Heartsteading: Forming and Strengthening Circles of Community


Craig Chalquist, PhD

I think about the way we are spiraling out of ecological control and the concomitant disturbance in the way we are entwined in the imaginal fabric of our home communities, an invisible rending of human-nature bindings. I feel this rent reverberate in my own body like the sound of a deadening rush of footsteps going nowhere or an oncoming army, a speeded sense of urgency in a void. I began wondering how the landscape and habitat of a home community inform the collective identity, and how this tear in ecological viability affects us, and what new frameworks of thinking can bring such events into our ken.
– Laura Mitchell, art therapist and depth psychologist

Practices of community dreaming, imaging, and visioning reconnect individual and community transformation, creating public spaces to hear the imaginal’s critical and creative commentary on our lives and to vision together what is most deeply desired.
– Mary Watkins, depth psychologist and liberation psychologist

In 2007, my book Terrapsychology introduced the word “heartsteading” to mean “dwelling deeply in places through knowledge and love that strengthen over time in continual interactions between the human and the nonhuman” (p. 52). Doing so would require “reweaving the sacred fabric of place, spirit, society, self, and heart” with help from wise elders and mentors capable of interpreting the language of nature and opening awareness through dialog (p. 130-31).

This short paper puts forward heartsteading as a new type of reflective problem-solving circle that joins the wisdom of the group to the natural wisdom of the land. I see such groups as a possible basis for the just, sustainable, and Earth-based civilization we will need to design in order to survive as a species and, beyond survival, to flourish in communities that bring us joy and belonging.

Our Perennial Container: The Small, Reflective Group
Humans evolved within the small group, a supportive structure that has always served us, especially in difficult times. Seventy thousand years ago, when a globe-cooling blast from the Toba volcano in Indonesia thinned us out to a few thousand, the hardy survivors went on to repopulate the planet.

Since the Agricultural Revolution’s displacement of informal leadership by territorial hierarchies of centralized power and empire, small groups that preserve collective sanity and vision have gone by many names: kibbutzim, Gnostic worship circles, covens, sanctuaries, mystery schools, Mothers’ Centers, reality laboratories (Martín-Baró), public homeplaces (bell hooks, Mary Belenky), beloved communities (Martin Luther King Jr.), intentional communities, “snailshells” (Subcommandante Marcos), consciousness-raising (New York Radical Women), communities of resistance (Thich Nhat Hanh), counter-public spheres (Olav Eikeland), free spaces, Simplicity Circles (Cecile Andrews), salons…. Other examples include Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago, Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, the Pan Valley Institute in Fresno, CA, and Jane Sapp’s Center for Cultural and Community Development in Springfield, MA.

Situated between private identities and large institutions, these kinds of groups provide containers (according to Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman) for preserving one’s humanity, analyzing and decolonizing internalized oppression, thinking and problem-solving, supporting resistance to injustice, and incubating common dreams for desirable ways to live with each other, recognizing (as Van Jones expresses it) that “we are all in this together.”

As the multinational colonization of cultures and landscapes proceeds across a world pounded by increasingly dangerous weather and by overheating climates threatening food, water, and shelter everywhere, visioning and support containers will need to think ever more deeply in ecological terms while facing collective traumata on a scale never witnessed in human history.

Adapting to Massive Change: From Homesteads to Heartsteads
Like the fort and the castle, the private neighborhood and gated mansion offer no lasting refuge from cultural and ecological upheaval. On the American frontier, a settler dissatisfied with local affairs could travel elsewhere to set up a homestead. In our day, however, most people cannot afford what land remains; meanwhile, ecosystems crash all over the world and toxins cross all legal boundaries. Extreme weather of the kind that floods or burns entire regions is now the norm. How to adapt to it all?

A heartstead is a small, local group designed for mutual support, collaborative problem-solving, reflective listening and dialog, reclaiming of community strengths, decolonization, story-telling, practical research, direct democracy, preservation of crafts and skills (“reskilling”), and self-education. Relying on the ecological principle of resilience, heartsteads rely on multiple backups and communication sources, preserving their infrastructure and culture through many means that offer some protection from the obvious fragilities of centralization.

Unlike the homestead, the heartstead can be set up anywhere to form a circle of people dreaming together toward just, sustainable, and abundant forms of community that cultivate appreciation of Earth and all its creatures.

Heartsteads can serve as hubs of healing, resource-gathering, mourning, remembrance, cultural creation, and problem-solving for communities devastated by political, financial, or ecological disaster. Knowledgeable and reflective groups offer psychological containment to individuals whose coping skills are overwhelmed and tools for reimagining selves, families, neighborhoods, and societies as ecosystems capable of resiliency and self-design.

In helping members move from paralysis into critical consciousness (Paolo Freire) and action, the inclusiveness of the heartstead embraces and works imaginatively with the presence of the locale: flora, fauna, soils, streams, hills, valleys, geology, geography, recognizing the human mind’s deep connection to its surroundings. As observed by terrapsychology, the deep study of the presence of place, nature, and Earth (Chalquist), ecology and geology are modes of psychology. This means that we can practice thinking and doing like the features of the land around us. A nearby mountain invites a higher view of things, a river teaches us about transport and time, a valley about going down into the depths of an issue. In this way we appreciate how our personal story is part of the story of where we live.

Why the “heart” in heartsteading? Psychologically, I understand the heart as an imaginal core, a seat of affects that involve us in the world’s doings. The heart’s wisdom partakes of an embodiment and solidity that brain alone cannot aspire to. Its knowledge is holistic and centered and inclusive of that of the head. To know from the heart is to know fully; to speak from the heart is to be sincere and open. To reflect, speak, and act from the heart issues an evolutionary challenge to soullessly disconnective economics, politics, religions, and sciences that would dominate life rather than participate in it.

The premises informing the heartstead model are:
– Threats to life on earth are now overwhelming financial, governmental, and educational institutions, many formed in the 18th Century or even earlier and most in the hands of a global finance system with no interest in preserving social or ecological integrity.
– Humans naturally form small bands to deal with adverse circumstances.
– Groups hold more healing, problem-solving, and culture-building potential than individuals.
– The wisdom of the group surpasses that of the lone genius and should be the primary resource for solving difficult planetary problems.
– Ecological, psychological, political, and cultural pathology spring from the same alienation from nature and place; their regeneration must arise together.
– Regenerative work should cultivate imaginal-visionary resources that link inner and outer.
– It should also generate new knowledge and practice as an ongoing activity.
– Networked groups of successful adaptation can provide a foundation for a Great Turning (Joanna Macy) toward a just and sustainable civilization.

Obviously this is a lot for anyone to take on. But I am convinced that almost any problem can be solved by putting enough of the right people together and teaching them how to tap their deepest sources of creative knowledge.

The primary purpose of a heartstead is to provide a container in which dualisms that split people from place, nature and each other can be melted down into new recipes for just, sustainable, and self-replicating culture brewed by mixing the wisdom of group participants with the wisdom of the deep psyche as it connects with that of Earth. This wisdom is to be pooled and passed on through multiple channels. Another way of saying this is that heartsteads should be designed to encourage groups of humans to imagine and grow into an ethical-responsible relationship to the natural world as a basis for an authentically evolved civilization.

Blueprint for a Heartstead
Preliminary Studies
Although heartsteads can be launched anywhere, they do require a certain expertise that draws on several disciplines. As clear and respectful communicators, facilitators should also familiarize themselves with transformative leadership and group work skills, Collaborative Inquiry, liberation psychology, Systems Theory (Family Systems in particular), ecology, bioregionalism, ecopsychology, ecotherapy, permaculture design, and terrapsychology.

Facilitators should be involved in self-reflective practices (e.g., journaling, psychotherapy, dream analysis, meditation) and meet regularly with each other and with peers outside the group to receive ongoing critical feedback and support. By doing this they also model a key heartsteading goal: replace isolated positions with open networks and inner conflicts with relationships.

Phase I: Ice-Breaking

  1. Hold an information meeting about what heartsteads can do and ask for serious volunteers to set one up as a pilot project. The project will decide on a community concern, access group wisdom to respond to it, and assess and document the results.
  2. Ask group members to tell Earth Stories (Howard Clinebell) to get acquainted: after sitting in a circle, participants introduce themselves and describe some encounter with nature that stayed with them and perhaps even defined how they see the natural world. A variation on this: “Think of a time when something about nature–a setting, a plant or animal, a dream, a taste or touch or smell–resulted in deep transformation. Maybe go outside and select something that reminds you of this agent of change. What did you lose as a result of this transformation? What vulnerabilities did it surface? How long did it take you to incorporate what you learned into your life?” A poignancy of this exercise is that not all nature encounters bring bliss: some bring tragedy or loss that supply fuel for conversation, and others remind the tellers of childhoods spent surrounded by urban concrete and steel.
  3. Theory explanation: lasting, just, and sustainable social change must include these dimensions: the I (self), We (community), and the Here (environment). For change to spread and take hold, it must also include the There (other groups) dimension and, ultimately, an Us (worldwide, perhaps joined online as an Econet).
  4. Ground rules: speak sincerely, listen without interruption, own your feelings, offer feedback respectfully, everyone participates, don’t monopolize floor time, start and end on time, disruptive members will be asked to leave, etc. For reactive groups the formal practice of council might be helpful.
  5. Decide on which of the following phases to enter first, bearing in mind that phases overlap and that their order depends on what the group needs and on where participants live. Here is one way to proceed:

Phase II: Trauma-Containing

  1. The group should educate itself about local and global crises both social and ecological. Resource wars, global warming, mass extinction, loss of fertile soil, loss of fresh water, overpopulation, media monopolization by unregulated corporations, food supply monopolization, the soullessness of mechanized, exam-driven education…the crises are too numerous to list. Some impact the entire globe, others surface down the road or on the other side of town. All intertwine deeply with ranges of human consciousness that create, amplify, or suffer them.
  2. People cannot move through overwhelming levels of trauma without naming them and talking about them in a safe space. Ask people to begin by telling a Medicine Story (Mary Watkins): anecdotes that highlight aspects of our history, actions, thoughts, or feelings silenced or disallowed by dominant or official stories. (Watkins identifies the Medicine Story as a “missing genre” in mental health.) The heartstead Medicine Story brings up traumas living at the intersection of I, We, and Here: having watched as a child while a favorite meadow was paved over; worries about one’s own children living in a crime-ridden neighborhood; nightmares about mass extinction; losing a loved one to an environmentally caused illness; being laid off during a hostile corporate takeover…. The idea here is not to get stuck in a self-defeating Victim role, but to have one’s sufferings witnessed and held by an understanding, supportive, and caring group. Medicine Stories are received with respect and empathy, not with potentially insulting suggestions about fixes or solutions. (In some cases an Earth Story will serve as a participant’s Medicine Story.)
  3. In our preoccupation with fixes, cures, and interventions, we forget about the mind/body’s almost miraculous powers of healing–when left to work without interference! A focused individual can hold a container for enormous waves of anguish to run to completion on their own with no “working through” needed. Being with sorrow, for example, without trying to be rid of it allows it space to finish itself naturally, on its own cycle. A group container provides even more space for healing from ecological and other traumata, and the planet even more, as the field of ecotherapy demonstrates with many examples of how (see Clinebell’s ecotherapy book and the anthology Ecotherapy edited by Buzzell and Chalquist).
  4. Ecotherapists Linda Buzzell and Sarah Edwards observe that ecotrauma tends to move through six Stages of Awakening: denial, semi-consciousness, the moment of realization, no return, despair / hopelessness / guilt, acceptance / empowerment / action. Knowing this helps align a stage with what it needs: hard evidence for denial, education for semi-consciousness, support for realization, grieving for despair (see the work of Joanna Macy), and so on. Viewed as a whole, the movement from denial to empowerment unfolds through many emotions–shock, mourning, anger, guilt, helplessness–from impact to reflection, then absorption, into action.
  5. Education for hope can guide this unfolding and should include, at the very least:
    – Examples of successful small-group actions against large and formidable forces. See Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, Love in a Time of Hate by Nancy Caro Hollander, The Quest for Environmental Justice by Robert Bullard, Growing Smarter by Bullard, Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart, The Sustainability Revolution by Andres Edwards, Biomimicry by Janine Benyus, The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins and Richard Heinberg, and Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken.
    – Howard Clinebell’s core image of the Ecological Circle, in which inreach, receiving healing from the natural world–plants, animals, landscapes, sensory details, good food, etc.–and upreach, being in conscious contact with the transpersonal vitality of nature, lead to outreach, giving something back to the world, preferably by working with other people to do so.
    – The goal of holistic sustainability, a trans-disciplinary project that brings together multiple dimensions of sustainability, including the cultural, the systemic, the ecological, the political, the ethical, the somatic, and the psychological, in the service of transforming our relationship with nature, place, and Earth from that of user or spectator to that of responsible dweller. Part of being a “responsible dweller” means learning to feel at home in our bodies and minds, emotions and geographical locales. Holistic sustainability requires an alliance of interior effort with transformational work in the world. It challenges us to ask: Does such-and-such a business practice, curriculum, procedure, law, or scientific program nourish and integrate mind, body, spirit, and soul, or does it fragment and deplete them? Does it enhance respect for and responsibility toward the natural world or further damage and rend these important connections? Does it split the personal, cultural, and ecological domains or acknowledge their interdependency?
    – According to Joanna Macy, our time can be seen as a Great Turning, a planet-wide shift from the Industrial Growth Model of society to the Life-Sustaining Model of civilization. The shift takes hold as experiments in sustainability, organic food production, restorative justice, and other sensible practices mushroom around the globe. Another way of saying this is that the Big Machine Eradigm, a mechanistic worldview introduced five hundred years ago, is giving way before a more comprehensive Earthrise Eradigm that pictures reality as participatory, organic, inclusive, and networked.

Phase III: Research-Generating

  1. Explain to the group how Collaborative Inquiry works.
  2. Most versions of CI involve doing these:
    – Establish commitment among group members for participation and number of meetings (ask for three or four and then an assessment of how the group is doing).
    – The group leader helps the group come up with a compelling question about a local issue involving self, culture, and environment. An effective compelling question is specific, concerns everyone present, engages the imagination, is researchable, summons everyone’s strengths, requires cooperation to address, and allows of specific outcomes and new knowledge.
    – Next, the group decides on procedures for exploring the compelling question. Who will volunteer to do what, and how? Exploration should include doing some research on the question, including speaking with experts (whether official or informal) and on-the-scene observation if possible. For example, if the compelling question were, “How do we push a polluting oil refinery out of our county?” then research should include learning the history of the refinery, its safety record, complaints lodged against it, contributions its HQ offers to local politicians, scientific observations of toxins it emits, photographs of smoke or flame bellowing from its stacks, and examples of successful actions carried out in similar situations. A very different question, “How do we organize a group of locals who dream vividly about the land?” would involve speaking with dream experts, consulting group dreaming circles, and reading up on ecopsychology and its applications via ecotherapy.
    – After gathering information in the field, the group reconvenes to sort through it. From the resulting mosaic or picture that emerges, the group decides on whether to collect more information or to come up with an action plan. Group members agree to carry out actions individually or in teams, or both.
    – The group reconvenes to report back on the actions and assess their results. The group might choose to incubate these reflections before deciding on further actions followed by further reflections. Ideally, customary dualisms between action and reflection, exploration and documentation, theory and practice, and individuality and group melt away as the group moves from receiving knowledge to constructing what John Heron calls “knowing-in-action” and “a dense web of meaning.”
    – CI works best if it presents its findings to a community via performance. Peter Hawkins uses psychodrama and sculpting; Augusto Boal wrote and spoke of “spectactors” in the audience who participate with the presenters; Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman list a number of artistic and dramatic practices designed to encourage cultural transformation; see the book Toward Psychologies of Liberation.
    – If the CI group decides to keep meeting, it does so with the understanding that it must eventually mentor new facilitators to avoid the authoritarian shadow of entrenched leadership. The group should also consider the value in training facilitators for leading other groups.

Phase IV: Culture-Building

  1. A heartstead should serve as a cultural outpost, sanctuary, and laboratory set up to resist totalization, colonization, and domination. To that end, conscientization (Paulo Freire), an education and inquiry toward critical consciousness, challenges internalized powerlessness and oppression by exploring their external origins in unjust, exploitive social systems. “I lack a college degree, so all I can expect is poorly paid work”–says who? “I must work every day to meet what’s expected of me”–who profits from this belief? “The bankers and oil barons have all the real power”–so they would like you to think! By questioning self-disabling norms and beliefs, inquirers move from seeming to themselves like passive objects into a sense of active subjectivity.
  2. To enhance this movement, facilitators can suggest constructing altars of remembrance and counter-memorials built against social amnesia and the silencing of voices–including the voices of perishing species honored by Altars of Extinction (Mary Gomes).
  3. Heartsteads make safe places for cultural questioners and dissenters to try out new forms of collective action: self-governance and face-to-face democracy, community policing and restorative justice, teaching children beyond the imagination-killing linearity of exam scores, education to fight racism and sexism, reskilling to preserve important hands-on abilities like canning, metal-forging, and gleaning. Where possible, learning should be intergenerational to put young and old back in direct touch with each other.
  4. Putting the young and old together also recreates the ancient tribal practice of elders showing the young how to live in wisdom, strength, and peace by “adding their fire to the hearth of the community” (Michael Meade). The result: psychological adults rather than the immature minds in adult bodies so evident in “First World” public life. (Asked what advice he would give the leaders of the industrial nations, Six Nations leader Oren Lyons replied, “You have to grow up. The time for irresponsible play is over.”)
  5. Bioregionalism works with the idea of becoming native to a place by learning about its history, climate, weather patterns, flora, fauna, energy sources, ecological weaknesses and strengths, native lore, indigenous culture, geology, and geography. These, not arbitrary political divisions, provide the basis for sustainable culture. One example is Salmon Nation, a Pacific Northwest set of affiliations, trade networks, ceremonies, and currencies gathered around wherever the salmon run and spawn.
  6. We are never far from the style, personality, or discourse of the places where we live. According to terrapsychology (Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled), geology and geography are deep psychology: mountains as peak experiences, rivers as flowings of vitality (blocked up when diverted or dammed), wetlands as fertile edge places of the heart and mind where the birds of culture and imagination land to feed. If we wish to feel at home where we are, the explorations we conduct should trace the subtle linkages of ideas to elements and lives to landscapes.
  7. The Slow Food movement encourages taking one’s time with cooking and eating good food, a habit that engenders family and community reconnection and shared storytelling.
  8. Keeping culture vital requires conscious decisions about what traditions, values, and mores to keep by adapting them to contemporary conditions. People who can do this resist disaster and displacement better than victims who forget where they came from. Cities as centers of culture go on and on whatever government happens to run the nation for now.
  9. At the same time, heartsteads can help dream up new kinds of local culture that transcend lines of race, nation, religion, or blood. Participants should look to dreams, fantasies, and synchronicities (gestures of the land?) for inspiration in creating emblems, symbols, rituals, and songs that embody the group’s identity. For queer feminist Gloria Anzaldua, being cultured means “participating in the creation of yet another culture,” one more inclusive than dualistic splitting permits, “a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.” She adds, “Soy un amasamiento“: “I am a kneading.”
  10. Heartsteads can encourage communities to take back their say in who lives there. In many homeplaces–e.g., Zapatista snailshells–outsiders must petition for entry and are expected to show respect by leaving their colonizing and propagandizing habits at the door. A community with no means to handle the destructive quickly loses its cohesion and, eventually, goes under as pathological invaders take over positions of power.
  11. In all their cultural work, which includes the financial and the political, heartsteaders can profitably imagine ongoing crises as birth pangs of a species-wide rite of passage from impulsive adolescence into ethical-responsible adulthood. If the power monopolies that be resemble threshold guardians from ancient mythology, revolution to displace the beasts will not further the initiation; in fact it will only put it off until revolution is replaced by evolution. “How can we take back the structures of power?” is the wrong question. The right one is: “How can we outgrow these crises while imagining more collaborative societies that feel at home on our homeworld?”

Phase V: Habitat-Restoring

  1. Heartsteaders should learn about and teach their communities about the many experiments conducted today in how to foster earth-based justice and abundance. These experiments include the Environmental Justice Movement, ecovillages, Transition Towns, permaculture, organic farming, wildlife restoration, biomimicry, and cradle-to-cradle elimination of industrial waste.
  2. Systems Theory provides powerful tools for determining the health (see James Grier Miller and Family Systems) and pathology (see Peter Senge’s work on “system archetypes”) of complex systems at every scale, from the cellular up to the planetary. Systems checklists reveal breakdowns while highlighting how systems can reorganize from within. Chaotic systems in particular, though highly fragile and liable to crash, contain potential for quickly and powerfully birthing unexpected configurations of order and meaning.
  3. Key community resources should never be so centralized or concentrated that their loss brings utter catastrophe. A town should have many exists and entrances, many sources of food and energy and water, many people trained in vital duties. Los Angeles has five aqueducts, but all are cracked, vulnerable to a large earthquake that would deprive millions of Angelenos of water indefinitely.
  4. Heartsteads need multiple ways to communicate and stay whole against the ruptures of ongoing crisis. All work done, including curricula and research, should be stored at several locations and accessible through many means (phone, Internet, wireless mesh network, paper, human memory, etc.). Nor should any individual hold irreplaceable skills or knowledge for long without training more than one backup.
  5. Restorative Justice work by pioneers like Dominic Barter have shown a way forward here: from gaining community support to creating parallel institutions–in his case for bringing genuine justice and reconciliation to crime-ridden villages in Brazil–that replace official channels clogged with corruption or bureaucratic indifference. In time the new institution gains so much strength that it reforms or replaces old structures that no longer serve. This could be taken as a model for widespread structural change.

Phase VI: Earth-Dreaming

  1. Adaptation to changing circumstances requires creativity, which in turn requires a capacity for setting aside practicality long enough to dream up fresh possibilities. Long-term groups of every kind rely on their dreamers to draw from wisdom sources deep in the collective psyche and, if ecopsychology is correct, from Earth’s psyche too. Heartsteaders must make time to let go and indulge fantasy, day-dreaming, reverie, and intuition.
  2. Utopic imagining (Watkins) invites small groups to envision how life could be better in the near future. After the dreaming, participants are asked what specific steps they can take to realize their imaginings.
  3. Night dreams bring some dreamers rich imagery and detail from our elemental psychic connection to lands, animals, places, and elements (refer to the work of Karen Jaenke, Stephen Aizenstat, and Lauren Schneider). Such dreams should be spoken aloud in small groups, reflected on carefully for what they say about our relationship to the world, and (following Meredith Sabini) knitted together as one extended episode of culture dreaming.
  4. Aboriginal Australians speak of the “dreaming of the Earth.” Earth spirit practices, festivals, ceremonies, and EarthKeeping (Eileen Pardini) conducted free of confinement in any religious ideology reconnect us with the ancient sense of Earth as alive, enspirited, ensouled. Practices for opening the heart and senses to the beauty and ugliness around us prompt action on behalf of deep appreciation (Rebecca Elliott, James Hillman).

Phase VII: Network-Spreading

  1. Dreams of new varieties of delightful, Earth-respecting community cross outdated national boundaries and socioeconomic divides. They should be pooled as heartsteads share best practices and new explorations with each other around the world–for working locally does not change the fact of our status as a planetary species.
  2. This “Econet” of shared practice, knowledge, and inspiration will be useful in training the “world therapists” who can facilitate new heartsteads.
  3. Anzaldua wrote about la nepantlera, from the Nahuatl nepantla, “middle space” or “in-between.” Nature thrives on diversity, and so does human nature. The nepantlera carries forth ritual and mentoring in the liminal spaces of culture, there between neighborhoods, ethnicities, nation states, and worldviews, without relying on strict self-definitions of any kind. Ultimately, the effects of her openness, receptivity, mourning, and reflective mentoring outlast every institution in decline, “so that the whole world can become el pueblo.”
  4. Liminality and structure can work together like those famous brothers Dionysus and Apollo. We know what diversity is, but who has dared imagine a true world culture enriched by ethnicity, nationality, and locale but surpassing them to embrace our great blue globe? Not a collection of important differences, but a unity in and of itself like every viable culture? To be a true citizen of the world, species- and planet-centric, won’t we need to imagine–to dream–the emblems, vocabulary, values, symbols, manners, and loyalties particular to such an evolving international society?

Down the Road: Welcome to Terrania
Since boyhood I’ve been haunted by a statement of mourning and by a dream image. The statement came from futurist H.G. Wells, who confessed, “I live in exile from the world community of my desires.” I feel that longing every day, in part because I feel at home on this planet and most of my culture does not. Institutionalized discrimination, domination, pollution, and exploitation are the acts of aliens hiding their insecurity by alienating Others.

The dream image visited me during a dark time in my life. Deep in despair, I went to bed and opened my dream eyes to see Earth adorned by a human civilization founded on justice, happiness, and loving respect for all things. I saw clean rivers running and storms of fresh rain; hillsides green with native grasses, and bungalows dug into the ground they nourished and were nourished by. I saw healthy, smiling people under skies so clear that my eyes filled with tears at the sight. When I awoke the word “Terrania” drifted through my mind, to become my term for the joyful marriage of the human and more-than-human.

To come home as an adult to the presence and reality of Earth is to enjoy the blessings of deep homecoming. Perhaps we would not bomb, consume, or conquer if matter really mattered to us, if the air we inspire inspired us, if land and sea were beings to relate to instead of territories to divide. Perhaps we would grow more gardens and fewer office complexes, more living spaces and fewer anti-worlds that conceal the real world vanishing beneath us.

Dream imagery can be interpreted in many ways, of course, but, in contradiction to theories that make all nightly events part of the dreamer’s personality, I wonder whether I received a glimpse, not of the future, but of one possible future. I like to think of Terrania up ahead of us, watching as we struggle faithfully to align how we live with how we could live.

See also “Transrevolution: The Twelve Phases of Structural and Cultural Metamorphosis.”