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The Issue of Ownership

As I had been on a long road journey through Portugal this summer, exploring areas and properties to perhaps start an intentional community there, I was also learning much about the land. Walking around with friends and sometimes with extraordinary permaculture experts, I was learning more and more about the devastating impact human species have had on this planet for thousands of years, with its peak in the last century.

One day it suddenly hit me that perhaps the original sin to it all started many thousands of years ago with the concept of ownership. With the idea that the animals, the nature, the land… belongs to us, because God has given it to us. This concept of the ownership of the land sounds so normal, yet it was not always so. Native Indian chief Seattle wrote to the President of the United States in 1852: “The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can we sell them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people…”

Within this concept of ownership there is a catch: whatever I call mine I tend to see as less than me, as an object in my world, something I possess. My car. My computer. My house. And also my wife. My child. My dog. Not only do I perceive land, nature, for instance, as being there for me, to meet my needs, and therefore our relationship is not respectfully balanced and equal, but as soon as I start perceiving you as mine, I have certain expectations, certain demands of you. You are my child and I want you to…, and never to… You are my partner and you should be… and never be… If you start exercising your free choice and divert from my expectations, I get angry at you… You will only be my beloved partner as long as you will be meeting my expectations.

Now, what if I change this? What if I start approaching “my child” as a totally free human being, with totally equally worthy needs? What if I approach my partner as a fully free human being, not belonging to me in any way? Yes, it might bring up some concerns and fears, but does it not open up a fully new space of magic beyond the cultural conditioning too?

How about if I start perceiving animals as fully free and equally worthy forms of life that do not belong to me anymore than I belong to them? Will I finally start realizing that slaughterhouses treat precious life in a similar way as concentration camps?

And how about if I stop treating the land as something that belongs to me, but perhaps as something that I belong to. When I look into my heart, it certainly feels very true to life to say that I don’t own anything, that nothing is really mine. And that the bigger reality is that Life owns me, and that I belong to the land, that I belong to the family of living beings here on this planet… As far as I am concerned, nobody belongs to me, and, at the same time, my heart belongs to all of us.