Lessons from the Lichen
by Michelle Katz
For the second year in a row, I found myself among the most inspiring human beings doing revolutionary work in the world at the Bioneers 29th Annual Conference. The experience of being at this conference is unlike anything else. I lack the words to describe what happens during these three days as people in the field of social, economic, environmental, political, medical, science and cultural change share how they have created that change. I feel myself expand, get curious, have my passion reignited.
In all my travels, I have learned one very important thing about myself: I never truly arrive in any given place until I spend time on the land. As I arrived at the conference, with the help of one of my many honored elders, Trebbe Johnson, I participated in having intentional solo time on the land and being able to share that with others in community. As I sat on the land, I noticed how distracted I was by the many elements of my life at this time-- I began by writing about where I was in that moment, and in many aspects, where I still am. I have a ruptured relationship with my parents, I am in the midst of a relationship break-up with a man that I wholeheartedly believed I was meant to be with-- and do the healing work of relationship together, I got in a car accident on the way to the airport (thank you Albuquerque fire and police departments for still getting us to the airport on time) that left my car towed and my body is experiencing a great deal of discomfort.
In this naming all this for myself, I became aware of where I truly was, on a large granite boulder by a wetland area near the Marin Civic Center. A wetland, where life seems to be everywhere. Tall yellow grasses bending in every direction, making me think of love being the thing that makes us bend. Yellow flowers in various stages of bloom and decay. Soft mud and stiff leaves surround me speaking of great contrasts in life existing in the same space. The green lichen on the rocks I sat on looked like splatter paint. The radius of their reach seemed to be spreading as I looked at them, decorating the seemingly unmovable/unchangeable rock. The spores of the lichen seem to have popped open with a deep exhale, begging the rock to breath with it.
Lichen is the coexistence of at least 2 quiet different organisms in a mutualistic relationship. I sat with the lichen, the rock, and the wetland in my place of deep emotion, tears, and the hard place of grief. Being with all these elements, I realized that growth (created in the colder shadowy parts of self)-- wanted or not-- produces color. Soon a little bug landed on me as I wrote. It moved between my thumb and pointer finger, up to the tip of my pen. Aware of the stickiness of the ink, my initial reaction was to say, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.” But despite my worry, the bug continued on to mark its belly struggled its way off the tip of the sticky ink, and then flew away. I thought, well, it must have needed to do that, in some way, and I wondered how long that mark would last on it his underbelly. I wondered where else he would land and leave his little inky mark. It’s amazing to me all the ways, even seemingly insignificant actions, such as crawling over my pen tip, can leave an impact, even ever so small.
Mutualistic relationship and the mark we make on each other feels to be the theme of the weekend at Bioneers. During this particular conference my heart felt tapped into today’s struggle of relationship, both on the macro and microcosm, as I look at the human experience in our world and my own personal experience in relationship.
The struggle between the masculine and feminine in today’s world remains in the forefront of my mind and heart. Nina Simons, co-founder of Bioneers, opened the conference by sharing that “The Kabbalah, the ancient book of wisdom in the Jewish tradition, says that the brokenness of our world is due to the masculine and feminine aspects of the divine turning away from one another. We can help heal the world, they suggest, by helping the feminine and masculine aspects of the sacred to reunite.”
I fully believe that the masculine and feminine need each other. We need each other to turn toward each other, to balance each other. I wonder about our ability to heal if men and woman keep growing more distant in our difference, keep growing more fearful, more blaming, more hurt and unwilling to do the work toward deeper understanding. I believe that one of the primary reasons we are here, on earth, living our lives, is to heal each other, and we can only do this in relationship in finding balance in the masculine and feminine. I know, personally, I aim to focus on this important work and to meet the masculine in this way.
Some of the most powerful elements of the conference were conversations about Redefining Manhood. I heard initiated men speak to owning their mistakes, receiving healing on the traumas our society and systems has afflicted on them, and naming their greatest goal as listening to female voices as allies-- by asking questions and getting curious. With this I gain a sense of great hope in what’s possible.
The curiosity cannot stop at the work between the masculine and feminine. It needs to extend across all diverse groups. How can we ALL honor each other with great respect for each person’s stories and place in the world? How can we have a collective vision of connection? To be aware of something greater we ALL belong to and each of us feeling integral to the world around us? Patrisse Cullors, one of the co-creators of the Black Lives Matter Movement, provided her insights into the pain felt by so many people of color around the world while at the same time evoking the spirit and power of a great human movement. Many presenters at the conference spoke about the impact of finding allies of all colors and cultures, to have each of us explain and grow understanding in relationship that has us stay engaged, to address power imbalances and learn to better share all our resources. May Boeve of 350.org suggested, may we “be impatient with injustice, but patient with each other.”
Our diverse nation is in great pain. But pain can offer us purpose, as it marks us-- if we are willing to go into it and learn from it-- in order to heal a community, which in turn can heal a nation. I believe that with every generation, we move closer to the vision of a beautifully diverse nation. Cesar Chavez said, “There is enough love and good will in our movement to give energy to our struggle and still have plenty left over to break down and change the climate of hate and fear around us.” Yes, let us recognize our diversity, share our stories of struggle, truly see each other and through relationship, create change.
Another firm belief I have is that each one of us has a unique and needed purpose in this world. As we fly through our routines, work, travels, daily or through the years, where do each of us leave our own inky marks? Your time, talent and treasures make a difference. I invite to question for yourselves, what relationship to others, parts of your self or the world have marked who you are? How do YOU choose to connect, grow, bend? Join Oaks Counsel for an experience of human nature and nature that expands.