Navigating the Nexus – Nature, Culture & the Sacred

By Nina Simons 

If you’re at all like me, you may be feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about finding your way through the challenging confluence of crises we are facing these days. I keep trying to figure out how, where and when to show up, attempting to find my way through this maze of ever more broken, corrupt and increasingly destructive systems and institutions that currently govern our society. 

To try to find some footing amidst all this instability, I’ve had to dig deep within my heart, body, mind and intuition to identify some anchors, some practices that can stabilize and help me to stay centered to move forward in a centered and aligned way.  

Throughout my life, although I grew up in a city, the first anchor I have turned to again and again is the natural world. As early as I can remember, green outdoor spaces were where I went to soothe and comfort myself, where I felt held, secure and stable.

Another area of life that has always enlivened and regenerated me is the arts, in the realm of culture. In college, I saw that so much of our dominant cultural conditioning was a source of everything that I sensed was wrong in the world, and that radical, transformational theater was a way that people could see and shed some of those destructive learned behaviors. Creative purposeful efforts in many media that aim to help reshape our culture have claimed my focus and my heart ever since. 

Although much of what our mainstream media creates is banal, toxic or perpetuates harmful stereotypes, those visionary artists who delve below the surface to reveal the truths emergent beyond the noise are among my most regenerative sources of hope. 

A primary wellspring of renewal I am drawing upon increasingly now to see me through turbulent times is the realm of the sacred. Bringing my own personal sense of the sacred into some sort of daily, embodied, ritual forms is what’s offering me essential ballast. Terry Tempest Williams’ words resonate deeply for me: “I trust what I see, and I believe what I feel. Trusting direct experience is the open door to revelation. This was my foundation for faith. It still is.” 

For me, dictionary definitions, like “entitled to reverence and respect” are too conceptual. They’re missing the embodied and emotional realities of experiencing the sacred. To me, it feels more like a palpable experience of a generative and boundless love. The love of the mother. It’s a nectar that all my senses become enlivened with, and one that nourishes and renews my heart. 

Which returns me to my first anchor, because immersing myself in the natural world has provided me with a most reliable doorway into the sacred. My daily walks in the woods around our home revitalize me. I smell juniper and pinon, hear the wind rustling ponderosas, sense the crusty soil crunching beneath my feet. 

I am awed by the resilience of moss that can still grow in the sandy arroyos, amidst a hundred-year drought. My eyes drink in the brilliant green of new growth, my heart greets a flurry of bees feasting on purple blossoms, as friends of fertility. 

I used to be afraid that if I told anyone how transported, lifted and embedded I felt in nature—how devoted I am to her creatures, places and mysteries—they’d think I was crazy, so I kept it under wraps. But now, as we face imminent threats to all of life, I find myself asking for help from all possible allies, including the invisible ones I sense as ancestors, elements, energies and nature spirits. 

Doing this helps me remember that I don’t need to carry the pain or grief of the world’s losses alone. It reminds me that I’m part of the entire web of life, of the whole Earth community, and that all of it is imbued with sacredness. 

But I want to avoid what’s sometimes called “spiritual bypassing” —using supposed spiritual attitudes to ignore the world’s problems and deny the strength and value of our emotions and actions. 

Let’s be real: It’s really hard not to get knocked off center by so much that is happening. 

I do feel angry frequently, and often deeply sad and mourning, and the anchors I’ve mentioned are helping me to express what I feel and find my center as often as possible. As humans, emotions are the psychic ocean we swim in. Some say they are nature’s way of informing us of what we need to know.

We’ve got to alter mainstream culture’s pattern of insidiously repressing emotions, especially grief and legitimate rage. I believe that it hobbles our capacity to act effectively and collaboratively on behalf of what we love and want to protect or defend. Our lack of brave spaces to respect, listen for and express what our hearts feel throughout life’s changes undermines our leadership and engaged action. 

From Unangan elder Ilarion Merculieff, or Kuulux, I’m reminded that we must learn to lead from our hearts first, and no longer mainly from our minds. 

In the hope that some of it may be useful for you, here are a few things that I’ve found helpful in determining where to focus my attention, how to take my next clear step, and how best to live.

More and more, I try to focus on what’s small, close and dear to me. On caring for the land, plants, creatures and loved ones who surround me in my daily life. I tend to the hungry birds that remain near our home daily, praying for their wellbeing while ensuring they have food and fresh water. When I walk in the woods, I practice pouring love, gratitude and healing into the natural world through the soles of my feet. I ask her for forgiveness, on behalf of us all. 

I devote more and more care to cultivating a circle of chosen family, close kin who I feel I can count on and be utterly real with, no matter what. 

I’ve begun giving more attention to life support systems in my community, trying to invest some of my time, skills and resources to help develop greater self-reliance for things like food, energy, water, shelter, and the local economy. 

I practice listening for what my body and heart want and need to stay healthy, and try to act upon what I sense, hear or feel. 

And doing this kind of inner work doesn’t replace my need for action in the wider world—instead, I hope that it can inform what I do from a more considered, reflective and self-aware place. 

May enough of us bring our determined and impassioned selves into creative collaborative action, holding each other with fierce compassion in community, across divides—while turning towards each other through the bumps, triggers and ruptures we encounter.

May we move forward only as each step becomes clear, paying exquisite attention, listening with our hearts, remaining focused and resolute, so that when a clear calling comes through, we hear, dream or intuit it, and can respond effectively. 

May we trust in the power of the natural world that speaks through us, remembering to ask for help from all of our relatives, and also from our invisible allies, ancestors and the Earth herself.


About Nina Simons
Nina’s 2022 book Nature, Culture, and the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership2nd Ed, calls for an inclusive, feminine-facing leadership model that represents all humans, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, or cultural background.

    As cofounder and Chief Relationship Strategist at nonprofit environmental-justice firm Bioneers, Nina Simons draws on her extensive experience with multicultural leadership development in her work as a social entrepreneur, producer, speaker, and culture worker passionate about reinventing leadership, restoring the feminine, and establishing racial, gender, and environmental equity. Nina teaches engaged leadership, and is dedicated to weaving connective tissue among issues, leaders, and movements. See more on her Amazon author pagehomepageLinkedIn, and Bioneers profile.