The Rainforest as Teacher

 “John  Seed 1

John Seed ( Australia)  gave up his practice of insight meditation after the rainforest suddenly took over as his teacher of truth.  Since hearing the call of the wild some decades ago, Seed has become a leading environmental activist as well as a theoretician and teacher of deep ecology. See his talk in this video on Youtube

Let us listen to him as he speaks.   “In 1979, although I had no knowledge of, or conscious interest in, the issue, I got involved in a demonstration to save a rain forest located about five miles down the road from where I lived. Somehow I found myself involved in what turned out to be the first direct action in Australia—or in the world for that matter—in defense of the rain forests.  When he stood in front of the big chainsaws  “All of a sudden, the forest was inside me and was calling to me, and it was the most powerful thing I have ever felt. Very soon after that I stopped meditating. My practice just dropped away. I wasn’t looking inside anymore. And I didn’t have any particular explanation for this. I must say, at first it caused me quite a lot of anguish, and for awhile the only reason I was sitting was some kind of vague dread or guilt that if I stopped something terrible would happen. But all the other motivation to meditate had gone, and pretty soon the guilt was gone too, and then I was just out there in the world of direct action. I was getting a very strong message from the rain forest and I followed it.


sacred grove

I receive great spiritual nourishment from the forest itself. Furthermore, I have the scientific understanding that we humans spent 125 million of the last 130 million years evolving within this rain forest, and that our cells and our very psyche are infused with the intelligence of the forest. The fact that the forest communicates so strongly to me is not surprising.

What also turned me toward the forest were the statistics I began reading from the United Nations Environment Program and from various ecologists, which indicate that we are the last generations of human beings that are going to be in a position to turn this thing around—to prevent the destruction of complex life on earth. That kind of information burnt away all the distractions in my life, the kinds of things that at one time had been obstacles to my meditation practice. But again, it was not so much the intellectual knowing as it was just being in the forest. That experience was what made it possible for me to apply myself to the environmental work with a kind of urgency and commitment that I was never able to apply to my sitting practice.

I find myself surrendering completely to the rain forest. The closest thing to meditation practice for me now is to lie down in the forest when it’s dry, cover myself in leaves, and imagine an umbilical cord reaching down into the earth. Then I visualize myself as being one leaf on the tree of life, both as myself personally and as a human being, and I realize that the sap of that tree runs through every leaf, including me, whether I’m aware of it or not.

I don’t believe this to be a mystical notion. It’s very matter of fact. In reality, every breath of air we take connects us to the entire life of the planet—the atmosphere. I feel it very physically. I’m part of the water cycle. The sun lifts the water up into the atmosphere and then it comes down, lubricating and giving life to everything. Eighty to ninety percent of what I am is just this water.

I help organize and lead gatherings called the Council of All Beings, and the exercises we do at these gatherings give us a sense that we are not so much a personality as an intersection of these great cycles. We begin to break the illusion of being separate from the rest of creation. I can lay on the ground and feel the vibration of this earth which gave rise to me and which has sustained my ancestors and everything else for four thousand million years in incredible intelligent harmony.

It’s only recently that I as a human being have lost the ability to dance to that tune which promises hundreds and thousands and millions of years of continued evolution. I started creating my own tune, the human tune, which has become so loud in my ears that I can’t hear the sound of the earth’s cycles or the music of the spheres. We need to check into those other tunes through ritual and ceremony.


Recognizing our connection with nature is very simple and accessible regardless of where we are living. We may think we’re surrounded by concrete and plastic, but then we think a little further and realize that the concrete is sand and the bodies of shellfish. The plastic is a product of the rain forest laid down during the carboniferous era 130 million years ago and turned into oil. Look just under the surface and the unnaturalness of things starts to disappear.

That’s what we work on in the Council of All Beings. We present a series of rituals and ceremonies intended to dispel the illusion of separation and alienation. All indigenous cultures have, at the very center of their spiritual life, similar kinds of ritual and ceremony that acknowledge and nurture human interconnectedness in the larger family of life. What has happened to modern humans is that we have become arrogant. It stems perhaps from the Judeo-Christian idea that we are the center of it all, the crown of creation, and the rest of the world is just resources. We look at the nature rituals and ceremonies of indigenous people as nothing but primitive superstition and pagan mumbo jumbo. We think we’re enlightened, and that means we are above nature, and out of that arrogance we are threatening to destroy ourselves.

Everything about our society is based on this idea of ourselves as specially created apart from the rest of nature. We don’t have to believe this intellectually to be completely enthralled by it. As long as we think of “the environment” we are objectifying it and turning it into something over there and separate from ourselves. Even if we don’t believe in any particular theory of economics, our whole life is conditioned by an economic system based upon the principle that the earth has no value until human labor is added to it. The earth is just a bunch of dirt, and we are so clever we can mold that dirt and turn it into spaceships and into great long electric wires to carry our messages. We ‘ve refused to recognize the miracle of the dirt which composes us. Any miracle that we have is only miraculous because we are made of this incredible dirt—miracle dirt which will agree to do everything we ask of it. We refuse to recognize any of that. All that we know is “aren’t I fantastic?” That’s our downfall.

Of course, everything dies, and we’re going to have to let go of this planet sooner or later. The sun is going to go into nova in four thousand million years, and then the earth is going to fry up in a crisp. So what am I going to do about it? Tear my hair.

Once I was swimming at sunrise on the coast of New South Wales when I was attracted to a rock that was covered with incredible life: sea weed, crabs, shellfish. And as I began to embrace this life, all of a sudden I was embracing the living rock underneath, and I could feel the molecular continuity between the rock and the life it was supporting and my own physical being. I experienced that all of the molecules and atoms were the same, and that somehow the rock had the potential and, I would have to say, the desire or the propensity to transform itself into all kinds of soft stuff, like sea weed and human flesh. I realized that the sharp distinction between cellular life and what preceded it was actually just in my mind. The universe was miraculous and seamless. The miracle didn’t start when humans came along or for that matter when life began. When a bolt of lightening fertilized the bowl of molecular soup, it was ready and waiting. I have a visceral understanding of this process, and a deep feeling of connection. Therefore I don’t have a great deal of anxiety about the result.

I was afraid to accept that realization at first. I struggled against it. I was afraid that I might lose my motivation by letting in the good news that everything was all right whatever happens. The atoms which had done this before, for whatever imponderable reasons, were obviously capable of doing it again. And nothing I did could touch those bigger processes.

SONY DSC Photo R. Kok

But my motivation to save complex life was undiminished by this realization. Somehow I have surrendered the interests of my personality, I say regularly to my DNA, “Just tell me what to do. I’m working for you now.” I’m not working for “the man” anymore.

The music that evolved me for four thousand million years— I can hear that again. It says to me, “Save the planet. Save complex life. Protect biological diversity. Try and keep gene pools intact wherever possible. That’s what I want you to do.”

Meanwhile, what I notice is that when I live committed like this, my life is full of joy. I was sitting on a train in Tokyo on my way to do a Council of All Beings and I looked around at the people on the train, the wealthiest people in the world, and saw that they were so unhappy. I don’t want that life. My life feels very joyful and exciting to me right now. In this day and age, if you end up with a joyful and exciting life, feeling at one with all things, you really can’t complain, regardless of the outcome.

This article is excerpted from an interview with John Seed by Wes Nisker in Inquiring Mind, a semi-annual journal of the Vipassana Community, P. O. Box 9999, North Berkeley Station, Berkeley, CA 94709.

For information about John Seed’s workshops write to R. G. Steinman, Rainforest Information Center, 9009 Fairview Road, Silver Springs, MD 20910.


A dream of the Earth in Transylvania / Rumania

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Transylvania, a part of the S.E. European country Rumania. In Tilburg I met Borbola Szabo, a Rumanian woman, who had to leave her country in the nineties of last century, and has live in The Netherlands till 2015. In her country she lives in a small farm. She shared with me and others her dream of starting an Ecological Learning Centre there. Together with her and several others we looked into possibilities for such a centre.

Touched by her dream and with hope that such a centre can be founded there, in July 2012 I travelled to Praid, a small town in the heart of Transylvania. A place with high mountains, plains and large woods with wild animals. And also a beautiful culture and old traditions of a people who live in a very sustainable way, very connected with the Earth. I found it a pity that I could not communicate with them, because of the two foreign languages for me: Hungarian and Rumanian. Transylvania is an area inhabited by people of Hungarian origin. After World War One  this area is part of Rumania.

Trans-sylvania: the land “between the woods”.  High mountains embrace the land from all sides. Old forests, castles, rivers and lakes and the small farmers villages all over where people live a simple life, like long time ago. A country with a long history of cultures. You find there the Sun temples of Romans, the art of the old great Otto-German empire and the many traditions and festivals that are still alive. The connectedness with land and seasons are expressed and celebrated and also the great moments of life. A very religious people as can be seen in the many cloisters and convents, churches of different denominations and the crosses along the roads.

I was deeply touched by the way the people live. The country is still very agrarian. Farm yards full with fruit trees, corn, vegetables and herbs. It was time for harvest and preservation of the many fruits of the gardens, kept for the long winters with lots of snow and cold. People live very closely with the seasons, as can be seen in the ways of housing: a little house for the family in the summer, when they live mostly outdoors and in the fields, a big house for the long winters with a stove and several rooms for weaving and other handicrafts for gathering to tell the many old stories, and a stable for the hay and the cattle.

A local sustainable economy. Besides the work on the farm the people help each other; one is baking the bread for the village, others earn some extra money with repairing cars or building houses etc. or producing beautiful pottery and other handicrafts and many other ways.  The local community takes care of the commons, meadows for the cattle that are cared for together. In the bigger cities modernity has come to some extend.


I was struck by the effects of climate change and global warming. Five hundred meters up in the mountains every day the temparature was about 30 degrees C. For two summers now the rains had not come and there was an alarming lack of water. On the mountains the fir trees were dying and the other trees were dropping their leaves already. In the train from Boedapest to Rumania, I saw the dried up corn and wondered if there be any harvest in autumn. I sensed the anxiety in the hearts of the farmers as the wells run dry. Cattle is also thristy!

I felt the power of the healing Earth energy: the saltmine in the little city of Praid. Five hundred meters under the surface people sit for hours in the cool air and breathe in the salty air to cleanse their bronchial tubes. And the pools with hot saline mud, in the countryside. You cover yourself all over with the mud and then let it dry in the sun till you sparkle as an ornament in a Christmas tree. Then to dive in the cool river and be cleansed and relax. Or swimming in one of the many lakes with salt water. I saw the tradition of healing herbs: making teas and ointments from  them.

We saw the old cities with the fortified churches, houses, squares. I sensed how it is to be in the heart of ancient Europe and how properous these areas must have been. I saw the gypsies, of several kinds. They live peacefully amidst the local people there.

An International Ecological Learning centre in Transylvania?

In this time of worldwide ecological crisis it is important and very necessary that people of our time rediscover how they can inhabit the Earth in ways that do not destroy or deplete the Earth. Finding and embracing new ways to live  in harmony with the whole community of life. To help the Earth to continue in her basic functions to provide food, healing, wisdom, balance,  fulfillment, governance.

This understanding and knowledge has disappeared in so many places and groups, especially among the younger generations all over the globe. Economic growth at all price and technology of computers and other kind,  ask for all the attention of the modern human and Earthwisdom disappears. The villagers are still very much in touch with the Earth and nature. But also here modernity will come along some day. What a gift will it be to the Earth there and to the people, if they could skip the times of the economic growth imperative I thought. A transition from their present situation into a sustainable way of life of our times. These people could offer  the example and experience of a simple and harmonious lifestyle and share their age old wisdom.

That is part of the vision of the Ecological Learning centre to be. To support and rejuvenate the present villages there and invite the people to share their wisdom and knowledge with many “modern people”. Permaculture, community building, safeguarding culture and traditions. We saw so many possibilities when we gathered in a circle to “dream”  this place. Most of all to build a strong community of local people and people from other places in the world, who can develop and carry all this.

On website and ( still under construction) you can find more information about these developments.

Bori in the entrance of her yard in Ocna de Sus ( area of Praid) foto Bruijn

Who knows are you touched too, because volunteers are welcome with their expertise and right motivations. Finances are still a bottleneck. Where to find the money to rebuild the stable and make it into a holistic centre for courses? Still there are many possibilities and what is there already is the farm on the yard.

The Earth is dreaming in this place and if people will pick up her dream, it will happen, I am convinced of this. I have seen it happen before and in many more places all over the world.

Western Europe with the many problems about financial crisis, corruption, banks falling down, etc was far behind me and I realized that this land and these people is also the European continent. They are our brothers and sisters, hoping for a sustainable life in the future, not necessary riches but enough to have a “good” life. A life in balance and in connection with the land and nature and .

Shambala Yard, Ocna de Sus: will it happen? It has started already.

NB: Update 2017: I was there in 2013 and in 2016. The dream still exists and first steps are taken toward a centre for preserving the old and traditional handicrafts. A centre has been opened where visitors can learn traditional handicrafts.

July 2017 , Elly Verrijt

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