#218 On Nature, Culture and The Sacred with Elder and Visionary, Nina Simons
How do we renew our relationships with ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our hearts – that will allow us to connect with the web of life in ways that are generative at all levels?
“Consciousness creates matter,
Language Creates Reality,
Ritual creates relationship.”
Oscar Miro-Quesada quoted by Nina Simons in her book Nature, Culture and the Sacred
One of the extraordinary privileges of hosting a podcast like this is that I get to talk to some of my heroes, to ask questions, to have a conversation about the things that really matter. This week’s guest is one of these. Nina Simons is an author, a leader – and we’ll hear how that word was imposed on her and then she learned to embody it, she’s a visionary in the deepest sense, and I would say, in a world that is crying out for the wisdom of elders, she is an elder, a wisdom-bearer, someone who has brought deep humility and authenticity to the whole of her life. In more outward terms, in 1990, she co-founded Bioneers, which started off as a conference and has grown into one of the foremost trailblazers of the movement for a whole and healed earth. On the website it says ‘We act as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.’
Nina is also a writer. She’s a co-author of MoonRise: the Power of Women Leading from the Heart and then more recently, she wrote Nature, Culture and the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership, which is the kind of book that opens new doors, it’s got the crackle of authenticity and the deep wisdom of someone who really does listen, to the earth, to other elders, to her own body, who has the capacity to walk the earth, asking, ‘what wants to come through me?’ without presuming to know the answer and then the integrity to write what comes. And what came in that particular walk was this: “This is no time for small talk. This is a time for mythmaking. This is a time for epic poetry. This is a time to tell the tales that will become our compass for the days ahead. ” So, with this as our guiding light, please enjoy the conversation.
Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all worked together, us and the web of life, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller in this journey into possibility. And one of the extraordinary privileges of hosting a podcast like this is that I get to talk to some of my heroes, to ask questions, to have a conversation about the things that really matter. How cool is that? And this week’s guest is definitely one of these. Nina Simons is an author, a leader, and you’ll hear quite soon how that word was given to her, maybe even imposed on her. And then she learned to embody it and how she did that is worth hearing. Because Nina is a visionary in the deepest sense. And I would say also, in a world that is crying out for the wisdom of elders, that she is an elder, a wisdom bearer, someone who has brought deep humility and authenticity to the whole of her life. She listens, she asks, and she does her best knowing that it is her best. Throughout this podcast, through all of the Accidental Gods work, we are looking for ways to help people, to help you, find your place in the web of life, where you can be all that you can be, the best that you can be, where you can be what only you can be in service to the web.
And Nina does this and her ideas and explanations of how she gets there, I think will make this one of the podcasts that’s worth re-listening to. In more outward terms, in 1990 Nina was one of the co-founders of Bioneers, which started off as a conference and in the last 34 years has grown into one of the foremost trailblazers of whatever we are going to call this movement for a whole and healed earth, with us living as an integral part of it. On the website it says of Bioneers: We act as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators, with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. So if you haven’t come across them, please do. And they also have an amazing podcast called What Could Possibly Go Right? Which is definitely worth a listen. Nina is also a writer. She’s co-author of Moonrise The Power of Women Leading from the heart, and then more recently, she wrote Nature, Culture and the Sacred; A Woman Listens for leadership, which is the kind of book that opens new doors.
It has that crackle of authenticity and the deep wisdom, as I already said, of somebody who really does listen to the earth, to other elders, to her own body, and who has the capacity to walk on the earth asking ‘what wants to come through me?’ without presuming to know the answer. And then she has the integrity to write what comes. And what came from that particular walk was, this is no time for small talk. This is a time for myth making. This is a time for epic poetry. This is a time to tell the tales that will become our compass for the days ahead. And if the earth wants us to know this, and if Nina is able to write this, then it is up to us to be able to hear this and to make it happen. And that’s where this conversation took us. So with this as our guiding light, people of the podcast, please do welcome Nina Simons of Bioneers.
Nina, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is such an honour to be speaking to the person who was the co-founder of Bioneers. I’ve been listening, following since the internet was born, it seems, your work. So thank you for taking time out. Where are you today? Because you’re normally in New Mexico and you’re travelling.
Nina: It’s true. Manda I am in New York City today. I am in the apartment of my mother in law who is 103 and a half.
Nina: It was kind of a last minute emergency. We thought we should come visit and here I am.
Manda: Goodness. Is she okay?
Nina: She is. She’s remarkable.
Manda: 103 and a half!
Nina: Yes. Every single physician she sees wants to ask all her secrets.
Manda: Yeah, absolutely. We want to sample her microbiome! It’s my latest discovery is, you know, microbiome and endorphins and… Wow. Gosh. Right. Well, that’s a whole other podcast. Let’s not go there just now because that would be a whole other podcast. Let’s go back a little bit in your history. There are very specific areas I want to get into, but let’s give people a little bit of a situating biography of how you came to be the person who is the co-founder of Bioneers, and then how you came to be the person who wrote a book that’s gone into a second edition, which doesn’t happen to many of us: Nature, Culture and the Sacred and particularly the the kind of subtitle of A Woman Listens for Leadership. Can you tell us briefly how you got to there?
Nina: Sure Manda. Let’s see. Well, I grew up in New York City. I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico when I was in my mid to late 20s. And there, after a few years of seeking, I met the man who was to become my husband and partner in life, Kenny Ausubel. And, uh, we began working together almost immediately. He was finishing a documentary film about the politics of cancer therapy. So I was very moved by the subject matter of his film because he’d been working on it for four years when we met. And people would call him at all hours of the day and night from all over the world and say ‘I’ve just been diagnosed and I heard on the grapevine that you know about alternatives and can you talk to me?’
Manda: Can you tell me what will heal me? Which is hard.
Nina: Exactly. Which you know, of course, as a non-doctor you can’t really do. But I was so moved by their plight, and it became clear to me that this film was really important. And so I worked with him on finishing it and marketing it, and we had quite a bit of success. Although, you know, documentary films never make money, but we did have it screened for members of Congress, which led to the founding of something called the Office of Technology Assessment. And it was screened on HBO and Cinemax to the highest viewer response they’d ever seen. So, that was exciting.
Manda: Is it on YouTube now?
Nina: No, I’m not sure if it’s available now. It’s called Hoxsey When Healing Becomes a Crime, and he subsequently wrote a book that was kind of an update on it in the early 90s. It’s a brilliant exposé of the history of cancer therapy treatments and also of the conventional medical establishment’s treatment of alternatives, which in many ways parallels many of our ecological challenges now. In many ways, Kenny really helped politicise me, I think, and radicalised me. And he was invited to film a garden in southern New Mexico and I went with him, imagining I was going for a weekend in the country and received the most extraordinary tour through this garden from the master gardener, who had been growing it. His name was Gabriel Howarth, and he had been studying native species and gathering plant biodiversity for many years. So this was a biodiversity garden, which was something I’d never seen. Most of us haven’t.
Manda: No, but we need them now, it’s becoming a big thing.
Nina: We sure do. We needed them then, and we need them even more now, exactly. So we walked through this garden and Gabriel introduced us to every plant, and he introduced us using the Latin name and the common name. And then he explained how it was related to all the plants around it. And I began to realise that this man knew these plants better than many people know their own families. And it was just a sensual rapture that I fell into. It was the most glorious assortment of colours and shapes and smells, and there were butterflies and pollinators flying all over, and there were eight feet tall sunflowers that seemed to follow us as we walked through the garden. And then he invited us to taste. And the tastes were just incredible. You know, there was quinoa and amaranth. This was in the late 80s, and no one had ever heard of quinoa and amaranth back then.
Manda: And these are growing in a living soil, because a lot of the industrially grown quinoa and amaranth now are basically blotting paper. This is what everyone who does regenerative farming says the taste is what we evolved for.
Nina: Exactly. And as we walked and tasted and my senses were just dancing, he explained to us that the reason he was cultivating this garden was to stem the loss of biodiversity.
Manda: In the 80s. Wow!
Nina: In the late 80s.
Manda: Is it still there?
Nina: No, but it’s all evolved in many ways. But there were hundreds and hundreds of varieties growing in very close proximity, and he was growing them for seeds. He explained that all these little mom and pop companies and indigenous communities that had cultivated varieties for their taste and their nutrition and their hardiness, were all getting gobbled up by multinational seed companies. And that we were in serious jeopardy of losing the biodiversity that life on Earth and certainly the human species are reliant on. And so by the time I walked out of that garden, Manda, I felt like the spirit of the natural world tapped me on the shoulder and said, you’re working for me now. And I was utterly flabbergasted, because I didn’t know anything about gardening.
Manda: Because you’d been in theatre before this.
Nina: I’d been in theatre. Exactly. Acting and directing and stage managing. But I didn’t know about growing a business, I didn’t know anything about gardening or farming. And I jumped in with both feet, because the call was unmistakeable.
Manda: And was it both of you? Was Kenny called at the same time or was he already on that path? Nina: Well I think it’s sort of more complicated than that. Kenny actually partnered with Gabriel to create a company called Seeds of Change.
Manda: Right. Good man. Well done.
Nina: And I became the the marketing director and later the president of this fledgling company called Seeds of Change and worked like crazy at it for five years. During the course of which we both were on very steep learning curves about biodiversity and gardening and farming and how to market these seeds and how to turn this into a viable business. So in the middle of that time, Kenny was researching a great deal about bioremediation, which listeners may know is the science of using natural systems to detoxify the air and soil and water. And he was discovering that there were amazing innovators who were doing incredible work, but that no one knew about them. And one day he was lamenting that fact to a friend in a hot tub. And the friend said, why don’t you start a conference? And Kenny said, I’ve never been to a conference it sounds boring. Why would I do that? And the friend said, here’s a grant, go start a conference.
Manda: A grant of $10,000. It wasn’t just a £500, it was a serious grant.
Nina: It was. And Kenny came to me because of my theatre background. I too had never been to a conference, so we didn’t have to unlearn any of the, you know, weird academia influenced, ponderous things that conferences typically are. We created a conference like no other starting in 1990 called Bioneers. At first Manda, I thought it might be too sciencey for me, because I was not a science girl, or I didn’t think of myself that way. And I remember sitting there with my mouth just hanging open, because I was astonished at the brilliance of the people who were speaking. And I realised I could use my communication skills to support their leadership and their voices getting out there more widely. And so that was how we began and then over the course of the last 35 years, believe it or not, I’ve grown into my own voice and my own vision, which is how I got to this book. Which I could pause for a minute and see if you want to go somewhere else, or shall I tell the quick story of the book?
Manda: Tell the quick story of the book, because I have so many notes and questions. In telling the story of the book, I’m really interested, well, I’m interested in all of it, but what you just said about communication and leadership. If you can expand on those areas. But also somebody in your past, I think an astrologer, said you were a culture doctor. And if you can weave that in, I mean, we could take that up later, but I would like to really dive deep into that. Because it feels to me we need culture doctors now more probably than we need actual doctors. That. But let’s let’s do a little bit about the book and see where we get to with that.
Nina: Spoken like a culture doctor yourself, my friend. It was an astrologer and her name is Caroline Casey, and she’s a very interesting astrologer because she weaves political and all kinds of scientific information into her astrological talks. And she was the one who said that when she looked at my chart. So let’s see. Well, as I found my voice, first I should say I had a revelatory experience in the mid-nineties when I saw a film called The Burning Times. It completely, reframed how I saw the events of human history and what was so awry in our world and what was really wrong with our civilisation. And what happened for me was The Burning Times, I would highly recommend anyone watch it, it’s only about an hour. And it’s a little dated, but it’s still an incredibly important story that tells the 300 or so year old history of when somewhere between 50,000 and several million women were systematically tortured and persecuted and burned for the supposed crime of being witches.
Manda: Basically for being women, actually at a time when that wasn’t a good thing to be.
Nina: Yes. And the Catholic Church was ascendant, and this was part of their dominator strategy, and it was very effective. And I think there were correlative events that happened in different nations all around the world. But throughout Europe, seven generations of children saw their mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers persecuted. And this film dove me into a realm of research to understand how accurate it was and how many systems in our society’s cultures were affected by it. And what I discovered, Manda, which blew my mind, was that the economy of Europe was transformed through the burning times. At the beginning of the burning Times, women owned more resources and wealth than men did, and by the end, the men had it. The practice of medicine and midwifery and healing transferred from the purview of women to the purview of men. The practice of spirituality and religion really transferred. And the relationship to land was transformed. So land went from the commons to the enclosure movement, right? So I was just amazed and I thought, oh, this is one of the root causes of what’s wrong in the world, is that there is an imbalance not only between men and women, but between everything that we perceive as associated with the masculine or the young parts of ourselves, and the yin, the feminine.
Nina: The masculine tends to be overvalued and the feminine tends to be undervalued. So suddenly gender became a major focus of my work. And not only in terms of our embodied forms, but in terms of the archetypal principles of masculine and feminine and how they needed to be rebalanced. And so I began programming for the conference to talk about that. And soon after I was acknowledged for my leadership in a magazine here in the US. And I hated it. I knew I was supposed to be flattered, but instead I felt like I wanted to deflect it. I wasn’t sure it was a title I had earned. I felt like it painted a target on my back, and it wasn’t something that I had ever aspired to. And so I began this inquiry about leadership, because I had this amazing opportunity through Bioneers to study leaders and to learn from them.
Manda: Because you were inviting leaders to speak and so you had close connection with the people who showed up.
Nina: Exactly. And each year for the past 35 years, we’ve had more than 100 leaders from every walk of life, from every discipline and every generation, coming together. Who are innovators inspired by nature, to speak at our annual conference. And so I became this student of leadership. And my first book was called Moonrise The Power of Women and Some Men Leading from the heart. And this next book, well, I should say, each year I have the opportunity to address the main stage, the large theatre at the conference, which is an awesome responsibility and scares the heck out of me every single year.
Manda: How many people are there in the audience? How many are you looking out at?
Nina: Well about 2000.
Manda: Okay, that’s a serious sea of faces staring up at you, expecting you to be a genius.
Nina: Exactly. And they’re all geniuses themselves, or at least many of them are. And so I had to disabuse myself of the idea that I had to be a genius, actually, it’s funny that you used that word. Because I realised that my gift was in helping people to feel and to recognise and to enter into their whole experience of being-ness. And so each year I wrote a talk and the first edition of the book, which I published with our mutual friend Jennifer Browdy, in her wonderful Green Fire press.
Manda: Jennifer is a thrutopian listeners. She’s a really cool person. And she publishes your book, which I didn’t realise until after I knew her. So it’s grand we have this commonality.
Nina: It’s so great. So the first book was just a combination of all of my talks. And when I had the opportunity to create a second book, I realised that for about 20 years I’d been convening diverse women who are leaders to connect across difference, to explore and be able to reclaim leadership as we are reinventing it now. And to accelerate each other’s leadership development through their connection. And so the second book, when I had the chance to do a second, I realised, oh my gosh, I can put in discussion guides and embodied practices and really kind of bring together these two aspects of my life that had been fairly segregated before then. So that’s the evolution of the book. Sorry it was long winded.
Manda: No, no, it’s grand because it gives us so many kicking off points. The most recent question that is most alive for me in this moment is how do you feel about being labelled as a leader now? Does it still feel like a target on your back, or have you reframed your concept of leadership and yourself within that?
Nina: I think I have reframed my concept of leadership and myself. I think that through a lot of years, a lot of practice and a lot of work, often in collaboration with women who are gathered together to do those trainings and the deep dives. One of the things I knew from Bioneers Manda was that the earth is calling us all to be leaders now. Part of what prompted me to really head into this inquiry was to say, if we all need to accept a mantle of leadership, we need to change our definition. I wish I had another word, but so far what I’ve come to understand is that leadership, like activism, has many, many more definitions than our culture may have given us. When I unpacked why I had that initial reaction when I was first called a leader, I realised that I had inherited a definition that said leaders are dominators, leaders are hierarchical. They lead from the front of the room. They often have authority that someone has given them, rather than an inner authority.
Manda: Or authority they have taken quite often.
Nina: Exactly. Yes. Or inherited. Or they’ve got a title that gives them authority, a false authority, really. And they tend in our inherited definition, to not treat others respectfully and kindly and compassionately and lovingly, and to not encourage others leadership because their ego tends to be threatened by it. So what I realised was, no, the leader I want to be and I want to inspire others to be, is one who lifts others up. Is one who celebrates the gifts in every person right, and who is not at all threatened by not knowing the answer and looking to others for guidance, and being open and vulnerable at the same time as being able to stand clearly in the truth of my convictions when I need to.
Manda: Beautiful. If it wasn’t that we had another 40 minutes or so I would stop there, because that is worth just pausing to let that sink in to people. Because that, that’s the culture doctor in you. Is the capacity to stand in your own integrity and your own authenticity and in your own heart. It seems to me that there’s a lot of heart work where by being full hearted, strong hearted, open hearted, clear hearted, in our own integrity and our own authenticity, we allow that of others. And there is a whole aspect of being able to be vulnerable and not having to have the answers. First of all, does that sit with you? But I’d like to take it a step further. So this is pushing to the edges of where I’m thinking at the moment. I led a course yesterday. We had 100 people and we were exploring integrity, selfhood, our own narratives that tell us what we are and who we are. It seems to me that 2024 is going to be the year of tipping points, where the mainstream is no longer going to be able to tell us that business as usual is a possibility.
Manda: By this time next year that has to have gone. And then we are going to be looking at this co-leadership of how do we step forward into something different that isn’t collapse? And one of the keys a friend of mine, Della Duncan, brought a phrase when we were at Schumacher, which was that each of us is seeking that place where our heart’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. And that seemed to me a really succinct and beautiful kind of little internal Venn diagram, and that you found that in the garden that you were telling us about, and that you’ve been living it ever since. And that perhaps, this is the beginning of a question, the sense of co-leadership that you are embodying and that you’re helping other people to find, comes from people who have found that intersection: heart’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. And that helping people to find that in a way that isn’t ego led, might I would propose, help us move forward.
Manda: One last thing. It seems to me that part of the schism, I think we’re going to unpick the masculine and feminine and that we all embody both and that when you were first doing this, non-binary wasn’t considered an option even. And now it’s right there in the middle of the tracks. But that part of the moving into the dominance and control part of our Palaeolithic emotions is the sense that we have to have all the answers. That everything is linear and that if we move lever A and lever B, with the right strength and the right order, we will create outcome C, which will take us to exactly where we want to go. And this is in defience of all possible experience. That this is not actually the way the world works, but it’s the way it can be set up to appear to work. So with your experience, how can we help people to reach the place where their heart’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need, if you agree that that’s a useful kind of shorthand for finding our own authenticity, without feeling that we have to know the answers of where we’re going? Does that make sense as a question?
Nina: Sure. There are several things that I could say Manda, but the first is that my Venn diagram tends to have a third part. The heart’s greatest joy, I totally agree with and your particular gifts and talents meets a need that actually ignites your heart’s greatest joy. Because the world’s greatest joy can fall into the bias toward bigness, which I think is a trap. The world has many great needs, and they span every area of human activity, I would suggest. And in fact, beyond every area of human activity. They span everything into our relationship with the non-human world and the more than human world and the invisible world. So for me, it’s about finding that very particular niche. You know, part of what I’ve learned from ecology is that every species has an exact niche. And I think that’s true for us as humans. That we each have a very specific assignment and we don’t we don’t want to lump ourselves in with everybody else. One of the leadership skills that I have been working to cultivate is a balance between humility and knowing what I’m good at and what my value is. And I think if it’s possible to walk with those two in honest equilibrium then we can bring our gifts to the world. One of the wisest things that I would offer for listeners that a therapist once said to me, is pay exquisite attention to what makes your flame grow brighter.
Nina: And you have to pay exquisite attention, because sometimes it comes and goes very fast, and you might feel it in your belly or in your heart or in your intuition. But, you know, there’s this little spark that lights up when you encounter something that is really meant for you. And I think that in combination with actually a clear eyed assessment of what are you really good at? Which oftentimes other people can reflect to you better than you can to yourself. Which is one of the many reasons we need each other and to cultivate community. And for me, part of my gift is translating my personal experience into universal offerings, into transpersonal offerings. Another part of healing my relationship to myself, and this has to do with accepting the title of leadership, of being a leader, is that I’ve done a lot of inner healing work. This has to do with the Culture Doctor moniker as well. I realised that, for example, when I got out of the shower in the morning and looked at my body in the mirror, I’d have all these voices go off saying, ah, your butt is too fat, your tummy is too round. All those things that you know are so prevalent in our culture. And I realised as I embarked on this very conscious process of self cultivation, that I was doing violence to myself every time I did that.
Nina: And so I created a ritual to heal it. And the ritual that I created was mixing a body oil, a skin oil with essential oils, the scent of which I loved. So that when I got out of the shower in the morning, I would spend just 3 or 5 minutes oiling my body. And as I did, I would intentionally pour love into my body. I would thank it for all the ways it supports me. I would thank it for its strengths. I would thank it for its endurance and just pour love into it. And eventually I began to notice those voices quieted down. So there is something about healing that inner voice of self limitation and judgement that so many of us have inherited, from a culture that is a scarcity culture, in essence and also has that masculine feminine imbalance and bias, so that we can embrace our human wholeness. And I think with all that work, it helped me to say, yeah, I’m comfortable now being a leader. And I’m so grateful I’ve grown into it in a way that I can claim. And recognising that leadership, I think parenting is one of the most profound forms of leadership anyone ever does. But does our culture recognise it as that? Well, not so much yet.
Manda: Does it even support it? Not so much yet. And also it takes a village to raise a child, but we still expect two people or even one person to be able to do it, which is manifestly insane.
Nina: And then there’s caregiving and teaching and all these other practices that require tremendous skill and are not honoured as leadership that they are.
Manda: Yeah. Gosh, we could have a whole podcast on why is it that the blokes who play Ponzi schemes with money get paid in giant yachts, and the people who look after people get paid in small unshelled peanuts. But let’s not go there just now, because there’s so much else that I want to talk about. And this really brings us to… You had a quote in your book from Oscar Miro Quesada: ‘consciousness creates matter, language creates reality, and ritual creates relationship’. And so if I was hearing you right, you recreated your relationship with your own body by creating a ritual. Did you do that in response to what Oscar had told you? And can you tell us a little bit, unpick that experience a bit more?
Nina: Yes. Well, it happened maybe 20 years ago when I was in a year long leadership training. And Oscar Miro Quesada was brought in as a guest lecturer, and he performed a ritual that was about eight hours long. It began at 8 p.m. at night, and it lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning. And at the very end of this ritual, it was very elaborate, and he comes from a a deep Peruvian tradition. And at the very end of it he said, if you remember only one thing from this experience, remember this. And he said those nine words, and I remembered them deeply and have reflected upon them ever since. And in fact brought them into the women’s leadership immersion trainings that we did for 20 years. So they were part of the structural premise of what we designed, was the recognition that consciousness creates matter; we have to see things in our minds and imagine them before they actually manifest. Which David Bohm’s work is all about supporting as well.
Manda: The physicist David Bohm. Yes.
Nina: And language creates reality, which is why the history books have failed us. And where we’ve got so many new history books coming up now with new realities being unveiled all the time. And ritual creates relationship. And so, you know, what I’ve learned is that it’s so easy to invent a ritual and anyone can do it and all it takes is a few minutes every day. But holding yourself rigorously accountable to doing it every single day. And I learned through my practices that every time, about six weeks in, my sceptical mind would say is this really horseshit? Is anything really changing? And then I would tell myself, no, you have to see it through. And I would keep going. And some weeks after I would notice a change in myself.
Manda: Yes and our culture is so disneyfied to the snap your fingers, magical things happen instantly that being prepared to give it the time. And I probably don’t have as deep an experience as you, but within my experience, if you give it the time I get to the point where there’s a self-reinforcing, almost addiction to doing whatever it is. I have gratitude rituals, connecting to the web of life and the spirits that I work with, that I would feel broken now if I didn’t do them, because they are so woven into the beingness of who I am. And as you said, it’s changed the nature of my heart space. So why would I not do it? But our culture hasn’t primed us for that. And you’re right, the sceptical voice that is always there going, really? What are you doing? You could be scrolling Facebook, why are you doing this? Yeah. Thank you.
Nina: Well, and I love how neurobiology and various sciences continually are reinforcing this. Yes. To me, they’re often telling us what we already intuitively know, but it’s so reassuring to have a science backup.
Manda: Especially if you’re slightly scientific. Yes. What fires together, wires together. Once you know that! I went through decades of therapy and I finally read this and I went back to my therapist the next week and said, this is what we’re doing: We are rewiring my neuroplasticity. We are firing new things to wire new things. Why did you not tell me this before? And she looked at me and she said, you didn’t ask. And I think, what else have I not asked about that I would really want to have known about 20 years from now. Please tell me now. So anyway, different therapist now. Can we unpick, I know we have limited time and there’s other things that I want to get to, but this feels absolutely crucial. What Oscar said, I have an ancillary question, which is do you remember anything else from the eight hour ceremony other than those nine words?
Nina: Oh, yeah.
Manda: Okay, good. So consciousness creates matter. Language creates reality. Ritual creates relationship. Top line: consciousness creates matter. It seems to me that there are quite a lot of people on the internet with brilliant Californian teeth who are promising people that they can manifest whatever they want. I read a Jamie Weil blog just before Christmas where he and his wife, he’s in Colorado, had gone to separate meetings, the men’s meeting and the women’s meeting. We can talk about gender later. And the woman leading the women’s meeting had announced to the group that because she was worth it, she was going to manifest for herself a private jet. For those of you who can’t see, Nina looked a little bit unhappy about that.
Manda: I was blisteringly angry. I had spent a year running an intention workshop online, and I went to them all and said, if you guys start manifesting private jets, you have to leave. I am not teaching you anymore because the world does not need, you know, your heart’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need; The world does not need you to have a private jet. I don’t care how worth it you feel you are. And yet, I absolutely believe that human intention, cleanly and clearly honed, is the single most powerful force in the universe. One of them. Okay, my guides are looking at me a bit askance there. It’s one of the very powerful forces in the universe. It is incredibly powerful. It would potentially be possible to manifest for oneself a private jet, if you practice doing that stuff enough. It would also be an extremely bad idea as far as I can tell. Sorry, I’m feeling ranty. But how do we get across to people, how do you get across to people, that that is a reality: Consciousness creates matter. Language creates reality. We are walking ourselves into the future that we have prefigured, and not have it that that future is full of private jets for the few people, and misery and destitution for the people we don’t even notice exist, because we’re too busy focusing on the bright, flashy lights and primary colours and happy, glitzy stuff that we think we want. How do you get through that? How do you negotiate that line? Or is it not a line that arrives in your world?
Nina: You know, it doesn’t tend to show up in my world that often.
Manda: Okay, well done you.
Nina: Partly because the people I work with are often people who are working for social justice or racial equity. They’re people who already share a vision of the world we want, to some extent. And I think there is a widespread understanding within my Bioneers sphere of influence that consumerism is not the way forward. That money is not the answer. Reimagining economy, on the other hand, is a good idea, butclearly we are moving from an I culture to a We culture. And for me that means you can’t witness what’s going on in the left West Bank or Pakistan, without feeling for the people who are who are being slaughtered there and made refugees. And the recognition that as climate change is nearing its tipping point, really, and beyond a state of emergency, that we actually have to claim our own inner authority to demand change in big enough numbers. And for me, my most hopeful vision has to do with the movements in the world that share common values, being able to align together, to actually collaborate, to demand the change that we know is so urgently needed. So that those, the politicians I don’t think are really the ones in power at this point. I think it’s the corporations, you know and the billionaires.
Manda: Well, the billionaires own the corporations. That’s how they got to be billionaires. We have the best democracy money can buy. I can’t remember who said that, but it’s brilliant. It’s not democracy, it’s a kleptocracy. And so the book that I was talking about before we started is my attempt to work out how do we peacefully get through that? Because they will not listen to us demanding change. Millions of people marched against the Iraq war, and Tony Blair ignored them completely because he didn’t have to listen. Holding people to account is an interesting question. That’s a whole other podcast. Power to the people with wisdom and wisdom to the people with power and changing the nature of power is something we have to get to. A step before that, though, is something that you just alluded to, which is there seemed to me, and I’m sure you’re the same, that I’m invited to speak on yet another zoom call to yet another group of really well-intentioned people. And I’m saying broadly the same, as I said to another group last week. And I will say to another group next week, and they’re not talking to each other.
Manda: And we, on whatever we consider to be the side that’s wanting to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us, seem to be very good at fragmenting. With Bioneers you have an umbrella, in a way. You have a way to bring lots and lots of disparate people together, and then they can go out to their separate units. I’m very taken by Ilya Prigogine’s statement that when a system trends towards chaos, small islands of coherence in the sea of chaos can lead to emergence. But those small islands only lead to emergence if they begin to coalesce. Do you have a sense of how we can begin that process of bringing the disparate groups to talk to each other? In a world where a lot of people are zoomed out and don’t have a lot of spare bandwidth. They’re too busy organising their own little kind of echo chamber. Have you got a feeling within Bioneers of how you make the talking happen?
Nina: Yes. Well, it’s an ongoing experiment. I can’t honestly say that we’ve completely found the solution, but we do very mindfully bring people together in a context that says that everyone is welcome, that everyone belongs. We offer a great deal of scholarships to people to attend, so that it’s not all one class, but it’s many classes of people. We also have a profound and growing indigeneity program. And our last year’s conference had people from 125 different native nations, throughout Turtle Island, attending in the middle of this multicultural gathering. But it’s a place where indigenous wisdom is centred in a way that values honesty and authenticity and discourages binaries and encourages listening. I mean, I think for me, some of the answers to what you’re asking Manda have to do with rebalancing the yin and the yang in us. Because I think some of those tendencies to move fast, to always think we have to have the answers, to follow a linear course, I believe, are relics of patriarchy. Which is not to say that planning is bad, but as they say, you know, we plan and God laughs. That the way to encourage a space where connections are primary is to name the differences. I think there’s a whole essay on this in the book, and a bunch of practices that come out of that essay is to name the differences that exist, honestly, so that people hear the truth of what they’re experiencing. And to encourage connection, but also to encourage curiosity and listening more than speaking. I think it may be a relic of white supremacy culture that we tend to talk so much more than we listen, or the combination of white supremacy and colonialism and patriarchy. Who knows?
Manda: Yeah, it’s what Alnoor used to call the trauma culture as opposed to the initiation culture and it just encompasses all of that. And it goes back thousands of years.
Nina: Yeah. And we all have trauma in our history. I mean, human history is just riddled with horrifying violence and othering. So we partner quite closely with a group called the Othering and Belonging Institute.
Manda: I want to talk to them please!
Nina: Oh they’re wonderful. Well, John Powell is their founder and he’s amazing. And he says that people reach a point, when change is coming up too fast for people to assimilate, they reach a choice point. And in the US, our demographics are changing faster than people can cope with and they reach a choice point. And this is true not only in the US, but many, many nations around the world right now. The choice is either to break or to bridge. And if they break then they begin to other those they fear. And if they bridge they practice these practices of how do you connect with people who are different than you. How do you do it? It requires some self-awareness and a great deal of listening and curiosity. And I think that we’re entering into a culture where we are learning to value diversity beyond any political correctness, but for the fact that our resilience is what makes us strong. Our diversity is what makes us resilient. Just like in a natural ecosystem, the more plant species there are in close proximity, the more rapidly the ecosystem can recover after trauma.
Manda: Yeah. So we don’t want monocultures of people any more than we want monocultures of trees in a forest.
Manda: And I wonder, also listening to you, the middle line from Oscar about language creates reality. And I’m remembering Braiding Sweetgrass. And that in languages other than English, there isn’t a subject object verb linearity, that they’re much more circular languages. And I wonder if some of the bridging would come if we could make English more flexible somehow? Incorporate or learn to speak other languages, but probably we haven’t got time for everybody to learn Lakota or equivalent all in one go. So finding that way of bridging. I love that idea, because you can feel the breaking happening and the othering and and yet when people come together. All of the work that Solnits did around Hurricane Katrina and a Paradise built in hell, about when people are really under threat, the politics didn’t matter anymore. People were giving each other lifts, they were providing boats to get each other out of their houses. Everybody was moving together because there was a common threat to a common community. And the common threat to our common community now is global. The biophysical realities coming down the line are definitely global. If we could find that commonality, it would make a huge difference.
Nina: I do think we can learn from witnessing others languages. You know, we had once upon a time Rebecca Adamson, who was the founder of First Nations Development Institute, and now I think she leads First Nations worldwide, who is from the Cherokee Nation. And she said in her native language, there is no word for love of an object. Anyone who loves a non living object is thought to be insane. Right. Now she would include in living objects the elements, the rock people, the plant people, all kinds of people.
Manda: So loving those is sanity. Loving a private jet might be out there on the edges of not sane.
Nina: Absolutely. And that’s Right Relations.
Manda: Ok, we’re running towards the end of the time, which is so sad because there’s so many, many things I would love to talk to you about. You talked on another podcast about solving for patterns, and I think let’s close with that because that feels, again, really rich and a really interesting area that we could move into. So you said in the book: ‘This is no time for small talk. This is a time for myth making. This is a time for epic poetry. This is a time to tell the tales that will become our compass for the days ahead.’ I am going to use that epigraph, I will ask your permission, in a novel at some point. Because this is what we need, is the compasses, the roadmaps, the ideas of the futures that work. And so many of my writing colleagues are really good at writing dystopias, and it makes me so cross because we don’t need another dystopia. We know how bad it could be. We need the ways forward that feel doable and feel grand. So can we riff on that as we’re closing? How did you get to that and where does it take you?
Nina: Sure. Well, you know, I would offer as a kind of a tip for your thrutopia colleagues and writers, that the way that I wrote this piece, which was one of my favourite pieces of all time, was that I was instructed by a mentor to take a walk in the woods and to repeat with every single step, what wants to come through me, what wants to come through me? And at the end of walking for probably close to an hour, I came home. I picked up a pad and pen and just downloaded this, and it was like there was no thought in it. I felt like it literally came through me. It was my ideal of a hollow bone experience. You know, indigenous people often talk about wanting to be or become like a hollow bone, so that Spirit’s life force and wisdom can come through us. And know that it’s not ours, it’s Mother Life’s. And we can, if we’re lucky and practised, be a conduit for it, which is certainly what I most aspire to be. I do think that people are hungry for resonant, authentic truth telling right now and for imagining, for giving our imaginations permission. Because being products of a scarcity culture is why it’s so easy to write dystopian stories. It’s much easier to judge ourselves or someone else than to see the beauty and recognise the power in someone else. And I think we all need to practice, the muscles, the mental connections, the relational intelligence that offers us the capacity to dream into form, that which doesn’t yet exist. And I think part of our gift right now is to see what’s possible in our future, informed by the very best of past. Because we’re all indigenous to Mother Earth, and so we all carry indigenous wisdom in one way or another within us.
Nina: And as I look to my indigenous mentors, some of whom practice traditional ecological knowledge and many of whom are reclaiming language and and who I learn from all the time, without co-opting but in deep, deferential respect. I think our opportunity now is to marry the best of what humanity has learned over time and from the natural world with our imagining of what’s possible, because that way we can co-create a future that is vibrant and resilient and restorative and healthy and loving and kind and compassionate and equitable. And I think we’re going to lose a lot before we get there. Just to be sober and real. I think there’s a lot of loss going on. We know there’s a lot of loss going on in the world right now and I think part of reclaiming the feminine is being able to stand clear eyed with the grief and the loss and the tragedy that we’re all experiencing. Because my personal opinion is if we had public ritual spaces to express our grief, we could turn down the level of violence in human societies almost overnight. So reclaiming the value of our real emotions and the value of our human wholeness and our capacity to receive guidance from the invisible world, from our dream time, from our intuition, from our bodies and from our hearts. I think that with that and acting on behalf of what we love, we can get through this. And we will.
Manda: Yes, and anyone can do it. I think one of the things we said before we started recording is it’s not just the writers. Everybody could be having the conversations of what’s possible. In the queue, in the supermarket, going into the bank, around the dinner table with old Uncle Albert who listens to Fox News and reads the Daily Mail.
Nina: Making sketches and paintings and leading art classes and encouraging everyone to express in whatever way you do, what it is you love and the world you want to co-create. Because I think our words are co-creating reality. And then to act upon it with our hands, you know, in ways that model the kind of world we want.
Manda: And you do that so beautifully and so well, and we are at the top of the hour. And, you know, this has been so fantastic. It’s such an honour to talk to you. And I feel lighter and more open and more balanced and more able to greet the world equitably and without my fear and grief coming to the surface. So thank you so very much for taking the time out, in the home of your 103 and a half year old mother in law, it’s fantastic. Thank you. This has been fantastic.
Nina: It’s my honour and joy Manda and I hope someday you can cross the pond and come to a Bioneers conference.
Manda: That would be glorious. I would love to.
Nina: Please, please please, you have my personal invitation and anyone listening of course
Manda: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Manda: And that’s it for this week. Enormous thanks to Nina for all that she is and says and does, and for her leadership in the world, for her capacity to step into honest equilibrium and to name it, and to be able to guide others with such integrity and clarity and authenticity. Truly, this felt like a really generative conversation, and I hope it landed well with you. Nina has sent me links to a lot of the Bioneers work, but I particularly want to highlight their Bioneers learning program. There is a link in the show notes, but bioneerslearning.org will get you there. And they have a whole host of courses, online courses, different dates, different times spreading over different time spans. So there will be something in there that you can learn from and explore and meet other people who want to walk the earth asking: what is it that needs to come through me? Over and over again, until we hear an authentic answer and can bring it out into the world with the kind of integrity that it shines, so that people can hear it. It seems to me there is a quality of authenticity that really speaks below all of the tribalism, beneath all of the things that divide us. A capacity to be vulnerable in the moment. To be raw, to be open, and yet to have what Nina says as that understanding of what it is that we bring, and being able to bring it wholeheartedly to whatever we are doing. And finding ways to cultivate that and to share it. To be able to pay the exquisite attention that Nina spoke of so that we can find our own authentic truth and bring that into the world.
Manda: This feels like the work of 2024. So head over to Bioneers learning if you want to go that way. And if by chance you think that Nina might be a good person to come back on our cutting edge gatherings, then drop me a line on that one. Also, I didn’t ask her and she does not have a lot of spare time, but if enough of you ask, then I will always try. Right, that’s it for now. We will be back next week with another conversation as ever. In the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot and on this occasion for the production. Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for managing all of the tech. Thank you. And for the conversations that keep us moving forward. And as ever, an enormous thanks to you for being there, for getting it, for caring enough to listen. And if you know of anybody else who wants to know about the honest equilibrium, how we can connect with the Earth, how long it takes, how much time we have to give it, asking over and over with an open heart, being prepared to listen to the answers. Then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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