"Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself." Thich Nhat Hanh, Ten Love Letters to the Earth
Reciprocity is front and center in the winter holiday season; giving and receiving, receiving and giving. It’s a cycle that is intrinsically at the center of all natural processes. The cycle of reciprocity literally makes the world go ‘round; the waste from the old becomes the fuel for the new. Nothing is ever destroyed, everything is constantly merging and transforming. We see reciprocity in the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, and in our weather patterns. Reciprocity is much bigger than the concept of cause and effect, action and reaction. It is more of an unlimited self perpetuating energy source. It’s not linear and it’s not personal. In the realm of reciprocity there is no judgement. It is not crime and punishment, good deed and reward; but paradoxically being in right relationship with reciprocity can create butterfly effect outcomes that help us move toward things like greater peace and abundance. The factors involved in reciprocity are so large and so complex that they are too big to fit into the way that we perceive reality. From time to time, however, we do get a glimpse of the truth and these small glimpses can inspire us to make shifts to align more with the flow of reciprocity in our daily lives.
We are all a part of the reciprocity of the universe whether we surrender to it or not. We can help the flow of reciprocity move smoothly or we can act to delay or block it.
Reciprocity is linked with creation. It's useful to see the earth both as our "mother" and our home. We share this mother and home with all beings, and in the "eyes" of the earth, we are all equal and we all belong. When we embrace the give and take of reciprocity there is always enough. The earth gives to us freely and generously and we all give to her back in return. Everything the earth gives, whether it’s food or a car or a ballpoint pen, is “birthed” from her body. Birthing does not occur without leaving a mark; an empty space, a wound, and eventually a scar. One can think of this as a "sacrifice" that the earth gladly gives, but it does not happen without a cost. Energetically, it’s as if something is being pulled out of the earth every time we buy or take something into our possession. Though this is most obvious when we are farming or hunting, the same applies in all forms purchasing. Even "taking" a walk is receiving something from the earth. From this vantage, it makes sense to give something back in return, our appreciation, gratitude, even an offering of a song. It also makes sense to be in clear on what we truly need so that we don't accidentally take too much.
Reciprocity is also linked with destruction. Everything that comes out of the earth is created from reused materials. Rocks, minerals, water, and soil are all repurposed goods. When we’re done with something, the earth needs to receive it back in the easiest way possible to repurpose and retool its components. From a physical standpoint, we understand how composting rather than throwing food waste in the garbage/landfill creates a more direct route toward turning what we don’t want into something that can be used again. Part of living in reciprocity is to have a plan ahead of time on what we'll do with an item once we're through with it. If we don't take this into account, someone else will have to do it for us in the future. Part of stepping into reciprocity is taking responsibility for what we use and take.
Reciprocity can guide us to the most easeful ways of interacting with our envoronment and our community. Easeful is not “easy” but it is the same thing as energetically efficient. For example, it might not be the easiest thing for us to compost green waste, but in the long term, it is the most efficient way to be in natural flow and relationship with this waste stream.
Reciprocity helps us open up to new ways of being in relationship with our environment and our consumptive patterns. For example, just as we wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house and take something without asking for permission, it doesn’t make sense to take something or alter the land before asking first. We me may no longer be in this type of relationship with the non-human world but it's interesting to think about what our interactions would look like if we still were were.
This information is not being shared to cause any guilt, worry or shame. Remember, reciprocity is not personal, but it is good to be aware of the intrinsic relationships and energetic contracts we enter into with the earth each time we add an item to our belongings. Everything we take will eventually be given back again. Stepping into reciprocity has the effect of changing both how we see taking/throwing away and how we interact with our land. Much of what is involved in the framework of our modern society has made it confusing and difficult to fully and freely participate in a natural reciprocity. The laws of economics come more naturally to most of us than the laws of reciprocity. In fact, we often ignore reciprocity due to fear of negative economic consequences. Asking the earth for permission before building homes or spraying pesticides, for example, is not a custom in our current economic structure. It’s interesting to realize, however, that in the vastness of reciprocity, it would be an incorrect assumption to believe the earth would never say “yes” to a strip mall or would never say “no” to an ecosystem restoration project. Entering into reciprocity is entering into a deep state of humility and the unknown.
Global indigenous cultures have many specific traditions and ceremonies focused on aligning a community around the flow of reciprocity. Though specific tools, customs, and beliefs vary, all traditions of reciprocity come from the same universal truths. In our modern society, we don’t have to follow a particular ancient tradition to get it right. We too can make our own customs of reciprocity by weaving the reality of our modern world with these same universal truths. There is no coincidence that although they comprise less than 5% of the world population, indigenous cultures protect 80% of the earth's biodiversity A side effect of reciprocity is that it serves to maintain a community's resiliency.
In the 2000 Hopi Prophesy the Elders of the Hopi Nation brought forth some deep questions around our relationship with reciprocity in modern times:
"there are things to be considered…Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is your water?"
One could add, what happens to garbage after it goes into a landfill, or where do pesticides go after they are sprayed on weeds?
But the prophesy continues, reminding us that this is not personal, that we are to join together, and that "this could be a good time!"...and when the text continues "all that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration", we begin to see how the words "sacred" and "reciprocal" are really one in the same.
Living in deep connection and peace with each other and the earth is at the heart of all of our truest hearts desires. By exploring how we give and receive and staying open to new ways of seeing ourselves and our relationship with the earth, we can begin to step more firmly into this timeless state of abundance.
Hope Prophesy, June 8, 2000
We are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden. It is time to speak your truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
--Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000