gist of it. You build relationships with nonhumans just like you do with humans. You have to put in a little time and effort, and respect him or her as an individual, not just as a type. Over time, you get to know one another and both of your lives are enriched.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this insight. I think
it is simple and profound all at once. You grow, girl!

Lou Smith said...

Brilliant blog - thanks for being you - I'm going to go out and give that grass a cuddle x