Deep Ecology and RainForest By John Seed
Australian ecological activist John Seed will be in North America for a series of deep ecology workshops, concerts and lectures, including several in Oregon. He is a long time rainforest campaigner, an exponent of the deep, long-range ecology movement and author (with Joanna Macy, Arne Naess and Pat Fleming) of “Thinking Like a Mountain - Towards a Council of All Beings”. He has made several films on ecology topics and albums of environmental music. In 1995 he was awarded the Order of Australia medal by the Australian government for services to conservation and the environment.
If we look at indigenous cultures, we 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 that were lost from our culture a long time ago. And to our amazement we find that this is incredibly easy to do.
The man who coined the term “deep ecology”, Arne Naess, professor of Philosophy at Oslo University, points out that, “ecological ideas are not enough, we need ecological identity, ecological self.” How are we to develop and nourish ecological identity? Naess suggests that we need “community therapies ... we must find and develop therapies which heal our relations with the widest community, that of all living beings.”
The experiential deep ecology workshops developed by Joanna Macy, myself and others may be seen as a modern counterpart to the ceremonies of indigenous peoples, or as the community therapy that Naess called for.
In these workshops 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. 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 that assist the remembering of our rootedness in nature. For instance, in the evolutionary remembering, we use guided visualization 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 whose 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 where, after connecting with a non-human ally in the natural world, we discover that we can indeed give voice to these 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 workshops end with exploring tools for practicing 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 becomes our own fate.
The present series of workshops is titled “Earth, Spirit, Action”. Although they continue to include the three above themes, there is now more emphasis on the tools we need to maintain spiritual strength in challenging times such as these and in discussing how we can overcome the impediments to decisive and optimistic action.
Engaged Spiritual Activism I have been an activist struggling for the world’s rainforests since 1979. The philosophy of deep ecology, and these workshops which facilitate the experience of deep ecology, have interacted and overlapped with my more “practical” campaign work in a number of ways. Firstly it was while inside a rainforest near my home in New South Wales Australia that I first experienced an epiphany, an awakening, a realization which, years later, I came to call “deep ecology.”
To try and get some perspective on this very emotional experience which had shaken me to my core, I studied whatever I could find about rainforests and learned then that the rainforests are the very womb of life, home to more than half the species of plants and animals on Earth. Satellite photos showed that they were disappearing at a rate such that they might be totally annihilated within a single human lifetime. I discovered that we are in the middle of the 6th great extinction spasm since life began 4.5 billion years ago. I was amazed that I could learn all of this, yet business could go on as usual and no-one seemed unduly alarmed. My friends and I then started the Rainforest Information Centre and World Rainforest Report to sound the alarm.
In the fourth World Rainforest Report, Queensland zoologist Peter Dwyer noted that the New Guinea highlanders find the rainforest wildlife not only good to eat, but also, “good to think.”
He goes on to say that, “Whilst we don’t eat our rainforests, we do become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them until they suddenly and vividly possess for us values that we can only identify as symbolic, intrinsic and—with some desperation—as spiritual.
“The tropical rainforests are primitive and ancient ecological systems whose origins stretch backwards through the emergence of the flowering plants in Jurassic times over 135 million years ago to the plants preserved in the coal measures of the Carboniferous millions of years before that and which appear to us today in the form of plastics. Such is biogeochemical continuity.”
Dwyer’s ability to see rainforests of hundreds of millions of years ago embedded in the plastics of the present age is a good example of the PSYCHOLOGICAL effects of rainforests upon people who spend their time in them. Now we are talking psycho-biogeochemical continuity. (Follow that?)
Why is this so? Why do we who spend time in rainforests, “become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them?”
I believe that contact with rainforests energize us, enlivening a realization of our ACTUAL, our biological self. They awaken in us the realization that it was “I” who came to life when a bolt of lightning fertilized the chemical soup of 4.5 billion years ago; that “I” crawled out of Devonian seas and colonized the land; that, more recently, “I” advanced and retreated before four ages of ice.
We are composed of the ashes of ancient stars weaving themselves into ever more brilliant complexity, weaving themselves into rainforests, weaving themselves into US.
I AM that! Yes, our psyche is itself a product of the rainforests. We evolved for hundreds of millions of years within this moist green womb before emerging a scant five million years ago, blinking, into the light.
When we enter the rainforest we become acutely and PERSONALLY aware of the exquisite intelligence of Nature, holding millions of species in dynamic, evolving equilibrium.
In the light of these forests, our puny human intelligence becomes aware of itself as a mere fragment of this vast compassionate web. Our tiny, momentary life finds a true frame of reference there, against which our humanity can see itself. We realize the matrix within which (regardless of any arrogant fantasies we may have to the contrary) we are inextricably embedded.
The intelligence of the rainforest which gave rise to human beings (as well as the other myriad creatures) remains accessible to humans who choose to surrender to it. Unfortunately the thick insulation of social fictions that we call our “selves” may prevent us from recognizing that we are just one leaf on the tree of life, just one strand in the vast biological fabric, incapable of independent existence.
We may then labour under various delusions like; the universe revolves around the earth, the world was created for our benefit, or that our relationship with the myriad creatures is to “subdue and dominate” them.
A few years ago, the Pulitzer prize winning eco-poet Gary Snyder was working for the then-Governor of California Jerry Brown, An exasperated Brown said; “Gary, why is it that you’re always going against the flow?”
Snyder replied; “Jerry, what you call ‘the flow’ is but a 16,000 year eddy. I’m going with the ACTUAL flow.”
Thinking like a rainforest! If we enter a rainforest and allow our energies to merge with the energies that we find there, then the rainforest may be a place where our roots are able to penetrate through the soft soil reaching beyond the sad 16,000 year history and into the reality of our billions-of-years-of-carbon journey through the universe. Various truths which had been heretofore merely “scientific” become authentic, personal and, yes, spiritual. We may now penetrate to a truly deep ecology.
Somehow my experience in defending the little rainforest near my home in the direct actions of 1979, which led a couple of years later to the protection of most of NSW’s rainforests, had awakened an identification with the “big picture” in me. Years later, the deep ecology experiential processes were an attempt to make this experience of awakening to ecological identity accessible to as many people as possible.
Crucible for a Viable Consciousness These workshops provide participants with fresh vision and empowerment for action. As facilitator, after describing and introducing each process, I sink back into the circle and participate in the processes like everyone else. This is the wellspring of the vision and empowerment that I need to do my ecological work. The environmental movement is notorious for the burnout and depression that can follow years spent staring into the abyss of species extinction and the other horrors that the foolishness of modern humanity unleashes on the world. I think it behooves each of us, if we’re serious about engaging in this struggle for the long run, to find spiritual or psychological practices that keep us fresh and inspired. We’re not going to be able to protect the biodiversity of this planet one forest at a time. Without a profound change in consciousness sweeping the foolishness of the modern era before it, all the rainforests will be lost including the ones we thought we saved in the last 25 years. These workshops* are a crucible for a viable consciousness.
John Seed will be offering his workshops, concerts and talks in BC, CA, OH, KY, NC, IN, and MA, see www.rainforestinfo.org.au/deep-eco/schedule.htm for details
John Seed’s Oregon schedule is as follows:
- June 15 Portland OR potluck and John Seed talk and songs [email protected]
June 16 Portland OR Bioneers conference video and John Seed talk and songs [email protected]
June 17 Portland, OR lecture Portland State University, Native American Student and Community Centre [email protected]
June 18 Portland, OR “Earth, Spirit, Action” contact [email protected] (Earth & Spirit Council & Audubon Society)
June 19 Portland, OR “Earth, Spirit, Action” contact [email protected] (Living Earth: Gatherings for Deep Change)
June 20 concert, Breitenbush OR contact Kimburly [email protected]
June 23 concert, Eugene, OR contact Charles Stewart [email protected]
June 24-26 Eugene, OR “Earth, Spirit, Action” contact Lost Valley Educational Center www.lostvalley.org