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Deep Ecology


Deep Ecology, when it appeared in my life, made immediate sense. To me it is more than a label, it's the way our world is structured. I take it as a secular equivalent to the Buddha's teaching of dependent co-arising--and use it that way in my work.

The term was coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess to contrast with environmentalism for purely human interests. Deep ecology is both a school of thought (Naess's ecosophy and Henryk Skolimowski's ecophilosophy) and a movement (the deep, long range ecology movement, described early on by Bill Devall and George Sessions). It has also inspired an array of experiential practices: deep ecology work, developed by John Seed, myself, and others. This form of group work helps to decondition us from centuries from culturally induced anthropocentrism, and to heal our broken relationship with the natural world. It's an intrinsic part of the Work That Reconnects.

My Teachers: As for all of us in deep ecology work, the natural world is my primary teacher. Among key mentors in childhood I count Spotty, a wise horse, and a particular maple tree. (see Widening Circles)


Time and the Art of Living

Time and the Art of Living, Robert Grudin, selected passages (2002, Harper and Rowe)

"They do not easily grow sad or old; they are seldom intimidated by the alarms and confusions of the present because they have something greater of their own, some sense of their large and coherent motion in time, to compare the present with."

"The extent to which we live from day to day, from week to week, intent on details and oblivious to larger presences, is a gauge of our impoverishment in time. Deprived of the continuum, we lose not only the sole valid alternative to a present-centered existence but also the nourishing context which can give substance and value to the present itself."

"We can avoid it, as Ihave said earlier, by concerning ourselves regularly and vigorously with new beginnings. And we can attempt the even more profound renewal, available I think only to the old, of partially shedding our individual selves and participating in a grander social and biological identity."

" impossible without the gift of time...We love only when we love across time, when love offered is love remembered and love promised."

"Happiness (as suggested, for example, by the French word for happy, heureux) may well consist primarily of an attitude toward time. Individuals we consider happy commonly seem complete in the present:...They choose and patiently develop lengthy projects, so voluminous in time that the work of a single day is no more than a strand in the weft of a rug. They love remembering past experiences and making plans; they speak of past and future, not as external contexts, but rather as esteemed confederates, quiet extensions of their own being. One almost feels that their lives possess a kind of qualified eternity: that past and future, birth and death, meet for them as in the completion of a circle."


Voices From the Future Time

"Voices from the Future Time," by friends of Joanna Macy (Journal of Traditional Acupuncture)

Friends of Joanna Macy--the author, innovator, teacher, mystic, futurist--prepared and performed this piece in her honor at an award ceremony sponsored by the Center for Psychological Studies in the Nuclear Age at Harvard University in December 1989. At the ceremony, the speakers, acting as representatives of a future time, addressed their remarks to Joanna. Macy. In the article below, however, they speak to all those in the late twentieth century who were part of the Great Turning--those who worked diligently to solve problems of global suffering and planetary survival. The Journal thanks Joanna Macy for permission to broaden the script to address each of us involved in "world work."

Hear the voices from the future...

Voice: Student at the Institute of Gaian Studies

"I am a student speaking to you from the year 2189. I am in my second year at the Institute of Gaian Studies, located in the Eastern region of Tibet.

"As I study the early history of Gaian thinking, I am filled with gratitude for the way you applied ancient wisdom, such as that of the Buddhist Dharma and of Taoism, and the later insights of general systems theory, to the problems of global suffering and planetary survival.

"Though you are now long dead, this Institute carries on your work. I speak across the centuries today to tell you that in this, and in many other ways, you will never be forgotten. We try to imagine what it was like back in the time of the Great Turning, the time when you lived and did your work. It must have been a tortured time, a time of fear and uncertainty. I only hope there was also joy, and the warmth of human closeness, for you and those around you.

"We know the threats to our beloved Earth which pervaded your time, and we thank you particularly for creating a new psychology for global survival. We know that Albert Einstein called for a new mode of thinking in the nuclear age, and we feel that you contributed to that task--not just new thoughts, but a new mode of thinking, one that joined mind and heart and spirit.

"Well, I must return now to my report on 'Macy's adaptation of Buddhism to the Gaian System'--it's due Monday morning, and I've hardly begun. You see that some things have not changed! I bid you farewell, and tell you once more, you are not forgotten."

Voice: A worker at one of the Nuclear Guardian Sites

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Lifting the Veil

(Excerpted fromComing to Land in a Troubled World, pp 27-41, 2003, Trust for Public Land by Peter Forbes, Kathleen Dean Moore and Scott Russell Sanders. Peter is a conservationist and writer and the founder of the Center for Whole Communities. You can order this book or learn more about Peter's work

If anyone should come upon this capsule before the year A.D. 6949 let him not wantonly destroy it, for to do so would be to deprive the people of that era of the legacy here left them. Cherish it therefore in a safe place.

- message written on the exterior of the 1938 time capsule

ON SEPTEMBER 23, 1938, as the sun reached directly overhead, five thousand people who had gathered at Flushing Meadow fell into silence. It was the autumnal equinox and the day was unusually clear and cold. They stood on bleachers facing scaffolding that was positioned over a hole dug in the ground. At exactly noon, an ancient Chinese bell was sounded in the background and the scaffolding's steel cables began to pop and groan as a rocket-like, shining cylinder was solemnly lowered fifty feet below the ground.

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To Reinhabit Deep Time

Both the progressive destruction of our world and our capacity to slow down and stop that destruction can be understood as a function of our experience of time.

We members of post-industrial societies in the closing years of the twentieth century have an idiosyncratic and probably unprecedented experience of time. It can be likened to an ever-shrinking box, in which we race on a treadmill at increasingly frenetic speeds. Cutting us off from other rhythms of life, this box cuts us off from the past and future as well. It blocks our perceptual field of time while allowing only the briefest experience of time.

Until we break out of this temporal trap, we will not be able to fully perceive or adequately address the crisis we have created for ourselves and the generations to come. Yet reflections on our relationship to time and some promising new approaches for changing it suggest that we may be able to inhabit time in a healthier, saner fashion. By opening up our experience of time in organic, ecological, and even geological terms and in revitalizing relationship with other species, other eras--we can allow life to continue on Earth.

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My Teachers

As for all of us in deep ecology work, the natural world is my primary teacher. Among key mentors in childhood I count Spotty, a wise horse, and a particular maple tree. (see Widening Circles)

The many humans teaching me deep ecology include John Seed, Arne Naess, Starhawk, Choegyal Rinpoche, David Abram, Judi Bari, Paul Winter, Julia Butterfly Hill, Paul Shepard, Denise Levertov, Robinson Jeffers, Dolores La Chapelle, Rainer Maria Rilke, Chief Seattle, Francis of Assisi, and Gautama the Buddha.


Prayer to Future Beings

You live inside us, beings of the future.

In the spiral ribbons of our cells, you are here. In our rage for the burning forests, the poisoned fields, the oil-drowned seals, you are here. You beat in our hearts through late-night meetings. You accompany us to clear-cuts and toxic dumps and the halls of the lawmakers. It is you who drive our dogged labors to save what is left.

O you who will walk this Earth when we are gone, stir us awake. Behold through our eyes the beauty of this world. Let us feel your breath in our lungs, your cry in our throat. Let us see you in the poor, the homeless, the sick. Haunt us with your hunger, hound us with your claims, that we may honour the life that links us.

You have as yet no faces we can see, no names we can say. But we need only hold you in our mind, and you teach us patience. You attune us to measures of time where healing can happen, where soil and souls can mend. You reveal courage within us we had not suspected, love we had not owned.

O you who come after, help us remember: we are your ancestors. Fill us with gladness for the work that must be done.


Momo, Dogen. and the Commodification of Time

By Linda Goodhew and David Loy

The odd thing was, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. (Momo 65)

One of the most remarkable novels of the late twentieth century is Momo, by the German writer Michael Ende. Although apparently written only for children, it contains profound insights into our modern attitude toward time. Is it a coincidence that Ende later became interested in Buddhism? He visited Japan several times: the first trip in 1977 included a discussion with a Zen priest; the second time in 1989 to marry his second wife, SATO Mariko. This essay will explore the deep resonances between Ende's view of time in Momo and the Buddhist perspective on time, particularly as expressed by the Japanese Zen master Dogen (1200 - 1253). These resonances are of more than literary or historical interest: understanding what Ende and Dogen have to say about time gives us important insight into how we experience time today.

How do we experience time? What social scientists have termed a "time-compression" effect means that today we seem to have much less time to do the things we need or want to do. This contributes a "manic" quality to much of life: increased stress at work and in school, sleep deprivation, up to half the U.S. work population suffering from burnout, workaholism and sometimes death from overwork, no time for family and friends, children left by themselves...

A 1992 survey by the U.S. National Recreation and Park Association found that 38 percent of Americans report "always" feeling rushed, up from 22 percent in 1971. In The Overworked American (also1992) Juliet Schorr argued that Americans are working much longer hours, and more recently Joe Robinson in the Utne Reader (Sept-Oct 2000) claims that the United States has now passed Japan as the most overworked land in the industrialized world. He says that the husband and wife of an average US household are now working an average of 500 more hours a year than they did in 1980. Lou Harris public opinion polls have shown a 37 percent decrease in Americans' reported leisure time over a twenty year period, leading him to assert that "Time may have become the most precious commodity in the land" (Levine 107). But what if commodifying time is itself the problem?

One of the most amazing things about Momo is that it was published in 1973. Since then, the temporal nightmare it depicts has become our reality.


"Life holds one great but commonplace mystery... time. Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem an eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it. Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart." (55)

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The Beings of the Three Times

Let us begin as we often begin our workshops on empowerment for social action--with an invocation of the beings of the three times. We invoke them because, at this brink of time, we need them.

We call first on the beings of the past:Be with us now all you who have gone before, you our ancestors and teachers. You who walked and loved and faithfully tended this Earth be present to us now that we may carry on the legacy you bequeathed us. Aloud and silently in our hearts we say your names and see your faces...

We call also on the beings of the present:All you with whom we live and work on this endangered planet, all you with whom we share this brink of time, be with us now. Fellow humans and brothers and sisters of other species, help us open to our collective will and wisdom. Aloud and silently we say your names and picture your faces...

Lastly we call on the beings of the future:All you who will come after us on this Earth, be with us now. All you who are waiting to be born in the ages to come, it is for your sakes too, that we work to heal our world. We cannot picture your faces or say your names--you have none yet--But we would feel the reality of your claim on life. It helps us to be faithful in the task that must be done, so that there will be for you, as there was for our ancestors, blue sky, fruitful land, clear waters.


The Relevance of Deep Time

People of today relate to time in a way that is surely unique in our history. The technologies and economic forces unleased by the Industrial Growth Society radically alter our experience of time. It is like being trapped in an ever-shrinking box, in which we race on a treadmill. The economy and its technologies depend on decisions made at lightning speed for short-term goals, cutting us off from nature's rhythms and from the past and the future, as well. Marooned in the present, we are progressively blinded to the sheer ongoingness of time. Both the company of our ancestors and the claims of our descendants become less and less real to us.

This peculiar relation to time is inherently destructive of the quality and value of our lives, and of the living body of Earth. And it will intensify because the Industrial Growth Society is, in systems' terms, on exponential "runaway"--accelerating toward its own collapse.

Even as we see its consequences, we must remember that this relation to time is not innate in us. As humans we have the capacity and the birthright to experience time in a saner fashion. Throughout history, men and women have labored at great personal cost to bequeath to future generations monuments of art and learning, to endure far beyond their individual lives. And they have honored through ritual and story those who came before

To make the transition to a life-sustaining society, we must retrieve that ancestral capacity--in other words, act like ancestors. We need to attune to longer, ecological rhythms and nourish a strong, felt connection with past and future generations. For us as agents of change, this isn't easy, because to intervene in the political and legislative decisions of the Industrial Growth Society, we fall by necessity into its tempo. We race to find and pull the levers before it is too late to save this forest, or stop that weapons program. Nonetheless, we can learn again to drink at deeper wells.

The Ecological Self

We can enjoy a wider sense of identity than that prescribed by the Industrial Growth Society. It is both our birthright and our necessity for survival. Here are words from Arne Naess' ground-breaking talk introducing the concept of the ecological self.

For at least 2500 years, humankind has struggled with basic questions about who we are, what we are heading for, what kind of reality we are part of. Two thousand five hundred years is a short period in the lifetime of a species, and still less in the lifetime of the Earth, on whose surface we belong as mobile parts.

What I am going to say more or less in my own way, may roughly be condensed into the following six points:

1. We underestimate ourselves. I emphasize self. We tend to confuse it with the narrow ego.

2. Human nature is such that with sufficient all-sided maturity we cannot avoid "identifying" ourselves with all living beings, beautiful or ugly, big or small, sentient or not. I will elucidate my concept of identifying later.

3. Traditionally the maturity of the self develops through three stages--from ego to social self, and from social self to metaphysical self. In this conception of the process nature--our home, our immediate environment, where we belong as children--is largely ignored. I therefore tentatively introduce the concept of an ecological self. We may be in, of and for nature from our very beginning. Society and human relations are important, but our self is richer in its constitutive relations. These relations are not only relations we have with humans and the human community, but with the larger community of all living beings.

4. The joy and meaning of life is enhanced through increased self-realization, through the fulfillment of each being's potential. Whatever the differences between beings, increased self-realization implies broadening and deepening of the self.

5. Because of an inescapable process of indentification with others, with growing maturity, the self is widened and deepened. We "see ourself in others". Self-realization is hindered if the self-realization of others, with whom we identify, is hindered. Love of ourself will labor to overcome this obstacle by assisting in the self-realization of others according to the formula "live and let live." Thus, all that can be achieved by altruism--the dutiful, moral consideration of others-- can be achieved--and much more--through widening and deepening ourself. Following Immanuel Kant's critique, we then act beautifully but neither morally nor immorally.

6. The challenge of today is to save the planet from further devastation which violates both the enlightened self-interest of humans and nonhumans, and decreases the potential of joyful existence for all.

I have another important reason for inviting people to think in terms of deepening and widening their selves, starting with narrow ego gratification as the crudest, but inescapable starting point. It has to do with the notion usually placed as the opposite of egoism, namely the notion of altruism. The Latin term ego has as its opposite the alter. Altruism implies that ego sacrifices its interest in favour of the other, the alter. The motivation is primarily that of duty; it is said that we ought to love others as strongly as we love ourself.

What humankind is capable of loving from mere duty or more generally from moral exhortation is, unfortunately, very limited. From the Renaissance to the Second World War about four hundred cruel wars have been fought by Christian nations, usually for the flimsiest of reasons. It seems to me that in the future more emphasis has to be given to the conditions which naturally widen and deepen our self. With a sufficiently wide and deep sense of self, ego and alter as opposites are eliminated stage by stage as the distinctions are transcended.

Early in life, the social self is sufficiently developed so that we do not prefer to eat a big cake alone. We share the cake with our family and friends. We identify with these people sufficiently to see our joy in their joy, and to see our disappointment in theirs. Now is the time to share with all life on our maltreated earth by deepening our identification with all life-forms, with the ecosystems, and with Gaia, this fabulous old planet of ours.

From "Self Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World," Thinking Life A Mountain, with John Seed, Joanna Macy & Pat Fleming, New Society, 1988.
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