by Sara Vos, Photographs by Hil Nix
ShuNahSii Rose is the creator of In Sacred Balance. Now in its 27th year, In Sacred Balance offers a model of a “sustained inter-generational feminist spiritual community” with deep Ann Arbor roots. The magic ShuNahSii creates is palpable and necessary, a healing balm for the soul of the world. I met her for coffee and to chat about her passion for restoring relations between humanity and other inhabitants of our world.
Sara Vos: “Restoring relations between people and the earth.” This is the concise version of your mission, can you talk about what it means to you?
ShuNahSii Rose: It means that we choose to recognize, respond to, and prioritize, our universal longing for peace on earth. That we give that longing the credence that it deserves: take it out of the realm of utopian, hippie, fantasy, and center it as the necessary goal that it is.
With frightening weather patterns, routine mass murders, racism, and an obviously crumbling infrastructure, we have to humble ourselves, as a species, and face the fact that the solutions we seek to address what is wrong with the dominant culture will not come from within the confines of the dominant culture.
When we widen the scope of our knowledge, we can see it is fact, not fantasy, that our longest lasting legacy as human beings on this planet is one of harmonious relationship with the rest of creation. We have to reclaim that truth and be inspired by it. I believe we have a cellular memory of this legacy that drives us, as healers and activists, to keep working for the restoration of Sacred Balance, because we know, in our bones, peace is possible.
When we include what contemporary culture calls “prehistory,” there is ample evidence that peaceful cultures existed for tens of thousands of years: cultures that centered the nurturer, not the conqueror. Cultures in which art, music, sustainable agriculture, and reasonable distribution of “wealth” were the norm. Indigenous peoples the world over are asking us to return to a consciousness that fosters this model of a culture of compassion.
Sara Vos: What do you see as the dilemma, or current obstacles to right relations with the earth?
ShuNahSii Rose: As a culture, we normalize the absurd illusion that our fate is somehow separate from that of the earth and we view the rest of creation as “resources” as opposed to relations or kin. This habit is, in and of itself, violent.
In our self-imposed state of exile from each other, from the beings we share the planet with, from the planet herself, we have become unable to sit still long enough to be with the big feelings and big questions of our time. We are in a state of perpetual panic that no amount of consumption can assuage--but genuine communion can assuage it.
Redefining community to include the natural world can heal this illusion of exile.
Empathy, not just with each other as human beings, but with all of creation, is essential to our course correction at this crossroads in history. We can’t afford to live in the illusion of separation any longer.
Our policies and practices, both nationally and locally, need to be reflective of empathy and respect for the natural world.
As a little girl I was taught to love the earth, animals, and plants. To find joy in exploring relationships with these beings, and to learn from the humor, generosity, and intelligence that nature expresses all around us all the time. I have also been very privileged to learn intimately with, and from, indigenous peoples from several continents. The underlying message is always the same: relations not resources. Everything is not here for us to use up. When we shift our perspective to relations instead of resources, we shift toward a culture of compassion and inclusion in which there is more than enough to go around.
Out of a profound love for the land that I have lived on for thirty years and with a strong opposition to the Ann Arbor deer cull, I have gone headlong into a deeper education about what constitutes ecological “conservation” in our country, and I am shocked by how innately violent it is. Even the people who are supposedly signing up to protect the earth consistently use violent means to bring about their desired ends. And money often drives this madness.
The United States alone spends over a billion dollars pouring Roundup on the earth every year, and lining the pockets of the companies that produce it. Even here, in our precious little “Tree Town” city of Ann Arbor, we regularly employ this toxic chemical as part of our “land management” and teach our school-aged children that this is the inevitable path of “conservation.”
Sara Vos: How might “relations not resources” change our choices?
ShuNahSii Rose: For me, one of the most haunting aspects of watching the decisions roll out on the deer cull was seeing our elected officials insist that “the deer are ruining the environment,” an enormous reversal that framed the deer as the problem rather than human mismanagement of our neighborhoods and the planet. It was like finding myself in a funhouse of mirrors that distort and misrepresent what is obvious about reality, except it wasn’t fun.
Let’s be clear: it is humanity and humanity alone that is pushing the planet out of balance. There will be no room for us to have the necessary conversations if we do not come out of denial about that.
I personally love the deer and see them as an inherent and essential part of my community. Relations not resources. Their wellbeing matters to me. Their families matter to me, and their absence has a grave impact on our city. My experience of the land that has offered me sanctuary for all of these years is changed and the impact on my health is lasting.
Our well-being is inseparable from that of the earth and our relations.
Sara Vos: So, do you see solutions to these dilemmas?
ShuNahSii Rose: Yes, yes, and YES!!! And thankfully, the solutions are most often joyous, fun, and definitely a long awaited relief. Despite these tales of woe, I am typically an enthusiastic, optimistic, and solutions-oriented woman because I am well supported by my community.
I am fiercely in love with this planet. I understand at my core that we cannot love what we do not know, and we will not protect what we do not love... So it is imperative that we know the world in which we live.
Go outside, every day, and listen. Literally, stop talking, or even thinking, as you walk or sit and just listen. Notice what comes up. Quite often my quiet time in nature offers explicit and useful answers to my current concerns.
When you interact with nature, think “who” not “what.” Whose song is it that I hear on my morning walk? Who is that new plant that has appeared in my garden? Whose tracks are those in the snow?
Listen to the children and the elders. Redefine what constitutes human family and prioritize intergenerational community. It is natural and necessary.
Stand still to honor life’s significant passages, together. Grieve. Celebrate. Sing. Share meals.
Continually ask the questions, “What are we centering?” Love? Generosity? Inclusion?
Choose what we center consciously.
In truth, the story of solutions is far longer, and more interesting, than the story of ruin.
Our In Sacred Balance community has a long, solid history of building healing ritual tradition that is reflective of, and responsive to, our modern times. If you are curious about the healing power of these teachings and practices, it would be our pleasure to welcome you.
For upcoming classes, events, and teachings, please visit insacredbalance.org.