The Great Unravelling and The Great Turning
We are living through a period of major upheaval as we face the shadow of industrial growth culture. Old ways of dominating the rest of nature are falling apart. This is a time of great uncertainty, of chaos and suffering. The birth of the new is emerging in glimpses but its shape cannot yet be seen. We are in a liminal space of cultural breakdown and transformation.
In her ‘Work That Reconnects’ Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy describes two forces at play right now. The Great Unravelling is obvious to see in the collapsing of many of our life-destroying systems. The worldview that has brought us here is also in question. This includes, for example: nature is devoid of soul, a collection of resources to create economic wealth; humans are the only beings on the planet with consciousness, separate from and superior to the rest of life; wild nature must be dominated by ‘man’ – along with our own animal natures. Sadly, we are also seeing a backlash against change in the right-wing governments in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Our current government has only one message: economic growth. They are set to repeal many of the laws that have been put in place to protect natural world.
At the same time the Great Turning is happening. This is the turn towards life-enhancing structures, underpinned by a worldview which sees humans as part of Nature. In this view Nature is re-ensouled once again, seen as having her own order and intelligence, within which humans have a place alongside all our relatives. One example of this is the re-wilding movement which has been growing rapidly in the UK. News of devastating collapse around the world can make it hard to see the new shoots of the Great Turning.
As eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes, the universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects. This is an ancient worldview needing new clothes for our modern world.
Part of our task at this time is to restore our relationship with the natural world, to see ourselves as part of nature, and to come to terms with ourselves as animals. Ecopsychology is part of this Great Turning. It is an inquiry into our relationship with Nature. Ecotherapy is a collection of practices which have emerged from the field of ecopsychology. Ecopsychotherapy is one of those practices.
The following story tells about the times we are living in seen through the eyes of the other-than-human world. It came from Chief Phil Lane Junior, ‘Chief Phil Lane Junior, Hereditary Chief, enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, longtime indigenous leader and founder of Four Worlds International Institute (fwii.net). Thankyou to Phil for this story! * It reminds us of the work we need to do together, for the earth.
One day there came a time, as had oft been prophesised, when life on the sacred mother, the earth, was in great peril. Eventually the Creator decided to call a Great Council of all the creatures. When everyone was finally gathered together she explained the problem, though most of the creatures were very aware of it already.
You see something was very amiss with the humans, many of whom had forgotten who they were and how to live and were running amok across the earth. The creator was pondering as to where, in this dangerous time, the most precious and sacred treasures and teachings, where true power and wisdom, love, beauty and compassion, could be safely hidden.
There was a silence and then…..
Wise and beautiful Salmon came forward (whoosh!) and offered to take the most sacred and the beautiful and hide it deep in the ocean. But Creator sadly said no, they will take their destruction to the depths of every ocean.
After a while Bear stepped forward with great power and dignity, and quietly offered to take the precious bundle deep into the woods and mountains and hide it in a remote cave. But again, creator said, they have cut down much of the forests already, and often they have blown up rocks and parts of mountains to take the stone away.
There was a rumble like thunder, as magnificent and generous Buffalo came forward, pawing the ground. ‘The vast wonderful prairies then’ he bellowed. ‘They are endless, and my people number millions. I will take it and lose it there, but one day will find it whenever you need’……The creator gently told him that unbelievably the prairies would be changed and one day there would be almost no more buffalo.
This went on and on, and great grief and fear seized the gathering.
Woodpecker (tttttt) offered to hide it deep in a tree
Eagle flew down and offered to go to the highest mountain top
Bats, Whale, Vulture, Coral, Arctic Fox, Desert Rat, Rainforest Snake and Bird and Jaguar, Dolphin, tiny Microbes – Eagle even offered to see if she could fly to the stars…
but each time the same thing was realised. In every part of the planet that anyone lived or visited – from pole to equator, ocean to desert, great continent to remote island, from tiny to huge – the humans were intervening, ransacking, breaking apart, changing, and taking, always taking. It seemed there was nothing they were not taking apart, and taking from, but hardly ever, it seemed, did they follow the sacred laws of not taking more than is truly needed, and of always giving something back in exchange for what they have been given.
Finally, little mole crept forward, very humbly…. One who is blind in physical eyes, lives inside the earth, in the dark, yet seeing all. With the gift, you might say, of spiritual vision.
Image by Dirk (Beeki®) Schumacher from Pixabay
Mole said, “I think I know the place, Creator - the place where the most precious sacred teachings and wisdom can be kept safe from the humans who are currently so destructive. But it is a place where any human could still find them when they are ready – when they are sincerely seeking answers, are willing to open themselves, and to honour the ancient teachings about who we are, and how to live.
Perhaps you could hide the memory of all that is sacred deep inside the inmost chamber of every human heart.”
There was a pause, and then a great sigh of relief spread through the gathering. The creator smiled and said thank you mole, you have spoken wisely.
And that is exactly what the creator did.
This moving story reminds us we have the wisdom we need right here in our hearts. Yet so often, in our modern world, our hearts are difficult to reach. The journey from the head to the heart can often be a very long one.
*This story was freely offered to the world during an online course sharing indigenous wisdom for the healing of the world, in 2015. It was received by Mary-Jayne's ecopsychology colleague, Hilary Prentice, during that course. Having lived with the story for many months she told it as part of a keynote at the Ecopsychology gathering Edge of the Wild in 2016. This is the story as told in her words.
Mary-Jayne Rust is an ecopsychotherapist, Jungian Analyst and art therapist. Alongside her therapy practice she teaches ecopsychology, a growing field of inquiry into our complex relationship with the earth, our home. Her publications include Towards an Ecopsychotherapy, Confer Books 2020. She grew up beside the sea and is wild about swimming. Website link. www.mjrust.net