From JOHN SEED:
A VOICE FROM THE WILDERNESS
by Samantha Trenoweth
Extracted with permission from "The Future of God"
(first published by Millennium, available in Australia through Harper Collins Religious)
You are walking through the forest a moment before sunrise one morning in summer. To the west, the sky is still indigo. A handful of dim stars dip towards the horizon. To the east, mountains and sky glow pink. Twigs crack underfoot. The earth feels cool. The first birds call across the great gash of a valley into which the path youre travelling winds. Otherwise, there is only silence. You reach the valley floor and, looking around, notice a rustling form emerge from a mound of leaves, just the way street people do from newspapers about this time every morning. It stands for a moment, facing west, losing itself in the infinity of blue. As it turns to the east, the sun crests the valley wall, flooding everything in watercolour light. The form begins its climb out of the valley, towards the sun. This is your first encounter with John Seed. Mine, however is less picturesque. Its about five on a fiercely hot afternoon. A man in the carport points his spanner up the stairs to a darkened room in which bodies are strewn on couches, on cushions, on the floor. One of these belongs to John. The others belong to his son, his sons friends, his friends sons. Theyve all been surfing since dawn. They collapsed about twelve. They stumble blearily to their feet before piling back out the door beachwards. Only John remains. Slowly, he rises to his feet, smooths the creases from a magenta sarong, ruffles his short cropped grey hair and offers tea. This is the first time he has spoken. His voice is soft, barely more audible than a whisper. He boils water and, while hes there, begins to make dinner for the boys.
Flitting from stove to fridge to chopping board, he chats animatedly about Ecuador, where the Rainforest Information Centre funds a project which has saved a quarter of a million of hectares of rainforest. John founded the centre in 79, shortly after his first involvement in a direct action. It was a demonstration to save a small patch of Australian coastal forest at Terrania Creek. The protests went on for months, stirring the environmental conscience of a nation and changing the lives of those involved - none more than Johns.
"I went in there thinking that I was going to save the forest," hes often said, "and walked out knowing that the forest had saved me." John Seed has been described by his peers as "one of the genuine heroes of the international environment movement" and "someone who has been personally responsible for saving more rainforest than anyone else we know." His Rainforest Roadshows (in which he travelled the globe, singing, speaking, showing slides and videos about the state of the environment) inspired the formation of the Rainforest Action Network, which organised the groundbreaking Burger King boycotts in the USA. Today, he lobbies governments and corporations around the world, implements sustainable forestry practices in Pacific island nations, raises funds to support campaigns from Siberia to Ecuador and is among the most influential and creative thinkers in the new environmental religious philosophy called Deep Ecology.
The term Deep Ecology was first used by Arnae Naess, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oslo University, to describe a cosmology which draws on influences as diverse as Eastern and indigenous religions, Spinoza, Thoreau, the Neo-Platonic mystics and recent developments in physics and the biological sciences. Deep Ecology sees the root of the current environmental crisis in the anthropocentricism of much Western philosophical and spiritual thought and sees the world, not as pyramid with humans teetering on top, but as a web of which homo sapiens is a single strand.
"It went I.B.M., L.S.D., meditation and community," John smiles, explaining the evolution of his own thought towards Deep Ecology. In the Sixties, he turned on, tuned in, dropped out, leaving a lucrative position as a systems engineer with the international computing giant to take drugs, explore Eastern mysticism and get back to nature on the Australian east coast.
"I grew vegetables for a few seasons - the experience of placing a seed in the ground and growing a tomato and taking a seed from the tomato and putting it in the ground and growing another tomato," he recalls. "Then, I helped to conceive a child and birthed that child with my partner. Finally, ecology swept me away. I had a very powerful spiritual experience of the environment through Terrania Creek, the Franklin River, the Daintree and all those direct actions.
"Each of those things gradually transformed my life, until I finally surrendered to the earth. Now, I find myself asking for guidance and direction and energy and wisdom from the earth, knowing that I am part of the earth, knowing that Im a cell in the body of the earth. I just go back to the forest, lie down on the forest floor, cover myself in leaves, imagine an umbilical chord going from my belly deep down into the earth and pray for nourishment, wisdom and guidance. There I find energy and an ability to act, to inspire other people, to think, write, dream, make films and do all of these things."
John compares the notion of a God with a human image to the once firm conviction that the earth was the centre of the universe and all else revolved around it. It comes, he says, from the same mindset but neither belief is logical nor particularly productive in the world in which we live today. We let go of the idea that we were the centre of the solar system and discovered a vastly more complex and interesting universe to explore. In much the same way, John postulates, we can discard this notion that we are the crown of creation (evidenced by a God who is much like us) and find ourselves part of an intricate web sustained by a force whose wealth, diversity and generosity are unlike anything we have imagined. "When I think of divinity, I think of four thousand million years of evolution," he says. "I think of the Milky Way. Virtually all the stars we see are the Milky Way. We can barely see anything else with the naked eye. What we call the Milky Way is just the centre of the Milky Way. Its all Milky Way. We are Milky Way and thats one of hundreds of billions of galaxies.
"So, when I think of sacredness, I think of the expanding universe and the propensity - you might even say desire - of that universe to articulate itself, to become more conscious, to become more complex." He speaks of this vast web as though it was alive and intelligent. Each of its threads is unique but none is indispensable. Humanity is magnificent but no more or less important than anything else. "Its so huge," he insists, "and the human circuitry is such a tiny fragment of it. Its like a hologram. One human being, in a sense, contains it all, though with less clarity. One human being is an attempt to articulate and to give expression to that force which you might call the universe or God or nature."
He can see no end to the web of creation but individual strands must come and go. He perceives no menace in the violence of nature and is comfortable with the notion that he, and all humanity, will one day return to the earth, leaving no trace but fertile soil. He claims hes not afraid of death.
"I dont see what difference it makes," he grins impishly, "whether all my constituent molecules go back into the great cycle, out of which they emerged, with or without some trace of my soul.
"I understand reincarnation, I understand genetics, I understand near death experiences. I know that people come back from them and people remember past lives in rebirthing or under drugs. Ive had intimations of this, that and the other myself but I dont understand what the fuss is about. Its all miraculous and I am miraculous but not-I is just as miraculous as I, so who cares?"
All this, John relates matter of factly, as he busies himself about the kitchen. By far the most important thing on his mind at the moment is that the vegetables begin steaming. Musing about cosmology is a pleasant distraction but a distraction nonetheless. It is only when he begins to speak about a particular campaign that his passion informs his every word. In the Solomon Islands and Papua Niugini, he has been instrumental in the introduction of a whole new approach to forestry. As multinational lumber companies swept in, striking deals with indigenous people to deforest their neighbourhoods, John Seed heard of a product called the Walkabout Sawmill. These tiny mills are just the right size for island villagers to operate their own sustainable forestry industries. In conjunction with ecological forest management, they can bring economic development to villages without destroying the integrity of the forest. Teaming up with a local non-government organisation, the Rainforest Information Centre convinced the Australian Government to fund the introduction of well-managed Walkabout Sawmills, protecting hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest which had been slated for industrial logging.
Even other activists are in awe of his boundless energy. He is, they say, possessed. The burnout rate amongst those who try to keep pace with him is enormous. Over twenty years, his passion for the environment has not abated. The reason, he says, is that he has never been fighting for anything but himself. As an activist, he says, he represents the earth. "This is difficult to discuss," he admits, "because, I represent the earth, can sound terribly arrogant. When I tell you I represent the earth, I mean that, when you dont represent your ego and when you dont represent Australia and when you dont represent Christianity and when you dont represent humanism and when you dont represent anything else, then thats automatically what you represent. I dont think of it as something Ive constructed so much as, when you pull all the other things away, thats whats left because thats whats always been underneath it all. "The sense of separation from nature, which everybody in this society suffers, is an illusion. Im not talking, here, about anything more mysterious than trying to hold your breath for three minutes. "The fact that we cant hold our breath for three minutes totally demonstrates our interconnectedness, our interdependence, the lack of an independent, isolated self. Thats our relationship with the air. Then theres the water and the soil and all the other earth cycles which move through us and which define us. The psyche grows out of this soil and out of this water and out of this air.
"Its not any big deal to represent those things because thats who we are.As soon a you know that, what else can you do? What else can you represent? Its not like, Im a very noble person because I represent the earth. No, Im totally self-centred and self-absorbed like everybody else. Its just that most people dont know what their selves actually consist of." Its a family thing. Recent cultural influences have led us to see ourselves as separate from and superior to the rest of nature. Common sense and even elementary high-school science, however, tell a different story. We all started out as stardust. Every single thing around us is a relative. "Weve been evolving here on earth for thousands of millions of years," John explains. "Ive been evolving here for thousands of millions of years. Every cell in my body has been evolving here for thousands of millions of years. To represent the thrust of that today seems to be my task. In order to do that, I need to be able to recognise the conditioning that makes me identify with something smaller than that, whether its a country or a religion or an ideology or my ego. Rather than representing those tiny things, I aim to represent the big picture, in the same way that every ant and every mosquito and every little microbe does. Theres nothing particularly grandiose about it. Its just that humans, it seems to me, are the only ones who have some choice in the matter. We can choose not to represent that life force.
"Ever since we grew this big bulge above our nose and developed self-reflective thought, its been possible for us to see ourselves as separate from the rest of it. Along with that possibility, comes the freedom to represent anything we can imagine. So people imagine that they are fundamentalist Christians or Fascists or Socialists or Buddhists and they live certain kinds of lives. Humans are very fragmented. Millions of different human cultures have developed.
"Indigenous cultures, through regular rituals which lie at the very root of their social organisation, are able to maintain a spiritual connection with the matrix out of which humanity and everything else has evolved. However, modern human beings, having dispensed with all that in their arrogance, no longer have any way in which to articulate and experience the connections between themselves and the rest of the earth or between themselves and their evolutionary journey. Our evolutionary journey becomes like a story in a book or one branch of science rather than being the root of our existence.
"I remember, there was this thing when I was at university. It was a black box with a switch on it . You turned the switch and there was a creaking of gears, a door opened, a hand came out and it switched itself off. Today, were in a position to represent that. We can switch ourselves off if we want to."
By now, steam is rising from a bevy of pots in the kitchen and John is sitting on the couch, cradling his tea. He seems envious of ants and microbes, envious of the ease with which they play their integral roles in the scheme of things. Surely, I suggest, there must be some reason for the evolutionary path weve trodden. There must be some advantage to this perilous facility for choice.
"The place weve come to has certain characteristics," he says, then pauses. "Which of those are advantageous, I guess, depends on your point of view. I see some advantage to the experience of love, to the experience of spiritual upliftment and consciousness. Our human circuitry is capable of experiencing and expressing certain states which, as far as I can tell, are unique. To me, they have value but so do the characteristics of decomposing bacteria.
"A species is defined by the fact that it has certain characteristics which other species dont. I would expect that every species, if it were capable of reflecting on such things, would find its own characteristics particularly delightful. So, as a human being, I cant help but feel that the highest qualities of my species are particularly marvellous but, objectively, the qualities of decomposing bacteria must be more marvellous because, without them, organic life would cease.
"Its easy to see the beauty of the earth going on without any mind capable of reflecting on it. Without the decomposing bacteria, however, you can forget it, its just a lump of rock."
The disadvantages of this condition weve evolved to are, for John, far simpler to identify.
"The disadvantages are our anthropocentricism and our arrogance in thinking that we are the measure of all being and that we alone were created in the image of God. I like James Lovelocks way of putting it. He says its as if the brain thought it was the most important organ in the body and started mining the liver. Its not to say that the brain isnt as miraculous as the liver or anything else. Its just that its part of a body and it has no existence outside that body. To start mining the liver doesnt show what a powerful brain it is, it shows what a stupid brain it is. "Its like a tree with a billion leaves and one leaf thinks that the sole purpose of the tree is to be a place for that one leaf to grow. Its ugly and embarrassing and the consequence, if this attitude is lived out with our current technology, is that we start to destroy the tree on which were growing. We believe in our own independence, even when ecology clearly shows us our extraordinary interdependence. We behave as though we could profit by chopping down this tree, even though were actually a leaf on one of its branches."
"Is it stretching it too far," I ask, "to say that, for you, the whole tree is made in the image of God?"
"The whole tree is God," he insists. "I have no experience or evidence or reason to postulate God is outside it. Thats just unnecessarily cumbersome. The tree is God-like, in the sense that its mysterious and powerful and creative and fertile. Im in awe of the numinous possibilities of the universe. It stretches out to infinity in all directions. I cant sense any limit to it. Thats the web."
I never cease to be struck by the power nature holds over the psyche. A very urban, very cerebral child, it was not until my early twenties that I first stepped into a forest and felt it was alive.
It was not until I met John Seed that I realised most of my epiphanies have hit while Ive walked along beaches. John has spent more time than most of us in nature. His office, his church, his family is the forest. Yet it still fills him with wonder. Have people always been awe struck by nature or is it because weve distanced ourselves from it that were so often overwhelmed in its presence?
"I think," John suggests, "that our ability to experience may have evolved. Im not sure how much other life forms can experience. It seems to me that it might be a human phenomenon which has developed as our leisure and our time to philosophise and think and experience things has increased. "Then again, perhaps trees are in a constant state of awe. How would one know? That sense that everything is singing Gods praises all the time and that weve just forgotten, grown too busy to remember. "Modern humans have an incredible distrust of feeling. Theres this idea that all our intelligence is in our thinking and that this is betrayed by feelings, that we need to be objective about things and not get emotional. Were unconscious of the fact that we survived for thousands of millions of years before thinking came along, which must have taken extraordinary intelligence. I came from my mothers womb and she came from her mothers womb and it goes back through womb after womb until wombs were invented. Before that, reptilian eggs and before that, spores. At every step of the way, each ancestor of mine and yours had to somehow survive long enough to reproduce before being consumed. At every step along the way, millions died without being able to do that. How many eggs does a fish have? Well, we had a zillion fish ancestors, one after the other, and every one of those had millions of eggs, of which two or three survived. At each generation, our ancestor was one of those. Theres incredible intelligence in that, yet it had no thinking associated with it at all. It was feeling, intuition, instinct."
John has co-authored a book on Deep Ecology called Thinking Like A Mountain and that is, to some degree, his aim.
"Has intuition been totally replaced by our linear thinking," he asks, "or is it possible for us to surrender to it once again? I believe we can. In order to do that, we have to see through humanism and the idea that human beings are more special than anything else. We must drop that and recognise the tiny part we play and deliberately surrender the idea that were so smart and we know whats going on. Then we can start to hear the music that everything else is dancing to and that offers the possibility of living harmoniously with it all.
"At the moment, we cant smell anything except our own stench. We cant hear anything except our own thoughts and our own voices. Weve forgotten that anything else speaks. The world is reduced to human beings and resources. Its a horrible idea but, when we let go of that, we can once again harmonise with the incredible choir of the myriad beings of nature and that is what has the longevity, that is the thing that potentially lives forever. By cleaving to that, weve thrown heads every single toss of the coin, every generation, for four thousand million years. We havent thrown tails once. We think we can replicate that exquisite intelligence with our thinking but theres no evidence of it. Can we create a system where the very thing that the leaves exhale is what we inhale and make that an enduring system? Can we create the tide?
"Weve evolved in the middle of this exquisitely complex, beautiful thing and, if we destroy it, I have no confidence whatsoever that we can replace it with machines. So, I think, the first step is to experience the awe and also to experience the embarrassment at having been so childishly arrogant."
Which is not to say we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Interestingly, for someone who communes with his God by burying himself in leaves, John is not an extremist. Asked once by the American psychologist and mystic, Ram Dass, to justify his travel by jet, John told a story which illuminates his stance on compromise.
"The only thing that helps me in this," he began, "is a metaphor from an archetypal cowboy movie that I saw in my childhood. All the cowboys are asleep and the fires gone out and the clouds come over. Then theres a bolt of lightning and all the cattle start stampeding towards the cliff. The cowboys jump on their horses and they dont ride in the opposite direction, they ride straight towards the cliff, and they ride even faster than the cattle. Now, their aim is not to go over the cliff but they realise that its only by keeping pace with the whole thing that theyre going to be in a position to lean on that herd and turn them around before they reach the edge. So I use a computer and I know the chips were cleaned using CFCs. Im prepared to get my hands dirty with sawmills and aeroplanes and anything at all but Im also prepared to let go of them."
Likewise, John will cheerfully use linear thinking to serve his ends. Indeed, he believes it has a role to play in serving all our ends. "The role of our intelligence," he says, "is that - at incredible cost to the species weve killed and things weve dismembered and destroyed and the landscape thats been trashed - weve built up a certain set of skills and attributes and knowledge about ourselves. With that, I hope, we can now construct a place for ourselves on the earth that will allow the earth to continue.
"I think rational, linear thought is a good servant. If its accompanied by good will, if its accompanied by love and a concern for the big picture, then its incredibly clever. Im full of admiration for it and I believe its even clever enough to dig us out of this hole into which weve dug ourselves.
"I believe that we either already have the technology or have proved our ability to create the technology to enable us to live extraordinarily well within the limits of the biological systems in which we find ourselves. "The trouble is that, by seeing only our own cleverness, weve tricked ourselves. We cant succeed while we refuse to see the intelligence and generosity of nature. I used to break my teeth on those hard roots and then I delved into the nature of things and found a way to turn them into the fat, soft orange carrots that I now eat.
"I can either see that as a sign of how clever I am or I can see how incredibly generous nature is. Whatever question we put to her, this mother, this thing that nourished us through all the ages, shell say yes to it. We want to dig up a bit of dirt and turn it into a wire to carry our messages all the way around the world. She says yes. Theres this incredible generosity, this incredible intelligence. Our intelligence is the tiniest fragment of all of that. All we need is the humility and the willingness to cooperate with it.
"I believe that our arrogance is actually a reaction. Deep down, we feel miserable and useless and we have no self-esteem whatsoever. So we react to that by crowing, Im so fantastic, Im so great, without really believing it. We need to let go of that, to experience the pain of being very little and ignorant.
"Really, we dont know anything. If I cut my skin, it heals by itself. It has nothing to do with me. Were helpless. It supports us, it keeps us alive and has always done so. When we see how miraculous that is, then we know that theres no way out of it, were part of that. We evolved here. The composition of our blood is akin to the composition of sea water 400 million years ago, when our ancestors crawled from the ocean. All the evidence suggests that we evolved here.
"Therefore, if that is miraculous and awe inspiring and beautiful and intelligent, then so are we. Once thats understood, there emerges the possibility of conscious cooperation between the tiny fragment and the whole. Then we can hear the music of the earth and can find a way to bring our own human sound into harmony with it again."
When next I see John Seed it is on the eighth storey of an apartment block in central Sydney. Outside the window, the harbour is a highway for ferries, submarines, pleasure craft, containers of goods from around the world.
The foreshores are packed, shoulder to shoulder, with highrise structures like this one. Asphalt butts up against the water. Witnessing John Seed in my apartment makes me suddenly aware that I am one hundred feet above the ground. If Im ever likely to be susceptible to vertigo, it will be today. His precious earth is barely visible. John looks like an elf whos been plucked from the forest and abandoned in the C.B.D. He arrives mid-morning, leaving me ample time to scan the headlines, read of tragedy in Bosnia and Rwanda and a bomb in an Israeli embassy. So we begin by discussing humanity.
"When you see a school of fish or a flock of birds moving as one," he explains, "theyre not all thinking about what theyre going to do. They just do what they feel like and, in doing that, theyre harmonious with their fellows. Theres a feeling Ive had from the environment movement - and I think its true for almost everything - that, when numbers of human beings align themselves with one spiritual direction or one philosophy, a certain harmony is possible between them.
"However, that harmonious group then becomes disharmonious with another group that has aligned itself with something different. Then you get the Christians fighting the Muslims and you get the Christian Catholics fighting the Christian Protestants and you find one kind of Catholic fighting another kind of Catholic and the whole world is in flames. "Theres only one thing that human beings could identify with that would really unite everybody and that is that we are Earthlings. All of us are standing with our feet on the earth. We all have a navel and two nipples in common, not just with other humans, but with all other placental mammals as well. We have our toenails. If they became the badges of what we believed in, we wouldnt have to work so hard to build community. Then, if we had community and love, we wouldnt need all these objects, these displacement phenomena.
"We feel theres something missing and we feel this horrible, anxious hole inside ourselves and society teaches us that you deal with that by filling it full of stuff. We dig up the earth to make microwave ovens and electric tooth brushes that we sacrifice to this bottomless pit inside us but, no matter how much we throw in there, we are still empty and incomplete. If we could be natural - in the sense of natural relationships, natural food, natural sex, natural everything - that would be totally satisfying and enduring. That would have a future."
"The craving only disappears," he continues, "when we find that place of humility, that place of love for the earth, that place where I am the earth. Then we know that whatever beauty we can see out there has to be in us because, if it wasnt, we couldnt see it. I cant get out of the fact that Im part of all this and, if its magnificent, so am I. The earth is alive and generous and wants to nourish us and thats why were alive, because shes nourished us all the way along, without a moments pause. We only have to stop breathing for three minutes and were dead."
"I dont even have to remember to breathe. I can breathe when Im asleep. So shes pushing that air in, shes breathing me all the time and Im too arrogant to notice it. All I can think of is, Arent I fantastic."
This morning, as I look out the window and realise that the earth is still alive under the weight of this city, John strikes me, not as a prophet of doom, but as an emissary from some Tolkien Ent with a message of hope. The fact that we come from generations and generations of successful adaptors speaks to me of a resilience in our species and a resilience in the planet. "Exactly," John concurs cheerfully. "Ive steeped myself in the prophecies of doom from the scientists - the number of species becoming extinct every day, whats happening to the atmosphere, the intractability of nuclear waste. Ive soaked up all this stuff. On the one hand, I realise, there is no way that the environment movement is going to get us out of that. If all of the efforts of all the well meaning people were multiplied a thousandfold, it wouldnt get us out of that. Its so huge and the momentum is so fast. On the other hand, my ancestors survived ice ages, my ancestors learned how to walk the land after being fish, my ancestors went from being inorganic to being organic.
"When you identify with all that, theres this fantastic pedigree, this unbroken record of survival and success and it becomes difficult to completely lose hope, even in the face of what seems like a hopeless situation. Weve demonstrated our ability to face the odd crisis in the last four hundred million years and the fact that were here talking about it is, to me, irrefutable proof of that. So, I think there must be a resilience there - in humanity and certainly in the biosphere."
The difference, however, between myself and this elf in my lounge room is that, while Im cheering for humanity, hes cheering for the biosphere and if that must survive at the expense of his species, so be it.
"When the early plants in the water began producing oxygen and gradually pushed methane out of the atmosphere, 90 percent of all species died," he relates dispassionately. "Our ancestors didnt die. Its another example of how incredibly clever weve been. At the same time, 90 percent of everything died and that was fine. It might have seemed a tragedy if youd been up close to it but, looking back now, everything went on fine. So, I could let go of humanity and even complex life on earth without feeling it was an utter tragedy. I could let go of organic life too because all those molecules and atoms existed before there was any life on earth. It was just hot gas once but it had the propensity - and we must say the desire - to evolve. Theres nothing we can do thats going to touch that. Thats who we are."
"Were the whole thing. Were the clouds of hydrogen gas, were the big bang, were all of that. It has recently articulated itself into this form and I like this soft stuff. I like flesh, I like organic life, I like humans, I like consciousness, I like love. I like all those things so, if I get to vote on it, I will vote for it to keep evolving on from here but I dont know whether I get to vote on it or not. If I do, Ill vote for this because I like it but not because of some terrible abyss that will be left if it all disappears.
"Nothing goes on forever, except possibly the matrix out of which things are born and die. So, I dont feel particularly hopeful but I certainly dont feel desperate. I just feel that, any time someone gives me a chance to choose between vibrant life and microwave ovens, Ill vote for life."
It is the night before demonstrators will confront loggers in a pristine patch of forest in south-eastern Australia. Just outside the township of Eden, they have pitched tents and gathered in a field under a starry sky. They have come together, in preparation for the mornings demonstration, to honour the earth and reaffirm their connection to nature in a ritual known as the Council Of All Beings.
John developed the Council Of All Beings, with anti-nuclear campaigner Joanna Macy, as an experiential extension of Deep Ecology which, up until then, had been an exciting but nonetheless mostly cerebral affair. Through guided visualisation, movement, drama and dance, they aimed to create a very personal sense of connection with all of nature.
"I had been steeped in the philosophy of Deep Ecology," John recalls, "but I felt that it wasnt enough just to think these things. I felt that, unless we could move from having ecological ideas to having an ecological identity, it wouldnt change our behaviour. So, through meeting Joanna Macy, doing one of her Despair and Empowerment workshops, combin ing some of those philosophies and techniques with Deep Ecology, came the Council of All Beings. Its a series of processes that dispel the illusion of separation between human beings and nature. Its ritual and ritual touches us at a deeper place than our intellect. We resonate with it."
"The Council Of All Beings is a spontaneous expression of something that is very deeply human," John explains. "I havent been able to find any indigenous culture that doesnt, at its very core, have a Council Of All Beings or some such ritual. These have been practiced since time immemorial and are held to be what defines and creates the society. That suggests that the propensity to lose the connection must go very deep, that its not a modern phenomenon. Otherwise, why would people whose lives are embedded in nature need to remind themselves, through these rituals, that human beings arent fundamentally different from anything else? Why would we need to put on the mask of bear and wolf and speak for bear and wolf if there wasnt some doubt, some danger there?
"For a long while, I thought of the Council Of All Beings as a therapy. Arnae Naess spoke about the need to move from ecological ideas to ecological self to ecological identity. To accomplish this, he suggested the creation of community therapies. To begin with, I thought, Hey, thats the Council Of All Beings. Its performed in community. Its a therapy that moves us from this skin encapsulated ego to an expansive, ecological self.
"Then, I visited a Hopi village, which was the longest continuously inhabited village in the Western Hemisphere. They had their masks and drumming. It was much more splendid but theyd been doing the Council Of All Beings for thousands of years, and still their therapy wasnt complete. Thats when I decided that the Council Of All Beings isnt a therapy. A therapy is like, Im sick now but Im going to be well and the therapys just a temporary thing. Ritual, on the other hand, is something that we need to keep reaffirming and renurturing every season, every moon, every generation, all the time. Its like eating food. You dont say, Well, now Ive eaten, I never need to eat again.
"The Council Of All Beings is a modern interpretation of this ancient phenomenon. It comes very naturally to people because its archetypal, its universal and its only quite recently that weve forgotten it." Scores of facilitators on three continents now offer these workshops and many more take place spontaneously, like the one at Eden, in times of celebration or confrontation. Like everything Johns involved with, Councils Of All Beings are fundamentally democratic. He refuses all credit for their inception and is happy to take a back seat if he happens to be around as one unfolds.
"Anyone can perform Councils Of All Beings," he says. "No qualifications or particular training are required. Its a really useful adjunct to direct action. It grounds direct action. If I know for sure, because Ive just had that experience, that Im speaking for the trees and that Im speaking for all the animals and so on, then theres a different quality to my voice. I can stand up to the police. I can stand up to the Prime Minister. My constituency is vaster and more powerful than anything they can throw at me. It changes the confidence with which I present myself. If I just think, Ive got my opinion - Im an environmentalist - and youve got your opinion - youre a developer, then its my opinion against yours and theres no real power there. If, however, I know Im speaking for the earth, thats a very strong place to be coming from."
Deep Ecology is a philosophy, an ideology, a gateway to the transpersonal and an impetus to action. There is, however, some dispute amongst its adherents about whether Deep Ecology is a religion. "It depends who you ask," John laughs mischievously, "but youre asking me, so, sure. I would say that those people who dont experience Deep Ecology as a religion havent experienced the best of it."
For John, Deep Ecology is not so much a way of thinking about the world as a way of being in the world. He might be sitting in my lounge room, sorting through my discs to find his favourite one by Leonard Cohen, or chained to a bulldozer on a muddy logging track a days drive from anywhere. He might be walking defiantly into a boardroom at Mitsubishi or catching a wave off the point at Byron Bay. In every instance, he is a Deep Ecologist. Every cell of his being grew up from stardust. Every moment of the day, he aims to act and think and feel from a core thats conscious of that. "Im talking about living it," he smiles, "and Im also talking about being awe struck. You dont have to do a hell of a lot of reading or take too many drugs to know that there are heights of ecstasy of which human beings are capable that hardly anyone these days can experience through their political life or their work or their sexuality or anything. "Some people think this is the experience of Jesus and other people think that the Buddha showed us the way to enlightenment but I think that these things come from the earth, just the same way that Jesus and the Buddha did. If Jesus and his followers and the Buddha and the Sufis have been capable of this extraordinary, elevated, high, high experience, thats because one of the qualities of the earth is the ability to create that. "If theres any reason whatsoever why Id be sorry to see human beings go, its because I think that experience has more value than anything else I know. Thats the religion of Deep Ecology. Deep Ecology says that experience comes from the earth. The earth offers many gifts, like food and water and air. One of the ones I like the best is enlightenment."
Back to John Seed index
Last Updated: December 26, 2001