by Barbara Kaufmann
The first waking up was during the film by Peter Russell, The Global Brain. As a medical professional I had studied the human body with all its structures and systems working in perfect synchronicity to sustain life with the sophistication of a super-computer. The Global Brain examined the intricacies of the countless narrow parameters that must be met to sustain life on Planet Earth. Move the ecosystem outside that narrow window and life could not exist. Recognizing the true elegance of this will bring one to awe for the blueprint of existence.
There have been a few waking ups—mentally at least. But the real emotional and spiritual waking up about where we are in the evolution of humanity and its relationship to the planet, came during a daylong symposium called Awakening the Dreamer. Designed and presented by Pachamama Alliance, this excursion through evolution and existence was life changing. It gave me back my breath.
“Where is away?” she asked. “When you throw something away, where is away?” I blinked, shook my head as if to clear the cobwebs because I had no idea what she was asking.
She went on:
“When you say you’re going to throw something away, where is away? There is no such thing as “away.’ And where ‘away’ actually is, are social justice issues and environmental justice issues. Every plastic bag, plastic cup, plastic to-go container – – that is the petroleum complex in Africa, Ecuador, Colombia, Alaska, you name it. Every paper bag, paper plate, paper napkin – – that is a forest. Everything that is called waste or disposable is the ways in which we are saying that is it is acceptable to throw our planet and its people away."
That was the moment when every single bone in my spine snapped into place and I sat bolt upright. Only that doesn't truly describe it – – it was more like the planets snapped into alignment. Something reached into a place that had never been touched before even though it feels as if I’ve been at this save the Earth stuff forever.
I’d read Rachel Carson's silent Spring, done Joanna Macy's work, held rallies and attended rallies, met James Lovelock's Gaia, knew Leaky and Goodall, watched the films and read the reports, attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Association Fair annually, and when it was released—recognized the iconography of NASA's Blue Marble photo, so fascinated with the image that its theme dominated my art for years. It inspired a painting called “Vision of the Madonna,” made its way into promotional posters, came alive in a sculpture I named “Gaia,” and prompted a “Pet Planet” that comes with care and feeding instructions.
Oh, I knew intellectually that we were in trouble and as an empath I certainly felt the pain of the many issues that together, led us to what we now face—an inevitable critical mass that is… critical. I felt anger and regret for the irresponsibility and lack of stewardship that humans hold for their global home. I’d skirted the despair and frustration of being too small and too powerless to change it. But I hadn't really looked at the history and the evolution of the perfect storm that brought us to this place.
Philosopher George Santayana’s historical quote about “a civilization that doesn’t learn from its mistakes is doomed to repeat them” has certainly imprinted the lexicon but has it sunk in? Something else Santayana said, however, is much more relevant and profound: “All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible.”
So here we are. This is where we find ourselves because we operate from half our capacity—the mind. When the magnitude of human indifference and its outcomes looms close to the heart, we squeeze down hard and close off because to visit any one of those places only compounds our culpability and invites despair: starvation, poverty, genocide, oppression, disaster, undrinkable water or unbreathable air, the slashing of rain forests, mountaintop mining, the pillaging of Indigenous lands, corporate farming and abysmal treatment of animals, deforestation, chemical spills, the state of the oceans, the truth of fossil fuels, the destruction of habitats, the extinction of species… threatens to explode the heart asked to contain it. Despite all my empathy, I couldn’t fully let reality in— I held despair at bay which takes up a lot of energy that could be re-deployed elsewhere in more meaningful action.
Once I acknowledged my pain and resistance and realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings but shared them with countless others of my human family, relief flooded in and something peculiar happened: I noticed I was holding my breath. How long had I been holding my breath? How long had I walked through this world holding my breath in resistance to embracing with compassion, the pain my own heart feels for this world, along with the scarred hearts of others? Breath is life; you do the math. I am not alone and neither are you. What a con-soul-ment that is!
According to Activist Author and Teacher Joanna Macy, "the anguish we feel for what is happening to our world is inevitable and normal and even healthy. Pain is very useful. Just don't be afraid of it. Because if we are afraid to feel that, we won't feel where it comes from and where it comes from is love, our love for this world. That's what's going to pull us through."
John Robbins says: "there is a possibility of embracing that pain and that grief in a way it becomes a strength, a power to respond. That the energy that has been bound in the repression of it can now flow through us and energize us – – make us clear, more alive, more passionate, committed, courageous, determined people."
Indigenous cultures the world over have legends and prophecies that designate this a time of transition for humanity. One such story is of the Eagle and the Condor, the Eagle representing cultures that have used the creativity of mind and invention, and the Condor representing spirituality oriented societies that recognize the sacredness of all things. The legend goes… when the Eagle and Condor meet humanity will have learned to approach all endeavors and enterprise from a place of sacredness of the natural world and its resources while recognizing the interconnectedness of all things.
Matthew Fox, father of creation spirituality, says that if we run the film of the universe backward 14 billion years we realize that we all descend from an original pinprick smaller than a zygote. "It's really one being here," he says." We’re all relatives."
So let's meet the family:
If the earth were a community of 100 people… 2 people own 50% of the world's wealth
50 people share only 1% of the world's wealth, 15 are hungry and seriously malnourished
16 have no safe drinking water, 39 have no basic sanitation, 15 are unable to read
if you have food in a refrigerator, clothes in your closet, a bed to sleep in, and a roof over your head…
You're better off than 83% of the people on this planet.
Pachamama Alliance and “Awakening the Dreamer” arose from a partnership with the Achuar people in the rainforests of Ecuador. As a community, the Achuar were having repetitive dreams about the destruction of their world and of civilization. “Dreamtime” is important to every native culture—a time to invoke visions and be initiated into the invisible mysteries and language of life that speaks to us in myriad of voices if we only are of a mind to pay attention. The Achuar reached out in dreams to their counterparts in the modern world and an amazing alliance was born. I won’t spoil the story.
Author Jeremy Taylor, my teacher and mentor with expertise in dreams and metaphor, has spent a lifetime researching the phenomenon of dreams and found that unusual bonding occurs when a circle of people share their dreams. Dreams and dreamwork, I learned, occur always “in service to health and wholeness.” As part of a Dream Circle that grew out of his tutelage and met weekly for 2 years, our members began to notice that not only were we sharing dreams, but we were showing up in each other’s dreams. Dreams shared, analyzed and dissected led group members to seek medical help for conditions the dreams pointed to in metaphor and symbolism. Dreams speak. Dreams are sacred connections and sometimes they alert us to impending challenges and urgent need for action. That is how Pachamama and Awakening the Dreamer was birthed—from the meeting and melding of 2 cultures—one with ancient roots and one modern in order to do sacred work together to save themselves and planet. The alchemy has so much magic and beauty, unforgettable yet mysteriously anticipated by an internal nod that telepaths an “of course” and trumpets an “I am home.”
Death of the old ways is never easy for human beings. Change fires the same neurons in the brain as torture so resistances are natural encounters. But the stakes are so high that birthing a paradigm change is now the only path to human survival. Pachamama teaches the metaphor of hospice and midwifery in this dedicated work. For example, when a beloved family member, friend, or animal companion enters the last stage of life we hospice their natural dying process. So it is with the death and natural dissolving of structures and systems that no longer serve us or support life. The old ways are unsustainable and therefore will not support the continuance of life. As midwives we can help to birth and nurture the emergence of a new way of being and build the structures and systems that will support this new community trying to be born.
Despairing people can become frozen in their overwhelm, impotence, hopelessness or helplessness and collapse into resignation. That doesn't help anybody and it won't get things done. Working through that despair, however, especially in a safe and nurturing environment accompanied by others on the same journey, can transform that despair into something else – – the will to take a stand and the energy to act on it.
Taking a stand is not the same as taking a position. A position is usually anti-something and it calls up resistance and opposition. A stand is not fighting or pushing against something, but being for something. It comes from a deep place of conviction that engages the heart and soul to bring something far superior and elegant into being. Awakening The Dreamer is a journey toward an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on Earth.
Lynn Twist, a cofounder of Pachamama and the symposium calls this awakening from the trance of the modern world, a "‘blessed unrest’ or state where one sees and knows fully where they are, knows what's going on around them, what the mechanisms are that keep us stuck where we are, yet sees a future that we all want to go to and has the ability to create responsibility for holding that future as something that inspires their life.”
It's hard to recognize something when you're in the thick of it, thus the trance. We are all in it even if we've been doing this work for a lifetime and think we’re in the choir. In order to get where you're going you have to know where you've been. When you learn to have compassion for your own despair, consciously awaken the dreamer, and understand what a future of an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet would mean—what emerges is a new human being—an ambassador for humanity and willing escort to a new future.
For some of us this journey is so profound that we are called to join Pachamama Alliance and become certified facilitators in order to offer “Awakening The Dreamer” to others. If you would like to beautifully embrace your own awakening, please visit www.pachamama.org and take the course. Better yet, gather a few “sleepwalker” friends, invite them to your “slumber party” and call a certified facilitator near you to Awaken the Dreamers and Change the Dream. Sweet dreams!
B. Kaufmann Barbara is a certified facilitator for the “Awakening the Dreamer” Symposium. A Writer, Artist and Founder of “Words and Violence” and her www.onewordsmith.com website, Barbara is a storyteller. This is a true story.