from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?


– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.


Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.


Roselle Angwin

Monday, 24 November 2014

Tongues in Trees 2: earth & spirit

kate compston


We live within a vast interconnected web, an animate web. Everything to which we are connected is alive; everything, in its own way, is an expression of consciousness.

Left to itself, our earth will get on with ensuring a harmonious interaction and communication between every living thing. Things breaking down into disorder and then reshaping is a natural cycle. This is, in effect, the Gaia principle.

It's probably true to say that disharmony, fragmentation and active destruction are predominantly the contribution of the human race. 'Because of our neglect, the world is strewn with unrelated objects,' said Jungian James Hillman.

A significant manifestation of the web in action is a continual exchange between every part of the web and every other part – everything is in constant co-operative action, and we alone as a species apply judgements to what we deem 'good' and what is 'bad'. The earth's intelligence makes no distinction between birth and death, for instance; both are simply necessary to the web of being.

In the West, we have inherited from Plato, from Roman/Judeo Christianity, from the patriarchal societies of the last two millennia, and maybe from way before all of those, a hierarchical picture of the universe that puts us, homo sapiens, usually man (sic), at the top of the tree. Mainstream Western science does this; mainstream Western religion, too. Both think unquestioningly in hierarchies.

We forget to allow for the fact that other species have their own particular kind of intelligence, and that each is crucial to the maintenance of a healthy web. Though many of us know this intuitively, paradoxically we have science to thank for bringing this latter, at least, to public attention with its awareness of ecosystems, and the fact that each part of an organic system has its own integrity and its own inherently important contribution.


We may not experience ourself as actively interconnected with All That Is; in our postmodern reductionist urban culture it seems that dislocation, deracination and a sense of disconnection is more the norm than not.

Both mainstream science and mainstream religion have done us and the earth a great disservice.

Science, by its denial of spirituality, by which I mean here the existence of subtle levels of being and our interconnectedness on all planes, and its divorce of the earth and other species from anything other than a reductive existence as matter alone, has taken a wrongheaded turn.

Religion, though it has contributed an awareness of subtle levels of being and direct perception through intuition, gnosis and direct experience of these non-material levels, by its splitting of earth/matter from spirit and valuing the latter over the former and (like science) the human over the non-, has taken a wrong-hearted turn. They are, perhaps, equally dangerous.

What we need now, in my view, and what all my work and life is geared towards, is a way of living that draws together spirit and matter, 'heaven and earth', the visible and measurable and the invisible (to the 'ordinary' senses), and the unmeasurable (by our current instruments and the rational mind), by recognising the equally-strong and equally-necessary apparent poles of immanence and transcendence.

Everything in the tangible universe, in this view, is animated by spirit and it makes no sense to polarise them. 


This recognition happens through integration, not through separation.

More specifically, perhaps, we need to recognise that the soul of the earth – that living web behind all manifest external appearances, that which animates All That Is – is no different from the human soul (except in particulars and tasks). We are part of world soul. We are living a collaborative project, a collective process, which needs to reconcile the splits and fractures in our world view and therefore the world conditions that we create.

In other words, a spirituality that does not include the earth and all her inhabitants will serve none of us for a harmonious future, any more than a view of the universe that is mechanistic or materialistic alone does.

lynn baxter
The purpose of my Tongues in Trees day was to begin the process of encouraging and enabling a sense of active participation and collaboration between human and tree, with an emphasis on ways of relating that are rooted in the knowledge that this exchange is necessarily two-way – the tree is as much in contact with us as vice versa. Clearly this requires an openness to the other-than-human, a suspension of scepticism, and a way of listening and receiving  that is not a much-practised skill in our time.
It seems that many participants on that day experienced a profound sense of this exchange in the  communication with the non-human. You can see on this page some of the many visible and beautiful results of my prompt to create a shrine, an offering, or indeed an expression of grief, at the feet of the tree each individual had chosen/been chosen by during the morning work. Walking slowly and in silence all together between the offerings was a moving and beautiful experience; one that many of us will not forget.

We're all in this together.

'The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth,' declared Chief Seattle. Time to remember. Well past time to remember; but maybe there is still time.



With thanks to all the participants of that day.