Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Council of All Beings
COUNCIL OF ALL BEINGS - a guide compiled by Rabbi David Seidenberg (DRAFT--uncorrected)
This outline of the Council of All Beings is lightly edited from a version created for schools by the Institute for Human Education (www.HumaneEducation.org). The Council is modified from the original version found in Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings by Joanna Macy, Arne Naess, John Seed, and Pat Fleming. The original version describes a series of rituals that happens over several days, culminating in the Council of All Beings. This is a meaningful short version of this powerful activity.
In between the IHE's instructions, labeled "JS", are directions and scripts from John Seed and his colleagues, again with emendations.
For Ages 10 and up.
JS: One of the things that people more grounded in the Earth than ourselves have always known, and continue to know, is that it is not difficult for us to be the voices of nature, or to allow other beings to speak through us, that we can become a medium for their truth. This is the basis of the Council of All Beings, which is the ritual that we'll be doing.
2. Invite students to go out into nature, to the trees, grasses, rocks, or to find a spot in the space that participants are in, and to sit or lie down so that they are comfortable. Instruct them to close their eyes, in whatever spot they have found, and let the image of an animal (human or nonhuman), or part of nature or landscape, come to them in their imaginations. Remind them not to force themselves to think about a certain animal or part of nature, but rather to let the being visit them in their thoughts.
JS: The first thing we're going to need for the Council of All Beings is an ally, and that ally is a non-human being, because the Council, for the moment, consists of non-human beings only.
There was a time when human beings were part of the Council, and we pray for a time when human beings as a whole again come to the Council. Now, it is time for the voiceless to be heard. So there will be no humans in the Council, but ANY non human beings are welcome and these may be animals, or plants, or features of the landscape, lakes, rivers, rain, clouds, trees or worms - it is all OK. Go out into the woods and begin to do this walking meditation, and just meander, amble, and then you might suddenly feel that you need to allow things to blur, you just want to be able to see enough so that you don't fall over, and then you might feel a certain tree pulling you towards it, at but when you get there, the tree is not it, you discover that it is not that the tree is your ally, but the tree is an antenna, that allows your ally, which might for example be the African Elephant. The process of finding your ally is an important part of really letting go of our usual boundaries, our sense of what's dignified, and our sense of what's nonsense. Just letting go, child-like, saying, "Maybe I'm going to learn something new today, maybe something is going to happen, that hasn't happened before." So, we are looking for that place of readiness for something new. You can bring back anything interesting you find on your journey, e.g. feathers, that may help you with your mask, but be gentle in taking things from nature.
3. Ask the participants to "become" the being that has visited them in their imaginations. Encourage them feel themselves turning into this animal or part of nature (such as a cloud, a mountain, a tree, a wolf, or a spider). Let them ask: "What is happening to me as this being? How do I feel? What is my life like? My days? My nights? My interactions with other beings? With my environment? What do I want? What do I have to say? What would I like to tell people? What wisdom do I have as this being?" Remind them to listen inside for the answers.
JS: The mask doesn't have to be a likeness at all, it can be an abstract representation. The mask doesn't have to be beautiful; it's good if it covers our face because it can make it a deeper experience if we are not looking at human faces, but sometimes people have come back with a mask that was just a fin which they wore on their back as a dolphin. You can do anything you like. If you put it over your face it's good for the mask to have eyeholes so you can see what is going on. And it's great if you have a hole where the mouth is so that it's easier for all to hear what you are saying. This can be quite fast, it doesn't matter what the mask looks like because you are going to introduce yourself in the Council, so everyone will know who you are.
5. When everyone has finished their mask, form the Council.
Briefly introduce the council process with the following instructions:
JS: We come to this council to share matters that are close to our hearts, also to share our strengths, our beauty, our troubles and our wisdom. Invite any being to speak.
7. Ask the beings to each speak again, this time telling the Council what is happening to them, including what humans have done to them and what they would like to say to humans. Once again, the rest of the group can respond by saying "We hear you ____ (name of being)."
JS: A council can be all about the beauty of Gaia, our planet. It doesn't have to focus on problems! Some advice to the facilitator is to be invisible; when something seems needed, wait a few minutes. But don't let it get boring or fidgety, add questions that lead or prompt or suggest, and always connect them back to something another being has said. So it is important to note things said that can be weaved into an ending, and to allow all the possibilities to be explored.
9. Finally, after each being has spoken for the last time, ask participants to remove their masks one by one. As each of them takes off the mask, you can invite them to turn their masks toward themselves and make a small promise to their being.
Invite everyone to "put on human masks."
JS: Ritual burning of the masks. This can be a final release of the spirit of everyone's allies back into the world, and a chance to thank them for the specific gifts they have brought to us and that we will carry on into our everyday lives. One by one, we place our masks on the fire and speak our thanks. Many groups don't want to burn the masks but have kept them or passed them on. A ritual burning, however, can be a powerfully symbolic way of transforming the magic of the council into reality, and can 'ground the energy'.
JS: We must not forget our wildness. When you see a fellow being, remember this, be heard, speak out, do something every day to remind us of our true selves. Let us teach the humans our rituals and make them fun, and lure them back to Council.
We have shared much, surely enough for the humans to change, if only they can hear us.
When we hear the earth speak to us, we are transformed and come to understand our actions from a new perspective. Once we have experienced the fierce joy of life that attends extending our identity into nature, once we realize that the nature within and the nature without are continuous, then we too may share and manifest the exquisite beauty and effortless grace associated with the natural world.
Spirit that hears each one of us,
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006