Common Ground, Uncommon Gifts

Common Ground,
Uncommon Gifts: Growing Peace and Harmony through Stories, Reflections, and Practices in the Natural World
Author: Barbara A Meyers
Pub: Balboa Press
Price: US $17.99

Common Ground, Uncommon GiftsI’m not one for self-help books or guides to spirituality and was – I have to say – a bit dismayed when this book landed in my in-tray. It was publicised in conjunction with a ‘report’ questioning if it was ‘too late to prevent further [climate change related] disaster’, and so (without registering the title, to be sure) I had foolishly expected it to be a more scientific manual outlining personal steps one could take to deal with global warming.

And while in principal I admire many of the book’s aims – in the first chapter, it claims to be ‘a guide for individuals, families, and communities wishing to be effective stewards of their own lives and the life of the planet’ – its New-Age mawkishness made me feel a bit nauseous from the start, and occasionally nearly brought me to tears (and, rest assured, they weren’t soppy tears of joy).

Before I even tried to read the body of the book, I wanted to learn about the author, including what the ‘MSW’ beside her name stood for (as‘municipal solid waste’ was out of the question), and so I flipped to the back. Instead of a description of Barbara A Meyers’s Master’s in Social Work and subsequent career, I was greeted with this: ‘Like the ever-widening circles created when a stone is dropped into still water, the natural world has enveloped Barbara’s life. From her first experience of a small wriggling fish at the end of a homemade pole and line, she has been captured by the wonders of nature. That wonder and curiosity have been steady companions all the years of her life.’ And so on.

Now, I love nature as much as the next girl (and probably a great deal more than many), but such maudlin over-sentimentality almost (almost being key) makes me feel like I’d rather be aligned with those who don’t.

In any case, on to the book itself. The bulk of it is centred around the idea of the ‘Medicine Wheel’, an important symbol
to many ancient Meso-American tribes, who often visualised it as a circle representing all of life. The teachings in the book are relayed through stories, because as an ‘elderwoman’ the author wishes to share the experiences that ‘have helped [her] to
become more fully human’ and because ‘storytelling is the oldest form of teaching’.

And, of course, there is much to be gained from the knowledge of cultures that were quite clearly much better stewards of the planet than modern consumerist society could ever hope to be – such as the focus on self-consciousness outlined in Chapter 2, or the close relationship with food – whether through hunting or harvesting – outlined in Chapter 4.

So, if you’re looking to develop your spirituality along the lines of ancient American civilisations, go ahead and give this book a go. If, on the other hand, you’d like a hard-nosed scientific guide on tackling climate change, steer well clear.Common Ground, Uncommon Gifts is available from Balboa Press.