Fire And Flood:
The central text for our Sacred Earth Seminar group is Thomas Berry's book "The Dream of the Earth." I have been pondering the title Thomas chose for this work which I think is at the core of his message. Playing with his admonition that dreaming will play a crucial role in our search for a viable future, I have spent a portion of my summer in dreamtime. I have been watching with a soft gaze for any images that might arise.
As a member of a modern western culture, I perceive myself as living most of my life in a rational mode of consciousness where I "have dreams" only at night. My aboriginal forebears inhabited a different space in which dreamtime was a prominent, if not dominant mode of consciousness - a "ground state" in which the figures and events we call "history" were mere interruptions. We tend to think of these primitive cultures as aberrations and dead shoots off the developmental tree of human culture in which the crowning branch is modern western civilization. I suspect instead that dreamtime was common to all premodern cultures and that its remnants persist in our curious and "alien" world of dreams. Evidence for this comes from the nearly universal shamanic presence among our ancestral cultures. The shamanistic personality was dreamtime's master of ceremonies - operating from his mode of consciousness in much the same way that our President appeals to our rational consciousness from the oval office. Dreamtime can be accessed through appropriate ritual and the figures which arise from this mode are the deepest archetypal images of any culture - the cultural ground.
I have always appreciated the symbolism of the "ground" (or "earth" as the English say it). It is one of the most pregnant metaphors to arise out of the mechanistic science of classical physics. The electrical hazards of not being properly grounded are tangible and extreme. The same metaphor is usefully employed in the figure/ground polarity of gestalt psychology where improper grounding may impair recognition of the emerging figure or image needed to "complete the gestalt".
The dream images which have been visiting me this summer are fire and flood. Fire and flood are dreaded images as they come riding the night mare. They trigger for me vague remnants of apocalyptic visions from Nebuchadnezzar's ancient dream as it has come down to us in scripture. In this age of millenial anxiety and nuclear weapons, with holocaust in common usage in the daily papers and nature on a seeming rampage, there is an added valence to the terror of these images. And yet in the first light of early morning, I see them in a new way, no less terrifying, as universal symbols of transformation, the necessary precursors to rebirth. The nightmares become daymares. What is the the difference in the two ways of viewing the same images?
One of the highlights of my summer was a visit with Charles and Nina Bradley in Baraboo Wisconsin. I gave a Sacred Earth Seminar to the assembled family, friends, neighbors and colleagues of the Bradleys at the Leopold Memorial Reserve. My theme was fire and flood. I was inspired by the excitement that I sensed in Charles presentation last spring in Gainesville on current projects at Aldo Leopold's old farm - particularly the use of fire as the key to restoring the natural prairie habitat that existed before the degradation of the farmland. Charles closed with an ambitious dream for the future which would restore the natural flood cycle to the riverine habitat to further enhance its natural diversity.
Thus fire and flood have become two of the dominant forces in the management plan for the Leopold Memorial Reserve, a major goal of which is to restore the exhausted land to its naturally productive condition. The combination of fire and flood in this highwater year has resulted in an astoundingly beautiful display of prairie flowers.
Thomas Berry, shaman that he is, reminds us that the earth speaks to us most directly in dreamtime, a process which is mandated by our genetic heritage. Our psyches soak up natural images and play them back in our dreams. Our clinging to an exclusively rational mode of consciousness has driven out this voice and left us peculiarly ungrounded. Our dreamtime has retreated into the far recesses of the night. Our lack of grounding has turned the most basic of natural symbols into nightmares. They lose their relation to the natural world, leaving us with the terror but no awareness of the whole cycle.
By attending to grounding ourselves, opening channels to Earth, our nightmares become daymares, - our comprehension of the dream images grows, our ability to receive psychic nourishment from the natural world is enhanced, we are able to complete the gestalt. The terror is not diminished for no psychospiritual transformation occurs without it. This is what is being asked of us in this particular unfolding of the earth's history. Rebirth is not a comfortable process and the universe is inherently violent. But terror itself is rooted in the earth (terra firma) and is grounded in its natural cycles. We are of the earth, we are the earth dreaming. Scary stuff isn't it?