Connecting with the Achuar
I had the honor to trek into the Amazon Rainforest with an incredible group of 17 women to explore maternal health seven years ago. During this expedition, the indigenous Achuar people of Ecuador opened my eyes and heart to what has been right in front of me my whole life. I experienced a supportive community in action and the beauty of being in the presence of the protectors of the rainforest, who simply embody self-sufficiency.
As custodians of the rainforest, the Achuar maintain a rich culture, including systems of economic and social organization based on the intricate natural rhythms of their environment.
The Achuar are relentlessly working to stop oil development in their ancestral home–nearly 2 million acres that straddle the modern borders of Ecuador and Peru, a remote area that has allowed them to preserve their way of life with little outside influence or colonization.
Their land is among the best-preserved and one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The focus is not only stewarding the land but also helping us to understand that there is another way of life where we do our best to take what we need. We experiment and learn by trial and error, what is healthy for us.
Are We Ready to Understand the Achuar’s Message?
The Achuar leader shared that when he left the forest and visited the Western world for the first time, even water had a price tag attached to it. He couldn’t pick an apple from a tree when he was hungry. And it seemed like people just wanted more and more of everything. It reminded him of the developers who wanted to come into his home and take all their precious resources.
The women shared a story that when they met the first Western women, they asked them why they don’t tell their men to take only what they need? In their world, they wake up every morning and collectively decide if they will fish or hunt. They have solar electricity that runs for an hour a day so there is no modern refrigeration or storage. If the men hunt or fish too much, they remind them to only take what they need and to not get greedy when they have enough.
Imagine a world where we knew what we needed. When we shopped and consumed, we bought only what we needed. If we had a vegetable garden, we only picked the vegetables we needed for the meals for that day or even just that time of day. Imagine choosing not to deplete or waste our resources because we knew our enough.
In this world, we do not have expansive walk-in closets where we organize clothes that could cloth many others. Imagine we knew how many pairs of shoes we needed. In this world, there would be no need for hoarding because we would also know how to share with each other.
In the Western culture, we are, too often, out of touch with what we really need. It was in the rainforest that I first remembered that we have been separated from Nature; believing we are separate and that Nature is a place where we detox from our day-to-day life.
But being saturated by messages telling us what we must have in our lives, we have been led to believe that we need more and more stuff. It’s an advertiser’s hope and dream that we feel and act upon their brand messages. Everything outside of ourselves is vying for our precious attention. And this is another area of being conscious of taking only what we need or turning the volume down. The choices we make matter.
The United States, for example, has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space — more than 7 square feet for every man, woman and child. It’s a place to store extra stuff even though the average home size has nearly doubled. Furniture is the most commonly stored item in America because people buy new stuff and refuse to depart with their old stuff. These statistics (and habits) are staggering.
What’s Your Enough?
So, when is enough, enough?
Imagine when we each have an answer to this question, what choices would we make?
We have the power to make choices in our lives about what we consume and how much we actually need. And it’s very personal.
When we question what we eat, where we shop, who we support, where we work and who we spend our gifted time on the planet with, it is a conscious path of listening to ourselves, simplifying our lives, and truly knowing ourselves.
The Achuar believe that each person who enters the rainforest will tell at least 1,000 people about the need to protect Mother Earth from development and find new sustainable ways to take only what we need and knowing our enough. But you are the ultimate master of your destiny through your beliefs, choices, and actions.
As a powerful creator on the planet, the questions are here to be explored. In 2022, what do you need? What choices will you make? What conversations will you have?