Friday, May 28, 2010


Awakening from Our Collective Trance

I attended an “Awakening the Dreamer” symposium in Asheville in late April, a program which is being offered all over the developed world, in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The presentation was initiated by a visionary North American couple, working under the guidance of Ecuadoran shamans from the Achuar tribe of the Amazonian rain forest. They visited the tribe several years ago, asking what they could do to “help.” You know, economic development, what we with a social conscience do to help the poor attain their share of the economic bonanza. Their answer was to go back and teach their countrymen and other industrialized modern citizens to change their dream.

So I went to change my dream, the trance of modernity, as these shamans see it. They are part of a growing number of indigenous seers who understand that in order to protect their ways of life, they must convince the dominant industrial tribe to change its ways by changing its cosmology, it's world-dream. In doing so, we would emerge from the trance that manifests as an addiction to comfort, stuff, and inordinate power over the natural world.

The evening was co-led by three Asheville area volunteers who had undergone basic training. This was their first public event, and there were glitches. But the program is well designed, regularly revised to make it more inclusive and more effective. The videography, which documents a wide range of ecological and social abuses as well as the global response of the earth's (humanity's) “immune system,” is superb, strong enough to carry the symposium, no matter the quality of local presenters. I found it particularly refreshing that it was not centered on the US, featuring multiple perspectives from cultures both north and south.

The video is broken into segments, accompanied by a text which the volunteers have studied and can simply read aloud. Each of these segments is followed by a brief response in pairs and trios from the audience, emphasizing the heart rather than the head. I found these experiential interludes to be too short, but at least they began processing unsettling material, and helped build camaraderie with other participants (there were about 20 of us). If I were to lead a symposium, I would build more time into the program so that the experiential interludes were longer, requiring the audience to go deeper.

I have worked with climate change and global ecocrisis for almost ten years now, keeping abreast of the climate science, writing, and facilitating workshops and discussions about our reponse to the crisis. The work itself invites despair, so huge is the problem, so inadequate the response.

Though brief, these processing interludes taught me something very important. Forced to go into feeling, as I do when I lead others, I quickly realized that my work of taking the long view of evolutionary history and future possibility beyond our species, even beyond our planet and its gifts that we seem to be terminally squandering, was a way of distancing myself from the requirement to grieve. I realized that the major writing I have done in the last few years served to buttress me by taking this longterm view. I call it ecological and cosmological faith. Yes, at bottom it is about faith, but its daily effect is to take me so far above the struggle that I don't have to experience the enormous stakes, the pain, the despair. The current Gulf oil spill, and its invitation for empathetic response from the perspective of each species and community at risk, ecological and human, is the latest in a continuing line of ecological tragedies crying out for awareness, to be honestly held, leading to a vigorous response.

“Awakening the Dreamer” suggests that the emergent dream will have something to do with the South American prophecy that the eagle and condor will fly together. According to this prophecy, after a long period in which the condor, representing spirit and heart, dominated, about two hundred years ago, the eagle, representing power and intellect, became rampant. Shortly before the Asheville symposium, Bolivia hosted a conference for many nations left out of the hasty partial deal Obama brokered at Copenhagen in December. Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, an eloquent voice of the first peoples of his “plurinational” state, has frequently said that unbridled capitalism is to blame for the global ecological crisis. However, at this conference he was quite honest that mining of both traditional metals (silver) and new ones (lithium) was part of the wealth of his country that would continue to be developed, but whose proceeeds would be shared by her native peoples. Perhaps this manifests the eagle and condor flying together, though I find “appropriate technology” more representative of that vision.

I highly recommend attending an Awakening the Dreamer symposium. We are all in this together, and we need a new myth, a new societal dream. No more offshore drilling, no more coal-fired plants - these are individual stances, and important ones. But what is the new dream? What is “appropriate” to our condition? Can the remnant of primary peoples and those of us who were once “indigenous” ourselves learn how to reinhabit the earth by working together?

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