DragonflyPhoto by: Parsha / Shutterstock

Dr. Matthew Zylstra is a conservation ecologist with over 15 years of international experience in research, education and facilitation of collaborative social-ecological change processes. Matt has co-founded several organisations, including EarthCollective and Living Lands. He currently serves as founding director for the Organisation for Noetic Ecology, research associate with the Sea Change Project, and lead instructor for Wildlands Studies academic (undergrad) field programs. He has led expeditions in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Matt has a passion for novel approaches to experiential learning, motivated by his transdisciplinary PhD research (2014) which explored how meaningful experience and nature connectedness supports transformative education for sustainability. He also holds an MSc in Environmental Sciences & International Policy and a BBus in Marketing, and he currently designs and facilitates immersive programs and workshops that support natural learning for connected leadership. Matt’s scientific publications can be found on ResearchGate.

In this conversation, Matt shares what he has learned from his research on meaningful nature experiences and how they can shape our willingness to protect natural spaces. 

Resources From this Episode

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through our link, Earthfire receives a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Earthfire and  independent bookstores!

Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

Institute of Noetic Sciences

Animas Valley Institute

Where is My Loyalty? by Beth Robson

The Plastic Bag Distraction by Joey Moncarz

Eight Billion Trees

Connecting with Coincidence podcast by Dr. Bernie Beitman

Ecofluency by Dr. Saskia von Diest

Emissaries of the Wild, a new film about Earthfire produced in partnership with A Song Without Borders

Learn more about the three core themes of Matt’s PhD research at eyes4earth.org/what-is/

Matt’s photo with the dragonflies

Transcript

Susan: It’s a really interesting thing to me that I met you some three or four years ago for about 10 minutes at a conference, and you’re in South Africa and I’m here. And with all the incredible busyness of all of us, somehow, we stayed in contact. It fascinates me. Why? What is it that made us reach one another and not forget one another? Every time we speak, it’s really interesting because it’s like we are on the same river of consciousness—the same current in the river consciousness. If you have any thoughts about that, it would be interesting.

Matt: Well, firstly, thanks very much for the chance to speak with you today and to share our conversations and passions more publicly. It’s a really good question. And yet, I have a sense it’s not unique at this point in time. I think increasingly, as we are facing what we’re facing in the world, the importance of finding people who really share the same vision and are walking the same path is one of the most important things to keep us—well, maybe first and foremost, sane—but to keep us directed and focused on what we’re trying to do and the critical role we’re trying to play in precipitating some kind of change. A big part of the continued contact to me is just that sense of knowing that there are other people out there who share a similar vision, and it’s these little connected communities that are springing up across the planet. And whilst I haven’t read the book, I understand Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest sort of talks about that as well—this idea that below what’s visible, below what we’re getting bombarded with in the media mainstream, there are these small connected communities, whether formalized through organizations or just informal groups that are really doing their little bit to weave a new fabric into this unfolding—this great unfolding—which we don’t really know what it’s going to look like. That’s one aspect.

And the other aspect, perhaps, is a little bit more noetic. I do feel that we resonate sort of energetically with people and that brings certain people, events, animals, and what have you into our life at certain times. And we have some sort of attraction to that. And there’s the old saying of “a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” I think that we just feel connected with people for whatever reason, at whatever point in our journey.

Susan: You used the word “noetic.” Would you like to explain that? And also explain the organization you founded, the Organization of Noetic Ecology.

Matt: Sure. Those who are familiar with the Institute of Noetic Sciences probably wouldn’t need an introduction. They’re based in Petaluma, California. I’ve been very much inspired by their work. Particularly, I’ve being interested in the application of the noetic sciences to the ecology and conservation. Noetic is generally understood to be, in its simplest terms, “inner knowing.” But it can have an expanded understanding—that it’s a sort of knowing that comes through direct, embodied experience. And that to me, as far as it’s applied to ecology, was incredibly important. Because in the Ph.D. research that I’ve done on nature connectedness and meaningful nature experience, the importance of direct, embodied experiences is just absolutely critical in defining our sense of connection and our sense of belonging in the world. And most importantly, our sense of taking responsibility for what we would call pro-environmental behavior. So, after finishing my Ph.D. and [leading] field study programs for undergrads, the importance of direct embodied experience just absolutely amplified itself. But then, in parallel, I’ve been fascinated with these new understandings of consciousness and what that means. The scientific evidence is moving fast and suggests that perhaps consciousness is primary in the world. Philosophers of consciousness are looking at ideas of panpsychism and that perhaps consciousness is the foundation for everything. I’ve been really excited and passionate about looking at how we bring these understandings into what has traditionally been called conservation, which is becoming a little bit circular and perhaps stale for some people.

Susan: It brings up the interesting question of the importance of inner work in order to make change—the common idea that each of us has to become connected with ourselves and do our own healing before we can help heal the planet—versus the idea of, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, everything’s burning. There’s no time for that, we have to take action.” What’s the balance between those two? That eternal question. If it’s inner work, ideally, we approach things with caring and compassion and the deep thoughtfulness, but it takes time. With outer work that’s not grounded, we become aggressive and shrill and off to get backlash, and yet there’s some action done. What do we do? What’s the right approach? Is there something new coming out? Ideally, a new type of consciousness, where we somehow combine the two? And if so, how do we make it happen faster? Answer all that, Matt, and fix it.

Matt: What do we do? I mean, I would be pretending to say that I had the answers. But it’s the question that I’ve really been holding very closely and continuously for a while—especially in the last six months—because in my own social and professional circles, that question has been coming up time and time again. And it’s incredible that even between people who are otherwise on the same page with so many things, it can actually cause quite a bit of discord between them. I think that’s because there is no one size fits all. We are all on our own journey, and in that ebb and flow, seasonal, cyclical process that is life, there are going to be the times when we need to go inward and do the inner work, and then there’ll be the times when it seems that life is calling us into action. We have to do the outer work.

I have been inspired by various people on thinking like this. One of them is, of course, Joanna Macy and her idea of active hope, in terms of the importance of having a very important grounding within the inner work. Hers was in the Buddhist tradition. But you know, one of the things the Institute of Noetic Sciences has looked at with transforming consciousness and living deeply is just the importance of having a practice—finding a practice and being committed to some sort of practice. I think that is essential, particularly through these times. And whether it’s meditation, mindfulness, or some sort of body work that that allows the calming of our life force, that does seem to be the essential work.

But there are equally powerful arguments to embody or to pursue the sort of soul work that the likes of Bill Plotkin with Animas Valley Institute has pioneered over many years, looking at our own soul and mythopoetic journey. And it can get quite bewildering, really, to see all those things out there. But it is, I think, a matter of really tapping into what calls us, and what really gives us the power and awakens the gifts that we can bring to the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the outer work has to happen. And I think where the frustration happens—at least that I’ve seen between colleagues—is when the inner work flag gets waved as a kind of a cop out, or least what appears or is judged by others as being a cop out.

And it’s that which I think is challenging, because some writers have said we’ve got a kind of “extinction paralysis.” I don’t know if anyone’s coined that term, but at least that’s what it feels like to me. You know that we’re facing a situation. We haven’t been trained for it. We’ve never had prior education. And what do we do? You know, it definitely seems like something is being called from us—from those of us who are aware and are paying attention to what’s going on in the world—that we need to do something. And yet, in the same sense of needing to do something—to feel and do something—there’s also this contradiction of doing nothing in a sort of “more inner work” sense. And I think some of the great spiritual teachers talk about holding the contradiction, being comfortable with the contradiction in life. And that’s, I think, what the inner and outer work is. It’s both at the same time. It’s a dance, but it’s also this contradiction. And I am still playing with that myself. I felt at the beginning of this year that I needed to go inward a bit more after running around outward a lot. But I’m hoping that will recharge, refocus, realign, and that I can burst out a bit more outwardly later this year. I’m not sure if I answered the question at all.

Susan: I don’t think we have an answer. I think we as a human species need to grow into the answer. Each of us can talk about and explore it. I don’t think we have the answer, but we’re exploring, at least. But again, the issue is do we explore in time?

Matt: That’s, I think, what is challenging. You have this rationale around saying that it’s urgent, and this is where maybe coming from the conservation side of things hasn’t, perhaps, helped. Being in a crisis state means you’re on adrenaline the whole time. That’s what crises do, so you’re constantly charged up like that. If we are embracing that crisis, that is not healthy—and it’s not to say it is not a crisis or there’s not an urgency, but it’s to understand that constantly playing that language does mean that, physiologically, we are we are responding to that. And that is where the role of connection is so critical, and fostering connection at the same time. Because as far as our neurophysiology goes, activities which bring on connection will also help activate the other side of our nervous system, which can counter this constant adrenaline and dopamine that we’re on. It awakens the oxytocin and, if I understand correctly, the vagus nerve and what have you, which really can give us an important balance to live healthier lives.

Susan: It doesn’t even work, though, because if we are too far in a crisis mode, we don’t think clearly and we don’t come up with deep, true answers. When I say true, I mean answers that are actually going to work long term.

Matt: Yeah, that’s right. If you need to rescue somebody from a fire, in that particular moment, you could potentially call on incredible instinctual resources to do something fantastic. But it’s a moment. And when it’s a prolonged sense of being on alert, on crisis, on adrenaline, then just as you say, it doesn’t work. And unfortunately—and there’s plenty of research to back this up, this is not just my own opinion here—the doom and gloom message, the sense of, “Look at what we’re losing,” does tend to turn people off. And it’s a shame. I bemoan it myself. It’s not that I like it; it’s a pity. I mean, what will it take for people to take these sorts of messages seriously? But if it’s not working, then we have to say, well, what will? And it is direct experience. I feel it comes down to that. Direct experience which brings on connections can also work both ways. Some people are saying after the Australian bushfire crisis that things will change now, because sadly, as far as it seems to go for humans, it does take a disaster. And I really hope we don’t have to go that far. But if they can be the kind of disasters that gives us sufficient warning, then perhaps, sadly, that’s what we need.

Susan: There are some interesting ideas from people who are called radical or the far left. There is a question in an article that was written on Deep Green Resistance, and the question is,

Where is my loyalty? When people ask, “How can we stop climate change?” what they are really asking is, “How can we stop climate change without substantially changing how we live on the planet?” … That’s like asking how we can save the salmon and the Orcas without removing dams, stopping industrial logging, stopping industrial agriculture… industrial fishing… industrial plastics…. The answer is, we can’t…. The right [isn’t] “How can we stop climate change?”, [it’s] “Where is my loyalty?” And if our answer … is anything other than “With nature” then we can’t expect life on this planet to go on much longer.

(Quoted from “Where is My Loyalty?” by Beth Robson)

That’s where I like to work. And you, too, in those kinds of deep questions, a deep understanding of what we value. And if we don’t go to that level, nothing will matter. Changing plastics won’t matter. Recycling won’t matter. Replanting trees here and there won’t matter. Nothing will matter if we don’t make a fundamental, underlying shift. And that’s where you and I are in common. That’s where we work. That’s the understanding we have. Not that it’s not important to take certain actions to try to stop plastics, et cetera. All that’s important, but it will make no difference at all in the end if we don’t have an underlying shift. At the same time that we’re trying to collect all the plastics, I think it’s Exxon, if I’m saying it right, is building a massive new plant somewhere in Pennsylvania to make plastics, because they see if we can’t have oil for transportation anymore, plastics are really cheap and they can make a huge fortune on it. How are we allowing that? It’s a fundamental question. How are we who care about life on the planet allowing that? What does it take for a human being to do that? One of my friends once talked to a CEO—I don’t know whether it was Round Up or cigarettes or whatever it is—saying, “how can you do that to other people?” And he looked at the person and said, “You really believe we care? You guys are the fools. You guys are fools for caring.”

I’m giving you a whole bunch of stuff here, but what’s our true human nature? Is there a true human nature? Are there two human natures, a group of people who care and a group of people who don’t care? There’s some research suggesting that authoritarianism itself has actually got some small genetic component in terms of more rigid thinking and more fear based. This goes back to this endless discussion of if humans are basically good, you act one way. But if there are some humans that aren’t so good, how do the rest of us stop them? How do we take the reins? The power of the corporations is so huge.

There’s another article in [Deep Green Resistance] called “The Plastic Bag Distraction.” And it says,

The banning of single-use plastic bags is the latest in a never-ending parade of distractions meant to lull us into thinking that modern civilisation is becoming more “environmentally friendly” and that the elite corporations and their… servants are capable of doing the right thing. It’s… meant to distract us from considering what really needs to be done to deal with climate crisis…. Our failure to recognise this latest plastic bag distraction as a distraction [and here, the wolves are starting to howl in agreement] is a result of having lost the ability to even identify what is important, what is real, what should be a priority and what is [not]. Part of the reason why we’ve lost the ability to distinguish the real from [not important] is that our entire lives have been reduced to nothing but an endless string of distractions.

(Article by Joey Moncarz)

And apparently, the wolves and the coyotes agree fervently. I don’t know if you can hear them.

Matt: I can. Yeah. They’re offering their howl of approval. They are definitely the big questions.

I just wanted to backtrack a little bit on what you were saying about these incremental actions making no difference, and certainly in the material realm, that’s true. And really, it’d be quite difficult to argue otherwise. That would be debilitating, really, because then there is there is no hope. And if I lived my life with a complete adherence or subscribing to a purely materialist world view, there is very little hope. But what inspires and keeps me going is something through my own… I guess you would call noetic experiences, and those that I have heard from others and those which came through my research, and those which we’re seeing. Science is now finding that there’s more to the materialist world view. And I’m sure many of our listeners have their own personal experiences that would feel that. But there is something that we don’t know. And there is something that is inspiring, being born and being a potential agent of change at this point in time—to have the possibility of being a part of this critical moment in humanity. And there is something that just feeds the curiosity of what I always think of as the Great Mystery of the unknowable, but also in being comfortable with not knowing.

And so, with our current knowledge, yes, incremental changes like all of those you listed make no difference. And it does require a fundamental turning to really, fundamentally turn our attention toward nonhuman nature in every moment. To really embrace that. It’s a matter of making choices, and moment by moment where we place our attention creates our experiences, and our experiences make up our consciousness. And that is a part scientifically of how we understand consciousness: it really is a product of our experiences. It is about choice making. The choices we make, where we put our attention and what we do, actually make our mind. And so it is living intentionally in every moment. And that intentionality has to be now directed toward Earth in its entirety. We become what we choose. We become what we attend to. We become what we focus on.

So, where I am challenged with some of those writings—as true as they might be in the material sense—is that if we continue to focus on that—or at least that only—do we become that in our own consciousness? And all that brings, which might be despair, might be cynicism. It might be everything else. The noetics have given me, I guess, the source of hope and perhaps the radical hope or the active hope—and I’m more than happy to be judged as saying it’s wishful thinking—but I would like to think that these new understandings of consciousness might just indicate that perhaps there is an unfolding that we cannot yet be certain of. These actions—which mean very little in the material realm—maybe they are having some impact in the realm of consciousness. And I would like to think they are. Every beach cleanup, which seems to make very little difference, is bringing people together, attending to the earth, caring, nurturing, tending. I think this word “tending” is super important as a human. I mean, there’s tending, and that leads into attending. It leads into intending. There’s something about just tending the earth, that might be taking these small, little, cumulative actions [into something] that might be somehow making a difference.

Susan: I love that. A slightly different angle on it is that if we do something like try to collect plastics—a specific action, as opposed to trying to stop the whole fundamental structure that allows us to even make it—if we do it from a place less of anger and desperation (which are both totally understandable) but from a deep place of, as you would say, “tending,” that makes a difference. Somehow that puts energy out into the air. That makes a difference—if it’s done from that perspective, rather than just a technological concrete fix.

Matt: I agree. You know, there was something that flashed up on social media, some initiative called Eight Billion Trees or something. It was all social media stars. It was sort of bam, bam, bam. And everyone’s got a hard hat or a bright green shirt and bulldozers and teams, all going out and planting eight billion trees. And again, it’s this holding the contradiction, because hopefully everyone doing that is doing it in the spirit of tending. And it’s potentially billions of trees. Who could say that’s not the right thing to do? No, it is. Of course it’s the right thing to do. But there is something in that mass-produced kind of militarization of conservation which we tend to see that, perhaps, loses something in the process. And given where we are—the sense of urgency—yes, let’s plant as many trees as possible. But let’s never forget in the process of doing that, as you’ve just articulated, where that’s coming from and what emotional state that’s in. I really hope that all these promising initiatives which are responding to a sense of urgency equally honor the process and not just the outcome.

Susan: And then we know so little. Planting trees sounds wonderful. But what kind of trees? Trees themselves grew up naturally in an entirely interactive community. Does just sticking trees into the ground make a difference? Should we first think through how we might actually help an entire community develop? That’s much deeper than that. Again, it’s like a technological fix. Okay, “Need more trees? Stick trees in ground.” Versus really thinking through, “What is a forest?” What did I read recently—talking about a tree growing by itself? How lonely it is. There are all these other levels to be understood, and if we don’t come from a more—for lack of a better word—spiritual, noetic, or awakened human consciousness point of view, then it’s easy to just think we’re doing something good. Now I’m no expert on this. I’m just bringing up these questions. You’re saying, of course, it’s a good thing to plant trees? Well, maybe. Maybe we haven’t followed through enough. Yes, in principle. But then we need to do a whole lot of thinking about it.

Matt: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I would like to at least hope to think that whoever have been behind these initiatives are doing some basic research there. But your point, I’m glad you mentioned that challenge, because it raises up a whole other aspect which I’ve had increasing experience with lately, and that is the act of communing with nature in a very real and embodied and intuitive noetic sense. And as you would be aware, I have some colleagues who have established themselves in fields of animal communication or interspecies communication, and also, recently, looking at the application of family constellations or nature constellations, which I won’t elaborate on now. But looking at this systemic process of healing relationships and family. How can we heal relationships in man? We assume we know the answers, and we assume we even know what Earth wants at this point in time. Conservation has become very managerial in many senses, whereas other understandings, like biomimicry, see ourselves as much more a part of nature. But even these processes of communing, actually—let’s ask the land. What does it want? And one of our friends has gone through these constellations, dealing with her own grief regarding Earth and where it’s going, and has had some very profound realizations that don’t sit comfortably with the current discourse. You know, it’s like, “You deal with your stuff. Me as Earth is okay.” And that’s very confronting because it turns everything on its head. I guess if we take a longer view of time, this little epoch of humanity is perhaps inconsequential.

But that was for that particular person. It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. That’s one way of knowing. And I think the thing about noetics and all these ideas is that it’s looking at multiple ways of knowing and integrating multiple ways of knowing.

So if we look at potentially using animal communication or interspecies communication and constellations and multiple methodologies for these big questions, we might get far more effective and profound responses to the question of, well, what do we plant here? What do we do on this piece of land? And it is not to negate or displace a scientific understanding of ecology and what needs to happen. That is one way of knowing. But what I really came to see, even in these times of urgency, is actually finding ourselves sitting in a whole different way of knowing and approaching these sorts of big questions.

Susan: That’s exactly what I mean by going to a deeper level, of having a different kind of view. Would you mind sharing some of the experiences you refer to or experiences that have made you into who you are and following the path you’re following?

Matt: My background originally was in business and marketing and consumer behavior. I was fascinated there with the psychology of humans and how they responded to marketing. But I was very disillusioned with that path in my early 20s and proceeded to shift into the environmental sciences. I then did a very intensive degree in environmental sciences, ecosystem assessment, fisheries science, international policy. And that was fantastic. I learned an awful lot, but I realized then that all of a sudden, my marketing training—which I thought had be a waste of time—I realized that the conservation community was lacking the ability to effectively communicate. We’d have these whole lectures and I’d sometimes feel at the end, “Well, who knows about this?” And what’s the “so what” factor for people?

So that was challenging me a little bit, but I was still going to go deeper into this form of science. I was going to do a Ph.D. in fisheries science. But around that time, I had a couple of very powerful personal experiences, one involving a friend that passed away suddenly in a hiking accident. And in that absolute anguish, I took my bike and went to the forest and sat there and didn’t really know what to do. But I said some form of prayer, and in the moments after that, three dragonflies landed on me. And I just was floored. And I have remained so to this day. Even though I tried to deny the experience for a while. But they stayed on me. I was able to lean in and take a photo—and this is back in 2006 before selfies were a thing. But I took photos and that was able to validate my experience for myself later on. And they stayed on for quite a long time—several minutes—and then, one by one, they left. And I wasn’t near water or anything. Irrespective of the interpretation of that point, it was just such a huge experience, it shaped me into reawakening some of my earlier experiences and perhaps childhood ideas around earth mysteries and things that I didn’t understand. And it was just cathartic. It was a life-changing moment.

Dragonflies on a man's face and shoulder

Matt and the dragonflies | Matthew Zilstra

And that sort of opened up a little door, which eventually got bigger and bigger. And there was a whole twisting and turning of events after that and other experiences. I was involved in restoration ecology in South Africa and co-founded an organization doing that. And being around a campfire in the evening with conservation managers, scientists, farmers, all sorts of people that I would interact with in this very social role of stakeholder outreach. And some of them would confide, “You know, I don’t usually tell people this, but I had this experience once…” And I was starting to hear what I eventually called “meaningful nature experiences” and realizing what an impact it was having on peoples’ life stories and orientation toward the environment. Some of the people who were doing the most positive actions towards the environment were citing these particular experiences which gave them, as you said before, this loyalty toward nature first. And it doesn’t always stay like that—I mean, we all ebb and flow. But I ended up pursuing Ph.D. research on meaningful nature experiences. In that four to five year process—perhaps because I was so focused on it—I also had a string of other experiences myself and had the good fortune of speaking with many, many people who had these experiences. To hear so many experiences—to realize that, wow, many people have these experiences, they don’t always talk about them, they deny them, but they have a huge impact on how we live in the world—that subsequently got me exploring the idea of connectedness with nature as well.

That, in the end, led me to where I am today. Certainly after my Ph.D., I was a bit done with academia for a while and I wanted to put this into practice. I had been leading, facilitating, and teaching field study programs. With our undergrads, we would sometimes broach these topics over the course of six weeks in the field.

And that eventually has led to wanting to explore this idea of noetic ecology. I feel the time is right. I think for a long time, there were conversations like this that we just wouldn’t have been comfortable having. And now there’s this kind of release. It just feels so much more acceptable to have these conversations, given where the world’s at. Particularly because now we know there is quite a lot of scientific research—even though, sadly, it’s not made very public and it still tends to reap the wrath of skeptics. But it is there, and it’s compelling to suggest that these kinds of experiences, these kinds of interactions with nature, are important. I mean, that’s been clear for a long time, but [now we can be open to the idea that they] might actually be real. That’s really been the motivation and the big shift for me.

During my Ph.D., one of the mantras that I would share is that whether or not the experience is real is irrelevant. But it’s important to understand that the interpretation exists, and therefore, that has a causal effect on people’s behavior. That’s allowed me to get through a fairly conservative natural sciences degree department by saying, well, whether you like the experience or not, it’s being had. A lot of people were reporting they had a sense of communication with nature—far more than I would have expected. I was able say, “Well, whether we like it or not, it’s being experienced. So what’s the impact? Let’s not focus on whether it’s real or not. What’s the impact? What’s the damage?” It’s what I’ve never been able to understand with people who’ve been reluctant to take climate change action. We can take all these actions, doesn’t do any harm—it only harms the modus operandi of the of the system. But for humanity, it can only do us good.

What’s shifting for me now, and one of my colleagues is now following up on this, and she’s finding that some of these ideas of communicating with nature are, perhaps, actually real. And we don’t yet understand what’s going on fully. We can have some guesses at it—or hypotheses, I should say. But that’s quite liberating. And I think that’s what gives me hope this time.

Susan: Wonderful, Matt. Wonderful is putting it mildly. What would it actually mean? I just did a little film on Earthfire, and it started out with, “What if the earth is lonely for us?” And that comes from the idea that maybe this is real. And what does it mean if it’s real? Sort of like taking the next step. I fully understand and appreciate and think what you’re talking about is completely valid as a way to approach human change: So what if it’s real or not real? You see the impact. I think we’re ready to go the next step—to say, “Well, maybe it is real”—and have that begin to enter human consciousness. That would be a fundamental, incredible shift for all of us.

Matt: I just wanted to add the idea that life has been a continuum. It’s got sentience, it’s got volition. I’m talking animals here, for example. But even trees, you know. With the research that’s coming out of trees now, we are understanding so much more about the way they learn in the world, experience emotion. That’s probably more with animals than we know with trees. But even trees seem to have some sort of reaction to what goes on. This is really changing everything.

I just heard a couple of stories regarding fires recently—wildfires. And I would have never entertained this thought not so long ago, but even the sense that some of these wildfires have a sentience to them or some sort of volition to them. At this stage, I don’t rule anything out. I think it’s, again, being humble and comfortable in the not knowing.

Susan: Some of these things seem outrageous and absurd and then we want to disregard everything about what the person said or about that way of thinking. But I think it is really important just not to close our minds because we just know nothing.

Matt: No, the more we know, the less we know it seems.

Susan: In case people are interested, would you be willing to share the name with the woman you said is continuing this work so people could look her up?

Matt: It’s my colleague is Dr. Saskia von Diest. She actually just gave a very nice podcast recently on Dr. Bernie Beitman’s Connecting with Coincidence podcast. She’s doing a postdoc on intuitive farming and [quantum] agriculture and has been looking at various case studies of how farmers use intuition in the course of their work. That’s been an evolving process for her, looking at various styles—whether it’s biodynamic farming or other or other forms of agroecology. But looking again at more of these embodied intuitive processes that are less “heady” and more heartfelt. She was very interested to work with interspecies communicators and constellators to also see what’s happening in that field, and to visit various sites that are employing these techniques. She’s had the benefit and privilege of being able to visit many different eco villages and farms and to interview many practitioners and land managers about what works for them. That’s definitely informing her research and, of course, her own worldview now and her own practices. It’s always wonderful exchanging with her. If you look for “ecofluency” on social media, you’ll be able to find some of her work. I understand she published a paper recently, as well, on some of this.

Susan: As we end the conversation, what would you like to say?

Matt: The golden thread that has weaved so much in my experiences and so much of my orientation toward this work is connection, connectedness. It would be another podcast now to explain what is understood by that, because it’s used so often, but we often really don’t know what it means. But I’ve really been exploring that term through so many angles in so many ways, academically and experientially. It’s become the lens for how I see the world and the choices I make. Is this connected or is this disconnected? And obviously, that’s mainly referring to nature, but it’s also referring to social interactions as well. So my message from here on would just be to say, what is connecting? What is meaningful? And what is somehow speaking to a new story that allows us to move forward with hope, but also to keep us grounded in this sense of deep experience and belonging with Earth? And just to remain open minded and to embrace all experience as it is, as part of the gift of being alive on earth at this point in time.

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