Earth Day 2019: We Need New Positive Stories To Seed for the Future

On this Earth Day 2019, I am re-posting a story of meeting renowned eco-philosopher and activist Joanna Macy and the work that inspired my interest in deep ecology and ecopsychology over the last several decades:

She first inspired me 25 years ago when I walked into Banyan Books in Vancouver and walked out with her slim volume Thinking Like a Mountain.

For so many years, that gem of deep ecology writings inspired my personal journey with the earth.  I loved the green forest illustration of the cover that invites you into a sacred forest of old growth trees and bird song; the invocation by John Seed who calls on our behalf to the “Spirit of Gaia” and the enduring evolutionary spiral of life that has brought forth universes, galaxies, stars, planets and our own precious green-blue earth.

Joanna Macy is in her late eighties now and how extraordinary a privilege it was to spend a day with her in Portland a couple years ago as she led a group of us in her workshop “The Work That Reconnects.”

Joanna Macy & Kathy Stanley

Thinking Like a Mountain, the book Joanna co-wrote with Australian rainforest activist John Seed, Pat Fleming and deep ecologist Arne Naess inspired a watershed moment in my spiritual life back in 1992, the year before my mother died. That summer I went to Vancouver to help her in her healing journey as she undertook a rigorous protocol of raw juices and whole foods.  I remember I took an afternoon to wonder down to Banyan Books for some inspiration. The little book intrigued me with its deep ecology philosophy of our interconnectedness with all life on the planet.  The description of the inspiring Council of All Beings ritual that invited us into hearing the voices of other species within us in sacred council – not as them being spirit animals for us, but rather, as us perhaps being spirit animals for them. Can we hear within ourselves the voice of the earth?  The voice of other species? Can we step outside of ourselves and think like a mountain as Aldo Leopold intimated we should? And what do those voices have to tell us?

That was over 25 years ago that those words inspired and opened a door towards an ecological self, to understand my own sacred relationship with the earth and the emerging discipline of ecopsychology.  It opened the door to my master’s thesis where I created my first undergraduate class in ecopsychology 4 years ago which in turn evolved into several more eco-literacy classes.

Joanna led us in some of my favorite processes from her latest book that she co-wrote with Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects. The “Deep Time” exercise where we enter a liminal space of no time and hear from the voices of future beings living 200 years from now: we partner up, partner A being in the present, partner B being from the future. The future being asking, Ancestor, how did you get through these times of turmoil in the Great Turning? Where did you gather the strength for it? And partner A, answering as I did:

“Because it was what we had to do to work on behalf of an emerging sustainable future…even in the face of climate change and drowning cities, horrific hurricanes and devastating wildfires…we had to support each other in cultivating our resilience, working with our strengths, with Active Hope, on behalf of our communities and the earth…”

“We saw, there was a great movement towards this, and we set our sights on this regenerative earth culture birthing even as the forces of ‘business as usual,’ and the narratives of collapse tried to keep us down.  We bonded with like-minded souls in our communities and worked tirelessly towards values of ecological sustainability, social justice, inclusion, diversity and the sacred sanctity of the earth… it was what we had to do…”

After this journey-experience in Deep Time, in what Joanna calls “seeing with fresh eyes,” she told us her story of where she received the inspiration for this process.  It was back 40+ years ago, when Joanna was doing her nuclear activism work, she consulted with scientists asking, what is to come of this nuclear waste? And no one could answer her. She said she could barely stand it that no one had an answer and so she thought the ones who would know are the future beings and that’s how a profoundly important and inspiring part of the Work that Reconnects evolved.

I attest to the rich and meaningful engagements that arise from this type of work. In my ecopsychology classes I assign my students an essay at the end of the term. I ask them to imagine that a positive revolution in consciousness has taken place on the earth and to imagine they are a person living 200 years from now…write about what life is like from that perspective of the future being… what positive changes have taken place?  Inevitably, the essays submitted are inspiring, surprisingly meaningful, uplifting visionary images of life on earth. Out of the student’s imaginations, hopes and dreams pour forth positive visions of a regenerative earth culture. This in turn inspires the students own present-time expressions and efforts of environmental stewardship. 

We need new positive stories to seed for the future.  We are drowning in dystopian visions, both real and imagined these days.  

Thank you Joanna Macy for continuing to inspire, teach and bring wisdom to our movement into a regenerative earth culture.  I imagine a grateful planet giving thanks for you inspiring us to hear within ourselves the voice of the earth . . . and the voice of the future beings calling us into being their wise and good ancestors.   ©Kathy Stanley

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