Summer Solstice Essay: How Will I Know?

I write this in the shade of my community – maple, cherry, pine, apple and lilac – enjoying the warmth of the new summer and the cool of the protection from the trees that create this space I call my outdoor office. This space, this place, this land, these trees, these birds, the sound of the water of the nearby pond have all contributed to the me who sits here today. So did the land, trees, birds, and waters of the place in which I was raised in upstate New York. My parents, grandmother, and extended family also contributed.  Today, though, it is my connection to the land and especially the trees and water, that I am feeling as I read the Introduction to the Third Edition of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies. Oh. I realize that I have not mentioned my Western science education. Three university degrees worth of it, after completing high school taught from that paradigm also shaped me.

As I read the stories of how Professor Smith’s book supported, enabled, and catalyzed indigenous scholars from all over the world, I, too, felt supported and enabled, even though I am a non-indigenous scholar. It feels odd being labeled in this way, yet reading Smith’s book makes me keenly aware that the dominant paradigm of the academic world of which I am a part, has done just that to indigenous scholars – created boundaries and institutions that exclude.

You might have noticed that I said I felt supported and enabled by Smith’s work. I do. I also feel nervous about those feelings, desperately wanting to trust that I will somehow know when (or if, wishfully thinking) I cross the line into either appropriation or unconsciously pulling the ideas into the colonizer/settler mentality rather than this work pulling me out of it. How can I know, when my upbringing was in that colonizing/settler world during a time when there was no collective self-examination about it? It is this question that I contemplate in this essay.

Two strong answers leap out at me. I will know if I listen to my heart. I will know if I develop and maintain relationships with people who truly know and support decolonization, most likely from firsthand experience of its oppression. At the heart of all of this is “knowing”. What does that mean and who gets to decide?

More than two decades of formal education in or based upon Western science provides a particular answer that centers words like “objective”, “unbiased”, “prediction”, “data”, “testing”, and “measure”. My own environmental social science and complex systems studies pulled me away from “objective” and “unbiased”, and even from “prediction”, recognizing the emergence of novelty and the reality of ignorance, some of which is irreducible. It was the work of reconnecting with my own heart, though, that has brought me to questioning the rest of it. It feels a little risky to say that: “questioning the rest of it”.  Even as a full professor in a century-old institution of higher education, having held positions of authority in this institution and related groups, I feel risk in saying that I question the very foundations of Western science. This, of course, is ridiculous, if Western science is true to its ideals because questioning anything and everything is at its very heart.

The truth is more complicated. Ideals, when entangled in institutions, can be and often are, compromised. The focus becomes something else – the life of the institutions – which then shifts the focus to power, both economic and political. Once in those arenas, the gloves come off and the fight is often to the death.  Although we do not consider institutions in the same way we consider people, it is people and nature who suffer in these fights, from this war mentality, but that’s another essay.

Stepping away from blind acceptance of the definition and hierarchies of knowledge as given by Western science and Western scholarship, opens me to other possibilities. As with the release of anything, the opening created stimulates a pressure to fill it with something else. This natural reaction can lead to appropriation of more suitable ideas from others, without even realizing it. On the surface, this makes some sort of sense, when you come from a paradigm of power over, hierarchies, and war mentality. And it happens without clear realization, for this “blindness” is cultivated and nurtured in the domination paradigm. I’m starting to get into some of the more deeply underlying issues here. Again, these are for future essays.

What to do with this new opening then? (One more quick aside – the focus on what to DO is part of the conditioned response of the domination culture and it is frequently paired with time pressure to act quickly.) For me, the path of stepping away from acceptance of these given definitions was a process over time, recognized through self-reflection along the way. Because it happened over time, I was able to explore many other possibilities along the way. I now know that this was my path to heart. Exploring ideas and ways of knowing other than the Western Science analytical approach along with paying attention to my own experiences that fell outside of scientific explanation brought forward new possibilities.

I learned that when I slowed down and paid attention, I began to see and hear, and to know things that were not accessible through Western science. Eventually, some of these things were studied by scientists, and the “knowledge” they came to was the same knowledge that came to me in other ways. As an environmental scientist, this fell completely outside anything I had ever heard about. It was these instances that set me on a journey into other ways of knowing. One question that comes up in Western science when considering other knowledge systems is if that “other” knowledge is somehow externally verified, a strongly held principle in Western science. I came to learn that other knowledge systems are just that: systems, and the “verification” of “knowledge” happens in their own equally valid ways within those systems. Because they are entire systems, simply attempting to peek in from the outside does not provide valid basis for judgment, yet this is precisely what Western science has done.

Smith tells us in so many ways that building relationships with people with knowledge systems that are not Western science is critically important to developing respectful means of engagement. My exploration beyond Western science — what I call my path of heart — that brought me personally to this understanding, which explains why I felt supported by Smith’s words in Decolonizing Methodologies.

What is this “path of heart”, you may ask. For now, it is an incomplete way to describe something other than, more than, the power of intellect or the analytical mind alone. The path of heart, for me, is a path of love and respect for all, engaging with my full self all that I attend. It is explicit intention for all of this.

It is truly challenging territory to traverse, between paradigms, and it is fraught. The domination culture manifests in ways that we are taught to protect against, yet it may just be these very protections that keep us closed off from doorways to other paradigms altogether. Purveyors of doubt abound and many seek to take advantage where they can, without care for others. Skepticism and lack of trust, all based on centuries of experiences supporting these exact responses, may actually limit the possibilities of finding those long-overgrown pathways that have the potential to support our creation of a more just, equitable, and sustainable world. It seems it may be a game of tit-for-tat, that could be unending without clear intention and the courage to step out off that forever spinning wheel.

The question remains, how will I know, as I move forth with intent to create new paths that weave knowledge systems through love and respect. How will I know, as I move forth with intent to create new systems of being and knowledge that support all, human and non-human? How will I know? How will we know? Perhaps simply posing the question helps to open the way.

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day 2021 Syracuse, NY

Earth Day is a day of declared solidarity that we are all in this together on Planet Earth. My Earth Day began with 3 inches of fluffy white snow covering the grass and clinging to the blossoms of the cherry trees, the maples, the redbuds, and the tulips. The yellow of the forsythia glows through the snow on its branches, the pink of the redbud sneaks out below the stacks of flakes above. As I write this, a small breeze moves through, helping the flowers to shake off the snow and the sky brightens with promise of sunshine before long. It is a beautiful sight, even as it is fairly unusual for snow this late into spring. It is not the latest I’ve seen snow in spring, nor the most snow I have seen in spring and while it brings needed moisture (think April showers) for the emergence of spring flowers, I do prefer rain at this time of year. Nonetheless I am grateful for the resilience and the beauty of nature.

I reflect this morning on the role we have in co-creating the world around us. Through the choices we make each day, through the beliefs we have, we co-create the world. I won’t take it as a sign that the bright promise of the sun that shone through a moment ago has faded in this moment, and the sky is once again filled with falling snow as one more snow shower begins. It is beautiful. There is no denying that. Still, it is a challenge to move through moments of darkness and dismay. But now the robin sings through, showing me the way. Keep going. This is just what is today. We create tomorrow anew.

Perspective matters. Toby, our dog, is delighted with the fresh snow cones of the morning. As he emerges from the house, he chomps the snow from the tops of each little solar light. I can’t help but smile at that! Last year I shared photos of wonderful pink blossoms on Earth Day. This year, a purple hyacinth cloaked in snow.  

Here’s to creating a world in which we celebrate Earth Day every day.

On Other Ways of Knowing and Western Science

Coming up through the Western science tradition, one of the most frequent things I hear from scientists when the topic of intuition and other ways of knowing comes up is the perceived inability of others to verify it. Therefore, it is less than. I heard this again last week at the Global Council for the Environment Drawdown 2021 international conference when indigenous leaders spoke about their knowledge systems.

Because my personal experience defied what Western science was saying, including having others verify information that came to me in dreams and actually seeing what I saw in dreams, I began investigating this. As you might imagine, the first time I had someone recount to me a dream that I had blew to smithereens my worldview. A series of other similar experiences further shook that worldview. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time exploring and studying what have been classified as “mystery traditions”, and I have actually developed skills in many of these traditions, especially linking to those from my own Celtic heritage. I have been extremely careful in sharing this information for worry that it would compromise my credibility as a scientist, for the very reasons I heard voiced at the conference last week.

My exploration and study have shown that these approaches are actually externally verifiable. The ways in which they are verifiable are different than the scientific method, just as the ways in which we assess scholarly work other than science are different. The outcome is the same – externally verified information. The question of how we can know to have confidence in any information, including science, is a super important one. In fact, last year on the NCSE main stage the conversation I had with Martha McNutt, President of the National Academies of Science and well-known scientist Tom Lovejoy went right to this issue in Western science. While we have that conversation about Western science, perhaps we should also have it about other ways of knowing. What are the indicators that we can use to know to trust information?

While we are having that conversation, it is also important to recognize and respect that intuition and other ways of knowing, including dreams, have always been a part of science – the inspiration or breakthrough moment of many discoveries have been recounted to have come that way. We can read these stories, only AFTER the fact, and usually after someone who is now famous and successful recounts it. But we still do not even talk about how these aspects of self, beyond intellect, actually come into play in science already. I propose that were we to do so, that the questions we ask, the methods we use, the understandings of our results would be superior to those obtained through intellect alone.  I also propose that this conversation should be part of all university science education. Eventually I would like to see an infrastructure that intertwines science education and other ways of knowing education to bring the two together with equal respect and value, clearly understanding that both are needed to do our best.

Interested in this topic? Please feel free to comment and we’ll start the dialogue here.

Wildfires Meditation – Sept 13, 2020

Dear Friends,

It has been some time since my last post. I have been nurturing a number of projects that you will soon begin to see here on Heart Forward Science.

Today I am pleased to invite you to join in a meditation that Maggie Brickson and I are leading tomorrow toward restoration of loving, respectful relationship with self, others, and nature.

The meditation will be live on Zoom, Sunday, September 13 @ 2 pm Eastern, (1pm CT, 11am PT, 12 pm MT).

Here is more information about it:

The meditation is to honor the elements, to express that honoring explicitly and to ask to enter their energy fields to connect consciousness with them. It is not a manipulation of the elements.  Our intent is to send a message of recognition of the great imbalance we have been party to as humans on Earth at this time, and to be clear that we are here to honor the elements, Mother Earth, the oceans, the heavens, and the stars, and the intricate energy balance that they have provided for us for millennia. We are here to offer our prayers to work consciously with them toward the balance that is needed to quell the fires. We commit also to continuing this conscious work both with the elements, and humans, to bring this consciousness into people individually and in our social organization in every way we each can do. We offer our prayers and the flow of universal energy through us to where it is needed most at this time. We specifically connect with the trees and plants to work with earth, water, and air to bring together moisture clouds to quell the fires and protect plants and animals, including humans.

We will start with a prayer, then check in about the work we are doing, discuss in short how we see this meditation coming together, and then we will lead and participate in the meditation.

All are welcome!  Join us in the dreamtime if you are unable to join in the physical.

Much love,
Valerie and Maggie

Maggie Brickson and Valerie Luzadis are inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Wildfires MeditationTime: Sep 13, 2020 01:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 314 806 5587Passcode: 55418

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Presentation at Humanity Rising Global Solution Summit

Valerie Luzadis, August 20, 2020

What a pleasure it is to join you here today on Humanity Rising. Thanks to the team at Ubiquity University for this incredible, on-going gathering that is Humanity Rising. And thank you to all who are tuning in for this conversation about new mindsets for science in the effort to create a more sustainable and resilient post pandemic world.

As an ecological economist and social-ecological systems scientist, I have focused on sustainability throughout my career. Before the pandemic, we were facing  a dual crisis of tremendous social inequality, with the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, and tremendous ecological disruption with climate change, water issues, food security, and more, and now it has become a triple crisis with the global pandemic. We need solutions. We need new mindsets.

We need to be radical, creative, and innovative and I argue that we also need to be inspired and we need to inspire others.  Specific solutions need to come from the bottom up and the top down, the left, the right.  However, it might take a new mindset to do this. 

Science provides us with amazing knowledge that can be used to create a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient world. To achieve the transformation we seek, we need to create truly innovative institutional structures (or simply put – new ways to live on the planet).  The transformation is one in which story and science, imagination, innovation, intuition and data, all braid together toward understanding the unity of Earth’s systems and inhabitants and the beauty of its heterogeneity.  One day the children of this planet will learn about this transformation and wonder at what came before, stunned at how people could have stood for such inequity, disrespect, and dualism in everything around them.

How do we change mindsets? And what kind of change do we need?

We all know the challenge of changing our minds…once an idea is set; boy is it hard to shift.  Think about it.  How many of us know someone so set in their ways, you just can’t imagine them changing their minds….I know I can think of a few…maybe more than a few!

So how do we do this?  How do we change our minds?  Ask anyone who has ever kicked a habit, made a great personal or professional change, how they got started. They looked inside and asked themselves good questions.  And sometimes these questions or the possible answers are pretty frightening.  We all know the power of fear in our lives….sometimes we’re just afraid to look. We are all here at Humanity Rising because we KNOW we must look. 

So how DO we do this? Think about a moment when you saw someone change their mind or when they realized that their mind HAD changed.  What a powerful thing!  As a scientist, I admit that data can change my mind.  But when it comes to issues of values, it is not always data that does it or only data that does it.  Some of the most powerful shifts of mind I have experienced myself or observed in others were stimulated by stories. Personal stories. 

When I first embraced the idea of stories, I had a lot to learn – my education was all science all the time and that did not include stories, and so I did what we academics will do – I researched it.  But I also talked about it with others.  The ideas of creativity, imagination, and intuition kept coming up – and I thought, all that is okay in fiction, but in science?  At least we never hear about it in science.  We all know that science is fact-based – no place for imagination and intuition. But we also know that’s not exactly true.  Only we do not usually say that out loud.  I experience imagination and intuition not as creative in some childish way — “Oh, it’s only your imagination” — but as an important aspect of my greatest personal AND professional achievements.  I know many scientists for whom this is true, and it is time to talk about this. It is time to shift to a new mindset in science. It is time for radical collaborations.

Imagination and intuition are incredibly important parts of everything we do – in science and otherwise.  When we pay attention to them, we can learn to appropriately and usefully interpret them. 

Scientists rarely articulate when, where, and how imagination and intuition inform the scientific endeavor.  Often this subject is not addressed at all in the teaching of science or in scholarly research in any area. This leaves students with incomplete knowledge and likely an inaccurate impression that imagination and intuition have no value in science nor with the resolution of complex problems including achieving sustainability.

I’d like to share a bit about how I came to this – a bit of my story.

Very soon after I became an assistant professor in a forestry department of a research university, I had a profound experience of direct knowledge. I was high in the canopy of an old growth forest, doing my best to manage my fear of heights. As a tree lover and environmental scientist, I could not pass up the opportunity to experience the forest canopy. So I went up in the crane, and it was during this experience of being among the crowns of the trees in this old growth forest that I suddenly knew how energy flows within the forest, and between trees, including after disturbance like when we cut trees.  I had no idea how this could have happened, other than it seemed that the trees had somehow “told” me this. I mentioned this to no one! Upon return to my campus, I looked at the current understanding of energy flows within a forest and asked colleagues who study that. I learned that the information that had come to me from the trees was at the time unknown to science. I did not know what to do with the information I seemed to now have, both because of the means of its appearance and the fact that it was not the science I was trained to do with my newly minted PhD. So, I did nothing. I didn’t even dare tell anyone about it. Years went by, nearly 20 years, and I heard a TED talk on the radio about the very thing I had learned. It was a scientist talking about energy flows in a forest. I nearly fell off my chair. I looked up the research and saw scientists had completed studies that resulted in the very knowledge that had somehow come to me all those years ago in the forest. I was floored. I was struck deeply that it was time to start talking about this.

As my career advanced as an environmental scientist who studies social-ecological systems and ecological economics, both areas of study about relationships between people and nature, I realized that the ways in which we teach and learn science and research, possibly most scholarly pursuits, is largely limited to “rational”, analytical, intellectual approaches. We do not teach students to listen and learn from everything, or if we do it is at a level of simple observation that is then essentially reduced by the solely intellectual focus of research. What if we taught new scientists, new scholars, to listen to everything that came to them as they live their lives? Whether it seemed fanciful or not? Whether it was a dream they remembered or a “download” from old growth trees. What if imagination and intuition were valued equally to intellect in the pursuit of knowledge? Of course, we would also need to continue to teach about using intellect and analytical approaches at the same time.  Bringing all this together, we would be asking better questions, and getting to more useful knowledge sooner.

I have found that the way forward for science, scholarship, and knowledge is through the heart. We must learn to think through our hearts and feel through our minds to come to the new systems we need. The link for me is heart.  In order to engage my imagination, I must free myself from the tyranny of the mind. Sometimes I have to actually “unlearn” things. In order to hear my inner knowing, to have space for direct knowledge, whether in the form of an intuition, a download, or a conversation with a plant, I know that I must listen through my heart.

What would science, scholarship, and knowledge itself look like if we linked the heart and the mind in all that we do? I have come to call this Heart Forward Science and I started an organization with that name to address these issues. I know many scientists and scholars who are heart forward. They came to this through their own personal pursuits, not as sanctioned by nor the design of educational programs for scientists and scholars. Some had mentors within the academic world who helped them along this path, but most found their way by reaching outside the academy. I propose that we create the scaffolding between these two, currently separate, pursuits – development of the intellect and mind, and development of heart and spirit to bring us to more equitable and sustainable ways of living. Heart Forward Science was established to do just that.

It is time now for us to illuminate pathways to allow for heart to lead in science. One of the interesting aspects of this is not really knowing what that looks like, what all those pathways may be. But this is precisely part of the path – it is BECAUSE we do not know what it looks like, that we need to trust our hearts to keep us on a path of respect, dignity, mutuality, interconnectedness, reciprocity – a path of divine love. Whether it is science, scholarship, research, or other endeavors – art, dance, music – all on a path of heart, or led with heart, have the potential to transform the world in ways in which intellect alone does not.

We need to include in our education programs the skills to know when you are operating through heart and when you are not. There are many simple ways to do this, all easily taught and learned. We have heard many of them in talks here on Humanity Rising. I have used some of these techniques in the classroom and the students are amazed at the difference between intellect-only response and what comes out when they simply slow down and experience nature.

What if we taught science and research using techniques like this, bringing more of ourselves to the work? Allowing our body-minds, our hearts, into the process?

We need to teach this. We need to develop approaches to do so in ways that speak to scientists, and we need to ask scientists who have come to this balance themselves to speak up to help establish respect from the scientific world for other ways of knowing. We have made some progress, albeit little and spotty, with growing respect for Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We have yet to acknowledge other ways of knowing within all people. If this is a topic that interests you, please consider connecting with us at

This presentation was followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Anna Stewart-Ibarra, Dr. Bradley Parrish, Ms. Elizabeth Erdmann, PhD student, and Dr. Daniela Manuschevich.

The entire presentation and discussion can be seen here:

Weaving the 3 Is – Intellect, Imagination, and Intuition

Welcome to Heart Forward Science! I am so excited to launch this webpage. This is a place where we can work together to create a new mindset in science that supports scientists to bring their full selves to the work they do. So much of science focuses solely on the intellectual and analytical without clearly bringing heart into the effort. As a woman environmental scientist focused on sustainability, I was educated to leave big parts of myself outside the lab, the field, and the classroom. This was not only unnatural for me, it was unsatisfying, and arguably less effective.

I made my way through scienceandacademia by succeeding in that limited way, “sneaking” in the rest of me and other ways of knowing as much as possible. I achieved the rank of Full Professor and then spent ten years in administration, eventually serving as Interim Provost and Executive Vice President of a PhD granting, research university.  I served as elected president of one of a national level professional association and I currently chair the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing informed environmental policy- and decision-making through science.

My work at HFS is bringing heart to science and to develop the infrastructure needed to support the weaving of intellect, imagination, and intuition as a stronger foundation for science than intellect alone. In particular, the questions on which scientists focus, the methods we use, and the communication of our work are all enriched by the weaving of the three Is – intellect, imagination, and intuition. It is through the heart that this weaving occurs. Working with heart and direct revelation in science has the potential to significantly speed humanity’s progress toward a more sustainable, equitable world.

I launched Heart Forward Science to invite others to join in this effort. Please consider following us and submitting your own thoughts, ideas, poetry, art, or any creative endeavor that helps to move us toward a more holistic approach to science and humanity.