As I sat with this question, allowing it to lead me down trails of inspired reflection, colorful thoughts and memories from my life showed me two interwoven themes: the kindness and resilience of the human heart, and the regenerative power of the natural world.
I believe there is goodness at the core of every human heart. There may be calcified layers of fear and hatred, often from centuries or even millennia of unprocessed ancestral trauma, but I believe that underneath those layers exists a seed of goodness. This belief fills me with the warmth of hope, and frankly, I am not willing to carry the burden of believing the opposite.
One of the ways I see and experience an uncovering happening (so that the kindness of the human heart can beam forth more clearly), is through people gathering to enact grief rituals. “Griefwork” is gaining popularity as many people come to see that their unprocessed emotions clog the free-flowing experience of their natural buoyancy and wellbeing. Some of the elder teachers that have helped normalize the need for processing our collective grief include: Malidoma Somé, Joanna Macy, and Martin Prechtel.
Drawing from West African, Tibetan, and Guatemalan wisdom, a common thread is the importance of providing a communal space to share the more challenging emotions of being human. Most of us live in cultures where we rarely feel safe enough to express our deeper feelings. In the grief rituals in which I’ve participated (inspired by the work of Somé and Macy), the rhythm of drums, song, and dance help facilitate the process. I have found it incredibly freeing to have a space for releasing these natural human emotions. These intentionally-held spaces allow us to do so without being shamed as inappropriate, crazy, extreme, or any other societal judgment. Being held in community while working through our personal and collective grief, is one beautiful way for the goodness and resilience of the human heart to be washed clean and remembered.
Just as the renewing power of tears can refresh and renew the human heart, so too does Nature show us abundant ways that life is continually renewing itself. One of the major champions of renewal, which to me embody a sense of hope, are the mushroom people. I use the word “people” from an animistic viewpoint, recognizing that there are many nations on earth, and that the human nation is just one of them.
Mushrooms represent the alchemy of turning death and decay into beautiful thriving life. These beings—neither plant nor animal—have vast mycelial networks that run beneath the earth’s topsoil. The majority of their organism is underground, and the little bit we see on our forest walks is just “the tip of the iceberg.” Literally, it is “the fruiting body of the mycelial network.” Taking certain medicinal mushrooms as nutritional supplements can actually help with brain cognition and pattern recognition. They help us see the wider web of which we are a part, because they are experts at living within this unbroken connection. This awareness of our interconnectedness is medicine for the rampant loneliness that exists within modern individualistic societies.
In these transformative times we’re living in, with decomposition happening everywhere, it brings me hope to know that nature is an expert at taking what is no longer working and turning it into new life. This is not the hope of having some sunny future free of suffering and hardship, where everything is working perfectly. But rather, a hope that is at peace with the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Not some kind of escape from a karmic cycle of suffering, but acceptance of, and harmony with, the natural order of things. It brings to mind a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that has always spoken to me:
“The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong. It is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. Until we go to the root of our image of separateness, there can be no healing. And the deepest part of our separateness from creation lies in our forgetfulness of its sacred nature, which is also our own sacred nature.”
So, rather than hoping that sunny and positive times will unfold in perpetuity, it is my prayer that within the natural cycles of life and death, we will continue to find ways to both regenerate the kindness in our hearts and cultivate thriving green spaces on this planet.
Hanna Leigh is a singer-songwriter, entrepreneur and devotee of this precious, living earth. In the past twelve years, she has made home in alternative communities across the globe, including Peru, Oregon, Hawaii and England, pursuing what it means to walk in a good-hearted and sustainable way on this planet. Her current work focuses on supporting people to utilize their singing voices in ways that build community and connect them more deeply with nature and themselves.