The Challenge of Bearing Loving Witness

This past Sunday, a sparkling and bone-chilling day, I went out to the woods with a good friend – a wise man in precarious health, who walks with Death pacing his footsteps. We were going in hopes of meeting with others, to join in a loving circle for the Earth. We waited; no one came. Eventually we went to the spot we’d chosen for the ritual, and after some heart-to-heart conversation on the way things were going in the world, offered our own energy-gifts and prayers to the Mother, and left.

I am still processing the non-event. Was it my (admittedly fuzzy) directions? The short notice? The distance to drive? The chilly temperature? Or was it a simpler, deeper reason: fear of the event itself? Fear of stepping out of LOA lockstep and admitting the truth of what is happening, much less taking any steps in response?

I’d begun my invitation by doing the unthinkable: pointing out the dire situations we’re facing on all too many fronts, and the likelihood that some “negative” feelings (i.e., grief) could quite possibly be involved, and the need for prayers and love to be gifted to the Divine embodied in this precious planet in such devastating pain.

(I’m intentionally not addressing the scientific reasons for the event, which are abundantly documented in brilliant sites such as the Science and Environmental Health Network, Helen Caldicott, M.D.,  Words for a Better World,,, and many others, all of whose articles I share on Facebook.)

But why come out for such a sad purpose? Crowds have come out in positive action against Keystone XL, Monsanto, and fracking. CEOs, local and national legislators, SCOTUS and POTUS, and world leaders are barraged by incessant petitions. The planned removal of the fuel rods from Fukushima’s damaged Unit 4 requires trained nuclear engineers and operators willing to sacrifice their lives (or health at the very least), not ordinary citizens.

What can the ordinary person do beyond what is being done?

LOVE THE EARTH. Over and over again, this is the guidance I am receiving: LOVE THE EARTH.

In the past seven years I have stood by the deathbeds of my husband and my mother, dying of congestive heart failure, and beside the coffins of two aunts, who passed after battles with cancer. In this same period, I have held six of my cats while they died or were put to sleep (due to old age and cancer). I have received a hard education in bearing witness to the passage of a beloved.

While I do not believe that the planet herself will die, it is widely recognized that we are in the midst of mass extinctions in the sea and on land…and that these may quite possibly include the human race. Whatever life forms will survive or evolve out of these devastating earth changes will be very different from those we know now.

Like it or not, to be in any real sense human, we must recognize all that is in the process of passing.  Today’s blame-games and denial seem tantamount to squabbling over our Mother’s impending change, projecting the blame for all that is failing in her body…all the physical abuse and depletion she has suffered over the centuries of sustaining her greedy, willful children.

To clarify: not standing with her as we did at my mother’s bedside, engaging in the painful yet comforting interactions of apology, forgiveness, deep listening and loving and blessing, but rather retreating to another room to stage cathartic psycho-performances focused on her worsening condition and our own self-blame or self-justification, or the imperative of gouging one last demand from her.

What a horrible, futile way to spend the precious time as it ticks remorselessly past.

What if, instead, we humans chose to spend these days in intentional appreciation – yes, sending petitions, protesting, taking all the outward “warrior” actions, but also setting aside time to be spent as gently and sensitively as humanly possible, loving and nurturing  the Earth and her beings in the face of death.

Nearly two years before, I had taken another approach with my husband as he lay drugged and unconscious, fighting massive sepsis two months after heroic, experimental heart surgery. I engaged full-scale in LOA strategy, refusing point-blank to believe at any time that death was a possibility. I gathered teams of Reiki and other energy practitioners, and called on our worldwide community for prayers at each “bump in the road.” When the drugs could do no more, hearing the doctors’ urging to turn off life support was like reaching a sheer drop-off at the end of an elevated expressway …I was still racing ahead, but with nothing beneath me…falling, instead, through open air. There could be no conversation, no exchange of forgiveness and blessing – only my repeated “I’m sorry” between sobs as I watched his heart monitor slow, then flatline. It took months to come to terms with the reality of his passing. I still struggle to connect at a deep level, inwardly bracing myself for loss yet again.

But these were the deaths of single human beings…not the death of massive numbers of individual humans, plants and animals, entire species, ecosystems, even potentially life as we know it on Earth.

How do the two connect? As I see it, faced with death, we have four basic options:

  • To despair, blaming self and others, wallowing in the expectation of loss
  • To relentlessly and remorselessly deny the inevitability of any ending
  • To value life more highly and live more purposefully, resisting death as long as possible while seeing it as the wise advisor who gives meaning to life
  • To connect with a larger picture in which nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected, in which death may be the gateway through which an individual’s – or a species’ – influence and impact transcend the body…as I came to see it was for my mother and husband.

It is easiest, least risky, least painful, to choose the first two, focusing on the patient as object or victim, focusing on the external body, disease process, and overwhelming physical needs, imagining and projecting the patient’s experience (or distancing oneself with the platitude “I can’t imagine what you must be going through”), or worse, speaking of the patient as if s/he were an empty, unaware thing in the bed, rather interacting directly with the whole person as a total mind/body/spirit entity.

It is terrifying to engage with another human being as they stand with their toes curled at the brink of the unknown…hanging ten at the drop edge of yonder …how much more terrifying to engage directly with a planet whose compromised ecosystems are in similar condition…  especially when this whole culture is based on the belief that the Earth is an unaware, unconscious object? Couldn’t this be done by indoor workshops or energy circles, safely in centrally-heated rooms?

My experience: reading a hospice handbook on the dying process – even doing a guided visualization on death — is very different from standing at a loved one’s deathbed with eyes and heart open. Reading of a rainforest being slashed and burned is very different from sitting in a secluded glade and feeling the screams of a single tree being dismembered by loggers, or struggling through deep muddy tire tracks and crushed underbrush to touch the stumps and shreds of trees hauled away. Reading even the most heart-wrenchingly written petition on the death of our watersheds is very different from standing on the cracked earth of a dried-up streambed and bearing witness to the dying trees and silence of wildlife dead or fled.

The wisdom of the imagination is very different from the wisdom of the heart and spirit connecting to the wisdom of the Earth – in the moment, on the spot, having the courage and vulnerability to bear witness to devastating realities and listen without theory or preconception or interpretation to the guidance of the Earth regarding appropriate and necessary action in response.

What results from this distancing, I ask? Consciousness can be righteously raised in theory with no resulting actual action, personal cost or long-term outward effect.  There are those who say that the brain does not know the difference between reality and ritual (or process)…while this may be true for some, I have not experienced this beyond a very limited degree. A guided visualization or process, like divination – I say – is necessarily limited by the inward filters of the person visualizing…unless support is given to weaken those filters and facilitate an opening to new insights.

I say – for Pity’s sake – it’s time to go out to the woods and the water, to love, to grieve and to bear witness, to invite the wisdom of the Earth to speak in sacred space, and to listen!

At the very least, this wisdom can speak of meeting extinction with dignity, “not go(ing) gently into that good night.” At best – witnessing the Spirit-based actions of Idle No More, who is to say that Earth wisdom, if humbly and sincerely sought, may not guide us to answers? And who has not heard of the “exceptional patients” who were given weeks or months to live, and who, supported by love and prayers, made a miraculous turn-around?

The next Loving Circle will be offered on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, again at 2:00 p.m. The place in Maryland will be announced within a day or two. Watch for the Facebook event and Calendar event here.

One thought on “The Challenge of Bearing Loving Witness”

  1. What a well written essay. My name is Bill Castro and I too am bearing witness to the immense destruction of our ecosystem. As a resident of Ten Hills and a beekeeper, it has been hard over the last 2 decades to be a part of the unraveling of our planet. To know that I am part of the systematic machine that is drilling for every last drop of oil, every last chunk of coal, and every last fume of gas meanwhile poisoning our precious fresh water. I am also bearing witness to the complete and utter destruction of our honey bees and butterflies. Humans have taken our planet and it’s resources for granted and we blindly cover our eyes while being hypnotized by a black box of fantasy. If only more people would become open to the idea that the only thing that matters in life is being happy with who we are, enjoying our friends and family, sharing what we have with our loved ones, caring for our animals, and taking care of what we have, but if am afraid this is far to much to ask from the majority of humanity.

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