Climb Your Own Tree
By Chelsea Murray
Julia Butterfly Hill
Activism isn’t dead.
While it’s true young people aren’t inspired the way America’s youth were in the 1960s by Bob Dylan, nor are they protesting the war in Iraq with the same passion and conviction that their parents and grandparents opposed the war in Vietnam, by no means is activism dead.
Activism today is more influential because there are more causes for people to support, and more ways in which individuals can get involved. It may seem like the 60’s were more alive because youth were protesting one particular cause (the Vietnam war), but today’s youth have a wider selection of causes to choose from. Consider some of the options: the genocide crisis in Darfur, global warming, human rights around the world, fighting cancer with the LiveStrong bracelets and Relay for Life walks, or helping to fight the AIDS epidemic sweeping across the world.
Young people have raised $12 million dollars to help provide netting for children and familes in malaria ravaged African countries. Activism has become global and issues transcend the borders of America. There are many places, people, and environments around the globe that are in dire need for people to take notice and help the situation. A person can mention any subject and there are issues and problems within each one.
Anyone can become involved in aiding any issue, and when they do, they become an activist. There are forms of activism that would not have been possible to take part in decades ago. For example, a person can surf the web and find a cause they want to support. They go on the website and can sign up to get emails in which they can donate money, educate themselves about the issues and be active in a small or big way if they desire.
There are many ways in which people can become active with one click of a button. For example, the Hunger Site directs interested parties toward the website where a person can click on a button every day to donate money (free of charge to the person) to needy people. The website is an interesting place for one to browse around and find funky, unique gifts to buy people that also do something good in return for your purchase. A person can sign up to get an email reminder every day to go to the website and click on the Hunger button which donates money to the effort to fight world hunger. It’s a small way for someone to become active every day.
This is an extremely important time in history for young people to become active in the field of politics. The big politicians running for President, have realized reaching the youth of the nation at some level may be the most important thing for them to do during this campaign. The youth will be the people they need to cater to the most because they are the next generation of America. Candidates like Barack Obama, Ron Paul and to some extent Hilary Clinton are taking part in concerts, rallies and events that are directed towards youth. And youth are really responding to this. They are getting involved in politics more than ever through the head quarters in their home state or through websites. In recent times, candidates have made elections and politics “cool” to youth by supporting issues that are important to them. Many young people that I have personally spoken to hope deperatly that the next President will help better the image of America abroad. Certain candidates have come forward and mapped out what course of action they would take to achieve such a goal. It resonates with young people as do many of the issues in this election. The celebrity backing and excitment does not hurt their cause, but in actuality the youth of America are responding to these candidates because of their passion and verve for wanting to bring about change. Any young person or anyone for that matter that gets involved in politics and becomes an aid to a campaign or even just visiting the websites and educating themselves, can be described as an activist.
Many people feel they will not make a big impact on their own because they aren’t Bono (the front man for U2), who educates the world about AIDS in Africa, or actress Angelina Jolie who is a United Nations ambassador for the High Commissioner of Refugees. These celebrities have a platform and money in which to make a huge impact, but everyone has the ability to make an impact in their own way. Every person can make a difference.
As a student on a college campus, I look around and see that there are many avenues presented to us to encourage us to become more active in the world. There are blood drives, cancer walks, rallies against AIDS, rallies for animal rights, and sign ups for Habitat for Humanity.
After checking out all these options, a student can choose a cause that screams out to them, and in their own way, will become an activist for the cause. There is a group of students at my college who joined the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. These people travel to other states and countries to build houses for those in desperate need of shelter. To raise awareness at Marist College these students built a cardboard house for themselves on campus that they sit in during the bitter cold. They take turns sitting in this little hut and their action snags the attention of fellow students and raises awareness of the issue. Sometimes people have to take drastic measures to draw other people into their cause.
Other times people take a more subtle approach to show that they are active for a cause, an example being the LiveStrong bracelets created by Lance Armstrong. I have personally kept my bracelet on since I snapped it onto my wrist three and a half years ago. I have not taken it off even to shower. I feel as if the bracelet is my small way of supporting the cause to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The bracelets were a fad a few years ago, but recently the fad has died down. It is not a fad to me.
Activism is not a fad to me, but it was hard to pin point exactly what it meant and to truly understand what one person could do to change the world. This is where Julia Butterfly Hill came into my life. She came and shone a bright light to show exactly what activism was and to prove without a doubt that it was not dead.
Julia Butterfly Hill lived in a tree for two years. That’s the only piece of information I had ever heard about her before I was assigned to go conduct an interview in the fall. She sounded interesting, but I honestly was not sure what kind of person I would be sitting down with. Picture in your mind what kind of person you would assume would have lived in a tree for two years. The imagination runs wild and before I read anything about her I assumed I would be sitting down with a insanely passionate woman with strange social skills who didn’t shower for two years because they didn’t have bathroom facilities 180 feet up in a tree.
I was dead wrong. Julia Butterfly Hill is one of the most influential activists of this generation. In 1997 she discarded all of her possessions and moved into a 2000 year old redwood tree to save it from being cut down. She was not the first person to ever climb a tree in protest, but she was one of the most outspoken. Her two year stay in the tree drew international media attention, and when the lumber company agreed not to cut down the tree, she descended after 738 days aloft. Remarkably, what began an individual protest to sae a single tree, transformed Julia into an international spokesperson.
Since climbing down from the tree she has used her fame to educate others about the environment and how to become activists to help the world one person at a time. Before she entered Luna ten years ago, she was a free spirit who hadn’t found her calling. The tree sit literally transformed her life.
Before I interviewed her this past autumn at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, I did some preliminary research and was fascinated. I have recently been going back and forth in my mind about what I want to do in the future, and wincing every time someone snickered or frowned when I said I wanted to do humanitarian work in Africa. Julia was the perfect person for me to talk to and gain some clarity and understanding to my calling in the world.
The day of the interview finally arrived and I was excited. The drive to the Omega Center wasn’t long and it was peaceful to get away from college and experience some serenity alone in my car.
When I stepped foot in a small café at the Omega Center the smell of spiced tea and incense filled my nostrils. I purchased a cup of tea to sooth my voice which I had been losing for a few days. I sat at a table alone and noticed a woman a few tables away talking with her hands very passionately about something. I knew right away that it was Julia. Then my stomach filled with butterflies and I got really nervous. Julia finished talking to the other woman and scanned the room and saw me. She came over and I could feel my throat close up. This woman had done so much in her life and I felt inadequate sitting across the table from her. The nerves flushed out of my system after talking with her for a few moments. She was such a comfortable person and knew exactly how to put me at ease. The entire interview I was awed by the answers she provided and she is one of my most inspiring and influential people I have ever met. She has a peaceful and energetic aura about her. She was so at ease with herself, and the hour interview helped sharpen my desire to help people with actions in my life.
Julia Butterfly says that one person can make a difference. She says that everyone has their own tree out there, like she did, they just have to find it and climb it. Julia believes everyone has the ability to become an activist; but the cause has to come from inside of you. Start looking.....
The following Q & A between Chelsea Murray and Julia Butterfly Hill took place at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY in the autumn of 2006. At the time of the interview Chelsea Murray was 19 years old, and a sophomore at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, studying International Communications
Observer: How do you explain the term activism?
Julia Butterfly Hill: Often times to understand what something is, you have to understand what it’s not. For me, activism is not focusing about what is wrong and not working. Rather that for me, activism is a celebration of the magic and gift that is life. It’s a way to be in grateful service to the miracle that is life. And that is actually what activism is for me.
Observer: How do you pick a cause to be an activist for?
Julia: I always answer that question with “what do you love?” Because we have lots of things were good at and lots of issues to work on, but when we really work with something that we love then we make the kind of difference we hope to make in the world. Because for me, part of being active and the kind of activists I want to see in the world are people who are holistic health practitioners.
Every single issue when you talk about forests or global warming or an industrial complex or bombing people in Iraq are all symptoms of a disease. It’s the same disease causing all these symptoms on the planet and to all of its beings, human and otherwise. So I want people out there who are working on the symptoms but from the point of a holistic health practitioner and you cannot do that kind of holistic health from a place of anger or a place of judgment or a place of blame.
So if we do what we love then we’re going to make the kind of difference we want to make and ultimately it means we’re going to have fun and enjoy our life while we’re doing it. Because there is a great amount of people that burn out of activism, this should be a life long journey. It shouldn’t be a “do this thing and mark it off my list, one after the other, until I burn out and get cynical and get overwhelmed and say forget it.” Some people are life long activists but never truly experience the miracle of their own life because they aren’t doing what they love and coming from a place they love.
Observer: Because if you do something you love, you are willing to give a lot of yourself for it. Is that what your saying?
Julia: Not even give a lot of yourself, but that you’re able to show up. It’s not like your having to take something from yourself and give it away. It’s that you are yourself; all whom you are getting to show off more powerfully. Because often we hide from our love, which means we have to be vulnerable, be open and we have to hurt. To be open to what’s going on in the world means your probably going to cry, which means you probably are going to be angry, and you probably are going to rage. But then through your love, we take that anger and take that grief and transform it into healing.
Observer: Musician John Mayer’s song “Waiting on the World to Change” seems to imply that my generation is sitting back wanting change, but not doing much about it. Do you think young people are doing enough or should we be more engaged in fighting Global Warming and the war in Iraq?
Julia: There’s another great song by the band Nickelback, I don’t know the name of the song, let me see if I can remember the words. It basically shows all these tremendous changes throughout history like what birthed Live Aid. This woman that was just here this weekend Betty Williams from Ireland who saw three children get murdered in the conflict between the Irish and Catholic people became an activist and ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize.
It’s this whole song and video that’s so profound and beautiful that says the other message to that John Mayer song that says the world changes by how we show up. That our inactions change the world as much as our actions do. So I think both songs because they are both by popular bands speak to where our culture currently is. There are those of us who want to like not changing anything about them and having the world to change. And there are those that get that in order for the world to change they have to be willing to change themselves.
Observer: It was funny because I went to see John Mayer this summer and I had been listening to this song and thought it was a great anthem for my generation. But actually sitting there at the concert and I was listening and I was like “wait…why should I wait for the world to change? Why can’t I change it myself?’ So I started to think about it and I really wanted to write a letter or something to John Mayer and be like ‘why are you writing this? Everybody is listening to it and why are we waiting for it to change?’ So it was almost insulting to my generation that ‘I don’t want to sit and wait for change. I want to actually do something about it’. So I was just wondering your opinions on that. I’ll have to check that other song it sounds interesting.
Julia: Well, I think they both reflect where our culture is at. There are those that just want to sit back and wait and expect it to just happen and those that get the world we want to live in is the way we show up in it.
Observer: All across America college students are committed to playing video games, watching television, listening to music and keeping tabs on Britney Spears, but there seems to be a disconnect about compassion and helping others. What is the key to getting more young people involved in social causes?
Julia: Well for me, it’s making a lot of it way more interesting. An example is my organization puts on an event called ‘We the Planet’, we no longer do it because we created materials on how to do it yourself to give away so other people can do it. We bring in high-level celebrities for ‘We the Planet’. We throw a really cool concert, but when you come you can’t actually make a wrong choice because we don’t give you that option. So, there is zero waste, zero mission events.
We have celebrities like Alanis Morresette, Cake, The Koo, The Roots, Flea from the Chili Peppers, Woody Harrelson, Bonnie Rait, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman…the whole spectrum from folk music to modern day to hip hop to pop and everybody gets interested. And then the whole event is like you can only eat vegan food, you can have a vegan hot dog or a vegan hamburger, but it’s only vegan and it’s good. So they’re going there eating the kind of stuff they might normally eat except it’s healthy for them and they’re learning along the way.
Instead of having to preach it, because nobody wants to be preached to, it’s not very inspiring. You just go have this really fun experience and then throughout the day they keep realizing I can’t make a bad choice here. We don’t have disposable items, we don’t have anything to throw away, and to me part of what it is to get more people excited is to make it more interesting. We want to rely on old tactics and think it’s going to make a difference, but life has evolved and those tactics aren’t going to work anymore. So how do we make it more interesting? I majored in business in college with a minor emphasis on the language and arts. So I love marketing and the world of business, love it. Part of what we have to do is, I came up with the tag line, “consciousness is cool and sustainability is sexy”. So we have to do that. If we want to get the young people involved we have to make caring cool. We have to make being aware cool. And we have to make the movement towards ecological sustainability and towards living in a way that honors the earth really sexy, really irresistible and really fun.
Observer: So basically what your saying is that the movements should change to get more people involved. The message of the movement isn’t different, but the actual going about it is different to get more people involved in it.
Julia: I don’t think everyone has to do it, but I think more of us need to do it because ultimately we have to know what we’re talking about because the kids in college playing video games, caring only about the clothes their wearing or worrying about Britney Spears is all addiction. And I know it because I used to be an addict. I was addicted to hardcore things so I know what addiction is. And we numb ourselves with video games. We numb ourselves with caring about is somebody going to approve of me because of the way I look?
Not just seeing that we are powerful and divine just as we are. It doesn’t matter if you have a Gucci bag or Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. It doesn’t matter. But their doing that because they are products that have been born into a production driven society. So then they become consumers and their self worth and value is based on everything that’s surface. And we walk around caring only about the surface and our soul hurts. We numb ourselves with partying hardcore, with video games and with caring about Britney Spears. And caring about Britney Spears in a way that we don’t actually care, we just care about what type of drama she is in so she can entertain us. Very few people actually care that Britney Spears is a human being who is drastically lost right now.
Observer: I do.
Julia: Yeah? Some of us do, but they are very few. I mean if you look at the over all number of people, how many people watching Britney Spears say they care?
Observer: The other day I was watching the MTV Awards when she came out dancing in the revealing black outfit and when she screwed up my friends sat there laughing. And I was like “oh my god, that’s so sad. This poor girl, I mean she brought it on herself but she’s only 25 and having all these pressures on your life…and everyone can sit there and laugh, but it’s just not right. But at the same time she’s putting herself out there.
Julia: No matter if someone puts himself or herself out there or not. Who cares? We’re all people. And we all make mistakes. I don’t know a perfect person on this planet. We all screw up. We all have issues. We all have jealousy. We’re all people. There’s nothing super great about any of us and there’s everything super great about all of us. It’s like we’re 100% divine and 100% humble at the same moment. Every one of us.
So, for me, to speak to those youths in particular that you’re talking about, yes we need to do better to understand the language. This culture that you are speaking of in these questions speak a particular language and we act as if you can walk into a French community and speak English and be understood and vice versa. You can’t. You can use hand gestures and things, but your communication is limited. So it’s the same with marketing and branding. It’s the language of the youth culture. So if we want to be able to be understood absolutely we have to learn how to communicate that language.
Observer: Many charities and activist groups seem to be a fad with young people. It’s cool to wear a LIVESTRONG bracelet without even knowing what it stands for. What is your opinion of that?
Julia: Well that’s a fine line because you make it cool and sexy and if your not careful it becomes a fad, which means that eventually people will stop doing it. So we don’t actually want that. For me, I’m all about making the shift internally sexy and cool not externally. Shift the external so it can be gotten on the internal rather than the other way around. I’m not a super big fan of fads personally.
Observer: Why, because they go away after awhile?
Julia: I don’t think it’s long lasting and therefore I don’t put my energy into fads. But at the same time if that’s what’s getting someone active and if that is directing money to important causes that’s better than them doing nothing. So I’m not going to take away from its value. I work very rarely with large organizations. I’d rather work with the grass roots because that’s where people can get involved where they live. But there is a place for large organizations and a place for fads. I compare it to the agitation cycle in the washing machine. You need it all to get it clean. You need it all moving and shaking. And somebody might not be ready to grasp it and a fad might be his or her doorway into a new awareness. So that yellow bracelet may be able to open up peoples mind to a new possibility. That’s a good thing.
Observer: Was there a significant moment in your life that led you to climb Luna and spend 700 days in a 1000-year-old redwood tree?
Julia: There have been many significant moments. Literally a woman freaking out over a jar of mustard was part of my climbing the tree. And the incredible thing about that is so often we look for the big something and then we empower ourselves because often times the real magic and the real miracles and the real learning lessons happen in the small things.
But because we live in the culture we live in we want the anniversary or the big number. We want the oh my god she lived in a tree for two years and eight days. We’re almost addicted to that kind of thing. And then we miss out on all those miracles and moments that happen every day and the small things. And so literally a jar of mustard and a woman freaking out was part of my climbing a tree. As well as a steering wheel going into my skull in a car wreck. As well as growing up and really enjoying being by myself and having two brothers and no sisters, so I climbed a lot of trees. The list of things that led me to climb the tree is the 23 years of my life before I climbed the tree.
Observer: What types of reactions did you get from people before you entered the tree? Did you tell your friends and family your plans?
Julia: I didn’t know I was going to climb the tree until well…I climbed the tree. I knew I was going to help the forest, but I didn’t know I was going to climb the tree until I was climbing up the base of a tree that needed someone to sit in it. I said “Oooo I can do that” and I volunteered and I went up.
My family found out about it because I was on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is one of the larger newspapers in the country. And my auntie worked at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, so she sent the article out to my whole family saying “LOOOK AT JULIA”. And my parents were like “What? You’re in a tree? What?” (Laughter)
I sold everything I owned. I left where I had been living. I did a lot of things to sort of clear my life because I knew there was something else for me in my life. I knew that my old story was complete. I didn’t know what it was. I knew I wanted to help the Redwoods. So some of my friends knew I was going to try and help the Redwoods but not the full extent of it. My family knew I was out trying to help the Redwoods. But no one knew I was up in a tree in my circle of friends until I was on the front page.
Observer: Did your friends and family come to the tree aand ask what you were doing up there?
Observer: What was your most beautiful moment in Luna?
Julia: There were so many. So many. Everything from the night stars, when the fog would cover the valley below and cover the lights from the Pacific Lumber Mill and there was just stars. Another beautiful moment, these guys came during deer hunting season with guns and started shooting at me since I was an easier target than the deer and they were drunk. I ended up having this incredible conversation with them. And then about two or three weeks later they ended up re-supplying me with fruits and vegetables. But it started out with them shooting at me. It was a pretty beautiful experience. And then listening to the crows and the ravens and the owls talk to each other at night. There were so many sounds.
Observer: How high up were you?
Julia: One hundred and eighty feet. 18 stories if you’re looking at a building.
Observer: So if someone was talking to you from the ground you could hear them pretty well?
Julia: No, there was a clearing on the logging road, which was about 200 feet away, and it was right under where my platform was. So if there wasn’t wind you could hear pretty well. Or I could climb down to lower branches and I could hear relativity well depending on the weather. And we also had Walkie Talkies that if I trusted somebody I would send it down.
Observer: What was your worst moment in Luna and how did you deal with it?
Julia: The same as with the best. There were tons of worst moments. I’m grateful for every one of those. Every worse moment has made me who I am today. I think more than anything it was just the combination of one challenge after another. It’s funny because I remember one day, I was literally in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, sobbing. I was thinking that I could not take it anymore. I was dealing with the worst storms in recorded history. The company tried to kill me. There were activists that were mad at me. I was dealing with severe frostbite. The list goes on and on and on and on with what I was dealing with. I was thinking I couldn’t take it anymore. I cannot do this. I was just sobbing. I was saying I don’t have it in me. I can’t do it. I was praying to the universe to please give me strength, I was going to fall apart if I didn’t have strength.
And then something else would turn up that was even more difficult than before. And I was like “What kind of karma am I working off? I need some help here.” And the answer that came to me was “Julia, you prayed and asked for strength so you’re getting the opportunity from the experiences to become strong.” And I was like “Oh right.” You have to be careful what you ask for. You can’t go to a gym and hold your hand out for 30 seconds and expect a muscle. You have to work for it. And that’s how you get muscles. You work for it and build strength.
And I realized in that moment that even though it was all these horrific experiences that I was going through that I was becoming stronger than I would have ever imagined possible. I have had a life that blows my mind. When I stop and think about my life, not just in the tree, but after I came down, I’m amazed at my life. I’m so grateful for my life. I’ve done things I never could have done or imagined. I have had experiences that I never could have imagined. And as a result I get to experience the magic of my life. Now when hardship comes instead of being overwhelmed, I embrace it. What lesson is there for me to get out of it?
Observer: How did your perspective of the world change during your two years in Luna?
Julia: The great thing about that experience is that it gives you a literal perspective rather than a figurative one. That’s why I used to climb trees when I was little. I had an extremely difficult childhood and climbing the trees would help me get away from the violence that I experienced. And that little distance gave me the ability to find some sort of balance again and come back. So for me, one of the greatest things and greatest perspectives that living in a tree gave me was this one day I was on the phone with activists and I had a solar powered phone in the tree and an issue came up and all of a sudden people were at each others throats. They were being mean to each other. And I covered the phone and I was crying. I was like “God…”. I literally heard the peoples voices as chainsaws and trying to kill each other off, the way we cut each other down with our words and the energy. You may use nice words but the energy that comes out of our mouth can be so hurtful.
Julia: Woooo yeah. It was one of those kinds of conversations and I was crying and thinking how in the world do we think we are going to stop the clear cutting of the forests if we are clear cutting each other? When I was climbing out of Luna and I was seeing all the gorgeous forests out there and seeing all the massively destroyed clear cuts, it hit me. One of the greatest insights I got from that perspective was that the outward landscape is the mirror to the inner landscape.
The world that exists out there only exists because it exists in you as people first. The earth doesn’t go around causing clear cuts. It comes from the people. The way we clear cut each other manifests in the way we clear cut the earth. The way we are disconnected from our true nature manifests in the way we disconnect from the natural world we are apart of. And the more we connect with our true nature the more we can heal out there. The more we heal the way we communicate and treat each other, the more we can heal out there. And that was one of the greatest insights I got from that perspective. And it was at that moment I realized I was more than just an activist for trees. It was at that moment I realized that I was out to be a holistic health practitioner. That I’m really here to help heal from the inside out and from the ground up.
Observer: Do you think you would have come to that realization at any time had you not gone in the tree, or would you have become an activist on the ground?
Julia: I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball (laughter). I’d like to know. I didn’t know until I got it and I’m grateful that I got it. It made me way more effective as an activist. I’ve gotten allies in very unusual places. I’ve befriended loggers; people who tried to kill me. I’ve been able to work across environmental, social and animal rights issues and in spiritual groups and in ways with groups that in the past would always be like “You should care more about the environment because if we don’t protect the environment then jobs and food mean nothing.”
The entire finger pointing and saying whose issue is better really keeps us from working together. And getting that insight really helps me be a bridge between groups that need one between issues. Nothing is disconnected and every time we as activists are disconnected, it just perpetuates the disease. So I’m grateful I got this lesson the way I did. I don’t know if I would have gotten it otherwise, but I’m grateful that I got it.
Observer: Do you believe in a higher power and did you experience its presence while exposed to the fury of nature 180 feet off the ground?
Julia: Yeah, I definitely believe in a higher power and I believe that a higher power is always here. It’s in you, it’s in me, and it’s in every tree, every squirrel, and every blade of grass, every micro-organism in the soil, every carrot, and every piece of lettuce. As a result of that, having that higher power is not just something that’s out there and I’m trying to find it. But rather it’s a journey inward. The more I do the work on myself the closer I come into contact with that higher power.
Observer: What kind of difference do you want to make?
Julia: I do workshops with people and I do journey work around. Imagine that angel came to you today and said I’m going to give you the greatest gift. And then the angel proceeds to tell you that you have 24 hours to live. And immediately you think that’s not the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. But when I came face to face with my death or the possibility of my death when I was still in the tree, I was given the greatest gift I’d ever been given by embracing my death. And the gift of that is that, and to the depth of my being I’m a human being so I make this mistake all the time, I’m pathetic and mean sometimes. I’m as real and as human as anybody gets. But the gift I got was to live every moment of my life with as much love and as much joy and as much commitment, as much service as I can possibly give and bring forth.
So the kind of difference I want to make, I would say like the journey work I’ve done for people, if I were to have a gravestone (which I actually don’t believe in because it wastes resources and takes up space) but if I were to have one or an epitaph I would want it say “She lived and served with all the love she could muster”. Something like that. That’s the kind of difference I want to make. I don’t know. We could save the world tomorrow and then a meteor could hit us the next day. We don’t actually know. Imagine you’re an angry, self-righteous, victimized, blaming, activist or a loving, peaceful, joy filled, powerful activist. And at the end of your lifetime you have both accomplished the same amount in the outside world. Who wins?
Observer: The peaceful one.
Julia: That’s right. That means that you actually got to experience the magic of your own life while trying to make a difference in the world you are apart of.
Observer: What kind of public feedback do you get?
Julia: I get every kind of feedback imaginable because I’m in the spotlight. That means I have the people that love me. I have the people that hate me. I have the people that don’t care. I have the people that think I should save the world and the people that think I’m the devil. I get all kinds of feedback. Part of my work, what I’m doing this week with Sean Coran, who is a phenomenal yoga instructor, is to help people uncover the fact that our power isn't in the feedback.
The power isn't if people like us or don’t like us or if they think I’m pretty or think I’m ugly. If people think I’m skinny or fat or if they like my hair short or long. I had to get this really early on because I didn’t want notoriety. I climbed the tree because I’m good at being by myself. I like being by myself. I loved playing by myself since I was a little girl. That’s why I would climb trees by myself when I was a little girl. So when the spotlight showed up it challenged whom I am as a person. People don’t know that because they only know me for celebrity and the story that they heard about. But I like my alone time. When the spotlight came then everybody’s stuff came along with it. I literally got to a point where I was starting to feel schizophrenic because I was taking the fall for all this different stuff. The beauty of that is that it made me put myself under a microscope and be willing to be really authentic and really true and really honest. That’s all. And it was also a courageous thing. So I put myself under the microscope and I got really clear and continued to make this an ongoing journey and got really clear on who is it I’m called to be. What does my spirit call me to be? What does my heart call me to be? And that’s what I’m here to do.
Observer: What does ”Butterfly” mean to you?
Julia: It’s been apart of my name since I was about seven and a half or eight years old. And it came about because I was hiking up in the mountains in Pennsylvania and a butterfly came and landed on me and stayed on me while I was hiking for hours and hours. And it’s part of my name every since.
Observer: I’m sure you know that butterflies come to the peaceful people, so that must mean you’re very peaceful.
Julia: Mmmmm aww thanks.
Observer: Gandhi said “Be the change you want in the world”, and you have written a book about how one person can change the world. Can one person really make a difference?
Julia: The great thing is that it’s actually impossible to not make a difference. We don’t live in a vacuum. So therefore every single word that we speak, every thought that we have, every choice that we make, makes a difference whether we want them to or not. It’s literally, physically, scientifically, spiritually, impossible to not make a difference. It defies the laws of physics, it defies the laws of nature, and it defies the laws of spirit to not make a difference in the world. It’s literally impossible. So the question is not can we make a difference, but what kind of a difference do I want to make?
And that’s one of the biggest lessons we have to learn as a culture at this time. Because so often we get so overwhelmed by how big things are and think that one person really can’t make a difference so I’m just going to go anesthetize myself with shopping and going to the movies and getting drunk and playing video games and all the things we do to numb ourselves because we feel like why care? If it doesn’t care about me then why care? But when we understand that we can’t help but make a difference, then we get to realize that were in the power seat of our own life, and that’s fun.
Observer: I know I want to help people in my life, but I’m not sure what cause to get involved in, or if an organization is worthwhile or not. Do you have any advice for a compassionate 19 year old looking to get involved? Where do you begin?
Julia: It’s really helpful if you look at what are your experiences. Part of the reason why people resonate with me is because I’m honest and I just speak from my own experiences. I use my own experiences. My life experiences are a big part of who I am. And that resonates with people. So I would encourage you and any young person to take a look at what your experiences are this far. Look at what your gifts are. Look at what makes your heart sing and what makes you happy. When you are looking at an issue and want to help is it a place that you feel like you can stand in your love and your joy even though it may hurt. And once you begin to figure out those things you will get a sense of the piece of the puzzle that you are. And then you can try out different things and you can very quickly see if you are the piece of the puzzle that fits in that space or not. Literally when you are putting a puzzle together you kind of try it out. It doesn’t take long. You just try and then boom there it is.
Observer: When I tell my friends and family that my goal is to do humanitarian work in Africa many of them roll their eyes and say I’m crazy. Then they ask what I’m really going to do. It’s insulting. Do you have any advice on how to deal with intrusive questions and people mocking your dream?
Julia: There’s a gift when people do that. And the gift is, if you stay true to yourself you have the opportunity to model to them what being true to yourself is. We want to make a difference in Africa, but we have to make a difference with the people who are mocking us. So what that they mock us? So what that they attack us? I tell people I don’t get offended. The reason I don’t get offended is because it’s a personal choice. I choose not to be offended. Technically when someone says something all it does is vibrate air, and that air goes into our ears and vibrates these little hairs in there and gets translated to sound. That’s actually all that’s happening when we speak. Then we choose what those words mean. So when someone says something we get offended at, or we get upset, we have to realize that we are choosing to be offended or upset. The other person isn’t doing that, they are just moving some air around and tickling our ears.
Observer: It’s our choice to take it personally?
Julia: Yeah. So in that moment it’s an opportunity for you to develop your skills so much so that when you end up in Africa you have more to do. Because you’ll have exercised that muscle. I know this sounds weird to you. Trust me sometimes I question even myself. But the reason we react to people is partly because we don’t want to own the ways we question ourselves. If somebody questions us and we get triggered part of the reason we are getting triggered is because we doubt ourselves.
Observer: That’s exactly what it is. I’m not completely sure it’s the right thing to do and then when someone says your crazy I question if I’m really crazy? So yeah, you question yourself too.
Julia: And so you can either have the question in yourself be a bad thing or just be like I know that I don’t have all the answers right now but I won’t let that stop me from acting. And taking action for what I want to do in the world. Do you think I knew how to live in a tree for two years and eight days? No. Do you think I knew how to do interviews? No. Do you think I knew how to run an organization? No. But most of the stuff I know how to do now; I had no clue how to do on December 9, 1997 the day before I climbed that tree. But I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t know how to stop me from doing it anyway. So when someone approaches us, belittles us, makes fun of us, questions us, we get triggered and get upset. The first thing we look at is why am I choosing upset? And then from that space, we can then stand in our truth and in our power and remember that in that moment we have the opportunity to be a mirror for someone else to realize you don’t have to have the power or the answers to take the action anyway.
Observer: Finally, do you have any thoughts about how to get my generation to wake up and get involved? What might you say to a college student who says, “who cares”, I’m too busy to worry about global warming and AIDS. Let somebody else solve those problems.”
Julia: For me, I’m just so clear that by leading by example is the best way to get people to change their minds. It’s not preaching. It’s not flapping our gums. I know because that’s what I’ve been doing tons of to the point that I’m sick of hearing myself talk. I’m actually doing no interviews right now, but I agreed to do it with you because you are a young person, you’re on a journey and it’s clear that you were up to something. And I said you know what, I’ll take some time. The reason I say that is because I’m actually doing a lot less talking these days because I’m tired of hearing myself talk. But also because I just know that when I do talk the only power my words have is by how my life is meeting my words. So we can talk all we want but without our lives embodying the message there’s no power there. So you’re not going to change someone’s mind. You can talk to them until your blue in the face. You can tell young people all day, every day, “you guys should really care because you may be busy now but if you can’t breath and if you can’t drink the water and eat really good food, how are you going to feel then?”
We can talk it all we want and it may change some peoples minds but the kind of change that really inspires us, the kind of change that inspires you and me is when we see somebody that’s living their life full out. I watch people like that and I cry all the time. I’m so humbled on a daily basis by the kind of people I see making a difference. And that is going to motivate any generation including the young generation. And yes the things including marketing and branding, making it cool, making it fun, making it hip, all that’s important. But the more we live and embody what our beliefs are the more people see in us something they wished they had. And if we are the angry finger pointing burnt out activist we aren’t going to motivate anybody. When we’re living lives that we love, when we’re glowing from the inside out, when we’re saying “yeah I just had this phenomenal journey in Africa and my heart was completely broken and I’m grieving at how whacked out it is, but I gotta tell you about these incredible stories about what these people are doing there and this is what I got to help with.”
Observer: And then people are going to go wow!
Julia: Yeah. They are going to see you having a life that’s different then if you were saying “I’m really busy right now”. Who gets excited about having a busy life? People get excited about people that have effective lives. People get excited about having joyful lives and amazing stories. That’s the best way to change.