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Being In Deep Time


Photo by Ken Homer • Taken at Bandelier National Monument

You are standing in the world as it will be 10,000 years from now.

About 30 years ago I met Joanna Macy at a Buddhist Peace Fellowship retreat. Over the next few years, I would attend numerous workshops and trainings that she led. Her teachings were life altering for me. Among the many powerful processes she designed was a series on Human Beings in Deep Time. These are based on the idea that each of us is connected to the field of human existence and, under the right conditions, we can communicate with past or future ancestors. This a common element of numerous Indigenous worldviews. See The Way of the Shaman, by Michael Harner, Ph.D., if you'd like to explore this more deeply.


One of her processes where I experienced the visceral power of Deep Time occurred during a Deep Ecology Summer School training that took place at a former Boy Scout camp in Mendocino California. About 80 of us gathered together in the large field at the center of the camp. Joanna instructed us to form two concentric circles with the people on the inside circle looking outwards and those in the outer circle looking inward so that we each stood eye-to-eye with another person. Then she intoned something akin to the following:

We are going to time travel now...

“Close your eyes,” she began. “Feel your feet on the Earth… Feel the warmth of the Sun shining down upon you… Feel the stillness of the ancient redwoods in the forests surrounding this field… Feel the movement of the streams and rivers flowing through the land carrying life-giving water to all the beings that call our water planet home, including ourselves… Feel the softness of the summer air as it moves in and out of your lungs… Air that is shared with and connects us to every other being that breathes… Connect with the breath in your body… Connect with the breath that flows between us… Feel your connection to the vastness of the human experience... Open the back of your body and sense the connection you have to your ancestors... Allow your mind to stretch out into the astonishingly intricate and complex web of relationships of all the people who lived before you and whose lives led to you being born... Feel them standing behind you, their strength, their ingenuity, their love flowing into you... Breathe all that into your center and feel your connection to the Earth...


“Now, open the front of your body and allow yourself to sense into the web of relationships yet to be... Let your mind fill with the connections to everyone who will ever be born as a result of the actions you take in this life.... Open to the possibilities offered by the enormous web of life that connects every person, past, present, and future... Feel your life as part of this great mystery... Breathe deeply and feel your feet on the Earth... You stand on the same Earth that was here when the First People emerged... The Earth you stand upon is the same Earth that will be here when the Last People take their leave of this planet... You are here in the middle of a wondrous experience... You matter... You belong... You are part of an unbroken chain of being that began billions of years ago... Connected across time with all the people who have ever lived, who are alive now, and who will ever live... Let knowledge that sink into the marrow of your bones... and breathe and stay connected to the Earth, to the source of all life...

You matter... You belong... You are part of an unbroken chain of being that began billions of years ago...

“We are going to time travel now… We are going to pay a visit to those who will be living on Earth ten thousand years from now... Feel the day speeding up… Sense the Sun quickening as it moves across the sky... The rapid onset of dusk and then night… Tomorrow dawns and the day unspools like a movie being run at super speed… Night follows even faster… Stay rooted as the days and nights swirl by… keep feeling your feet on the Earth and staying connected to your breath… The time flows effortlessly through you… Now the weeks are flying by... turning into months that turn into years and they spin off into decades… You are surrounded by a field of stars now as time keeps accelerating and the decades are melting into centuries and the centuries are sliding into millennia…. Still, you feel your feet on the Earth and the breath in your body and the presence of each of us here in this field… Despite the rapid flow of time, you experience no vertigo… You feel connected to the Earth and all of humanity and you are watching the evolution of our home planet… But you sense that things are not going so well for the Earth… Something in your being is alarmed by the tide of the time… You sense the flow of time slowing down now… Millennia decelerate to centuries which become decades… which become years… and still you are connected to the Earth and your breath… Now the years take the form of months and the months become weeks and finally, the weeks slowly unwind into days and hours and minutes and the swirling stops, and time feels normal once more.


“Before you open your eyes, let me tell you that you are standing in the world as it will be 10,000 years from now. Those in the outer circle are visitors to this realm... Those of you in the inner circle were born in this time and live here. Life is hard... There is no modern technology to be found anywhere. Lakes and rivers are poisoned... Land that was once fertile has become desert... The air you breathe is not kind to your lungs... The Sun is obscured by a menacing haze... The world has been ravaged... There are no cities anywhere, just small bands of people, many of them frail and enfeebled, riddled with the diseases born of an environment saturated by toxins and blanketed in radioactivity.

Those of you in the inner circle will ask those in the outer circle what they were doing when the world was burning up and being poisoned.

“In a moment you will all open your eyes. Those of you in the inner circle will look at the person before you and, knowing that they were alive at a time when decisions were made that led to the world you live in now, you’ll ask them what they were doing when the world was burning up and being poisoned. Those in the outer circle will answer.”


I was in the outer circle. My stomach had suddenly knitted itself into a tangle of fear and I wasn't sure I was capable of speech. What could I say to this person? That I am not to blame? That I tried but found myself incapable of affecting the larger societal choices being made around me? That I was embedded in systems where I was pushed and carried along with a flow that I was powerless to resist? That I voted my conscience, but it wasn’t enough? That I tried to educate myself about the problems and speak to the people in my orbit but that far too many of them were so caught up in the pursuit of their own happiness and they did not want to even hear let alone consider that the choices they were making were slowly eroding the accumulated wealth of all the previous generations? That those of us alive in my lifetime created entire industries designed to distract us from all the warning signs that we were destroying the Earth’s life support systems? That we gave little thought to the plight of future generations until it was too late to do anything about it? That huge numbers of people believed the Earth was inert? That many of those same people believed there is just this one life and after that you are dead, so grab all that you can while you can? That billions believed that the Earth is nothing more than resources to be exploited for human greed? That we had forgotten our connection to and responsibility to those who would come to this world after we had left it?

What could I say to this person? That I am not to blame? That I tried but found myself incapable of affecting the larger societal choices being made around me?

I felt a soul crushing weight pressing down on me and a deep sense of shame permeated my being. I never expected I would be called upon to answer for how my life choices were inextricably tied to the awful suffering of people and animals in a future I hadn't given much thought to. It seemed I had arrived at oft foretold The Day of Judgment except I stood not before God but in front of a young woman with confused, helpless, fearful, and pleading eyes.


There was water leaking from my eyes and I was unable to speak for some time. Somehow, I managed to stammer an apology and mumble some of the thoughts expressed above. I ended with a plea for forgiveness. She stood before me openly weeping and I felt as though I truly had been transported through time to a future that was terrifying to behold. I was shaken to my core.

I never expected I would be called upon to answer for how my life choices were inextricably tied to the awful suffering of people and animals in a future I hadn't given much thought to.

I am not sure how long we held each other’s eyes; I only know that it was an indelible moment that is still as present with me today as it was 30 years ago. Finally, the instruction came to close our eyes and to breathe deeply, to gently shake out our limbs, and to feel our feet on the Earth. It took great effort to fill my lungs and to come back to myself, and the self I came back was irrevocably changed from the self I had known before the start of this exercise.

“Okay everyone, open your eyes and change position with the person you just spoke to. Now, those in the inner circle take one step to the right while everyone in the outer circle will take one step to the left and then close your eyes again.”


We did as we were told.


“Feel your feet on the Earth and connect with the breath in your body. Once again, we will travel in time. Now, you are feeling time speed up… it’s moving faster than the last round and you quickly find yourself in a field of stars with the sensation of moving at tremendous speed while meeting no resistance… there is no effort, just a feeling of the Universe moving through you rather than you moving through it…. It is slowing now… slowing and slowing and stopping and once again you are connected to the Earth and your breath.


This is another future… In this future the Earth has healed and recovered from the damage done to it in our lifetimes. The people here are healthy, vibrant, and vital…

“This is another future… A different Earth timeline… In this future the Earth has healed and recovered from the damage done to it in our lifetimes. The people here are healthy, vibrant, and vital… They live lives of relative peace and harmony with each other and with the Earth… In a moment you will open your eyes and those in the inner circle who are living in this healed world will ask those in the outer circle what they did in their lifetimes that set the world on this course of healing… Okay, open your eyes.”


Rather than relay the answers I received, I invite you, dear reader, to look into the eyes of your relative who will be alive 500 generations from now and explain what you did to ensure that world they live in is safe, sane, and healthy.


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