Loving Life Together,

Back Toward Wholeness

By Nina Simons, Co-Founder of Bioneers


While considering what to speak with you about this morning, I found what for me is a burning question: How do we bring our best selves to loving the tattered and scarred fabric of this mysterious web of life back toward wholeness?

I also wonder what we may be undervaluing, what underutilized capacity we might already have in our toolkits, to help us navigate this challenging time I believe what we face now is a crisis of relationship, and that the key to our healing is embedded in our most transformative and renewable resource: our capacity for social connections and love.

We are products of a culture that focuses us relentlessly on acquiring things, and our behavior as global citizens has lately been highly destructive. As someone quipped recently: “ A Columbus Day Sale, that means I can just come and take whatever I want, right?”

Still, there is much that may guide us toward healthier relationships. The emerging field of Social Cognitive Science studies how the brain interacts with social ties, and is providing new insights into the biology of relationship.

In his book, “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” Matthew Lieberman suggests that our institutions and social structures have been designed around a false premise: that our greatest human motivators are pleasure and pain. Our drive to be connected in relationship, he suggests, may be far stronger, which begs a systems reinvention on a grand scale.

Whenever our minds are at rest, it turns out, in their default mode – they are actually thinking about social connections.

By focusing our brains’ free time on social interactions, Lieberman suggests, evolution prioritized the importance of developing and using our social intelligence for the overall success of our species.

Our minds have adapted over time to focus on three social capacities:

· Forming and maintaining social ties

· Mindreading, or interpreting the tone, cadence and physical cues of others

· Harmonizing, the ability to get along with others with whom we disagree.

Although for many years, scientists believed that it was our capacity for abstract thought that set us apart from other creatures, a growing body of evidence suggests that one of the primary reasons our brains became enlarged through evolution was to facilitate our ability to interact and stay connected with others.

From an evolutionary perspective, the wisest among us are those with the best social skills.

For so long, we’ve assumed that the smartest among us were those with advanced analytical skills, but from an evolutionary perspective, the wisest among us are those with the best social skills.

My life’s path and the people in it have helped me understand that equity, racial justice and the health of living systems are symbiotic and interdependent.

I’ve come to realize that what we allow to be done to any of us, impacts the humanity, integrity, relational web and health of all of us.

This has helped me learn to appreciate my own ancestral lineage, my descendants who survived oppression, slavery and endless migrations so that I could be here today.

I’ve learned that my privilege as a middle class American offers me an opportunity — and a responsibility – to stand aligned with people of all colors, to kindly but firmly challenge the blindness of implicit bias and to throw my weight toward helping transform unjust systems. As Cornel West notes, justice is love made public.

Bioneers has taught me about loving the world and people in an active, practical way.

This loving of Nature and those who live to serve a better world have stretched my sense and experience of social connection beyond what I ever could have imagined possible. The only activism that really makes sense to me now is fueled by the potency of purposeful love.

Bioneers has taught me about loving the world and people in an active, practical way.

When Julia Butterfly Hill moved into a tiny platform to live in a 2,000 year old redwood tree she named Luna, she did it because of how much she loved that tree’s sacred and ancient nature. Julia’s devotion helped me to understand activism in a new way.

In 2002, when I began working with a group of women at a gathering called UnReasonable Women for the Earth, I sought to reconcile the gap in my life between Self and Service.

Now, my age, my body and my life are teaching me repeatedly that I must prioritize self-care, for my service to be good for anyone. That my love must be inner- as well as outer-directed, in a self-reinforcing loop, in order for it to be regenerative and sustainable.

When I create the conditions for my own healing to occur, it also creates medicine for those around me.

Thankfully, I’ve found that when I create the conditions for my own healing to occur, it also creates medicine for those around me.

I am learning that now is a time to give my love permission to wrap its arms around big goals, and to discipline my nay-saying mind to be still.

I’ve witnessed with joy how many women’s networks are arising, emerging among diverse disciplines, generations, races and sectors. Yet I yearn to see a meta-network emerge, that would connect women as a larger collective for social change.

What would it look like, I wonder, if we could help to mobilize diverse women and the men who love them to stand together, on behalf of all of Life?

For years, I lamented what I saw as a lack of connective tissue among diverse women’s movements.

What might help connect inner-city activists with eco-feminists, and community organizers with arts activists, and philanthropists with social entrepreneurs? There was no body to the octopus, as I saw it, helping to connect disparate communities to each other for mutual support, greater impact and resource sharing.

I imagined it would take far greater resources and infrastructure than I could gather, to make it happen.

Then, I realized I needed to do what women always have done: I should just begin to do what I could with what I had at hand.

What a tremendous rush to recognize that it was not so much about scale, as about initiating something I knew wanted to happen.

When 26 of us came together, this summer, in a sacred redwood valley, we realized that we only needed to know the first step.

Relationship IS the strategy

Women came who lead networks of nurses, who are creating health and resiliency in bankrupt cities and toxic frontline communities, who are nurturing networks of diverse women leaders into flourishing, and creating platforms for women’s voices to be heard, globally.

Women came, invited to help dream a web of connection into form, and they came because they’d been encouraged to bring their whole selves to the table.

Women came to participate in a collaborative experiment in forming connection, across differences.

What ensued was a dance of co-creativity, of surrender, and of flow. A delighted relinquishing of any structured imagining of what was right or needed to happen next.

The wisdom of the group prevailed.

Instead of creating a strategic pathway – an analytical architecture that could launch our network -we arrived together at the understanding that relationship IS the strategy…and that a network is nothing more than relationships connected, activated and cultivated.

What gives me strength, now, is the depth of love I feel pounding in my heart, running through my body.

It is a love of place, for me, as the ancient high desert arroyos of my New Mexico home resonate with my affinity for shadow and light, for bare bones reality, for life thriving against all odds, and for ancient memories of undersea canyons.

It is a love of creatures, from the deep sea stories that whales sing to each other by sonar, to the hibernating dreams of a mother brown bear, or the frolicking of otters among the kelp-beds, and the ways my dogs moan with pleasure when I rub on them, hugging me with their eyes.

It is an admiration and awe I feel for survivors, that allows women who’ve been silenced to speak out and sing, and create poetry, dance and music from the ashes of their suffering. to heal and recreate themselves anew emerging stronger, more loving and tall. I am devoted to the essence of that feathered resilience for life, in female form.

It is a love of creation, and nature’s unfathomable mystery, the mystery that has pinon trees bear nuts from only scant drops of moisture, that guides turtles to lay eggs on the same beaches they were hatched, that helps slime molds navigate mazes, and fungi alchemically transmute diesel.

What gives me strength, now, is the depth of love I feel pounding in my heart, running through my body.

To describe what I feel as love does the feeling an injustice. The full power of what I feel threatens to burst my chest. It is a sensation so expansive and encompassing, so huge and quaking that sometimes I am fearful that my body can barely contain it.

In the Mojave language, Natalie Diaz writes, the words used to describe emotions are literally dragged through one’s heart before they are spoken. There is one way to say that your heart is good, and many ways, as you might imagine if you’ve read a history book or lived this life to say that your heart is hurting.

While their Mojave words don’t say I love you, they say so much more. They say that one’s heart is bursting, blooming, exploding, flashing, they say that we will hold a person and never let them go.

They have words to say that we long to hold them so close they remember we are part of each other forever. And ways to say that they ARE our actual heart.

The Sanskrit language has 96 words for love, and ancient Persian had 80.

So, as we head into this weekend filled with luminous and hopeful reinvention, in the face of all that is daunting and challenging may we call upon our social intelligence, and the untapped power, purposefulness and perseverance of our love.

May we reach out across differences – of ages, classes, colors, and disciplines – to connect anew with others who we encounter, trusting that together, we are forming a template for the social fabric of the next world.

Together, we can reconnect this web of relations, as it offers the only real security I can fathom.

Together, I believe we can weave the world whole again. Won’t you join me?