I am a student of culture, and have studied the whys and wherefores of the social beast thru academic degrees (MA and PhD in anthropology), travels to many lands, work among many peoples, and intimate relations with my own shifting ecology of identities in the worlds within and without. Always there is the interplay between universal humanness and specific conditioning, between the common ‘software’ that runs our species, and the unique ‘operating systems’ that define cultural differences.
If we choose to be pro-active about this situation, to be informed in choosing, or collaging, a cultural ‘operating system’, then it is important to be aware of the cultural dramas that keep us distracted from the larger planetary story (where we come from), and our uniquely human role in its positive progression (where we are – ultimately – going).
We are aided in this by events where, either thru planning (e.g., Mardi Gras), or circumstance (e.g., natural disasters), people are given the opportunity to exercise their existence outside the norms of consensus reality. Such events provide psychic space for social conditionings to drop away, and archetypal creative forces to rise in their place. In this way they allow a kind of collective altered state of consciousness (ASC), and depending on the set and setting, can turn into a positive or negative experience, or ‘tryp’. On a good tryp, the event allows the naturally altruistic character of humanity to reveal itself, and people can see that they can get along quite well with one another, even in chaotic situations. A sort of invisible organizing intelligence takes over, the same one that allows schools of fish to turn in unison, flocks of birds to fly in formation, and herds of deer to collectively turn to the water hole, and people realize that they don’t really need authority figures, such as alpha males, to tell them what to do, and that bereft of the conditioning that tells them otherwise, people would much rather love and help each other than kill and cheat each other. This is a surprise for many people, an awakening.
However, if such events are directly or indirectly influenced by these same authority figures, that is injected with fear, the groundswell of energies can snowball into violence and appalling acts of inhumanity, such as lynch mobs and wars. Let us take the disaster of 9-11 as an example. This event brought out the world’s compassion like no other, unified the country in an innate healing response to the collective wound, and broke down the New Yorker’s separation from one another to create a city-wide family of care and concern. It took a lot of work by the corporate-sponsored U.S. government and media to turn this great potential of personal and cultural renewal into an ‘opportunity’ to further authoritative ends. In wartime, governments tend to adjust consensus reality to accept the normality of war, with its torture interrogations, citizen rights abuses, political unaccountability, war profiteering, and so on. And when this normality gets unbearably uncomfortable, Nature in her infinite compassion often visits another disaster upon us to give us another chance to WAKE UP.
Meanwhile, many of us, as free-willed humans, can continue to create anti-bodies to the thinking that it is normal to live by what you fear. We can do this by placing ourselves in well-intentioned situations, events, and gatherings that relax the binding rules of ‘official’ consensus reality, and allow our natural altruism to rise to the surface. When we put these inclinations to work, we are vehicles for the planet, for the power of the Green, to stretch its creative and freeing Charismas thru the populace, and we play a role in Nature’s efforts to rebalance and evolve humanity. We thereby discover our natural humanity, or put another way, the human qualities of Nature. This can be summed as ‘indigenous consciousness’. Here I am defining the word ‘indigenous’, not in the sense of who was there first, but as a function of relationship, as the Gaian intelligence of natural ecosystems that bubbles up into our awareness, and ripples out as culture if we allow it.
This culture has many universals, found among peoples of all times and place who live and work closely with the procreative forces of the land. These include: that humans live best in tribal circumstances of 10 – 100 people; that we are capacitated to dialogue with all the tribes of creations, just like how all the different cells in our body communicate with each other; that diversity needs to be cultivated; that life force exists, is finite, and runs in fertility circuits that must be equitably shared in exchange relationships; that species boundaries, and the right of each life form to pursue its destiny, must be respected, and even revered. These principles tend to spontaneously arise when we get out of their way, but are also taught thru astute and empathetic observation of the Natural world and our body’s attunement to it. Devotional singing festivals, urban/rural permaculture gatherings, witch camps, meditation retreats, organic gardening intensives, medicine circles, conscious faires, bartering circles, conferences that explore Nature-based solutions to human problems, dance collectives, demonstrations that are pro-something more than anti- something, Wilderness awareness courses, Human-Fairy relations congresses, and the Portland VBC, all help re-birth indigenous consciousness in this way, all give Nature space to midwife new ways to be human.
I have therefore always been struck by how little these attractive, fertilizing, sprouting forces are reflected in the language of the cultures fed by them, in the words many of us use to speak of ourselves. We have inherited labels that reference us to the mainstream, often via various ‘reaction against’ rationales. Hence we have such words as ‘counterculture’, ‘alternative’, ‘back to the land’ (i.e. away from the city), and that aging, but lovable word coined by a SF columnist ‘hippie’. All of these terms tell us that we are, to various degrees and for various reasons, absent from the mainstream. However, just as peace isn’t just an absence of war, nor health just an absence of sickness, but can be proactive ways of waging and welling your life, so I have long felt the need for a similarly generative nest of identity, one with deep content and strong vision.
I therefore propose one, the sylvapolitan, or citizen of the great polis (ideal city-state) of the forest, and in the larger sense, Nature. The sylvapolitan is the inheritor of the elder wisdoms of indigenous consciousness, lineages taught by the living multi-versity of the world, in both its horizontal dimensions of form and vertical dimensions of spirit. S/he works in the interests of the planet, often acting out its immune functions, and thereby catalyzing evolution, here defined as life becoming increasingly aware of itself. It is a prototypal model of human development, what C. Jung called an archetype. It contrasts with another archetype, the cosmopolitan, a model native to our current globalized industrial growth culture, aka the mainstream. This much-lauded figure, with his/her university education, high income, consumerist life in city or suburb, has defined THE goal to aspire to for much of modernity. However, the ‘cosmos’ (world order) of the cosmopolitan spans a narrow spectrum of human possibilities. The education is overwhelmingly rationalistic, the high income is thru a self-destructive economy, and the conventional city is a very species-deficient place to live and acculture yourself. For such reasons, the civilizations that birth cosmopolitans (in their various forms) are always short-lived. Like annual plants, they grow tall as empires, egoic-edifices of domination, and then inevitably crash as the karmas of their adventures bring the season of their dissolution.
By contrast, the sylvapolitan is a perennial figure, one whose presence ebbs as civilizations rise, and flows forward again as they fall, to receive the nutrients released by their composting (art forms, technologies, spiritual insights, and such). As the current empire is in the last throes of an increasingly surreal dance of self-destruction, and has produced a particularly bountiful harvest of the fruits of its separation from Nature (e.g., the internet, seeds of renewable energy technologies, the globalization of spiritual traditions, and graphic examples of the dangers of mind possession), the food source for the sylvapolitan is rich, and we are incarnating in droves! Mucho trabajo!
Unsurprisingly, the sylvapolitan archetype, except in its economically significant fragments (increased popularity of yoga, organic foods, and so on) is unnoticed by the mainstream media, as it is locked into the story of the cosmopolitan’s withering world. Nevertheless, sylvapolitans are sprouting everywhere as the deep longing to be whole, to be again at home on the planet, intensifies in group mind of humanity. This figure is currently engaged in bridging cultures, in restoring harmony between the colonizers and colonized, the head (eagle) and the heart (condor), the techno-rational mind and the great devic forces, reason and spirit. As the feeling wounds of the Empire break thru the surface of denial, thru the glamour bardos of big toys and superiority complexes, into a full-blown bad tryp for humanity, the sylvapolitan is hard at work drawing on all spiritual resources to remain stable within the force field, to ride and transmute this energy for the collective good. This work is about holding space, about letting forces greater than we are work thru us, to offer prayers of renewal for those who choose to awaken, and prayers of release and forgiveness for those who choose not to. If our species survives all this, the challenges will likely pulse the sylvapolitan into a more full-spectrum form, and usher in a rapidly matured era of humanity and a new phases of planetary creativity.
I therefore invite those so inclined to explore this archetype as a lens with which to focus the strands of your interests and identities, your heritage and visions. As someone who has spent more time than most in medicine circle temples of sylvapolitan genesis, I can offer some guidelines. Manifestation starts with visualization, so I suggest you see yourself as a garden of Creation, in which you want to cultivate a flowering of consciousness. Beneath the sunlight of an opening heart, our embodied evolutionary heritage awakens and thrives, eventually passing to us an impulse of self-transformation, the same one that creates crystals out of rock, and butterflies out of caterpillars. How we fertilize the soil of our incarnation (vitality practices), tend the garden of our relations (love thy neighbor), attend to the weather of our emotions (surface and clear), and improve the climate of our mind (imaginal hygiene and meditation), determines the extent to which this impulse matures and blossoms in each of us.
To help with this process, I leave you with a few sylvapolitan principles with which to effect graceful passage thru these transitional times: remember that life is a gift not a right, giving us the opportunity to live life in constant gratitude; develop the inbody experience, that which connects us to the primary guidance of the planet; fertilize your language with organic metaphors and effect change by bringing things together, with the magic of synergy; put less energy into fighting the cosmopolitan system, and more into starving it, outgrowing it, outshining it; engage in occasional ceremonies of passage to keep yourself free of fears and past encumbrances, and well surrendered into the hands of the Divine; remember to live in the eternal Now, and that all things must pass; recognize all the tribes of creation as our elders and teachers; know that indigeneity is a birthright of all, but its culture, its ways of life, are up to us to claim; and practice your inheritance as a singing species, for new tribes need new songs!
© Morgan Brent 2007