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Deep Weaving: indigenous Earth wisdom, mythology, and cosmology

Reflections on the Ashoka ‘Global Change Leaders’ gathering to catalyze transformative innovation in education (3 of 4)

Daniel Christian Wahl


Weaving is inter-generational, making deep ties visible between generations alive today and their far distant ancestors. Weaving is inter-species, reconnecting us to what makes us truly human — our membership in the community of life as a planetary process.

“Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more- than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth — our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of the wolves and the honking of the geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.”

— David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

As D.H. Lawrence so clearly diagnosed “we are bleeding from the roots, because we are cut off from the Earth, the sun and the stars.” Our collective challenge is to weave ourselves back into the fabric of life, the fabric of the universe.

We have never been separate from and will never be independent of this fabric of life that maintains and enables our blue planet’s life-support-system. We too depend on life creating conditions conducive to life, and that is our true and proper work!

Learning ecosystems enable the integration of meeting the needs of our human family in ways that nurture healthy ecosystems functions of the planetary life-support system on which we depend — and in which we are capable of playing a regenerative and healing role.

It is only our dominant worldview and the education systems and cultures we have created in accordance that make us live within an illusory projected reality of separation — between nature and culture, self and world, mind and matter. Our culturally dominant story is cutting us off from life’s deeply interconnected spring of vitality for all. It is an outdated story, that is killing us and much of life with it!

One of my favourite songs that form part of the repertoire at ecovillage network gatherings and are sung during circle dances in Gaia Education’s EDE trainings starts with the lines “Spiraling into the centre the centre of the shield. We are the weavers, we are the woven-ones. We are the dreamers, we are the dream.”

The ‘shield’ of the four sacred directions can serve as a map of a life well lived for the greater good. As we navigate life we need to weave the gifts of each direction to become a grounded whole person, ready to serve the Earth and her people.

Lakota Medicine Wheel — The Four Shields

In invoking the archetype of the weaver we are connecting with ancient indigenous wisdom from around the world. Kokyangwuti, spider grandmother, according to Hopi cosmology is the Earth Goddess that gave birth to humanity. Among the Navajo, Na’ashjé’íí Asdzáá, or spider-woman is the a constant protector of humanity.

Over the last four decades some people have started to re-weave connections to this wisdom and ancient rites of passage rituals that have served most — if not all — our ancestral cultures to mark key life transitions. The four shields offer a kind of compass for navigating life as a responsible participant and contributor.

Today’s educational ecosystems are devoid of such processes that enable youth to take a conscious step into a more mature community membership and care and responsibility towards their people and their place.

Among the pioneers of weaving Native American wisdom and practice back into our modern culture by offering initiatory rites of passage in nature, are people like John P. Milton, Steven Foster, Meredith Little, Jon Young, Gigi Coyle and others.

Some readers might remember the book Presence — Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, in which Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joe Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers explore their personal path to deeper meaning and service to humanity and life, from their background in the business world and leadership trainings for management. Engaging in vision quest world with John P. Milton emerges as a common factor of their change or deepening of heart.

John founded the ‘Way of Nature is a global community’ to bring together and support people who are committed to exploring and sharing the liberating recognition of Source Awareness as our true nature. Its programmes offer deep transformative experiences and a new appreciation for, and ever-deepening communion with, the magnificent Earth on which we live and all the life that thrives upon it.

For over 35 years, the School of Lost Borders has been offering vision fasts and rites of passage training which cultivate self-trust, responsibility, and understanding about ones’ unique place within society and the natural world. Its programs provide guided opportunities, perspectives, teachings, and much needed self-reflection time in a non-judgmental yet challenging environment.

Clinton Callahan interviewing Meredith Little in 2013 about her life’s work with rite of passage and vision fast work with youth, young adults and people of all ages.

The Ojai Foundation grew out of the Happy Valley Foundation through the work of the Joan Halifax, Gigi Coyle and many others. The practice of Council has been at the centre of the pioneering work done at Ojai for many years with the explicit mission to “foster practices that awaken connection with self, others, and the natural world.”

The wonderful work of the Jon Young over the past three decades has curated the 8 Shields frameworks to create diverse training pathways in support of mentors and leaders — changing individual lives, and entire communities — enabling them to become more connected. The work with the 8 Shields incorporates traditional mentoring and deep nature connection practices, which are fully supported through our neurological, emotional, and physical connection to the natural world.

8 Shields is a global movement worldwide that utilizes a finely tuned, tried and true mentoring model that has proven to create healthy and vibrant natural leaders, and nature-based intergenerational mentoring communities around the world. “Our north star is to re-awaken these attributes in people and in turn help heal the widespread disconnection and loss of culture worldwide.”

The deep weaving work of these pioneers is recovering much of what our ancestors have known is needed to be fully human and fully alive within a nourishing web of meaning and mutuality.

In Greek mythology Ariadne’s thread helped Theseus to safely reach the centre of the Labyrinth and find his way out again. Athena the goddess of wisdom was a weaver, and so was her Egyptian counterpart Neith — the creator of life.

Hopi Seed Saving Pot with image of Spider Woman (source)

In Lithuanian myths, Laima-Dalia is the goddess of destiny and the spinner and weaver of the threads of life. The Mayan goddess Ixchel, is the goddess of childbirth, healing and weaving. The Japanese sun-goddess Ama-Terasu is the protector of all people and weaver of the robes of the gods.

The Maori goddess Hine-te-iwaiwa gave people the art of weaving as a way to weave knowledge and wisdom between generations. Similarly among Australian Aboriginal tribes the hand woven Dilly bags and baskets are not only functional objects but a way of weaving identity, meaning, and wisdom between present generations and the ancestors.

Nature’s Jewels by David Kleinert — an illustration of the ‘Jeweled Net of Indra’

In the Vedanta, the Net of Indra represents the interpenetration or dependent-co-arising of all things — pratītyasamutpāda — every participant in this web is both a manifestation of the whole and inseparable from the whole.

Neither the whole nor the part-icipants are primary, rather they co-arise from the relationships and interactions that define them. They are the way the whole comes to know and self-create itself in and through the “parts” — reflections of wholeness from within the whole. Such is the nature of reality that deep weaving reconnects us to.

“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web
in the early morning covered with dew drops.
And every dew drop contains the reflection
of all the other dew drops.
— And so ad infinitum.

That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.”

— Alan Watts, Following The Middle Way

The weaver understands the paradox of being — as constant becoming — a relational being that is at one and the same time the whole net and a dew drop within it reflecting the whole onto itself.

This deep weaving practice of reconnecting that enables weavers to draw from Source and heal the unbroken whole from the source of wholeness and life itself — relationship and mutuality — is what is now needed more than ever to undo the mind-made fractures that seem to run through our human family and seem to threaten the future of life itself.

The times we live in were spoken of in ancient prophecies millennia ago. One such prophecy is the Tibetan story of the time of the Shambhala Warriors rising to enter the corridors of power and undo the damage done to life. The reason why these mythical future healers could do their work, is because the damage and destruction was ‘manu-maya’ (mind-made). Just as the unbroken whole can be seemingly broken by the human mind — our outdated worldview and ways of thinking that no longer serve life — it can be healed by the human heart-mind remembering and reconnecting.

The Shambhala Warrior — as told by Joanna Macy

[A Tibetan Legend]

“There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Barbarian powers have arisen. Although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable devastation and technologies that lay waste the world. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

“You cannot go there, for it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. But you cannot recognize a Shambhala warrior by sight, for there is no uniform or insignia, there are no banners. And there are no barricades from which to threaten the enemy, for the Shambhala warriors have no land of their own. Always they move on the terrain of the barbarians themselves.

“Now comes the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors, moral and physical courage. For they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power and dismantle the weapons. To remove these weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where the decisions are made.

“The Shambhala warriors know they can do this because the weapons are mano-maya, mind-made. This is very important to remember, Joanna. These weapons are made by the human mind. So they can be unmade by the human mind! The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on Earth do not come from evil deities or extraterrestrial powers. They arise from our own choices and relationships. So, now, the Shambhala warriors must go into training.

“How do they train?” I asked.

“They train in the use of two weapons.”

“The weapons are compassion and insight. Both are necessary. We need this first one,” he said, lifting his right hand, “because it provides us the fuel, it moves us out to act on behalf of other beings. But by itself it can burn us out. So we need the second as well, which is insight into the dependent co-arising of all things. It lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. We realize that we are interconnected, as in a web, and that each act with pure motivation affects the entire web, bringing consequences we cannot measure or even see.

“But insight alone,” he said, “can seem too cool to keep us going. So we need as well the heat of compassion, our openness to the world’s pain. Both weapons or tools are necessary to the Shambhala warrior.”

— Joanna Macy

Joanna Macy tells the story of the Kingdom of Shambhala based on the oral tradition of how she was gifted this prophecy by her own teacher — inter-generational weaving!

The quality of the intervention depends on the quality of being-ness of the intervenor. Weavers are at their most effective when their being embraces paradox — the space beyond beliefs and doctrines. The place where we can live into our own dual existence as self and world — seer and seen.

Compassion and insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena are sources of strength for the Shambhala Warrior committed to healing the unbroken whole.

Our work is the re-weaving of the fabric of life into the tapestry of abundance it is meant to be. We are all called to be such warriors of compassion and insight. That is what weaving — the work that reconnects — is all about!

Weaving is both an individual and a collective practice! Weaving can focus our collective resolution — bundling our individual light into collective intelligence — by bundling the strands of individual subjective experiences of universe becoming conscious of itself into intersubjective shared realities of deep meaning and purpose.

May we serve!

May we contribute to the healing of this world!

May we create diverse regenerative cultures everywhere!

May life once again thrive on this beautiful planet!

May we come home into the family of things!

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

— ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver

This video was created as feedback on a 12 day experience of transformative education I had the privilege to co-create with some of the most skillful educators I ever had the pleasure to work with. In August 2009, a group of 30 young Europeans gathered together in Scotland, at Findhorn ecovillage, for twelve-days. They explored different tools and techniques for building inner-resilience for the journey towards creative and sustainable cultures. The programme combined many of the deep weaving connections this article explores. There is hope! There is another way! We need programs like this for young adults everywhere!

Daniel Christian Wahl is the author of the internationally acclaimed book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures



Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures