On Saturday, in honor of Earth Day, perhaps the best thing to do is become a plant or an animal. Or at least look at the world from the perspective of one.
A Council of All Beings ceremony will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on April 19 at the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury to help facilitate this shift from human persona to something much more fragile. The experiential daylong workshop was organized by Gail Tipton, April Thanhauser, Cynthia Robinson and Rebecca Gilbert. It aims to give people an opportunity to deepen their connections with nature.
The Council of All Beings was first developed in the late 1980s by Joanna Macy and John Seed, environmentalists, authors and ecologists.
In Ms. Macy’s book Coming Back to Life, she describes the experience in this way: “The Council of All Beings is a communal ritual in which participants step aside from their human identity and speak on behalf of another life form. A simple structure for spontaneous expression, it aims to heighten awareness of our interdependence in the living body of Earth and to strengthen our commitment to defend it.”
“It’s a way for us to commune with nature in an intellectual, heartfelt and spiritual way,” said Ms. Thanhauser. “We can listen on a deep level with nature and speak authentically on its behalf.”
The workshop will begin with introductions, sharing and “sensitizing activities” to encourage intuitive perception and meditative practices for communicating with nature. In the words of John Seed, taken from his book Thinking Like a Mountain, participants will then explore the arboretum alone to “be chosen by a plant, animal or landscape feature that [they] will represent at the council.”
Participants will then create masks to represent the chosen natural being, and each person will speak from the perspective of his or her new identity. The council will close with a simple ceremony.
The women are hoping to donate the masks used in the council to a nature festival.
Ms. Tipton is a museum professional, artist and video documentarian. She has participated in two councils with Mr. Seed, which she described as “transformative.”
“Listening to what wonderful things nature had to say was profound,” she said. During her first council she spoke as wild grass, and was a waterlily in the second. “I have no idea what will happen this time. But that’s part of the magic. It’s spontaneous.”
The women believe that this shift in perspective will touch people and open their awareness to nature.
Ms. Robinson has worked with people of all ages in councils, many of them Quakers. “The Quakers have a long history of spiritual practices that dispose you to nature,” she said. Ms. Robinson currently holds two degrees in psychology and works as a hospice volunteer. She feels that we have to focus not only on the joy in nature, but also pain and loss.
“We can’t access true and full wisdom if we don’t look at both sides,” she said.
Ms. Tipton added that the climate change crisis has inspired a new awareness of our relationship with the environment. “We are crying, frustrating, mourning,” she said.
“We have to make a commitment to earth — something on an ongoing basis,” added Ms. Robinson.
The women encourage everyone to give the council a try, even whose who are resistant or skeptical.
“We are multidimensional beings,” said Ms. Thanhauser. “Plants are always communicative. [The council] lets us tap into the part of ourselves that innately can communicate with nature.”
Ms. Gilbert agreed. “My relationship with nature is all-important to me, and I can rarely speak about it as honestly as is possible in the Council of All Beings,” she said.
The suggested donation is $30 or $5 for Polly Hill Arboretum members. All proceeds will be donated to the arboretum. There is no rain date, so participants should dress appropriately.