Consciousness in Action: The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time by Andrew Beath




Caring About Destruction: Introduction by Andrew Beath
Joanna Macy's comments below

This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness In Action, the Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time (Lantern Press, 2005)

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.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

--excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”

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.

Spiritual Models

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 the wind.

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 themselves.

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 happen.

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 interactions.

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 background.

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.”

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