Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation


Is Indigenous cosmovision a utopia of sustainable living? -
A search for planetary health and what we as a global community can learn from Indigenous perspectives


I've spent the last five days on a ferry journey through the Amazon rainforest, eagerly awaiting the right moment to begin writing this essay. I had hoped that the dynamic surroundings—the flowing water and the ever-changing panorama of lush, green landscapes—would ignite my thoughts. However, up until now, that hasn't been the case. The heat, the nights I spent in a hammock, and the constant hum of the engine have made it challenging for me to focus, but I've held onto the belief that the right moment for writing would eventually come. It appears that today is that day. It's the first of August, a day dedicated to celebrating la Pacha Mama—Mother Earth—in Latin America. This motivates me, as I intend to write an essay about how Indigenous relationships with more-than-human nature have deeply resonated with me in recent weeks. It feels good to commence this essay on the day of Pacha Mama.

Throughout my three-month journey across Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil, the contrast between Indigenous and Western perspectives on more-than-human nature was impressive for me. I aim to explore this contrast further in my essay and want to pay homage to the 'Florestania' sustainability project. Florestania uniquely respects, values, and integrates both Western and Indigenous worldviews. Western and Indigenous perspectives together create a strong sustainability in Florestania and consistently shape everyday life. Witnessing how elements from such different worldviews can synergize and lead to a sustainable lifestyle has been profoundly inspiring and uplifting for me. Thus, I wish to share my experiences with you, hoping to pass on some of the hope and inspiration that I felt.

The bank of the Amazonas river, Brazil

Comment: A white European writing about Indigenous worldviews? Critical self-reflection as an essential step before engaging with Indigenous perspectives

The subject of Indigenous worldviews is a delicate topic for a white European. After all, European colonialism wreaked havoc on Indigenous communities worldwide with unimaginable brutality, denying Indigenous people knowledge and humanity by describing them with the violent term 'uncivilized'. Cultural appropriation further stripped Indigenous communities of their cultural goods, extracting them from their context for exploitation within Western systems. While the onset of colonization in Latin America dates back centuries, the damage remains unhealed, and the unequal power dynamics persist. This inequity is also visible in global debates, such as the discourse on climate crisis, where Western perspectives dominate. The scope of the inequity is highlighted by the fact that Western perspectives dominate although Indigenous communities emit the least CO2 globally, and 80% of the planet's remaining biodiversity reside within the 22% of the Earth inhabited by Indigenous communities.

Given the disregard of Indigenous perspectives in sustainability discourses, I am committed to placing them at the forefront of my essay. Simultaneously, I want to avoid any form of cultural appropriation and do not want to instrumentalize Indigenous worldviews for Western societal goals. Therefore, it was very important for me to begin my essay with a critical reflection on the historical and ongoing violence perpetrated by Western societies on Indigenous communities. Additionally, I want to acknowledge my privileged position within this system and express deep respect for the wisdom I've gained from Indigenous communities in recent months.

Sunrise at the Amazonas river, Brazil

My desire for planetary health is the source of my curiosity about Indigenous cosmovision

The current state of the world distresses me and I seek for positive visions of a sustainable life to cope with that distress. For example, I find it disconcerting that, before even reaching the three-quarter mark of the year, we have already reached the earth overshoot day. That demonstrates that our lifestyles are based on excessive resource consumption and this will inevitably result in a collapse of the Earth at some point. The recurring natural disasters induced by the climate crisis, such as this year's forest fires in central Chile, further intensify my concerns. Moreover, my direct environment adds to my frustration: At the boat we get meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner although a vegetarian or vegan diet would be much healthier for our planet. As if to underscore my thoughts, while I write this, a fellow passenger casually tosses a can of Coca-Cola into the Amazon, treating it like a colossal garbage bin. Observations like these make me feel sad and sometimes angry. To deal with these emotions, I am trying to see positive visions for a harmonious coexistence on Earth. Lately, I have been asking myself: How can we live together in a way that establishes a balance in the system of our Earth, enabling its human and non-human inhabitants to thrive equally?

Over time, I've noticed parallels between this question and the concept of planetary health. The concept of planetary health recognizes that the health of human beings and the health of the more-than-human nature are intertwined and that well-being can only be created for the system as a whole. Unfortunately, achieving a state of planetary health seems almost impossible if we think of the resource-intensive and environmentally damaging practices that shape our lives currently. Nevertheless, holding onto the utopian vision of planetary health mitigates the negative feelings I have because of the current state of the world.

The Amazonas river just before a thunderstorm began, Brazil

Seeking well-being for our planet as a whole is a lived utopia in Indigenous communities worldwide.

The term 'utopia' can be defined in various ways. For me, it represents a positive vision of the future. Furthermore, I believe that a crucial aspect of a utopia is that we may envision it freely without having to think about its feasibility. I deeply appreciate this freedom to dream, unburdened by questions of practicality because it gives me a zest for life.

During my journey, I felt this zest for life when I discovered that indeed there are places in the world where people strive for a collective wellbeing that allows humans and the more-than-human nature to thrive. I found this way of living in Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities worldwide put into practice what I had only known as a utopia of sustainable living. The Indigenous way of living is based on worldviews that are fundamentally different from the Western perspective. While each Indigenous community possesses a unique worldview, those worldviews share some core beliefs. For example, an awareness that humans are embedded in a superordinate system, that humans form a large whole with the more-than-human nature and that sustainable well-being can only be created through a flourishing overall system. The concept of planetary health, which is still a utopia for the world as a whole, seems to be deeply rooted in the worldview of Indigenous communities.

I remember a moment in Chile when this inseparability of humans and the more-than-human nature became tangible for me for the first time. In a seminar on intercultural aspects of sexuality, the lecturer Dr. Ana Millaleo discussed diversity in the Indigenous culture of the Mapuche people. Ana herself belongs to the Mapuche people and was therefore able to give us a first-hand account. She explained that sexual orientations different from the heteronorm are a natural part of the traditional Mapuche culture, since they are also part of the natural diversity of relationships that exist in the more-than-human nature. Although this statement is completely reasonable, it took me by surprise at the first moment. This made me realize how deeply I have internalized the dualism of "culture" and "nature" – in addition to heteronormativity. I am very grateful to Ana for triggering this reflection in me. I have the impression that for an instant I could grasp what it really means not to think of people and the more-than-human nature separately.      

Later, I came in touch with the worldviews of other Indigenous communities and found confirmed that the inseparability of humans and the more-than-human nature is central to Indigenous worldviews. For example, in the worldview of Indigenous people in Hawaii, humans are direct descendants of Mother Earth. Human and more-than-human nature are thus connected to each other through familial relationships. Accordingly, the more-than-human nature is being cared for and respected like a family member. In a scientific publication, Kekuhi Kealiikanakaoleohaililani and Christian P. Giardina (2015) show how this can look like in a way that touched my heart. Before they begin their introduction to the topic, they welcome all the beings that are present at that moment: the reader and their non-human family members such as the surrounding mountains, rivers, animals or the weather conditions. Then they greet their own family members who are with them: Grandma Lava, Grandpa Sun, a turtle, the cool ocean breeze and the palm trees on the shore.

More-than-human nature in Florestania, Bolivia

Another example of the inseparability of humans and the more-than-human nature can be found in the Karen people, an Indigenous community in northern Thailand. Each member of the Karen community is connected to a tree who is their soulmate. The bond between the human and the tree is created when a child is born and its umbilical cord is wrapped around the tree. This tree then becomes the child's guardian spirit and is protected by the Indigenous community for life. The connection between humans and the more-than-human nature is also central to the tradition of the Spokane people. Chad S. Hamill (2021) describes that there is an ongoing communication between humans and the spirit of more-than-human nature in the Spokane community. He further emphasizes that humans must be quiet and receptive in order to perceive the spirit of the more-than-human nature. Otherwise, they cannot hear the voice of Nature. This makes me think of Hartmuth Rosa's resonance theory and its translation for sustainable human-nature relationships: a resonant relationship between human beings and more-than-human nature can only arise when humans are open to hear the voice of Nature.

These views of more-than-human nature deeply resonate with me and I find the utopia that the whole world could see Nature like this comforting.

The bank of the Amazonas river, Brazil

(How) Can the global community learn from Indigenous worldviews?

While Western societies could gain valuable insights from Indigenous communities regarding their relationship with more-than-human nature, this learning process is complicated. Fundamental differences between Western and Indigenous knowledge systems make it difficult to transfer knowledge from one system to the other. Furthermore, the Western system oppresses Indigenous people and this impedes a knowledge exchange at eye-level. However, since it is unavoidable to finally address the climate crisis effectively and Indigenous knowledge has a tremendous potential to contribute to sustainability, efforts to bridge these knowledge systems are on the rise.

There are two approaches of bringing Indigenous and Western knowledge together that I like a lot. Both approaches stem from projects that involved teams with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous team members. The first approach originates in Canada and is known as 'two-eyed seeing'. This method invites to examine a topic from both a Western and an Indigenous perspective and seeks to combine the strengths of both worldviews. A similar idea comes from New Zealand. In New Zealand, he awa whiria is an approach for combining Western and Maori knowledge. He awa whiria refers to the braided rivers in New Zealand and is used as a metaphor for the relationship between Western and Indigenous worldviews. It expresses that Western and Indigenous paradigms are like two rivers that are separated initially but can then meet, mix and eventually separate again. I find both metaphors beautiful and very helpful for dealing with different forms of knowledge and knowledge production. For me personally, two-eyed seeing means that I trust in quantitative-empirical research according to Western scientific quality criteria and at the same time argue for a worldview in which humans and the more-than-human nature are inextricably interwoven, where more-than-human nature has a soul and where we can achieve a lasting state of well-being only collectively for the whole system.

Shades of green in the Amazonas rainforest

Florestania – A project that shows that sustainability can be based on Indigenous and Western knowledge

The concepts of two-eyed seeing and he awa whiria helped me to resolve an inner dissonance that I had been feeling before. This dissonance arose when I was trying to integrate my new insights of Indigenous knowledge into my Western understanding of the world. Once I was able to understand that both perspectives can complement each other without necessarily having to completely fuse with one another the dissonance disappeared. Furthermore, as a result I was able to see a new potential unfold and wondered how this could be applied in practice. In this respect, Ellen and Nico offered me a wonderful and inspiring model with their "Florestania" project. Ellen and Nico have founded a sustainability project on the outskirts of Cobija in the Bolivian Amazon rainforest, in which they draw on knowledge from their academic careers as well as the concepts and worldviews of the local Indigenous communities. On five hectares of land, they help the rainforest and its soils to recover from previous unsustainable land use, promote biodiversity and live in harmony with the more-than-human nature.

The entrance to Florestania

In July of this year, I volunteered at the Florestania project for two weeks. The project's commitment to sustainability was evident at every turn. From the description of the project, it was clear to me in advance that it aimed at regenerating the soil of Florestania and that with healthier soils the rainforest growing on it should also be able to flourish again. Accordingly, I imagined that people in Florestania would treat the more-than-human nature with respect and use resources carefully.

What I had been imagining beforehand turned out to be true. It was wonderful to experience how consistently the term "sustainability", which often sounds vague to me, is put into practice in Florestania and traverses the project on a large and on a small scale. For example, locally available, renewable materials such as palm leaves were used to build the living spaces. Furthermore, energy was used sparingly and generated via two solar panels. Finally, waste water from the kitchen and showers was used for watering and waste products were repurposed as compost or recycled materials.

Plastic bags are reused for planting seedlings

The care for the more-than-human nature was not only visible in the design of the project, but also in small, everyday gestures. For example, all animals in Florestania were treated with respect. The welfare of the resident dogs Patua and Sasi was given as much importance as the welfare of the human residents. Even the tarantula that sometimes visited us had a name and small animals such as worms and frogs were respected and protected while working. All of this is based on the idea that well-being can only be sustainable if it applies to all elements of the system. Otherwise the system will get out of balance – a principle that I have introduced above as characteristic of various Indigenous worldviews.

Another influence of Indigenous ways of thinking is the principle of the spiral, which guides the work with the soils in Florestania. As I have mentioned before, an important aim of the project is to help the local soils to regenerate and, in turn, the rainforest on the land to flourish again. Ellen and Nico approach this via the principle of a spiral which they learned from Indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest. The main idea of this principle is that life relies on spiral-shaped energies. Accordingly, patterns in life are constantly repeated in slightly different forms – like a spiral that goes almost the same circle, but develops further and ascends to higher energy levels. In Florestania this spiral principle shapes the work with the land. Ellen and Nico support the cycles of the ecosystem and strive for a slow, positive development of the entire system. This is visible for example in the care of the banana trees. Bananas are an important part of the local ecosystem and when bananas are harvested, the entire plant is cut down with a machete. The trunks of the banana trees store a lot of water and are therefore cut in half and laid on the ground to protect the soil from too much sunlight and keep it moist. This promotes the health of the soils, which in turn leads to healthier banana trees. The healthy trees then produce biomass, which is used again to maintain the soil. This practice creates a cyclic development over time and allows Florestania to flourish. Over the last eight years, Ellen and Nico have made great progress with this principle and infertile soils have been able to regenerate bit by bit. It was impressive for me to see how Indigenous wisdom can be used as guiding principle for a sustainable life and I would like to thank Ellen and Nico very much for these valuable insights.

The trunks of the banana trees protect the soil on the path between the beds

My journey during the last year was accompanied by an inner journey and, looking back, I believe that it started with the search for visions of a sustainable life. This search then led me to the concept of planetary health. Initially, planetary health was an abstract principle for me. It became more tangible when I came into contact with the worldviews and lifestyles of Indigenous people. This was very inspiring for me because I had the impression that Indigenous communities are putting the principles of the planetary health paradigm into practice – something that is still utopia for the world as a whole. At the same time, however, being in touch with the topic of Indigenous cosmovision also raised big questions for me. For example, I wondered how Indigenous and Western knowledge could be combined, despite the completely different worldviews that underlie both systems and the violence that Western societies exert on Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, I questioned my own role as white European in this system and how I can engage with Indigenous worldviews in an ethical way despite my privileges and my Western socialization. A part of this dissonance disappeared when I came into contact with concepts (such as the two-eyed seeing) and projects (such as Florestania) that were based on Indigenous and Western knowledge and where respect for both worldviews was expressed.

I can look back on my journey full of gratitude and I am especially grateful for the different Indigenous worldviews I was able to learn from and would otherwise not have come into contact with. This showed me that worldviews are something relative and helped me to broaden my Western perspective on our world. I had the feeling that thanks to that I was becoming more and more sensitive to the more-than-human nature and learned to appreciate it deeply. Since the topic of Indigenous worldviews touched my heart and gave me hope, I wanted to explore it in this essay. Thank you for taking the time to read my text and for accompanying me on my journey. And who knows, maybe a little spark of hope has jumped over to you  

A flower in one of Florestania's gardens

Author: Maike Hering (URBNANCE student assistant)

If you have any comments or question on the essay, feel warmly invited to contact the author  (maikeflausioer@gmail.com).





Giving and receiving with joy – inspiring insights from Robin Wall Kimmerer on a positive partnership with Nature


"And what does your world look like?"
Social formations of worldviews and their changeability thanks to psychological flexibility.
Plus: Final tips from Maude



Is Indigenous cosmovision a utopia of sustainable living? - A search for planetary health and what we as a global community can learn from Indigenous perspectives


Meeting nature at eye level - an explorative walk through the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle in Merano


Seeing with the heart – About individual human-nature resonance, a common dilemma with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and a sustainability-related explanation to the readers

Patagonien – a place for resonant relationships?


Humbleness towards the Unverfügbarkeit of sleep – About cycles, sleep rituals and Mother Earth


Where is the love?
Sketches of wonder, self-compassion and an encouragement in the face of multiple crises



Lending nature our voice - role play in search of partnerships with nature


Moving from crisis to resonance: A summer cinema


The need for self-efficacy in times of powerlessness.
Caring for nature in the city.


The unavailability of the own voice. What does Amos really want to "say"?


Flötenspiel (1940) by Hermann Hesse: A resonance-specific analysis and embedding in the sustainability context


First insights on human-food relations through the interaction with urban dwellers in Dresden

Inside me ‒ inside us


Responsive relationships:
The treasure of vulnerability


Loving Souls – Loving Hearts



Christmas ‒ eating in the spirit of the feast of love?

Nurturing our relation with nature and ourselves in the dark season