FACING THE ANTHROPOCENE IN THE COMOX VALLEY:
THE INNER JOURNEY
A talk by
March 4. 2015
This is the last in a series of talks on Facing the Anthropocene given over the winter of 2014-2015. It’s discusses practical applications in the Comox Valley. It builds upon the framework outlined by Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople: “It is a long journey from the head to the heart, but it is a longer journey from the heart to the hands.”
The first part—The Head—is a summary of the basic concepts discussed in previous sessions: The Anthropocene and the emergence of a new consciousness; the New Cosmology; Earth Spirituality; a Functional Cosmology; and Earth Law.
The second part—From Head to Heart—deals with how the concepts become a creative force within us. It relies heavily upon the shamanic traditions as recognized in indigenous cultures and the wisdom of Carl Jung.
The third part—from Heart to Hands—is about putting the new consciousness into practice in the Comox Valley. The talks ends with a Covenant (social contract) for the valley.
FACING THE ANTHROPOCENE IN THE COMOX VALLEY:
THE INNER JOURNEY
A talk by
March 4, 2015
Welcome to the last session of this course. Here is the road map for the journey.
THE ROAD MAP
First I’ll Begin With the Head Work. This is a summary of the transitions that we have discussed in the previous five sessions of this course. The Anthropocene, the New Cosmology, Earth Spirituality, Earth Law and Restorative Justice, and a Covenant with the Land in the Comox Valley.
The Second Thing I’ll Talk About Is Moving From Head To Heart. It is about Shamanism, something I first experienced in my work in Inuit communities. When Thomas Berry was asked about a model for implementing what he called The Great Work in our day to day lives, he said, “The model is not the priest, nor is it the prophet. It is the shaman. He would explain that only the shaman can teach us how to reach beyond our cultural frameworks and go down to our genetic level, the roots of our very existence.
The Third Thing I’ll Talk About Is The Journey From Heart To Hands In The Comox Valley. What does all this mean in terms of the Comox Valley? What can we do to stop the continual damage and develop a resilient community? In this third section we will use the basic concepts of shamanism to shed light on our work in this valley. Before proceeding a brief word of caution about shamanism.
The word “shaman” has acquired a dicey reputation because of the New Age Guru-Types who run around saying things like “I’m a shaman with special powers to understand the secrets of the nether world. Learn from me. Sign up for my workshop. ” I don’t want anyone going home tonight, walking in your front door and saying to your family, “Guess what. Mike Bell says I have to become a shaman.” Mike Bell is not saying that you have to become a shaman. I’m sharing with you some of the insights about shamanism coming from serious scholars and thinkers like Mircea Eliade, Joan Halifax, Joseph Campbell, Bonnie Bright, and especially Carl Jung who was fascinated by shamanism.
(There are many articles showing the relationship between Jung’s teachings and shamanism.) I’m just taking some of the insights of these students of shamanism to help us understand the challenges we face in our valley. And there is a great benefit in using shamanic insights in our present situation. Why? Because, as you will see, these insights are not something new. Shamanism is something very ancient and is still with us today. As Jung has noted, we are earthlings. The shamanic awareness of our relationship with Earth still resides in our subconscious. But we have lost this awareness. We can and must rediscover it. So let us proceed
MAKING THE TRANSITIONS: THE HEAD WORK
One day Thomas a Berry was invited to talk to a group of high school students. He wanted to talk to them about our current spiritual predicament in relation to Earth. The term autism came to mind, and he asked if anyone in the class could define what that meant, unsure if he would get a good answer. A student jumped up and explained clearly: “Autism is about people being so locked up in themselves that no one and nothing else can get in.” Exactly, Berry thought. “That is what has happened to the human community in our times. We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual autism.’ ”
Einstein said much the same thing. He described this autism as an optical delusion. We are locked in the prison of our own minds. We are cut off from widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. In this Series we have attempted to break out of our autism and our optical delusion and perceptual prison. We need to make transitions in our thinking.
In the first session we talked about the Anthropocene and climate change we have seen that climate change is changing everything. It is not simply an environmental problem. It is a civilization problem. Unlike all generations of humans that have proceeded us, when we get up in the morning and look outside we think we see the same world that we saw when we went to bed. But we don’t. We see a different world. We are changing the chemistry of Earth. We are causing the deterioration of the ecosystems. This is having a profound influence on life as we know it.
In the second session on the New Cosmology we made another transition. Earth is not some dead reality “out there.” It is a living reality. It is our greater self. We are earthlings. We are one with earth and with our universe. Our human story is the story of the cosmos. Our human consciousness is the universe reflecting upon itself.
In the third session we talked about an Earth Spirituality, some inner creative force found in all religions and among many folks with no religious back ground or even no belief in a divine being. Earth itself is the primary source of revelation. Human spirituality is an extension of the spirituality of earth, the anima mundi, the earth soul. As Teilhard de Chardin put it, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.” Earth itself, from which we have come, is sacred.
In the fourth session on Earth Law we saw the futility of trying to discover Earth Law through human law. Earth law is the primordial law. It has existed long before there were humans and it still exists today. Human laws should flow from Earth Law. But in many respects human laws, designed to access the “unlimited” resources of nature, run contrary to Earth Law. We also talked about the concept of restorative justice. We must hold those who are jeopardizing Earth’s systems and our survival accountable and work with them to restore the damage.
The last session on a Covenant Not for Land but with the land made the point that we can’t have healthy people on a sick planet. So we discussed what a healthy earth looks like and identified the three characteristics of a healthy planet: communion—linking and bonding all species including ourselves together with all other species; individuation where Earth continues to produce and support a wonderful variety of species; and inner awareness manifested in Earth and all species. A defining characteristic is the capacity to self-organize. Also, we discussed the Comox Valley not as real estate but as “The land”—the life force that combines all those elements that we call the environment. We concluded this session with a ten point written draft covenant—not something we humans were going to do for the valley but something we will do with the valley.
There is a real problem with putting things like a covenant down on paper. The danger is that it will stay down on paper. There are many studies and strategic plans developed in this valley that never got off the paper. They became merely an intellectual exercise. And that is the concern I have with the Draft Covenant. We need to use it to stimulate discussion and help guide us on our personal journey from our head to our hearts and hands. So now the journey to the heart.
THE JOURNEY TO THE HEART: THE SHAMAN One day when I first got to Baffin Island and began working as a social worker, a young couple came to me with a problem. They were having trouble with their father in-law. When I asked them what the problem was they told me he was always demanding that they do things they didn’t want to do. So I said, “Well when people get old they get quite cranky.” They said to me “He really isn’t old. He’s only about sixty. Then I said, “Well, when we live together in a small house it can be difficult at times.” And they said to me “He doesn’t live with us, he lives in his own house. “ I don’t know what I said after that but I remember what they said to me, “Mike, you’re not getting this. Our father-in law is shaman.” At that point I realized I was completely out of my depth. But I did know that you tread very carefully with shamans. A few days later a young social worker I’d hired from the south came up to start working. In our first meeting she said to me. “I’m really interested in learning more about the Inuit culture.” And I said to her, “I think I have a case you’ll find particularly interesting. “
Shamans have existed since time immemorial, eons before there was anything like organized religion. They have appeared in cultures around the world and there are common characteristics among them.
The Calling. The shaman has a calling that is often recognized at a very early age. Often the individual experiences some kind of severe illness or psychological problem. There is a belief that significant suffering, often lasting for many months or even years is an essential part of the shaman’s calling. It is seen as a sort of outer body experience, a loss of soul that somehow purifies the shaman and helps transcend the limits of his or her own body. But it has another great benefit. The shaman’s suffering helps him or her understand the suffering of others. Eventually the shamans seem to get through the suffering and come out of it with special powers, in particular an ability to see and understand the world around them in a unique way. It takes the form of a certain indwelling with the greater world. In pre-Christian times and even today the Irish talk about the “thin places”—physical places were the divine world and the human world come together and where some people with special powers can pass through the thin curtain that separates the two worlds.
The Shamanic Journey. A dominant characteristic of shamans in most cultures is the shamanic journey. They set off on some kind of psychic journey to the underworld or to the heavens above to explore different realities, especially animals with whom they can commune. Some shamans, it is said, are shape-shifters. They can take the form of an animal and even speak in the animal’s language. It is the experience gained during these journeys that is the source of their wisdom and power. There are three characteristics of the shaman’s role that I think are of special significance for our work in this valley: service to the community, mediation, healing.
Service To The Community. The shaman’s calling is not something for his or her personal benefit. It is a call to serve the community. In particular it is a call to protect the community and help it survive in a very difficult environment. The Inuit came off the land and moved into settlements in the 1960s. Many people I worked among were born and raised on the land and lived a nomadic existence. On one occasion, I asked a woman, and elder, how they knew when it was time to abandon their iglus, travel across the land, and build new iglus in a place where the hunting would be much better. She looked at me and said, “The shaman would tell us.” (I was pleased that she would share this information with me. Elders rarely mentioned shamans to outsiders or even to their own children.)
A Mediator. The shaman’s role was also to serve as a mediator, not only to help resolve conflicts among community members but also to mediate between the people and the animals. They were all members of the same community. I remember reading an interesting anthropological study of Inuit hunters in my early Baffin years. It was entitled, “I am I and my environment.” The Inuk hunter had no concept of an environment apart from himself. And hunting practices reflected this concept. The hunter was aware that he was not finding the animals as much as the animals were giving themselves to him. And there were many taboos associated with this concept. One of them was the need to treat the land with respect because it was the home of the animals. If they didn’t treat it with respect the animals would not give themselves to the hunters the next time they travelled though the land. The shaman was the guardian of these relationships.
The Healer. Perhaps the most famous power of the shaman was to serve as a healer. This was not as much a physical healing; it was more of a psychic healing. The community the shaman served believed that in time of sickness the body escaped from the soul and entered another world. It was the shaman’s role to go on a journey, find the soul and return it to its owner.
Carl Jung. Jung was a serious student of shamanism and it significantly influenced his thinking. IN 1924 and 1925 he lived and Arizona among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. And in 1925 and 1926 he lived among the inhabitants of Mt. Elgon in Kenya. Like the shamans, Jung considered Earth sacred and was distressed by human alienation from nature. He viewed health as being in balance with the sacred in nature and sickness as an alienation from nature. He saw the manifestation of sickness as a loss of soul. But for him the soul was not in some nether world. It was deeply imbedded in the subconscious were it could be retrieved. Finally, of particular significance in both the shaman and Jung is the matter of suffering. Jung often referred to the psychiatrist as a wounded healer. It is particularly because of his or her experience of suffering that the psychiatrist is better able to understand the sufferings of others. So how does all of this talk about shamanism and Jung relate to the realities of life in the Comox Valley?
FROM THE HEART TO THE HANDS IN THE COMOX VALLEY The Anthropocene with climate change as its primary manifestation is changing life as we have known it. We need a different approach to facing the Anthropocene beginning with a new (at least for us) and different consciousness. It has been said that this consciousness can be seen in small children. One spring day my wife was out working on the front lawn. A mother with an infant in a stroller and a three year old walking alongside her passed along in front of our house. At that very moment, a flock of trumpeter swans flew overhead, very low and honking loudly. The child looked up and yelled, “Hello trumpeter swans.” Perhaps we are trying to rediscover a consciousness that most of us had as children.
About The Shamanic Mission The first characteristic of the shaman we mentioned before was a strong sense of mission. If we think of the shamanic mission and this new consciousness in terms of the Anthropocene we come to realize that, though we are citizens of the Comox Valley, we are first and foremost members of an Earth Community and citizens of an Earth Democracy. As such we have a responsibility to care for the whole community and that responsibility entails speaking for those other than human species that do not have a voice. How each one of us does this will depend upon a variety of factors—our interests, talents, abilities, lifestyle commitments, and above all an awareness of a responsibility for the valley. As members of this earth democracy we reflect upon our rights. We have a right to exist, to habitat, to clean air, safe water, fertile soil, nutritious food, and biodiversity. And these rights did not come from the Prime Minister of Canada, or the Premier of British Columbia. Unlike in the constitutions of two thirds of the 193 UN Nations, they are not even mentioned in the Canadian Constitution. These rights come from our very existence. And we must protect them. When our elected representatives do not help us protect them, or even worse, when they take away our rights, we have a right to utilize street democracy. We are not breaking the law. (I do not like the loaded term “civil disobedience.” It is the people taking away our inalienable rights who are disobedient and breaking the law). At the core of all of this is accountability. We must hold ourselves accountable and we must hold our elected representatives accountable.
About Mediation In Our Valley. Mediation for Earth Citizens living in an Earth democracy in the Comox Valley means we must work to find a common ground. Like the shaman, we need to find a common ground among ourselves and with other than human species. But it also means finding a common ground between the factions that divide us; the common ground between the left and the right, between those who are well off and those who do not have enough, between the healthy and the sick and those with disabilities, between the young and the old. When are the times when we have been most successful in finding a common ground? Ironically, it is in times of war. And, though I don’t particularly like to use war analogies, there is no doubt that at times of war everyone forgets their differences and thinks about what they have in common: left and right, rich and poor, old and young, different cultures, different religious denominations. Life, too, always struggles to survive and protect itself. The Earth is living and some authors have suggested that Gaia is at war with us, trying to protect itself. In this valley we have many different viewpoints, ideologies and interests. Unlike a time of war, the Anthropocene does not present a sense of a clear and present danger—at least not yet and not here. But the daily news reports and new films show the results of droughts, floods, severe storms, poisoning of waters and destruction of species that people depend upon for their livelihood. We also see millions of climate change refugees on the move. http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-figures They are looking for water, or for land where they can grow food, or for safety from the armed conflicts that have a direct relation to climate change. It has been noted by many that most wars in the future will be fought over water. I do not know what will happen here in our valley. But there will be significant changes and there will be a great need for mediators that can help people come together and find a common ground. I think they will discover that the common ground they are seeking is the ground they are standing on.
About Healing in our Valley Some years ago Glenn Albrecht, an Australian Professor of Sustainability, was asked to help the people living in Australia’s Upper Hunter Valley. This had been a huge, beautiful oasis in an arid region—their equivalent to our tar sands area. The governments had partnered with multinational coal companies to develop the coal deposits. This immense project was being carried out without any consent of the people. They felt completely powerless. When Albrecht saw how this was impacting the local people, he coined a word to describe their condition, SOLASTALGIA from the Latin and Greek words for both beauty and pain. It is a term for the profound psychological damage that is done when people’s connection to the land they love is broken. It is an extreme form of homesickness. Here in our valley and in our country many of us are experiencing a loss of soul similar to that of the people in the Upper Hunter Valley, though on a much larger scale. Our federal government and the provinces of Western Canada are intent on making us a world energy super power. They have introduced a carbon colonialism supported by a phony Canadian Carbon Culture. These governments are in partnership with multinational resource companies. They are suppressing all opposition to their plans in a variety of ways. And there is not the slightest hint of an awareness that what they are doing is having a profound ethical and moral impact locally and around the world. When I was explaining to some friends in the East how all this was affecting our Comox Valley one of them said, “This is bullshit. You have to take your valley back.” I couldn’t have expressed it more succinctly.
When I was reflecting upon how the healing of shamans and Jung might relate to our current situation I couldn’t help noticing a significant difference. In the past the shamans and Jung looked upon the land as the source of healing. They assumed that the land was healthy. But now, perhaps, for the first time in history, the land is not healthy. It is experiencing extreme distress. Perhaps the land is experiencing its own solastalgia.
Unlike all previous generations we must help the land heal itself so it in turn it can help heal us. In practice I think the inner spiritual journey is all about hope. I like St. Augustine’s statement about hope. ““Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” We have to express our anger at the stealing of our rights by our governments in partnership with corporations to develop coal mines, pipelines and fracking projects. Yes, we are in an energy transition and change will take time. But ultimately the only solution is to leave the stuff in the ground. But taking our valley back also means having the courage to see that things do not remain the same. The only way we can do that is to get positive. We need to work together to help develop a sustainable and resilient Comox Valley. Fortunately it is not all up to us. We seem to be waking up on a local and global level. The actions of president Obama and the Chinese, the Pope getting into the act, the many demonstrations of street democracy around the world, all of these will encourage us and make us aware that we are not alone. Things are changing. The continual disastrous impacts of climate change are providing the best possible arguments we could have. Perhaps community discussions around the Covenant with the Land will become a starting point. (See the Last page.)
So the inner journey is a spiritual journey from head to heart to hands. And, at times it is a very difficult journey. The challenge seems overwhelming. There are days when hope seems to desert us. Discouragement and frustrations are a modern version of the shamanic wounds. But there is hope. To quote Martin Luther King’s famous comment, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
Shamans have always depended upon symbols. The one symbol that really appeals to me is the eagle. It seems to be a universal symbol of the divine. In my Christian tradition the eagle in the Old Testament is the symbol of Yahweh and of the covenant with the people. I remember as a young man listening to a scripture scholar telling about going for a walk in the Holy Land. He looked up in the sky and saw an eagle playing. It would soar high in the winds, tilt over, drop something, and then swoop down and catch it on his back. This happened a couple of times but the next time the man saw the object moving in the air as it descended. The Eagle was not playing but was helping her young to learn how to fly. He said that for the first time he really understood the words in Exodus that Yahweh spoke to Moses “You have seen for yourselves what I, the Lord, did to the Egyptians and how I carried you away as an eagle carries her young on her wings and brought you to me.” (Exodus 19:4)
Among many indigenous people, the eagle is the symbol of the shaman and of his or her access to the divine. Shamans carry eagle feathers as a symbol of their special powers. For the Galyaks of Siberia, the word for eagle in their language is also the word for shaman. When I go out for a walk in our beautiful valley and see an eagle soaring high above me I’m reminded that the eagle’s eyesight is eight times more powerful than human eyesight. I realize that when I look up and see the eagle, the eagle can look down and see me. But he can also see everything around me, particularly my relationship to the land that I, too often, forget. He reminds me what my role must be.
Additional readings I am indebted to Bonnie Bright for her article, The Shamanic Perspective: Where Jungian Thought and Archetypal Shamanism Converge, http://wwcccw.depthinsights.com/pdfs/The-Shamanic-Perspective-Jung_and_Shamanism-BBright.pdf
DRAFT COVENANT: GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPMENT
- EARTH COMMUNITY. We are earthlings and members of an Earth community living in the Comox Valley. The land has looked after us and we have an obligation to care for the land. We see this Covenant as a co-creation with the land and our obligation as a sacred trust.
- EARTH DEMOCRACY. We are also citizens of an Earth Democracy In which each individual and species are also citizens. Like us they have rights to exist, to habitat, and to fulfill their destiny. They also have a right to clean air, safe water, fertile soil, nutritious food, and biodiversity
- INFORMATION. Given our obligation to care for the land we have a right to information about projects in their earliest stages, to be consulted, to have a meaningful role in planning projects , and to have a clear indication of potential harmful effects for the land and for ourselves
- FIRST NATIONS We recognize the inherent rights of First Nations to the land based upon their prior occupancy and as noted in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.
- GOVERNANCE. We will work cooperatively with elected officials whenever possible. But we will also hold government accountable for their obligation to protect the land as a public trust. We will exercise our right to Street Democracy when we deem this to be necessary.
- PRECAUTION. In light of the impact of potential resource development projects in the era of climate change, project proponents and governments must adopt the Precautionary Principle. Where there is potential for significant impact to the land, in the absence of scientific consensus that the proposed action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls to those taking or approving the action.
- RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. We adopt a restorative justice approach and will hold project proponents accountable for their treatment of the land and, when necessary and appropriate, require the “Polluter Pay” principle.
- LOCAL ECONOMY. Given the need for jobs and economic opportunities in local communities, we will support projects and businesses, especially those that are beneficial to the land, provide longer term well-paying jobs and investment opportunities. Of special merit will be projects that provide clean energy alternatives, facilitate the transition from fossil fuels, and are consistent with our history of tourism, the arts and food security.
- CARE FOR THOSE IN NEED. As a caring community we will work to provide assistance to individuals, families and people with special needs related to economic limitations and/or health problems and disabilities. This would include other than human fellow citizens.
- FUTURE GENERATIONS. We have an obligation to work with younger people to help them understand the challenges they will face in the Anthropocene Era and develop the skills required to deal with those challenges.