Deep Time & Cosmological Earth - Activities - Experiences - Adventures

picture of blue bell flowers - with text reading Deep Time - Cosmological Earth

Key adventures that connect with resources and awareness of deep time include Conversations with the Future (Macy), Universe Story Cosmic Walk Ritual (Swimme & Berry, Bonnarens), The Gifts of the Ancestors (Brown & Macy), and A Walk Through Time (Liebes, Sahtoruis, & Swimme). Several other resources are also available.

We as Future Ancestors

picture of sunset on the Rocky Mountains, mountains silhouetted with rose-colored sky, M. Hauk photographer

Joanna Macy's tremendous contributions to the understanding of deep time through World as Lover, World as Self and Coming Back to Life, Thinking Like a Mountain, and The Work That Reconnects, include developing multitudes of experiential activities focused on increasing awareness and perception of deep time. In The Seventh Generation activity (in World as Lover World as Self, pp. 187-188), two rings of participants have conversations, in the roles of present-day ancestors/listeners and the voices of people from two hundred years in the future. The exercise acknowledges two assumptions, first that humans continue to exist two hundred years from now and secondly that these future humans know what happened in our time and "which means they have institutions capable of carrying an unbroken cultural memory. And that means they live in a sustainable society, and the Great Turning has happened." After a journey to a point outside of time marked by a sustained "ah" ("the seed syllable evoking those who have no voice"), each of three encounters is marked by the future-person querying the present day, telepathically, heard through the voice of the facilitator. These questions include asking about the feelings of living in the current-world, what first steps did the current-day person take, and "3. Ancestor, I know you didn't stop with those first actions on behalf of Earth. Tell me, where did you find the strength and joy to continue working so hard, despite all the obstacles and discouragements?" Then the future ones share from their open and empathic hearts "what is in their hearts after all they have just heard from their ancestors" and the ritual closes with silent respect. Then the group re-enters ordinary time with a sustained "ah."

Universe Story Cosmic Walk

image of the Granite Dells in Arizona, orange rock boulder mounds above blue water, M. Hauk photographer

Cosmologist and mathematician Brian Swimme and theologian Thomas Berry generated a narrative view into the genesis of the universe and the story of planetary formation and the unfoldment of life on earth in The Universe Story. They did this in order to reinfuse humans with a sense of our role: "The role of enabling the Earth and the universe entire to reflect on and to celebrate themselves, and the deep mysteries they bear within them, in a special mode of conscious self-awareness" (p. 1). The Cosmic Walk Ritual creates a group journey for walking backwards in time through the aeons of development of life, through culture, human emergence, flowering trees coevolving with insects, development of vertebrates, eukaryotes, past the great seas of fire and water, through planetary and solar system formation, supernovas and the great primordial flaring forth (big bang). I have walked the ritual with Bonnarens' gorgeous watercolors placed with candles in a large spiral, with room for candle-holding journeyers to walk first backward in time to the big bang, then forward through the formation of the universe back to our current moment. The cosmic walk process is a slow and thoughtful revery and journey, at each of the points in the process, small cards can be supplied at each station with key developments: how the crisis of oxygen became an opportunity for life to adapt; the innovation of photosynthesis. An adventure into how the verve for life first flung forth in the birth of the universe and how it subsequently has journeyed through deep millenia to this momentous now.


harvesting ancestors' gifts

picture of multiple galaxies converging, known as an einstein ring, from the Daily Galaxy, February 9, 2010

Joanna Macy and Molly Brown in Coming Back to Life describe a process of Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors walk (pp. 138-142). In this powerful process, "to walk for an extended period of time, people move in a revolving fashion around a center point in the room," with space around them. During the first half of the exercise, people walk slowly backwards through time, through their own life, then through the lives of parents and grandparents, further back, through the ancestors' experiences, including war, factories, slavery, torment, past civilizations, treking across continents. Then, back to the time of the first humans, the walkers turn and walk the other direction. "Walk forward on that journey now, retracing your steps, returning through time. You come from an unbroken line of survivors and each has gifts to bestow. Open your arms and hands to receive these gifts; gather them in....These people are giving to you the texture of your skin, the shape of your back, the marrow of your bones. They give you courage and strength and perseverance as they travel through the land...Receive the creativity of your ancestors, caring for the injured or praying with the dying; that, too, is you. Know their love of beauty...Know the intelligence of your ancestors as they track the movements of stars, learn the ways of the plants and animals, hold councils to choose wisest action. Receive that intelligence as their gift. Can you sense the love that burns in your ancestors?... Receive that love as their gift to you...Relish their wit and humor...Your ancestors have gifts from their suffering, too: courage, endurance, resilience, stubborn perseverance. Receive these as their gifts to you." (p. 141). Further on: "Coming now to this present moment, you stop. You are once again on a brink of time. You cannot see clearly the way ahead or imagine what will be asked of you. But you do not go forward empty-handed. The ancestors who loved and tended this Earth, and cared for each other, offer you the strength you need now, to do what needs to be done-so that their journey and yours may continue" (p. 142). The group then debriefs and shares their experience. There are a series of prompts available in the book detailing the possible journey markers, script, and facilitation of this work.

"This extended exercise connects us vividly with our human past on Earth and deepens awareness of the strengths it offers us. The expanses of time remind us that the Industrial Growth Society is a momentary episode--and that to move beyond it, we can draw on a far larger and more deeply rooted legacy. As we progress through the countless generations, respect and gratitude arise for our forebears' capacity to weather adversity, and to respond collectively and creatively to enormous challenges. The process helps us to believe that these capacities have not foresaken us and to want to use them now, at this crisis point for life on Earth" (p. 138).

Walk Through Time

globular cluster metropolis from Daily Galaxy 12-13-10

Liebes, Sahtouris, and Swimme in A Walk Through Time, 1998, similar to the Cosmic Walk, offers amazing visual materials for reflection, combining the panoply of science and evolution across deep swaths of time with prompts for reflection. Companion material is availble online at A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us. (Note: opt in to the legacy site if prompted.)

"Creative Process in Turbulent Times: In the Archean era, a young Sun, less brilliant than now, as a hot, reddish-brown, largely molten, still radioactive planet cooling its crust like skin on a steamy pudding. As we move closer, we see its thickening skin heaving, cracking, and sliding about, pouring forth ever more of its fiery magma, pushing up mountains, and buckling in valleys, only to rearrange them again and again." (p. 40).

"Life is a story of permanence and change. Exuberant and innovative, it is also deeply conservative. Traditions and relationships of today provide clues to the past....Evolution is not linear. Organisms and species do not just evolve or become extinct--they also anastomose (fuse together). In profoundly moving ways, life often grows in on itslef, bringing previously evolved beings together into new partnerships." (pp. 8-9)

"The origin of the universe is an immense fire that will never again appear in the universe's expansion into time. This primal universe shines forth with such titanic radiant energies that we humans evolving out of this blaze can still feel its heat 15 billion years later....The universe did indeed begin in an explosion of energy powerful enough to send all matter flying apart for billions of years into the future. The primal fire when the universe is one-trillion-trillion-trillionth of a second old is a unique, onetime event. So though we use the word fire with its connotations of a red-orange flame flickering above burning wood, we need to realize that the primal fire is different. It is a fire that is a trillion trillion trillion trillion times denser than rock. No one word by itself will ever adequately convey the nature of this beginning, for all of our words have been forged in a very different context - a less violent, less cataclysmic context, but a context nevertheless that came out of the original moment itself. our words refer to this later world in which we live, but all that is about us descends from that compact beginning and thus each thing and even our words themselves must carry some faint and stable relationship with the original fire. THough we have no single word sufficient for that singular event at the beginning of time, perhaps with a spectrum of words - fire, rock, blaze, radiant energy - we can with all humility intimate something of that originating mystery.
The primal brilliance expands briefly and then suddenly, with great fury, enters upon an even more explosive expansion that physicists designate with the phrase inflation, an exponential billowing forth in which the elementary particles, the first material beings, are torn out of a deep well of potentiality and allowed to enter the adventure of evolution. So many exotic things were destined to come forth, but not all at once here at the beginning. This is the time for the emergence of the elemenatary particles, and their many types bubble forth in a profusion unique to this moment. (pp. 8-11)

Picture of Book cover of Terrapsychology, turbulent water moving

Many resources exist with a wealth of activities regarding deep time. Key resources include:

  1. Abram, D. (2010). Becoming animal: An earthly cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books.
  2. Benson, M. (2009). Far out: A space-time chronicle. New York: Abrams.
  3. Berry, T. (1988). The dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
  4. Bonnarens, C. (2001). The universe story cosmic walk ritual. St. Louis, MO: Mercy Center.
  5. Capra, F., Steindl-Rast, D., & Matus, T. (1991). Belonging to the universe: Explorations on the frontiers of science and spirituality. San Francisco, Calif: HarperSanFrancisco.
  6. DeVorkin, D. H., & Smith, R. W. (2008). Hubble: Imaging space and time. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  7. Liebes, S., Sahtouris, E., & Swimme, B. (1998). A walk through time: From stardust to us : the evolution of life on earth. New York: Wiley.
  8. Macy, J., & Brown, M. Y. (1998). Coming back to life: Practices to reconnect our lives, our world. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.
  9. Macy, J. (2006). The Work that Reconnects [Training DVD]. Gabriola Island, B. C., Canada: New Society Publishers.
  10. Macy, J. (2007). World as lover, world as self: Courage for global justice and ecological renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
  11. Noble, V. (1991). Shakti woman: Feeling our fire, healing our world : the new female shamanism. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco.
  12. Sahtouris, E. (2000). Earthdance: Living systems in evolution. San Jose, CA: IUniversity Press.
  13. Seed, J. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: Towards a council of all beings. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.
  14. Swimme, B., & Berry, T. (1992). The universe story: From the primordial flaring forth to the ecozoic era--a celebration of the unfolding of the cosmos. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSan Francisco.

planetary collaborations

Earth Empathy is a project of the Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies, a fruit of a mentored doctoral course in "Deep Regeneration of Self and World" in the Prescott PhD in Sustainability Education, companioned by the insightful mentoring of Craig Chalquist. The adventures continue to unfold. Please collaborate and share your ideas, experiences, activities, and resources...Welcome home!