In the words of our beloved teacher Joanna Macy, "The Council of All Beings is a communal ritual in which participants step aside from their human identity and speak on behalf of another life-form. A simple structure for spontaneous expression, it aims to heighten awareness of our interdependence in the living body of Earth, and to strengthen our commitment to defend it. The ritual serves to help us acknowledge and give voice to the suffering of our world. It also serves, in equal measure, to help us experience the beauty and power of our interconnectedness with all life."
As often happens, a powerful and unexpected storm rolled in as the council gathered.
We were greeted by a little Blue Jay with ceremonial cleansing sage.
We arrived as other life-forms and elemental beings, and introduced ourselves as such. We spoke as oak tree and ocean, fire, forest and eagle and other nonhumans we felt called to represent. In Joanna's words, "We met in council because our planet is in trouble; our lives and our ancient ways are endangered. It is fitting that we confer, for there is much now that needs to be said and much that needs to be heard."
A rattle which had been gifted to the Eco-Institute served as a talking stick.
Each being began to describe how life is for us. The ocean spoke of its vastness, the trees of their steadfastness. Water spoke of how it feels to flow and cleanse.
We described the challenges and hardships of living in this ecological time. Ocean spoke of acidification and enormous islands of floating trash. Fire spoke of feeling misused to burn fossil fuels frivolously.
We also spoke to humanity about the ways we have been hurt by their choices and actions.
The storm began to rage as the intensity built.
Perhaps the most challenging role was listening on behalf humanity.
The rain fell, the wind grew cold, and the fire crackled.
In the end, humanity was given a chance to respond. There was deep grief and heartfelt apology.
The nonhuman beings each gathered the courage to offer gifts of support to humanity. The water offered cleansing, the eagle offered the gift of perspective.
And the Council of All Beings stood in gratitude for the insights we had gained, our hearts opened further to the pain of our world, inspired to face our collective future together.
The masks were offered to the fire. We returned to our identity as two-leggeds, feeling more connected than ever to the whole Earth community, and committed in hopeful action.
According to theologian Thomas Berry in The Dream of the Earth, the "shamanic personality," which can understand and speak for other life-forms, is essential to our survival. It helps us to break free from our culture's anthropocentrism and dispel the trance of industrial civilization. The life-giving powers shaping creation from the beginning of time are still present within us, Berry writes. They exist as "deep spontaneities," accessible through the imagination." - Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life (New Society Publishers 1998)