Inspirit Utah: Reviving Our Spaces, Communities and Ourselves

Posted March 8, 2013 in
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Nalini Nadkarni

On Wednesday, Louisa Carter of Inspirit Utah, in conjunction with The Women’s Resource Center at the University of Utah, hosted a lovely afternoon filled with inspiring speakers about the ways that we can connect our social bodies with wild, natural processes. The theme of the event was a reviving of our spaces, communities and ourselves, with guests Kinde Nebeker and Nalini Nadkarni as keynote speakers. The event took a year to plan as the organizers tried to find words that explore our connections to people with the wider arena of our ecosystem on Earth, and to emphasize the feminine energy throughout. It should be noted that this “feminine” is not defined by gender, but is a vibe that embraces intuition, emotions and deep sources of knowing.

Nebeker started the afternoon by introducing her gratitude to all of us, including gratitude to the tree in the room. As she spoke, she held a cow bone and explained that this was because many people had held that bone and spoken from their hearts, and she aimed to do the same. Nebeker is a graphic designer, and also hosts a New Moon Rites of Passage. Her personal journey took her through a period of despair that led her to seek a diversity of teachers, and she realized that we all need to go through a personal archetypal journey to center ourselves, which is best done in the wilderness. She guides people in these wilderness rites of passage and encourages the participants to take on a vision fast, where you stay isolated for three days out of the nine-day journey. This journey allows people to connect to the divine feminine energy that we have lost touch with in our society, and allows you to transcend the isolation that so often couples the reality we find ourselves in. With nature and technology balanced, we can learn to harness the power of the spirit like we have the atom, and create a compassionate global society.

What stood out about the talk with Nebeker was that after she explained her thoughts in front of us, she asked us to open up the space for any questions or thoughts we wanted to share. As hands shyly popped up, she asked us to move our chairs so that instead of sitting in rows with her in the front, we’d sit in a circle. This engaged all of the attendees and gave comfort as we all faced each other and spoke whatever was on our mind in regards to what was said, along with our personal views of nature, and our connection to these feminine energies. Whoever spoke held the cow bone, and when they were done speaking, they would ask who wanted it next or place it in the center. By avoiding a simple passing along to the next person, it allowed whoever grabbed the bone to be ready and willing to speak. Most, but not all, spoke, and a lot of feelings of gratitude for the words and the space were expressed as we all confessed our ideas of what nature means to us, and how we can carry the energy of the wild while we live in the city.

Afterward, a mural was presented, created by the Go Girlz Community Initiative. The mural was done over a two month time period by a group of ten sixth graders, and their goal was to create a piece of art that expresses their environment and the relationship they have with natural spaces. The girls included a quote by Michael Jackson, “Realize that change can only come when we stand together as one.” After the dedication, refreshments were served, catered by many, but notably by the Avenues Bistro on Third. The Bistro is a fairly new restaurant that is raising money for a grant to start a garden so they can use what they grow on their menu, making it a completely sustainable business. Proceeds from the raffle were used to match the grant initiative.

To conclude the evening, Nalini Nadkarni gave a presentation about her work with forest canopies. Nadkarni is currently the Director for the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah, teaches biology, and has an extensive list of publications and awards for the work that she’s done throughout the years. In 1995, she started the International Canopy Network (ICAN), to raise awareness and to educate others about the importance of a healthy forest canopy in our rapidly changing environment. At the beginning of her talk, she explained how the metaphor of a tree or group of trees usually represents something grounded and immovable, with a sturdy trunk that’s rooted to the ground. As she was lying at the bottom of a tree one day, she looked up and saw the branches moving, which got her thinking about the movement at a twig level. She tied paintbrushes to the branches and stood beside it, allowing the tree to paint on a piece of paper she held. After some serious scientific calculations, measurements and data graphing, she concluded that the trees move 186,540 miles per year (that’s seven times around the Earth, dawg). Using this as a metaphor throughout her presentation emphasized that we can affect change, at a twig level.

Nadkarni introduced three types of movement that she wanted to explore through her talk: the movement of the unknown to the known, the movement of insulated knowledge to something accessible, and the movement from despair to hope. By collaborating with people in a wide variety of fields, Nadkarni has made her work with forest canopies available to a massive audience. She brainstormed the different values that we have, which include recreational, aesthetic, spiritual, along with social justice values, and started moving her twigs. This led her to some innovative ideas by collaborating with people outside of academia (an insulated, closed-off world) to spread her message. What resulted from her twig movement is remarkable, but what stood out most for me was her work starting the Sustainability in Prisons Project. What started as an attempt to find ways to farm moss, grew into an initiative to bring gardening, bee-keeping, composting and an exposure to nature imagery that has led to lower recidivism rates, and a boost in the inmates confidence and social standing.

Concluding her talk with a picture of the human heart, you can see that the paths of blood uncannily resemble a group of trees. Forest canopies are something I previously had not spent much time thinking about, yet Nadkarni made it relatable to all of us, and the ways Nadkarni reaches out is inspiring to apply to any field of passion. Inspirit Utah was an inspiring event that I left with feelings of invigoration and strength, and I’m grateful that I got to share that afternoon with a group of wonderful people.

Nalini Nadkarni Kinde Nebeker