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Earth Prayers
by Robert Francis Johnson

My Earthwork has evolved over the past 9 years to include the public in the planning, as well as the construction of sculptures, monuments, or sacred celebratory objects.

The story begins with my back going into spasms while working at a mental health center. The managed care system profits has destroyed community mental health in America, slowly starving the mental health centers out of business. The mental health centers sometimes strive valiantly to provide quality services but many have little regard for clients or staff as they do what they can do to survive. I was completely stressed with too many clients and constant “productivity quotas” as if I were flipping burgers instead of working with people’s souls. How was I to know that the pain of one door closing would usher me into a world of healing and joy.

While nursing my back and trying to understand the pains meaning, I saw a flyer for building with Cob, it was something I didn’t know what I was going to do with, but it was something I couldn’t not do! So I went to The Cob Cottage people in Cottage Grove Oregon to learn about Building with Cob. It changed my life! The weeklong workshop is kind of a boot camp of building with earth, teaching all of the essentials of building with Cob. I learned that building a $500.00 house is possible!

When I got back to Whidbey Island where I was living, I resigned from my position. And began building my first Earth sculpture “Sophia the Raven. She was 5ft tall an weighed 400 lbs. (Cob is 10 to 30% clay, straw, sand, water and love)

A few moths later after some environmental destruction on the Island (or one of our never ending wars), I decided to gather some friends and create “An Earth Prayer for Peace”. What happened though, is people started calling wanting to be part of the project, and before we where through, 33 people had been part of the project. I actually had to slow the process down to accommodate the amount of people who wanted to mix mud with their feet and hand build the monument. People would actually stop their cars and ask us what we were doing, and then ask if they could help (sometimes in their Sunday best clothes). People started bringing objects to imbed in the sculpture that meant peace to them; a piece of the Berlin Wall, crystals and pendants, prayers and poems and even the ashes of a loved one. People also began leaving flowers at the edge of the fence and lighting candles, even before they knew what it was. The building together of the sculpture was like a ritual to contain and process the grief that we all carry for the war’s we’ve been a part of, and the incredible amount of environmental destruction in our modern world, that we all feel but mostly deny. The power of the Earth, in our healing is greatly underestimated. And so began the process of building community collaborative Earth sculpture’s.

Homes or other sacred objects, called “Earthprayers”.
I believe that as a people we are living our lives out of balance with the non-human world. Most Americans spend 70 to 75% of our lives indoors (on concrete or asphalt) and have forgotten the importance of the natural world to our peace and sanity. Carl Jung believed that our Souls extended into the natural world around us, so that hurting the environment is actually doing violence to our own being. As an Ecological Psychotherapist I believe further that we are suffering from an attachment disorder to the Earth, as our child development models do not recognize the importance of a connection to the natural world as being important; we’ve forgotten how to be human. Our children can see our cultural world disintegrating, and yet we do not speak to them about this decline. They also see adults in positions of power acting more child then adult, and yet there is silence about these problems. Becoming earth referenced is one way for us, and our young people to have hope, and a model for healthy joyful living. The title of Alice Walkers new book of poetry says it all “Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth”.

The Scientific beliefs of the mind/body/ environment split further exacerbate the pathology of our thinking (and living) as a culture. The field of Ecological Psychology includes the non-human (nature) environment, as well as the political /cultural environment in our understanding of how we function as a human being. Traditional Psychology has forgotten its roots, and is as pathological as the culture at large. As James Hillman the noted Jungian Psychologist reports “Sometimes I wonder less how to shift the paradigm than how Psychology got so off base. How did it cut itself off from reality? Where else in the world would a human soul be so divorced from the spirits of the surroundings. Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient truths; we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet”. {Ecopsychology, edited byTheodore Raszak}

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While building An EarthPrayer for Peace, a principal from an alternative high school participated, she was so moved by the process that she asked me to do a project at her school. We received a grant from “A Territorial Resource” to construct “Earthway Archway”(designed by the students) with benches that lead into their organic garden. The grant was written with the idea that schools could no longer be separate from their communities and the Earthwork embodied that idea by having over a hundred people from the community mix mud and help complete this student /community EarthPrayer.The school got many new volunteers and actually set up a business of selling their organic produce at a farmers market, with help from the community of people who came forward to work on the project. I also worked with a Waldorf school in the area to create an earth oven.

I moved back to Santa Fe a year later and started doing projects here. I facilitated over 140 children (and some parents) in creating an interactive EarthMother sculpture at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum over the course of three weeks. She stands 9 feet tall and five feet in cir cumference, standing on a beautiful stone base [provided by stone artist Ricardo Gurule].

A few weeks later as part of an interfaith Mud day celebration, in collaboration with horticultural artist (Kevin Avants, who laid out the 75ftx75ft Hopi Mother Labyrinths) I helped facilitate and teach the Cob process to the 75 to 100 people who managed to construct this magical Hopi Earthmother labyrinth in one day.

I enjoy meeting people to serve their needs and the needs of community (an endangered species) in creating meaningful community art, or practical sacred objects or buildings. The coarseness of the material often causes people to let go of fears about art and become more playful in their approach to the project. The process is a potent force in bringing Peace and I would like to work in conflictual “Hot Spots” to let the Earth be part of the Healing. A friend recently told me that when a group of environmentalists and ranchers got on the land together, their conflicts were resolved in an amazingly easy way.

Other pieces I‘ve done with people include, a Dragon parapet, Tortoise bench and Mermaid buttress for a children’s playhouse. I have also helped construct a number of art themed benches, A Peace bench at a Montessori school, (started on the week of 9-11-02) A Heart bench at Peace Prayer Day, a Sikh gathering in Espanola New Mexico each summer (as part of plans for a Peace Park on the land) And two years ago at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico as part of a workshop I do” Healing the Earth Healing Ourselves” we constructed La Pacha Mama A beautiful figurative earth Mother (designed by artist Gerri Gosset and changed by the process of collaboration)that 20 to 25 women worked on, and every woman who worked on her cried. Most said they didn’t have words to describe the tears of this profound experience.” I love the dark mysteries of the night where there are no experts to steal our sight [my poem]”. I believe we are all suffering from the deep trauma of living in such a violent culture, and as one of the lines of one of my poems suggest “grieve and make love grieve and make love” as an antidote to the violence. The power of play should not be underestimated in the health of our psyhe’s, we live in a world that doesn’t take play seriously enough, as the power of the imagination is so necessary to healing the wounds of capitalism and scientific materialism.

I am now doing trainings in Ecological Psychology for Schools, Treatment programs, Businesses and Professional organizations and include experiential components, from meditating with little” Earths” (earth balls) and using visualizations, and whenever possible to get people to mix the mud with their feet and work together to build something beautiful (it changes lives). We are starved for experiential knowledge in our abstract book information focused educational system. The process of Cob building teaches the values of playful non-hierarchical cooperation, spirituality, and fun. Developing playful loving relationships is one of the greatest needs of the modern world, and belonging to the natural world is essential for mental health, “if what a tree does is lost on you, you are surely lost. The forest knows where you are, you must let it find you” David Wagoner.

Robert Francis Johnson M.S. is a licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Ecological Psychology, a licensed teacher who weaves environmental education into all his work. A published poet and writer, and an Environmental Artist who brings people together to play, heal and dance in the beauty of the Earth, constructing community as part of the process of creating,”EarthPrayers”. He also has stone and ceramic sculptures in major galleries in the western United States. He can be reached at Po Box 2791 Santa Fe N. M. 87504 (505) 954-4495


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