Our inculturation as “moderns” sometimes leads us to view unconventional people in a misguided light. Portrayed as a tree-hugging radical, Julia “Butterfly” Hill is a well-known environmental activist and writer, best-known for her two-year long “tree-sit” occupation of a 200-foot tall ancient redwood tree in Humboldt County, California, to save it from being cut down by loggers. I’ve written about her before, and regardless of what mainstream media has said, Hill is one of those inspiring, unforgettable figures precisely because of her act of profound courage. She is one of those modern mystics that have blazed a path into a great spiritual unknown, starting with this singular act. As I said before: “You can speak Gandhi and Martin Luther King, non-violent civil disobedience, in the same breath; certainly, this image of a woman standing tall on a even taller tree, surrounded only by sky, is that indomitable human spirit in the service of love and truth.”
But judge for yourself; here are some of her own words, from Inner Self:
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“Committed Love in Action” – article by Julia Butterfly Hill
I was born into a deeply religious family. My father was an itinerant preacher and we traveled across the country offering our service to rural communities. My father would preach, my mother would sing, and my brothers and I would perform puppet shows to entertain the young ones. My early life lessons were to respect my elders and to offer myself to the greater good.
In our family we placed God first, community service second, and our own personal concerns last. Like many teenagers, I rebelled against my upbringing and questioned the way I was raised. Because we were extremely poor and religious, I rebelled by valuing money and deviating from organized religion.
I graduated from high school at sixteen. I decided to study business in college because I truly believed that our value in society was measured by our financial wealth. Because I am someone who prefers experiential learning, I left college and opened my own restaurant when I was eighteen. I am a hard worker, and the next two years of my life were devoted to this business. I even helped others run their enterprises. My life revolved around saving for the future. Yet like most young people, I liked to party and have fun.
In 1996, I was out late with some friends, and I was the designated driver. I was driving a small two-door hatchback and was rear-ended by a drunk driver in a Ford Bronco. The steering wheel jammed into my skull, causing brain damage.
The accident affected my short-term memory and my motor skills. I underwent nearly a year of cognitive and physical therapy. During this period, I had time to contemplate the possibility that I might not fully recover. What if I could not function normally again and what if that impaired my ability to work and earn money, the way I had become accustomed? This possibility struck a chord in me that forced me to question my perceived values. I realized that my value as a human being was certainly greater than my ability to earn money. I began to ponder what my true meaning and purpose on Earth were.
When your way of life is threatened, nothing is ever the same. I suddenly saw everything in a new light. All the time and space I had taken for granted became precious. I realized that I had always been looking ahead and planning instead of making sure that every moment counted for something. Perhaps because I had injured the analytical side of my brain, the more creative side began to take over, and my perspective shifted. It became clear to me that our value as people is not in our stock portfolios and bank accounts but in the legacies of life that we leave behind.