INTERVIEW in the Environmental Studies Association of Canada newsletter "RHIZOME", June 2005
by Randolph Haluza-DeLay, Assistant Professor, Sociology
The King's University College
9125 50th Street
Edmonton, AB T6B 2H3
Australian ecological activist John Seed will be in North America in June and July for a series of 12 deep
ecology workshops, including one in Canada. He is a long time rainforest campaigner and exponent of the deep,
long-range ecology movement and author (with Joanna Macy, Arne Naess and Pat Flemming) of Thinking Like
a Mountain - Towards a Council of All Beings (1988), an important book for understanding the practice and
philosophy of deep ecology. He has made several films on ecology topics and albums of environmental music. In
1995 he was awarded the Order of Australia medal by the Australian government for services to conservation
and the environment.
Rhizome: What’s been happening since Thinking Like a Mountain?
John Seed: Well, that book was published in 1988 and so the short answer is, LOTS has been
happening since then. To be more specific, Thinking Like a Mountain - Towards a Council of All Beings
has been translated into about a dozen languages (Spanish and Tibetan translations are presently
underway) and experiential deep ecology processes such as those described in the book are being
conducted by hundreds of facilitators around the world.
Rhizome: Is there a sense of the effect your book has had?
JS: Well my perspective is very partial. In this form we give permission for anyone to facilitate the
processes we have devised or discovered and there is no reason why they should communicate with
us or that we should necessarily know what is going on in this field. It’s a very common experience
for me to hear of someone who has been facilitating this work for years unbeknownst to me so its
hard to get any feeling for how far it may have worked its way into how many peoples lives.
Rhizome: Tell us about these experiential deep ecology workshops
JS: If we look at indigenous cultures, we may notice that without exception rituals affirming and
nurturing the sense of interconnectedness between people and nature play a central role in the lives of
these societies. This suggests that the tendency for a split to develop between humans and the rest of
nature must be very strong. Why else would the need for such rituals be so universally perceived? It
also suggests the direction we must search for the healing of the split: we need to reclaim the ritual
and ceremony which were lost from our culture a long time ago, and to our amazement we find that
this is incredibly easy to do.
The man who coined the term “deep ecology,” - professor of philosophy at Oslo University,
Arne Naess - pointed out that “ecological ideas are not enough, we need ecological identity, an
ecological self.” How are we to develop and nourish ecological identity? Naess suggested that we
need “community therapies ... we must find and develop therapies which heal our relations with the
widest community, that of all living beings.” The experiential deep ecology workshops that I have
developed with Joanna Macy and others may be seen as a modern counterpart to the ceremonies of
indigenous peoples, or as the community therapy that Naess called for.
In the workshops we weave together three important themes. After preliminaries to introduce
ourselves to each other and build up trust, we begin with a mourning ritual. It is only to the extent
that we will allow ourselves to feel the pain of the Earth, that we can be effective in Her healing. As
Joanna Macy points out “Deep ecology remains a concept without the power to transform our
awareness, unless we allow ourselves to feel” - which means feeling the pain within us over what is
happening to our world. The workshop serves as a safe place where this pain can be acknowledged,
plumbed, released. Often it arises as a deep sense of loss over what is slipping away - ancient forests
and clean rivers, birdsong and breathable air. It is appropriate then to mourn - for once at least, to
speak our sorrow and, when appropriate, to say goodbye to what is disappearing from our lives. As
participants let this happen, in the whole group or in small clusters, there is hopelessness expressed.
There is also something more: a rage welling up and a passionate caring. The energy previously
locked up in the denial of these feelings is released and becomes available to us. The sense of
numbness and paralysis evaporates and we prepare for action.
Then we move on to exercises which assist the remembering of our rootedness in nature. For
instance in the evolutionary remembering, we use guided visualisation and movement/dance to
recapitulate our entire evolutionary journey and release the memories locked in our DNA. We invite
the experience that every cell in our body is descended in an unbroken chain from the first cell that
appeared on the Earth 4 billion years ago, through fish that learned to walk the land, reptiles who’s
scales turned to fur and became mammals, evolving through to the present. We further extend our
sense of identity in the Council of All Beings where, after connecting with a non-human ally in the
natural world, we discover that we can indeed give voice to these voiceless ones. In Council, we lend
our voices to the animals and plants and features of the landscape and are shocked at the very
different view of the world that emerges from their dialogue. Creative suggestions for human actions
emerge and we invoke the powers and knowledge of these other life-forms to empower us in our
lives. The workshops end with exploring tools for practicing deep ecology in our daily lives. As many
participants in this work have discovered, alignment with our larger identity clarifies, dignifies and
heals our personal conflicts. We see that the pain of the Earth is our own pain and the fate of the Earth
is our own fate.
The present series of workshops is titled “Earth, Spirit, Action.” Although they continue to
include the above themes there is now more emphasis on the tools we need to maintain spiritual
strength in challenging times such as these and in discussing how we can overcome the impediments
to decisive and optimistic action.
Rhizome: How are these workshops to be beneficial to the rainforest projects you support?
JS: I guess I would answer this on several levels. Firstly these workshops provide participants with
fresh vision and empowerment for action. As facilitator, after describing and introducing each
process, I sink back into the circle and participate in the processes like everyone else. This is the
wellspring of the vision and empowerment that I need to do my ecological work. The environment
movement is notorious for the burnout and depression that can follow years spent staring into the
abyss of species extinction and the other horrors that the foolishness of modern humanity unleashes
on the world. I think it behooves each of us, if we're serious about engaging in this struggle for the
long run, to find spiritual or psychological practices that keep us fresh and inspired. We're not going
to be able to protect the biodiversity of this planet one forest at a time. Without a profound change in
consciousness sweeping the foolishness of the modern era before it, all the rainforests will be lost
including the ones we thought we saved in the last 25 years. These workshops are a crucible for a
On another level the workshops are beneficial to rainforest projects because all of the
facilitators fees that come my way are donated to the protection of ecology. The dozen or so
workshops I'll be facilitating in North America in June-July this year are benefits for ecology and
indigenous survival in India. For example, the Rainforest Information Centre has been supporting the
work of Dr. Sathis Chandran Nair, the pre-eminent rainforest ecologist from Kerala, India. Workshop
proceeds will support his work as well as other similar projects described at
Rhizome: Given that you have been doing Council of All Beings workshops since the late 1980s -
what sort of worldview effect do you think they have had?
JS: Well the scale of the problems we have created is so vast that it is impossible to detect any effect
from either workshops or activism. However, the conditions for undermining the dominant paradigm
are unknown, the efforts of people to topple the Berlin Wall or the Soviet Union were imperceptible
till a sudden and seemingly inexplicable paradigm shift. So, although it sometimes seems like
preaching to the choir, I remain fully committed to the importance of promulgating and sharing these
Rhizome: Are we slipping further into a managerial modernist worldview, or are more cracks
forming that let a deep ecological worldview shine through more?
JS: Well, once again I'd have to say that from my perspective it would be hard to argue that things
have improved in the last 20 years. But I think it is precisely continuing to struggle for what is right in
the midst of the confusion, at the height of the absurdity is what creates the moral force for Life to
burst through the concrete of modern human conditioning.
Other details and writing by John Seed, as well as the full schedule of John’s workshops can be found at
http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/deep-eco/schedule.htm, including the details for the North American trip.