" The medicine we need is all around us. Reorienting how we relate to nature and seeing it as a living being worthy of respect, care, dignity, and love as opposed to a resource to exploit is essential to our collective healing. It is the essential medicine we need."
Bio. Social justice entrepreneur at the intersection of creative education, liberative praxis, public ministry and community healing. Co-producer and co-host of the Abolition as Resurrection podcast. JiaJohnson.com
Tell us a bit about who you are and how you came to this work.
My pronouns are she/her. I reside in Chicago, IL—the homeland of indigenous people from the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi tribes. I am a seer, healer, shamanic reiki practitioner (level 2), and spiritual activist, deeply committed to building communities rooted in bell hook’s love ethic: care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility. I currently direct a higher ed in jail program and facilitate courses on social change for incarcerated learners. I am the founder and CEO of Freedom Dream Collective, LLC, a coaching and consulting firm dedicated to fostering the growth and well-being of social change agents and their communities. I take a holistic coaching approach, addressing the interconnected well-being of clients and partnering with them to create sustainable practices for transformative change.
At the end of 2020, I suffered from a severe burnout. On the morning of my first day of "vacation,” I woke up to utter emptiness. I remember communing with God about how fearful I felt at that moment. I had never felt that kind of emptiness before. Between the pandemic, social change work, responding to family crises, and the death of my furry pet companion, I was utterly depleted. I had suffered from burnout many times before but vowed it would be different this time. As a mixed-race woman of color (Black, Spanish and Syrian), growing up, I watched the women around me abandon themselves in pursuit of caring for those around them. Like most social changemakers, particularly women of color, I depleted myself in the service of others. I was craving something different, not just for me but for the young girls of colors, for my nieces, who were looking to me to model a different way of being. We, too, deserve ease, joy, abundance, and living a fulfilled life that does not deplete us but nourishes us.
My journey to developing holistic and sustainable practices that tend to my wholeness and nourishment has been windy, and it started long before 2020. It started in 2011 with my spiritual awakening and almost eight years in a dark night of the soul, and in 2021, I was ready to begin a new chapter. A chapter of living a life of ease and nourishment while at the same time doing the work my social must have, for me, that is spiritual activism. This new chapter began with house plants, a 30-day sabbatical, a yoga nidra workshop hosted by Tracee Stanley, Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide To Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab and getting serious about Tricia Hersey's message of Rest is Resistance!
In the process, I found my way back to Mother Nature. I look to my other-than-human kin for wisdom, companionship, and care. I have discovered that we are interconnected. They are in me; I am in them, and we are one. In this cultural climate, they are the least of these, deserving of justice, freedom, and liberation to live and be their most authentic other-than-human existence.
What are the lands that raised you, and how has your own connection with the natural world influenced your path?
Raised in the desert lands of El Paso, Texas—homelands of the Tiguas, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Navajo, Tohono O'odham, Apache, and Ojibw, I was nurtured by the desert rain baptizing the Creasot bush, releasing a sweet and earthy aroma in the atmosphere. I was awakened by an orchestra of Cicadas, summoning the arrival of summer. I was held and grounded by the warm, protective embrace of the Franklin Mountains. These lands that raised me are home and the bedrock of many childhood memories. Summer camping trips. Weekend trips to Licons Dairy for freshly made asadero cheese. Hide-and-seek between the mulberry trees. Long runs through pecan orchards. Looking back, I realize that nature has been a faithful companion, offering me play, adventure, rest, wisdom, and connection. The earth and the creatures that call it home are my other-than-human kin. I see now that the call of my spirit has always been to be present to our other-than-human kin as they have been present to me.
Why do you believe a practice of spiritual connection with the earth is important for our time?
We live in a time when people are disconnected from themselves, each other, and the earth. We are spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and physically malnourished. God’s creatures, including the planet, suffer from a culture rooted in hyper-individualism, grind and hustle, and profit over people. The land is suffering. We are suffering. The medicine we need is all around us. Reorienting how we relate to nature and seeing it as a living being worthy of respect, care, dignity, and love as opposed to a resource to exploit is essential to our collective healing. It is the essential medicine we need.
In your experience, what are some of the barriers or challenges individuals or communities face in developing a deeper connection with nature?
In my experience, one of the initial barriers to developing a deeper connection with nature is that most of us don’t pause long enough to notice it. We spend our days too busy or too preoccupied with other pressing matters to notice the blue sky, the warm breeze, the green grass, the birds, or the trees until they become an inconvenience or our perceived “enemy”. It is easy to take for granted what we don’t fully see. We miss nature’s open invitation to explore, play, connect, and to know it.
What practices (big or small) can help heal our disconnection from the natural world?
Developing a practice of mindfully noticing nature is a small step towards healing our disconnection from the natural world. Something as simple as a pause to cloudwatch, observe the landscape, or spontaneous bird watching while at a stop sign or red light is a small step on the journey to healing our disconnection from nature. This practice also offers us healing. It calms the nervous system, fosters empathy, and slows our pace amid the busyness.
What are you looking forward to offering as a guide in Seminary of the Wild Earth?
I offer my presence as a thought-partner, companion and to hold sacred space for the Wisdom of Great Mystery to be heard, felt, seen and known.