Earth Despair and Hope - Activities - Experiences - Adventures

picture of blue bell flowers - with text reading Despair and Hope

Key adventures that connect with resources for feeling and processing earth despair and generating a sense of hope include Council of All Beings (Brown & Macy, Seed & Macy), Learning to See Each Other (Macy), Earth Story Share & Care (Clinebell), and Love Letters from Earth (Hauk). Several other resources are also available.

Council of All Beings

picture of spiral agave plant growth

Joanna Macy and Molly Brown in Coming Back to Life describe processes for a Council of All Beings (pp. 149-165). Many of these also appear in the earlier book for which Macy is a co-author with John Seed: Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings.

In Coming Back to Life, these activities include Reporting to Chief Seattle (pp. 151-152). The Eco-Milling / The Evolutionary Gifts of the Animals (pp. 152-154) and The Remembering (pp. 154-158) hav similarities with The Universe Story Ritual appearing in the Deep Time portion of this Earth Empathy Website. The Bestiary is a litany of lost species (pp. 158-159). The Cairn of Mourning is similar in that it offers a ritual for people to express their grief for what is happening in the natural world. Macy points out that knowing the depth of this sorrow helps people know the depth of their belonging, "from which comes the power to endure hardship and to act for the well-being of all" (p. 160).

Finally, The Council of All Beings itself (pp. 161-165) is a longer ritual that "allows us to step aside from our human identity and speak on behalf of other life-forms. It is excellent for growing the ecological self, for it brings a sense of our solidarity with all life, and fresh appreciation for the damage wrought by one upstart species" (p. 161). The Council involves an invocation and blessing, then a process of being chosen by a life-form, a process of creating a mask and practicing moving and speaking as the life-form (with some optional small group work), then a structured formal Council of All these Beings, in three rounds. First the beings express their particular concerns that they are bringing to the Council. After each concern shared, the Council responds, e.g. "We hear you, Wild Goose." One by one they speak and are heard. Secondly, some humans are asked to step into the center and sit and listen to hear the concerns, silently listening. Third, "when all the beings have had a chance to address the humans and call them to account, a major shift occurs....Now each being has the chance to offer to the humans, and receive as a human when they come to the center, the powers that are needed to stop the destruction of the world, the strengths and gifts inherent in each life-form. Sometimes the humans break their silent listening to say simply "Thank you." Then the Council is formally ended and the energy grounded.

Learning to See Each Other

Image of spring blossom of a magnolia, close up, white and rose colored, M. Hauk photographer

Experiential Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy shares a deep, guided experience in pairs called Learning to See Each Other as part of a chapter for activists called "Taking Heart" in World as Lover, World as Self (2007, pp. 132-135). Macy adapted a Buddhist practice called Brahmaviharas, the Four Immeasurables of loving kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity. She suggests it can also be adapted to practice throughout the day, including in line at the grocery story or on the subway, in a casual glance rather than extended gaze.

The exercise is conducted in silence, in pairs of two people silently facing each other. "Take in each other's presence as fully as you can. You may never see this person again: the opportunity to behold the uniqueness of this particular human being is given to you now." The exercise travels through a series of awarenesses and imaginings, for example "...Open your awareness to the gifts and strengths and potentialities in this being...Behind those eyes are unmeasured reserves of courage and intelligence....of creativity, endurance, wit, and wisdom...There are gifts there, of which this person her/himself is not yet aware...Consider what these powers could do for the healing of our planet, if they were believed and acted on...As you consider that, feel your desire that this person be free from fear...Experience how much you want this being to be free from fear, free from greed, released from hatred and from sorrow and from the causes of suffering...Know that what you are now experiencing is the great loving kindness...

Now, sustaining your attention, open to the pain that is in this person's life......Let yourself open to that pain, to hurts that this person may never have told another being...You cannot take those hurts away, you are not that powerful. But what you can do is be unafraid to be with them. As you let yourself simple be present with that suffering, know that what you are experiencing is the great compassion. It is very good for the healing of our world..."

"...As you open to that possibility, what you open to is the great wealth: the pleasure in each other's powers, the joy in each other's joy...

"Lastly, let your awareness drop deeper within you, like a stone, sinking below the level of what words can express, to the web of relations that underlies all experience. It is the web of life in which you have taken being, in which you are supported, and that interweaves us through space and time...See the being before you as if seeing the face of one who, at another time, another place, was your lover or your enemy, your parent or your child...And now you meet again on this brink of time...And you know your lives are as intricately interwoven as nerve cells in the mind of a great being...Out of that vast net you cannot stupidity or failure or cowardice can ever sever you from that living web. For that is what you in that knowing. Rest in the Great Peace...Out of it we can act, we can dare anything...and let every encounter be a homecoming to our true nature...Indeed it is so..."


earth story share & care

picture of worm castings, proto-soil

One of the founders of Ecotherapy, Howard Clinebell in Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth, in a section on "Healing Grief for Planet Earth" describes a two-hour experience with a handful of people. Sharing Earth Stories. Introduce yourselves. Read the Wild Geese poem by Mary Oliver and "share intense feelings of ecological mourning awakened by the poem." Then, in consecutive round-robins share a little of your earth-story, also describe a recent experience of feeling pain for the Earth. Then another round sharing a recent earth-encounter where you experienced some measure of transformation. The final sharing round is an invitation to share what each might plan to do to protect and preserve the living earth. To end, join hands and share a brief ritual of commitment and blessing (p. 207).

"Providing opportunities for people to do their 'ecogrief work' is important in today's ecological crisis. Because the causes of ecological grief are ongoing, complete healing of this grief clearly is neither feasible nor desirable. What is important is healing those dimensions of grief that produce denial and action-paralysis. The ecogrief group leader's task is to facilitate interpersonal trust and group bonding so that members will feel free to express their feelings candidly, be heard empathically and without judgment, and be motivated to use the energy of their grief, guilt, and anger for earth-caring actions."

Love Letters from Earth

Image of lush foliage, bright pink rhododendron, dark purple tulips, and GuanYin statue, M. Hauk photographer

Marna innovated this ritual over a decade ago, Love Letters From Earth/Writing Love Letters to Earth. After creating safe space and group work keening and grieving the losses, the extincted species, we then praise the vitality of the living Earth system and receive, acknowledge, and praise the vibrant possibilities. Then, summoning our deep poetic voices and the realm of the imaginal, we write a letter from Earth (or some people to choose to write one to Earth), often using extra stationery or love notes made with stamps and ink and recycled paper. Then we put all the love letters in sealed envelopes in a big bowl and swirl them around. Then we pluck one out each (not the one we wrote) and write our address on the front. The facilitator, after a moon or two, puts the letters in the post, and we receive, on behalf of our local portion of the thriving planet, at a fresh moment, a love letter to/from Earth. An Earth Day variation of this ritual by Stella Maris is explicitly called "Love Letters to a Warming Earth" (2008).

From David Abrams, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, 2010:
"In truth, it's likely that our solitary sense of inwardness (our experience of an interior mindscape to which we alone have access) is born of the forgetting, or sublimation, of a much more ancient interiority that was once our common birthright--the ancestral sense of the surrounding earthly cosmos as the voluminous inside of an immense Body, or Tent, or Temple." (p. 154)

"Informed by the logic of our creaturely senses, the story suggests toward a great secret: that there's a blazing luminosity that resides at the heart of the earth....the salutary goodness of light makes its primary home within the density and darkness of matter. That the transcendent, life-giving radiance that daily reaches down to us from the celestial heights also reaches up to us from far below the ground. That there's Holiness that dwells and dreams at the very center of the earth....the...intuition of a resplendent immanence in matter...this recognition of matter as generative and animate..." (pp. 298-299, 303)

Picture of Book cover of Coming Back to Life, orange mandala on black background

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

  1. Berry, T. (1988). The dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
  2. Berry, W. (1985). Collected poems, 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point Press.
  3. Berry, W., DePol, J., North Point Press., & John DePol Collection (Library of Congress). (1989). Traveling at home. San Francisco: North Point Press.
  4. a href="">Cointelligence Institute (2010). A Toolbox of Processes for Community Work [Web page]. Retrieved from
  5. Glendinning, C. (1994). My name is Chellis and I'm in recovery from Western civilization (2007 printing). Boston: Shambhala.
  6. Hauk, M. (2006). Benediction to Darkness and other Rituals of Earth Aliveness. Unpublished Manuscript. Portland, Oregon.
  7. Macy, J., & Brown, M. Y. (1998). Coming back to life: Practices to reconnect our lives, our world. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.
  8. Macy, J. (2006). The Work that Reconnects [Training DVD]. Gabriola Island, B. C., Canada: New Society Publishers.
  9. Macy, J. (2007). World as lover, world as self: Courage for global justice and ecological renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
  10. Noble, V. (2003). The double goddess: Women sharing power. Rochester, Vt: Bear & Co.
  11. Seed, J., et al. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: Towards a council of all beings. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

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!