Are you feeding your inner Windigo? In my previous post on Mindshift we explored the idea of world views and the state of human separation from the family of life. The idea that our perception of the world is limited by the bubbles created by our mind-sets and how we see ourselves in relation to others within the global socio-ecological system. But what locks us into those bubbles and how might we break free and shift our minds?
Now you are probably wondering what all that has got to do with Windigos? In fact, what is a Windigo?
A Windigo (or Wendigo) is a supernatural being (a monster) belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America. In most legends, humans transform into Windigos because of their greed or weakness. Various Indigenous traditions consider Windigos dangerous because of their thirst for blood and their ability to infect otherwise healthy people or communities with evil. Windigo legends are essentially cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness, and the importance of community.Source – The Canadian Encyclopaedia
In her book, Braiding Sweet Grass, Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the idea of a Windigo mind-set born from our own fears and failings; a name for that within us which cares more for its own survival than for anything else. We should recognise that we all have the capacity for self-indulgence, a hunger for happiness which is ever elusive and never sated. The Windigo stories are tales of caution which arose in commons based societies where sharing was essential to survival. Individuals who took too much and endangered the community were banished. We have all been banished, consigned to loneliness by our obsession with property.
Windigo tricks us into believing that belongings will fill our hunger when actually it is belonging that we crave.Robin Wall Kimmerer – Braiding Sweet Grass
All of us (in Western cultures) are unwittingly trapped in a Windigo mind-set. Our economy is based on fabricated demand (an illusion of scarcity) and the need to consume to acquire possessions as symbols of status and success. A mind-set which masquerades as “quality of life” but eats us from within. It is a mind-set which is driving an unsustainable lifestyle and taking us to the brink of destruction and despair.
So how can we break free of our bubble and step out of the Windigo mind-set?
The first step is to acknowledge it – to understand our addictions and compulsions – what is feeding our Windigos? Don’t get me wrong we all need to nourish ourselves, it is when we take more than we need, more than our share that the problems begin. Here we are not just talking about food there are many kinds of “nourishment”. Tich Nhat Hanh describes these in his book Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet.
…we speak of four kinds of nutriments: edible foods(what we eat and drink), sense impressions (everything we consume through our sense in terms of images, sounds, music, movies, websites and so on), volition (what we consume in terms of our deepest intention [e.g. life ambitions such as fame and fortune, status]), and consciousness (what we consume in the collective energy around us). All these sources of nutriment can be healthy or toxic.Tich Nhat Hanh – Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet
When I think about my addictions in this context I realise that my life is full of acts of consumption from coffee and chocolate to electrical gadgets, apps on my phone, the internet, Netflix mini-series, books… Are all of these essential to my well-being, am I using more than my fair share? What impact is my consumption having on the well-being of others (both human and more than human)?
This begs another question – how do we know what our fair share is, what are the limits to our consumption?
All living beings have just 4 basic needs to sustain them – air, water, food and a place to belong (a habitat, a home). It is easy to take some of these for granted. The supply of good quality of air and water is limited by the capacity of the planetary systems which recycle them. The availability of food is limited by water, sunlight, the quality of the soil, the availability of seed, the annual cycles of replenishment. The availability of habitat and quality space in which vibrant communities can thrive is finite and dependent on the limitations of air, water and food as much as on the area of suitable land. To understand these limits we need to gain an understanding of time – what is the capacity of the ecosystem functions which meet these needs and how quickly do they cycle?
Here we come up against another mind-set – Short term thinking fuelled by an addiction to time and ever faster technology:
- Email, social media
- Online shopping, same day delivery
- Credit and buy now pay later
- Short term government planning, short election cycles
Even if we try to imagine longer term processes we often think in a human centric way:
- Saving for pensions
- Space exploration projects
- Power supply infrastructure
- City building
Short term thinking limits our capacity to imagine the timescale required for longer term planetary processes:
- Forest growth
- Water cycles
- Soil regeneration
Without an ability to think longer term it is difficult for us to understand what is our fair share. The short term mind-set has led us to deplete the planetary resources, which are essential for all life, at an alarming rate. If we wish to be good ancestors we urgently need to break free from this mind-set.
Roman Krznaric explores the concepts of short term and long term thinking in his book The Good Ancestor – here is a short video clip to get you started.
Is it possible to defeat the Windigo, to reign in our consumption and thirst for instant gratification?
Of course it is – we need only look to the teachings of the indigenous cultures from around the globe who are more in touch with the natural rhythms of Mother Earth. Peoples who understand the economy of the commons (based on maintaining abundance not creating scarcity) and recognise that our basic needs are met not by the purchase of commodities but by the sharing of gifts and a mutual respect for the needs of others (both human and more than human).
It will not be easy. We will need to do more than define new policies and create new structures. We will also need a change of heart. We will need to re-connect to Mother Earth, to our true sense of what it is to be human. To re-learn that gratitude plants the seeds and care-giving tends the garden of abundance.
In the next instalment of our regenerative journey we will take these ideas further and begin to explore the process of Re-connection and consider how we can transition from a fragile failing social ecological system to a thriving one.
To keep up to date with the new Regenerative Concepts as they are released you can subscribe here.