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JAMES BENNETT-LEVY INTERVIEWS JOHN SEED
This interview was done by psychologist James Bennett-Levy in 1997, as part his ph.d. research on Lifepaths of Social Activists. Bennett-Levy explores the influences on Seeds activism and details of the 1979-1981 campaign to save the New South Wales rainforests.
I: When did you first get involved in activism?
J: 1979 Terania Creek the 8th of August - it was really specific, I was living on Bodhi Farm, organising meditation retreats, and growing veggies and stuff, and got involved with the action at Terania Creek just by chance because Dudley Leggett got up on stage at The Channon Market and asked for people to come along the next day to stop the destruction of the forest that I'd never even visited, and somehow a bunch of us from Bodhi Farm ended up there, and that was that!
I: And taking it back a bit further, can you see any seeds of activism like earlier in your life before that?
J: I was in anti-Vietnam demonstrations while I was at uni - but not really.
I: So how old were you at Terania Creek?
I: Ah right, OK so you were quite a latecomer in that way...
I: So for quite a few people they might see their early backgrounds as influences on their activism - does that apply to you at all?
J: Just that my father was a very socially conscious person, and as a young man in Hungary before the 2nd World War, he was involved in progressive things, and in retrospect I realise I grew up in an atmosphere of progressive kind of thinking I suppose. That's about it. Oh, and when I was at university I was drawn towards the Libertarian Society and The Royal George and The Push, and all of that. And I would always wait for the "don't walk" sign before I crossed the road! And I wore a badge that said "I am an enemy of the State". But a lot of people did and they didn't necessarily become activists, but that's about as close as I can get to it.
I: So you went along to Terania on that Monday. So what kept you there?
J: I don't know really. You know the whole thing lasted less than a month before the Government initiated an inquiry and everything was put on hold for the next 18 months. I can't remember really - I felt reborn into the understanding that I received there in the forest and in the community of people that were doing this thing, and what was really interesting was that I really ...It was straight after that that I got Dalian Pugh to draw me up a letterhead that said Rainforest Information Centre with a nice border and things like that, and I started networking and trying to keep the whole thing going. Most people drifted back to what they were doing before Terania, but I just found myself so captivated, transformed, excited by what I came to understand that I wasn't going to let go of it just because the government called a moratorium on logging and stuff like that.
I: So what was it that captivated you, and what had you come to understand?
J: Well I mean - I don't remember how I would have seen it then - I guess I could go back and look at things that I wrote at that time to try and find out if I ever wanted to unearth that stuff, but my guess now would be that I was somehow touched by the actual living earth and had no desire to get back into the kind of social games that had been my life before that. For instance, Gary Snyder - there's a really nice story about when he worked for Governor Jerry Brown in the late 70s - and Brown exasperated said to Gary one day "Gary, why is it that whatever the issue you are always going against the flow." To which Gary replied: "Jerry what you call the flow is just a 16,000 year eddy, I'm going with the actual Flow!" And so something about Terania popped me into the actual Flow, and I was unwilling to settle for the 16,000 year eddy and have remained unwilling thereafter.
I: So in terms of your life - you'd already been living at Bodhi Farm for 3 or 4 years at that stage - how was it that Terania popped you into the Flow where 3 or 4 years at Bodhi Farm had not?
J: Well I'm sure that without the 3 or 4 years of Bodhi Farm, it wouldn't have happened either, I mean just taking a seed and putting it into the ground and growing a tomato, and taking a seed out of that tomato - you know there's a certain kind of knowledge or wisdom that you can't read about, know what I mean, so I'm sure that meditation and the experience of living in that way and the fact that Patrick Anderson, who was on Bodhi Farm, had just as profound a change in his life as did Ian Gaillard and Gai Longmuir, so I think that the Bodhi Farm experience was important, that there was a larger proportion of people from Bodhi Farm who took part in that process who remained transformed and didn't go back to what they had been doing before than the general population at Terania. So I would think that that was an important influence. But there was no way that that I understood that at the time ....
I: So I'd like to go a bit more with that one. I'm trying to think how that gets translated into everyman's understanding of what happened for you there. I'm not sure I have quite got the sense of it yet...
J: Well I mean its not an easy thing to ..I mean I don't understand it, so how would I explain it? But it must be, it was a spiritual, born again kind of a feeling of understanding. Later I would describe it by saying that I suddenly understood that it wasn't me trying to save the rainforest but that I realised that I was actually part of the rainforest protecting itself, that it was a sense of connectedness with Nature, with the world through the rainforest. And years later, when I learned of the fact that human beings had probably evolved for 95% of the last 150 million years inside rainforests, then the question became: how come this didn't happen to everybody? rather than how come this happened to me? Because why wouldn't the rainforest be able to communicate with me, why wouldn't the rainforest be able to seek my assistance in such a compelling sort of a way, given that it was my mother, and the matrix out of which I emerged, and the womb out of which I had been born. But at the time, it was just very powerfully intuitive, I knew what I had to do.
I: Another question is why some people who have a particular experience while other people who are subject to the same experience go a different way. Do you have any sense of how it was that you and Patrick and Ian and Gai kind of took that in one direction, but other people who were less touched or whatever didn't make the rainforest their lives?
J: Well the only thing I can think of is that we'd been practicing a form of meditation which was of a "not this, not this" variety, where we were rejecting all the accepted truths and rejecting everthing - you know like the Buddha says, you don't believe something, just because someone famous says it. And what you are left with is the experience of the moment rather than some construction of belief systems that you have inherited somehow. And so perhaps that would allow some new large experience to transform one perhaps - you know that kind of background of 6 years of pretty solid meditation that preceded that. But there's lots of other people who meditated just as long and hard and were living on the same community who were at Terania and who haven't done anything remotely like that since. So its a mystery!
I: So following Terania, was there a point at which... had you made the decision by the time you finished the action that that was what your life was going to be?
J: Oh no, I was still living on Bodhi Farm and still doing all the things as before, but I was also doing a lot of writing and networking and stuff like that. So 1981 when the campaign started up on the Nightcap...at Terania I hadn't been involved in any of the meetings with Hugh and Nan or Dudley or the people from Terania Native Forest Action Group who had been active for 5 years before 1979. But with the Nightcap, I was actually there the night the campaign was first created. There were 6 people there: Ian Dickson, Gummy and a few people from Wattle Creek, Sharpie, a couple of others, so we said we should have a National Park that includes Mount Nardi etc. ............goes on to talk about action at Nightcap ...........it was only after the Daintree in 1985 that I really began to realise that I wasn't going to ... you know that I wasn't, that I didn't have my heart any more in the community experience of Bodhi Farm. Up until then I'd been holding both of those things.
I: And in between Terania and Mount Nardi, you'd set up the Rainforest Information Centre?
J: Yeah, just started because in the process of finding reasons to protect Terania, we discovered what rainforest was, and what was happening worldwide, and the fact that half of the species in the world were disappearing at the rate - within a single human lifetime, half of the species of the world would disappear unless something happened, and it was just very compelling for me to learn that. And so I started to make sure that everybody else knew about it, and to generate interest in other countries to set up a worldwide Rainforest Action Network. One of the people that was very supportive at the time was Len Webb, a scientist from University of Queensland who had been the head of the CSIRO's Rainforest Ecology Unit before he retired and became a Prof. He became my mentor and had several ideas that I did all the work to realise, and one of those was writing to scientists all round the world, whose addresses he gave me, on his behalf getting them to write letters to Wran, the Premier of NSW about rainforests, and the value of Terania, and send us copies of them. And so with the copies that we had of these letters to Wran, we produced a booklet called "Scientists write to Premier Wran about Rainforests," and that became part of our campaign literature - you know, the scientific evidence for the importance of rainforests. You know, Paul Erhlich and every one.
And after Wran's decision in 1981, that government's decision to create the National Parks and to basically put an end to rainforest logging, although they didn't announce it that way - but that's fundamentally what happened is the rainforest logging in State Forests really stopped then - I wrote to him and asked him whether - we wanted to publish a less bootleg edition of these letters - and would he write an introduction for it and give us a photograph to use with it which he did. And in fact at the Labour Party meeting the following year, he said that in a hundred years' time, when people look back at this time, he would be remembered for one thing only and that was for saving rainforests. So by that time he thought he had done it!!
I: As long as they think they have done it, its fine!
J: Yeah what could be better!
I: So that brings me on to another question. Who or what were the influences in your development as an activist?
J: Well, Len Webb, Richard St.Barbe Baker, the Man of the Trees, I organised a reafforestation conference for him, also at Len Webb's behest in 1980 at Gunundi. He was in his 90s by the time he came to this conference. Also there was Gummy, do you know Gummy? And the community, the community of activists around here Dalian, Hugh and Nan, Joanna Macy eventually, later on.
I: And tell me what were the specific things you got from them that kind of empowered you?
J: From Len Webb I got the fact that we were right, that this wasn't just a fantasy, that he was the most renowned biologist in Australia, who was saying publically that we knew what we were talking about.
From St. Barbe Baker I got this a lifetime of commitment as I read his story and then at Gunnundi, he was a tall man really close to death, and he bent down and clasped my head to his hands and put his mouth to my ear and whispered this prayer in my ear which was like a transmission of Shakti, I don't know what you call it, but he was exhorting me, saying "sink your roots deep into the Earth and sway to the winds of heaven." You know, I can't remember the words, but he got me with both barrels I remember that.
You know, the community was just like that kind of support that you get from a community of good people, and Joanna Macy was .. well mainly her understanding of feelings, and the role of denial of feelings in holding the whole thing in place.
Robbinson Jeffers, the American poet was a big influence when I discovered Deep Ecology in 1981 through Gary Snyder a poet who came to Australia at that time. And so there were quite a few poetic influences really. Arnie Naess, the Deep Ecology movement ....
I: And so any other particular events which were significant?
J: It was just like ... I hitched my wagon to a star, and then I held on, and that was it, I can't really say anything too much more about it than that. Up until then, in a way, the motive force that had moved my life had been ego, I suppose. And then Ecology, at least as it was then. I don't even feel that way now any longer. Now its momentum after 17 years of ringing the same note, or doing the same mantra or whatever it is. But at the time, I had a vision, and held onto it. And that's what created the events in my life, that's what created my life, rather than having any plan about it. It was just rather ad hoc, the whole thing, and the order and the beauty only appeared in hindsight. I just allowed myself to let go of the plans that I'd had prior to that, and events just unfolded after that.
I: And did that letting go feel a natural kind of a process? Was there a conscious decision involved there? Were there any struggles?
J: Oh totally, oh yeah! There were lots of struggles, and like there were the struggles, you know for a start to take the energy away from the community that I'd been a part of from the beginning, and start to move it in another direction. And also, you know, for me it was hard to find any kind of a philosophical underpinning or explanation that satisfied me for the whole thing. Because really I steeped in Buddhism, and really the Buddhist way of looking at things - or the Buddhist way that I was holding to - the idea was to remain a little bit distant from events and aloof, and I don't think anyone ever heard of engaged Buddhism in 1979. And so I figured that I was kind of a lapsed Buddhist, and so there was a part of me that kept thinking wistfully about enlightenment, and how come I was getting so sucked into this hot sort of a situation whereas what I should have been doing is just watching it rise and pass away, just like my breath. So it was not straightforward at all. I don't have very clear memory at all of those times.
I: What sort of personal resources did you bring to your activism at that time, in that early period? What I'd like to do is get a sense of what you brought to it, and then what were the skills, the knowledge and skills you developed after that?
J: I see, well the resources I guess were my university education, and my ability to do research and to debate...
I: Were you someone who had been a leader?
J: yeah a little bit. I was one of the people that really initiated Bodhi Farm, and I was one of the people there at the beginning of Tuntable Falls, so yeah. But it was not so much leader as being at the forefront of other social movements, you might say. Not that I was conscious at the time that this was a social movement, or that I was at the forefront of it. You know, I was a hippy, and did hippy kind of stuff.
And in retrospect that was the forefront of the Rainbow Region, and I remember when I first arrived in Nimbin in 1973, and had dinner at the Rainbow Cafe at a long table, and later I realised that the whole of what remained of the community after the Aquarius Festival was sitting at the table that night, every single alternative person who lived within 100 miles was sitting at the table that night........ so it was not unusual for me to be in a strange minority position challenging the status quo.
And I guess I had the resources of my father having been a very progressive person, although I didn't think of it at the time, but in retrospect I realise I owe him a lot.
I guess I had the resource of Buddhism where I didn't need any thing. There was no dole in those days, and people just had to scratch around and figure out how to hold it together. And when the dole came, I remember Patrick used to make a point - there'd be a foreign activist working with us at the Rainforest Information Centre, and couldn't get the dole, and whose visa had expired, and Patrick would share his dole with another person and still live like a king. So the ability to live like a king on half the dole, that's a big important resource. You'd probably find out more by asking Greta, she doesn't have nearly the problems with memory that I do.
I: It's something I'd like to do actually - start asking other people ..... And along the way what have been the big challenges for you on a personal level, in terms of your growth, your development, you kind of getting up to new levels ..
J: Well I don't think of any of them particularly as challenges. I can't think of anything that's been a particular challenge, but the milestones have been deep ecology, a philosophy against which all of my experience resonated correctly, do you know what I mean? Deep Ecology was the synthesis between Buddhism and activism. And so that was really important.
I would also have to take my hat off to LSD as being a really important forerunner to all of this. It was like 6 or 7 years before Terania Creek without which my life would have been total ly different, I am quite sure.
I: In what way?
J: I've no idea, maybe I would have committed suicide, maybe I would have gone mad, who knows? But I was working at IBM at the time and I was not happy. So, who can say?
I: So what effect did doing LSD have on you?
J: Well, I left my job, I left my wife, I left all my possessions, and hit the road. And I didn't look back!
I: After one trip or a number of trips?
J: Yeah, one.
I: Really! So what happened in that one trip?
J: Can't remember that either! The last thing I remember is trying to get back up the lightbulb to the white light because I'd lost my contact with the white light, and the lightbulb was the closest I could find! The first couple of times it worked, and then finally I was stranded back here, and I couldn't get back up the lightbulb anymore and that's all I remember about it. But I'm sure it was the white light rather than the lightbulb that did the job!
I: That was pretty dramatic!
J: Yeah it was ... nothing's ever been the same since!
I: So taking up another theme that you touched on earlier, and its something I'm already interested in. It seems to me that as an activist one has this information - and its very full-on information - which as you said like in 1980 when you started finding out about the world's species, and how they are going to become extinct .... Its heavy, heavy information which most people just can't look in the face. First of all, how have you dealt with that information? Psychologically, what do you do with that information?
J: Well, for a start, firstly when I do everything in my power to make things right, then its like I'm OK with it, I'm OK with that information, because its like once I've done everything that I can, life does not require me to feel miserable as well. The only possible point in me feeling miserable is perhaps to convince me to change my miserable ways, do you know what I mean? But when my ways don't need changing, then why be miserable? So this is very much in retrospect trying to understand why I didn't get bummed out, or anything like that, because I was just too busy. So I feel there's a way of transforming those feelings into activism which is very powerful.
And then I met Joanna Macy and through her Despair and Empowerment work, I discovered techniques for transforming despair into empowerment - activist-type empowerment - and through that meeting and developing with her the Council of All Beings as a form of sythesizing Deep Ecology and work with feelings, and the theoretical worldview that comes with Joanna's work, I found that basically all I have to do ..if I do feel bad about it, all I have to do is scream and yell and cry and discharge those feel ings and nothing more is required of me than that, do you know what I mean?
And then more recently, when I took my sabbatical and allowed myself to not have any plans again, not have any schedule, and do what I like, follow my nose around the library and around the Web, what I found myself drawn to was the history of extinction. And what I found studying in the original kind of volumes of Nature, and Science, and more arcane scientific publications, all of the evidence concerning what happened to the dinosaurs, and what took place at the end of the Permian when 94% of all of the species that had existed up until then disappeared.... And all of a sudden less than 10% of the species remained, and in each case there have been 5 such extinction spasms preceding the present one - and in each case, life radiated out from whatever were the survivors of those events. And the glory that we see in the world today is precisely the result of this. Its not in spite of that but exactly because of that.
So all of a sudden, I could stop seeing only tragedy in what was taking place now, because whatever this is, it's definitely no more severe than when the methane economy was corrupted by oxygen, or what led to the demise of the dinosaurs, and so on, because through Deep Ecology and deep ecology experiential work, and having really steeped myself in that, I feel so profoundly identified with the Big Picture, so I see identity now very much like layers of an onion, or something like that. Of course, there's the personal, biographical ego-identity there, but one isn't exiled there. One's identity can expand as much as one wishes really. And so by sinking my roots deep into the utter mystery and miracle of life itself, that is able to use each of these events as a springboard to get more fantastic and diverse and miraculous life, then I find myself now able to get very philosophical about the whole thing. I, personally, feel that there is no particular reason why we should do ourselves in after a mere couple million years of human existence and given the choice I will vote against that, my life is a vote against that. The dinosaurs after all, had 40 times as long as that before their demise. But I do know that sooner or later we are going to become extinct, and it's just something we need to deal with like your own death.
I feel like I've pretty well dealt with it, plus I do at least 30 or 40 intense despair rituals every year through my work so I feel like I'm in pretty good shape. And then finally, I've realised that if one wants to be effective in this work then one of the prerequisites really is to figure out how to remain really very joyful and uplifted in spite of everything that one knows because otherwise people are going to run when they see you coming!
I: Absolutely, so how do you do that?
J: Well, I don't know. I just realise that that's what I have to do, and then it's done. There's no how about it. I do it by having steeped myself in Deep Ecology for 15 years, and having done a lot of Despairwork, and having done a lot of meditation, and so on, and so on, and just by realising that that's how it is. Everything dies. It's the human condition, and it's the species condition too, for the species to die. And its entirely appropriate for me to live ecstatically in the middle of all of that, because that is what life is like really. It is possible, in fact it's almost necessary to do that, otherwise I would hardly even call it living at all. That's what everything else does. You know, like a tree that's in the last year of its life, what does it do? Why, it sprouts ecstatic little buds in the spring, know what I mean? So there's a lot of real bullshit especially from the western tradition over the last few hundred years, from Descartes et al, and I guess I just spat it out on my LSD trip, I am not really sure. And so now, I feel very indigenous to Earth, very at home here.
I: So perhaps not how do you do it, but what do you do?
J: I understand. I don't know what to say. Not like some arrogant deep understanding, you know. I understand that I am related to all of this. I understand that I am going to die. I've steeped myself in Deep Time, I understand that I've been evolving here for 4000 million years, and that my DNA is probably 90% identical with an amoeba or bacteria, know what I mean? I just don't feel that attached to the whole human drama. I like it, and especially consciousness, you know, I love it and I feel that if I could vote for it, then I'd vote for more, rather than voting I've had enough, it must be the turn of the ants. Because when we kill ourselves off or get killed off by a meteor or climatic change, then its just going to mean a new epoch, Act 6, something else will come along and evolve into and flourish in exactly the conditions we leave behind.
And the interesting thing about it is that while the history of life is cyclic, at the same time there does seem to be a certain kind of progress where things are getting more - where each of these epochs which are always heralded by utter catastrophe to the epoch before - is in some way or other an advance on the previous epoch. And so why would I complain if the umpire's decision is that the humans have had their innings and that it's someone elses turn, well then I'll cheer. But I am not convinced that this IS the umpire's decision - or even that there is an umpire! And so meanwhile I'll vote for another few million years, thanks all the same, after all, I've only just figured out how to have fun!. But I am not all that caught up in the outcome. I'm just more excited in the day to day of it.
I: So at this point in time, what keeps you active?
J: Well for a start the utter lack of an alternative. I mean, what else is there? Its like frankly, once you've seen what I have seen, what else is there that you could possibly do? And the other thing is that - part of my process is that I surrender very deliberately. You know I'll just get into a certain space where maybe I'm a bit confused or I'm just in that space, and then I just go "ah, that's right, I'm just a cell in the body of the Earth, and that most human beings are kind of renegade cells. You know they are so busy about being deliberate about their lives and thinking that their lives are somehow their responsibility to plan and to map out and so on, that they don't remember that what we're supposed to be is integrated within a larger body, and the thing that satisfies us is - just like a liver is satisfied by doing livery things on behalf of the body as a whole, it's not being a liver for its own sake, its being a liver because its part of that.
So what is the role of the human being? What is my role in this larger picture? How would I know? So then I surrender to the Not Knowing. And I surrender and say Dear Earth, or Dear Mother, or whatever it pleases me. I am one poor sinner, and I haven't got a clue of what's going on, and I know that all I have to do is relax and breathe deeply and so on, and that you will direct me through my enthusiasms.
That once I have corrected for greed and desire for position and fame or whatever it is - once I 've seen through those baubles - then nothing remains except the fact that - when a fetus begins its development, how do those cells know that they are going to be the liver? How do they know to migrate to that position? And once they've migrated there, how do they know to send their ganglions or whatever it is into that direction there, and how does the brain forming the other way know that it is going to meet those threads from the liver directly, head-on, get it right every single time for 4000 million years? I don't know the answer to that, but all I know is that that's who I'm made of, that's who I am because there is nothing else.
But I can with full confidence say that if you practice surrendering to the Earth, the Earth will make use of you in mysterious ways, and will empower you, and will fill you with strange enthusiasms, which are very very difficult to explain to anyone else as to how or why or anything like that. But that's just how it is. You know, in the same way, how does the Monarch butterfly which travels up from Mexico to the United States, but it takes generations to do so, it breeds along the way. This particular individual butterfly has never made this journey before. How does it know? Its a good question. Not that there's an answer to it, but that's the kind of question - and then when you realise that whoever I am, I'm exactly like that butterfly and that tree ...
I: So what's occurring to me is that some people say "I've got a sense of mission" and you seem to be saying almost "I have a sense of 'being missioned'". Would that be accurate?
J: Well, yeah, I think so, but I would think that people who have a sense of mission, that's probably what they mean, but maybe they haven't got quite the philosophical ...or something - but yeah, that's right.
I had the experience recently for the first time of a geologically accurate grounding meditation. For years I have buried myself in leaves in the forest on a dry day, and I would sink my roots into the Earth from my tailbone and seek guidance and vision from my matrix. Now I try and get it very accurate, like I would like to know the science of what is actually under the ground ... it doesn't work for me to think I'm on a turtle's back. What works for me is the scientific story, and what's actually under the ground. I'm full of excitement about what's under the ground, so I find out what the soil is, and what's under the soil, and the bedrock, and the magma, and the heart of the Earth, and I sink my roots down into THAT and I say "thy will, not mine."
And so for a long time what I was getting was "yeah, well, go up and do this action and do this and do this. And I had tremendous energy and the power to inspire others and so on. And then about 5 years ago, I got "finish what you started, don't start anything new, await further instructions." And I got nothing else for 4 years. So I did. Not straight away. I struggled, I mean I had all this ego caught up in this. Well what was I going to do if I couldn't do this? So I learned how to watch television, I started reading, I started having conversations with people and I had this sabbatical up in Townsville. I cooked and cleaned the house. I cleaned the toilet for the first time in my life. And was ready to reverse my vasectomy and have a baby because I feared that after 4 years maybe this was like a permanent sentence, like a life sentence, a bit disappointed but I kind of got used to it.
Then Boom - out of the blue, last year in Chile, I was in this forest and the trees spoke to me again. The orders came through thick and fast, and I changed my mind about reversing the vasectomy, and away I went again. So it's just like - well, how can you explain that? Its not as if I HAD to stop doing my activism. But I had to choose between the activism which had filled the past 12 or 13 years, and the thing that had given rise to that activism calling on me to do something different without any explanation. And I've still not had an explanation for it. That's just how it was. Thus have I heard.
I: How do you experience the orders? How does that come through to you?
J: Well I just feel inspired. I just go ah, I think I'll get involved in this. I just get inspired and I feel enthusiastic.
I: But what happened to you in the forest in Chile?
J: Well all of a sudden after years of absence, I wanted once again to intercede on behalf of this forest, I wanted to speak for this forest, I wanted to save the forest. It was like "yeah, I want to save the Planet, yeah I want to save the Forest, yeah I want to save all the forests all the time" - but this is different, this is "I REALLY BADLY BADLY WANT to save this forest, in fact I've got to do something to save this forest. That kind of a thing. And it was like very familiar. I don't know where it went. Maybe some planetary thing happened. But anyway after an absence of 4 years, the first 3 of which by the way I spent continuing to do my activism but completing things that were midway, but not initiating any new projects ... it took 3 years to finish all the things that I was in the middle of when this strange bizarre instruction came through.
I: How did you experience that instruction?
J: Many different ways. For instance, I would do a breath session and I would get it in a breath session. Or I would lead a workshop, and in the final process in the workshop I would instruct people to write a letter which starts Dear xxx, This is your mother Gaia, and you then write uninhibitedly for the next 5 minutes. And so all of a sudden if I was writing uninhibitedly I would only be able to write for 15 seconds because there was nothing more for me than that. And I got it over and over again. It was the hardest thing. It was the hardest thing to follow.
But I did it alright.
I: Where I'd like to go is to my very unformed bit of thinking and this will help me to form my questions. Its this whole area of moral and ethical dilemmas that activists face, ranging from getting in planes which consume x amount of gas to ...etc.etc. Off the top of your head, where have been the moral and ethical dilemmas that you've faced in your life as an activist?
J: I don't think I 've had any severe moral or ethical dilemmas. I just find that I feel so empowered I suppose, so authorised to live my life, and feel so willing to follow whatever instructions I am given that if I am not instructed to live like an ascetic, I assume I don't really need to do that. If I am not instructed to do all my travelling by foot, I suppose it means that whatever environmental impact there is about my way of life is somehow justified by the outcome. Not that I think about it a great deal, but its just like.... In almost all of these things, the thoughts come later as a way of explaining, rather than being the reason why I behave a certain way. The behaviour comes first, and then the thoughts about it come later.
I: And the instruction precedes the behaviour?
J: Well, yes, I guess in the sense that ... the instruction is often really unconscious in the sense that I suppose the instruction to breathe precedes breathing, and we don't think a great deal about it. We don't really need to know too much about the fingernail growing instruction, know what I mean? Instruction makes it sound like the Old Man with the White Beard reaching out to Adam or something. I don't believe that. The instruction might just be a way of my old human language attempt to give shape to something and so on.
So in retrospect, I would say that if human beings are going to have any long term future on the Earth, more than a few more generations, then that's because a radical change of consciousness is taking place now, and is going to accelerate and within a generation or two a total transformation of human consciousness is going to take place so that we understand our role to be that we are here to celebrate this Earth rather than to transform it into stuff. I mean the Golden Calf that Moses was unable to destroy and Jesus was unable to destroy will meet its match. Either that's going to happen, or it doesn't really matter how much oil one uses because its all just going to get used up and whether it takes 3 generations or 4 is really neither here nor there.
So for me, all the activism and everything else can't be taken literally. Its all symbolic, and its a demonstration to oneself and to whoever one mingles with of a determination and commitment to pray fervently for that change in consciousness, or something like that.
So that when you go to Timbarra, or something like that, and you see people in the protest camp, I mean you can't save Timbarra, its ridiculous, I mean the whole Planet's going down the chute! You know it's like trying to save a deckchair on the Titanic, how can you do it? Its utterly ridiculous. But no more ridiculous than anything else you could be doing on the Titanic at the time, mind you. So everything is - that can be the only possible outcome that could lead to the survival of humanity and complex life on Earth. Which like I say doesn't really matter anyway, there's no need to survive. But I mean you know, so then if one's life can have some chance of being part of that movement that's going to lead to that change in consciousness, it doesn't really matter ..
I think its important if you find pleasure in comsumption, then the penny hasn't dropped. If however, you have to consume in order to follow your instructions to do what you have to do in order to make your contribution to that change, then it doesn't really matter.
Obviously I will struggle long and hard not have to make an extra trip to the East Coast and then back again to the West Coast if I can help it. I'll work for days wrestling with my schedule in order to save an unnecessary flight. However, I will also fly 100,000 miles in a year and not think twice about it, because I feel Iike I have an important contribution to make, and I'll use both sides of every bit of paper.
I: How do you see your particular contribution?
J: Like I say, its always in retrospect. I don't see what my contribution in the future is going to be, but extrapolating from the past, and my experience of my sabbatical is an indication that it's a dangerous thing to do because there are discrete breaks in the picture - its not like some gradual inexorable flow but extrapolating from the past, I feel like when I'm on the road doing workshops every weekend, giving lectures, talking, never staying anywhere more than a short amount of time, then I can say the same things over and over again without the people that I'm talking to getting sick of it "oh no, not that again" because I am always talking to a new group of people. Then that means that I don't have to talk about anything except this.
And then I start to build up a head of steam, and this was what was happening before my orders changed, you know I was building up this head of steam, and it was very powerful, and people were all saying "keep the change", people were saying "I don't need a receipt", I was inspiring incredible trust in the people I met, I was raising huge amounts of money for worthy projects, which I knew very well were of no use in themselves, but at the same time, if this change of consciousness takes place in the next few decades, then we will be very grateful for whatever genetic material remains, so it makes sense in that kind of a way. But without that change of consciousness, absolutely nothing has been achieved, you know there is no achievement.
But also nothing has been lost, so what I think I am moving towards - I think I am going to take off. You see, I've just spent 3 months on the road, and by the end of the 3 months, I had built up such a momentum that it was powerfully inspiring other people to change their lives. And so I think I am going to do 8 months. And the year after that, I'm feeling like maybe I'm not going to land again! I'm just going to take off and keep going and going to do one weekend after the other and see what happens.
But I just get the feeling that maybe there's some kind of quantum leap that's waiting to happen - I've no idea what it is and I don't even care really. I'm having such fun, that's how I can tell that I am on the path is that I am just enjoying myself thoroughly. I'm spending 80 or 90 hours a week sometimes on what other people would call "work", and for me its just as good as sex. I don't know what to say, its the greatest gift I could ever have prayed for if I even had the wit to imagine that it even existed. But it wasn't something that I threw out ahead of myself and achieved. It just came to me completely unrequested and unannounced, and its ... well, that's what happens when you cover yourself in leaves and say "Thy will, not mine."
I: That seems a pretty good place to finish......but ah, there was one more question I was going to ask you. Ram Dass would say that at one point in time he took a severe deviation off his path if you can do such a thing. Do you feel like through listening to whatever sources that at any point in time you have had a similar sort of experience?
J: No. Joanna Macy says the thing about this web is that you can't fall out of it. She said there's something utterly secure about our position if we only just knew it. If we only knew who we really were, we would feel so secure and so at home and so embraced and held by the world. And I kind of knew that before she said it, but it was really good to hear it. Nonetheless, I don't think there is anywhere to fall to really. Depending on your path, maybe there's a place to fall, but this path, I don't really think that there's a place to fall.
School of Psychology and Sociology
James Cook University
Townsville, Queensland 4810
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