This poem is presented in the 1) English translation by Yakov Azriel and Melanie Landau, 2) Hebrew original, and 3) Hebrew transliteration.
Recorded by author (English version)
from The Wild Lament cycle
Why did you take us out of the earth, why did you keep us in shrouds? Why did you put us in pots, in coffins, why did you embalm us? Why did you burn us? Why don’t you let us crumble into pieces let us fossilize sink and melt in a million future years why don’t you hear our lament? Once we had a long time
Oh, who will hear the old bones of the dead that were not allowed to suckle from the layers of fossil of the earth? Why do you stopthe flow of unbroken life, why do you think some are more, why don’t you allow, why don’t you nourish life with bones, why are you afraid to let go, to release, to let flow? Why do you hide, why are you hungry worms? why — damn it
Oh, listen to our lament return the bones back to the earth
A transliteration of the original version of the poem in Hebrew
Recorded by Osnat Lev Ari (Hebrew version)
Lama hotzatem otanu mehadama? Lama shamartem otanu betachrichim? Lama samtem becadim, bearonot? Lama hanatetem, lama saraftem? Lama atem lo notnim lanu Lehitparek lahatihiot. Tnu lanu lehitaben lishkoaa lehinames El toch milyoney shanim atidiyit, Lama atem lo shomeim Otanu mekonenot. Haya lanu paam zeman aroch
Oy oy oy Mi ishma et ha atzamot hazkenot Shel hametim shelo natnu lahem Lahazor linok Mishchavot hameubanim shel haadamot Lama atem otzrim Et zerem hahayim halo shvurim, Lama atem hoshvim ni yoter, Lama atem lo metirim, Lama atem lo mezinim hayim eem atzamot
Lama atem pohadim Levater, leshachrer, leharpt. Lama atem mithabeem Lama atem zehalin reevim Lama lehol haruhot.
Oy oy oy Takshivu lanu mekonenot ,ahaziru laadama et ha atzamot
Osnat Lev Ari lives in the north of Israel, above the sea of Galilee, in an ecological and arts community. She is 45, married and a mother of two daughters. She is a social worker, a psychotherapist and a facilitator of family constellations work and African grieving ceremonies. She mainly works one-on-one with PTSD and anxiety, and witnesses daily the heartbroken time that we live in today, on so many levels of existence. She also volunteers with activists and offers them the African grieving ceremony as a way to renew their life force and find courage and hope within a safe community.
Finally I just gave up and became an animal. I slept when I was tired, sometimes dropping in mid-stride, curling into a knot on the sunny floor. I ate raw food at odd hours, wiped my mouth on the back of my hand, stopped brushing my hair. The phone rang, but I didn’t answer it. Mail lay unopened on the stairs. Flowers drooped in dry pots. Dust sifted down from the ceiling in hazy swirls. I left the windows open. After a few weeks I grew accustomed to it, sank deeper into my actual body, learned to love the hours as they passed. I let go of the spinning human world and walked in the hills at night under a changing moon. Deer swung their heads toward me. I sat beside them in their beds of creaking grass listening to crickets ticking in the heat. I cooled my skin in the ocean, licked the crusted salt from my arms. In time, my throat forgot to speak, it lost the bright angles of consonants, the dark sloping vowels. It joined the chorus of mute life with a kind of hum.
Molly Fisk edited California Fire & Water, A Climate Crisis Anthology, with a Poets Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets when she was Poet Laureate of Nevada County, CA. She’s won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her most recent poetry collection is The More Difficult Beauty; her latest book of radio commentary is Everything But the Kitchen Skunk. Fisk lives in the Sierra foothills and can also be found at mollyfisk.com.
I have been in awe of the importance and power of metabolizing grief since my first workshop with Joanna Macy when she was in Australia in 1986. Then called “Despair and Empowerment,” her workshop taught us that we live in a culture where there is a profound denial of a huge swathe of our feeling life.
…we just did the despair circle. Empowerment, enthusiasm and vision surged forth as a consequence.
She taught us the importance of experiencing and sharing these feelings which were normally shunned, abhorred, and suppressed by our culture: rage, terror, anguish, horror, grief. She taught us how to create a safe container to invite and hold these feelings and we were stunned by the power that surged forth. It’s not that we did a despair circle followed by an empowerment circle; rather, we just did the despair circle. Empowerment, enthusiasm and vision surged forth as a consequence.
I now understand that these suppressed feelings are a very ancient part of our intelligence.
One thing we can say for certain about our ancestors is that for 4 billion years, every single ancestor has been intelligent (and lucky!) enough to reach the age of reproducing itself before it was consumed. What a pedigree! Had there been a single exception we would not be here to tell the tale. And 99.99999% of this intelligence manifested before we grew this bulge over our nose and started thinking our way through the world.
Regenwald Poster designed by Harro Maass
And this feeling intelligence was tested and honed by natural selection in every single generation. Any mammal that ran towards something wagging its tail when it should have been bolting away at full speed doesn’t leave its genes in the pool!
We can call it “instinct” or “intuition,” it doesn’t matter what we call it, what we call “feelings” are what remains in us of this ancient, time-tested intelligence. These feelings, then, aren’t socially constructed, they aren’t “optional.” They are deeply embedded in our pre-human as well as human past and they push up with instinctual force to guide us through the world so that we might continue to pass forward the ancient flame that has been so carefully passed from fin to paw and now into our trembling hands.
…the residue of this futile struggle between instinctual energies and social suppression is a sense of disempowerment and paralysis.
Given the fact that the accuracy of our feelings to protect us from danger and guide us to nourishment and safety was honed in every single generation, it should come as no surprise they push up with a primal force. And therefore it takes an equal and opposite force from our social conditioning to suppress and deny them. Then we learned to suppress even the awareness that this battle is taking place. And the residue of this futile struggle between instinctual energies and social suppression is a sense of disempowerment and paralysis. Hopelessness.
“It’s all too late.”
“What can one person do anyway?”
Such helpless feelings may seem appropriate to the situation we find ourselves in but, as we learn from despair work and from “honoring our pain for the world,” they are merely the residue that remains from the battle between instinctual energies and social suppression.
We are taught to fear our grief and other “negative” emotions.
If I were to open fully to the depth of the despair and anguish that well up in response to what I see happening to my world, surely I would be crushed. Maybe I’d become hopelessly depressed. Maybe I’d commit suicide.
They’re only feelings!
Feelings are an invaluable and indispensable part of our human and pre-human tool kit. They’re on our side, here to point the way out of danger, move us to leap out of being paralysed in the headlights of the oblivion bearing down on us.
I’ve facilitated literally hundreds of despair circles in nearly 40 years and never lost anyone. Participants are not required to sign a “release form.” When we create a safe container, no harm can come to us from releasing our own, and hearing each other’s grief.
Grief, and the other suppressed feelings like rage and terror are metabolized by being expressed but also by being received, by being heard.
Grief, and the other suppressed feelings like rage and terror are metabolized by being expressed but also by being received, by being heard.
Natural selection can only work on individuals who live in communities which are themselves fit enough to survive. Imagine a group of early humans foraging when one of them spots a predator stalking them. This person has a choice: they can sneak away so that they are less likely to be the victim or they can scream out a terrified warning.
The latter decrease the survival chances of the screamer but lead to a culture more likely to survive than an “every-man-for-himself” milieu and, of course, no individual can survive and reproduce without a viable community.
The feelings evolved their exquisite accuracy not just to increase the chances of survival of the individual experiencing them, but also to increase the chances of that individual’s tribe.
So, in the despair circle, after each sharing of a particular torment, as the person returns to their cushion, the rest of us call out “Yes!” and “We hear you!” for in order to be fully metabolised, your feelings must be experienced, expressed and received by your people.
Only then is your feeling’s work done. Only then can it subside and allow empowerment, joy and a strong sense of community to well up powered by the energy released by both the instinctual force of the feelings and the equal and opposite energy that had been locked into the futile struggle to suppress them. The purpose of these feelings is not to disable you or bring you misery; they have been carefully crafted by natural selection to provide you with intelligence about your world. Once you have felt and shared them their work is done.
Of course thought is a beautiful innovation but, unlike feelings it has not stood the test of time. And unless supported by feelings, thought is sterile.
As an environmental activist in the 1980’s, I believed that my task was to raise awareness; once people were aware of what was happening to our world everything would change. Wrong. Now everyone knows what’s going on and little has changed. Without the passion that feelings bring, the thoughts are powerless. When we say “I was moved” to do something we are talking about feelings, not thoughts.
Feelings move us out of paralysis, thus learning that it is safe to feel is a prerequisite for powerful, intelligent action.
Feelings move us out of paralysis, thus learning that it is safe to feel is a prerequisite for powerful, intelligent action. As the medieval mystic Jacob Boehme realised: “Pain is the ground of motion.”
The early twentieth century mystic and teacher G.I. Gurdjieff called for “conscious suffering.”
Shantideva, an 8th-century Buddhist monk, poet, and scholar is remembered for this prayer: “May all sorrows ripen in me.”
Clearly he was not just speaking of his personal sorrows. ALL sorrows! How audacious. We get from him the sense that by ripening, by metabolising these feelings rather than leaving them to putrefy and disable us, we learn how to utilise their passion for the healing of our world.
Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and meditation master who died last year, was once asked by some of his pupils: “Sir, what is the most important thing we can do for the healing of our world.” He replied “the most important thing we can do for the healing of our world is to hear, within ourselves, the sounds of the Earth crying.”
The first thing I get from his reply, as from Shantideva, is the sense that we are not restricted to merely personal sorrows.
So … perhaps those cries I hear within are not just that my mother weaned me too early like my therapist says. Could they be the sounds of the Earth crying?
If so, perhaps activism rather than therapy is where resolution is to be found.
Next comes the question: Why should this be the most important thing we can do for the healing of our world?
Perhaps it is only to the extent that we are willing to hear the sounds of the Earth crying that we are in a position to address those cries.
Perhaps it is only to the extent that we are willing to hear the sounds of the Earth crying that we are in a position to address those cries. If we refuse the feelings, how can we possibly be effective in assuaging them?
Perhaps then, part of metabolizing our grief for the world, the grief of the world, is to bring grief’s passion into the service of defending Earth and repairing the damage already done.
John Seed is founder of the Rainforest Information Centre.Since 1979 he has been involved in the direct actions which have resulted in the protection of the Australian rainforests. He has written and lectured extensively on deep ecology and eco-psychology and has been conducting experiential deep ecology workshops around the world for 35 years. The book he wrote in 1988 with Joanna Macy and others, Thinking Like a Mountain – Towards a Council of All Beings, has been translated into 12 languages.
In 1995 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) by the Australian Government for services to conservation.
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.
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.
Note: Some people’s identities have been hidden. Emma is still, after all these years, in a shared risk pod with me and one other person for now, seeding a vision of realigning humanity with life.
June 22, 2019, walk with Nitha
Life is the constant rearranging of everything in continual integration of all volitions.
Nitha asks the simplest questions that take my breath away. She wants to know how I define life. I look at her in disbelief. And then the words emerge, effortless, beyond me: “Life is the constant rearranging of everything in continual integration of all volitions.” This only makes sense from the perspective I have adopted as a working assumption: that everything is alive, everything has volition, including cups, electrons, and mountains. The world opens, mystery deepens and thickens, and imagination flows, when we assume that everything is alive and has volition, however different it may be from our human volition.
June 25, 2019, cranial-sacral session with Valentin
Valentin and I meet at the intersection of spirit, bodies, and words. Sometimes we walk, and sometimes he gifts me cranial-sacral sessions, mostly silent, connecting us, to each other and to life.
Today, he puts his hands under my back and SI joint, and I experience the relief of being known and held. Then he puts his hand, with utmost gentleness, right above the pubic bone. I take an involuntary deep breath. And then Inbal, my sister who died in 2014, comes to visit. I usually have only fleeting, rare moments with her presence. This time, it lasts two whole minutes. Then I hear her unmistakable presence: “I’m always with you,” she says without voice. This is exceptionally tender and comforting. Other threads of communication arise, private, complex. And in between them, interwoven, again and again, maybe twenty times: “I’m always with you.”
When Valentin and I decipher the session, our words, incomplete as they must be, point to a kind of return to the origin of life, when needs have power, before patriarchy, before we interfered with life, the endless flow of energy and resources that cares for all that lives.
Each of us is born knowing that for humans, by evolutionary design, the flow is simply orienting towards known needs.
Each of us is born knowing that for humans, by evolutionary design, the flow is simply orienting towards known needs. Each of us, as an infant, is shocked into patriarchy, the prime disconnector, alone, small, and entirely dependent. It happens the moment having a need is not enough for another to orient towards us; the moment we have to be good, to “deserve” what we need, to fit expectations, to tame ourselves from wildness, to not want what we want. No longer are needs powerful. No longer is generosity flowing. Under patriarchy, needs are a liability to be ashamed of and generosity is a weakness.
I speak of life itself as being about needs, about volition, about flow. I speak of practicing vulnerability, putting needs and impacts on the table, consciously choosing to undo the hiding and withholding of our vulnerability. Valentin speaks of feeling, through working with me, the power of that flow, of the needs, of the vulnerability. I remember Gandhian scholar Narayan Desai telling me, in 2012, that I need more faith to do my work well. Now I know that the necessary faith is that it’s enough to put needs and impacts on the table. Always. Everywhere. This is wholeness.
June 26, 2019, conversation with Emma and Juta
Emma and Juta are together, on my Zoom screen, thousands of kilometers away. We are exploring bringing all our resources together. No exit clause. We are beginning to make life decisions together.
Volition… is the intersection of desire, will, and choice.
I share about my conversation with Nitha. Volition, I discover while explaining the word to Juta, is the intersection of desire, will, and choice. Integrating all volitions sometimes means that something must be killed. The lion can’t live if all the zebras remain alive. This is what the integration sometimes looks like. And then there is grief.
We talk about living in trust, in the endless flow of life, in full surrender, in effortless volition, trusting life to expose our true limits, without boundaries, without tension. I want to live without tension. Without effort. Together. Always together. No protecting, posturing, defending, judging, or numbing out. No hiding, manipulating, or coercing. Simplicity. No effort. Needs. Impacts. Resources. Togetherness. Heaven.
Patriarchy, the turn away from life, scoffs at effortlessness, calls it laziness, demands exertion. We are banished from the Garden of Eden because we ate from the tree of knowledge. We learned good and evil. We lost the simple, effortless capacity to put our needs on the table, hear the needs of others; hear all the known and anticipated impacts, on everyone; name all the options, all available resources; and move, again, wherever it goes, together. Now, it’s by the sweat of our brows that we eat; that we find love; that we give to life.
Good and evil is the language of patriarchy, constructs erected to keep us from going near the tragedy that befell us
Maimonides, in the Guide for the Perplexed, said that knowledge of good and evil, in itself, is a punishment, because it brings suffering. Before, Adam and Eve knew only true and false. Good and evil is the language of patriarchy, constructs erected to keep us from going near the tragedy that befell us, the trauma, the loss of life, connection, flow, togetherness. So we wouldn’t know the power of mourning to restore our capacity. So we wouldn’t know what is possible. So we wouldn’t, ever again, know the simplicity of just needs, impacts, and resources.
June 27, 2019, conversation with Lisa
Lisa and I go back many years. Lisa knows me. She tells me, whenever she knows it will matter, that I can do no wrong. We collaborate on life and work; friendship and changing the world; mutual coaching and fun. We have simplicity.
We can’t walk today due to a recent surgery, so we sit and talk. The pace of the transmission that started with Nitha is slower, though not weaker. We talk about trust. I discover, while speaking, that when we say we don’t trust someone, what we are saying, without knowing it, is that we don’t trust the other person to put their needs on the table, speak the impacts on them, hear our needs, hear the impacts on us, assess, together, what the available options and resources are, and decide, together, how best to move forward. Simple. Wrenching. Solvable.
We protect ourselves from those we don’t trust.
We protect ourselves from those we don’t trust. We remove all that could restore trust from the interaction: warmth, connection, generosity, vulnerability, tenderness. We escalate, without wanting to, proving to ourselves that our mistrust was justified.
We don’t have to. We can ask, instead, what, if anything, will allow a person we don’t trust to remove obstacles from the simple act of showing the needs, the pain, the grief, their own mistrust, the effort, the impacts on them, the fear of impact on us. This is possible. Everything can be on the table. We can lean on the stubborn faith that we can restore simplicity, and come, again, to heaven, even when trust is lost. We forgot. It’s called patriarchy.
I do that intuitively, I never stepped fully into the patriarchal vortex. Something, deep within me, is still wild. Something in me knows, always knew, never forgot, my innocence. I remember being a small body, my father’s assaults on me, the little fortress I built within me, knowing I will not let him break me.
June 28, 2019, walk with Rachel
Whenever we are both in town on a Friday, we walk. I am part of a magnificent support network that envelopes Rachel with enough sustenance so that she can bear not having the community she longs for.
I love science. I fear its avaricious claim to be the only truth.
We do three celebrations each, whenever we walk, regardless of circumstances. I tell her, too, about what’s been unfolding this week, about electrons and electric fans, and leaves and trees, and everything else, having volition. About the endless flow, the way it all comes together in intricate patterns, the repeated experience of dots connecting across time and space, all that is unnamable, all that I can suddenly put in words, all that cannot be proven or unproven. There is no experiencing any of it through the scientific paradigm. Trying kills life. I love science. I fear its avaricious claim to be the only truth. We cannot prove life. We can only experience it.
June 29, 2019, writing
We decide from concepts now, not from life.
Someone told me of a video clip I could never find and yet see so vividly, where a mother goose is desperately going back and forth between a flock of geese beginning their migration south and her ailing gosling who cannot fly. She doesn’t want to leave it behind. And she knows, knows, that staying means they both die. Back and forth she goes, until she makes her choice, heartbroken and clear. She joins the flock, leaving the gosling behind, choosing life; knowing she cannot save her gosling, knowing she will go for this year without offspring. She is thinking in that moment, thinking like us, weighing the pros and the cons, and deciding, painfully. She has that option, all beings, all life, have this option, somehow, somewhere. Only humans need to decide so much, all the time. She is in flow, most of the time. We rarely are, and less so since patriarchy. We decide from concepts now, not from life. We decide from habit, impulse, obligation, shame, fear, and desire for reward. Not from what we want.
I am on the path of vulnerability, since 1996. I can put my needs on the table. I can ask for what I want. Often. I can speak of impacts. Often. I can hear needs. Often. I can hear impacts. Often. I aim for togetherness. Always.
I haven’t begun to touch the grief about not seeing the patriarchal conditioning everywhere
I am someone people leave, more often than anyone else I know. I keep looking for patterns of why, patterns of what I do, what they do, who I choose, who chooses me. I think I haven’t begun to touch the grief about not seeing the patriarchal conditioning everywhere which filters my simple act of putting my needs, impacts, and resources on the table and turns it into something else that becomes the reason to walk away from me. I am still innocent, still confused by the world of adults, still trying to establish togetherness, and I fail to notice, fail to plan, fail to meet what is happening, fail to anticipate the separation, the filtering.
Then thinking of Emma. Wild like nobody I ever met. Wilder than me. She meets me in Rumi’s field, beyond right and wrong. We play in the grass, where “even the phrase each other makes no sense.” We know we “must ask for what we really want.” And always tell the truth.
April 22, 2021, conversation with Emma
Today is the day when the next piece is coming, almost two years later.
Patriarchy emerges from scarcity, functions in separation, and results in powerlessness.
Life emerges from flow, functions in togetherness, and results in choice.
There is no self that is separate from life. There is no life that is separate from self.
Will mystery invite us, finally, into stopping long enough to feel and mourn all the calamities that have befallen us…?
When choice (the volitions), anywhere, is bigger than what togetherness (continual integration) can metabolize into flow (the constant rearranging of everything), life breaks down. That’s how we got patriarchy. We are an experiment on the part of life: can consciousness like ours be folded back into the flow of life? Threats put humans, all living beings, into survival mode. Collective calamities put us into such a degree of survival mode, that we reverted to dominance and submission, fell out of our sacred lineage, away from the biology of love. The power of togetherness has so far been insufficient to metabolize our uncontainable choices, powered by progressively more potent technologies that can make us feel like we can control life. Will mystery invite us, finally, into stopping long enough to feel and mourn all the calamities that have befallen us through us so we can find a collective way for the metabolizing to occur before we destroy everything? Will enough of us who have retained any degree of flow, any spot within that is consciously accessible, be able to become the source of expression that can mysteriously unfurl the whole thing freshly back into flow?
Recorded by Erin Holtz Braeckman
Miki Kashtan is a practical visionary exploring the application of the principles and tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to individual and collective liberation. She is the founder of the Nonviolent Global Liberation (NGL) Community, a certified NVC trainer and author of her most recent publication: The Highest Common Denominator: Using Convergent Facilitation to Reach Breakthrough Collaborative Decisions (2021). Miki teaches and works with visionary organizations, leaders, activists, and others to support the transition to a world that works for all.
It was the end of December and I was walking downtown, trying to keep my fingers from going numb while attempting to locate Burning Rainbow Studio on lək̓ʷəŋən territory, Vancouver Island. Just as I was beginning to wonder if I had misjudged what block I should be on, I saw a woman with pink hair and a rolling cello case approaching from the opposite direction: I must be in the right place. I had never met Amy Houston before, but her composed-on-the-spot cello track was about to become an essential part of my first professionally recorded song.
Going through Frieda’s course wound up breaking my mind and heart open to the depth of support that this work can offer.
The lyrics for “Widening” had come to me the previous summer, while I was in the midst of a five-week online Work That Reconnects workshop series facilitated by Frieda Nixdorf. I had just discovered the work of Joanna Macy that spring, and I was so inspired that I had quickly enrolled in the Spiral Journey WTR Facilitator Development Program that was to begin in the fall. But I hadn’t yet been through a proper Full Spiral myself, and it was one of the prerequisites. Going through Frieda’s course wound up breaking my mind and heart open to the depth of support that this work can offer. I was immensely grateful to be (re)connecting so deeply: both with the other participants, who were spread around the world (thank you ZOOM), and with the material.
My pain was so ready to be metabolized, and the way it was reformed to be shared with the world was via… music and poetry.
During those slower hours of summer I was also spending even more than my usual amount of time in my two favourite places: in the woods and at the piano. And one July evening, this song appeared. My retrospective vision of its birth is set mostly in the tiny town of Sayward on the northern half of the island, where I went camping soon after the tune and the harmonies first came to me. Clearly I couldn’t take my piano camping with me, but out on the Salmon River and in the woods and meadows of Sayward, while I read my Spiral Journey course textbooks and did my prerequisite work in the dappled shade, and went paddleboarding in the shadow of H’kusam, and slept outdoors, and took time to contemplate things, and cried, and tended my grief for the Earth – that’s where the lyrics and melody solidified themselves and the song as a whole gained its shape and flavour. My pain was so ready to be metabolized, and the way it was reformed to be shared with the world was via the languages that come most naturally to me: music and poetry.
The words of Joanna Macy and various WTR terms come up in the song’s lyrics, including the concept of Breathing Through, a meditation which has particularly supported me in dealing with my pain for the world. You’ll also hear echoes of a heart holding the whole world’s pain inside, widening circles, going forth, and a song singing itself through us.
I had never worked in a professional recording studio before, and I’m not a trained singer, but somehow this song kept poking me, telling me it needed to be done. And by the end of the year, the song and I both felt ready. I booked my date and brought some windchimes along for good measure. Amy was willing to tune her C string down to a B-flat for the final amazing cello note, and the universe conspired to get my favourite birdsong in there, too: the recording technician had a hobby of recording birds in nature, and he just happened to have the perfect Swainson’s thrush call, backed by a bubbling creek, on his computer.
I have been happily busy discovering how much music and poetry there is that supports or is based on the Spiral
Before and since recording “Widening”, I have been happily busy discovering how much music and poetry there is that supports or is based on the Spiral, and I’m so thankful for all of it. I feel deeply how much I need the aural arts to support me in this work, as in life in general. I haven’t studied sound healing or music therapy in the usual senses of those terms, but the enormous power of sound has been an inescapable part of my own life and learning. Sound can be overstimulating or painful or trauma-inducing or harmful, such as with tinnitus, technological beeps and dings, high decibel levels causing hearing damage, the emotional and physiological effects of yelling or screaming, misophonia and other sound sensitivities, or human-created sounds that disrupt the health of other forms of life. Sound can also heal: I’m thinking of music, chimes, animal sounds and birdsong, kind words, laughter, or Earth’s sounds, such as rain, waves, wind, and so on.
This song is meant to be shared and bathed in. I hope it will be like a healing soundscape to help move the pain through. Please share, sing (lyrics below), play, cover or use “Widening” in workshops or in any capacity you like.
there is a heart that hears the words our Mother speaks through sea and birds and crickets in the dusk and chimes in the rain there is a heart of Earth and I’m ready to slow down and take the time to ground again ground again listening, we’re listening listening
there is a heart that, opened wide, can hold the whole world’s pain inside, and it’s yours and mine there is a heart, don’t be afraid, go forth along the path your grief has made through wind and fire wind and fire breathe in, and through breathe in, and through
there is a song that wants to sing itself through us, what power it can bring we are ready there is a song that reconnects across all lands and dialects and the superficial differences we see now we see widening, it’s widening widening
Allie Picketts (she/her) is a musician, writer, parent, editor, piano teacher, Work That Reconnects facilitator, and lover of nature. She was born and raised on the unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), scəw̓aθən (Tsawwassen), and other Coast Salish Peoples, and is thankful to live within T’Sou-ke traditional territory on Vancouver Island, Canada. She can be found at www.alliepickettswrites.com
Last year, I had the great good luck to visit my beloved friend and teacher, Joanna Macy, a brilliant elder of our time. We spent the afternoon together, catching up on family and news in the dappled sunshine in her backyard. Ukraine was on her mind. She traveled throughout Russia after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and had dedicated herself to supporting the communities there as they coped with the physical, emotional, and cultural injuries of that event. (As an aside, some communities there are still using Geiger counters to find the least radioactive spots in their environs, so that they can plant gardens and guard the children from the ongoing threat of exposure as toxic particles move with the wind and the dust.)
At some point after this deep and thoroughly unvarnished conversation about the state of the world, she looked up into the tree branches above us, newly opening buds filtering the sunlight, turned to me smiling widely and said, “I am so grateful to be alive at this moment in history!”
how to stay present in the face of those reckonings, and the unavoidable truth of uncertainty as our constant companion on the journey.
This is not uncharacteristic of her, to be honest, but I was sitting with a kind of stunned awe, again, at this person who, while willing to stare deeply into the abyss of the pain of the world, still found herself in this place of deep gratitude. That statement, and that moment, reminded me of all the times over the years she talked about the reckonings our world was bound for, the tumult of fires, literal and cultural, that threaten our world. Her work, and mine, is largely centered on how to stay present in the face of those reckonings, and the unavoidable truth of uncertainty as our constant companion on the journey.
In the Work That Reconnects, a body of practices developed by Joanna, there is one practice called the Truth Mandala, or Circle of Truth. Within a circle of witnesses, a person enters and interacts with objects symbolic of emotional states that might arise in confronting one’s pain for the world. For example, a pile of dead leaves symbolizes grief. A large stick, tightly held, symbolizes anger. One of the objects I have a great resonance with is an empty bowl, which is connected to confusion, uncertainty, numbness. Each object has a correlating quality to each emotional state. Grief is connected to love. Anger, to one’s passion for justice. The emptiness in the bowl makes a space for the new to arise.
That empty space is a kind of scrying bowl, a place to seek new meanings, new ways of being with the unknown.
For me, the empty bowl has been a deeply meaningful image in my life and creative work. It comes up in dreams, in paintings, in poetry. That empty space is a kind of scrying bowl, a place to seek new meanings, new ways of being with the unknown. As such, the bowl becomes the container of process that helps transform my struggles with uncertainty and reclaim qualities that are born out of that alchemy.
I’ve been a climate activist for over twenty years now, and the climate crisis has been a difficult but important teacher in this endeavor. We are still learning so much along the way, including how the climate crisis intersects with so many other crises of the human and more-than human world. As more and more communities start to experience, first-hand, the unprecedented changes in climate phenomena, more of us are faced with a deep uncertainty about everything: Where can we live, safely? What will our children have to contend with? What is worth focusing on? And, lastly, is there a future at all?
Climate futurist Alex Steffen is a voice I’ve come to appreciate in this moment. He writes,
…the planetary crisis ain’t the Apocalypse. We do not face the End of Everything. We face the obliteration of our certainties, sure. We also face the destruction of many of the wonders of nature. And we face the reality that for billions of people, life will feel pretty damned apocalyptic, even as humanity as a whole staggers along. We live now in a trans-apocalyptic world. (1)
I need to breathe here, as I write. To breathe, and to also mention that the word “apocalypse” does not mean the end of everything, but, in fact, comes from the Greek words that mean “to uncover or reveal.”
So much is being revealed.
The truth is, whole communities of people have gone through some version of apocalypse
All the cultural crises of our time–climate chaos, fascism, racism, inequality–have deep roots in time, and in consciousness. The truth is, whole communities of people have gone through some version of apocalypse, whether it is the genocide of Native American communities, the enslavement of African people, or the Holocaust. Worlds have ended, if not the world. The results of colonization and domination cultures have spread to the entire planet. While some communities are disproportionately affected, what’s new is that, now, all people, species, landscapes, and living systems are threatened by the effects of the mindset that put climate chaos into motion.
Alex goes on to say:
It’s important to live when we are. Being native to now, I think, is our deepest responsibility… being at home in the world we actually inhabit means refusing to consign ourselves to living in the ruins of continuity, but instead realizing we live in the rising foundations of a future that actually works. It may be a fierce, wild, unrecognizable future, but that doesn’t mean it’s a broken future. Indeed, it’s the present that’s broken beyond redemption. (1)
It’s not that our future is broken, but our present. And, if enough people find a way to offer themselves to this present brokenness, a viable, less broken, and more just future might be built.
Nothing has ever been certain, actually. Crops fail. Health fails. Accidents happen. This has always been true. Joanna Macy says this:
I know we’re not sure how the story will end. I want so much to feel sure. I want to be able to tell people…it’s going to be alright.” And I realize that wouldn’t be doing anybody a favor. First of all, we can’t know. But secondly, if… we could be given a pill to be convinced, “don’t worry, it’s going to be okay”, would that elicit from us our greatest creativity and courage? No. It’s that knife edge of uncertainty where we come alive to our greatest power. (2)
We all have different lived experiences of uncertainty, and varied capacities to cope. People are facing houselessness, disability, family difficulties, oppression. I’m not here to tell anyone how they should be strong in any adversity. However, some folks might find comfort in the exploration of ways to navigate these times.
Let’s talk about the connection between uncertainty and creativity, for example. The writer Meg Wheatley says that we can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. She states: “Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for what’s new. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing.” (3)
Fire bowl by Barbara Ford
Artists of all kinds have always known this. The very act of creating is dependent in a large part on opening to possibility, to emergence, to unpredictable discoveries. As an artist and a poet, I find that the best work is born out of not knowing what the hell I’m doing, honestly. I continue to struggle with the process. It’s not an easy path. It is humbling and sometimes disorienting. At the same time, when something unexpected and wonderful arises, it feels like I have been a vessel for some other, larger truth teller. Call it Muse, or God, or Trickster, it is a feeling of deep connection.
One creative practice I’ve tried is improvisational singing. That’s when you literally open your mouth and sing sounds or words and you don’t know what they will be until they are sung. In the beginning, I was afraid- of sounding bad, of getting it wrong, even of being boring. But the truth is, the more you just throw yourself out there, risking shame and oblivion, there are moments of clarity and communion between all the so-called “bad” notes. The power of those moments can eclipse the fear of failure.
two of the gifts of uncertainty are artistry and emergence, the empty bowl that holds all that can be born
So, I posit that two of the gifts of uncertainty are artistry and emergence, the empty bowl that holds all that can be born. Releasing ourselves from “needing to know” in order to act can lead us through a portal to the mystery, a sometimes messy, divine truth.
And, as you might imagine, this portal also can lead to wonder. What is wonder, after all, but a kind of beautiful, embodied acknowledgement of the workings of mystery? The fact of a sunset isn’t what makes us wonder. The confluence of color, space, the moment as it meets our open heart is where wonder arises.
Another gift of uncertainty is honesty. Many of us have grown up with a bias towards facts over truth. Our educational systems reward the learning of facts, sometimes more than the gifts of curiosity and wonder. If more of us were taught the valuable skill of honoring what we don’t know, of being okay with the vulnerability of that stance, I think our capacity for rich and honest relationships, for experimentation, for creativity, would grow our hearts and communities in some lovely ways.
Ironically, if we were honest about our not-knowing, we would be more in touch with our own truth and the truth of others.
Right now, around the world, there is a growing tide of fascism. Fascism, in effect, is a kind of evil sureness of one’s right to absolute power over a populace and the planet. We watch in horror as Russia invades Ukraine. We see in the United States actions by politicians and plutocrats asserting similar ideals. This kind of toxic certainty, coupled with a disdain for empathy and mutuality, is at the heart of so much unnecessary pain and destruction. It is the antithesis of justice. It is the antithesis of care.
The ones who embrace uncertainty are the ones who, through their vulnerability, reap the twin gifts of humility and empathy.
The ones who embrace uncertainty are the ones who, through their vulnerability, reap the twin gifts of humility and empathy. Humility reminds us of what we still need to learn, and what to unlearn. It softens our armor, our resistance to change the parts of ourselves who, unknowingly, have learned habits and assumptions that perpetrate harm. Here’s one example from my life: As a white person striving to unlearn the racism I absorbed growing up, I strive to read and learn as much as I can about racism. However, it has taken some experiences that broke me a little, interactions and truth-telling that brought me into a deeper conversation with my humility. At first it was difficult. I resisted. I was attached to my innocence. When, over time, I became more comfortable with not-knowing, and less attached to protecting myself, I found myself better able to learn, more grateful for the learning. It’s definitely an ongoing journey, but one, now, I value as some of the deepest learning of my life.
Humility and empathy dwell together. They both depend on focusing outside of the self, on the willingness to see and honor other viewpoints. Both remind us of our true belonging to each other and the world, and of the pointlessness of perfection. Both are born out of an acceptance of the uncertainties we all face, and the truth that we need each other to face and navigate them together.
The writer Rebecca Solnit has made it her business to address ideas of hope, courage, and what she calls “radical uncertainty”. Her book, Hope in the Dark, is essential reading. She writes:
Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. (4)
Did you notice how she links uncertainty with possibility? And how she links certainty, in either direction, as a potential limitation to take action in the world?
“Who shall I be, no matter what?”
As a result of this kind of inquiry, my deepest question right now as an activist, and, indeed, just as an individual, is “Who shall I be, no matter what?” It releases me from the false binary choice of success or failure. What is courage, after all, but the heart’s strong dance forward in the face of uncertainty? In fact, uncertainty is a parent of courage, and the sibling of hope. Not a passive, waiting kind of hope, but an active hope that compels us toward the future with agency and love.
Here’s another quote from Rebecca that I hold dear:
Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable. (4)
Creativity. Vulnerability. Honesty. Humility. Empathy. Courage. Hope. May these alchemical qualities guide us into the complicated and tumultuous future, and may we find joy in the company of brave, artful, and loving friends in the journey.
Song for the Empty Bowl
we fill the emptiness with stones with fire, with memory and bones with fury songs and quiet poems and prayers for all the quiet ones
this emptiness can hold a drum a knife, a seed, a place to hide but mostly what I fear has come a bowl of tears, a rising tide
uncertainty is my lament my prayer, my home, my quiet friend the spells of all the breaths we hold the songs unsung, the tales untold
to find this dance, to sing this song an ancient sphere, to waltz upon this empty bowl, my deep unknown my curve of grace, my silent koan
Macy, J., interview Joanna Macy and the Great Turning in film by Christopher Landry, 2016.
Wheatley, M. J., Turning to One Another, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., 2009, p.45.
Solnit, R., Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Haymarket Books, Chicago IL, 2016.
Recorded by author
Barbara Ford is a longtime WTR facilitator, artist, writer, and activist living in Portland, Oregon. She has been active in the climate justice movement for over twenty years as an arts organizer, as well as supporting the activist community with WTR inspired events to grow a culture of self and community care. She has created the Radical Gratitude model for expanding our ideas about gratitude, and is offering new writings in her new Substack newsletter called Cultural Artisanship in a Changing World (https://barbaraford.substack.com). More info about Barbara at https://barbaraford.net/.
The city, the sparkleswelter concrete, tells me what’s what. This riverfire is not happening. It is all pretend — there are no photos, and if there are, they don’t matter. Rivers don’t burn, don’t burst like that into oilshine hellmoving, coursing through town. They slide, yes, with yellowsweet ooze, streetlight reflecting, skeletons piling, but rivers don’t burn — they sludgeswim, groping for freshness. Rivers don’t burn, but they hold new things now, alien fish, zebra mussels, and so much algae you could walk on water. The rivers are different now, yes, but we can drink them up, still, see, downriver from it all, we drink them and our teeth turn black, we drink them and our throats are slick—slackened, bloodless lips and too-small babies. Rivers don’t burn, they creep, into the lake where the fishing is, used to be that you could catch all kind of fish with your hands, there were so many. Now things are different, yes, but we eat. We rotfeast and sing, sing to the heavens with our bellies full of fire.
Author’s note: The Cuyahoga River, which runs north into Lake Erie and bisects Cleveland, Ohio, has caught fire as the result of excessive industrial and agricultural pollution at least thirteen times, most recently, if quietly, in 2020.
Recorded by Kevin Lay
Amelia Brady is a poet and herbalist originally from the land bordering Lake Erie currently called Cleveland, Ohio, and now makes home in the Piedmont of North Carolina. They studied literature at American University and currently study plant medicine at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Amelia deeply loves the commonly misunderstood beings of the world, like insects, fungi, and coyotes. Their work can also be found in Mergoat Magazine.
the only way through the compost of dim sadness that could in any way bring healing is to bring it all the way in as if by eating—
the most intimate relationship is to incorporate.
just as the cells of me grow from the light that is this bruised strawberry here, and the pungent onion there, and that half torn leaf of brown-edged arugula over there yet to be picked, i also only grow in ways i could not know by welcoming in the darkened sorrow that surrounds me; when i allow it into my body, into my heart, to metabolize it with the most powerful digestive fluid of all…
i pray always that my life is consumed by service to another’s benefit. so let me eat of your sacred grief too, please; then let’s say grace.
a shared meal is always more comforting then when one eats alone.
Kert Lenseigne is a spiritual wanderer and wonderer who lives on the unceded, sacred, Native Snohomish, Indigenous and Ancestral Tribal land of the Coastal Salish Peoples, and in the Tolt river watershed of the great Pacific Northwest in Washington state. “We are in the universe to explore the lovely eternity of our souls and grow real.” (John O’Donohue).
This essay is an attempt to share a perspective on our world today as it has been presenting itself to me. Ever since I read this Deep Times issue’s topic, “Metabolizing Grief”, I felt the call building inside me to find an expression for this perception.
It is going to be a raw version, as I am lacking the words, the vocabulary. But I am hoping it will nonetheless be received as a gift to our collective effort in the Great Turning. And I trust that there will be many ears who can receive this message coming from the Earth more eloquently than I can express it – and hopefully take it to inspire a practice that turns it into some clearer version of communication through art, words, music. It is all a collective effort.
I drew a couple of sketches to aid in the building of this narrative:
Sketch 1, by author
“Sketch 1” shows the flow of light-love-life energy in a healthy Earth. The blue circle is indicating the surface of the Earth on which humanity dwells. You can see that much of the energetic flow happens on the inside – always reaching outward and returning to the core. There are many colors, which reflect the vividness, the light and life-giving qualities inherent in this energy. I am using the lemniscate to signify the perpetuity of flow and the different sizes of the lemniscate to show how this energy reaches to different depths in the earth, and that only some reaches beyond the surface. Please note that in the model of healthy flow, all energy is being returned to the core.
Sketch 2, by author
“Sketch 2” shows the energy flows as they are presenting themselves during the anthropocene. So many of us humans – have been holding on to our pain in the form of trapped energy for probably thousands of years now. I don’t know when it began – but the distribution of energy looked different then. There were little pockets of trapped energy while the majority of life energy was still being returned to the Earth. We have now reached a level of energetic stagnation that is depriving the Earth of her own life energy.
The Earth is starved of her own life energy.
In this sketch, you can see a brown cloud covering the globe above the surface. This is the energy that so many of us are holding onto, not allowing it to return to the core. If you look into the center of the drawing, you can see a much diminished energy flow activity. The Earth is starved of her own life energy. The Earth is barely able to support life systems as they were and we see this in the way all systems are wavering and growing more chaotic.
In Earth-time or deep time – millions of years into the future – the Earth will eventually reabsorb this brown cloud of stagnating energy. The Earth is resilient in this way. But if we think about the generation of our great-grandchildren, we are called into action to remedy this state of our world with all we can give.
It is the dirty pain, the pain that so many of us are not facing, not metabolizing, that festers in our bodies
I will call the brown cloud energy dirty energy, in adaptation of the terminology from Resmaa Menakem’s work (Menakem, 2017). It is the dirty pain, the pain that so many of us are not facing, not metabolizing, that festers in our bodies and that we continue to blow through others–that is driving greed, the growth-economy paradigm, and the destruction of the Earth herself.
However, it is important to note that it is upon the Earth’s light-love-life-energy that this dirty pain rides. Consequently, as we fail to metabolize our pain and return it to the earth, we continue to multiply the pain in ourselves and our loved ones. This unmetabolized pain is driving population growth, retraumatization, war and destruction, because it needs somewhere to go. Energy wants to move; it wants to follow the pull of the Earth back to the core. But as we block it from returning, it spreads across the surface of the Earth and continues to thicken the brown cloud of dirty energy.
It is as if the Earth was able to tease apart each nuanced shade of color that makes up the brown soup, reconstituting them into a rainbow of light-love-life energy
We can trust the life-processes of the Earth. When we return dirty, contaminated energy to the Earth, she will take it into the great decomposition at her core, taking the energy apart into its smallest components and then reassembling it as renewed light-love-life energy. It is the great compost heap at the center of the Earth, but instead of working with decaying life matter, she works with pure energy. It is as if the Earth was able to tease apart each nuanced shade of color that makes up the brown soup, reconstituting them into a rainbow of light-love-life energy that she then propels outward, giving new life and nourishment and healing for the benefit of all living systems. This includes the atmospheric systems that control our climate, ecosystems, and ecological diversity. This rainbow of light-love-life energy also supports us in the emotional and mental work we need to do and renews our sense of love for each other. It allows us to perceive the beauty all around.
Feel the love of the Earth passing right through your cells, right through your heart.
Try this: touch the Earth in whatever way is accessible to you. Gather some pain that has been with you and release it into the Earth, send it deep, all the way into the core. Trust that the Earth will receive it gratefully. Now imagine the decomposition process, the Earth taking the strands of energy apart, and even further apart into the finest particles. And then see, with your inner eye, the energy being reorganized and imbued with new vigor through the cosmic forces at work in the center of the Earth. See the momentum of the Earth as she is perpetually spinning around the sun, and the sun spinning in the milky way, and cosmic radiation passing through the core of the Earth. All is in movement. And this cosmic movement gets transferred into the life-giving rainbow that is now streaming from the core up and up and through your body where it touches the Earth. Feel the love of the Earth passing right through your cells, right through your heart.
I offer this practice to you as encouragement, for every act of self-care and self-healing work – particularly through somatic work that aids in the metabolizing and releasing of our pain, our grief, our anger – supports the regeneration of the Earth in an entirely more profound way than we may be able to grasp as individuals.
Take your time.
Breathe and touch the Earth.
It is the work of our human collective,
to return the energy to the Earth.
Additional Resources and Practices:
There are many practices that allow us to return our energy to the Earth. The basic principle is that the energy wants to follow the gravitational pull – so really, all we have to do is to surrender, to let it go. Of course, that is not immediately accessible to most of us as we are experiencing a lot of active holding and blocking and are often controlled by our pain-bodies, who seem to have minds of their own. Becoming aware of our pain-bodies and their mechanisms of addiction to and recreation of pain is one way we can begin to release our pain.
Here are some examples of ways to metabolize our pain, grief and anger:
Imagining a spiritual boundary around you channeling other people’s toxic energy into the Earth before it reaches you (e.g. as a magnetic field surrounding you)
Menakem, Resmaa. 2017. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies.
Tolle, Eckhart. 2005. A New Earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose.
Recorded by Erin Holtz Braeckman
Julia (Yulia) Smagorinsky (they/their/them) creates spaces that invite lived experiences of being in reciprocal relationship with human and more-than-human beings. They are a cofounder and co-leader of Emergent Abundance Farming Collective as well as the director of Widening Circle LLC building community resilience and deepening nature connections. Yulia weaves together their experience as a farmer and permaculturalist, WTR facilitation as well as meditation and somatic practices. They are a graduate of the Spiral Journey Facilitator Development Program and currently work as Spiral Journey’s administrative assistant. Yulia lives in Lenapehoking, aka Pennsylvania with their two children.