The Dance Of Change

Eco-spiritual reflections from Scotland

One of the articles in The New Story (IC#12)
Originally published in Winter 1985/86 on page 42
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

Michael Lindfield is a Trustee and long-term member of the Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland, with a background in organic gardening, transpersonal psychology and peace education. This article is drawn from his forth-coming book, The Dance of Change to be published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in Fall 1986. © 1985 by Michael Lindfield.

IN THE EARLY 1970s I WAS PRIVILEGED to learn organic farming from a remarkable old man in the west of Sweden. Anders Bjornsson had taken forty years to develop an approach to nature he called "friendly farming." His philosophy was based on the belief that life is the greatest teacher and that theory comes after practice.

On my arrival at the farm, Anders took one look at me and told me to take off my shoes and socks. He bade me walk upon the earth and feel the soil against my skin. It was a very simple request but the result was profound. The warm, moist soil felt alive beneath my feet, and I experienced myself being embraced by the earth. For the first time in 23 years, I was truly conscious of being alive and of walking upon a living planet. For years I had walked the city streets, feeling hard concrete underfoot, and had failed to realize that just a few metres under this human-made surface was a breathing body belonging to our Mother Earth.

Anders had come to his realization about the magic and coherency of life by observing how plants and trees, animals and insects and the myriad micro-organisms in the soil interact and depend on the gifts of each other. He was intrigued by how, from seemingly nowhere, a new crop of wildflowers would suddenly spring up on a meadow where it had previously never been seen. He concluded that the earth is full of dormant seeds, each awaiting its time in the ordered procession of growth. Each plant type adds to the microlife of the soil and so prepares the way for the next family of plants with their particular requirements and gifts.

I suppose it is because so many of us have been brought up and educated in a culture which does not consciously recognize the interdependence of life that we find ourselves alienated from the natural worlds. Had I grown up among the native peoples of the world, I might have established right relations with my environment more quickly and gracefully. We see in these cultures – whether the native north American peoples, the Aborigines of Australia or the Lapps of northern Scandinavia – a reverence for life and a sense of kinship with the natural realms. They each had their own particular code of behavior and system of ritual to invoke blessings upon hunting, fishing and all other forms of interaction with the creative forces. They appreciated their symbiotic relationship with the Earth and would never dream of upsetting the balance.

Could it be that those of us brought up in the west have been looking in the wrong places and employing inappropriate tools in our search for truth? None of us can learn, develop or find a deeper meaning to life by living in a personal vacuum. It is like plucking a flower to study how well it is growing. Learning and growth are a result of relationship – a grand wisdom born out of the fire created by the friction when life rubs up against life. It is our perception of relationship that needs enhancing.

In our normal state of awareness we perceive the world as fixed and we tend to focus on one object at a time, isolating it from its surroundings. It is like walking on a beach at night with a torch, illuminating each pebble individually without seeing the context of the whole beach and the relationship of the stones with each other. Our modern languages have many words to explain the nature of objects: we can say that this stone lying here is smooth and ovoid with mottled grey markings, or that the ocean over there is cool dark green, but we have no way of articulating in one or two words the relationship between stone and ocean.

Our western society has, however, produced some visionaries who have been able to pierce the veil of ignorance and see the connectedness of life. Perhaps one of the most well-known is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who reconciled a Christian theology with the scientific theory of evolution. He was interested in the process of complexification, which is the genesis of increasingly elaborate organization during cosmogenesis, vividly illustrated in the passage from subatomic units to atoms and on up the ladder through organic molecules, cells, multicellular individuals and civilized societies. He viewed complexification as an all-pervading tendency in evolving life forms, eventually leading to the intensification of mental subjective activity, and he saw humanity as the birth of a self-reflective consciousness upon the planet, marking a significant step in the overall global evolution.

Chardin appreciated that the Earth herself is evolving and growing new organs of awareness. He put forward the idea of a "noosphere" – a layer of focussed and collective thought surrounding the planet in addition to the biosphere. He held this to be the first stage in the building of a "global brain," with each human being constituting a creative cell – the inference being that the more we learn to cooperate with each other, the more we begin to weave a seamless neural web around the planet which can act as a creative organ in the larger body. Chardin saw the future as a divine collective adventure, realizing that individuals could only be fulfilled in the measure that they partook of the noospheric development. His conclusion was that "truth is simply the complete coherence of the universe in relation to every point contained within it."

What is our own personal truth? Working in my garden or walking in the countryside, I have never come across anything in nature that is superfluous and does not fulfill a function. There seems to be no redundancy or unemployment in these natural worlds. Be it rock or plant, bird or tree, or even the bacteria within the soil, everything occupies a vital place in the dance of life. If we consider ourselves part of the nature of this planet, where do we humans fit in?

Many of our worries and stresses arise from our inability to know when and where to be – let alone why. Other life forms seem to be free of these concerns. Rocks and mountains are simply in place and plants tend to grow in the climatic regions best suited to their needs. They do not have the possibility of pulling up their roots and walking about, although their seeds may be distributed over a wider area by winds, birds and animals. Animals and birds have a greater freedom of movement and yet they seldom stray from the areas in which they form an intimate part of the give and take of the ecological balance.

As a keen birdwatcher, one of the events I enjoy most each year is to see the return of the osprey. These magnificent birds fly all the way from their winter quarters in Africa to the same nests along the rivers in northern Scotland to mate and rear their young; then in the autumn they make the long journey south again as part of their cyclic dance. Why do they go to Africa each year? Don’t they ever get bored? Can you imagine two osprey having a heated argument because one of them wants to go to India for a change? They move with the currents of the earth, the magnetic homing beacons that transmit their message to all in touch. Yet, we humans with our legs and cars, planes and ships that make us the most mobile of all life forms and possessing free will and individual choice, are still searching for our appropriate place and function within our ecosystem. But how are we to understand our own process of inner growth and purpose?

Rudolf Steiner put forward the view that life in its entirety is like a plant. Anyone who has observed a garden knows very well that a plant only just in leaf will go on to produce flowers and bear fruit. In its secret centre the plant is already nurturing the embryo of these late stages, although they are in no way visible to the eye. Steiner suggests that the same process is at play within each of us and that mere outer appearances are no true indication of the gifts and qualities lying dormant inside awaiting the right moment to appear.

There is a world of difference between growing a garden of flowers or vegetables and unfolding our own particular human destiny. As a gardener I am extremely grateful to the seed companies for printing clear information on the packets telling me what is inside and how to go about sowing it. I am given useful tips on how deep it should be sown and how far apart from other plants; what kind of nourishment and care is required; when it is best harvested; and to what use it can be put. Alas, frequent inspection of my own human "packet" has failed to reveal similar information. Someone, somewhere, has omitted to include the instructions for my proper care and unfoldment or even a few well-chosen words of advice hinting at who I am, the place to which I am best suited, the name of my companion plant and exactly what gifts I have to offer.

Much of the pressure we feel in attempting to solve such riddles of life comes from attempting to find a solution by ourselves. We remain separate units and pretend we can survive without anyone’s help. But life is not disjointed and disconnected and many living organisms, including human beings, are formed by the union of two particular cells, each of which is a whole in itself. New organisms and new understandings can only be produced through a symbiotic relationship. Each cell has a wealth of information stored within it that covers three main areas: that of its own specialized and specific task; the overall plan of the whole organism; and the knowledge of how each part must relate in order that the task be accomplished.

I believe that we contain within our psychological and cellular structures all the necessary information about our specific tasks and the nature of the new evolving social organism. It is simply a matter of learning to connect and to communicate so that this informing principle can be released. Information is not a pile of facts gathering dust on a shelf somewhere; to "inform" means to give shape to something: to bring from out of the realm of living thought an idea so that it can be made manifest. With the working together of human hearts and minds we have the weaving of the web of life and the building of our "global brain": that organ of awareness that has been likened to the creative mind of the planet.

But there is also the need to build the "global heart" – an organ full of compassion, consisting of the sum total of all our aspirations and feelings of connectedness. We cannot evolve as individuals simply by exerting our mental muscles, and likewise as a planet, no amount of debate will ever really solve our human problems. It is only when we learn to celebrate together – to play and dance together – and honor the communion that we share as a common body of humanity, that the supreme synthesis can take place. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, saw his approach as reaching far beyond the individual and his work gives us an inkling of the kind of qualities that are needed in our future work. He remarked that, "An isolated individual is a non-existent abstraction. In reality each individual is interwoven into an intricate network of vital, psychological and spiritual relations, involving mutual exchange and interactions with many other individuals. Each is included in, and forms a constituent part of, various human groups and groups of groups, in the same way in which a cell is a tiny part or an organ within a living organism. Therefore individual psychosynthesis is only a step towards inter- individual psychosynthesis. "

It is difficult enough to understand who we are as individuals, let alone grasp the enormity of a collective destiny, but human history can be viewed as a succession of evolutionary waves, each of which carries us a little deeper into understanding our cultural context.

The impulse behind any cultural or civilizational wave is its mythos which is only one aspect of the total human spirit, for each culture has the capacity to capture only so much of that totality at any one time. Ideas and thoughts are alive and are the messengers of change. Whether we are in the process of building a new society or changing our own way of thinking and acting, the starting point is always the birth of the new from within.

These outworkings are part of the continual revelation of humanity’s inner potential which process through time in the pageant we know as cultural achievement. But before each new cultural wave breaks on the shore of human consciousness, there seems to be a time of great confusion and chaos. It is as though time-honored social and philosophical models which have previously reassured us in times of doubt no longer seem to apply. The new impulse, like a giant tuning-fork, has sounded its note, and we are asked to act in resonance with it. If the forms that we have created in our society cannot serve the new dispensation then they tend to disintegrate and we find ourselves in a world that appears to be falling apart. Our present era is a classic example of a society in the midst of change, surrounded by forms that do not work, and attempting valiantly to construct systems of trade and finance, care and communication that are more in harmony with what is sensed as the next step in our evolution. We have not been sufficiently educated to understand the psychology of transformation or cope with the stresses of change on both a personal and global scale. Our curriculum was based on the assumption that the existing set of values would remain constant, and now that we find ourselves caught up in a social upheaval, we do not know how to respond appropriately. We need a new mythos: a new creation story to inspire and guide us through the coming birth.

Has our western society dulled the creative senses and made us forget our potential for change? Have we become dislocated from the creative power source that is the living myth? Dane Rudhyar suggests that the powerful archetypal images expressed in myth and dogma are continually evolving in our collective consciousness and that at certain times these underground streams break out into the open and provide a well-spring for new ideas. This world of living thought and "great images" is not exclusively the domain of the artist or the philosopher, for any culture or society can be transformed if those open enough to experience the power of the new archetypes take personal responsibility and make them part of their own lives. This art of myth building and paradigm construction is a true response to the pressure of evolution, and the quality of vision and skill applied at this conceptual stage can determine not only future forms but also the creative boundaries of our culture.

The task at hand is that of learning how to unlock the genius at the heart of every human being so that the larger creation story can be expressed more vitally through every personal story. This flow of genius is often blocked by our fears and doubts that are like dark clouds blotting out the sun from view. There may be notes of hope being sounded, but there are also all too many prophecies of gloom and destruction forecasting the downfall of our civilization. Are we to believe these harbingers of doom whose messages stymie our creative spirit?

I view prophecy as being like the weather forecast we see on television. Armed with charts and statistics about which way the wind is blowing and the pressure of approaching fronts, the forecaster can predict what sort of day to expect. The prophet acts in a similar fashion, except on a psychological level. Each thought and feeling emanating from humanity affects the psychological climate of the world. All the prophet is doing is to point out that if these clouds of fear, anger and despair continue to build up and move in a certain direction, there will most surely be stormy days ahead. The prophet warns of coming upheavals created by our attitudes so that we may have the chance, if we so choose, to change the conditions. As it is we who have caused the inclement weather within the psychic atmosphere of our society, then it is surely we who have the power to change these patterns and instead create a more life-enhancing climate.

We are like psychological weather machines who have it in our power to influence the environment, and either make this planet a hostile place or a greenhouse that will nurture the unfolding human spirit in cooperation with the other life-streams with whom we share this sacred space. Which story do we want to write?

Wherever we happen to be, we can choose to make that time and that place a commitment to evolutionary change on a personal scale. Offices, village squares, theaters, corn fields, factories and family homes are our places of transformation, if we wish to make them so, and those around us can be our partners in the dance.

Listening To The Trees

by Susan Meeker-Lowry

WHILE WALKING AMONG THE REDWOODS in the spring of 1984, I had my first experience of talking to – or rather being talked to – by a tree. As I approached one of the larger redwoods in my vicinity, I suddenly realized that I was unmistakably hearing the tree speak to me. Although it was totally unexpected, I couldn’t deny the reality of what was happening, nor could I ignore the urgency of the message:

"Pollution is our enemy and you humans are waging war on us. We of this kingdom feel deep compassion and love for you, especially those of you who are trying to help. But you must not falter! We are dying. We are not afraid of death. Death is an inevitable part of life. But we are the skin of the Earth and our children are dying, too. As we live, you live. As we die, you die. Without us, the Earth will become a desert, a vast wasteland. We are necessary, not only for the physical well-being of the Earth and all life, but also for the spiritual attainment of humans. As you walk among us, open yourself up to our love. The love that is you is us, too. We are all one. You can feel it. There! Awaken and become conscious of our oneness. Live your life in its awareness. Share with and learn from others. Remain open to our connection – and act within it. There is much at stake. "

I have since become more aware of the consciousness of the natural world and our unity with it, and I continue to talk with the trees and other members of the vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms. The love that the natural world has for all of life – for us – is a vital source of nourishment for me. In sharing my experience, my hope is to enable others to open to the oneness of all in a direct and personal way, so that we can know our common purpose and heal the Earth and ourselves.

Susan Meeker-Lowry is the editor of CATALYST Investing in Social Change, one of the GOOD MONEY family of publications, 28 Main Street, Montpelier, VT 05602.

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