To play a recording of the talk go to the bottom of this post! (Inner Transition reaches giddy new heights of technical competence!)
On Thursday 14th June around 50 people came to hear Hilary Prentice talk about the landscape of inner transition, and her journey across that territory. Speaking from her experience in younger days as an activist in political and feminist circles, to discovering the world of the psyche as she trained as a therapist, to her work in helping to create the UK Ecopscyhology Network, she offered a far reaching and clear exposition of some of the insights, threads, and connections she has made between activism, inner work, spiritual traditions, and earth based teachings.
I’ve summarised some of the themes that stood out for me, but I encourage you to have a listen! I've also mentioned a few of the discussion points and listed some of the references and books mentioned at the end.
Reflecting on her own journey Hilary noted the tendency for people to polarise between taking action through outer action or inner development. So, in the world of political, social and environmental activism, there is a belief that the work needs to be done out in the world – opposing destruction and oppression; building the new systems that will bring equality or sustainability. In this area, inner work such as psychological or spiritual development may be seen as a privileged, self indulgent escape from real life.
In the field of inner work there is a neatly contradictory view – that until we do the work on ourselves we are always likely to recreate the structures we intend to oppose. If we have internalised a system of oppression or destruction that is all we have to create from until we bring it to consciousness and understand how to make something genuinely new.
A key realisation from the time exploring ecopsychology is the separation that industrialised cultures have made between “ecos” – the earth, and “psyche” – our human inner world. Enquiring together people saw found rich insights from putting the two back together – the parallels between our relationships with each other, and our connection to the earth – overconsumption as a mirror of eating disorders; addictions; denial and project, idealisation – all have clear parallels in aspects of our relation to the ecosystem of which we are a part.
We were told about the spark which brought the Inner Transition group into being – hearing someone at the first showing of Power of Community about Cuba’s journey with sudden oil depletion saying “no one will change unless they’re forced to..”, Hilary’s thought was along the lines of “well, we can do better than that in understanding how change happens..”. Rob welcomed the idea of a “psychology of change” group, which became the “Heart and Soul” group – following Rob’s framing of Transition as having a “head, heart and hands” approach.
So if the proposition of this aspect of Transition was that there is a movement for the transformation of our inner worlds, much as permaculture or other technological solutions propose changes to our infrastructure, where can we see this movement happening? I was fascinated to hear a number of writers including ancient prophecies from different traditions pointing to three strands which have increasingly permeated how we in the west understand and communicate about ourselves.
One of these is the development of psychological insights and methods in the west – from Freud, Jung and their heirs, to the humanistic movement, on to the mushrooming of varieties of body therapy, transpersonal, existential and, more recently, ways of healing trauma.
The second strand outlined is the wisdom that comes from the East – including traditions such as Buddhism, Daoism, practices such as Tai Chi, Yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and so on. These bring a perspective which encourages the ability to witness ones internal world, to enquire into and develop new capacities of conscious awareness. Some provide maps to states of consciousness which western traditions have no words for or tools for accessing.
The third strand is earth based wisdom as it has been, and in some places still is, lived by indigenous people. In the past it was common to dismiss these cultures as primitive or simple, that they had nothing to offer the sophisticated west. Those who look for their healt
hy qualities can be seen as idealising them. So the territory of how we view people who live with a worldview of humans as part of their ecological setting, rooted in place and intimate knowledge of their landscape and living world, is charged with judgements. What is clear is that many such people have found ways to exist which are largely peaceful, contained within their ecological limits, and rooted in human enjoyment, beauty and connection.
And that in some cases their teachings and practices have enabled them to come through times of extraordinary hardship, violence and challenge – where many cultures were completely destroyed by the progress of white civilisation some managed to endure – so perhaps they have particularly important insights for us as we face times of great uncertainty.
Many people from these traditions have turned from a stance of staying as separate as possible from the dangers of western contact to realising that our culture is now both more open to, and in need of, their teachings. From this arose a question – posed by many of these teachers – of how people from industrialised nations can rediscover and reconnect with our “indigenous soul”. This question was raised again the discussion, and some people pointed to ways this is already happening – from a project to connect schoolchildren to the watershed of where they live, to the suggestion that as soon as we go outside our front door we are present to a world which is alive, aware of us, and seeking connection.
Hilary ended her talk with the Navajo ceremonial prayer from which the talk took its name, "May I Walk in Beauty.."
In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With Dew about my feet may I walk
With Beauty before me may I walk
With Beauty behind me may I walk
With Beauty above me may I walk
With Beauty all around me may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively
May I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of Beauty, living again
May I walk.
It is finished in Beauty
It is finished in Beauty.
Click on the orange > play button below to hear the talk (a WMA file playing on Windows Media Player.. if you have trouble listening please contact us)
Books and references
Grandmothers Counsel the World; Women Elders Offer their Vision for the Planet. Carol Shaefer ed. Trumpeter Books 2006.
The Heart of the World. By Alan Ereira, about making the first Kogi film. The second is called Aluna. Playing today, June 14th 2012 at the Sheffield Doc Fest.
The Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. Martin Prechtel 2002
Of Water and the Spirit, and The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Malidoma Some. See also his website.