Laura Connolly Photography
What a week to share my very special ‘Book Wise’ Pick! Who would have ever thought in 2019 that Greta Thunberg, a sixteen year old from Stockholm would inspire millions of people across more than 150 countries, to take to the streets on behalf of the planet we share. The earth’s existential crisis is one of the biggest issues facing us all worldwide, and it is inspiring to see a young girl galvanize the globe to a sense of urgency and action. Many of us are inspired by Greta but we find ourselves overwhelmed about what exactly we can do. Meaningful change sometimes comes with a revolution but I find the most meaningful change occurs when we change our mindset and view our challenges through a different lens. The WWB 2019 Fall ‘Book Wise’ pick The Eight Master Lessons of Nature will not only inspire you, but will also make you feel hopeful about the future. The climate change problem is not ‘out of your hands’ rather it is in your nature to fix it. The very way you think and live has everything to do with what happens next in 2020. Don’t worry, this book doesn’t offer you do’s and don’ts for your lifestyle. On the contrary this is a beautiful review of nature and science that will remind you of your very real interdependent connection to life on earth. After reading this book you will find that nurturing nature in all it’s forms is the same as nurturing yourself.
I’ve outlined Eight Lessons below which you will explore deeply in this enlightening book. Ladies, you will love LESSON 4, but I do hope my male readers take time to read it especially. After the highlighted lessons is my Q&A with the author Gary Ferguson ,who has written 24 books on nature and science. For the past twenty years he has given keynote lectures on the ecological and psychological values of nature around the country. He also is a member of the National Geographic lecture series. Learn more about Gary at his website, but please don’t miss the Q&A below, where he shares his brilliant thoughts and wisdom from the book with me. I promise The Eight Master Lessons of Nature will truly awaken you. It will remind you that you are not alone in this world, on top of the world, or separate from this world but very much a part of this beautiful world. You belong and we all belong. What a wonderful feeling and KNOWING this is for us all. After reading the WWB ‘Book Wise’ selection you may join Greta, the 2019 Person of the Year, in a quest to stop climate change. Some of you will protest, some of you will vote, but most important is that we all LIVE LIFE WELL with a mindset of interdependence that will guide our actions every day to protect the earth we call home. Pretty awesome my friends!
Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty
P. S Not a spoiler, but I recommend this book to anyone grieving a loved one. You will find Gary’s story of getting through the great loss of his wife who died with him out on an expedition in nature, a soothing balm. It will touch your heart and soul. The wisdom gained will be not to fear nature and the outdoors, but to strengthen all our connections close to us, as well as to nature, so we may heal and survive the stress of traumatic loss. So much wisdom in this chapter and such a meaningful part of the book.
EXCERPT FROM BOOK: THE EIGHT MASTER LESSONS OF NATURE for LIVING LIFE WELL in the WORLD
LESSON ONE: Mystery: Wisdom begins when we embrace all that we don’t know
LESSON TWO: Life on Earth thrives thanks to a vast garden of connections
LESSON THREE: The more kinds of life in the forest, the stronger that life becomes
LESSON FOUR: Healing the planet, and ourselves, means recovering the feminine
LESSON FIVE: Our animal cousins make us happier and smarter
LESSON SIX: We live on a planet with energy beyond measure, yet life doesn’t waste a drop
LESSON SEVEN: After disaster and disruption: NATURE TEACHES US THE FINE ART OF RISING AGAIN
LESSON EIGHT: Old Growth: The planet’s elders can help us be better at life
WISE BITE: “Nature’s Beauty Holds Every Lesson.”
Lauroly Opening- Thank you for joining me Gary. I am truly honored to select your book as the Fall 2019 ‘BOOK WISE’ must read and to chat with you about your deeply wise observations. There are so many takeaways and I want to share them all! But I think for a blog format we can touch on the conceptual ideas of the book which will inspire many to go deeper and read the book. I am always enthusiastic about my ‘Book Wise’ picks but I would say this book is one of my favorites because it synthesizes so much wisdom and it is so culturally relevant. I think it is an important timely book as well as beautifully written. Some of the ideas in the book have been written about and explored in various circles, but it’s your synthesis of nature’s wisdom via your eight master lessons that makes the book truly masterful. Each lesson supports the next one and we begin to see how we lost our way, but also can find our way through with a better understanding of the natural world we are a part of.
Let’s begin with the concept of nature and how many people view it separate from their own existence. Inter-dependency is a concept not easily understood by a society that believes our species is superior to other forms of life. I like you, spent lots of time outdoors as a child. I was climbing trees and digging to China in my back yard discovering worms and other insects. I once had a pet praying mantises! That was until a very wise neighbor explained how first it was cruel to keep it in a box, and how important the insect was to the whole eco-system of the back yard. I listened and understood and from then on looked at every living creature differently. The time outside and the intervention of a wise teacher, made me understand early on how interconnected everything in nature was, including me.
Lauroly Q– Why do you think there is such powerful blind spots about our interdependent connection to nature?
I agree – these blind spots are big, and incredibly powerful. If humans were fish, separation thinking would be the water we swim in, all the while unaware that there’s even such a thing as water. Much of this has to do with a clever way of ordering the world that came online in a big way about 500 years ago. This was the beginning of modern science, led by brilliant people like Renee Descartes, who went all in with something called “subject-object” thinking. It works like this: The universe was said to consist of distinct parts, each part knowable, and each governed by what are ultimately predictable processes. Solving the puzzles of the universe meant first removing yourself from the world, so as to not taint your observations. The next task is to isolate the thing you’re studying, disconnecting it from everything else. To be fair, this approach led to many amazing discoveries, and still does. In fact, so useful was it, so intoxicating, that it became the foundation of every institution in Western culture: Education. Medicine. Economics. But here’s the catch. While subject-objection thinking – separation thinking, if you like – is a useful tool, it’s only one way of knowing. And on the whole, it’s hugely divorced from much of realty. Nature thrives because of interdependence. As do you.
When you walk in the park under a tree, the carbon dioxide you give off is just what the tree needs, while at the same time it’s giving off the oxygen you require. And not just oxygen. We now know those trees also give off chemicals called phytoncides, which with every breath fortify your immune system, even strengthen your heart. And on it goes. You can muster the attention to read this page because of nutrients made available to your brain by millions of microbes, most of which originated elsewhere, coming to live in your digestive system after you were born. Furthermore, you wouldn’t even manage to sleep well at night if the infared light from the sun wasn’t resetting your melatonin levels every day.
On it goes – a brilliant, unimaginably complex web of interconnection. At this point we really can’t say where a human being ends, and the rest of the world begins Whereas subject-object thinking was all about power over, relational thinking is about power with.
Lauroly Q- That was such an enlightening answer Gary. You do a beautiful job explaining why diversity in nature matters to our environment and to the survival of our species in the book. How does this stand against the survival of the fittest theory? We now know the theory was misinterpreted. Can you clear that up for us here? I loved the words you shared from Darwin “Those communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members flourish best.” What do you think he meant by this?
Oh my, yes, of all the misquotes out there related to nature, few have been more entrenched – especially in this culture – than “survival of the fittest.” But when Darwin said “fittest,” he was talking about the ability of a living being to be fully integrated with its environment. That integration, that connection to the larger world, is what keeps life going, able to thrive even in the wake of big disruptions. In the nineteenth century, though, and continuing in some circles even today, some chose to define “fit” in a very different way. To them, “fit” has been about being physically tough, powerful, even aggressive. Yes, it’s true that as a lion you have to be physically strong to successfully hunt. But only by every member of the pride also having a robust capacity for cooperation – not just in hunting, but in raising young and building social bonds with kin – will those lions be able to survive.
Darwin’s other comment -“Those communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members flourish best” – written later in his life, has to do with much the same thing. This time he seems to be speaking more specifically of humans – in particular, about how our inclination to be generous, to do things for others, has been key to our successful evolution. Not all that different, by the way, than wolves and lions and elephants and orcas and dolphins and chimpanzees, to name just a few.
Lauroly Q– How can we not focus on Lesson 4 entitled “Healing the Planet and Ourselves Means Recovering the Feminine.”. There are so many examples in nature and wildlife that show us how important the female species is to the survival of many species. I loved how you explained the yin/yang philosophy and the importance of both the masculine and feminine energies. Why do you think feminine strength and intelligence is persistently oppressed by men in the human species? I would say the word power seems to be a challenge for male humans. It seems to be a win or lose mentality, rather than a collaborative dance you see in the animal kingdom. What do you think personally as a man yourself?
To me the oppression of the feminine has been, and continues to be, one of the most tragic of all our human blunders. The reason that life on this planet is so vital and resilient is because it encourages full expression of both masculine and feminine energies. When we ignore this, we flirt with catastrophe. Indeed, I believe the terrifying situation we find ourselves in with climate change is in large part a result of this colossal misstep. It wasn’t always this way. From what we know – mostly by way of ancient story and art – for most of human history there was a deep reverence for what might be called “archetypal” feminine energies. These are qualities that go beyond the basic feminine capacity for birth, to honor as well the wisdom that actually sustains life. In other words, not just what makes life happen, but what keeps it going. These feminine energies have to do with things like communication and cooperation; with resilient leadership; with spontaneity and improvisation. Feminine energy also has to do with the circular quality of life: the cycle of plants sprouting, flowering and then setting seed; the turn of seasons – even the spin of life and death itself. This isn’t just fanciful daydreaming. Rather, it points to reality itself.
But starting about four thousand years ago, a group of ambitious men – suddenly rich and powerful thanks to advances in growing and storing food – decided they needed to be more rich and powerful still. We might say they embraced not a mature masculine, where strength is rooted in compassion, but an immature, titanic kind of masculine, which is all about control. In their wake came a tragic unraveling of what had formally been an incredibly rich weave of goddess myths – and with it, a wholesale dismissal of the feminine energies to which those stories gave voice. Eventually official creation stories morphed from seeing life as the result of a deep relationship between masculine and feminine, to being instead the product of lone male gods who managed everything without any feminine help at all. Not surprisingly, down here in the flesh and blood world real girls and women suffered, losing both respect, as well as many of the rights they’d once held. This narrow vision also brought the loss of a vital pallete of perceptions and wisdom available to everyone, no matter their gender identity.
This too we know just by looking at nature. The female leader of a wolf pack (and females are most commonly the primary leaders), not only gives birth to pups and nurses them; she’s also typically the one who makes decisions about when and where to hunt, brokers peace among other pack members, and often chooses when and if to engage in territorial squabbles. In other words, she holds what would we humans consider both male and female energies. Likewise, her male counterpart not only helps the pack by lending his strength to hunting and defense. He also spends countless hours playing with pups, running off to get food for them, and generally doing whatever he can to help keep the entire pack tightly bonded. As a male he too, then, holds what can be considered as both masculine and feminine qualities.
To be perfectly honest, I think it’s time for men of the dominant culture to take a seat at the back of the room and listen. Just listen. No temper tantrums. No mansplaining. Working instead to hold the essential humility necessary for true learning. It’s not that we men don’t have good things to contribute. But at this point, even our lack of ability to see that there’s a problem is to me nothing short of stunning.
Lauroly Closing- Thank you so much for joining me at World Wise Beauty. I believe your book The Eight Master Lessons of Nature –what nature teaches us about living well in the world is truly a manifesto for wellness culture. When we can shift our thinking and see ourselves as part of this magnificent planet earth, as opposed to separate from it we can begin to correct the mistakes we made with faulty frames of mind. This book is a must read for us all. Suddenly you will want to put down the phone and go for a walk or a hike, but this time not as a visitor but as a member of nature’s magnificent diverse community.
Gary A Closing: It’s such a pleasure to be here with you, Laura, sharing in this rich community. I’d like to close by saying that we humans have everything we need. The very same qualities and processes that allow all of nature to thrive – most fundamentally, interconnection and diversity – are our superpowers, too. The wisdom we need is all around us, spread in glorious fashion across this precious planet. True, in the face of climate change many of us right now may be feeling a need to grieve some of the mistakes we’ve made – both personally, and as a culture. That’s important. But on the far side of this grief is a remarkable opportunity, a chance to reclaim the wisdom of life itself.