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Returning the Gift

--by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Mar 20, 2017)


In the teachings of my Potawatomi ancestors, responsibilities and gifts are understood as two sides of the same coin. The possession of a gift is coupled with a duty to use it for the benefit of all. A thrush is given the gift of song—and so has a responsibility to greet the day with music. Salmon have the gift of travel, so they accept the duty of carrying food upriver. So when we ask ourselves, what is our responsibility to the Earth, we are also asking, “What is our gift?”

As human people, most recently evolved here, we lack the gifts of our companion species, of nitrogen fixation, pollination, and 3000-mile migrations under magnetic guidance. We can’t even photosynthesize. But we carry gifts of our own, which the Earth urgently needs. Among the most potent of these is gratitude.

Gratitude may seem like weak tea given the desperate challenges that lie before us, but it is powerful medicine, much more than a simple thank you. Giving thanks implies recognition not only of the gift, but of the giver. When I eat an apple, my gratitude is directed to that wide-armed tree whose tart offspring are now in my mouth, whose life has become my own. Gratitude is founded on the deep knowing that our very existence relies on the gifts of beings who can in fact photosynthesize. Gratitude propels the recognition of the personhood of all beings and challenges the fallacy of human exceptionalism—the idea that we are somehow better, more deserving of the wealth and services of the Earth than other species.

The evolutionary advantage for cultures of gratitude is compelling. This human emotion has adaptive value, because it engenders practical outcomes for sustainability. The practice of gratitude can, in a very real way, lead to the practice of self-restraint, of taking only what we need. Acknowledging the gifts that surround us creates a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of enough-ness which is an antidote to the societal messages that drill into our spirits telling us we must have more. Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society.

Indigenous story traditions are full of cautionary tales about the failure of gratitude. When people forget to honor the gift, the consequences are always material as well as spiritual. The spring dries up, the corn doesn’t grow, the animals do not return, and the legions of offended plants and animals and rivers rise up against the ones who neglected gratitude. The Western storytelling tradition is strangely silent on this matter, and so we find ourselves in an era when we are rightly afraid of the climate we have created.

We human people have protocols for gratitude; we apply them formally to one another. We say thank you. We understand that receiving a gift incurs a responsibility to give a gift in return. The next step in our cultural evolution, if we are to persist as a species on this beautiful planet, is to expand our protocols for gratitude to the living Earth. Gratitude is most powerful as a response to the Earth because it provides an opening to reciprocity, to the act of giving back.

Excerpted from Returning the Gift. Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, writer, and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Kimmerer is an enrolled member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.

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On Mar 21, 2017 Amy wrote:

 "The Giving Tree" (book) has been a favorite of mine since my youth.  "The boy" (in the story) never once gave thanks to "the tree" for it's presence and service to him ... Yet the tree was happy!  The tree, on the other hand, showed it's love for and appreciation of the boy in providing for the boy's needs with the gifts it had yet to give.  Without words, the tree thanked the boy for his presence (no matter his motive).  
I think I will see that tree in Heaven one day!  Amen



On Mar 18, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Life is a cycle of connectedness. We all are connected as human beings.Life begins because of connectedness between two beings. Life is sustained and  flourished by connectedness. We all are connected with nature. We are a part of nature, not apart from nature.Our being is made up of five primordial elements:earth,water, fire, air and space.  What is inside is also outside. We have organic connection with life within and life without. It is our sacred responsibility to express our gratitude to the life giver and sustainer, the Mother of all, the Mother Earth. We need to awaken and sustain this spiritual awakening in our everyday life.We may remain awakened when we read a writing like this or listen to a spiritual discourse or be in the presence of an awakened soul.. And then we go back to sleep. We get disconnected  with the source of our being. We waste  and dump toxic chemicals in water, we poison crop, rip  soil, pollute air because of ignorance and a  See full.

 Life is a cycle of connectedness. We all are connected as human beings.Life begins because of connectedness between two beings. Life is sustained and  flourished by connectedness. We all are connected with nature. We are a part of nature, not apart from nature.Our being is made up of five primordial elements:earth,water, fire, air and space.  What is inside is also outside. We have organic connection with life within and life without. It is our sacred responsibility to express our gratitude to the life giver and sustainer, the Mother of all, the Mother Earth.

We need to awaken and sustain this spiritual awakening in our everyday life.We may remain awakened when we read a writing like this or listen to a spiritual discourse or be in the presence of an awakened soul.. And then we go back to sleep. We get disconnected  with the source of our being. We waste  and dump toxic chemicals in water, we poison crop, rip  soil, pollute air because of ignorance and at worst by greed. In the name of progress, we cut the sacred chord of life. We ignore and deny the inconvenient truth.

This is a serious global challenge. We will save  our Mother Earth or kill her.  We all need to take responsibility and make right and wise choices for sustaining and flourishing life everywhere.We need to wake up and remain awake for preserving life of all beings, us and nature. This way we can express our gratitude to the Creator.

May we have an awakened mind and  a grateful heart for the survival, sustenance and flourishing of our Mother Earth.

Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave

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On Mar 18, 2017 david doane wrote:

 Gratitude means being thankful for everything including my own existence, based on the realization that this whole interconnected interacting Earth and beyond including my existence is a gift.  Living that awareness is medicine, that is, is wholeness and health for the living Earth and for me.  In becoming aware of that I begin to feel the healing power from gratitude to the living Earth.  I practice gratitude for my immediate small part of the living Earth by taking care of it, not polluting and exploiting and destroying it, and by advocating for environmentally healthy practices and policies on a planet level.



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