Editor’s Note: With the inevitability of peak oil, many have welcomed nuclear as an alternate source of energy. Countless “accidents” over the past few decades (Chernobyl and Fukushima being the most prominent) have warned us of the risks associated with nuclear. Not only that, business as usual (without “accidents”) for nuclear does not bode well for public health either. The following is a press release by Radiation and Public Health Project. It highlights the key points of recent health research near NFS nuclear plant in Unicoi County, Tennessee. The press release is followed by a Deep Green Book Club discussion on a film about nuclear waste.
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA, Executive Director
716 Simpson Avenue, Ocean City NJ 08226
FIRST IN-DEPTH HEALTH REPORT NEAR NFS NUCLEAR PLANT FINDS DRAMATIC RISES IN UNICOI COUNTY TN DEATH RATES
Since the 1990s, Unicoi County death rates for cancers and other causes increased dramatically, according to a new report released today.
Prior to the late 1990s, Unicoi County death rates were about equal to the U.S. But by the most recent period available (2019-2020), the county rate exceeded the national rate by the largest proportion in the past half-century, specifically:
- 44% higher for all-cause mortality
- 61% higher for premature mortality (age 0-74)
- 39% higher for all-cancer mortality
The report states that the release of radioactive chemicals into the environment by the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant may play a large role in the local health decline. “No other risk factor, such as access to health care, personal health practices, or poverty appears to have changed much,” says report author Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
“As an Erwin native, I am happy to join with Trudy Wallack and Linda Modica as a contributor to important information regarding the health of the people in my hometown and the surrounding areas” says Barbara O’Neal, co-founder of Erwin Citizens Awareness Network (ECAN), which commissioned the study.
The NFS plant is situated in Erwin, in Unicoi County. Since its 1959 startup, the plant has generated enriched uranium fuels for naval reactors and nuclear power plants. NFS releases a portion of this uranium and other radioactive elements into local air and water.
Prior to this report, no in-depth attempt has been made to analyze health status near NFS. The only national study of cancer near U.S. nuclear plants was conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1990; that study did not include NFS.
The report also identified a growing county-national gap in death rates for infants and children. In the most recent period analyzed, the death rate for Unicoi County children exceeded the national rate by nearly 40%.
ECAN co-founder Trudy Wallack, believes that “as a resident of Greeneville, the protection and safety of the Nolichucky River stands paramount to my community & others. This river serves as the key source for our drinking water as well as family recreation and water sports. It is my hope that my contribution to this study will provide critical information regarding health…to all those who care and are asking questions.”
Photo by Frédéric Paulussen on Unsplash
Featured image: Figure from EPA Pacific Southwest Region 9 Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation
By Courtney Parker / Intercontinental Cry
Recent media coverage and spiraling public outrage over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has completely eclipsed the ongoing environmental justice struggles of the Navajo. Even worse, the media continues to frame the situation in Flint as some sort of isolated incident. It is not. Rather, it is symptomatic of a much wider and deeper problem of environmental racism in the United States.
The history of uranium mining on Navajo (Diné) land is forever intertwined with the history of the military industrial complex. In 2002, the American Journal of Public Health ran an article entitled, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” Head investigators for the piece, Brugge and Gobel, framed the issue as a “tradeoff between national security and the environmental health of workers and communities.” The national history of mining for uranium ore originated in the late 1940’s when the United States decided that it was time to cut away its dependence on imported uranium. Over the next 40 years, some 4 million tons of uranium ore would be extracted from the Navajo’s territory, most of it fueling the Cold War nuclear arms race.
Situated by colonialist policies on the very margins of U.S. society, the Navajo didn’t have much choice but to seek work in the mines that started to appear following the discovery of uranium deposits on their territory. Over the years, more than 1300 uranium mines were established. When the Cold War came to an end, the mines were abandoned; but the Navajo’s struggle had just begun.
Back then, few Navajo spoke enough English to be informed about the inherent dangers of uranium exposure. The book Memories Come to Us in the Rain and the Wind: Oral Histories and Photographs of Navajo Uranium Miners and Their Families explains how the Navajo had no word for “radiation” and were cut off from more general public knowledge through language and educational barriers, and geography.
The Navajo began receiving federal health care during their confinement at Bosque Redondo in 1863. The Treaty of 1868 between the Navajos and the U.S. government was made in the good faith that the government – more specifically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) – would take some responsibility in protecting the health of the Navajo nation. Instead, as noted in “White Man’s Medicine: The Navajo and Government Doctors, 1863-1955,” those pioneering the spirit of western medicine spent more time displacing traditional Navajo healers and knowledge banks, and much less time protecting Navajo public health. This obtuse, and ultimately short-sighted, attitude of disrespect towards Navajo healers began to shift in the late 1930’s; yet significant damage had already been done.
Founding director of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Wilhelm C. Hueper, published a report in 1942 that tied radon gas exposure to higher incidence rates of lung cancer. He was careful to eliminate other occupational variables (like exposure to other toxins on the job) and potentially confounding, non-occupational variables (like smoking). After the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was made aware of his findings, Hueper was prohibited from speaking in public about his research; and he was reportedly even barred from traveling west of the Mississippi – lest he leak any information to at-risk populations like the Navajo.
In 1950, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) began to study the relationship between the toxins from uranium mining and lung cancer; however, they failed to properly disseminate their findings to the Navajo population. They also failed to properly acquire informed consent from the Navajos involved in the studies, which would have required informing them of previously identified and/or suspected health risks associated with working in or living near the mines. In 1955, the federal responsibility and role in Navajo healthcare was transferred from the BIA to the USPHS.
In the 1960’s, as the incidence rates of lung cancer began to climb, Navajos began to organize. A group of Navajo widows gathered together to discuss the deaths of their miner husbands; this grew into a movement steeped in science and politics that eventually brought about the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1999.
Cut to the present day. According to the US EPA, more than 500 of the existing 1300 abandoned uranium mines (AUM) on Navajo lands exhibit elevated levels of radiation.
Navajo abandoned uranium mines gamma radiation measurements and priority mines. US EPA
The Los Angeles Times gave us a sense of the risk in 1986. Thomas Payne, an environmental health officer from Indian Health Services, accompanied by a National Park Service ranger, took water samples from 48 sites in Navajo territory. The group of samples showed uranium levels in wells as high as 139 picocuries per liter. Levels In abandoned pits were far more dangerous, sometimes exceeding 4,000 picocuries. The EPA limit for safe drinking water is 20 picocuries per liter.
This unresolved plague of radiation is compounded by pollution from coal mines and a coal-fired power plant that manifests at an even more systemic level; the entire Navajo water supply is currently tainted with industry toxins.
Recent media coverage and spiraling public outrage over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has completely eclipsed the ongoing environmental justice struggles of the Navajo. Even worse, the media continues to frame the situation in Flint as some sort of isolated incident.
Madeline Stano, attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, assessed the situation for the San Diego Free Press, commenting, “Unfortunately, Flint’s water scandal is a symptom of a much larger disease. It’s far from an isolated incidence, in the history of Michigan itself and in the country writ large.”
Other instances of criminally negligent environmental pollution in the United States include the 50-year legacy of PCB contamination at the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (HNR) situated in the Yakama Nation’s “front yard.”
While many environmental movements are fighting to establish proper regulation of pollutants at state, federal, and even international levels, these four cases are representative of a pervasive, environmental racism that stacks up against communities like the Navajo and prevents them from receiving equal protection under existing regulations and policies.
Despite the common thread among these cases, the wave of righteous indignation over the ongoing tragedy in Flint has yet to reach the Navajo Nation, the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, the Yakama Nation – or the many other Indigenous communities across the United States that continue to endure various toxic legacies in relative silence.
Current public outcry may be a harbinger, however, of an environmental justice movement ready to galvanize itself towards a higher calling, one that includes all peoples across the United States, and truly shares the ongoing, collective environmental victories with all communities of color.
Editor’s Note: We all know that industrial technology is not good for the natural world. This is what makes any form of industrial technology practically unsustainable in the long run, and ecocidal by nature. The following article describes the impact of wireless technology on various aspects of wildlife.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
By Reynald Loki/Earth | Food | Life
There is growing evidence that our addiction to cell phones could be impacting brain functionality and be the cause of stress, anxiety, insomnia, and a lack of attention and focus.
A 2017 report found that human beings are not the only living things to be affected by society’s increasing dependence on wireless technology. Mammals, birds, insects, and even plants are likely being harmed by the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emanating from Wi-Fi, cell phone towers, broadcast transmitters, and power lines, according to an analysis of 97 peer-reviewed studies conducted by EKLIPSE, a biodiversity and ecosystem project funded by the European Union.
Impact on Birds
The researchers said that “evidence is accumulating that mammals (e.g., bats and mice) have a magnetic sense” that is affected by radio-frequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMR). Birds in particular may be highly susceptible. The researchers found that even weak magnetic fields in the radio frequency range can disrupt birds’ magnetoreception, their ability to use the Earth’s magnetic fields to orient themselves and find their way home.
Homing pigeons are well-known for their magnetoreception, but this sense has also been detected in other animals, like red foxes, and there is evidence that even large mammals like deer use the planet’s magnetic fields to sense direction. A number of invertebrates, including worms, mollusks, and fruit flies also use this ability.
“When you start to observe and realize that swallows and house martins no longer nest in towns and villages, when you realize that the sparrows have all disappeared, that in the evenings there are no bats flying in the dusk and that you no longer hear owls hooting, then you will begin to know what effect microwaves from cell towers and antennas are having on the environment,” said one commenter to a One World News article about the report.
Impact on Plants
The report also concluded that EMR can also alter the metabolism of plants, causing “significant changes … demonstrated at cellular and molecular levels.” The authors noted that even a low-level of exposure to EMR “caused a rapid increase in stress-related transcript accumulation in tomato [plants].” Transcription is the first phase in the expression of a gene, in which a specific segment of DNA is copied into RNA.
More Research Needed
The authors said that their findings indicate “an urgent need to strengthen the scientific basis of the knowledge on EMR and their potential impacts on wildlife,” specifically calling out the “need to base future research on sound, high-quality, replicable experiments so that credible, transparent and easily accessible evidence can inform society and policy-makers to make decisions and frame their policies.”
The UK charity Buglife, dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates, (which proposed the analysis) warned that there wasn’t enough research to determine limits to EMR pollution. The group said that “serious impacts on the environment could not be ruled out” and urged that 5G transmitters should not be placed near street lights, which attract nocturnal insects like moths, nor in areas near wildlife.
Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow, who served on the expert steering group of the report, warned in 2018 that “there is a credible risk that 5G could impact significantly on wildlife.” He added:
“We apply limits to all types of pollution to protect the habitability of our environment, but as yet, even in Europe, the safe limits of electromagnetic radiation have not been determined, let alone applied. This is a classic case of out of sight out of mind, just because humans cannot see electromagnetic radiation this does not mean that animals cannot ‘see’ the pollution or be significantly impacted at a neural or cellular level. A proper research program and clear policy measures are long overdue.”
5G Network Threat
Shardlow specifically warned of the rollout of 5th-generation wireless systems, or 5G networks, and called on telecommunications firms to research the impact of their wireless technology on wildlife and make their findings public. In May 2018, Qatar became the first nation in the world to have a 5G network. The worldwide commercial launch of 5G occurred in 2020.
The report authors also said that strong EMR fields increase the temperature in living tissue, but the intensity needed to induce such heating is “not experienced by wildlife (so far).” It’s notable that they left the door open to this other potential emerging threat, as cell phone adoption rates are steadily rising globally. The number of smartphone users worldwide is forecast to grow from 2.1 billion in 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019, according to Statista, a market research firm. That means more cell towers—and more EMR being emitted into the environment.
Scientists Make Appeal to United Nations
The report comes on the heels of a 2015 appeal to the United Nations, signed by more than 200 scientists from 41 countries, urging the international body to address the risks posed electromagnetic fields (EMF), physical fields produced by objects charged by electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation. Specifically, the scientists want the UN to “recognize that EMF exposure is an emerging health and environmental crisis that requires a high priority response.”
“Biologists and scientists are not being heard on the committees that set safety standards,” said Dr. Martin Blank of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University and signatory of the appeal, in a video address on the website of International EMF Alliance, a group founded in 2009 that disseminates information to policymakers and health authorities about the potential effects of electromagnetic radiation. “The biological facts are being ignored and as a result, the safety limits are much too high. They are not protective.”
Impact of Long-Term Low-Frequency Exposure
Though evidence is mounting that humans may also be physiologically affected by EMF, the jury is still out on the impact of long-term low-frequency exposure. The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded in 2016 that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.” However, the agency does admit that “some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.”
World Health Organization Report
But the WHO is partially responsible for the widespread concern. As Bob Berman points out in his 2017 book Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light:
“Some of the fears are based on a report issued in 2011 by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The agency had gathered in Lyon, France, to discuss scientific studies surrounding the question of whether there’s a relationship between radio-frequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) and cancer. After intense deliberations, and to the great surprise of the world at large, experts decided to classify RF-EMF waves emitted by cell phones, cell towers, and Wi-Fi networks as category 2B, indicating a ‘possible human carcinogen.’”
EMF Safety Limits May Be Inadequate
For Dr. Blank and his colleagues raising the warning flag to the United Nations, the evidence is clear. “Cellphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, etc. Putting it bluntly, they are damaging the living cells in our bodies and killing many of us prematurely,” he said in his video address. “Rising exposure to electromagnetic radiation is a global problem. The World Health Organization and international standard-setting bodies are not acting to protect the public’s health and well-being. International exposure guidelines for electromagnetic fields must be strengthened.”
In his video address in 2016, Dr. Blank suggested that the current EMF safety limits may be inadequate due to the influence of the telecommunications industry on the policymakers. “More protection will probably result from full disclosure of possible conflicts of interest between regulators and industry,” he said.
“We have created something that is harming us, and it is getting out of control. Before Edison’s lightbulb, there was very little electromagnetic radiation in our environment. The levels today are very many times higher than natural background levels and are growing rapidly because of all the new devices that emit this radiation. An example that a lot of us have right now in our pockets is the cellphone.”
Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash
Reynard Loki is a co-founder of the Observatory, where he is the environment and animal rights editor. He is also a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food, and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health and Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, Asia Times, Pressenza, and EcoWatch, among others. He volunteers with New York City Pigeon Rescue Central.
The 2023 DGR conference is scheduled for late August in northern California. This annual gathering is an opportunity for our community to share skills, reflect on our work, strengthen our connections, and plan for the future. While this conference is only open to DGR members, we do invite friends and allies on a case-by-case basis. If you’re interested in attending, please contact us, and if you’d like to donate to support the conference, click here.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Wild Yoga by Rebecca Wildbear. In this excerpt, Rebecca talks about connecting with spirituality, and demonstrates how caring for the nature and other nonhumans is an integral part of it. Learn more about her work at the end of this post.
I walk through the cave’s rocky, wet terrain, placing my hand on a wall to steady myself as my eyes adjust to the dark. Pausing, I hear the soft, dripping echo of dew sliding off rock. It sounds like a heartbeat from within this cool earthen interior. As water trickles over my feet, I remember watching springs emerge from darkness, rising from under the ground to feed streams, lakes, and rivers. I thank these waters for nourishing all life on our planet.
As a guide, I invite others to be nourished by the imaginal waters that spring forth from the depths, releasing visionary potential, expanding consciousness, and revealing other ways to live. Being in our deep imagination while attuning to nature’s wild imagination can enlarge our perception, align us with a deeper intelligence, and remind us of ancient and new potentialities. Grounded in reverence for the living planet, we can listen for what she needs.
Visions and dreams spring forth from the belly of the Earth, as does actual water, to nourish our souls and the world’s soul and keep everything alive. The majority of drinkable water worldwide comes from underground aquifers, now being rapidly drawn down. Rain is unable to replenish the amount being mined. Globally, water use has risen to more than twice the rate of population growth. It is still increasing. Ninety percent of water used by humans is consumed by industry and agriculture. When these waters are overused, lakes, streams, and rivers dry up.
In the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, a third of houses lack running water; in some towns, the figure is 90 percent. Peabody Energy, a large coal producer and Fortune 500 company, pulled so much water from the Navajo aquifer before closing its mining operation in 2019 that many wells and springs have run dry. And it is not only coal mining that usurps water. Since 1980, lithium mining companies in Chile have made billions consuming so much water that indigenous Atacama villagers were forced to abandon their settlements. For millennia, they had used their scarce water supply carefully. Now, where hundreds of flamingos once lived on beautiful lagoons, the ground is hard and cracked.
The cave womb of the Earth is creative and life-giving but fragile. As we bring awareness to life underneath the surface, we can grieve and offer our tears for the massive losses of groundwater and the poisoning of underground waterways. We can pray for a vision to help us respond to clear-cut forests, plowed prairies, drained wetlands, and the harms of human-only land use, like mining and agriculture. It is hard to bear witness, but we are part of the Earth’s body. We need to feel what is happening and seek and offer help.
Spirit abides in all living things and is inseparable from the natural world. To destroy the Earth is to desecrate God. Prayer is a way of being present and in relationship with everything. We begin to restore balance when we honor the sanctity of life. By listening to dreams, our muses, and nature, we align ourselves with powerful allies and can glean our purpose and understand how to serve the whole. The harm humans are causing the Earth asks us to return to her, listen, and pray for visions that can help us restore balance.
Into the Heart of the World
Opening to the suffering of the Earth carries us into the heart of the world. It is gut-wrenching to see the world around us becoming more damaged. The pain is not something we can deal with and move on. Once we finally grasp the immensity of ecological devastation, it is hard to bear the feelings of depression, rage, anxiety, cynicism, overwhelm, hopelessness, despair, and apathy. The feelings are not ours alone, but what we are sensing from our planet home. Stephen Harrod Buhner wrote it’s “our feeling response to a communication from the heart of Earth” urging us “to re-inhabit our interbeing with the world.” We need to face what is happening and let the feelings speak to us. To listen to their messages and let them alter the course we are on.
Whatever we love and may lose carries us into the world’s heart. When I was twenty-one, I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and thought I might die. Many people prayed for me. Their good wishes healed me and brought me joy. I was surprised by how well I felt, despite the physical pain. Later, I wondered if their prayers had helped me feel good.
Prayer connects us to the moment and invites us into a cocreative partnership with life. In the yoga asana classes I teach, I invite our movements to be prayer and our bodies to be a doorway to the sacred.
I pray with others in nature, guiding people to let go and listen. To feel their unmet longing to find deeper meaning and purpose, to become whole and live a soul-centered existence. Sometimes the prayers we live can feel intensely tricky. In the cave womb of transformation, visions can emerge, and the dark nights of our souls can pull us toward the holy mystery at the center of our lives.
I am aligned with my soul, and I know others who are too. Yet ecosystems are collapsing under the greed of global capitalism, and more species and lands die each day. Our prayers need to stretch beyond the individual. Soul-making is a collaboration tied to the fate of Earth, asking us to descend into the collective dark night of our planet. To love the natural world is to weep at how humanity harms her. If we open to the tremendous sorrow of our failure to protect oceans, forests, and rivers, this can bring us into the world’s heart, dismembering our sense of self and what we have believed about the world. We can receive visions for the Earth through a collective descent into the underworldly depths. We can let the Earth touch us and listen to what she is saying through feelings engendered in our hearts.
Alicia, a young woman who lives in a yurt in southwestern Colorado, places her forehead and hands on the red soil of the desert. “This isn’t yours,” she cries, fierce and mournful. “This belongs to all of us.” She repeats this phrase over and over, her voice increasing in intensity, her hands slapping the ground.
Sixteen of us sit in circle in the Utah desert, participating in a five-day Prayers in the Dark program. The sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It is late morning, and the desert is silent except for the occasional call of a mourning dove. Today, we are engaged in a ceremony similar to the Truth Mandala practice developed by Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy, expressing our feelings about what is happening to the planet. Mary stands up and opens her mouth in a bloodcurdling scream.
The group is silent, frozen, taking in her scream. It pierces us and the land and is disturbing and relieving as if we had all howled, shrieked, or wailed.
Alex says, “I grew up on the Boundary Waters,” a wilderness area in Minnesota that is part of the Superior National Forest. He talks about canoeing as a child and all the birds he saw. “Trump has granted leases to mining companies,” he points out, referring to a past American president. “The land and water will be poisoned.”
Thomas, from Wyoming, is trembling and in tears. I asked him if he wanted to share his thoughts with the group. He shakes his head no. “I can’t speak,” he says, choking. “It’s too sad.”
I feel my longing for cement, metal, and tin to melt away. For machines that mine the Earth to be dismantled. For rivers to run clear and be full of salmon. Flocks of birds to darken the sky. Ancient trees to cover the land. Oceans to teem with whales, dolphins, and coral. People to stop extracting and start honoring. The Earth to breathe herself alive.
“Close your eyes and root in the Earth,” I suggest to the group. “Imagine you are liquifying in a cocoon or hibernating in a cave. Descend into your despair and listen for what emerges. Ask for visions of how we can respond.”
Our souls are linked to the underground heart of the world. Deeper under the surface of our planet than water is fire. Magma, a hot, semifluid material, can move up to the surface and be ejected as lava. Our feelings are linked to what is happening on our planet. Our fire — our rage — is an active and receptive grief cry. We can speak and listen, surrender and serve, and offer ourselves. We can embody what we receive as responses arise through images, emotions, words, dreams, or sensations. To live and die the visions we are given is a prayer.
An ongoing relationship with death changed my life and kept me close to the Mystery. My scare with cancer did not end once I was in remission. Symptoms I felt when I had cancer — pressure in my chest, a chronic cough, nausea — sometimes returned. I had frequent CAT scans after I recovered, checking to see if it had reappeared. Statistically, the odds of a reoccurrence were high. I worried cancer would return, and I’m incredibly grateful it did not.
Death will claim all of us and those we love one day. It preys on us, bringing us to our knees in humility, inspiring us to pray and listen. Death initiated me into the mysteries, connecting me more deeply with my soul and the sacred. Nature is a place where I’ve always experienced the holy. When I had cancer, I also encountered a divine presence within me. I didn’t know what it was then. Now I understand it as an aspect of my mythic soul.
Our death can feed the spirits if we offer our lives to what matters. According to Martín Prechtel, young people in the Tz’utujil Mayan village where he lived “wrestled with death” during their initiation ceremonies. They tried to court their souls back from death with eloquence. Death was likely to agree to give them their souls only if the initiates committed to “ritually render a percentage of the fruit of [their] art, [their] eloquence, and [their] imagination to the other world.” The Earth and Spirit are fed by how we live and die. I imagine them starving and grieving for people to listen, create beauty, and give back. When we live and die eloquently, our lives and deaths nourish the spirit world, like a grandmother tree nourishes a forest in her life and death.
Guiding on rivers, I sometimes feel close to death. Praying for my life, I am surprised by the images that arise and remind me of what I love and value — the sacred beauty of wild places; quiet moments alone with my body and my muse; being with loved ones, my dog Xander, friends; swimming or rafting; water.
On quests, I guide others to put their lives on the altar if they are emotionally and developmentally ready. Seeking a psychospiritual death is part of their prayer to receive a vision of their deeper purpose. People sometimes encounter their souls on their deathbeds, but they have no time left to live it. Intentionally letting go of the familiar and stepping into a liminal unknown is a kind of death, and visions of soul or other extraordinary or numinous possibilities can come. Some questers seek an initiatory dismemberment, hoping to receive what David Whyte calls
your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
In a meadow in the Colorado high country, twelve people stand at the edge of a portal made of sticks, pine cones, and flowers. A deer peers out from behind a ponderosa pine. Quaking aspens, lupines, and bluebells surround us. Each person reads their prayer before walking across the threshold to fast alone in the wilderness for three days and nights.
Initiation ceremonies like these were common in ancient cultures of indigenous and nature-based peoples, and some still do them. Yet, as Martín Prechtel explained, when an entire culture “refuses to wrestle death with eloquence, then death comes up to the surface to eat us in a literal way, with wars and depression.” Perhaps if modern Western culture supported its people to grow and face death, it would stop consuming all life on the planet.
The dominant culture will not last. Founded on the principles of individualism, capitalism, human supremacy, white supremacy, and colonialism, this mainstream culture is incompatible with the Earth’s living systems. Yet industrial civilization continues on the path of futile addiction to an unsustainable lifestyle, in denial of its impending collapse.
The world will be healthier once the dominant culture ends — animals, plants, water, soil, developing nations, indigenous cultures, and rural people. The sooner it comes to a halt, the more animals, fish, trees, and rivers will remain, and the more likely it is that we will have sustainable food sources for future generations. Waiting for things to unravel may make the crash worse for humans and nonhumans living through it and those who come afterward.
If only the ecological crisis would catalyze radical change that would compel industrial civilization to let go of harming the natural world to keep itself alive. Government and corporate leaders and the systems of power that rule society do not seem willing to put global empire on the ceremonial altar, despite how much harm it causes. The global empire has been going on for a long time without any significant shift. Individuals and communities need to reclaim the power to take the necessary courageous steps to ensure global empire is put on the altar. We can let go of what we don’t believe in and know isn’t working. We can align with what and who truly matters.
Modern culture has separated us from our land and the instinct to protect it. We reclaim power when we deepen our relationship with the Earth and descend into the heart of our planet to grieve and receive visions for our souls and the world. Visions imbue us with mysterious powers and guide us into greater alignment with nature in ways our minds can’t conceive. Dreams are real. Listening gives us authentic power by which we can change the world, bringing together our visionary and revolutionary natures.
When we let go, we don’t know what is next. We descend into our prerational instincts, listen and attune to our planet home, and invite our visionary selves to guide us. A caterpillar offers her life in the cocoon, not knowing she will metamorphose into a butterfly. We can liquefy in our wild imagination and pray within the dark Earth. Feeling our watery souls and the water flowing under the ground, we can pray for a vision to help us restore forests, birds, oceans, and justice. Yearning for a world where the sacred is blended with all we do, we can partner with the dream of the Earth. Will the universe hear us and respond?
I close my eyes and remember visions — mine and others’ — that have sprung forth from the depths of wild nature and dreamtime. I remember springs I have drunk from in the wild, my lips on a mossy rock, my mouth filling with the sweet flavor and vibrant texture of waters that have long gestated in the dark Earth until they were ready to rise. I lean in and receive the generosity of water, longing for her elixirs to stir visions of ways to halt the human-caused harm and restore and nourish her ecosystems back to life.
A Wild Yoga Practice for Praying within the Dark Earth
Go out at night or find a dark place in nature, be present in your body with all your feelings, and listen, wait, and pray. Find a cave or other wild place where you can sit in darkness. Imagine yourself deep inside the Earth. See if you can sense the place where water arises or feel her heartbeat. Imagine you are gestating in the underground heart of the world. Wait and listen. Notice what you feel and what arises. Ask the Earth what she wants. Explore whatever comes with all of your senses. Write or create art to honor the visions you receive. Let them guide your actions in the world.
About Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth
Wild Yoga invites you to create a personal yoga practice that seamlessly melds health and well-being with spiritual insight, Earth stewardship, and cultural transformation. Wilderness guide and yoga instructor Rebecca Wildbear came to yoga after a life-threatening encounter with cancer in her twenties. Over years of teaching and healing, she devised the unique and user-friendly practice she presents in Wild Yoga. In this book, she guides you in connecting to the natural world and living from your soul while also addressing environmental activism. Whether you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, by engaging in this vibrant approach, you’ll discover greater levels of love, purpose, and creativity, along with the active awareness we know our planet deserves.
In this video produced by New World Library, Rebecca Wildbear discusses how Wild Yoga connects us to the Earth. Check out this excerpt from the book, “Playing Your Part in the Symphony,” on the publisher’s website.
Rebecca Wildbear is the author of Wild Yoga:A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth and the creator of a yoga practice called Wild Yoga, which empowers individuals to tune in to the mysteries that live within the Earth’s community, dreams, and their own wild nature so they may live a life of creative service. She has led Wild Yoga programs since 2007 and guides other nature and soul programs through Animas Valley Institute. Visit her at http://www.rebeccawildbear.com.
Excerpted from the book Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth Copyright ©2023 by Rebecca Wildbear. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
Featured image: Rebecca Wildbear, from www.rebeccawildbear.com