I believe that connection to nature allows for connection with Spirit, and with self, and it is the key to truly understanding that we are a part of greater non-human world. Death can be a great teacher, helping us to understand the fullness, and preciousness of life.
As a child, I was allowed to roam free, explore nature and go on adventures. I basically lived in the forest behind our house, only coming home for dinner. I remember finding dead creatures occasionally in my explorations, and nature spoke the truths that the people around me kept hidden. It was just something we didn’t talk about, and as a curious child, I wanted to know more.
In my previous blog post (The Call of the Crow) I talked about how I came to find a dead crow, and was directed by spirit to work with him. I spent a weekend dissecting my crow friend. It was intimidating, exciting and fascinating, and my appreciation for his beauty only grew as I saw the incredible complexity of his body beneath the skin.
With his chest cavity exposed, I couldn't believe how much this bird actually looked like a tiny person under all those feathers. It reminded me that we are all incredible animated meat machines, humans and animals alike, and we share this flesh, this mortality together. And we also share the animating spirit. His life was my life, his body my body, and his death will be mine too. I am grateful to crow for coming to me, to reveal these lessons.
Connecting to the non-human world helps us appreciate the beauty in us all, the incredible miracle that we all are. It was a quiet humility to do this exercise, an exercise so many of us are divorced from, or have no experience of.
In my grandparent's day it was common to grow, raise, kill, clean and eat at least some of their own food. I had no such experience myself personally growing up. We shopped at the grocery store and bought neatly packaged food, and just didn't talk about death. But I had my experiences in the forest, that direct connection to the world around me, with which to gain some context.
In my current life, I see children all around divorced from nature and animals to an extreme level. Not only are they divorced from the food that they eat, in our culture of helicopter-parenting, they are not allowed the freedom to explore the real world.
In my incarnation as a teacher of kindergarten-age children, I remember chicken day. It was lunch time, but that day the cook didn't have time to de-bone the chicken like she usually did, so they came to me on the bone. Instead of doing it for the children myself, I took the opportunity to teach.
I gave each child a piece of chicken, and showed them how to do it for themselves. We examined the chicken and pointed out the bones, and I showed them how to take the meat off. During this process, one of the children had a revelation. His eyes got wide, his mouth gaped open, and he said "Teacher - chicken…is made of CHICKEN!".
In our quest for constant "safety", children are being protected from the very nature of being, of both life and death. This child in my class knew the animal "chicken", most likely from picture books or a trip to the hobby farm on the weekend, but he had never linked the food on the table with the actual animal. Words like “chicken” are important, but without genuine personal experience, they are meaningless. Children are concrete learners, they need real-life experiences, hands-on, down in the muck of life, to give their world meaning.
In another instance, we were on the playground, and we found a Robin that had hit the window and broken its neck. It was in perfect condition, it just looked like it was asleep. A child found it and excitedly told me about it and brought me over. Other children gathered around, and it opened an incredible discussion. We got a chance to observe this beautiful creature up-close, and talk about why it may have died. It was an important teaching moment. But it didn't last long.
Another teacher approached, and harshly whispered to me that I shouldn't be doing that because "What if a parent came - they wouldn't like it". I was flabbergasted. It's nature - how can you "not like" that? It's reality on Earth, and as living beings, it's a reality that children have every right to inhabit. I looked around to the other teachers, at their frowning, judgmental faces, and I realized that I was alone in my perspective and just couldn't win that one. But it was the children who lost on that day.
How can children have reverence for a world they do not know? How can they have empathy for the suffering of animals they have never met? How can they explore the mystery of life if they never see death? In a quest to shelter children from the dangers and realities of life, so many adults have unwittingly cut them off from the world around them, from nature, and subsequently from their own nature as well.
Despite the illusion we have created in our society, we are not separate from nature, we are a part of it, and our souls long for that intimate connection to the greater non-human world, because it is there where we feel our own fullness of being.
It's time to take children out of the “safe” places of school, their room, the computer, structured little after-school classes, and get them out into the wilds. They need to explore independently, have real adventures, and come to know the world as it is, in all it’s beauty and majesty and fierceness. Their own souls need it, and the world needs them too.
We are all aware of the tragic state of the Earth due to human pollution and environmental abuse. Like parasites destroying its host, we are killing the Earth herself, and we do not yet know what the fallout will be. We remain ever-optimistic that change will come somehow, that it will all be all right, that the damage will be undone. We may be reaching a tipping point, a point of no return. The Earth may not survive this onslaught.
I see these children growing up now as future warriors. In order to fight for the Earth, they must first develop a love for her, and all her creatures, so that they know what they are fighting for.