EDITORIAL: “How Do We Know?”

From our Call for Submissions: “What exactly is knowledge? Is it a thing, an event, a practice, a movement toward? What does it mean to be intelligent? What is the nature of knowledge? What is worth passing on?” So asks Manulani Meyer in her book on Hawaiian epistemology Ho’oulu: Our Time of Becoming. Dark Matter issue #10 will be devoted to these questions.We believe they are crucial at a moment where habitual ways of knowing and assessing knowledge are proving inadequate to the enormous risks and challenges facing all life on Earth. For full call see https://darkmatterwomenwitnessing.com/submission_guidelines.html. Note that issue #11 will also be devoted to this theme.

As of issue #6, these editorials have been edited versions of conversations between authors who contributed to the issue.1see http://www.darkmatterwomenwitnessing.com/14November2017.html This editorial was to have been no different. Six of the authors in issue #10 came together for a ZOOM conversation with Kristin and me on Saturday Feb. 22nd: Krista Hiser (standing in for Manulani Meyer), Karen Malpede, Kate Tirion, Nancy Windheart, Hilary Giovale, and Sara Wright. It was a beautiful conversation that lasted an hour and a half. Alas, the recording mechanism malfunctioned and as a result we have no record of it. Instead, with the help of some of those on the call, we have attempted to reconstruct both the drift and the emotional tenor of the conversation.

Nancy: There was a feeling of such a delicious connection between all of us, and one that we wanted to savor, spiraling and circling and weaving the threads of our conversation. I had the sense that each of us relished the delight of being in a shared space of consciousness…

I have this memory of looking out at the sky and trees very, very early in my life. So I think those feelings began back that long ago. And growing up in a faery culture, which Wales is, the invisible part of the landscape was acknowledged early on as something alive and something part of every day.
Kate Tirion, interview with Gillian Goslinga

In all of the writings what struck me was the clear knowing of reciprocity between us as human beings and the energies and beings we were writing about: trees, rocks, the land in Manu’s Hawaii, the desert of Kate’s home, the aspen and bosque in New Mexico and northern AZ, the rocks and creek in Hilary’s piece…so many threads of connection, all with the understanding that the connection was reciprocal: as Sara said in her piece, “trees love to be loved.”

Lise: I don’t remember how we got there, but about midway through the call I realized we had all of us just spent some forty minutes, each of us in turn, talking about our connection with the natural world: did we grow up with it? If not, how did we get there? If we grew up with it and then lost it, how did that happen? In speaking of disconnection, some were brought to tears. In speaking of how it is to be connected and witness what humans are doing to nature, even more of us were brought to tears. There was talk of trauma and how it can open the door—become a portal—to nature. But what did any of this have to do with the theme of this issue—“How Do We Know?”

When Native people say ‘I,’ we mean the significant ‘I,’ the I in communion with lineage (and whose lineage seeks solidarity with the outside world—which includes flora, fauna et al.)
Lee Maracle, Nobody Home

It’s since become clear to me. Without ever making an explicit link, all of us on the call were answering the question: I know by not being separate from the physical world around me. (As Kate Tirion says in her interview with Gillian Goslinga, “One of the things I want to do is to take the word ‘and’ out of ‘us and nature.’”)

The pulse and flow of the blood excitedly chatters with the creek’s rushing water in an ancient tongue my mind cannot grasp. When I’m lucky, though, I eavesdrop on bits of their conversation through the ear of my heart.
Hilary Giovale, The Blood Knows

’Sentience’ is the synonym for ’consciousness’ or ’awareness’ which to me best connotes the embeddedness of human mind in non-human nature… It implies the fusion of perceiving, remembering, thinking and feeling; and the interpenetration of articulate and inarticulate, rational and non-rational, mental phenomena.
Dorothy Dinnerstein, Sentience and Survival

Nancy: One of the other threads I found so moving was that of music and creativity: in Manu’s song and writing, in Hilary’s song, even in the way that our conversation moved as a kind of song rather than a linear discussion of each piece… opening to the song of the earth and each other as a weaving, and also as a kind of anchor and answer to ‘how do we know?’ One answer is that knowledge is song, vibration, the energy of aloha, the song of our bodies, the body of the earth, not separate.

Lise: Embodiment was a theme throughout. Though Hilary’s piece is most explicit about it, all of us spoke of bodies, our senses, as being central to our own and each other’s work—most notably as the locus of our connection to nature.

Our [Hawaiian peoples’] capacity for knowledge is multi-sensory (gross, subtle, causal) and multi-dimensional, and life is a rich experience of continuity and connection… We inferred by the passion of our priorities that a nation that does not honor multi-sensory experiences with regard to knowing something is truly a Nation At Risk.
Manulani Aluli-Meyer, Foreword to Ho‘oulu

Krista: Aloha ‘āina translates as the love of land, but it is more than that. Manu refers to the “more ancient” reversed ‘āina aloha, which is the being-one-ness with land and sea, with nature. There is something important in the way this matter of “no-separation” recurs in the different pieces, and in the general literature. We talked briefly about The Overstory, which I just finished, and Overstory is about ‘āina aloha.

The compounds that trees breathe out at night lower my stress level. My heart beats more slowly in response, in resonance with this night rhythm. I experience unimaginable aching beauty when trees are leafing out, birthing spiky top knots, coming into bloom…
Sara Wright, Born Again

Lise: At one point I asked how many on the call had read The Overstory—Sara Wright’s After•Word is a very personal response to that novel—and it seemed to me that most everyone raised her hand. Trees were a strong presence in our conversation—as they are in the issue. (Both Gillian and Kate imagine themselves as trees in the course of their interview.)

Kristin: In our conversation there was a shared sense that alongside the destruction and the loss there are very encouraging shifts in awareness and activism; we are seeing possibilities emerge for healing and restoration that are, in themselves, beautiful.

If we all, if we could, if we were able to stand in our grief, an enormous silence might fall across the world. All the creatures would breathe a sigh of relief, all of plant life, the sea, every leafbugalgeabloom still for an instant: “See. They see, they know, they see it too. They have been stopped by the grief of what they have done. They are still. Standing still, with us now.”
Karen Malpede, gloss, Sentience and Survival

Lise: Yes. Karen spoke of her environmental justice students in NYC—how she tries to balance the need to tell them the unsparing truth, i.e., to give them the science, with the importance of showing another way of being, of perceiving. In this respect she found the material in this issue terribly helpful, most particularly Nancy Windheart’s story of the aspens and their ways of knowing. And Kate spoke of the students who come to the Deep Dirt Institute for the day and the questions they ask. Given the direness of the climate emergency, she said, it is not enough to simply rejig what is currently in place. (“We have to rethink completely how we are living on the planet,” she says in the interview). She spoke eloquently of the need for new stories, and how the students who come to the campus for the day are so moved and encouraged see and hear what is possible.

When I listen to the aspen and other non-human beings, I open all of my internal senses, my body, my energy field, my intuitive knowing. I receive communication from other species as a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional gestalt of knowing and understanding.
Nancy Windheart, Aspen Ways of Knowing

Kristin: As Nancy reiterated from her experiences with the aspens, we are not alone in this; there are many other beings and energies engaged, as we are, in the work of restoration in its myriad forms. And that message—“we are not alone”—vibrated throughout the conversation.

Lise: Towards the end, several of us spoke of our desire to return to and relearn indigenous and other ways of knowing. Hilary pointed out that indigenous cultures and peoples are the original architects of the life-affirming solutions we need to reweave our relationships at this time, and that indigenous knowing needs to inform our Western ways of thinking. I pointed out that in Manulani’s writing and in our interview, in which she quotes from Shakespeare, Husserl and Ken Wilber (as well as the Buddha and the Upanishads), we see an amazing example of how Western and other cultures might be incorporated into indigenous thought!

Neither of the two indigenous writers in this issue is shy about the critical importance of indigenous culture at this moment in history. In her essay, Manulani Meyer asserts baldly that, “Indigenous culture will save this planet.”

Krista: Manu says that indigenous is another word for continuity and that there is a reason that indigenous ways of knowing the world have been preserved. They are our way back to wholeness. And as she says in the interview, with those tears in her eyes, “Pretty much all we are doing these days is healing.”

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