The Shaman Within: Part 1 of 3

by Ray Grigg

In small communities and social circles throughout Canada and around the world, people are entering into serious and probing conversations as they try to understand the events that are destabilizing the important ecologies of our planet, how we are responsible, and what we might do to correct the deterioration that currently seems unstoppable. Implicit in these conversations is an awareness that we need fresh insights into ourselves and our relationship with Earth if we are to avoid dire consequences.

A series of these conversations took place in the Comox Valley over the last several months. The initiator was Mike Bell, a former monk, who once worked in social services in Canada’s Arctic, and is now an environmental activist and teacher. He was for many years a friend and acolyte of the famous theologian and philosopher, Thomas Berry. Some of Berry’s thinking inspired Bell to begin a six-part series of conversations entitled Climate Change, the New Cosmology and Earth Spirituality.

As befits a man of his learning and experience, Bell’s introductory “talks” were comprehensive, penetrating and ambitious, an heroic attempt to help us reorient ourselves during a time of unprecedented environmental challenges. The scope and depth of his material indicate he is well aware of the fundamental shift that must take place in our awareness and behaviour. The following is a brief summary of his “talks” and the subjects for conversation:

Session 1: The Anthropocene and Climate Change. The profound environmental changes we are causing on the planet are creating problems for us as individuals and as a civilization. We wake up every morning to a different world. The biochemistry is changing and ecosystems are deteriorating. We must understand our profound influence on life as we know it.

Session 2: The New Cosmology. “Earth is not some dead reality ‘out there’,” Bell explains. “It is a living reality. It is our greater self. We are earthlings. We are one with Earth and with our universe. Our human story is the story of the cosmos. Our human consciousness is the universe reflecting upon itself.”

Session 3: Spirituality. Earth itself is the primary source of “the inner creative force found in all religions,” even among those “with no religious background or even a belief in a divine being.” He explains that, “Human spirituality is an extension of the spirituality of Earth, the anima mundi, the earth soul. As Teilhard de Chardin put it, ‘We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.’ Earth itself, from which we have come, is sacred.”

Session 4: Earth Law. This Law cannot be discovered through human law. “Earth Law is primordial law. It has existed long before there were humans… . Human laws should flow from Earth Law.” Treating the planet as a source of “unlimited” resources is contrary to Earth Law.

Session 5: A Covenant. Because we cannot have “healthy people on a sick planet”, this is a Covenant “not for the land but with the land.” To accomplish this, Bell suggests, we need communion (a “linking and bonding of all species, including ourselves, together with all other species”), individuation (a condition in which “Earth continues to produce and support a wonderful variety of species”), and an inner awareness of these processes.

Session 6: The Inner Journey. Bell recounts that, “When Thomas Berry was asked about a model for implementing what he called The Great Work in our day-to-day lives, he said, ‘The model is not the priest, nor is it the prophet. It is the shaman.’ He would explain that only the shaman can teach us how to reach beyond our cultural frameworks and go down to our genetic level, the roots of our very existence.”

The challenge for the conversations Bell is initiating is to reach into “the roots of our very existence” in order to dislodge us from a dysfunctional paradigm that has set us on a ruinous environmental trajectory. Nothing less is going to bring about the profound changes in awareness needed to remake our relationship with Earth. And we must do this willingly and bravely by exploring the inner recesses of ourselves, our motivations, our needs, and our objectives — indeed, the very purpose of our lives.

Strangely enough, this replacement paradigm need not be religious or even spiritual. But it must be brutally honest. And it must acknowledge that our relationship with Earth has always been intimate and immediate. Earth, as Bell reminds us, “is our greater self”, and “our human story” is its story. We are inseparably bound together as one being.

Such an reminder seems strange, as if it were an acknowledgement of the obvious. But this is precisely our environmental problem. We have missed the obvious. All the enchantments of our ideologies and beliefs, all the allure of our senses and needs, all the attention of our ambitions and hopes have led us away from the obvious. We need someone who is grounded in Earth’s wisdom to bring us back to reality. Mike Bell, Thomas Berry and others suggest the shaman.

Next week, The Shaman Within: Part 2 of 3.