Reciprocity is an ancient teaching that is Universal to all Indigenous, original and earth loving peoples around the world and is key to preserving life and living in alignment and right relationship with the Earth, and all of our relatives. It fosters right action born out of love, gratitude, and respect, as we naturally own our individual and collective responsibility as children of our beloved Earth. Sadly, much of the world has forgotten this essential original teaching that maintained the balance and good relationship between humans and Nature.
In this article, we will briefly explore 7 principles of practice to support us in how to actively engage in practicing reciprocity. These principles have come out of years of learning, study, practice and reflection of ancient Earth wisdom teachings and healing arts from my beloved teachers from many parts of the world as well as learning from my greatest teacher, Mother Nature.
1. We acknowledge we are Nature.
To acknowledge that we are nature we must come back into our bodies. A powerful pathway to the body is through direct experience with nature and allowing Nature to be our teacher, to awaken our senses and our capacities to see, feel, listen, observe and express. Embodiment practices that bring us into direct experience with our bodies, our true nature and our whole being are essential to coming into right relationship with the earth. Some embodiment practices include: yoga, meditation, mindful walking, forest bathing, martial arts, dance, or sounding that engage all of our senses and cultivate the knowing that we are not alone and are in fact part of the web of life.
This principle can only be known experientially. When we truly acknowledge we are Nature, we naturally live reciprocity as we begin to awaken to our greater Self and offer our unique gifts back to the whole.
2. We Remember and Honour the Ancestors, lands & teachers.
We all are standing upon our ancestors. We would not be here without them. Therefore, we remember and honour our ancestors and our lands. It is also important to honour and respect the ancestors of the lands we live on that may be different ancestors from our own.
We will be ancestors in the future and we have a responsibility to the future generations and as the teachings say from all over Turtle Island, we must live reciprocity through taking action for the benefit and flourishing of the next 7 generations and beyond.
An important aspect of living reciprocity is the responsibility to heal our world. There is so much pain in the world that we have inherited from our ancestors and that we perpetuate, thus, it is our duty to heal ourselves, our communities and our world. When we heal we can stop the trauma from travelling down the line to future generations. As we heal we also heal our ancestors. This is not easy work for many of us.
In many Indigenous cultures, there are very rich practices of ritual and ceremony and understandings of how the ancestors support us from the unseen and how they can help us heal. They also see our ancestors as trees, rocks, animals etc. and live in the lands..
I was first introduced to seeing ancestors from this view from my mentor Mandaza Kandemwa from Zimbabwe. From this perspective, we are in a reciprocal relationship with our ancestors. We are here because of them and they cannot be nourished if we don’t remember them and find ways to honour them. We also need the wisdom of the ancestors to help us remember how to live in right relationship with the earth.
At this time, it is important for us to learn well from those Elders who transmit the remembrance of these teachings of the ancestors. We do this with a humble attitude of honour, care, respect and acknowledgement of our teachers.
In order to live reciprocity we must develop and attune ourselves through listening with our bodies, our hearts and our whole being. We can better practice listening by slowing down, unplugging from our crazy paced world and getting ourselves into nature, be it a forest, a mountain or a city park. Listening requires an emptying of mind, a deep receptivity, and a letting go of judgement so that we may pay attention. True listening requires presence and a capacity to hear. Most of us have not been trained to listen very well. If we are unable to listen, we cannot hear what is required or needed in the moment.
Nature can teach us how to listen. As we open and deepen our listening skills we have greater capacity to feel and can access deeper parts of our wonder, our joy, our peace, our compassion, our empathy as well as our ability to witness the suffering of others, including the Earth.
Listening is a gateway to reciprocity. We must be available in the moment to take in what life is presenting and what nature is showing us. It is only then we may respond and take responsibility.
4. Offering as our Sacred Responsibility.
As human beings, we are completely dependent on Mother earth, the elements, the sun and the moon for our survival. In practicing reciprocity, most Indigenous cultures from all over the world have a notion that for equilibrium to be maintained between humans and nature, we must feed the Earth and the elements with offerings. This is considered our sacred responsibility.
The Earth is alive and has sentience. As a living energy, Mother Earth responds to our offerings of love, appreciation, gratitude and ceremonial feedings through sacred medicines, songs, dance, creativity and other ceremonial arts.
In Peru, the path of reciprocity is highly developed amongst the Andean Indigenous peoples. My teacher Don Oscar Miro Quesada, from Peru, describes “the Andean principle of Ayni-reciprocity, as a path of sacred, interdependent, reciprocal living in which what one receives is always honoured in kind and expressed through gestures of appreciation and gratitude in the form of rituals and ceremonies, feeding the field, feeding creation itself, and beautifying the Earth.” (Don Oscar – quoted from Ritual Reverence and Renewal course December 6, 2017)
We are constantly receiving from the Earth and yet in our world there has been so much taking without consideration to how we are causing harm to the planet. An important question we can ask ourselves is: what can we offer back to the Earth?
We offer our gratitude through living our purpose and sharing our unique gifts and brilliance and by being of service for the benefit of all beings.
As we nurture Nature we are nurtured by all of life.
Presence is a quality of Being. In order to live this principle we must cultivate presence from moment to moment. Being in nature with a sense of mindfulness is a wonderful way to cultivate presence. We can use our body, our sensations, our breath, as we touch the Earth with our feet, lean our backs against a great oak, to bring us fully into the present moment and all of its miracles.
Many of us live in a busy world full of distractions where we often are lost in the past or fretting about the future. When we observe nature we can learn a lot about presence. Since we are Nature, with increased time and immersion in Nature we naturally begin to entrain with her. As presence stabilizes, we can experience our multidimensionality as we access more of our love, our joy, gratitude and contentment as we awaken to who we are.
Our full presence is a gift to Nature, to all of life and to ourselves. The depth of our presence determines our capacity to offer our gifts in reciprocity to the Planet.
6. Receiving to restore and radically nourish the Self.
Receiving is an art that has been lost to many in our world. We are constantly receiving nourishment from the Earth, the elements, the sun and the moon. How often do we appreciate the air we breathe, the forests oxygen, the water we drink, the food on our plates? We take for granted receiving a lot in our world. Instead of receiving the gifts of Nature with gratitude, much of the modern world has been doing a lot of taking without reciprocity. I believe much of this taking, which has wreaked havoc on our planet, is caused in part by our inability to receive.
In the West, many of us experience feelings of guilt, shame and a sense of unworthiness when it comes to receiving. Reciprocity works with the flow and circulation of giving and receiving. In order to receive fully, we must empty out through healing and cleansing processes to heal and restore our capacities to receive. This is an important component of the Radical Self Nourishment (RSN) process that I developed for individuals to deepen and widen their capacities to receive and come into right relationship with themselves and the Earth. Here we learn to receive nourishment for our bodies, minds, emotions, soul, Spirit and for the whole. For without receiving we cannot truly live reciprocity.
When we are able to receive with gratitude in our hearts, knowing it is wonderful and essential to receive, we are able to nourish, replenish and restore the whole Self.
7.Commitment to Earth, Self and Community.
We need to look for ways to deepen our commitment to Mother Earth by reclaiming all dimensions of who we are as a Self, which begin in the ecological understanding that we are nature and embrace the physical/mental/emotional/energetic and spiritual aspects of our being. We then can liberate our limited ideas of who we are as a self. By committing to the practice of these principles we move towards evolving our consciousness as Earth Beings.
Let us to come together as an earth community and be in council, not only with each other as humans, but with Gaia, the ancestors , and all of life, to listen and respect one another, and find the solutions we desperately need to repair our Planet.
In cultivating these principles of right relationship, we need to apply them and practice continuously in our own unique ways. Know that each one of these Principles is a doorway. It does not matter where you begin only that you do. It is now up to us to remember the ways of living reciprocity for the benefit and the restoration of the whole for the future generations to thrive.
Deborah Brodey is a Transformation Guide, Yoga Teacher/ Sound Healer, Ceremonial artist from Toronto. She has spent years studying, practicing and travelling the world learning from beloved teachers, healers, Elders and Indigenous wisdom keepers. She is the founder of the Radical Self Nourishment Program for Changemakers. She is currently writing a book on The 7 principles of Living Reciprocity and recently presented a workshop on Living Reciprocity: 7 Principles of Practice for the Shaping the Future of Healing Symposium in Toronto last November 2018. She has an MA in Adult Education and Transformative Learning.