Nina Simons: Cultivating Diversity, Intuition and Attention for Resilience

This was Co-Founder Nina Simon’s morning address to the 2017 Bioneers gathering. View the video of her talk here.

It doesn’t seem to matter how long any of us may have anticipated this – this time of cataclysmic climate chaos, escalating violence and infrastructure collapse.

After so many years of learning from brilliant Bioneers colleagues, how much of our civilization needed reinventing to avoid catastrophe, and recognizing the disastrous effects climate chaos would bring, and knowing ecological, economic, political and cultural systems would be under great stress – I have to admit, I still wasn’t ready.

You see, I had imagined it mostly in my mind. And I am increasingly called to notice where my intellect – much as I am thankful for it – without being flanked by my other ways of knowing, is simply not adequate to meeting the new realities we face.

On one level, I believe we were each born for this time, called to accelerate our learning.

But these times of upheaval, loss and uncertainty are causing me to re-assess my own inner resilience, and to question the readiness of my own capacities.

The serial, escalating threats have my heart racing, awakening within me a heightened awareness of my own mortality – but also an acute sense of awakened aliveness each day, seasoned with searing flashes of outrage. All of this seems to be calling me to meet this tidal wave of violence, destruction and uncertainty with a deepening resolve and fierce dedication – to co-create a world where Mother Earth is honored as primary and sacred, and where gender, racial and economic equity and restorative justice are the norm.

I’m also finding a deeper understanding about the primacy of our interdependence.

As I see it, our survival depends on reorienting our daily lives around mutualism, reciprocity and respect in relation to ourselves, each other, all of life’s creatures and elements, and the places where we live and love.

As we face these serial disasters, people often respond with a great desire to help each other.

When people are in shock or grief and trauma-stricken, perhaps we’re better able to feel the truth of our relatedness, of our innate kinship with each other. That experience of inter-being that reminds us that our fates are bound together.

How might we elicit that “golden rule” behavior, and transform our habits, laws and policies to reinforce it, not just when we’re in crises, but on an everyday basis?

Faced with ever more wildfires and floods, mudslides, earthquakes and hurricanes, and immigrants, refugees and evacuees fleeing with terror and trauma in so many places – while five men own as much wealth as all the rest of the billions of the world’s people combined – my animal body simultaneously cringes and recoils in fear, and is filled with a burning desire to take action.

I am trying to learn how to address trauma and increase resilience in myself, in those I care most deeply about, and in the communities I feel called to serve.

I’m realizing that nothing is going to be more important for us than this capacity for resilience. We need to build our ability to bounce back after disruption, and remain centered and resourceful after shocking events, because these events are increasing in frequency and scale.

As I’ve been attempting to develop my own resilience in community with the people I feel tied to and have felt called to work with, there are a few key pieces I’ve learned I need to cultivate:

1. Trusting my body, emotions and intuition;

2. Valuing diversity; and

3. Learning how to place my attention.

An ecological study showed that ecosystems with the greatest diversity of species are the fastest to recover after disruption, while monocultures, or areas with fewer kinds of species take much longer to rebound towards health.

I am convinced that the same holds true for us humans as well.

As a social species, any collective that combines multiple perspectives, orientations and ways of perceiving improves the group’s problem-solving abilities. Within ourselves, if we listen for guidance from our bodies and hearts’ emotions, as well as from our ancestors, intuition, nature and dreams, we may bring greater wisdom, context and flexibility to our interactions than if we’re guided solely by our mind’s planning and imagining.

In nature, the places of greatest fertility, innovation and invention are the places where two or more ecosystems meet.

Where differences collide, newness is born. And if we were ever in need of birthing a new world, now would be the time.

And the diversity we need to cultivate is not only about the colors of our skin, but reaches to the furthest starry edges of our human galaxy – it includes people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, backgrounds, disciplines and faiths.

It also includes people at all levels of financial well-being – as john powell recently noted: “there is one group that we systematically other today – with hugely damaging consequences – while hardly even realizing we are doing it. People living in poverty.”

In studies intended to surface peoples’ views about often-stereotyped groups, Americans consistently revealed a deep and distinct bias against poor people, considering them both unfriendly and incompetent. Turns out, as a unique subset of our culture, we often offer them neither our empathy nor our respect.

And yet, having been shaken out of the moneyed world, and forced to turn toward a relationship economy, where connections to community and the land and elements are the only safety net they may rely upon, some may have real wisdom to offer to us all.

These ecological and human-enhanced disasters know no pigeonholing, stereotypes or categorization, living in gated, monocultural communities won’t afford protection in the long term. I’m feeling called toward an ever-deepening commitment to standing together for justice, to the public face of love.

We are all in this together. An injury to one is an injury to all. We all have the same hearts, connective tissue and spines.

Our ultimate and inherent interdependence is palpable through our physical bodies, which are gifted with immense wisdom – to sense, to repair, to celebrate, to love and to discern.

As we fill our lungs and bodies with each others’ exhalations, since the Earth is a closed loop, and recirculates everything, the cup of tea we drink today may once have been Cleopatra’s bathwater.

My wise mother taught me that when I listen closely to my body, it never lies.

Sometimes, upon hearing a comment in a group that might offend or hurt someone,Though I may not be able to pinpoint what was ‘off’ about it with my ears or mind, I can feel it in the pit of my belly. I’m learning to say “My stomach just clenched. I wonder whether anyone may have feelings or concerns about what was just said?”

My body also and thankfully lets me know when it’s had enough of perpetual activity, of responding to others’ needs without checking in with my own, although I’ve become deeply patterned to override it.

Since turning 60, and entering my young elderhood, I’m learning to listen (better at least) when it calls me to rest.

The poet, David Whyte, describes this so well. He says:

REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also psychologically and physically. Rested, we are ready for the world…rested we care again for the right things…and the right people…in the right way. In rest we re-establish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too.

To move through this tumultuous time, I believe we must co-create safe spaces for our selves and each other to express the truths of what’s moving in our hearts…

Women have long been ridiculed and derided for being ruled by our emotions, but emotions are central to all human life.

If we learn to heed their messages, they can be our best guides. Without their wisdom, we’d have a dry and soul-less world.

We forsake feelings at our peril. As we become increasingly emotionally illiterate and relationally hobbled, we not only become lonesome and depressed, we forget to prioritize connection, organizing and coalition-building, and we lose our political struggles.

Even anger can be a positive force. It can be negative or corrupted as aggression, violence or rage, but in her brilliant book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren notes that in its purest form, anger is actually the body’s way of informing us that a boundary has been trespassed.

Unexpressed or stifled, emotions become toxic to our psyches.

Meant to surface so as to wash and purify us, they’re intended to circulate through their movement and expression our bodies’ real-time response to upsetting, exciting or stimulating events.

As the poet Nayyirah Waheed so elegantly says:

“Expect sadness


You expect rain


Cleanse you.”

And also:

“grieve, so that you can be free to feel something else.”

When I locate an opportunity to express how much anger and grief resides within me, (perhaps surrounded by trusted friends, in ritual, in a drum circle or alone in the woods), I am astounded at the volume and ferocity of sounds that emerge from within me.

Sometimes, when I realize I haven’t cried for some time, I’ll watch a soppy movie so that I feel permission to sit in the dark and weep. I feel cleaner, afterward, with more energy circulating throughout my body, and readier to face what comes.

I’m also learning to listen more attentively to the guidance that comes unbidden, sometimes from a dream, or as I awaken. Other times, a wild creature will visit my path, a rainbow will appear when I need reassurance, or a flash of inspiration whose source I do not know. I’m learning to ask for guidance from my ancestors, and to listen patiently for however they might respond.

My third key has been about exploring attention – choosing more intentionally where and how I invest it. Since energy follows attention, it’s my most valuable resource.  

The evening news and opining pundits have become more intriguing than most fiction, as the details and cast of characters in the seemingly limitless greed of the kleptocracy are revealed.

I notice my tendency to get mesmerized, to give over my attention to tracking this detective story. I’ve been trying to rein that hypnotic impulse in, select carefully where to direct my focus and spend more precious time protecting and cultivating my psyche’s well-being.

Lynn Twist suggests – in her Fundraising from the Heart seminar that what we appreciate, appreciates, and I’ve found it to be true, in nearly every area of my life.

Perhaps it’s a basic principle of relationships, that we might all do well to practice, as we all long to feel valued, attended to, and appreciated for the uniqueness that we bring.

And then there’s meditation, the practice of attending within. Long a reluctant, impatient and poor practitioner, I’m discovering the value of regularly and deeply turning my attention inward, to just listen, to check in with my multiple ways of knowing and see if anyone in the Council of Ninas has anything I need to listen for.

A writer and teacher of Relational Mindfulness, Deborah Eden Tull suggests that giving our selves the gift of our full attention is the subtlest form of self-love.

I’m finding that a few minutes, a couple of times a day is making a real difference. Strengthening my centeredness when I’m navigating choppy waters, deepening my capacity to listen and discern, and to receive guidance. As I walk this time when distraction and urgency seem to come at me from every direction,

and there’s so much more need than I can possibly address, the stillness that I am tending within me is aiding me in discerning what’s mine to do.

There is a gentle sense of self-acceptance – that’s causing me to feel kinder towards others, as I’m practicing it towards myself.

Somehow, intimate though it seems, it seems to me a key part of cultivating my own resilience, toward becoming a better change agent and co-creator of positive change. So I offer it humbly, in case it might prove useful to you.

This is my prayer:

May we cultivate resilience by listening

for the wolves’, owls’ and whales’ songs,

For the wind’s whispers and the waters’ ebbs and flows.

For the rustling leaves of aspen trees,

Who weather storms by holding each other, underground.

May will encounter each other anew, as sparks of stars,

  Each glowing with a particular radiance and light.

May we heed our bodies’ calls for cycles

Of listening for guidance and learning what’s needed,

Followed by engaged, purposeful and collaborative action.

And may we support each other in exquisite tending and self care.

May we develop our relational intelligence,

and kindle our kindness,

Giving the wild horses of our hearts

rein to lead,

As we remember the Earth who we were born from,

And that everyone – and all of life – is sacred, and relatives.

Again, Nayyirah Waheed, who suggests this:

1. rub honey into the night’s back.

2. make sure the moon is fed.

3. bathe the ocean.

4. warm sing the trees.

And she signs it:


Thank you.

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