greening the selfThis is a quote from Joanna Macy of filmsforaction.org in an article about her film “Greening the Self”.
“… a student I’ll call Michael. He wrote:
I think of the tree-huggers hugging my trunk, blocking the chain saws with their bodies. I feel their fingers digging into my bark to stop the steel and let me breathe. I hear the bodhisattvas in their rubber boats as they put themselves between the harpoons and me, so I can escape to the depths of the sea. I give thanks for your life and mine, and for life itself. I give thanks for realizing that I too have the powers of the tree-huggers and the bodhisattvas.
What is striking about Michael’s words is the shift in identification. Michael is able to extend his sense of self to encompass the self of the tree and of the whale. Tree and whale are no longer removed, separate, disposable objects pertaining to a world “out there”; they are intrinsic to his own vitality. Through the power of his caring, his experience of self is expanded far beyond that skin-encapsulated ego. I quote Michael’s words not because they are unusual, but to the contrary, because they express a desire and a capacity that is being released from the prison-cell of old constructs of self This desire and capacity are arising in more and more people today as, out of deep concern for what is happening to our world, they begin to speak and act on its behalf.”

This is what the shaman does. This is shapeshifting.
The shaman’s work is not about the self, it’s about being a medium for everything else. It’s spoken about, usually by academics, as being about working for the “tribe” … but what is the tribe? If it means only your blood-relations it’s going to be a pretty small and insular tribe. If it extends out to your nation then that still doesn’t include all that many. And … in both cases … it only includes human beings! In so doing it excludes all the rest of creation, all our elder brethren from whom we should be learning. So the shaman’s work is not about the self, nor even the little or larger group that s/he feels in touch with … it’s about everything, everything on our Planet Earth.
As has been said all over the media many times, the word Tungus shaman means “one who knows”. Knows? Knows what?
Knowing is something deep in my bones and put in there by my father, family, and the elders of the villages in Britain where I grew up. Yes, we are there and have been for millennia but since the Romans and the Christians came we’ve kept our heads well below the parapet and hidden from those who might harm us, hidden often in plain sight. Knowing has been passed down through, genetics and wisdom-through-osmosis ever since whenever, Palaeolithic times probably, judging by Doggerland and such. But what is it?
Let me give you an example I use with students … imagine I throw a bucket of water over you. You know you’re wet. You don’t need to read a book, go on a course, or ask an authority figure or any other of that sort of tripe. You know, absolutely, that you are wet. You’re probably cross with me too!
The shaman knows in just this way. And so do you. Yes you really do but likely you’re been trained out of this knowing because it really does upset all the apple-carts of perceived, wisdom, conventional thinking, normality, and all the other shibboleths we all grew up with. It also makes us question what does not “feel right” to us. Often we get some long, mouthy, wordy, response with a fog index of 5 billion that we don’t understand but which sounds so good we back off and bow down and accept it. We give away our power of knowing to authority figures who wish to control us.
But every human being could know if they wished to, if they opened the lid and stepped out of the box – the prison-cell of old constructs of self – as Macy puts it.
We are hedged about with other shibboleths that encourage us to stay safe in the box … what if I’m kidding myself? Everyone will laugh at me! I might be going mental. Don’t be stupid! That’s not possible. That’s not common sense. And a whole host more. So we are scared, worried, we convince ourselves we don’t know and stay cramped and hidden in our boxes.
Sheesh! What a frightful way to live! But quite possibly 90% of humans do live this way. And what a horrifying world it has created for us to exist in, I won’t say live, that is not my idea of living! And this artificial world we’ve created kills and injures everything else – rocks, mining geology, rivers, seas, mountains, plants, trees, grass, and all the animals and birds and insects and fish and invertebrates. And it kills all the mycorrhizal fungi who enable the communication between plants and animals and – if we would climb out of our boxes and allow it – us humans too.
And we don’t even know we’re doing it!
How can we stop? How can we change? How can we dare to climb out of our box?
There are still people who can help. People who have climbed out of their boxes, “come out” and offered themselves as helpers. We come in all shapes and sizes, we’re not just from one tribe, people or nation. We are everywhere on Planet Earth. You have to stalk us and hunt for us – this part of the work and helps you know for yourself if what we have is what you need and want. Joanna Macy’s film is one of the ways that may open up window, doorway, gate, path for you.
In my own tradition – which works with the Arthurian tales too – we say that every warrior must find their own way into the Enchanted Forest, she or he must not follow another’s path. This is important because the biggest leap for most people is to become themselves – rather than continue reading someone else’s script as they have been all their lives up to now. Macy’s article, book and film are good starters for many folk.
The shaman’s path enables this knowing, this connection with everything else. It’s what the work is about – about helping and being a medium for everything else in creation. Often that’s not – as some suggest – being a medium between them and the gods, oh no, it’s about being a medium between the Earth and all of creation, all of the Cosmos, and other human beings who haven’t got quite there yet but would like to.
Think about that. The gods are fine, they’ve been there forever. They are very willing to help – when we bother to ask, indeed they want us to ask, that’s part of learning to know. But it’s insufferably arrogant to believe we can “kill” the gods, or that the Earth needs healing. No, it’s us, us humans, who need healing. We need to make ourselves whole and connected and one again with the Earth as we were in Palaeolithic times before the last Ice Age. Learning to know, getting connected again with all the threads of consciousness that are the Earth, that’s what the shaman does. And then they offer that know to others. It’s not a gift, you have to work for it because the process is like that of the caterpillar inside the chrysalis … you have to become “butterfly soup” and then remake yourself again. But it really is worth it!


The excerpt from the article I quoted at the beginning is, its turn, an excerpt from Joanna Macy’s book of 1991, World as Lover, World as Self. This woman has been on the ball with how our relationship with the Earth should be for 24 years now, almost a quarter of a century – but had you heard of her before? Have you read her book? She comes from Buddhism which I don’t but that doesn’t matter. She’s not of my “tribe” but that doesn’t matter. She says what needs to be said and the does matter!

  • A shibboleth is a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important. Something we all need to be very, very aware of !!!