From20the20 Acorn20to20the20 Grove20 20by20 Dr 20 Yuria20 Celidwen
Jan 30, 2023

From the Acorn to the Grove: Indigenous Wisdom for Planetary Flourishing

Indigenous traditions with deep cultural roots of contemplative wisdom hold critical and timely solutions to help meet our most pressing social and environmental injustices.

By Dr. Yuria Celidwen

Say my Forebears’ tongue since timeless time Spirit breathes the wind of awe within — beyond — the many ways of will and sense — of image into form Life of Spirit, beings of flow belonging to and becoming of a cosmic force keeping it in constant flux… 

My bloodland and bloodline rest in the forests in the clouds in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Perhaps their fondness for the skies made these lands playgrounds for awe and wonder. Or their woven roots in Mother Earth made them frolic in the wildest dreams of freedom. Be it as it may, those vibrant forest streams watered my Elders’ wisdom songs. The same songs flow from them, through my heart, to you today.

Entire realms sprouted from my lineage’s voices. As medicine people, they had their hearts upon the world. They tended the Lands with the utmost care, as should be done with our First Mother, the dwelling of our Peoples. They caressed Her skin with bare feet, gentle step by gentle step. And they embraced transience with noble grace, as they were well acquainted with the secrecies of order and disarray. From such contemplative living came the insight that tension between apparent opposites is a way to the conciliation of collective plurality—where every being belongs.

And this tension is necessary for creation to arise. Environmental destruction and the loss of life, the breakdown of communities, economic systems of oppression, mental health epidemics, and the struggles of substance abuse, loneliness, and depression are ever-excruciating realities worldwide. At the same time, we are seeing advances in One Health approaches — which recognize how health is necessarily shared by humans, fungi, plants, animals, and all phenomena — as well as human and environmental rights, clean energy sources, and nature-based approaches to wellbeing, and the rise in visibility of the voices of historically marginalized communities in influencing decision-making. The tension of these apparent multiple opposites presents us with the urgent challenge to reflect on who we are, how we got here, and what we can do to co-create collaborative solutions to move forward in reverence, respect, restoration, reparation, caring, and belonging.


"There is no human flourishing without planetary flourishing." - Yuria Celidwen


However, in a world driven by the ideologies of separation, we rarely see these ethical principles in practice. The crises of climate, health, and society demand that we ask how the arts and sciences, humanities and technology — encompassing different ontologies and distinct epistemologies — can bring us together to devise solutions for a world where all living beings flourish and thrive. That is to say that there is no human flourishing without planetary flourishing.

Indigenous traditions with deep cultural roots of contemplative wisdom hold critical and timely solutions to help meet our most pressing social and environmental injustices. For millennia, Indigenous Peoples all over the world—in their distinct uniqueness, multiplicity, and plurality — have developed keen perceptions of the consciousness of Mother Earth. Time and again, the teachings of embodied knowledge appear in various forms of Indigenous wisdoms. These diverse traditional ways point to a relational capacity based on collaboration, compassion, and reverence for Life. Indigenous sentience and perception teachings speak of transcendence as realizing the subtle nuance of relationships. These traditional knowledges are grounded in principles of embodiment and action-oriented practices that aim for collective wellbeing that I call kin relationality — conceiving all of existence as kin — and ecological belonging — the realization of being part of a cooperative system and life cycles.

This sort of chrysopoeia transmutes the basic nature of the acorn into the spiritual awareness of the grove — or from self-interest to collective flourishing. These contemplative traditions have been tested and refined for millennia for their environmental, communal, and individual benefits in what I call the ethics of belonging, where humans flourish as we awaken to our responsibility as caretakers of the ecosystem.

Our life path is the opportunity to sublimate a collective mind made of relations: a radical ontology based on kin relationality and ecological belonging. We ought to stimulate flourishing in kinship, where new cosmologies grow from seeds of reverence, respect, and responsibility. These are concerted actions manifesting inner truths about life, being, and belonging in deep gratitude to all our relations.

We flourish to the extent that we enact our exceptional capacity for co-creation and participation in the nourishing, relational, empowering, and transformative force of Mother Earth. The forestlands open the hidden waters to the skies. They direct our journey of belonging and becoming in a dream of collective effervescence, a ceremony, a shared experience of Spirit-making. We enact the story of belonging to our Earth by becoming beings of reverence, kindness, and compassion. We turn to ashes to return in the breath of Life. We come back transformed, reunited, and reemerged. We are beings of Nature beings of kindness, beings of Spirit, beings of Love.

Dr. Yuria Celidwen is Senior Fellow at the Other & Belonging Institute (OBI) of the University of California, Berkeley. She co-chairs the Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and is part of the steering committee of the Contemplative Studies Unit there. Her work is focused on the intersection of Indigenous studies, cultural psychology, and contemplative science.