The woman who lived in a giant tree for two years

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Our inculturation as “moderns” sometimes leads us to view unconventional people in a misguided light. Portrayed as a tree-hugging radical, Julia “Butterfly” Hill is a well-known environmental activist and writer, best-known for her two-year long “tree-sit” occupation of a 200-foot tall ancient redwood tree in Humboldt County, California, to save it from being cut down by loggers. I’ve written about her before, and regardless of what mainstream media has said, Hill is one of those inspiring, unforgettable figures precisely because of her act of profound courage. She is one of those modern mystics that have blazed a path into a great spiritual unknown, starting with this singular act. As I said before: “You can speak Gandhi and Martin Luther King, non-violent civil disobedience, in the same breath; certainly, this image of a woman standing tall on a even taller tree, surrounded only by sky, is that indomitable human spirit in the service of love and truth.”

But judge for yourself; here are some of her own words, from Inner Self:

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“Committed Love in Action” – article by Julia Butterfly Hill

I was born into a deeply religious family. My father was an itinerant preacher and we traveled across the country offering our service to rural communities. My father would preach, my mother would sing, and my brothers and I would perform puppet shows to entertain the young ones. My early life lessons were to respect my elders and to offer myself to the greater good.

In our family we placed God first, community service second, and our own personal concerns last. Like many teenagers, I rebelled against my upbringing and questioned the way I was raised. Because we were extremely poor and religious, I rebelled by valuing money and deviating from organized religion.

I graduated from high school at sixteen. I decided to study business in college because I truly believed that our value in society was measured by our financial wealth. Because I am someone who prefers experiential learning, I left college and opened my own restaurant when I was eighteen. I am a hard worker, and the next two years of my life were devoted to this business. I even helped others run their enterprises. My life revolved around saving for the future. Yet like most young people, I liked to party and have fun.

In 1996, I was out late with some friends, and I was the designated driver. I was driving a small two-door hatchback and was rear-ended by a drunk driver in a Ford Bronco. The steering wheel jammed into my skull, causing brain damage.

The accident affected my short-term memory and my motor skills. I underwent nearly a year of cognitive and physical therapy. During this period, I had time to contemplate the possibility that I might not fully recover. What if I could not function normally again and what if that impaired my ability to work and earn money, the way I had become accustomed? This possibility struck a chord in me that forced me to question my perceived values. I realized that my value as a human being was certainly greater than my ability to earn money. I began to ponder what my true meaning and purpose on Earth were.

When your way of life is threatened, nothing is ever the same. I suddenly saw everything in a new light. All the time and space I had taken for granted became precious. I realized that I had always been looking ahead and planning instead of making sure that every moment counted for something. Perhaps because I had injured the analytical side of my brain, the more creative side began to take over, and my perspective shifted. It became clear to me that our value as people is not in our stock portfolios and bank accounts but in the legacies of life that we leave behind.

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Mathemusician’s doodles demystifies the agony of numbers

Mathematics is a beautiful language that helps us describe nature and her inexorable laws. For the layman (or laywoman in my case) this means a garbled bunch of indecipherable symbols, Greekery and equations, but it need not be the case if you would like to comprehend some concepts intuitively.

One person that I’ve come across who explains it without much fuss — and almost breathlessly, it seems — is YouTuber Vi Hart. Her singsong monologues are entertaining, insightful and best of all, educational, whether it’s explaining the Fibonacci series or mind-blowing hexaflexagons, and usually accomplished with masterful doodles.

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We Are the Dreamed (Part 7)

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Here follows Part 7 of a research paper that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Here are Part 1Part 2Part 3,  Part 4Part 5 and Part 6.

We Are The Dreamed

Young Girl Playing Paper Game: Dream is destiny.

– “Waking Life,” directed by Richard Linklater, 2001

A change of consciousness is the major fact of the next evolutionary transformation, and the consciousness itself, by its own mutation, will impose and effect any necessary mutation of the body… If a spiritual unfolding on earth is the hidden truth of our birth into Matter, if it is fundamentally an evolution of consciousness that has been taking place in Nature, then man as he is cannot be the last term of that evolution: he is too imperfect an expression of the spirit, mind itself a too limited form and instrumentation; mind is only a middle term of consciousness, the mental being can only be a transitional being.

– “The Future Evolution of Man,” Sri Aurobindo

As emerging science and the Indian poet-philosopher Sri Aurobindo posits: if it is true that we are undergoing what is fundamentally an evolution not of biology – but of consciousness – then it is unmistakable that dreams and the unexplored depths of the collective conscious will have a decisive role in it. Already, our human-made constructs of duality between subject-object, human-nature, modern-primitive, real-unreal and waking-dreaming are trembling under the forces of pervasive change and new social dreamings, both inside and outside of what we naïvely and narrowly conceive as our “self.” As Aurobindo implies, this transformation is inevitable, regardless of our self-conscious efforts to know what is unfolding. In the same vein, a universal ethic is in the making, whether we know it or not, it is inevitable. The darkest hours are yet to come, but if current times are of any indication, there is the faint heartbeat of a new collective dream of unity, surfacing. As David Orr states with positive conviction, the planet needs more “peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of every kind” (Orr 12), but ultimately as well, we need more dreamers to dream this emerging story into reality.

Memetics, Culture Jamming and Waking Up To Our Own Collective Lucid Dream (Part 6)

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Here follows Part 6 of a research paper that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Here are Part 1Part 2 and Part 3,  Part 4 and Part 5.

Memetics, Culture Jamming and Waking Up To Our Own Collective Lucid Dream

Man on the Train: Hey, are you a dreamer?
Wiley: Yeah.
Man on the Train: I haven’t seen too many around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language. Nobody teaches it so nobody knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored, this is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. And things are just starting.

– “Waking Life,” directed by Richard Linklater, 2001

As Marshall McLuhan correctly predicted, the next world war will be a “guerilla information war” – and most likely, it is happening now as mainstream media outlets jostle for ratings instead of journalistic integrity, advertisers for multimillion-dollar primetime spots and Hollywood for the most believable (if manufactured) spectacle. We are, as Situationist writer Guy Debord wryly notes, living in a society of spectacle, empty of meaning and immediacy. In its place, we have the indoctrinated, overwhelming drive to consume, consume, consume and “mediacy” – life as mediated through other instruments and completely structured by our media (Lasn 101).

Like the ecological conception of a collective unconscious, our waking consciousness also entails an ecology of mind, and like air or water, is a “common-property resource” that must be protected from what anti-consumerist campaigner Kalle Lasn describes as “mental pollution” (Lasn 13). Lasn cites a number of compelling examples of this mental contamination: the unending noise of modern life; the scripted jolt and shock effects of television; proliferation of advertising hype; the comfortable and dissociative “unreality” of the Internet; information overload; infotoxins and a general loss of infodiversity (Lasn 13-27). Essentially, our collective conscious has been hijacked, our autonomy eroded. Science may not dare to insinuate yet, but with technology speeding ahead under the auspices of “progress,” it is probably a matter of time before the most private parts of the unconscious can be hacked into, colonized and sold off piece by piece as advertising real estate, just as it has happened on the Internet.

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Risk-free Social Mapping: Dreams In Hominid Evolution of Consciousness (Part 5)

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Here follows Part 5 of a research paper that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Here are Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4.

Risk-free Social Mapping: Dreams In Hominid Evolution of Consciousness

Jung’s work is not without detractors – for some, his constant search for metaphor in clinical situations and attempting to make literal structures out of them have been called “unscientific” and “malpractice at its finest” (McGowan 187). Though this may have an element of truth in it, it should not be forgotten that even science at its most exact and empirical has the barest grasp on the nature of consciousness, and like God-fearing religion two hundred years ago, has dominated modern thought to the point of self-righteous defensiveness. Biotechnology, geoengineering – all “scientific” disciplines that are plowing ahead without the slightest understanding of the totality of the consequences – prove that science for the sake of science can only go so far.

Nevertheless, in the interest of painting a broader picture, it is important to also focus on recent scientific studies that suggest that the unconscious and dreams do have an evolutionary function and may be as integral to life’s development as the process of gene mutation.

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Sprout Out Loud! ‘Zine Launch @ Drawn & Quarterly

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Montréal artist-activist Emily Rose Michaud is launching the second edition of her ‘zine Pouvoir Aux Pousses! / Sprout Out Loud! tomorrow at local comics powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly. Emily established the Roerich Garden* in 2007, as part of the Sprout Out Loud! gardener’s collective.

The Roerich Garden is located on a plot of land formerly owned by a railway company, and is one of the last undeveloped green spaces in Montréal’s Mile End neighbourhood. This local community space is surprisingly biodiverse, and has been used by locals for various activities, and like other unofficial urban greenspaces on “vague terrains” worldwide, raises questions about citizen engagement, urban occupation and land use. Residents are now working with city officials to keep it as a open, green and communal space.

In the spirit of this collective guerrilla garden, I was honoured to contribute a drawing for Emily’s ‘zine; the event information is below.

*Roerich refers to Nicholas Roerich, early 20th century Russian painter, writer, philosopher and theosophist who worked to establish “pax cultura” (a culture of peace).

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Pouvoir Aux Pousses! / Sprout Out Loud! zine launch + presentation + planting

DRAWN & QUARTERLY in Montreal.

Wednesday, May 22, 5 to 7 PM.

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From Jung To an Ecology of The Collective Unconscious (Part 4)

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Here follows Part 4 of a research paper that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Here are Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

From Jung To an Ecology of The Collective Unconscious

The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends… All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises…

– Carl G. Jung, “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man” (Civilization in Transition 304) 

With its emphasis on the individual, scientism and desacralization, modernity today has not been kind to some of the most basic human instincts for communality, for communion with nature, with ourselves and with each other. Neither dreams nor collective mythologies escaped the self-important modern consideration that they were either random hallucinations or primitive expressions, until Sigmund Freud appeared on the scene (only to assert that dreams arose from the unconscious as wish-fulfillments of the dreamer’s infantile sexual needs) (Cox & Hiller 14). It is becoming clear now that the popular conceptions of “modernity” could now be called a tradition, binding the human species to a set of self-destructive, aethical, “modern” values and hindering it from taking the next step in evolutionary complexity and collectivity.

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The Dreaming, Dream Law and Ecological Ethics (Part 3)

Video: This incredible example of storytelling comes from the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony showing the unity of Australia’s 250 aboriginal tribes.

Here follows Part 3 of a research paper that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

The Dreaming, Dream Law and Ecological Ethics

But how do dreams connect with waking, material reality? What influence can dreams, myths and collective ritual have on the physical environment and how can these elements contribute to a universal environmental ethic? No culture proposes a more profound answer to this question than the aboriginals of Australia, whose complex conception of life sees creation as a transient, continuous ‘bringing forth,’ flowing from what they call Alcheringa or Dreamings.

As the world’s oldest, still-living culture at 40,000 years old, the aboriginal sense of ecological relationship stems from their understanding of creation as a reciprocal act. For them, the creation of the world began in a mythic time called the Dreamtime through the actions of the Sky Heroes, but it is only through the active participation of humans in Dreamings and ritual does the integrity of the earth remain intact.

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Ecology of the Collective Unconscious (Part 1)

The past few years have been a bit of an undocumented period for me. I used to write pretty prolifically on the personal level and now it’s dwindled to not even a trickle, except for the odd journalling jaunt. Recovering the process will probably take some time, but in the meanwhile, I’m going to post bits of the trail from along the way.

Here’s a paper I did back in 2007 — barely six months out of Auroville — on a subject that’s near and dear to me, and details some of the inspiration behind my fascination with ecology and the collectivity of human consciousness.

The seeds of the topic were planted some years ago when a coworker of mine had enthusiastically recommended Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines — an excellent book that describes a primordial aboriginal Dreamtime from which all creation is sung into existence. I’ll be posting the first part below.

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V.  That is the state of deep sleep wherein one asleep neither desires any object nor sees any dream. The third quarter is Prajna, whose sphere is deep sleep, in whom all experiences become unified, who is, verily, a mass of consciousness, who is full of bliss and experiences bliss and who is the door leading to the knowledge of dreaming and waking. 

– excerpt from the Mandukya Upanishad, translated by Nikhilananda

 

Humans spend approximately one third of lives asleep – and dreaming. From ancient peoples to modern-day, technological societies, dreams have always been accorded a unique place of mystery in the collective histories of the human species. Since earliest times, dreams were seen as communicative catalysts, as creative, naturally connective forces offering access to other worlds perceived to be as real as this reality.

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Azerbaijan’s Petroleum Spas Use Crude Oil Baths To Treat Disease

Though we often associate ooze-slicked animals with horrific disasters like 2010’s BP oil spill, in the Azerbaijani town of Naftalan, 160 miles north-west of the capital Baku, there is a clinic where visitors voluntarily flock to its famous (well, famous at least in the former Soviet Union) clinics to bathe in crude oil. The practice has supposedly been around for centuries and is believed to treat scores of illnesses, including arthritis, rheumatism and psoriasis.

Read the rest on TreeHugger.

Weedrobes: Artist Creates Stunning Garments From Fruit, Weeds, Flowers

Environmental art doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to a pile of rocks stacked together by Andy Goldsworthy — it can also take the form of wearable, fashionable and socially engaged garments too. Made with fruits, weeds, flowers and leaves, ‘Weedrobes’ is the delightful series of meticulously detailed, perishable gowns, coats and suits by Canadian environmental artist Nicole Dextras. Striking a careful balance between style and commentary, the message behind Weedrobes’ is aimed squarely at the not-always-so-sustainable practices of the fashion industry, while also redefining the perceived immortality of haute couture.

Read the rest on TreeHugger.

Treehouse At Finnriver Farm

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In the summer of 2009, I attended a treehouse-building workshop held by Treehouse Workshop, a Seattle-based company that builds gorgeous treehouses, run by Peter Nelson and partners. The workshop was held at Finnriver Farm, where over the course of the weekend participants learned the basics of selecting trees, design and structural considerations, which tools to use, and using ropes, harnesses and other gear to climb up and down trees and to rig components necessary for the building process.

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