The Disease of Disconnect

 

WORDS BY JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL

PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHAUN WALKER

In 1997, activist Julia Butterfly Hill protested deforestation by living atop a 180-foot-tall California redwood tree named Luna for 738 days. Over 20 years later, in a personal essay written exclusively for Atmos, Hill reflects on the fight that still lies ahead—and what’s missing from our connection to not just the Earth but one another.

WORDS BY JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL

PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHAUN WALKER

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Editor’s note: Julia Butterfly Hill uses the lowercase ‘i’ in her writing as a desire to express that the ‘i’ as an individual is part of everything and everyone else—not separate from.

Restoration. We talk about it, but how many of us feel it and what it means? That something we care about has been hurt, violated, destroyed.

 

One of the biggest challenges for humans is that we have lost the “nature” in our human nature.

 

When people ask me what the greatest environmental issue is, i have always—from the early days, up in Luna’s branches—replied that the biggest issue is the Disease of Disconnect. Just as we rip a plant or tree’s roots out of the ground, it begins to wither and die; so, too, does our human consciousness. We see ourselves as “separate from” instead of deeply interwoven and interconnected. And what we see happening in our world and to our Earth is the direct result.

 

When we talk about restoration, if it is going to make meaningful and lasting change, we must recognize that the biggest restoration must happen in our minds, hearts, and everyday choices.

 

One day while living in Luna, the over 1,000-years-old redwood tree i was striving to protect, i had a meeting on the phone with various activists as we were trying to organize action.  Because there were many of us, it is natural that there were also a myriad of viewpoints and ideas. Sadly, about halfway through the call, the meeting started to disintegrate as people’s disagreements became louder and more hostile. i hung up without a solution and i immediately started crying. i thought to myself, How will we ever stop the clearcutting of the forests if we are so effective at clearcutting each other?

From December 10, 1997 and December 18, 1999, Julia Butterfly Hill lived in a 180-foot-tall, roughly 1,500-year-old California redwood tree named Luna for 738 days. Photograph by Shaun Walker

i climbed around on Luna afterwards, as that was my favorite thing to do when weather allowed.  As i climbed, i could see for miles upon miles in every direction. i could see both gorgeous, deep emerald green forests and burnt, desecrated clearcuts. As i climbed, a realization came to me that the wounds we see on the Earth and with our human family exist within us first—then we act it out on the Earth and each other. i realized in that moment that every single issue we are facing are the symptoms of one disease: the Disease of Disconnect.

 

Our own body teaches us that in order to heal we have to feel. The feeling sensations in our body are there to tell us when something is wrong, out of alignment, or unhealthy in some way.  It is through those feeling sensations that we are alerted to the fact that something in us needs attention and care. The same is true with our relationship with the Earth, each other, and all life:  If we wish to heal, we must be willing and open to feel.

 

We need to recognize that whenever we are talking about restoring something or someplace, what we are really talking about is feeling its pain, violence, and destruction. And through that feeling, healing our relationship with it.

We like to say it is always someone else’s fault, not ours. The truth is: Even if someone else is to blame, when we realize that everything is us—everything is our relatives—we realize that, although it is important to hold accountable those who cause harm, it is even more important for us to be willing to open to the pain of what has been lost. Through that, we work on the restoration from the inside out and the ground up. Always. No matter who might have caused that particular and specific harm. We can act like healthy cells and nutrients moving through the body so that we not only restore the planet, we also restore our relationship with the planet—and model for others the beauty and joy that can grow from even the deepest pain.

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