Transcript 2: John Seed’s intro to the MOURNING.

This process was derived from Joanna Macy’s Despair and Empowerment work and it’s development is instructive in the organic way that these processes evolve. In the early Councils our Mourning consisted of reading Joanna’s Bestiary or Chief Seattle’s Message and encouraging participants to feel and express the sorrow, rage and despair that naturally arises when we open ourselves to such material.

In 1988 at a Council of All Beings in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Stella Reed came up with a new process which I have been using ever since.

As a bit of background to this I’d like to talk to you about the nature of feelings, about the way that our culture teaches us to deny and supress our feelings. This rave is very much indebted to Joanna Macy.

We live in a culture of denial, where we learn very early that we can’t trust our feelings, in fact we hardly even know what they are, we are very very unfamiliar with them.

We want to feel “good”, and we learn that in order to feel “good” we have to avoid other, “bad”, feelings like anger, sorrow and despair.

Our society is steeped in these attitudes and there is a powerful taboo against acknowledging and expressing such feelings . If we ever express emotions such as the horror we feel at what is happening to our world, it makes our friends uncomfortable. They want us to “lighten up”. If we persist, perhaps they’ll suggest that we take some medication or seek psychiatric help.

Should we take this advice and speak frankly to a professional about the pain we feel when, for example, we hear the trees screaming, they will almost certainly fail to validate these perceptions and feelings and instead, will define them as an illness, will reduce them to being a personal pathology. If we feel such things, then something is wrong with US.

The state of our world is ignored. We may make our way to the psychiatrists office stepping over the homeless people and junkies lying in the street, and when we mention our depression, he will want to talk to us about our childhood.

We deny our feelings, but how did we survive, and all our ancestors, before this amazing intellectual part of our brain developed ?).

(Extra notes. We live in a culture of denial, or rather that we learn to choose that some emotions are OK while others are not. We are full beings, our full range of emotions are a significant part of our intelligence, our bodies experience them all whether we like it or not and it takes tremendous life energy to repress the emotions that we think will hurt us – like anger and despair. Our life is basically what is left after we expend our energy repressing the emotions we don’t want.)

Supressing the wave.

Any feelings that we might have about things like this, and especially about the pain that the Earth may be experiencing at this time, are reduced into a purely personal pathology. So if you feel that you can hear the trees screaming, then there is something wrong with you! maybe you need to take pill, or talk about your childhood at some length. But no-one would seriously consider that it might just be that you have rather sensitive ears. The taboo is not only against sharing deep and profound feelings about the state of the world, and what is happening, you wouldn’t expect to go to party and have someone start talking to you about the intense fear that they feel about the destruction of the world or something like that, if you were to speak like that people would feel very uncomfortable and they would ask you to lighten up, or take a pill, or go see a psychiatrist, there is something wrong with you if you feel that way. So it is reduced to a problem with you, there is something wrong with you (my words). But the thing about these feelings is that they are really a very deep part of us, deeper than our intellect, if you look at any mammal you can see that they share these kind of feelings with us, I am thinking in particular of a particular dog. I happened to be looking at this dog’s face when she heard someone approaching and started to wake up from sound sleep. In a series of 2 or 3 seconds, from sound sleep to full awake alert ears pointed, about 20 different feelings went across her face in a very short space of time. It was those feelings that were her decision as to what was going on, what was approaching, a cat ?, to run away ?, to ignore ? All of those decisions were being made on that level of feeling, she didn’t really think about it all, there was no like “who is this ?”, or anything like that. It was all done with feeling, and when you consider the fact that each of us, our pedigree is that we’re descended from 4,000 million years of ancestors that have all survived from birth, at least long enough to reproduce, before they were consumed. Some scientists estimate only 0.1% of all species that have come into being have survived to today. 99.9% have gone by the wayside. It is a pretty incredible lineage, every step along the way, millions of others fell by the wayside that were consumed before they could reproduce, what we all have in common is that every one of our ancestors was able to do this because if just one of them had failed to do this we would not be here. That is undeniable, and it was all done very very recently without the benefit of man. So, how was this done ? How did they know what to eat ? How did they know what to do ? How did they know what was safe, and what was dangerous ? 

I am not saying that thinking doesn’t have its uses, but the way that thinking has decided that it is the only intelligence that we have, there is something very arrogant about that. Because life is a web, we are like a leaf on a tree. To say that the leaf is the only intelligent part is ridiculous, how could the leaf be more intelligent than the tree ? The tree as a complete being is the greater intelligence, in this way we can see that Gaia is a greater intelligence, that no matter what intelligence we posess, we do so at the behest of our mother Earth. We have dosconnected ourselves from this intelligence of the Earth, we only need to look at the kind of world we are creating to see that maybe we need to go back to an older way.

(Extra notes. These feelings of despair, rage and confusion are the sort of feelings that any sensitive mammal would feel as they faced the possibility of their own extinction. We have made it here via the feelings/intuition/instincts of our ancestors over 4 billion years. They did not intellectualise a lot, they live by nature, with nature, not separated from nature.)

(Extra. In the Council, we make a gesture to the Earth and she responds to us.) Through our thinking, and through the definition we have made of ourselves, we deny our feelings and one of the effects of this is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy. I mean our life-force, one of the modes it manifests is as these feelings, keeps pushing up with a great deal of force, it is trying to attract our attention. If the first tap on the shoulder doesn’t do it, then it might start tapping a bit harder on the shoulder to attract our attention to certain things and we’re busily trying to look the other way to shield ourselves from this and it leaves us in the position where we are quite good at this, and one part of ourselves is pushing with great force and the other part of ourselves is pushing to keep that down with great force, and very little energy is left at the end of that for our lives. Joanna would say that this is what leads to disempowerment, apathy, these feelings that it is all too hard, there is nothing we can do and so on, and that once we invite all of our feelings, and we trust them, and invite each others feelings, just see what happens in this safe environment, then a tremendous amount of energy is released and the nature of that energy is empowerment, and the nature of that energy is joy. That in fact the kind of joy that we feel in a context of denial is a fragile kind of joy, because if we are saying “it’s all OK, there’s nothing wrong”, and obviously that’s not true, then any joy that’s built on that kind of a foundation is a very, has that feeling that it can’t be trusted, that it could disappear at any moment. This fear that we have, if we were to really invite these feelings, the fear that we will be crushed, we would become terribly depressed, maybe even suicide. What Joanna promised in this workshop, and what I have found to be true in this workshop, is hat this is not true. In fact, our feelings are kind of like a wave, and when we try to depress the bottom of the wave, then we also depress the top of he wave, we can’t deny certain feelings, but when we try to deny some feelings we just make ourselves numb.

It is just not true that we can find joy through denial. Whereas when we trust these feelings, and allow them, in a safe circle like this, no harm can befall you. No harm has ever come to anyone, I’ve never lost anyone through this process, so I just encourage you to go as deeply as you can. Search for your boundaries, and jump through them and what will happen is that you’ll carve out a space inside yourself and this space will spontaneously become filled with the very feelings that you desire, elation, uplifting, ecstasy. We make ourselves capable of containing these feelings once we begin to realise that we can’t choose between our feelings, that we want these and not those, we can just bring feeling into our life. I am not saying that at the end of this process we are going to neatly tuck away any feelings that come up, and just go on unchanged. This is a powerful process, and can unleash energies that won’t tuck away without some change in our lives. I feel utter conviction that this is the direction to go, that we have to learn to trust these feelings again and seek their guidance if we want to have the motivation that is strong enough to change things out there. It is our feelings that move us, it is not thoughts that move us, we are not going to think our way out of this mess. This is probably what the Dalai Lama meant when he said “Ulimately the decision to save the environment must come from the heart”. But if these feelings provide us with strength, with compassion, then we have something can create change.

I think this is the reason why the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh, said “the most important thing that we can do is to hear inside ourselves the sounds of the Earth crying”. I think the reason that he said this was for, it is only to the extent that we are prepared to feel the pain that we can heal the pain (my words). Joanna has said that if everyone could hear the cries of the Earth in themselves then the whole system of denial would disappear immediately. Before I talk about the process we are about to do here I’d like to talk about 2 things. One is that we did the same process last weekend in West Virginia, it was outside in a grove of trees, that was so strong that it actually took me about 36 hours before I felt that I had regained my equilibrium and it wasn’t exactly the same equilibrium I think that I am still finding, I think as a result of that, I want to spend long periods of time alone just processing feelings that are coming up, and I really value that. It doesn’t matter if I have done this a hundreds times, it is never automatic, it is a profoundly moving experience. Another thing is tat, the weekend before that, I did another mourning in Boston, and that time did a different tone. And that process came to me in a dream. I was in Kyoto, at a Zen temple, doing a Council of All Beings. I woke up on the Saturday morning as we were going into the mourning, woke up with a dream that we had just done an entirely different mourning process. So I just tried it, I didn’t tell them that t had come to me in a dream, and it was really powerful. So it just occurred to me again, about where these processes come from, it doesn’t matter, if it was a dream, or from the Hopi Indians, just start to gather a little medicine bag of your own processes, and somehow start to spread ritual, and spread ceremony, and spread feelings in our lives wherever we go.

(Extra notes. re Thich Nhat Hanh … without feeling totally with the Earth (joys and pain) we can’t access the full wisdom and beauty of the Earth, we cannot fulfill the healing. How can the leaf be more intelligent than the tree on which it grows ?)

There was a woman, who came to a Council of All Beings outside Washington DC a couple of years ago, and in the last sharing of the Council she said “I don’ work for the Navy, I work in the Navy, but I work for the ocean !”. I thought that was great because it is not that we want anyone to leave the Navy, in fact if she stayed there it would be fantastic, it is really important that there are people in the Navy who know about this. My view is that we use these circles to build up a great stock of power and determination and passion, and then find appropriate for these things to manifest in our lives and our relationships. I don’t mean that we should all facilitate Council of All Beings, but that somehow we use this precious time together and this energy together to do this, and in my opinion the mourning is the key to the whole thing.

So, now go outside, by yourself for about 5 minutes, and find some object to represent something that is being lost from our lives that we can genuinely mourn the loss of. It might be an animal that is becoming extinct or endangered, it might be some landscape from our lives maybe a very special place we lived as a child and then as an adult we went back there and it had turned into a highway or a shopping centre, it might be some quality of the human spirit that is disappearing, or that you regret ?, it might be something more personal like a pet or a relative who has died that you haven’t completed grieving over. It is something that you can genuinely mourn the loss of, and then we bring our object in, then one at a time in no particular order but just as we feel, we go to the centre of the circle and place our object in the centre building a Cairn of Mourning and say good-bye, describe what it is that we are grieving and invite our feelings as much as we can, as much as we dare. So if you start weeping that is OK. Know that you are doing that for all of us. If you feel angry it is OK to yell. It is OK to rise you voice. It is OK to pound the floor. Everything is OK. We will support you. Those of us on the outside, we will have our energy supporting the person in the middle, and if something resonates with us that is happening in the middle, then we say “YES !”, or “HO !”. Let the person know that they are being  supported if you feel the need to do that.

Some people find it very easy to get in touch with their feelings, many people nowadays have worked with their feelings in order to free them up, for many reasons, women in particular find it easier to cry than men do, and men find it easier to rage than many women, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, some people have shared afterwards that they haven’t cried since they were a child. That is fine. It is not a competition. It is not about being dramatic. It is not about who can yell the loudest. It is about each of us genuinely searching for that place in ourselves that feels strongly the loss of the things we are losing and expressing that. So for one person that might be accompanied by tears, for another person to look at them you would not know what they are feeling, you can’t tell by looking at a person how string their feelings are, and in any case, even if when you go out there, it is too difficult and it doesn’t come, that is fine, a lot of the work is done merely by witnessing and sharing the whole process together. I have never been in one of these circles where everyone is not touched in some way or another, but if you are the one who can unleash the feelings then it is great to do so, because it is you that allows someone else the courage to share their feelings.

There is one other quotation from Joanna that I would like to share, and this is an ancient Buddhist saying from Shanti Deva, “may all sorrows ripen in me”. This is really interesting because, first of all, it suggests that it is not just our own personal sorrows that we can feel, and the second thing is “may” our sorrows ripen is almost inviting these feelings, in other words, it’s not something that is going to harm us, but that in fact, it suggests that there is some healing that I can do by inviting these sorrows to ripen within me that otherwise might not occur. And I don’t think that I can frame it very well, but my intuition resonates with this idea (my words), not only is our motivation move us to act as the Earth, that our actions follow our feelings, but also just the act of crying for the Earth is healing for the Earth. So it is not just the actions that follow this process, but the act itself is a healing that we create. I can’t really prove that, or even justify it, all I can say is that I just come back for more all the time.

(Extra notes. Shanti Deva. Suggests that we are capable of feelings for the Earth, for others, for the greater self. That our boundaries are not limited by our flesh. Also suggests that our tears are healing for ourself and for the being whose pain we are feeling, and for the one who gave us birth, mother Earth. Can’t prove this statement, but makes a lot of sense to me.)

Does anyone have any questions about the process ? OK, so bring back an object for the cairn in 5 minutes.

III Mourning completion

We sang a couple of chants to complete the process.

John also thanked everyone for their courage after the mourning, for
putting some much into the process and the beauty of their sharing.

Asked all to respect, and just watch, what happens for them. If
feelings come up don’t just stuff them away, and be aware of the
way that we sometimes stuff feelings with food, or noise etc.