December 30

Earth Elders

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The following article was originally published as part of the incredible community writing and art compilation project entitled Gifts for an Emerging World, organised by InterGifted.

Cover art for the Gifts for an Emerging World community writing and art compilation project organised by InterGifted. There is a large, transparent butterfly chrysalis attached to a tree branch, with a gradient blue sky in the background. A fully developed red and black butterfly clearly visible within the chrysalis, looking like it is ready to emerge.

The Gifts for an Emerging World compilation is a powerful collection of contributors' visions of how we can, individually and collectively, bring our gifts to bear to lead and  transform generations of ecological disconnection—spanning dimensions physical and non-physical—into an emerging future of intra- and inter-species harmony and collaboration for all beings on this planet, and beyond.


Credit for this amazing project goes to Jan Provoost, Jennifer Harvey Sallin and Karin Eglinton, who devoted huge chunks of their time and energy in 2020 to birthing this, and last but not least, to the many contributors who shared so deeply and intimately of their hearts and souls, hopes and dreams for our shared future with our planet, and all beings upon and within.


As a child, I was naturally connected to Earth. I perceived a complex, multi-dimensional tapestry of ecosystems and universes, seen and unseen, intersecting and interconnecting, sharing and communicating—living, breathing, dying and re-birthing with one another.


I was first introduced to the unseen by the Wind. In the rustling of leaves, movement of the clouds or whistle in my ears, they whispered support and guidance. They were my first non-physical mentors, and they guided me to open my physical and non- physical senses to the non-linear, multi-layered space we co-habit with other beings, worlds and universes, and how to seek mentorship, wisdom and guidance from them as well. I was soon communicating with and learning from a multitude of unseen beings.


Unfortunately, I was alone in my apprenticeship. None of the people around me, family and friends, perceived what I did. Clairvoyance and psychism is frowned upon in much of South East Asia, and I was left feeling like an outcast. The stark mismatch in values and practices between what I was learning in the unseen world and what I was seeing in the physical world left me increasingly confused and distressed, and eventually, at the age of 18, I became convinced that I was experiencing psychosis.


I decided I had to commit myself into a mental hospital, and I began secretly making plans to do so. I was unintentionally saved by someone I met through a Wiccan message board on the then nascent World Wide Web, who became my first human mentor for a short time, as we swiftly diverged as a result of my giftedness.


I spent much of my 20s looking for human mentors, however not knowing that I was gifted and autistic hampered the search.


The lack of human mentors who could provide guidance matching the breadth, depth, complexity and intensity of my gifted experience of clairvoyance and related connection to Earth finally took its toll, and by my early 30s, I had systematically deleted large parts of my ability, connection and memories of both.


In June 2019, my dear friends and mentors Jennifer Harvey Sallin and Karin Eglinton launched the I Heart Earth meditations. This became the catalyst for my private re-exploration and journey back to my younger self’s innate connection with Earth, as well as the received wisdom from my non-physical mentors.


The grief I encountered was sharp, poignant and, at times, overwhelming. It took many tiny and tender steps, and deep excavations, to dare to open myself back up and re-apprentice myself to my non-physical mentors, and I am grateful to be able to do so today with the ongoing support of my gifted human friends and mentors.


Here are some of the basic principles that I have been re- learning:

Connection

In exploring the basic question of, “What is connection with Earth?”, one may ask, “Are we talking physical or spiritual connection?”. I have come to learn it is both, cyclically and simultaneously. (Note: I use the word “non-physical” from here on as this removes conflation, and resulting complication, with spiritual and religious ideas.)
  • The non-physical is embodied in the physical, meaning it requires the physical for action.
  • The physical is impelled by the non-physical, meaning it is vitalised and guided by the non-physical.
We connect to Earth in physical ways when we live and till her land, consume her produce, nurture and protect her physical ecosystems. Physical connection is tangible, tactile and the most obvious.


Connecting to Earth non-physically is less tangible and not as obvious to most people today. Most people project spiritual or religious concepts: Does it mean giving up mainstream religion or spirituality to return to Earth-based religions or spirituality, like paganism or animism for example?


Connection is fundamentally relational, meaning it is something that occurs between beings, objects and concepts.


A physical connection with Earth entails building and nurturing a physical relationship with Earth’s physical dimensions and entities. A non-physical connection entails a relationship with Earth’s non-physical dimensions and entities.


Today, most of us readily agree that Earth’s ecosystems comprise a stunning diversity of entities that we classify using the system of taxonomy. We already know that physical ecosystems are mind bogglingly complex, and that we are not even scratching the surface.


I was taught, and shown, by my non-physical mentors that it is the same in the non-physical, except that the complexity and diversity of ecosystems, habitats and species far outstrips what we find in the physical, and most importantly, that most species and races found therein are sentient and very much aware of their sovereignty. The many different species and races, clans and tribes, collaborate in an elaborate web of interconnectedness that gives and takes between all the different dimensions to maintain the flow and harmony of balance. More on that below.


So when we speak of a non-physical connection to Earth, we are referring to cultivating a relationship with these, the non- physical beings who co-habit Earth with us.

Inviting Connection

It begins with being willing to open ourselves up to the presence of these unseen beings all around us. Here is a simple practice I was taught by my non-physical mentors:


Go to a natural environment. Pristine primary forest is ideal for beginners as their presence is usually the strongest and most obvious where their dominion has not been challenged.


As you move through this space and spend time in it, quietly contemplate the possibility that you are surrounded by a plentitude of other non-physical beings bustling about their day. From teeny-tiny speck-sized, to the ones towering up to the treetops, and all the others in between. Flitting between sunlight and shadow, perched on branches, swimming in streams, or embodied as plants, animals and minerals.


As you imagine this hive of unseen life all about you, maintain the intention that you wish to connect with the non-physical entities of Earth and reach out with a smile and say hi. If there are no people around you, I encourage you to try saying hello out loud, and maybe even venture a wave of your hand. After all, connection and relationship always start with a hello.


As you get more comfortable you can make what I call “polite conversation” with them. I did this as a child instinctively, and I realise today in hindsight that it helped me develop a two-way radio to communicate with them. Sometimes I would simply say things out loud. If I see a tree-sized entity walk past me going about its business, I would say, “Hello Elder! How are you today?” Or if I’m walking through a new territory, I may offer a song or a spoken word poem as a gift and sing or speak it aloud to them. Other times, I bring food, and make discrete offerings in specific locations. Gift giving is also a form of connection!


I did this enough that various territories became familiar with me, and as the non-physical beings therein started acknowledging my overtures, I began to feel, see and hear their responses. At first it was brief and vague, but over time, the signal resolution got stronger and clearer as I got more practiced at opening myself up to their connecting back with me.


Connection and relationship is a two-way street. We reach out to connect and we open ourselves up to connection in return.

Respect

As mentioned above, connection is fundamentally relational, meaning that in some ways, some of the guidelines we observe in healthy human relationships apply here too with the non-physical beings we cohabit Earth with. We can communicate with them, share experiences with them, even collaborate with them.


However, I was always taught by my non-physical mentors to deeply respect, in thought, word and action, the non-physical Custodians of Earth as Elders. The reason being that they were here before us, and they will continue to be here after we are gone. They exist within “time scales” far beyond what any number of human generations can comprehend, and are really the true and original Custodians of Earth. More on that later.


In short, they have been around a long time, and they have been tending Earth far longer than we have, so they have far superior knowledge and experience that we do not have that we can turn to for guidance and support through our challenges on Earth right now.


The thread of respect continues from connection above. We not only open ourselves up to the presence of these unseen beings all around us but in doing so, we must acknowledge the fact that we are sharing space, both physical and non-physical, with other sovereign beings whom we do not understand.


We only appear separate from their world because most of us have closed off our connection to the unseen realms. We may not always sense or see them but that does not make them less real. They are not lesser for being invisible, nor do they lack influence.


We are equals with them in terms of shared responsibility for custodianship of Earth, however we must always remember that we are but the apprentices, and lifelong ones at that, in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge and experience.

Expressing Respect

Respect is a multi-layered practice. It begins with being willing to open oneself up to re-establishing connection with our unseen Elders on cognitive and emotional levels, however respect also continues via intentional engagement with word and deed, as described above in the exercise for connection.


Once you are more comfortable with being able to sense them, and being able to acknowledge them, you can take your practice to the next level by incorporating intentional gesture of respect.


Here is what I was taught by my non-physical mentors:


Return to the natural environment you have been practicing in. This time, however, do not simply walk straight in. Pause at the entrance, or at the natural external boundary line of the habitat.


As before, smile and say hi. This time, however, introduce yourself and explicitly ask permission to enter their domain. Here is a sample script you can try: “Good morning, Elders of this territory. My name is Silver Huang. I would like to ask permission to enter your land today. Thank you.”


Wait a moment and tune in to your surroundings. Note if there are any changes in how the space feels and how you feel. Do you feel welcome or disconcerted? Do you feel comfortable, or do you feel an unease you can’t quite describe?


If you feel any sense of discomfort, or are even just unsure, I usually recommend thanking them for their time and their signal, and not proceeding. Signs can be cognitive, emotional or physical.


Think of it as entering another person’s property. Would you simply walk onto another person’s private property without permission? Of course you wouldn’t. It is common courtesy that we take for granted between people. It is the same for all other sovereign beings with whom we co-habit Earth.


If you receive permission to enter, I usually recommend thanking them for their consent before proceeding. Be mindful and in tune with yourself, with the space and with them throughout your visit. There will come a point where either you will sense or they will let you know that it is time for you to leave. When you feel this, obey the impulse and do not overstay your welcome.


As you exit, pause once again and turn around to face where you came out from. Offer a simple physical gesture of respect that you feel comfortable with, a nod, a hand over your heart, a little bow, and thank them for their generosity and hospitality on this day. I usually say, “Thank you, Elders of this territory, for allowing me on your land today and allowing me to spend time with you.”


The Elders taught me never to take any clan’s hospitality for granted, meaning, just because they let me in one day doesn’t mean that access is granted for all time. They can change their minds at any time and it is their right to do so. This is why we must always ask at the boundary to any territory, regardless of how many times we have been let in before and regardless of how good a relationship we may have with the particular territory or clan.


Once again, it is exactly the same as with people. We would never take for granted that we can walk into someone’s home unannounced, just because we know that person or have been there many times before.

Custodianship

One of the most important things the Elders taught me as a child was that human beings, as merely one of many species and races of beings that co-habit Earth, are like everyone else in that we have our place and role in the greater balance, and that role is not of owners or possessors of Earth, nor of the lands we live on. We are, at our best, custodians. Otherwise, we are but apprentices learning to be custodians and the Elders are our mentors.


Balance between the needs and wants of different dimensions, universes, ecosystems, and all the beings inhabiting those spaces, is not static. It is a constant give-and-take: A flow of life force.


It is our responsibility, as is the responsibility of all beings, to respect and be in harmony with that flow, on physical and non- physical levels, and it is more than a single lifetime’s work—It is an ongoing intergenerational undertaking.


The passing of theoretical and practical knowledge and wisdom from Elders to humans, from human elders to their offspring, who then themselves learn to apprentice directly from the Elders too for constantly updated information. For change is the only constant—We are forever in each lifetime learning and teaching.


It is easy to be and live as an owner, especially when ownership implies no checks and balances on what we consume, and the assumption that we can always take, possess and own what resources we have depleted from elsewhere. It is a destructive cycle of consumption, destruction and dispossession, with no re-generativity, no thought for the future.


It is much harder to be and live as a custodian. Every thought, word and deed must be mindful. Mindful of the self, of others, of present and future needs and wants, of past collective missteps, and of broader contexts that span the impersonal, rather than just the personal.


Yet it is essential we shift our mindset and ways of being and living towards that of the apprentice custodian, for this is truly what we all are in the greater balance of things. It is a humility we must all embrace if we are to come together to face the challenges Earth is experiencing right now, and to come through to a better, brighter future for all.

Cultivating Custodianship

Try on the thought for size: I am an apprentice custodian of Earth, and of the land(s) I live on.


What is a custodian? Another word you can substitute with is caretaker, but essentially a custodian is a person who has responsibility for taking care of or protecting something.


Take note of the thoughts and feelings that arise from this exploration. You may encounter overwhelm, resentment, helplessness, blame. If those feelings are too much for you to process alone, I recommend doing so with a trusted gifted friend or with a gifted therapist who is also ecologically aware.


Continue your prior practices of connection and respect. Observe if this additional layer of awareness changes your perception and relationship to our Elders.


You can now try to add another layer to your practice by asking the Elders to give you guidance on how best you can re-apprentice yourself as custodian of Earth and the land(s) you live on.


This is how I have been personally exploring this in my re- apprenticeship this year:


Return to the natural environment you have been practicing in and while requesting permission to enter, include a declaration of intent, “Good morning, Elders of this territory. It’s me, Silver. How are you today? I would like to ask permission to enter your land today, and in addition, I would like to seek your advice on re- apprenticeship as a custodian. Thank you.”


After you receive permission to enter their territory, find a good spot where you can spend some time quietly. You can also include a request to be guided to a good spot during your declaration, “Can you please guide me to a place on your land where I can be for a while that would best support this process?”


If you have a garden with lots of plants, you can also do this at home. Instead of asking permission to enter, you do an invite, “Good afternoon, Elders of this territory. My name is Silver Huang. I am seeking to re-learn how to become an apprentice custodian of this land and of Earth, and I would very much appreciate your presence and guidance on how best I can take the next step for this? I humbly request your presence and wisdom with me today, in this, my home on your land. Thank you.”


I highly recommend having writing and/or drawing material with you to capture any insights that you receive from them.


Which brings me to another common question, “How do we receive guidance from the Elders?” It depends from person to person. Some of us see them, hear them or feel them. Some of us even smell and taste different scents or flavors along with the first three modes of perception, and there are those of us who incorporate all physical senses into a fully embodied experience, which I personally call visions.


If we don’t receive communications in language, I get that it may be a bit hard to make sense of what is being received, however that’s where I find keeping a multi-media creative journal comes in handy.


I am a digital artist at heart, so I keep my journal in my iPad. I write, doodle and draw in apps like Paper by WeTransfer and Procreate. You can use non-digital means and materials. When I hear words, I write them down. When I see images, I sketch them out. When I experience visions, it depends but oftentimes I do both—I describe in words and sketch what I can.


The main thing for me has been to get creative with capturing the key essence of the insight and experience, so that when I bring this piece of wisdom home and refer to it again in a few days, weeks, months or years, I can remember what the experience was. The meaning may be apparent immediately, or it may come with time. The point is I capture the experience.


Playful and free-associative creativity has been a key piece of my process to reopening and reconnecting all the different dimensions of my being and process to Earth and her Elders. I’ve shared more on my creative journey in another essay in this compilation, called Reawakening Creative Engagement.


As I was writing this essay, a recollection surfaced that I wanted to share:


I grew up in a high-rise estate in Singapore. The ground level was mostly parking lots, but there were venerable angsana (Pterocarpus indicus) and rain trees (Albizia saman) all over the estate. They towered over me and I loved them. As a child, I was constantly running downstairs after school and on weekends to talk to them and ask them questions. One of my earliest acts of friendship to these embodied Elders was collecting armfuls of fallen twigs and tucking them into the spaces between the roots, so as to provide a constant source of food for my friends and mentors.


The sweet innocent connection and deep intuitive respect I had as a child is what I am slowly, gently and joyously recollecting and rediscovering.


Today, thirty years later, I walk in the completely different lands and territories of the Elder beings of Australia, on different soil and under different trees. The clans and tribes of Elders are different but the connection and respect are the same, and I am grateful that they have allowed and welcomed me onto their land. I look forward to continuing to deepen my apprenticeship with them as an adult to help make a difference on this Earth we call home.
The Elder Tree, digital drawing by Silver Huang, featured in Gifts for an Emerging World article Earth Elders, featuring a large, old tree with rich, dark brown bark, a lush crown of greenish-yellow leaves, with a glowing heart of bright red emblazoned in the center of the trunk, limned with gold. A breeze blows small green leaves across the foreground, while the light blue sky in the background is streaked with white and azure.

The Elder Tree, digital drawing by Silver Huang.


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