A Wake-up Call

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by Stephanie Yuhas

Recorded by author

As I left Colorado in May, haze from the Alberta, Canada wildfires shrouded the mountains. Arriving in the Northeast, I was greeted by smoke from the Halifax, Nova Scotia fires turning the sun red, filtering the light in an eerie orange hue. Teaching ecopsychology at Naropa for the past 20 years, I have witnessed the shift from social activism to despair over inevitable collapse, and as Albrecht termed it, solastalgia. (Albrecht, 96) Beyond melancholy, students express futility as they watch the markers for stopping earth’s warming approach the 1.5 degree mark that the IPCC deemed the tipping point for avoiding climate catastrophe. (IPCC)

The… capitalist system and consumerism all trace their roots back to our European ancestors’ fear of the plague, of famine, of nature and the feminine that they were determined to defeat.

The Industrial Growth Society (IGS), the capitalist system and consumerism all trace their roots back to  our European ancestors’ fear of the plague, of famine, of nature and the feminine that they were determined to defeat. Those were the times of witch burning, of rational science overshadowing spirituality, whether it was earth-based or in a church. The age of reason, commerce and colonization commenced 500 years of pushing the earth into submission. Five hundred years – a blip on the scale of deep time – but enough devastation to awaken the earth spirits angered by thoughtless human actions, now turning the skies into poisonous ovens and the waters into toxic algae bloom.

The pandemic was a wake-up call; a shrill warning to slow down, change behaviors, focus on what is truly important, develop inner resources and reimagine life in the 21st century.

Teaching at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University, it has been normative to watch students fall apart as they confront their deep-seated patterns, face fears and doubts, and recognize how they live in a protected cocoon of habitual responses as Trungpa Rinpoche describes in his writings. Since the pandemic began, the trauma response, particularly avoidance and denial, has been more evident. When students touch into the pain and suffering of the world, they resist not only the collective agony, but especially their own fears. It is overwhelming enough to swallow them whole, dissolving into the whirlpool of chaos and uncertainty that surrounds them. Meditation is often prescribed as an antidote, but initially isolating thoughts and working with emotions is elusive.

Last fall (2022), I decided to include the full Council of All Beings in the Ecopsychology MA 10-day intensive I was co-creating with Anne Parker. It had been more than 15 years since this work was offered at Naropa. I could still recall my first experience in the late 90’s on a ranch in Utah and the profundity of hearing the various beings from mountains to rivers speak to humans about their suffering.

What happened the next day was magical, transformative and life-giving.

A recent grad, Chris Pateros, agreed to provide support with  the mask-making.  Her final project was a ritual and sculpture that evoked her journey through art. We began with a circle of mourning, reading the “Bestiary” from John Seed and Joanna Macy’s book, Thinking Like a Mountain (Seed, Macy, Fleming, Naess, 1988, p. 74), with students calling out the names of beings threatened by climate change extinction. One student reflected that it reminded her of a funeral service, sitting in grief and facing the pain. Later, we encouraged participants to go out on the land and see what being wanted to be represented. What happened the next day was magical, transformative and life-giving. I will offer some student reflections of their experience as they communicate the evocative sense of the moment.

~My favorite part of the intensive was the entire experience leading up to and coming down from the Council Of All Beings ritual. Words cannot live up to what it means to be a part of this ritual. Our first task was to go out on our own on the lands of the Drala Mountain Center to contemplate the loss of biodiversity and listen to the calling of which being we will be representing during the ritual the following day. Laying under a tree next to the pond, I listened to the birds and watched the lightning spring out from the dark clouds over the mountains in the distance. My intuition was confirmed that I shall represent the Southwestern monsoons. Living in Taos, New Mexico, the summers consist of monsoons after a long period of dryness. Recently they have been getting more extreme.

The next day we were tasked to make masks that represent our being. We were provided with materials like paint, glitter, feathers, hot glue guns, and more. I also brought colorful tapes and gems, my favorite being the rainbow iridescent one which I incorporated into my mask as the rainbow that emerges before the sun sets after a rainy summer afternoon. By lunch time we were cut off from mask making which I was displeased about because I felt like I could keep working on it for days. It was exciting to watch everyone’s masks emerge into unique pieces of love filled art.

Michelle was not here anymore, just her body to be used as a means for communication to the humans.

Once the ceremony began, I first represented the humans in the middle of the circle that listened with an open heart and full attention to the beings who had something to say. It was powerful to hear the words from these beings. It was powerful to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that we are listening. When it was time to switch from human to monsoon, I let the mask do the talking. Michelle was not here anymore, just her body to be used as a means for communication to the humans. The mask channeled the realities of the current state and future intensity of monsoons and how it is the humans that are killing themselves. (Michelle Faulkner, 2022)


~This ceremony was deeply moving for me, as I felt that I was the prairie I was representing. I was the roots, fireflies, coneflowers, and the prairie dogs, and I had to carry the immense responsibility of speaking for them all. The authors of the Council of All Beings recounts their experience, “I am beginning to gain a fresh recognition of our strengths. For all the gifts that the beings offer are already within us as potentialities, otherwise we would not have been able to articulate them.” (Fleming & Macy, 2007, p. 89) The way the Council was conducted by Stephanie, Anne and Kris helped that responsibility feel less hopeless and burdensome and more full of love and hopeful energy. It also prepared me to understand the possibility of feeling connected to something not only because I love and appreciate it, but because I am it and it is me, as the quote alludes to. (Meghan Garhan, 2022)

I realized the trees had brought a Being to me.

~While I was contemplating, I pulled out my sketchbook and a piece of charcoal I had gathered from a burnt tree near our tent and began sketching a nearby pinecone. As I began tracing the ridges on my page, I noticed that the scales on the pinecone reminded me of the scales of a fish. I had noticed how often thoughts and memories of fish had been coming to me during our stay and when I saw a nearby rock covered in orange lichen, I realized the trees had brought a Being to me. A little orange fish from my hometown of coastal California, the Garibaldi.

The next day we spent the morning crafting our masks. I pulled scales from the pinecones I had gathered and glued them one on top of each other to form a scaley mask of a little pacific fish. I painted them orange and soon began recognizing the Being which had swam alongside me throughout my childhood. Memories of my dad rushed in and I laughed and smiled as I burned my fingers with hot glue. When the time came to speak for my Being, I began to get incredibly nervous, but utilizing one of our core council practices I simply spoke from the heart. To be honest I can barely remember what I said but I know I felt proud to bring a tiny aquatic creature to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. (Cecilia Jordan, 2022)

I am coming to find that the land wants to communicate and draw us in deeper.

~I noticed while walking on the land with students and faculty, that the mullein plants had grown around the areas in which the fires had taken place. Mullein is known for its deeply healing properties on the respiratory system… I do not think the plant growing there was a mistake. Through my deeper understanding of what we are learning, I am coming to find that the land wants to communicate and draw us in deeper. The question is this: are we listening? (Olivia Krawtchuk, 2022)

~I was visited by the spirit of Stinging Nettle. Stinging Nettle for me normally represents protection, in its ability to keep people away from places, but the message that came through in council was different. Stinging Nettle offered that there is medicine in the discomfort of life – that we can each metabolize the sting of living and this can nourish our spirits and bodies. Our council took turns with each person in the role of human and being. This was an experience where the ego-self had to get out of the way to channel this being’s message. The importance of being able to relate, empathize, and communicate with nature is one of the most important aspects of ecopsychology. This makes me think: how can our experience include that of others, are we able to truly listen, and what does it look like to make decisions with an entire ecosystem’s wellness in mind? (Ashley Moody, 2022)


As a child, I found the racism, hatred and selfishness of the world too much to bear. Highly sensitive people recoil from negative behaviors even more than those conditioned to tolerate outbursts of anger, fighting and manipulation. For me, the natural world was my solace. Trees would listen to my sorrow and offer advice like how to bend but not break in the wind, remaining adaptive and flexible. The wind whispered encouragement and birds provided melodies that transported me to alternate realities. Even as a child, the impossibility of industrial society was obvious. I longed for a simpler form of life, in rhythm with the seasons, living close to the earth. My undulating journey took me around the world, seeking the peoples who lived in harmony and balance with the natural world.

The Hopi prophesied the current world events long ago, foreseeing ego, power and control manifesting in human society.

I caught a glimpse of this in time spent with the Huichols in the Sierra Madre. However, civilization was already encroaching as electricity and alcohol came to the village. The lure of materialism overpowered the simple lifestyle and enticed young people away from traditional ways. Sitting on a beach in Puerta Vallarta, I recall the insight that washed over me. People from modernized Western cultures like me were fleeing the mechanical, heartless, relentless demise of the natural world. Indigenous societies that maintained rituals of balance and respect for thousands of years were slowly being devoured and assimilated by the beast of “progress.” Looking down the spiral of time, I realized indigenous peoples would not escape the allure of technological efficiency. They would need to witness their knowledge and values disappearing before they understood they had been trapped and fooled by the tricksters of modernity. All across the world this phenomenon has been documented – by Helena Norberg Hodge in Ladakh, by Davi Kopenawa in the Amazon and by Lobsang Yangtso in Tibet to name a few. The Hopi prophesied the current world events long ago, foreseeing ego, power and control manifesting in human society. 

For those awake enough to listen, the earth still speaks

For those awake enough to listen, the earth still speaks. The natural world provides allies. If we can reconnect with the true nature of our relationship with all beings as our relatives, we can stand with the earth instead of against her.


Albrecht G, Sartore G-M, Connor L, et al. Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change. Australasian Psychiatry. 2007;15(1_suppl):S95-S98. doi:10.1080/10398560701701288

IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 3056 pp., doi:10.1017/9781009325844.yy

John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, Arne Naess. Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings, Philadelphia: New Society Books,1988.

Faulkner, Michelle; Garhan, Megan; Jordan, Cecilia; Krawtchuk, Olivia; Moody, Ashley -Reflection Papers for Naropa’s Ecopsychology Initiatory Intensive, September, 2022.

Recorded by Rebecca Selove

Currently chair of the Ecopsychology Master’s and BA Environmental Studies programs at Naropa University, Stephanie Yuhas is an ecopsychologist with an emphasis on healing the split between humans and nature, connecting with the sacred, the interdependence of children and nature and preserving indigenous wisdom.  She is a Buddhist practitioner in the Kagyu/Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and has studied with various indigenous elders.  She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from University of Denver, an MA in Ecopsychology from Vermont College and completed her BA in Buddhist Psychology at Naropa.

One thought on “A Wake-up Call

  1. Reading this account of Council reconnected me to the medicine and healing that happens merely by coming into an enlivened awareness of the pain of the world. Thank you for sharing this beautiful practice and inspiring my heart to feel more.

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