‘Only if one loves this earth with unbending passion can one release one’s sadness’Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s “Tales of Power”
The Council of All Beings is a series of re-Earthing rituals created by myself and Joanna Macy to help end the sense of alienation from the living Earth that most of us feel, and to connect us with new sources of joy, commitment and inspiration that follow from union with Gaia.
I had been working for the rainforests since 1979 first in Australia and then elsewhere around the world. Although many of our early efforts were crowned with success, I couldn’t help but notice that for every forest we were able to save, worldwide 100 disappeared. Clearly we weren’t going to be able to save the planet one forest at a time. One green Earth or a bowl of dust, unless somehow a profound change of consciousness was to sweep the globe we could kiss the forests goodbye, the ones we had “saved” alongside the rest.
In 1982 I first heard the term “deep ecology” and immediately realised that this was a key to the change that was needed. After thousands of years of conditioning, the modern psyche is radically alienated from the air, water and soil which underpin all of life and this is reflected in the rapid shredding of all natural systems in the name of economic development. The world is not as a pyramid with humans on top but a web. We humans are but one strand in that web and as we pull the web to pieces, we destroy the foundations for all complex life including our own.
To deep ecology, our relationship to the Earth is that of a leaf to a tree. We have no independent existence – the pain of the Earth is our own pain and the fate of the Earth our fate also.
No tree – no leaf.
The sap in the leaf comes from the tree and returns to the tree.
Our much-vaunted human intelligence is but a tiny fragment of the intelligence of the Earth and there is a constant exchange of water, soil and breath between the Earth and ourselves. Our psyche too is Earth-made and we may therefor be guided and informed by Earth wisdom if we but ask. Indeed we MUST be so guided if our deeply embedded ‘unconscious’ concepts of separation, isolation and arrogant superiority are to be healed.
We then, are like a leaf believing itself to be separate from the tree on which it grows. This MUST be an illusion of course or we would wither and die (try holding your breath for a few minutes if in doubt of this). However the power of this illusion backed up by thousands of years of tradition is such, that we destroy the Earth and we cut ourselves off from Her wisdom and nourishment. Healing this mistake is vital for the sake of both person and planet.
Now, although it is true that not many people nowadays believe that the Earth was created a few thousand years ago by an old man with a white beard as a stage for the human drama to unfold, nonetheless, this attitude permeates all aspects of our society, our language, our very psyche. Growing up in a culture permeated with this arrogant view of ourselves, we are isolated, separated from nature.
As long as we maintain a self-image created in the matrix of such views, a shrunken and illusory sense of self that doesn’t include the air and water and soil, we experience nature as “outside” our self and fail to recognise that the nature “out there” and the nature “in here” are one and the same. Moreover, we can’t think our way out of this mess – the attitudes and habits are far too deep-rooted.
So, what to do? It is all very well to have this understanding but, as Arne Ness (the Emeritus Professor of Philosophy from Oslo University who had coined the term deep ecology) pointed out, ecological ideas are not enough, we need ecological identity, ecological self. Wrestling with these issues, in 1986 I saw that Joanna Macy was in Australia and I attended one of her “Despair and Empowerment” workshops. Here I came to understand that is was the denial of feelings that held the status quo in place and in the days following the workshop Joanna and I developed The Council of All Beings, a series of processes or rituals which synthesised the ideas of deep ecology and the powerful engine of personal transformation that was despair and empowerment work.
Many people INTELLECTUALLY realise that we are inseparable from Nature and that the sense of separation that we feel is socially conditioned and illusory. These rituals enable us to deeply EXPERIENCE our connection with Nature, in our hearts and our bodies.
If we look at indigenous cultures, we may notice that without exception rituals affirming and nurturing the sense of interconnectedness between people and nature play a central role in the lives of these societies. This suggests that the tendency for a split to develop between humans and the rest of nature must be very strong. Why else would the need for such rituals be so universally perceived? It also suggests the direction we must search for the healing of the split: we need to reclaim the ritual and ceremony which were lost from our culture a long time ago, and to our amazement we find that this is incredibly easy to do.
In the Council of All Beings we weave together three important themes:
After preliminaries to introduce ourselves to each other and build up trust, we begin with a MOURNING ritual. It is only to the extent that we will allow ourselves to feel the pain of the Earth, that we can be effective in Her healing. As Joanna Macy points out “Deep ecology remains a concept without the power to transform our awareness, unless we allow ourselves to feel – which means feeling the pain within us over what is happening to our world. The workshop serves as a safe place where this pain can be acknowledged, plumbed, released. Often it arises as a deep sense of loss over what is slipping away – ancient forests and clean rivers, birdsong and breathable air. It is appropriate then to mourn – for once at least, to speak our sorrow and, when appropriate, to say goodbye to what is disappearing from our lives. As participants let this happen, in the whole group or in small clusters, there is hopelessness expressed. There is also something more: a rage welling up and a passionate caring.
‘Only if one loves this earth with unbending passion can one release one’s sadness’ Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s “Tales of Power”
The energy previously locked up in the denial of these feelings is released and becomes available to us. The sense of numbness and paralysis evaporates and we prepare for action.
Then we move on to exercises which assist the REMEMBERING of our rootedness in nature. For instance in the evolutionary remembering, we use guided visualisation and movement/dance to recapitulate our entire evolutionary journey and release the memories locked in our DNA. We invite the experience that every cell in our body is descended in an unbroken chain from the first cell that appeared on the Earth 4 billion years ago, through fish that learned to walk the land, reptiles who’s scales turned to fur and became mammals, evolving through to the present.
We further extend our sense of identity in the Council of All Beings itself where, after finding an ally in the natural world and making a mask to represent that ally, we discover that we can indeed give voice to the voiceless ones. In Council, we lend our voices to the animals and plants and features of the landscape and are shocked at the very different view of the world that emerges from their dialogue. Creative suggestions for human actions emerge and we invoke the powers and knowledge of these other life-forms to empower us in our lives.
The Council also provides tools for practicing our deep ecology in our daily lives. As many participants in this work have discovered, alignment with our larger identity clarifies, dignifies and heals our personal conflicts. We see that the pain of the Earth is our own pain and the fate of the Earth is our own fate. The Council of All Beings empowers us to act on behalf of the Earth and gives us clarity and direction for this work.In the same fashion it clarifies and orders our patterns of consumption, our needs for intimacy and support, our priorities for action.