Kate Barranco is the Network & Storytelling Coordinator for Ecological Belonging at The Wellbeing Project – a global initiative to catalyse inner wellbeing for all changemakers. Here, she explains what ecological belonging is, why it matters and how you can get involved.

“It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” 

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

The feeling of spring days emerging from the bite of winter air. The taste of fresh, perfectly ripe mango on a hot summer day. Chopping vegetables for your family’s most-cherished recipe. Holding hands with people in your community, sharing gratitude. A pet curling up on your lap. Sitting around a fire, sharing stories passed down from one generation to the next. 

How do you feel when you read about these moments? Do you feel grounded thinking of these sensations? Do you feel a sense of longing for more moments like these in your life? These are just glimpses into the moments of connection between ourselves, each other, and the natural world. 

Humanity and the natural world have always been interconnected. As humans, we play an intricate and symbiotic role within the world’s ecosystem. We cultivate the Earth, and it cultivates us. 

This is Ecological Belonging. It is our ongoing interconnected relationship between ourselves, each other, and our broader natural environment. It is our relationship to and with place. Our personal and planetary wellbeing is rooted in this sense of belonging. 

For most of human history, humans have made meaning, focused attention, connected themselves and communities with their natural environment, and enabled respectful relationships with all life through this sense of belonging. Specifically, through the passing down of stories, rituals, and knowledge. 

However, over time, we have lost these stories, rituals, and knowledge, or they have been largely emptied of their meaning. As a result, we have lost sight of this interconnectedness and belonging between humanity and nature. 

Today, this disconnection is at the heart of our world’s greatest challenges. The need for renewing ecological belonging, meaning, and purpose, has never been clearer. A sustainable human future depends on changing our orientation from crisis solutions to sustainable connection. 

We need to remember our connection to the natural world, renew our rituals and knowledge-sharing practices, and reweave the tapestry of human-nature interconnection. 

So how do we do this? How do we reconnect and reweave this ecological belonging tapestry?  

The Wellbeing Project has begun its own Ecological Belonging journey centered on these very ideas. Through a variety of unique tracks, including artistic exploration, academic research, student exploration, local and regional summit events, just to name a few, we hope to help (re)ignite a movement of remembering, renewing, and reweaving this idea of belonging into our daily lives. In doing so, we hope to engage in a hopeful ecological narrative that reminds us we are all interconnected. 

We invite you to engage in your own ecological belonging journey. And it can begin with personal reflection and inquiry. Begin with questions and don’t rush to find the answer. This work is grounded in being present and open with the many questions. 

We can question: what stories and narratives do we tell ourselves, and which have been lost? Which stories need to be rewoven into our conscious understanding? 

Think about the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. These could be from within or beyond your immediate family or community.  For instance, ‘why’ stories – like why the sun rises and sets, as an example – or other storytelling rooted in indigenous practices and values provide meaning and connection between humanity and the natural world. They provide the ‘why’ and become a bridge between humanity and nature.

We can reflect: what practices and rituals have we developed over time? What rituals have been lost and need to be renewed or reformed? 

Think about what comes to mind for you when you hear the word ritual. In your own life, are rituals completed more individually or collectively? Historically, rituals – like celebrating an equinox or seasonal harvest – are a direct link between nature and humanity and often are celebrated in community with others. Even something as simple as a grace or gratitude practice before eating a meal acknowledges where food comes from – the Earth. These sorts of rituals and practices ground us in our deep-seeded connection and relationship to the natural world. 

We can wonder: what are the ways in which we come to learn and share knowledge? How might we expand our knowledge and ground it in (existing) earth-to-human practices and connections? 

Think about what it means to hold and share knowledge in connection with the natural world. Whether it’s holistic medicine or how to prepare your family’s famous secret recipe, how we come to share this knowledge is what reinforces our connection to each other and the natural world. 

Most of all, we must ask ourselves: how do we live? 

Everyone will experience this question and their response differently. One’s sense of ecological belonging is developed and nourished by their own personal and local backgrounds. It is informed by our intergenerational past and our intergenerational hopes for the future. 

This question invites you to consider what it might mean to remember, renew, and reweave Ecological Belonging into your own life and in community with others. 

This movement to remember our natural interconnectedness is locally rooted and universally human

Humanity’s relationship with the natural world is not just about climate change. We, too, have to change or, rather, re-discover who we always have been, in our bones and in our cells – the cells we share with the world around us. If we see only what we are losing or what has been done, we lose sight of what has always been, what remains, and what still can be. 

By embracing ecological belonging, together we can individually and collectively work towards creating a more sustainable and harmonious future, where humans coexist with nature in a mutually beneficial way.

Everyone is on their own personal journey of reconnection. To see others’ Ecological Belonging journeys or to learn more about what you can do to engage in Ecological Belonging, visit https://www.ecological-belonging.org/