It’s All about We
Responsibility: A Bridge across the Arc of Time
Changing the Dream of the Modern World
’Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.’
Augustin Tentets, a young Achuar warrior, stood before us in his full traditional dress: a bright red, yellow and black toucan feather head-dress and a cloth sarong. He held his spear as he spoke. The Achuar are an undefeated people who have made the choice to end the fighting between themselves in order to turn their collective strength towards protecting the Amazon rainforest in which they live from a common enemy — what they call the dream of the modern world.
Augustin told us that his great-grandparents had seen this time coming and that despite the strong forces stacked against it, the forest would stand. It would stand because of the alliances they and their neighbours would make with people like us from the outside world. He held his spear upright as he told us about the Eagle—Condor prophecy that says humanity will evolve by bringing together the knowledge and understanding of all cultures and learning to work together. He looked right at us then and told us that every one of his people — men, women and children — would go to the grave to protect their home. He showed us his warrior ’s heart, the strength of a person who will do whatever they need to do to protect life. No one doubted that he was speaking the truth.
Afterwards, Jorge, an Achuar elder in a wheelchair, rolled himself forward. He spoke in a much softer voice about why the oil had to stay in the ground for the health of the forest, its people and all peoples. He told us that his great-grandchildren would continue to live healthy lives on their ancestral lands because of our alliance. By welcoming us as guests and recognizing us as people with something to offer, he and his people reminded us that we were one family, sharing one biosphere and one destiny.
The shaman’s knowledge is direct. It’s not written in a holy book, it’s written in nature. Nature tells shamans about the crisis we are facing. Nature tells everyone. But too many of us aren’t yet listening. The Shaman in you is listening. They aren’t caught in the storm of distraction that has descended on the modern mind. They know we’re all one family living on one Earth under one sky. And what we do to one another and to our environment, we do to ourselves.
The facts of our current crisis are increasingly hard to bear. As I’m writing today, the rainforest in Brazil is burning. A part of me wants to conjure up that binary beast of blame and counter-blame and point my finger at President Bolsonaro. But he and the many others like him are just manifestations of the story we’ve been telling for a long time: the story that the Earth is just a resource for us to use as we please. And whilst it’s important to stand up for what we believe in, simply standing on our soapboxes and making others the bad guys is no more than the same old road to a war in which we all lose.
Faced with the constant and overwhelming stream of bad news about what we’ve done, what we’re doing and where this is all likely to end up if we don’t change fast, it’s not surprising that so many of us feel overwhelmed and hopeless. I hear many people asking, ’What difference will recycling make when the ice caps are melting?’
It’s true that we’ve brought irreparable harm to the land, to the many species that are becoming extinct every day and to one another. But we’ve also created an extraordinary imperative to change: our very survival. And from a shamanic perspective, we know everything is connected and everything matters. We’re not powerless. If we choose to live according to what’s true for us, we’ll be more effective and feel more fulfilled. If we stay connected to the power of nature, we’ll be so much more resilient. And when we’re more resilient, we’ll be more creative and more connected to the love for life that is beneath despair.
So, if your heart is still beating, don’t give up. Instead, I urge you to become one of the millions of people from all walks of life who are waking up to the urgency of this task. Waking up means embracing the reality of our situation and finding out who we actually are and what is ours to do. And there is nothing more fulfilling in this world than working every day to create something of beauty that dignifies our humanity and that we can pass on to future generations. You can invite your Inner Shaman to help you and become part of the solution. You can ask them to show you how to dream a dream that inspires you, and live in a way that is guided by that vision.
The alternative is more of the same. When we lose hope, our will and strength slip away. And when we lose our will, our unexpressed fury becomes hate and blame and our unexpressed grief solidifies into depression. We enter survival mode, our Hungry Ghosts take over and we do what we can to block the pain. Those Hungry Ghosts are rooted in our collective choice to numb our pain rather than face it and heal. It’s a bizarre paradox that these days we’re much more likely to die of overeating than of starvation. Addictions and distractions come in every shape and size, and they’re all on sale. If we buy now, we can have two for the price of one and they’ll both be here in the morning. But before we know it, we’ll be locked into the vicious circle that keeps us heading at full speed towards any number of catastrophic visions of the future.
No! The Shaman in me will not accept that. I know and feel both the magnificent beauty and the heart-aching pain of the world. I hear the roars of the jaguars and see the silent tears of the burning trees. The Shaman will never turn away. They can’t. They are compelled to stand up and dance so they can find the courage to be alongside their family. Dancing with the pain of the world is no bad thing. It doesn’t lead to depression, but reminds us how much we love. If a dear friend were dying, would you turn away or do your best to bring as much beauty and love to them while they were still alive?
Love — not the kind that smothers suffering with sickly sweetness, but the real thing, perfume, petals and thorns — is the greatest motivational force in this universe. So, when feelings of despair enter my heart, I drum to settle my mind until it clears. I drum to feel the rhythm of life inside me until my body is awake and moving as it was designed to do. I dance to hear what my heart knows. I dance to feel the power of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind moving through me, restoring me to myself. I dance and I let the fury open me until the Waters of my heart can move again and I can grieve for what we have done to one another and to our beautiful planet. It is grief that opens the door to the vast storehouse of love that the Inner Shaman has for this life.
And so I dance through the heartache to reach beyond myself. I dance through whatever my heart feels. I acknowledge it, feel it and let it go. And I keep moving until I’ve let go of everything. And as I do so, I expand and I am touched by the force that this whole universe exploded out of nearly 14 billion years ago. I feel the presence of what I experience as the shining black light of peace of my Creator flooding through me and I am back in the Great Mystery. This is my oasis and here I am renewed again. I remember that the intelligence that is life evolving through everything goes far beyond what we have even begun to understand. And I find the strength to return.
As I do so, I know who I am and I know what matters to me. I know that if I spend too much time worrying about the outcome, I’ll just sit down and give up. The future is always unknown. I have to accept that. What I keep coming back to is the urgency I feel to play my part in doing what indigenous peoples the world over are telling us we need to do: change the dream of the modern world. The clearly defined intention of that dream is individual identity and personal happiness. We are told we can consume our way to happiness and so we try to. But our consumer culture is really a futile attempt at self-medication and it doesn’t work. It destroys the dignity of the soul and it’s destroying the Earth too. What we really need is to heal the trauma that is driving us. And we need a new dream, a vision that recognizes that we belong to this world rather than it belonging to us.
When I first went to the Amazon, I remember clearly how worried and upset I was about the state of our planet. In ceremony, I asked the spirits of the forest to help me and show me how to make the best contribution to changing and improving the world. I was given a vision of two magnificent horses racing neck and neck towards a finishing line that was always moving further and further away. One was called Destruction and the other Creation. They were playing their roles to perfection. At times, it looked like a fight between two forces; at other times, I saw how the interplay between them created the high drama of evolution, the blend of agony and ecstasy that is life on Earth. I saw an adolescent species with an adolescent rationale. I saw extraordinary greed and extraordinary kindness. I saw our freedom to choose and the connection between our choices and the outcome we are living. And I saw us hungering for a new dream but so often feeding ancient Hungry Ghosts instead.
What I was shown put the Fire of hope and the passion to act in me. I had a vision of the beginning of time. I was shown how everything came out of nothing. I was shown the evolution of the universe and how it experiences itself through me, through you and through everything. I was shown the massive force of the Earth and of nature and its extraordinary ability to adapt. And I was told in no uncertain terms that though my worries about the health of the planet were well-founded, I should be much more immediately concerned about the health and wellbeing of my own species. And of course, I was told to begin with myself.
The Inner Shaman knows that our actions today will have a strong effect on what happens tomorrow. We are a truly remarkable species, capable of extraordinary achievements on every level. But the collective story that we are separate from one another and from nature is what is driving us now. We need to tell a new story based on the old shamanic knowledge that we are nature and the modern scientific understanding that everything is interconnected.
In 2015, the United Nations created the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It’s based on the five ’P’s: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. I’ve included a shortened version of it here because it’s such an inspiring, mature and global vision for our collective future:
We are determined to end poverty and hunger, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, so that it can support the needs of present and future generations.
We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence.
We are determined to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity.
…If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.
Wow! That this document exists is remarkable in itself. Whether we can implement the Agenda is down to the millions of micro-choices that each and every one of us makes every day.
Reading the United Nations Agenda has showed me that the imagination is there. And just like every impossible dream that ever was, we have to see beyond what may be possible. That is the joy of living life to the full, guided by a strong vision that makes absolute sense to us, regardless of the outcome.
Having said that, it’s time to put the Inner Shaman back to work to help you to craft your own personal vision for the future. Bearing in mind that a good vision is always a masterpiece in progress, let’s go for a shining diamond of a vision. Diamonds are created under enormous pressure and we have no shortage of that. I’m going to invite you to pray for a vision that has the ability to make you smile when you wake up in the morning, a vision that gives context to your choices, brings you medicine and resilience and supports you in facing the challenges we all face as part of the community of life on Earth. And I’m going to invite you to do that with as much joy, creativity and fulfilment as possible.
Anyone who has been successful at manifesting a dream will tell you that a good vision for the future is an excellent instruction manual for the present. If we know what we’re trying to create, we can take small steps (with the occasional quantum leap) in the direction of that dream every day. E.F. Schumacher ’s ’Think globally, act locally’ comes to mind.
A good vision comes from the deepest place of connection we can find between ourselves, our guiding spirits and the Great Mystery. It embraces the best possible outcome for ourselves, our relationships, our local community and the wider community of life. It includes our ancestors and is particularly aware of our responsibility to our descendants. Finally, the Inner Shaman can help you to discover a vision for life that is grounded in the power of love.
It’s time now to ask your Inner Shaman to create a ritual space in which you can learn more about the art of both holding a vision for the future and, by connecting the macro vision to the micro details, in small everyday ways, live it now.
Though the airwaves are full of apocalyptic visions of the future and you may have many fears, I’m going to invite you to see beyond them and step into a future in which the United Nations Agenda has been successful and the world is telling a new story rooted in sustainability, justice and fulfilment for all.
PRACTICE: IT’S ALL ABOUT WE — CREATING THE FUTURE NOW
Part of this ritual (from * to *) has been inspired by the wonderful work of Joanna Macy, an extraordinary environmental activist and Buddhist scholar.
You’ll need one hour for this ritual.
Set up your space quietly, focusing on praying for a vision. If you have the chance to do this ritual outside in nature, that would be excellent. If not, bring something from nature into your workspace to represent the wider community of life. Dedicating your work by saying ’For all my relations’ is particularly significant in a ritual like this, in which you are seeking a vision that will help you to act on behalf of the wider community of life in these crucial times.
· Put on music or work with a rattle or a drum if you have one. Start by Awakening the Dancer and becoming present in body, heart and mind. Move, drum, sing and use any of the previous practices. Be sure to include the Tree of Life and connect to the roots and the trunk so that your imagination can fly with your feet firmly on the ground. Connect to your Inner Shaman and invite all that supports and guides you into the space. Take the time to acknowledge the four directions, the elements and all your allies.
· Make sure your body is warm and your joints are mobile.
· Let’s start with where you are in terms of the challenges we face as a species. How do they affect you? What are you already contributing to your community, either locally or further afield? Take time to acknowledge your condition in both movement and words and celebrate how you are already part of the solution through your being and through what you are already doing. Work with Earth to become as grounded and as present as you can.
· Good. Now work with Fire and express what’s in your heart in terms of your relationship to the wider web of life. Thank the Fire inside you and the light of the sun and ask the Fire to illuminate and help you express all that you feel about what’s going on. Don’t censor yourself. If you feel afraid, angry or just plain numbed out, invite the Inner Shaman to work with the dancer in you to find the shape and expression of what you feel. Don’t hurry. Don’t force it. Just give your beautiful animal heart the space to show you what it feels and how it moves.
· Now thank the Waters of life, inside and out, and ask them to help you release whatever you are carrying. Imagine a strong and healthy river running through you, washing your bones, your muscles, your blood and emptying your mind of all worries and doubts. Fall off the edge of yourself like a waterfall into a deep pool. Shake yourself free from distractions, become as fluid and as fresh as the Waters of life and then imagine yourself as an empty chalice, a hollow bone, ready to be filled to the brim with fresh vision.
· Well done. Now give thanks to the Wind and ask the Air to lift your mind into the sky. Take a little ride on the back of a beautiful broad-winged eagle. The view is spectacular. Fly with the eagle up into the empty blue sky and the shimmering light of the Upper World. Soar. Breathe in the Wind. Let it rush through you. Imagine it is clearing the fog of your daily affairs from around your body and blowing cool Air through the chambers of your heart, leaving the clear scent of freshness in its wake. Draw in that scent. Imagine the Wind’s cooling spirit clearing your eyes, your throat, your head and your thoughts. Breathe deeply. Then let everything become still.
· Imagine that your Inner Shaman is looking out from this clear space through the eyes of your heart. You are high enough now to see our blue-green planet on the outer edge of a galaxy in an unimaginably vast universe. Miracle or mystery, it’s awesome. Imagine you can embrace the whole Earth from up here and let the Inner Shaman show you the tapestry of life on the planet. Look down on your own life and your relationship to the wider web of life. What do you see? Take some time to gaze down on it all, while you keep breathing and moving.
· (*) Once you feel ready, you’re going to move forward in time, year by year, then decade by decade, until you find yourself looking down on life on Earth 100 years from now. Be brave. Don’t let anything distract you. Just keep your body moving to the rhythm. The rhythm and your movement are the fuel that feeds your capacity to dream. Look down on this future Earth now and take in the wonderful changes that have come to pass.
· After a short while, you hear the voices of the children of the future and feel drawn to go down from the Upper World into their world. They greet you very warmly as their ancestors and you realize that they are your descendants. Take the time to witness their world and ask them any questions you have, while still keeping your body moving.
· The children tell you that they’ve heard stories about your time. They say it must have been hard to live with such uncertainty about the climate and so much more. You tell them about life in our world and they thank you, with tears in their eyes, for what you did to make their world a possibility.
· As you leave, they hand you a small gift, which you take in the palm of your hand, and ask you to come and visit them again. Your awareness returns to the Upper World and you look down once again on this future world, knowing that you will soon return to your own time and that you can come back here anytime. (*)
· Gazing down on the planet while journeying back through time is an opportunity to witness your own life. As you travel back now, with all that supports you close by, witness your own death and send a blessing. Don’t dwell on it — the most important aspect of this journey is to discover more about how to live. So, as you travel back through the years of your life from the point of your death to the present, witness the choices that you make and the ways in which you choose to live.
· Again, be brave. Find a balance of kindness and determination as you witness your life. Leave perfection to the Creator. The best you can do is to live a life that is congruent with who you are and what matters to you. As you travel from the future towards the present, look carefully and honestly for any changes, both minor and major, that have been necessary for you to do that fully. Nothing is too small to matter and major changes can be broken down into manageable steps to be taken one at a time. Witness how you learned to live with more awareness of and connection to the web of life.
· Arriving back in the present, take a moment to feel that cool wind again. Before you return to Earth, gaze down on it and enjoy the mystery of it all. It’s a beautiful planet. Wouldn’t it be good for our species to mature? And for you to play your part in that?
· It’s time to return to the present now, bringing your vision and gift from the future. Let your travelling spirit drop right back down into your body, then open your eyes and look around you. Affirm that you are fully back in your body and let it come to rest. Drink a glass of water and take some time to write down your vision of the future. Contemplate what it means for your life now and how you can contribute to bringing it into being.
· To help bring your vision to Earth, answer these questions:
o ’What support do I need in order to ground what I have seen so that I can know myself as a unique and valued part of this human family and the wider community of life on Earth?’
o ’What three things do I need to change in the next three months that will give me the peace of living congruently with what matters to me?’
o ’What steps can I take in the next week that will water the seeds of this vision?’
Remember, small everyday steps work best — with the occasional quantum leap! If you saw yourself growing your own food, for example, but you don’t have a garden, you could begin by growing some food in a window box.
· Complete your ritual in the normal way, making sure to leave enough time for the echo so that the effects of this powerful journey can land in the very cells of your being.
My compliments once again to you. Another bold step taken! I’m singing your praises to the four winds and I see the children of the future thanking you for being part of changing the dream of the modern world, facing the unknown and dreaming a dream worthy of who you are.
Now you’ve dreamed it, please join me as we enter the last part of this book. It’s time to bring in the harvest.