With this guided visualization, our evolutionary journey becomes more real to us than before. We reawaken to our panoramic history as integral parts of the evolving universe, and feel within us the presence and summons of this history. Setting our recent chapter as humans within the context of our far larger story, the Remembering evokes the ecological self and loosens the grip of the anthropocentrism of today’s culture. At the same time it fosters a sense of authority; which we can claim when we act on behalf of the Earth: that is, it encourages us to act our age – our true age of fifteen billion years – and take part in the great turning to a sustainable Society.
The Remembering can be offered as a guided meditation with people sitting or lying, or as spontaneous enactment, in which people use bodily movements and sensations to imagine or recapture evolutionary memories. Rocking, nosing, wriggling, crawling, pushing up all help us imagine the inner body sense of amphibian and reptile and early mammal. Even if we only imagine them now, these memories are embedded in our neurological system; each one of our bodies recapitulated our evolutionary journey in the womb. In offering this process, we often use a drum to sound a heartbeat; it enhances the connection with the pulse of life in all beings through time.
Come with me on a journey to the past, a journey to help us remember who we are. We begin with the heartbeat; place your hand over your heart and feel this beat, listen to this beat. Follow this pulse all the way back, back through the long eons .. follow it back to the first fire at the beginning of time, the immense hot birth of the universe some fifteen billion years ago, You were there. I was there, for the cells in our body burn with that same energy today.
We began, long ago, as great hot swirls of gas and dancing particles.
Our galaxy formed, and then our sun, and then, four and a half billion years ago our earth. The Earth was rock and crystal beneath which burned tremendous fires. Through eons it cooled to below boiling, and began to rain, and the oceans were born
In these warm seas, under the brown sky, this dance of rock and air, water and fire organic life arose. Can you remember your life as a single-celled creature, a simple being floating in the Mother Ocean? Only bounded by a thin membrane. You are a bacterium feeding on the minerals in this salty soup. In the warm sea, you are pulled by the currents, stirred by the wind. How does it feel to reproduce by simply becoming two identical beings, and then four…Every cell in our bodies is descended from those first ones.
Some of us learn to utilize the energy of the sun directly and become plants. But you and I from early on take our energy by eating others and we become one- celled animals. In our constant search for food, we actually invade other cells and combine our nuclei. In time this leads to a new way of creating life. Through sexual reproduction, unique individual creatures come into being, to love , to reproduce in turn, and to die.
Float on and remember linking up with other single-celled beings. Joining together, we become a sponge, or perhaps a jellyfish. What are our sensations now?
Can you remember our childhood drifting in warm sees? Even today, some of our relatives continue to live in ancient ways: the corals and snails, worms and plankton…They have never forgotten what we once knew and now try to remember.
Can you remember being a slim silvery creature , a few inches long? Feel the muscles from your head all the way down your body. Feel the strength and support that slowly solidifies and becomes over eons a string of vertebrae, extending the length of your body. We have evolved the first backbone. Now we can swim expertly with our fins, the water streaming past and through our gills.
Immensities of time are passing. Our gills slowly change to lungs. We begin to breathe the rich, harsh air, as our fins become strong lobes we use to drag ourselves through the mud of the receding lakes. We return to the waters to spawn, and our young still begin their lives there. Can you remember raising your eyes from the water into the sunlight, as our amphibian cousins, the frogs and toads and salamanders today? Blink your eyes in this brightness, and venture further and further into this strange new world.
Millions of years pass as we dream amphibian dreams, and the world around us changes. The swamps are drying up and we learn to carry the water necessary for our young ones in the shells of our reptilian eggs. We can live now completely on dry land. We have evolved limbs which straddle out from our body and move together, alternating from side to side. How does it feel to move in this new way, crawling over the land, eating insects and other small creatures? We store the sun’s warmth in our body by day, let our hearts slow down and rest at night. Same of our cousins grow huge and toothy, and send bellows echoing over the once silent earth. Some of our cousins let their legs become wings, their scales become feathers, their bones hollow, their hearts fast and hot. Their children live today as birds. And some of our cousins are content as lizards, as turtles and alligators and snakes; crawling on bellies. They keep today the old wisdom, adhere to the old ways.
But we and other cousins take another path. We grow fur and keep the sun’s warmth in our bodies by using the heat stored in our food. We let our young ones grow within us, to keep them safe and warm. More of our children survive, although they require more care. Our legs grow longer and swifter. As early mammals, we are nocturnal, hiding from dinosaurs during the day, and hunting at night. How alert we are as we dart among the roots of the huge trees, searching for food, ready to flee the great jaws. Remember returning to our underground den and curling up to sleep all warm together.
As we sleep, the rule of the dinosaurs fades away, and we mammals can spread now across the land. Some of our cousins return to the water and become dolphins and great whales. Others, like us, remain on land and become gazelles and lemurs, kangaroos and mice, and great cats. Except for resting, our belly seldom touches the ground. We take on thousands of shapes, try thousands of ways of life, and the ones that succeed are passed down. All around us now in the descendants of these cousins are unimaginable store houses of wisdom and diversity of ways.
We go our own way. We move on hands and feet with greater lightness, leaping and climbing. In the big trees, we run along branches and swing on them. Our acute binocular vision lets us judge accurately the distance between branches.
Our strong opposable thumbs help us grip and release. Our fingers are sensitive, able to test the ripeness of fruit, to groom a friend. Life is easy and full. The food we need is all around us. W e are curious, playful, adventurous. Some of our close cousins live in this way.
Night falls ; we nest in the trees. As we sleep and dream the dreams of monkeys , another transformation takes place. We wake with the body that is stronger and heavier. We balance easily on two legs and look to the far horizon.. We call to each other with strong voices.
As we sleep in our family groups, dreaming the dreams of great apes, our forests slowly give way to grasslands. We awaken to the next chapter of our story, where on the open savanna we learn to walk upright. Without trees to escape into, we are more vulnerable to the big cats and other large hunters that roam our world. But we are inventive, adaptable. We make intricate sounds that let us plan together in our groups. We send some members out to hunt while others gather plants for food and medicine, maintain the camp, and nourish the young. We learn in great leaps now, one discovery leading to another: tools, language, making fire, music, art, telling stories. It all happens so quickly.
We bury our dead with flowers, laying their heads to the east, to await rebirth in the womb of Mother Earth. We know we are related to all the cousins and that we are connected to all life, and we live in grateful harmony with cycles and seasons. We take the shape we now have; from now on we evolve through our minds and hearts as we live as gatherers and hunters for thousands of generations. Can you remember? Can you see the faces of the grandmothers and grandfathers lit by the evening fire, hear their songs and stories ,lean against their solid bodies, feel their arms around you, see in them features you wear today? Much has been forgotten, much passed on.
Only four hundred generations ago, we begin to cultivate food on land we have wrested from our cousin species. It all happens so quickly. Farming, property, domesticated animals, towns, markets, temples, governments. We build fences and fortifications; we have houses in which to keep our goods and sleep safe from one another. Some of us begin to believe that we are separate from our world, and special .
Night falls, we sleep again, and now we open our eyes as modern humans. We awaken enclosed by the walls of a city apartment or suburban house, in a world constructed by machines. What do we smell and touch, see and hear? How did it happen so fast? Automobiles, freeways, skyscrapers, airplane , television screens, endless aisles in supermarkets filled with cans and boxes of processed food. We push our way along crowded city streets. We have not touched the earth or a wild cousin for weeks. Forces we have unleashed are darkening the air, cutting down and burning the trees, suffocating us and all our relatives. It all happens so quickly.
Yet we are the ones who can remember. We can remember who we have been. We can know once again that we are related to all things, that we are a dance of earth and air, fire and water. And we know we are more than this, too: we are the laughter of a child, the strength of compassion, the gathering under the full moon, the shiver of poetry, the melody of a song not yet sung. We are the part of the world that can gasp with wonder, be moved to tears, and imagine what can come. We are the witnesses and worshipers, the warm brainy ones with clever hands, ones who can love and who can destroy.
Let us enter once more into sleep and dreaming. Can you imagine the capacities that wait to take form in us, through us? This time as we awaken let us bring forth the powers and abundance of our evolutionary journey, and imagine we can help to recreate a life-affirming world. Let us once again take joy in our bodies and in each ether, and all our relatives in the more than human world .. You and I have lived in harmony with the Earth for millions of years and this knowledge has not been lost. It is time now to draw on these memories and these strengths, and to let new ways emerge, so that the fire can still burn, so that the heartbeat will not be lost, so that the dance will go 0n.
Joanna MACY in Coming back to Life. ISBN 978-0-86571-8, page 154