In our rush toward a population of seven billion
people, our inventions continue to disrupt the dynamic planetary
systems necessary for our own survival. The potential saving grace
is that this situation also awakens us to new levels of consciousness
from which we understand our interrelationships within the web of
life. This awareness is the human evolution’s leading edge
and is showing us how to each play our part in bringing our Earth
back to health.
The current crisis invites each of us to explore
our personal relationship to the natural world. In the following
comments, Joanna Macy uses the example of Saint Francis who established
a mystic bond with the Earth. Participation at this level of caring
and intimacy is an exciting venture. It is to know the heart of
the Earth as Saint Francis did.
Joanna is a teacher of teachers. She is a leading
environmental philosopher and an inspiration for activists. It is
obvious from Joanna’s enthusiasm that she receives personal
gratification from her work. Both Joanna and I know many others
who are engaged in similar ways and who maintain a sense of appreciation
and satisfaction. But this is rare. When people open to suffering
around them, it often causes despondency.
In our discussion, I asked Joanna what impedes
the typical person from feeling the concern about ecological destruction
and dislocation that would prompt them to act. I also asked her
to talk about the environment and social change in the context of
conscious activism. She told me:
Your very term "conscious activism"
conveys the promise of our time. It connects “right action”
with spiritual aspirations. Revolution and religion are now on
a convergence path. Spirituality used to be seen as sufficient
unto itself without needing to be grounded in the world; and action
was left on its own as an arena for responsibility and companionship.
But unless both these inner and outer dimensions come together,
people tend to burn out, get confused, or shoot themselves in
the foot, even when working for valuable causes.
Revolution as I’m using the term means
a turning over. Scientific, conceptual and philosophical revolutions
change the way we see reality and understand ourselves. We don’t
have to conquer or blow up what isn’t working. We just put
our attention on what we are helping to arise. The industrial
growth system is beyond reform and we just have to build the replacement.
We are currently creating more and more alternative structures.
David Korten points out that the shift from an
unsustainable economy to a life-sustaining economy is like the
natural succession of ecosystems. When you have a more complex
ecosystem coming in on top of a prior system, it succeeds naturally
and displaces the previous one, which gives way because the new
is richer, more interrelated and adaptive. A feature of today’s
revolution is the recognition of the practical value of spiritual
concepts and practices.
I have been deeply affected by Buddhism, especially
in my understanding and teaching of deep ecology. But mainstream
thinking in industrial growth societies is far more linked to
Christianity than Buddhism. So some years back I began looking
for spiritual roots of deep ecology in the West. A former Franciscan
seminarian, now a gestalt psychotherapist in Germany, challenged
me to find bodhisattvas in Christianity.
Saint Francis, who lived in the twelfth century,
immediately came to mind. So now we’ve been meeting in Assisi
every two years to ‘live with’ Saint Francis. We tell
his stories, immerse ourselves in understanding his response to
his time, and then see the relevance of his response for our epoch.
I’m bringing the deep ecological perspective
and the group processes that I have developed around that perspective.
The Council of All Beings is part of a whole repertoire of interactive
processes that helps people experience and understand their mutual
belonging in the sacred web of life. And reverence is part of
that. Saint Francis loved being in the wild. He was outdoors all
the time. The church wanted him to establish a monastic order
but he kept refusing. They wanted to keep him indoors, under control,
all the time; but he stayed out under the sun and the stars, and
We recognized that St. Francis’ era and
ours are like bookends to the industrial growth system. The economy
back then was becoming increasingly monetarized and he, himself,
was a son of the new mercantile class. One theme we took was his
espousal of radical poverty as a step towards freedom. We looked
at his love affair with "Lady Poverty" and then at our
own relationship to “stuff” in the consumer society,
and at today's voluntary simplicity movement. Another theme was
Francis’s strong sense of kinship with all life forms. As
the deep ecology movement does today, he radically challenged
anthropocentrism and its destructive impact on life.
Christianity and Deep Ecology
Before Assisi, I conducted programs at places
like the Ojai Foundation and at Findhorn in Scotland, which were
inspired by the words of Matthew Fox. In The Coming of the Cosmic
Christ he wrote, “The Pascal Mysteries of the Third Millennium
will have to do with the death and resurrection of the Earth,
where Earth, Herself, plays the role of Christ crucified.”
Isn’t that gorgeous?!
So I invited Matthew Fox to join us and together
we created a Deep Ecology Passion Week, in which we followed the
Christian story and liturgy from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and
Easter. We used the familiar Christian forms and turned them toward
reverence for Earth and participation in the healing of our world.
There were 250 of us at the Deep Ecology Passion
Week in Findhorn, and on Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion,
we divided into groups to do the Stations of the Cross. The fourteen
stations, spread across the dunes by the Firth of Moray, represented
the many ways in which the Earth is being crucified, such as the
burning of the Amazon rain forests, the AIDS epidemic, the Chernobyl
disaster, global warming, ozone holes…. It’s painful
material that we’re asking people to experience deeply within
Reconnection Is Homecoming
There’s nothing more urgent today, and
it fills me with warmth and gladness because this reconnection
with the Earth is a homecoming. It enables us to finally know
our true nature. I believe we all yearn for that. This is why
I feel that we are privileged to be alive today. Even though this
may be the last gasp for humanity, this is also a chance to birth
something completely new on the planet. And even if it turns out
to be too late, it is noble and ennobling work.
It is rewarding in every way. It has been rewarding
for me, personally, as a scholar. When I was doing my doctoral
work in Buddhism I found myself studying and teaching systems
theory, too. Systems thinking expanded my understanding of the
web of connections that unites us all and reverberates through
our every action.
The Birth of a New Planetary Consciousness
It could well be that our work now is to grow
a new planetary consciousness. Carl Jung said there’s no
birth of consciousness without pain. We are discovering that we
are the sensory organs of our living planet, and that discovery
involves pain. All of a sudden we realize that we care, that our
hearts are breaking over people who aren’t even born yet.
This is truly a noble thing. Over twenty years of doing this work
I have found that people would rather hurt and feel connected
than be anesthetized and feel isolated.
In terms of living systems theory, at every level
of life’s self-organizing there is subjectivity. The brains
of higher mammals – at our own level of subjectivity and
consciousness – are the most complex objects in the known
universe: one hundred billion neurons, all highly differentiated,
with trillions of synaptic connections. This internal complexity
evolved thanks to choice-making. This is still where we make conscious
choices – right here between our ears – separately.
But given our current global crisis, individual decision-making
may be too isolated and too slow to stop the destruction. What
could save us is if we start thinking and intending together –
as interconnected whole. And fortunately, this is beginning to
It’s as if we’re neurons in a big
brain, which is itself starting to think. It’s like we’re
being “thought through.” I think that people are having
that experience where they finish each other’s sentences
or come up with the same ideas. We tend to refer to clairvoyant
experiences in terms of the occult, like channeling, as if it’s
somebody “out there” who’s channeling through
me. But from the systems perspective we don’t need that
kind of explanation. It's all emerging synergistically from our
This “mind sharing” is, I believe,
a natural function of our experiencing a common danger to our
survival. The danger is not simply to Joanna or to Andrew or to
John but to the whole Earth community. We are capable now of identifying
with the planet as a whole. We start by identifying with families
and countries, and then with humans as a species, then we move
right out and identify with other species. I see this happening
with people from all walks of life, regardless of location and
Recent studies of paranormal or para-psychological
occurrences report a rise in these phenomena. I think that, given
survival pressures from planetary crises, we’re beginning
to think together. We’re at a point that’s as important
in our evolution as the arising of self-reflective consciousness.
And I think we probably can only make this shift of consciousness
with the help of our other big-brained brothers and sisters, like
the Elephants and Whales. We humans have been deeply wounded by
the isolation that our arrogance has imposed upon us. It has separated
us from the other beings. So we are to be pitied, just as Chief
Seattle said: “Great loneliness will come upon you.”