If We Know Where to Look – Nina Simons

The following is a transcript of Bioneers Co-Founder Nina Simons’ presentation at Bioneers 2023.

It’s pretty obvious that we are living through a dramatically transformative and turbulent period. An old world and its systems are crashing. Revealing the corruption, complicity and cruelty that it’s long been built upon.

Violence and authoritarianism are on the rise all over the place; incredibly disruptive and manipulative technologies threaten to commercialize and upend every aspect of our work and social lives. And, of course, we are facing the mother of all crises—the climate catastrophe.

Sometimes it’s hard to see anything positive amidst all the chaos. 

But if we know where to look, and we turn our attention and energies to the world that’s being born, there is ample reason for hope. Dynamic social movements, visionaries, artists, entrepreneurs, innovators and doers of all kinds are developing new—and reclaiming ancient—frameworks, storylines and ways of living and being.

Our intention in inviting you here is to celebrate, connect and co-create a collective vision and embodied sense of what’s possible, to help us each to navigate effectively towards it.

We are standing at the threshold of a pivotal passage in the human experiment. To move from breakdown to breakthrough, the coming years will be decisive. The good news is that there are abundant opportunities for co-creativity and reimagining in every field of human endeavor.

And we have one awesome superpower on our side—the greatest teacher there is: Mother Life, or Nature. She has 3.8 billion years of adaptive evolution under her belt, and she shows us that thriving is possible for all life on Earth without poisoning the planet and shredding our ecosystems.

And, as a very young species, we must humble ourselves enough to emulate, respect, learn from and work with her. This of course is what Biomimicry urges us to do, As does Green Chemistry, and Permaculture – instead of perpetuating the matricidal and ultimately suicidal efforts to suppress, ravage and control her.

Many years ago, when Kenny was first awakening to the coming confluence of existential crises humanity was facing –with the increasing destruction of so many of the natural systems that all life depends upon—he began to learn about brilliant practitioners far ahead of their time in a wide variety of fields.

In domains ranging from biology to renewable energy to land management and environmental justice—and spanning the fields of psychology, regenerative farming, medicine, social equity, healing, politics, economics, and education—these people were designing and implementing real solutions to many of the most pressing challenges we faced.

But they didn’t know about each other’s work; the world definitely didn’t know enough about them; and their work certainly wasn’t getting the support it merited. Kenny came to call them “bioneers”—biological pioneers who looked to nature as mentor and partner—not as resource.

Together, we decided we would create a space where cross-pollination and communication of the most promising solutions could lead to the wider dissemination of these fertile seeds and spores into the larger world.

And, living in northern New Mexico, a heartland of ancient First Peoples on Turtle Island, he recognized immediately that Traditional Native cultures were the original bioneers.

The ecological wisdom to be found in many of the world’s Indigenous traditions offers the most sophisticated understanding of humanity’s truest relationship to the tapestry of life. They remind us that we’re just one part of the symphony and not the heroic, macho, know-it-all conductor.

Traditional cultures also offer some of the wisest counsel on how to be a good human being, on how to live in right relationship. So that has been foundational to our worldview and mission from the start.

Another core theme that informs everything we do is our deep commitment to diversity as key to resilience. In the natural world, the most biodiverse ecosystems have the greatest array of options to adapt to and survive challenges, threats and constant change. The same, of course, is true in human societies. Nurturing diversity (in all its forms) is not a way to be virtuous. It’s a prerequisite for our survival.

And it’s not only a diversity of ethnicities, faiths, abilities, identities, classes, cultures, generations and professions that we need to draw upon, but also a wide array of ideas and perspectives, a whole spectrum of genius and skills. We are going to need everyone’s uniqueness and particular talents to improve our chances of succeeding and thriving.

This of course includes restoring women and girls and the receptive or female archetype—which exists in us each and all—to a place of balance within ourselves, our systems, and throughout our world.

To me, there’s tremendous promise in the increasing connecting and coalition-building I’m starting to see among diverse women and girls with youth, elders and non-binary people of all colors, backgrounds and classes. Since all of us have experienced being marginalized, othered, or under-valued, and so many have experienced hardship, violence or abuse, we’ve strengthened, honed and refined a willingness to stand firm on behalf of Life and say: Enough! Basta! Or (as they yell in the movie Network): We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!

And we have insisted from the get-go that environmental and social justice issues are all one notion: Indivisible, inseparable and interdependent.

Over the years, Bioneers has grown into a community of leadership in a time that the Earth asks us all to be leaders—Leaders who can whole-heartedly bring our love, skills and devotion to reinventing, reclaiming or protecting some aspect of our world. Leaders who lift each other up, who listen deeply and share power. Who practice deep relational intelligence, reciprocity and respect, in co-creative community, for the good of the whole.

Moving here to the East Bay this year, there is such a rich landscape of extraordinarily inspired and effective local people, institutions, enterprises and organizations we’ve been fortunate to partner with.

Their support and collaboration have been invaluable. We’ve never been welcomed in a place like this before, and many of these allies are co-producing and presenting in sessions over the coming days, where their brilliance will be on full display.

Bioneers has become a sort of ever-evolving network of networks where engaged people come to compare notes, to connect, and to nourish and renew their hearts, minds and visions. It’s a big tent, and those within it don’t always agree with each other about everything, but it’s got a life of its own, and we’ve been privileged to help midwife and steward its evolution, and to have been along for quite an amazing ride. We invite you all to join us, and each other, on that magic carpet.

But I must also name another core value that has been central to my own personal learning journey: that is the need to re-balance the inner and outer dimensions of the human experience, and to reclaim the value of all of our ways of knowing. To listen for the wisdom of the heart, the body and the spirit or intuition, as well as the brain. 

These last years I’ve been deepening these dimensions inside myself, and also in my own personal relationship with the sacred land that supports us, and the unseen world. Because without also altering our internal stories, habits and beliefs, and working to un-earth and heal the deep traumas and implicit biases that our psyches and bones have absorbed through time, our attempts at external systems and behavioral change may fail.

A daily sitting practice offers me an inner stillness—A calm lake bathed in moonlight—That I turn my attention to often these days. I’ve been able to dig my roots down deep, to localize, and feel grateful for my sacred partnerships with Kenny, and the creatures, plants and the land we are blessed to tend.

Mother Life is holding me accountable for improving how well I live by lessons that I’ve been teaching. I’m practicing listening inwardly before saying yes, and remembering that the feminine within me thrives in spaciousness.

Ancient cultures treasured their storytellers, their poets, singers and artists more than anyone, for good reason.

To find our way to a saner world we too need far more compelling stories, ones that celebrate the interdependence and sacredness of the entire web of life and that remind us how to invest in, value and respect relationships far more than things.

Our beloved board member john a. powell would call it a world that moves from othering to belonging.

This is the lifelong quest to weave our world anew, to re-write the plot of the horror story we have been sold; to begin to repair its harms as best we’re able, and to reimagine it as the most inspiring love story ever told.

May we learn to collaborate in lieu of competing,

To let go of being right in service to being curious,

To practice humility, kindness and mutual mentoring—

And to be accountable for the ongoing self-cultivation

That can strip away conditioning that keeps us small and complicit.

May we feel the updraft of winds under our wings,

The mycelial networks holding us from beneath the Earth,

And may our roots entwine to hold us stable

through the coming storms.

         May the tears for our losses wash us clean and fresh, and

May the glowing embers of our devotion sustain our passions.

May our guides and our ancestors aid us

to help heal our relations with our selves,

each other and the Earth.

It’s all alive.

It’s all connected.

It’s all intelligent.

It’s all relatives.

Thank you.

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