The Fourth Ascent
It would be difficult to argue that "sustainability" is not affecting the subconscious of a majority of individuals on the planet at this time. In fact, I would argue, no other concept has ever penetrated so many cultures as deeply as has the concept of sustainability.
It is not difficult to understand why this notion resonates with the human species at our present juncture. We all share a desire to sustain ourselves: a desire to survive and provide the means for future generations to thrive. Nonetheless, the nature of the word "sustainability" casts a shadow bigger than most of us would like to admit, because in order to fully understand what it means to be sustainable, we must be able to recognize its antithesis: everything that is unsustainable. We must face the shadow. How else can we expect to heal the planet?
In order to heal an emotional trauma or physical wound, we must first face the pain. If we fail to do so, the trauma or wound will fester and make us vulnerable to other ailments. A gash left untended will become infected, and eventually gangrenous. If we fail to address the root of an emotional trauma, we will experience stress, and are likely fall into patterns of blame and abuse. In like manner, if we fail to face the reality of the present state of the Earth's health and our own role in contributing to her sickness, then we run the risk of complete ecological collapse. Consequently, all of this talk about "sustainability" and "greening" would not serve any purpose, as we humans are entirely dependent on the web of life, the ecology of the planet, to survive; a fact that many of us have a difficult time remembering.
So what function is this sustainability meme serving right now? In many cases, it has been co-opted by corporations that, through many years of practice, have mastered the art of psychological manipulation to block our intuition and heighten our fears so that we are more easily susceptible to advertising campaigns, thus making us better consumers. We have been programmed into a box that tells us that we can buy our way out of anything, including ecological collapse.
But how could owning more stuff make us sustainable? I don't have to go into great detail about the underpinnings of our global financial system in order for anyone to understand that this is a fundamental lie. Sustainability has nothing to do with owning more stuff or having more paper in a bank account. Moreover, how could an economic system based on private ownership, mass production of goods, and the exploitation of people and natural resources sustain itself? Is it not also subject to the laws of nature? It hasn't seemed so as far as we can look back into history. But, if we choose to zoom out a little further we can see that the history of human life on this planet is just a blip on the spiral map of time. And look at how much we've been able to disrupt -- processes that have evolved over millions of years -- in less than 200 years since the dawn of industrialism.
This economic system cannot sustain itself. It is controlled by human interests rooted in a false perception of reality, one that sees us as separate from nature and separate from one another. That is to say, it is embedded in a materialist consciousness of man versus nature. It forgets that we are a part of the web of life that is crucial to maintain a balance to sustain. It is dying now because it has to by definition. It is unsustainable and it is the outline of the shadow we must face.
If the unsustainable elements within our systems are ignored, then we will fail to see what is truly needed in order to become sustainable. If we continue optimizing components of "sustainability" in isolation, we will ultimately threaten the stability of the whole system. When I mention the whole system, I am referring to the whole Earth system, that web of ecosystems that serves multiple functions in order to maintain a balance for mutual life support.
But rather than creating a list of the unsustainable elements within our current state of society, I urge the reader to consider the indigenous concept of "seven generations." Imagine that each decision you make is taking into account 200 years of future relatives. Our present society has become so fast-paced that most of us cannot imagine where we will be ourselves in two years, or even two weeks, so the idea of planning for the next 200 years could be quite the daunting task. But if we take a breath, and consider the current health of our planet, we might see that our busy lives probably don't need as much energy as we expel.
We are living at a time when our soil, which takes hundreds of thousands, and in some areas, millions of years to form by natural processes, is eroding at an alarming rate. We need healthy soil for food to be able to grow. Yet, the only places where soils are conserved and increased are in uncut forests, prairies, and meadows, and underneath lakes and ponds. The soil collapse that we face is a direct result of massive deforestation. Where there were once forests we now have concrete or desert. And now a majority of our fresh water is contaminated with toxins and subject to privatization. Even the air we breathe on a daily basis transports toxins and pollutants into our bodies. We treat ourselves with "medicines" comprised of many of the same toxins and pollutants. If we continue to ignore these elements of the shadow we will never be able to even consider supporting seven generations. In fact, if we ignore any of the elements then we run the risk of threatening the survival of the entire web. I'm reminded of a story of a man whose vision helps illustrate this shadow.
In 1931 a Lakota medicine man named Black Elk shared his Great Vision with a poet by the name of John G. Neihardt. When Black Elk was a young boy he became very sick with an unknown ailment. He lay in his teepee for several days near death with his parents at his side. During this time he received a Great Vision in which he was shown humanity through four ascents, or stages of history. He believed that he was living through the third ascent of his vision, a time when individualism and materialism dominated the Western world:
"And as they walked the third ascent, all the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting."
Black Elk was born in 1863 when the materialist pulse of consciousness was thick. Individualism consumed, through colonization and forceful assimilation, the most intact peoples, nearly wiping out thousands of years of cultural tradition. Cultural genocide remains one of the biggest threats to indigenous peoples.
This past September, while earning my Permaculture Design Certificate at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I had the great blessing to sit down with Leonard Littlefinger, the direct descendent of Chief Bigfoot, who explained in great detail the threats of cultural genocide. Leonard has built a total immersion Lakota language school that has yet to receive funding to actually open. The Lakota language is holistic and deeply spiritual. Yet, the way that it has been taught in universities and on the Rez is through simplified translations within a context of English language structure. The spiritual elements of the language have been dislodged for several generations. For instance, the word Heyoka as translated into English means clown. But this is extremely oversimplified. To define a Heyoka requires the entire story of where they get their spiritual power, and why they act as clowns, why they dress as they do, and wear their hair a certain way, and what their role is in a ceremony. Everything has deep meaning. We lose that deep meaning if we simplify and compartmentalize our worldview as we have done in dominant society.
While meeting with Leonard, I told him about a book that jumped off the shelf when I first arrived in South Dakota. That book was called Creator's Code: Planetary Survival and Beyond written by a Lakota man named Ed Eagle Man McGaa. Every page I opened to seemed to have a direct answer to a spiritual question I had been asking myself. For instance, during continued participation in Native American Church Meetings, Ayahusca Ceremonies, and traditional Lakota Inipi Ceremonies, I became deeply concerned with the issue of cultural appropriation. Though all of the ceremonial leaders and elders I had been blessed to share sacred space with were already certain of my intentions, I was still doubtful about my place. Inside of a tourist-trap rest stop I opened up Eagle Man's book to read "One cannot own the Four Winds, the eagles, the streams and certainly not the Spirit World. Conversely, one should not be owned. Our spirit is the most free entity we have." Honoring cultural traditions with respect, gratitude, and understanding has lighted my path to learn these ways from so many kind and wise helpers. I shared this with Leonard and he smiled and told me that I should visit Eagle Man at the Crazy Horse monument. I left and headed up through the Black Hills, passing many Bison, to meet with Eagle Man.
A close friend of Ben Black Elk, the son of Nick Black Elk and translator of his vision, Ed Eagle Man McGaa shared stories of the realities of the third ascent. He informed me of the history of the Hiawatha Insane Asylum in Canton, South Dakota. Commissioned by the US Government in 1901, Hiawatha housed Indians who would not assimilate. By this time, most traditional ceremonies were made illegal, medicine bundles were burned, and medicine people were barred from performing ceremonies considered by the Jesuits to be satanic. Hiawatha was a convenient destination to send someone who refused to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, or who was being called to act by their ancestors. According to Eagle Man, Black Elk could not share his vision with the outside world until the asylum was closed.
Throughout the third ascent industrial society has transformed the energy of the sun, through extraction of the Earth's blood and organs, from plant and animal species into human beings. That is, it is only because of our ability to cheaply convert fossilized sunlight (fossil fuels - namely oil, coal, and natural gas) into consumable energy, that we have been able to extend the carrying capacity of the human population, while subsequently destroying natural habitats. Or, to put it another way, we've actually converted the energy of the plant and animal kindoms into people. We've managed to disrupt and destroy both biodiversity and cultural sustainability through deforestation, oil exploration, and economic enslavement and exchanged the natural diversity of ecosystems for the monocrop of human beings. We are so out of balance that we are presently witnessing a mass extinction of plant and animal species. This shadow cannot be sustained. The fourth ascent of Black Elk's Great Vision is suggestive of the times we now inhabit:
"And when I looked down the people we're all changed back to human, and they were thin, their faces sharp, for they were starving. Their ponies were only hide and bones, and the holy tree was gone."
It is no coincidence that the spiritual bankruptcy of our dominant materialist society has left us in the predicament we are in. Many of our brothers and sisters have no concept of the sacred, but we humans are an integral part of the sacred that is nature, are we not? We too are sacred. We have only experienced so many traumas that we have forgotten this fact. Fortunately, nature shows us that devastated systems go through a natural process of succession: a sequence of processes in the evolution of a new system.
Permaculturists, through the observation of the patterns found in nature tend to stress the fact that every element within an ecosystem serves multiple functions and that nature creates mechanisms to regenerate damaged environments. As human beings we also have the innate ability to heal ourselves. Many of us come to this realization only after something that we generally refer to as a spiritual awakening. For me, this process began while experimenting with psychedelics like LSD and Psilocybin. Nevertheless, though my consciousness was expanded at a young age I had not experienced deep healing or true spiritual awareness until being invited to a Navajo Peyote Ceremony and later to Ayahuasca Prayers, which subsequently lead to a more meaningful "way" in which I began to integrate the understanding that everything is sacred. It is because of the will of these powerful plant teachers that I have become closer to nature, and have found self-empowerment in my own abilities to develop my gifts and share them freely. I am so thankful to the roadmen, and the medicine people, the "shamans," and especially to the plants for waking me up to become the fullest expression of myself and for sharing these "ways" with so many others who are so far removed from their indigenous ancestral roots. This too seems to be part of Black Elk's Great Vision:
"And as I looked and wept, I saw that there stood on the north side of the starving camp a sacred man who was painted red all over his body, and he held a spear as he walked into the center of the people, and there he lay down and rolled. And when he got up, it was a fat bison standing there, and where the bison stood a sacred herb sprang up right where the tree had been in the center of the nation's hoop. The herb grew and bore four blossoms on a single stem while I was looking -- a blue, a white, a scarlet, and a yellow -- and the bright rays of these flashed to the heavens."
He goes on to explain that the same Great Spirit that gave the people the buffalo in abundance to sustain themselves would find a new strength in the sacred herb that would then bring the holy tree back into bloom. Many of us have found our way to a spiritual path through plant teachers. Evidently, this is their natural function, or their mission if you will: to invite us to spiritually evolve or, in other words, to begin our process of human succession. But if every element in nature serves multiple functions, then what is the purpose of spiritual evolution other than remembering that we are a part of nature?
This brings us to another meme of the day -- the year, 2012. There generally tend to be two schools of thought when it comes to the 2012 meme. Some see this as a time of spiritual evolution and renewal. While, others see it as a time when the Earth will go through massive changes. Considering again, the shadow -- the current health of the planet, it is possible to see human spiritual evolution as a natural process to prepare human beings for massive Earth changes. It is crucial then not to discredit the prophecies of peoples who are aligned with nature, who are natural. Do not the four-legged and the winged prophesy the changes in weather patterns and plan accordingly? Let us not forget that we are nature and we too have the ability to listen to the wind. As stated earlier, it is dangerous to optimize components of sustainability because it tends to threaten the stability of the whole system. By the same account, if we choose to discount the prophecies of indigenous peoples then we are missing a very important opportunity to fully understand what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle.
Every single one of us has ancestry with peoples who were intact with their landscape, who had creation stories, who beseeched the invisible world, who honored the archetypes of the cardinal directions, who sang songs of gratitude, and who danced for the elements. For too long we've been victimized by our ancestral trauma of colonization and genocide. It is time to become a culture of survivors. Better yet, it is time for us to become thrivers. We must face our shadows and begin our healing process. As we heal, we will learn attributes of compassion and walk with them. We must remember what it means to be indigenous. We must amplify the voice of our indigenous ancestors and our indigenous brothers and sisters that are here now. The more we do this, the more that we can develop our natural abilities of telepathy or divination to understand how to manage the changing weather of our times. Considering always, the shadow, these things we must do to weather the storms. Not unlike the prophecies of the Maya and the Hopi, Black Elk's Great Vision saw the fourth ascent as a time of renewal bringing the earth back into balance:
"The storm cloud was coming on them very fast and black, and there were frightened swallows without number fleeing before the cloud. Then a song of power came to me and I sang it there in the midst of that terrible place where I was. It went like this:
A good nation I will make live.
This the nation above has said.
They have given me the power to make over."
With recognition that human beings are not separate from nature but are an integral part of nature, and considering that every process of nature serves multiple functions, then the purpose of spiritual evolution at this time becomes clear. We are being called to take our rightful place in the natural order through a natural process that we perceive as spiritual evolution. We are fascinated by the ability of animals to detect changing weather patterns and plan accordingly. Yet, we've always had the same ability. We've only been programmed to forget this fact. Human spiritual evolution, then, is nature's response to the damage we've inflicted on processes and systems that have taken millions of years to evolve. In less than 200 years we've removed mountaintops, changed the flow of rivers, clear cut most of the forests, destroyed our soil, and polluted our air, causing mass extinction of animal and plant species. We've extracted the blood of the earth, the oil, and converted the energy of these natural systems, the plant and animal kindoms, into people.
The evolution of consciousness that is occurring on this planet at this time is bringing people closer to nature, is it not? We are learning how to live in the spiral flow of nature. We are remembering our indigenous roots, our ways of connecting to the spirit world, and our role as stewards of the land. We are developing our intuition so that we know how to listen to the wind and read the signs in the clouds. We are preparing for the new world. Our mother will not tolerate the damage we've done. She is getting ready to clean herself. To bring her life-energy back into balance, she will convert many of the people into other life forms and rebuild the web of life.
The role of those who are listening to the call to evolve is to learn from the patterns in nature and how to live with nature, to be natural. When the storm is coming you will know where to go. You are not separate from your brothers and sisters in the animal kindoms. You have learned ethics, accountability, empathy, forgiveness, unconditional love, detachment, intuition, prayer, manifestation, and discipline to walk in a sacred manner. You are listening now and you are preparing for the great transition. You are the Wayshowers. You have been given the power to make over. What are you waiting for?
McGaa, Ed. Creator's Code: Planetary Survival and Beyond. Minneapolis: Four Directions Publishing, 2007.
Neihardt, John. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.Tweet