By Sue Weaver
Human nature is such that, with sufficient comprehensive maturity, we cannot help but identify ourselves with all living beings, beautiful or ugly, big or small, sentient or not.
Arne Naess, Ecology of Wisdom
A Council of All Beings, Glasgow Briggait Centre, 31st October 2021
On this night, Samhain of the old Celtic calendar, the eve of the new year, a Council of all Beings was held, to mark the opening of COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties. The ‘parties’ are concerned with what we now may call catastrophic climate change. They are nation states and they consist of humans.
Some of us were concerned that no other Beings were being represented at COP and we set out to hold Councils of all Beings across Glasgow. These form part of a body of work called The Work that Reconnects, which provides perspectives and practices drawn from systems science, Deep Ecology and spiritual traditions that reveal our interbeing through space and time; it can reframe our pain for the world as evidence of our mutual belonging and hence our power to take action on behalf of life. : https://mollyyoungbrown.com/what-is-psychosynthesis-ecopsychology-systems-thinking/the-work-that-reconnects/
Councils of All Beings can be held in many flexible forms, over days and whole weekends, or, as we practised in Glasgow, in just two or three short hours. At the Briggait, hosted by the Encampment of Eternal Hope, we held an unusual Council, over one short evening, with a small circle of 20 sitting in Council and a larger witnessing circle of about 100 around.
We were honoured by the presence in both circles of members of La Minga Indigena, a collective of groups and communities from indigenous nations throughout the Americas. Minga is the coming together of people when there is a calling. There is an Indigenous Calling for everyone to come together for the COP meetings, from the highest communities in the Andes, the deepest forests of the Amazon, the islands far away from the continents, the driest desert in the world, the northernmost territory in Alaska and the largest reserves of water in southern Patagonia. They come to help humanity remember what it is to be ‘human’ and to invite us to join the cause for climate and biocultural diversity from a new perspective.
We had music and song, and soup to nourish our bodies. We gave gratitude for all that life had brought us, and we remembered the journey of the Universe, from its first beginning to the present day. The circle of twenty wore masks of different creatures to help them shift their consciousness and were then asked, as is part of the ceremony of Council, to invite another, other-than-human being to speak in Council through them. Each Being in turn, as they felt moved, came to speak their messages to the humans listening – be it oak tree, ocean, chickpea, monkey, river, bear….. Later, some removed their masks to sit within the Council circle in order to hear with human ears the powerful messages of grief and fear, frustration and despair, love and hope being brought to us by the Beings present.
We were approached at the close by a friendly scientist academic, wanting to offer appreciation of the Remembering I had spoken and to ask for a copy*. Much later we heard that she had gone from COP26 – with all its failures and disappointments – to her home, where she has taken up a powerful position within an environmentally conscious government in South America. As my co-facilitator Kirsty asks: who knows what ripples may come from hearing the truths of other beings?
As I recently learned of this little ripple, I was reading You Matter More Than You Think, by Karen O’Brien, a book recommended to me by a friend at COP26, after I expressed despair that anything we did would make any difference. O’Brien is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo, Norway. She is also co-founder of cCHANGE, an initiative that supports transformation in a changing climate. I discovered that there is a new way of theorising social change, using ideas from quantum physics and quantum social science. These are ideas I was very loosely familiar with, as a lay person, from reading scientists such as Carlo Rovelli, who makes a superhuman effort to explain to non-scientists what is actually beyond understanding, but seems to work.
From O’Brien’s work, I’m gathering an understanding of a quite different way of looking at social change and how we can be in order to help promote beneficial change. This way of thinking describes a conscious, non-linear and non-local approach to the transformations needed now to address multiple global crises. It is grounded in our inherent oneness, recognising that we are entangled through language, meaning and shared contexts. Its perspective on ‘mattering’ shows us that our deepest values and intentions are powerful sources of individual change – and collective and systems change.
I’m just beginning to try out this way of thinking – and being -, but treasure the support it offers when everything looks bleak. It reverberates profoundly with my own known field of practise, The Work That Reconnects, with its recognition of our interbeing through space and time. It delights me that I can be conscious of at least one ripple from the Council of all Beings that opened the COP26 process. And I trust there may be many more.
* The Remembering
Come with me on a journey to the past, to help us remember who we are…
Place your hand over your heart, feel its beat – follow this pulse all the way back, through the aeons… back to the first fire at the beginning of time, the birth of the Universe, some 15 billion years ago. You and I were both there, our body cells burn with that same energy now.
From hot swirls of gas, our galaxy formed .. and then our sun and then, four and a half billion years ago, our Earth, of rock and crystal and fire. And aeons passed, as Earth cooled…and the oceans were born. In those warm seas, from the dance of rock and air, water and fire, life arose. Do you remember your life as a single-celled being floating in Mother Ocean? Pulled by the currents and the wind …and reproducing, by becoming two identical beings, then four… Every cell in our bodies is descended from those first ones.
Some learn to use the sun’s energy directly and become plants. But we learn to eat others, becoming one-celled animals in the warm seas. Even today, some of our relatives still live in the ancient ways: the corals and snails and plankton have never forgotten what we once knew… and are now trying to remember.
Immensities of time pass – we evolve a backbone, and gills… and the gills change slowly to lungs as we begin to breathe the rich air and drag ourselves through the mud of receding lakes. Can you remember raising your eyes from the water into the sunlight, as our cousins, frogs and toads still do today?
Millions of years pass as we dream amphibian dreams, until we can live completely on dry land, crawling along with limbs sprouting out from our body. Many of our cousins follow different paths, bellowing and roaring, or slowly turning scales into feathers and learning to fly.
But we grow fur and learn to store heat in our bodies, letting our young grow within us, hiding from dinosaurs in daytime, out hunting at night. Darting among the huge tree roots, searching for food, fleeing the great jaws. Till the rule of the dinosaurs fades and we mammals spread across the land and take on thousands of shapes, trying thousands of ways of life – and the ones that succeed are passed down. And live on all around us now in their descendants – cats and bears, gazelles and kangaroos and mice, each with their unimaginable storehouses of wisdom.
We go our way, leaping and climbing, swinging on branches, with gifts of binocular vision and opposing thumbs to help grip and release. Life is easy and full and some cousins live this way still… but we dream ourselves into stronger, heavier bodies, balancing on two legs, then venturing into the open savannah, facing the dangers of the big hunting animals by adapting, inventing, learning to use language, to make fire, use tools, make art – it all happens so fast.
Yet still we know we are related to all the cousins and we are connected to all life, living in harmony with Earth’s cycles and seasons. Can you remember? Can you see the faces of the grandmothers and grandfathers lit by the fire, hear their songs and stories, feel their arms around you?
Only 400 generations ago, we began growing food on land taken from our cousin species. Farming, property, domesticated animals, markets, towns, temples, writing, governments…We build fences and fortifications, and some of us begin to believe we are separate from our world, not part of it.
So soon, as modern humans, we awaken enclosed by walls in a world made by machines. What do we smell and touch, see and hear? How did this – cars, motorways, skyscrapers, aeroplanes, TVs, supermarkets with tins and packets of food made in factories – all happen so fast? And forces we have unleashed are darkening the air, cutting down the trees, deadening the oceans. So fast.
Yet, we are the ones who can remember, who we have been. That we are related to all things, that we are a dance of earth and air, fire and water. And know we are more than this too, the laughter of a child, the strength of compassion, the melody of a song. We can imagine what is to come, we are witnesses and dreamers, the warm brainy ones with clever hands who can love and who can destroy. Let us bring forth the powers and abundance of our evolutionary journey – and imagine we can help create a life-affirming world.
Sue Weaver, former Arran resident, now living in Wales but with deep connections to Arran still, is an environmental activist, organic gardener and retired psychotherapist. With many thanks to Sue for sending this experience of Council of All Beings to us for publishing in the Voice.