Ep. 196: What it Means to be in Reciprocal Relationship

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I have had the good fortune of an intimate relationship with nature and true wilderness for many years. I spent a decade working as a professional mountaineering guide and instructor, sleeping under the stars for over 200 days a year during that time. 


However, more recently, I’ve realized that my relationship with it was more extractive than I’d like it to be. Not as bad as plastic manufacturers, but the world was more of a playground for me than a partner. I had an intimate relationship with it in the sense of knowing it well…but there wasn’t the equal reciprocity that comes with a healthy intimate relationship. 


Sometimes, I would thank the rocks after a climb. But many times, I didn’t. Or I would realize how grateful I was for my time in that wild, but it was more focused on how I was able to spend time in the wilderness for MY pleasure and growth. I got better at this over time, but even now, I realize I can go deeper. 


When I was in Joshua Tree in October, it was potent for me when I heard from a rock that it loved people playing on it. But I realized we often play but don’t return the gift. 


This reciprocity is important, because it keeps us from just extracting from the more-than-human world, even if it’s for health or wellness. Rather, it’s about developing a partnership where there is give AND take. 


This lack of understanding true reciprocity for much of my guiding years makes sense, having grown up in a capitalist, industrialized society. 


Historically in the US, there’s a strong tendency to think of nature as a collection of resources. And in modern industrialized practices, the focus on anthropocentrism (prioritizing only human-focused aspects) leads to a broken foundation and perpetual cycles of trauma. 


But we can give as much as we receive. In fact, we need that. This type of relationship of reciprocity helps us feel an even deeper, embodied knowing that, without a doubt, we are in interbeing with all beings. 


As Amos Clifford says, we have the ability and responsibility to nurture the sentience of other beings, to help wake them up as well as receive teachings from them. 


To see an example of this, we can look at cars. They were created after lots of dreaming and planning and calculating and intenving…. But along the way, very little, if anything, was given back to the Earth and intuition that gave humans the ability to create those cars. 


Now, in a healthy culture, this is where spiritual leaders like shamans would come in, to help us repay this spiritual debt that we need to return. 


You can imagine that the more involved and time-consuming something is, the bigger the need for ritual and reciprocity to give back, right? 


But modern industrialized culture believes that all material is “dead,” so there’s no assumption of a spiritual debt incurred when we remove something from the world. So we end up with shopping malls and space shuttles, and all this advanced technology that has us feel superior, but walking around empty with this burden of spiritual debt. 


The result? Violence – inward and outward. We create suffering that is fed by wars, depression, self-hate, and more. We inflict violence on each other as a way to replace what we steal from nature. We’ve objectified that relationship as a personal experience instead of a spiritual obligation. 


And whatever we do to try to fix this won’t work because it doesn’t address the root cause. 


If the modern world is to truly start healing, we need to embrace a new culture that has a deeper understanding of interdependence and reciprocity. 


I want to invite you to get creative this week and practice the reciprocity of both giving AND receiving – especially in your time outside (but ultimately, you can do it anywhere, at any time). 


We can start by just noticing what is around us and speaking out loud the gifts we are receiving from it…shade from a tree, a place to rest on a rock or log, or a place to play on a mountainside. 


Then, we can find something to offer it. I like to sing a song of praise or pluck a hair from my scalp to give. It can be a gesture, a poem, a note. Anything goes. There’s no rules here, so allow inspiration to come to you, and display it with your whole heart and soul, as a true gift is given… and feel your heart swell with love!


You will learn: 

// How reciprocal relationship matters not just in our human relationships, but also with the more-than-human world 

// How modern industrialized society encourages humans to take and dominate… and how that’s starving the world and our spirits 

// Practices that help us give back 

// What it means when we are not experiencing reciprocity in our human relationships (hint: potentially toxic!)



// Episode 139: Nature and Reconnecting 

// Episode 188: Connected in Our Grief and Wonder 

// Episode 193: Lessons in Trust and Interdependence – Crossing the Street in Hanoi 

// Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Plus, we have entire months devoted to wisdom and compassion. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there! 

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.