,In this episode I am delighted to be speaking with pivotal figure in the world of deep ecology – a concept I came into contact with at Schumacher College in 1992 when I studied with Arne Næss – the Norwegian mountaineer and philosopher who coined the term Deep Ecology.
My guest today is deep ecologist, rainforest activist and author JOHN SEED – a fellow ecovillager. He’s based at Narara Ecovillage in NSW and I’m at Crystal Waters on Gubbi Gubbi Country, QLD.
John is the founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia, working for rainforests worldwide since 1979. He says many of their campaigns have been successful, but sadly, for every forest saved, another 100 have disappeared. John realised you can’t save the planet one forest at a time – what we need is a profound change in consciousness.
Deep ecology reminds us that the living world is not a pyramid with humans on top, but a web. We, humans, are but one strand in that web and as we destroy this web, we destroy the foundations for all complex life including our own.
It’s not enough to have ecological ideas, says Arne – we have to have an ecological identity and ecological self. To nourish the ecological identity, John and the american peace scholar-activist Joanna Macy developed a series of experiential rituals called the Council of All Beings. John co-write a book, Thinking Like a Mountain in 1988 about the council of all beings, with Arne Naess, Joanna Macy and Australian Pat Fleming.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!
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Read the full transcript:
Hello and welcome to the Sensemaking in a Changing World Podcast. In this episode, I’m delighted to be speaking with a pivotal figure in the world of deep ecology, a concept I came into contact with at Schumacher College in England way back in 1992 when I studied directly with Arne Næss, the Norwegian mountaineer and philosopher who coined the term ‘deep ecology’. John Seed is my guest – a deep ecologist, rainforest activist and author and a fellow eco-villager. He’s based at Narara ecovillage, and I’m here at Crystal Waters Permaculture Village.
John is the founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia. He’s worked for rainforests worldwide since 1979. He says many of the campaigns they’ve run have been successful but sadly, for every forest they saved, another 100 have disappeared. He realised that he can’t save the planet one forest at a time, what’s actually needed is a profound change in consciousness. So deep ecology, he said, reminds us that the living world is not a pyramid, with humans on top, but a web – that we humans are one strand of that web. And as we destroy this web, we destroy the very foundations for all complex life, including our own.
It’s not enough to have ecological ideas, says Arne Næss, we have to have an ecological identity and ecological self. And to nourish this ecological identity John Seed alongside the American Peace scholar activist Joanna Macy, developed a series of experiential rituals called the Council of All Beings. John co-wrote a book ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ in 1988 about the Council of All Beings, alongside Arne Næss, Joanna Macy, and the Australian Pat Fleming. So come and dive into this conversation with me with John Seed to explore the world of deep ecology. I just feel so deeply nourished by this conversation with John and I hope you enjoy listening in.
John it’s an absolute delight to have you here. I’ve known of your work since gosh, I can’t remember since I began reading all about the ecological worldview because I studied at Schumacher College. I remember hearing about you there and I remember hearing about you even before then because you started the rainforest information centre in 1979 when I was just a wee 10 year old. What activated you as a young man to become an activist?
Well, I was living at Bodie Farm, a community in northern New South Wales which I’d helped to create a few years earlier. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life organising meditation retreats and delivering babies and building houses and growing veggies. When I went to the market one Sunday and a neighbour got up on the stage and said that the Forestry Commission were coming in the next day to log the rainforest at the end of Terranea Creek Road. And we’d have to stop them and ‘could everyone please come and help?’ And I had no interest in a rainforest. I didn’t know what a rainforest was. I didn’t know there were rainforests in Australia. I’d never been down the end of Terranea Creek Road even though it was only a few kilometres from where I’ve been living.
But I was into the neighbourhood and Dudley was a friend and so I showed up. And somehow my whole life got spun around that day, and I still haven’t recovered. So don’t ask me what happened. It was completely a shock. And, you know, I just maybe it was years of meditation or maybe it was LSD before that, but for some reason I was right in the rainforest and went ‘yeah, okay, we’ll have it.’ And that was that.
Isn’t it interesting how there’s just moments like that that come in as a disruptive force and transform us. This is quite profound, isn’t it? So the Rainforest Information Centre, was that in Lismore? That you set that up? Is that right?
No, I first set it up in a school bus in the forest above Bodie Farm. It had been the preschool before we build a preschool and it was a derelict bus. After six weeks of protests, 2000 people showed up at a protest meeting at Terranea Creek, the government realised that it wasn’t going to be able to deal with this with the police force. So they announced an inquiry and called the moratorium just thinking they could spend a million dollars on the moratorium and at the end of it, everyone would have gone home and forgotten about it so they could get on with business as usual.
I saw that coming and I was just trying to think of how I could keep myself focused on this issue, which had totally come to obsess me. And I started to wonder about what was happening to rainforests elsewhere in the world, because by this time, I’ve learned that the rainforests are the very womb of life. They’re home to more than half the species of plants and animals in the world. And the satellite photographs they’re showing them disappearing at a horrendous rate, so that less than a single human lifetime remained at those rates of distraction.
I felt like the course of my life had been set. And so I started the Rainforest Information Centre. I mean, it was just a letterhead. It just started with asking a friend to design a letterhead forming, it actually never did never got any more formal than that until we had to
do something in order to get tax deductibility many years later.
Yeah. From that moment, when you began engaging with rainforests till now, what’s the state of health of rainforests that you’re mapping?
Well, I mean, lots of rainforests in Australia and elsewhere are being protected. But given that they’re all on a planet that’s sliding that rapidly towards oblivion with the extinction crisis
gaining momentum without a fundamental revolution in consciousness, I would say they do. Now the ones that we’ve saved as well as the ones that we haven’t saved.
So this shifting consciousness, is this where deep ecology comes in for you?
Exactly. I mean, it was in 1986. The New South Wales rainforest campaign ended in 1981 after two years when an opinion poll showed that more than 70% of the people of New South Wales wanted to end the rainforest logging, and our campaign had been tremendously successful. And the government of the day created a string of national parks that stretch from the border ranges up near Queensland all the way down to Barrington Tops near Newcastle, including Terranea Creek in the Nightcap National Park. And so these were the subtropical rainforests.
Then we went on to the temperate rainforest in Tasmania, and the Franklin river campaign, the huge blockade to stop the damming of the Franklin River in 1982. And then up to Kate Tribulation and the Daintree for the tropical rainforest in Queensland. And in each case, national parks and dimensional world heritage listing, we’ve watered our efforts.
But during those same years, worldwide for every forest that was saved, 1000 forests had been destroyed. Clearly, there was no way to save the planet one forest at a time, that unless we could address the psychological, spiritual disease that allows modern humans to imagine that we can profit from the destruction of our own life support systems, clearly these actions would be of no particular use. And that’s what sent me on the quest of trying to see how to address this deeper issue. That’s what led me to deep ecology.
So now would be a really great time to explain to the listeners what deep ecology is? What’s your explanation of it and who else was in this field at the time when you first were emerging into this? Who else was with you on this journey?
Well, Devi College is a philosophy of nature that says that under all of the symptoms of the environmental crisis, there is the illusion of separation between human Beings and the rest of the natural world. This illusion of separation is a result of anthropocentrism, or human centeredness, human supremacy – the idea that human Beings are at the centre of everything. So we are the crown of creation, we are the measure of all being. This illusion, this fantasy goes back 1000s of years, at least as far back as the Old Testament where we learned that man is created in God’s image, the rest of nature is not. That we have to subdue and dominate nature. And nature is to be in fear and trembling.
Deep Ecology as a philosophy and term was coined by the late Arne Næss professor of philosophy at Oslo University. And according to Næss, this illusion of anthropocentrism is so deeply embedded in our psyche and in our culture, that we won’t be able to think our way out of the mess and new philosophy won’t be enough to save us. He said that ecological ideas are not enough. We need ecological identity, ecological self, and what was needed in order to nourish our ecological identity and to bring it into the foreground for us were community therapies to heal our relations with the rest of the natural world. And that’s kind of what I’ve been working on ever since.
So could you explain that a bit more like community therapy? What do you mean by that? Is this where the Council of All Beings comes in? Or is it something else as well?
That’s it I mean, the Council of All Beings was the first of the community therapies that emerged in 1986. I attended a workshop called Despair and Empowerment, facilitated by Joanna Macy – a Buddhist scholar and an environmental activist from the United States who was in Australia. And that was the next big turning point in my life where I realised that this was what was needed in order to create the community therapies that Arne Næss had been calling for. And Joanna was just as influenced by running into deep ecology as I had been and as I was now running into her work and quite excitedly after that weekend workshop, we went walking into Rainier Creek.
Then and there, the Council of All Beings emerged as the first of the experiential, deep ecology workshops, deep ecology processes. And the following weekend, Joanna was scheduled to be leading a facilitators training in Sydney in her work, and she invited me to come down and we did the first Council of All Beings Together and both of us have been doing this ever since.
The first one I ever did was at Schumacher College in probably 1992. An extremely profound experience as a young person stepping into that space. So that’s where I ran into deep ecology. But I wondered, like you said, you ran into deep ecology. How does one just happen across deep ecology when it’s just an emerging philosophy? How did that even happen?
Well, it was just, you know, life has these strange twists and turns but someone sent me a newsletter called Mind Moon Circle, which was a newsletter of a Zen Buddhist teacher in Hawaii called Robert Aiken Rōshi. And in that, he had written an article about deep ecology, and I was very, very excited. And there was a reference to a paper by an American philosopher called George Sessions, which was called Spinoza Perennial Philosophy and deep ecology. So I wrote to Robert Aiken Rōshi and he sent me a copy of that paper, and when I received that, I dropped everything and caught a train to Sydney from Lismore and borrowed a library card so I could have access to stacks at the University of Sydney.
I spent a fortnight going through hundreds of references at the bottom of this paper. You know, I’m not a scholar myself so that was like, totally out of character. But I couldn’t believe my good fortune that finally I’d run into the answer to the questions about the nature of the problem.
Cultivating an ecological self or ecological identity, beyond the ecological ideas seems to be, as you’re saying, is the work that needs to happen today. How do we help to support and cultivate that? My background and main focus is permaculture. So how do you see the weaving of permaculture and deep ecology, for example, as a way to help cultivate a deeper sense of ecological self?
Well, I think that permaculture thinking and practising and learning about permaculture is definitely a process that develops ecological identity. Because digging your hands into the ground in the garden anyway, whether it’s kind of cultural or not, all of these things are moving in the right direction. But the trouble is that we live in a culture which is so staunchly going in the opposite direction that we need a whole bunch of different things.
I’m reminded of a story about the poet Gary Schneider, one of the ancestors, the deep ecology movement. In the 70s, he was working in the administration of the then governor of California, Jerry Brown, a very radical administration at the time. Nonetheless, Gary was a thorn in their sides and one day, his boss, the governor, Jerry Brown, says, ‘Gary, why is it that whatever the issue, you’re always going against the flow?’ And Gary replied, ‘Jerry, what you call the flow is just the 16,000 year eddy, I’m going with the actual flow.’
So when we’re stuck in the 16,000 year eddy we need a lot of resources in order to remember who we are in order to somehow integrate the necessity to stay alive in the 16,000 year eddy and still move things in whatever way we can – in the direction of making sure that that eddy doesn’t destroy itself, through losing its connection with the flow.
I have this sense all the time that the pace of the work that you and I do is at this community level, and this pace of destruction is increasing at a global scale. How do we connect that more so that the impact or the difference that we’re able to make in these community processes can mycelium it fast enough for the healing to take place?
When Arne Næss was asked for a definition of deep ecology, his answer was asking deeper questions. And so the first thing I’d have to say in response to that is ‘good question.’ You know that the question is, to a sceptical philosopher like Arne Næss, the question is more important than the answer. And deepening the question is the purpose of the answer rather than brushing it aside. But the first answer is, I don’t know. If I knew I’d be doing it. But at the moment, the hypothesis that I’m working on is that… I was kind of close to death from cancer and spent several years doing nothing but staying alive not long ago.
And when I came back to my astonishment and delight, my enthusiasm and passion for the environment and deep ecology and rain forests and things returned with a new brilliance. I got a sense that what I needed to do was to master social media and podcasts as a way of moving this understanding closer to the mainstream than it’s been until this point. So I don’t think that that’s an answer as to how we’re going to solve the problem exactly, but I feel like I have nothing more important to do than to throw my life at it and to hope that there’s enough people feeling the same way that between us, we are able to succeed in turning this thing around.
I think you’re right, opening more conversations in a place where we can feel that resonance, maybe it might be the first time that someone’s heard about it. I remember my dad, he was always listening to the radio and that was the first time that he’d ever heard about permaculture and he told me about it and I was a young kid. These little ripples, or resonances, or something land in you, and it’s transformative. It doesn’t have to be the answer. But it’s an opening of a door in your mind to start. So I think, yeah, holding space for conversation, holding space for new ideas to emerge, is really important.
Part of what you do, I was looking at some of your workshops that you ran, and the connection between deep ecology and mental health and addressing grief, fear, loss, rage, terror and all the things that so many people and particularly younger generations are feeling around what is happening in the world with climate change with forest loss, with extinctions? How do you hold space for that? And what happens in a Council of All Beings, or other types of processes that really enable some transformation to take place?
I’ll answer that, but as a prelude, I’ll say that I’m having an interesting experience more than ever before. The workshops that I’m doing are filling up and there are waiting lists, and I’m having to create more and more of them. I’m 77 years old, which means that I can remember the 50s and I can say that there was nothing about the 50s that would have given you the slightest reason to imagine that the 60s were coming, the changes in mood, in temperament of the world were coming.
I just get this feeling that we’re at the beginning of a wave. There’s always been a really strong response to the workshops and to deep ecology from hippies, pagans, witches and environmentalists. But now, it’s all kinds of ordinary people, and especially young people are coming along. I’m training all of these facilitators which I’ve never done before, because maybe something like the 60s is looming ahead of us.
The other piece is that a lot of the people that are coming to the workshops are working in the mental health field. So last weekend, I did a workshop in a community and there were three therapists and two students of therapy among the 28 people present. So I feel that. I wrote a paper for the Australian Psychological Society years ago, at their annual meeting about eco psychology and I suggested that the reason that most therapy doesn’t work, is because the self that they’re trying to heal is an illusion, is a social fiction. There is no self without water, air, and soil.
Try to imagine that all of the pain is personal pain, not to realise that the pain that we’re experiencing, which we may interpret personally, where our therapist may want to talk about our childhood, or whether we were weaned too early. So much of that is that ‘how could we live in knowing that these things are happening to our world without experiencing the pain?’
So to experience the pain in the workshops, we part of the process is what Joanna now calls, honouring our pains in the world. This is the present day way of framing despair and empowerment. In honouring our pain for the world, first I introduced this by talking about the denial of feelings, that is part of the culture that we live in where we’re never invited to share our deepest anguish about what’s happening to our world, it makes other people uncomfortable. The rage and terror that we’re feeling (that all of us are feeling underneath), is never welcomed in polite society. So part of what we do after we’ve got to know each other and created a safe container, is that we invite people to begin to experience and to share their deepest feelings of horror, terror and rage.
I introduce it by letting people know that this is completely safe. I’ve done this hundreds and hundreds of times, I’ve never lost anyone, etc. The healing comes from being present, and not from necessarily stepping into the centre. Because what we realise very quickly is that everyone’s feeling the same way that we are, it doesn’t matter who steps into the centre.
Pretty soon, the place can get very noisy and get very passionate. And the upshot is empowerment, that when we release the suppression, a huge amount of energy is needed to suppress these feelings, because they’re part of our intelligence. For 99.9999% of our evolutionary heritage, we hadn’t yet developed this bulge over our nose and started thinking our way through the world. And yet, there was this extraordinary intelligence where, without exception, every single one of our ancestors was intelligent enough to reproduce itself before being consumed. All of this intelligence is what we now call feelings, not thinking! We can call it intuition, we can call it instinct that doesn’t matter.
What we call feelings inside ourselves is what remains, that is ancient intelligence that led us safely through the tumultuous challenging aeons and aeons before we became humans and started to think. So there’s a huge amount of energy that’s necessary to suppress this intelligence that’s pushing up and trying to inform us about what’s happening to our world and what’s wrong.
The suppression of those feelings fizzles away our energy and leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless, ‘what can one person do anyway’, and ‘must be too late’, and so on with all the stories. When we create a container, where people are invited to share these feelings, then a huge amount of energy is liberated. We experience that as empowerment. And so we do that part on a weekend, we’ll do that on Saturday morning and it creates tremendous enthusiasm, energy and vision in participants. That’s why the mental health professionals are interested because the other thing that happens is that we see that everyone underneath. Whatever it is that they’re presenting to the world is feeling just as broken as we are ourselves. And it’s like, ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’. It’s like, ‘how does one live in such a world?’
Yeah. What do you notice happens after? Do you circle back around and talk to people afterwards months down the track after their experience of deep ecology?
No, sometimes people come back and do another workshop 15 years later and may mention some change that’s taking place in their life as a result immediately after the workshop. I remember I was in Ireland giving a lecture and somebody in the audience said ‘it’s all very well you environmental superstars fly around the planet creating all of this co2 and telling everybody what to do. Why don’t you just stay home?’ I said, ‘You know what, I think you’re right.’ I couldn’t justify it.
Then someone put their hand up and said they used to be the marketing manager for a big company. I went to my workshop and now they do the marketing for Greenpeace. There were three people in the audience who then testified to the changes that have taken place for them. And I went, maybe it is worth the pollution that I’m causing by being active.
Yeah. You never know what the impact is, but when you show up and open those spaces, remarkable things happen. I wanted to ask you about what experience has been running these Council of All Beings in other countries, because I know you work in many different places, in rainforest communities in South America. Do you run those there as well?
No, I mean, it’s interesting that one of the things that become clear is that every indigenous society that still maintains its ceremonies and rituals, has ceremonies and rituals that are synchronous with deep ecology where the whole society gathers regularly throughout the year to honour our relations with the earth. And, to me it seems like to make sure that we don’t stray away from our ecological identity, that we don’t disappear into merely social conceptions of who we are. I’ve attended such ceremonies, as a witness, but I would never think that I had anything to offer there.
It’s really only those of us in the modern world who don’t practise this. Of course, we had indigenous ancestors ourselves who would have been practising such things. But we may be the only people in hundreds of 1000s of years that have dispensed with these things that every culture has developed as ways of correcting for the drift away from connection.
Community therapies don’t seem like such a good metaphor for me anymore, because therapy is supposed to have a beginning and an end. I remember attending a ceremony on a mesa in the southwest of the United States and Hopi indigenous. And to my shock, they were doing a Council of All Beings, which I thought that Joanna and I had invented a few years before. They assured me they’ve been doing it for 10,000 years without a break. Therapies shouldn’t take that long. If you do 10 workshops, you are connected. It’s not like you do hundreds, you do it all your life, you have to keep coming back and coming back and coming back and making it part of the culture.
That’s what I’m thinking about at the moment. How can we move from merely facilitating workshops which put us in touch with this bedrock of truth? It can’t just be a matter of workshops, it has to be a matter of creating cultural forms, in our world that allow us to do what indigenous people continue to do?
Yeah, it’s a really big hole in our society, ritual and celebration of that deep nature. Perhaps that’s part of that deep and shallow ecology, way of being. I’d love for you to describe a bit more about this notion of ecological self, can you describe what that means? How would you describe it to someone who’s coming at this idea for the first time?
For a modern person with a background in empiricism and science, rather than a mythological interpretation, we could say that it’s undeniable that every cell in our body is the standard in an unbroken chain from the first cell of life on Earth. There’s an immense amount of evidence for this, perhaps we could start from the fact that when we were an embryo in our mother’s womb, we developed the vestigial tail and gills. There is just like a huge amount of evidence that the story of our evolution is not just another story, it’s not socially constructed. Well, it’s not only socially constructed.
This is who we are, this is who this is contained inside us. And the person that we identify with that we call our self, which includes our nationality and our religion, our education and our job and all of these things. It’s just the thinnest veneer over this ancient being. Our ecological identity, one quick way to experience it, is to think about the atmosphere, which is part of the environment. Hold our breath for 10 minutes while we consider what is outside and what is inside, what is the environment, and what is me. Very quickly, our ecological identity becomes clear to us, you can call it anything you like, but it’s not out there. It’s cycling through me all of the time.
We understand intellectually that if we poison the air, that it makes us sick, or it makes us die. But there’s something about trying to hold your breath as long as you can. And then a little bit longer. It gives you a really visceral sense that this isn’t included in our normal ideas of identity, this isn’t included in who we are. But it’s fundamental that anything that we create in the world that threatens this, is clearly moving in the wrong direction.
In the workshops, as I do them at the moment, one of the processes is called the cosmic walk, which I borrowed from Sister Miriam Therese McGillis, a Catholic nun from a community called Genesis Farm in New Jersey. In this, we make a model of the history of the universe, stretching back in the scientific version of that history stretching back 13.7 billion years to the Big Bang, and make a spiral out of a ball of hemp that’s 50 metres long.
Each metre on this spiral represents 374 million years in the story of the universe. In my version of this, there are 23 beads placed appropriately on this ball of hemp. And these are what some of them are borrowed from Sister Miriam. And some of them I’ve placed in myself, what I think are 23 of the most important and poetic stories in the evolution of the universe up to the present time and lay this out as a spiral.
We learned a chant called Child of the Universe, there’s a tea light candle next to each of the beads and the story of the emerging universe is told, and these candles are lit as we move from a universe in which nothing exists except hydrogen and helium, through a world 10 billion years later, where life appears on Earth mysteriously. Sister Miriam was a colleague of the late Thomas Berry, who was the most prominent, progressive Catholic theologian of his time. And he speaks of the universe, not as the place in which we live but as who we actually are.
He says that we humans are that moment when the universe has become conscious in a particular way, that for the first time, perhaps, the universe is able to slowly turn around and look over its own shoulder and gasp in awe and wonder at the trail that it’s trod, the story that’s emerging. The incredible story of cosmology and evolution and so on.
He says that we can’t leave it to the scientists to tell this story because they don’t know how to make a creation. They don’t know how to tell a good story. We need the poets and the mystics and the musicians to tell the story. And this is how Sister Miriam responded to this beautiful ceremony. When we got to the last candle to tell the story of the human, we realised that it’s impossible to make a candle thin enough to accurately portray where the human sits in this picture. We identify only with that and we forget that that whole story is part of something bigger.
It’s incredibly powerful, having a ceremony to name people, to feel into that is incredibly powerful.
It’s a ceremony that turns it from an idea into an experience. And that’s what Arni said was that the ideas aren’t enough, we need the experience.
I’ve done a similar kind of thing in a different format with Stephen Harding, from Schumacher with his deep time walk. We’ve created some down through the river, along Crystal Waters and map spots along, taking young people through this journey, through the forest to the river. We’d stop at each point and share a story about and get to that very end with the human and just spend that time exploring, sitting in the middle of the river. So many different ideas and their concerns about what’s going on.
It’s really powerful, so much more powerful than anything we could do inside the classroom with them. It’s such an extraordinary possibility of seeing ourselves entirely differently and it opens up a much greater sense of possibility. I think what you said about Thomas Berry turning around and being in awe of the world of everything. I don’t think we do that enough. We have this constant forward looking.
How can we keep being in absolute or who we all are in this wonderful collection of beings. I feel that this is a missing chunk in our education system that continuously disconnects us from this. What ways have you been able to connect with young people to bring them into this space to offer ways of seeing, knowing and being?
Well, I haven’t worked with young people myself very much at all. But many people who have attended the workshops have been teachers or worked with young people who have then taken these processes and used them with young people. The Council of All Beings itself is one that young people are much better at than older people. In the Council of All Beings, we each find an ally from the nonhuman world that can be a plant or an animal or a feature of the landscape or anything really. We make a mask to represent that ally and then we move through a ritual portal to enter the Council of All Beings where each of us speaks in the first person to represent our ally.
You don’t have to believe anything, you don’t have to believe that this really is the spirit speaking through me. All you have to do is become childlike yourself and very soon, a conversation develops, which none of the participants have ever heard before, including me who’s done this many, many times. You know that something new always emerges from it, utterly compelling and authentic. So kids love this and many people have done this with kids. Many people have taken other aspects of the work and all that I’ve done is put a page on the Deep Ecology website at the Rainforest Information Centre’s website where people have reported their work with kids so that people can find out what others are thinking.
The other thing that’s happened recently is a woman in Tasmania who has started creating a deep ecology space for kids. She’s working very actively on that. I went down there and the workshop that I organised was full. So I have to organise a second workshop on Bruny Island. Many of the people they’re working with Maggie, it’s going to be something new in the world of really deep ecology with kids at the centre.
Fantastic. That’s so wonderful. I wonder too, you’re also a musician and you’ve been involved in film. So as well as these workshops, the way of communicating out these ideas have come through different mediums. So your film, can you mention a bit about that and where people can find it?
It’s only an internet search away. But one film in particular, called ‘On the Brink’, which we made in the run up to the New South Wales state elections in 2002. The script was written by the Council of All Beings. One of the conversations was that the different Councils had several endangered species from New South Wales forests present and they were trying to think about what they could do to change their endangered status. One of the ideas that came up was that ‘if only humans would make a film to tell our story’. And then, ‘how can humans possibly understand?’ So maybe we need to write the script. As a result of that, we had several more Council of All Beings workshops, where endangered species from New South Wales forests were invited to this workshop in order to write the script. It’s a very interesting film.
Somehow, I was able to persuade Jack Thompson and Olivia Newton-John to be the voices of quoll and koala, and then to persuade David Suzuki and David Attenborough to be the presenters. We had this 25 minute film, three months before the state elections when the future of these endangered species would be decided. Because there was 70,000 hectares of forest that had to be protected. We went from town to town, showing the film all over New South Wales, every city in town.
The stars of the film were these costume creatures – koala, quoll, yellow-bellied glider, and mask owl. The costumes would parade through the shopping street at lunchtime, handing out leaflets about the show. Then the show would be on in the hall that night. When the lights went on at the end of the show, there were three tables at the back of the hall with a space to write letters to the premier. More than 80,000 people saw the film, and I think most of them wrote letters, because 10 days before the election, the premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, announced that if reelected, he would protect those forests.
Two weeks after the elections, he did so. So it was a very powerful film. And I’d love people to look at it. It’s kind of historical, but it’s also very topical at the moment. It’s on YouTube. If you look at the film page on the Rainforest Information website there’s 20 films that we’ve made over the years. There’s also a music page with environmental songs that I’ve written or other friends have written that I’ve sang. And so I’ve tried many different ways to communicate.
The cultural ways of shifting culture rather than the ‘ideas’ way seems to be the most powerful that we can come together and enjoy together! In an interview with Satish Kumar a while ago, he said ‘Morag, don’t forget to celebrate!’ It gets so busy doing all of the things that we do, because we’re so concerned and so earnest. So don’t forget to celebrate. And that is the music and the gatherings and the feasts and all of those things together.
One of the consequences of the cosmic walk and being able to actually experience our identity with the universe is that it was I, who suddenly came to life, 4.5 billion years ago. It was I who crawled the shore and started to live on the land. As the universe, whatever happens in the future on the earth, that part of us that is universal, it’s really not impacted by that. We then can return to our incarnation as a human and struggle with all our minds, for the protection of life, for the protection of nature. But not from that hysterical place where all of us are at stake. Because there’s part of us that’s really not at stake here.
I think that helps us to celebrate, it’s hard for people to celebrate who feel that they’re on the brink of extinction and there’s no light. There’s just something about this that just feels to me that we have to balance our lives at this time between struggle and celebration.
That is a beautiful challenge. Just one final question because I realised we’ve been talking for quite some time. It’s wonderful to have your company here on the show! You live in an ecovillage now and I know you’ve lived in communities for a very long time. What can you reflect on life in an ecovillage & a community as a conscious choice of stepping into an ecological way of being?
It’s what we were made for. We were selected to live in community. For me to walk down the street here outside my home, to greet every person that I meet and to know everyone that I see. I’ve got a nine year old son, who has a posse of friends. If it gets dark and he’s not home yet, I just go on to our local Slack channel, and discover who it is that is feeding him tonight and it’s just so great!
On the surface, it’s not that different from the suburb in Narara, outside the gate. But we probably use a quarter of the power, and all of that power is produced by solar. It really is an eco village that is moving resolutely towards making sure that our part of the eddy is aligned with the flow of the way that life requires us to live. And hopefully creating a model. We have open days once a month, and we’re actively seeking to show people that this is a way of life that’s possible. Unfortunately, it’s no less expensive to own a house here than it is out there and I don’t know what to do about that. But we’re doing the best we can.
Thanks for reflecting on that. Well, it’s been wonderful to have you on the show today! And I encourage people to follow all the links that we’ll put down in the show notes from, from the films, to the music, to the workshops to the work that John has been doing for decades now. And also links to ‘Thinking like a Mountain’. Any other key documents that you think we should drop down there, John?
Well, ‘Thinking like a Mountain’ is towards the Council of All Beings, the name of the book that I wrote with Joanna Macy and Arne Næss in 1988. The PDF of that is available for free.
Well, thank you, John. It’s been an absolute delight.
Just as a last word, I’d like to say thank you so much for the permaculture. I just feel like it’s been part of my life ever since Bill Mollison. I remember, back in the late 80s, I started doing deep ecology segments in Lee Harrison’s Permaculture Design Certificates. In exchange for doing that, she would have someone from the Rainforest Information Centre do the course for free. Wherever we were working in the world, we found that unsustainable agriculture is always part of the reason for the destruction of the rainforest. So people trained in permaculture were really important in the rainforest conservation that we were doing. So I am just very grateful for you and others that are keeping this humanness moving forward.
Yeah, I see a deep connection with that. And a central part of what I teach in anything that I offer is through a deep ecology perspective – really noticing that the key part of what permaculture is all about is enabling us to cultivate, as you said before this ecological self, but also that we bring our footprint as humans into a scale that enables all life to flourish. For me, that’s the fair share part of permaculture, that we’re not only protecting forests but we’re repairing forests. We’re finding that deep connection with ourselves and healthy human habitats within the overall habitat restoration and protection. I think forest protection is the primary directive of permaculture in many ways. Thank you again and enjoy the rest of your day! And I look forward to talking to you again soon.