On Kincentric Awareness: a child's encounter with nature

The Pondering Ecologist: On Kincentric Awareness: a child’s encounter with nature by Dr. Marc Fasanella

As a youth I had the good fortune of spending countless hours exploring a large abandoned estate behind my childhood home. I would investigate each crevice in every tree, look under every rock, search every inch of every stream, saying hello to each amphibian, crustacean, insect, mammal, or reptile I found and follow birds on the wing with my eyes.

Eventually my curiosity would be sated and I would fall on my back in a state of bliss looking up at the treetops, clouds, or stars, depending on the time of day, and feel the connectedness I had with all things around me. I did not notice myself in this frame of mind, I felt deeply connected to an ecosphere that contained me.

At that age it never entered my mind to consider my relation to all that was around me in a material way, my connection was transcendent - I was a part of, not apart from, my surroundings. The beauty, biodiversity, complexity, elegance, interconnectedness, synergy, kincentricity of my surroundings - was a profound comfort.

I went on to acquire a great deal of formal training and education, and spent a career as an academic, but the further afield I strayed from my direct relationship to nature, the less healthy I felt emotionally and physically.

Our connection as a species to the ecosphere, our bond to the universal, is what give us true solace. That is why forest bathing, light therapy, or just adapting your life to being outdoors much of the time and living in accordance with circadian rhythms improves your health.

The more I learned, the more I knew that we must look beyond our own species and feel a connectedness to all other organisms and our non-living environment that is direct and meaningful, not parental or transactional.

As research for my doctoral dissertation I visited a wildlife sanctuary marsh several times long before sunrise. I did my best to stand motionless and listen to my surroundings under the moonlight. I would close my eyes and as my perception adjusted to the ambient sound I began to notice the cacophony of life surrounding me. Organisms swarmed about me in the air, in the plants at my feet, in the soil, and in the water. I could perceive an innumerable number of fellow beings that I could not while hearing the sounds of my own stirring as I entered the marsh.

I would wait patiently and silently for sunrise. Slowly the orchestra of sound that accompanied the life of nocturnal creatures would slow and soften to silence and then one by one as the light of the rising sun warmed my skin I would hear the daytime marsh ecosystem awaken near dawn. The movements of the life of one creature and then another would increase in sound until again I could easily perceive that I was immersed in a vibrant ecosystem populated by innumerable forms of life.

It is by listening and looking mindfully we notice and perceive. To truly understand the ecosphere requires experiential, as well as physical, inquiry. Kincentric awareness and ecospheric insight into our natural world takes hold and provides a perceptive means to guide how to live into the landscape.

We as a species are innately compelled to change our surroundings - but as perceptive, sentient beings we have an ethical imperative to curb our appetites and adapt our society and our built environment in ways that accommodate the evolving ecosystem that contains us. Our work as perceptive agents of change can be a positive force to preserve and sustain the biodiversity that ensures the survival of our species and many others.

As an example, I have a small case in point:

At a half-acre edible forest garden I work in, an organization I belong to decided to tap a few maple trees to benefit from the medicinal qualities of the sap. We did not tap all of the trees, only those old enough to render sap without harming the tree. Looking at the forest as a whole it became clear that the many Norway maples were behaving in an opportunistic way that was threatening the cedar, cherry and locust trees indigenous to the area growing nearby. We took it upon ourselves to behave as foragers. We culled many of the Norway maples to ensure the survival of the other trees as well as the lineage of the Norway maple. We did not exterminate the maples to restore balance, but we worked to sustain the biotic community as a whole. The cedar and cherry trees help to sustain the bird population that control pests on our fruits and vegetables and the locust nourish the bee population that pollinate flowers essential to our crops and our emotional well being.

The wood from the maples we cut down will be used to grow mushrooms and enrich the soil at our forest garden as well as for fuel in a wood burning stove that heats a meeting room. Ash from the stove can make soap and wastewater that provides valuable nutrition as fertilizer to improve the health of the soil. We don't intend to create a value added product from the maple trees we tapped, or the mushrooms we will grow, just a community resource that can be shared in common amongst staff, volunteers, and community members.

We don’t really own the forest or the land it sits upon - it provides for our existence - this ecosystem will evolve gracefully and outlive us and our aim is to live perceptively within it. Our role as a species is not so much one of stewardship as it is of artful, informed, coexistence.

So though we learn much from science and should apply all the knowledge as is prudent - we must tread lightly to build, create, eat, and dispose of our waste in ways that enable not only us to thrive in a healthful way but allow the community of organisms and minerals that sustain us to evolve gracefully as well.

The real purpose of our lives is to accommodate and adapt to the beauty, biodiversity, complexity, elegance, interconnectedness, and synergy of the ecosphere that encompasses us. The insights of Kincentricity and Ecospheric Intellect must guide us. This way of seeing and being can be employed not only on a micro but also a macro scale. When thinking of a larger context, the work of landscape ecologist Kongjian Yu comes to mind:

This is what I'm trying to do: Reverse the approach to urban and regional development planning. Conventional planning is based on population growth, and oriented towards economic development. My... reversed approach, is that landscape should lead the way, which means we should plan and design ecological infrastructure. This should be the basis for urban development, and occur before other planning is done. This kind of plan safeguards the ecological process and cultural heritage. This means we integrate storm water management systems, flood area, biodiversity conservation, cultural heritage sites, green corridors, etc. ...into a (new) kind of infrastructure.

If you spend time truly immersing yourself in, listening to, looking at the ecosystem that encompasses you in all forms of weather and at all times of day and take stock of its ability to nurture you and all life around you in emotional, intellectual and material ways - you’ll not only live in your environment but within it. It is this ecospheric intellect and kincentric awareness, the knowlege that we are kith and kin with all that comprises our ecosphere that will ultimately insure the survival of our species.

Definitions:

Ecosphere: The sum of all ecosystems. (Adapted from: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)
Ecospheric Intellect: the ability to understand the collective character of the ecosphere. (Marc Fasanella / Nick Zanussi 2010)

Kincentricity: a unique Indigenous cosmology and relationship to nature - one of equality; our case, as human beings, to the natural world. (Dennis Martinez 1995 / Enrique Salmón 2000)