The two thinkers go deep on creation, spirituality, and nature in a one-on-one initially published in a booklet made for the Cornucopia tour
To celebrate Björk hitting the cover of Dazed, the Icelandic genius has taken over Dazed Digital and Dazed Beauty, inviting you into the world of Cornucopia, the experimental theatre show that Bjork has brought to London this November.
most urgent is spiritual ecology which you talk so courageously about
where do we even start with the climate change
i am extremely concerned about hope and the well being of our young generations spirituality
and as you mention a lot : also spiritual responsibility .. you suggest ecological repair through meditation ...
and when you talk about reconnecting to what is sacred in creation ... or as says in your book :
"how out of the debris of this dying civilization are we going to be born ?"
Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee: From what you say, I feel that you also have heard “the cry of the Earth,” and the real need of the moment is then how to respond. How can we help to bring our world back into balance?
Spiritual ecology, which has been the focus of much of my work over the past decade, explores the need for a spiritual response to our present ecological crisis. Yes, we are facing “two existential crises developing with terrifying speed, climate breakdown and ecological breakdown.” But the Earth is not a problem to be solved, but a living being in distress, needing the help of both our hands and hearts.
Although it is almost too late, many of us are awakening to this accelerating catastrophe – the greatest challenge of the present time, affecting both future generations and the Earth herself. Species depletion, toxic air, oceans filling with plastic, rising temperature, storms and floods—the Earth is crying out for help. I have been deeply moved by the voices of young people, especially the sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who speaks truth to power, telling world leaders, “You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.
You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don't care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet….”
This last sentence brought tears to my eyes, as my soul heard her speak about real care for the Earth – for this living, beautiful being who has given us life, who has nourished us with Her endless generosity, even as we have abused and desecrated Her, raped and pillaged Her body, which our culture regards as just a “resource” for our endless greed and desires. And since this talk Greta has shown the power of a single person, as she has become an icon, a catalyst inspiring a growing mass of young people around the world, calling out for the future of the Earth and their own future, demanding that their voices and the cries of the Earth be heard.
But while acknowledging the vital need for actions such as carbon reduction, and stopping the clear-cutting of ancient forests for cattle or palm oil, my own journey has taken me deeper, to uncover the roots of this crisis, this imbalance – how we have lost an essential connection to the sacred nature of creation, of the Earth and all her inhabitants. We are all part of the living being we call the Earth, ancient beyond our understanding, and yet we have forgotten the simple truth that the ground we walk on is sacred, as is the air we breathe, the water we drink. We have lost touch with the essential oneness that embraces all of life and its interconnected nature. All indigenous peoples and most civilizations before ours understood and lived this essential reality, when everyday life nourished the soul as well as the body. If we are to have real care for our home we need to remember the “Original Instructions” given to the First Peoples – how to get along with all of creation.
“We are all part of the living being we call the Earth, ancient beyond our understanding, and yet we have forgotten the simple truth that the ground we walk on is sacred” – Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee
This dimension of our ecological crisis, our forgetfulness of the sacred, is hardly recognized, is a hidden tragedy, and yet I believe it is our primary spiritual responsibility at this time: to reconnect with what is sacred all around us, and thus make life both whole and holy. We can no longer afford to live in separation, in isolation, but need to become once again part of the great conversation with the rivers and the winds, the seas and the stars. Then we will reconnect with the Earth and Her ancient wisdom, and together walk into the future that is waiting, a future in which the light in our hearts and our love for the Earth can heal and redeem the wasteland that our culture has created. Together we will find a way to live in harmony with all of life’s multihued unity.
And there is an urgency to this. The Earth will continue. We are now living through the sixth mass extinction of species in Her history. It is our shared future that is uncertain: whether we will keep to our ancient promise to witness Her wonder and beauty, honor Her sacred ways; or whether we will continue our present path, stumbling through an increasingly soulless wasteland, caught in consumerism, until the sea levels rise, the air becomes too toxic, the oceans too acidic, our souls too desolate. Again, in the words of the young activist Greta Thunberg, “We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.” But she also said, “Change is coming.” The real question is whether we are open to be a part of real change – for hearts and hands to help the Earth, for our souls to reconnect with the magic and mystery of Her living being.
i have enjoyed so much you talking about love , oneness versus duality and the gardening of our inner life .
perhaps i could mention since i am a musician where i am at trying to weave all that into my work
in a roundabout way i feel this is connected to a reverb chamber i am building to take with me on tour and am going to place on stage ....
unsurprisingly it looks a little like a chapel for one person . often , in all things theatrical , they are made to look good and then later fixed to sound good.
but i wanted to try to start from what sounds good and collaborated with an acoustician . and it was so inspiring when the shapes started appearing , even though they were miniatures compared to temples and cathedrals , they aligned with the aesthetic language them ! sound inspired these builders , did it not !!!! i feel often when i warm up my voice , and my head starts resonating , that sonically inside our skull we have our own personal chapel . and in that way , the shape of my new reverb chamber , the ceiling in it is of that nature .
a matriarchial dome
the moisture that the reverb gives the tone
connects and communicates
( is a dry note kinda asperger ? )
i guess it resonates with the feeling we get after a good yoga class
some teachers mention in meditation a bowl that is floating above our heads full of warm honey
a bowl of plenty above us
honey available to be poured metaphysically over us when needed
to heal the "spiritual autism" ( as is mentioned in your book spiritual ecology )
to train our internal cathedral
so in short my reverb chamber , it´s a kinda "can i go home now ?"
the "if i dont grow outwards towards love i implode inwards towards self destruction"
but as you say : "the inner life of the whole .... find your inner life but it is not just your inner life but the inner life of the whole"
it´s spiritual maintenance , gardening or like what was mentioned in your book about the onondaga nation , their hello is : " thank you for being well"
sometimes singing on stage i fall into the trap of making too much effort , many performers have a habit of getting muscular about it which crystallises the emotion , coagulates it a little , goes into hooliganism , male , workerbee ( my microphone called shure 58 is very that ) and the reverb chamber is an attempt to capture a more feminine and less penetrative audio experience with field recording microphones sown into the ceiling
does any of this make sense ?
or overlap with what a daily sufi routine is for a beginner ?
i am curious about the physicality and relationship with sound in everyday practise
i guess in our daily lives we search for a rhythm where we can open up our chests
but our minds are tricksy and want to play games
i guess people in iceland have this fierce connection with nature
it is kinda our church
when folks here have deaths , divorces , dramas they need relief from they go for hikes
which brings us to something i kinda wanted to discuss too with you
i guess i have walked a lot outdoors since a child and this is how i started singing and perhaps connected early to something i later read about in jungianism as individuation process , my relationship between my melodies and hiking is interlinked and stubborn
( sorry this is off topic but have you read leonora carrington´s "down below" ? some people refer to it as the female version of jung´s red book )
i am curious about what you call the difference between elemental love versus the psychological
if one exercises the muscle too much of former love does one distance the latter ?
listening to one of your talks made me think of a song i tend to perform in may with an icelandic choir called hamrahlíðarkórinn
it is called "body memory" and is a little megalomaniac , about the big issues in life , destiny , love , maternal love , sexual love , death and such
there is one verse about each subject , when we are too much in our heads about them
or what einstein called "the optical illusion of the separateness"
and then the choruses are celebratory : about the moment when we click into our bodies , get out of our heads and merge gracefully with each of the issues
or as you say : "masculine to have to fix things ... rather wake up to your own oneness"
my show this spring is called cornucopia , it is an attempt to embrace the matriarchal angle ,
multitudian a celebration of all the plenty nature has to offer ( supposedly what the empress tarot card stands for )
but it is also a strangely ridicule comical post apocalyptic scifi tale
music that will be playing on that island we all escape to after an environmental collapse
we might become mutants made from collisions between plants , birds and humans
but we will be biologically fertile and potent
i guess in my far-fetched humour
it serves as some sort of warning ... ?
we need to react now
Llewelyn Vaughan Lee: What you share about with your music, and your “reverb chamber,” the bowl of warm honey, the island we can all escape to, being bird and plant and human, speaks to me of a quality of belonging, returning to a place of belonging. So much of our world today feels alien, unnatural, as if we are separated from our real home, our natural way of being. This is something both universal and deeply personal, a place we call home, for both our body and our soul. A place where we are closest to what is deepest within us, what gives life real meaning.
When I was sixteen I was awakened by reading a simple Zen koan, “the wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, the water has no mind to receive their image.” This saying opened a door I did not even know existed, and instead of the grey world of my boarding school, I found myself in a place of color and light and laughter, sunlight sparkling off the water in the river. I also started to meditate, sitting present in emptiness. I had come home, found the place I belonged, and I have stayed there ever since.
Underneath all the complexities of today I believe we all long for a simplicity of self that is full of wonder and magic. It can be tending a piece of ground, growing flowers or vegetables, or playing music, or sitting in silence. It is the lost garden of the soul, a walled garden waiting for its doorway to be found, the scent of roses and honeysuckle beckoning us. Or it can be the heart’s call for love, that seems to take us down strange confusing pathways, into sadness, tears, but finally, one day, we realize, as Rumi says:
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.
Finding the place where we belong is the soul’s quest, a return to love. Sometimes as we walk down life’s pathways it can be good to ask, “Does this path lead to love?” If it does, follow it, because this is the bowl of honey waiting to be tasted, known also as “the sweetness that was before honey or bee.”
For some the journey is through silence, for others through sound, or a combination of both. Always the mystery is in the space, like the doorway into the secret garden. If one can have the courage to hold the space – which for the mystic is a place of prayer – then one can live where the worlds meet, where mystery comes into being, formless into form, where the heart is open, where the song of the soul is present.
I used to look for answers, but that was long ago. More and more as I get older I prefer to remain in unknowing, like when I first sat in meditation half a century ago, not expecting anything, but being taken into wonder. This for me is prayer, is spirit, is love, is watching a spring bud open on the plum tree in my garden.
it is perhaps a bit of a stretch but i have a homemade theory about countries and cultures on the fringes of empires sharing something
i wanted to somehow ask you about sufi and how it has travelled ?
in your talks i hear you often refer to western civilisation´s take on spirituality versus indigenous peoples
perhaps there is also the third group , second world folks ?
cultured but connected to nature ?
you mentioned how "traditionally sufi mystics were hermits , people on the fringe " , "the sweepers , sweep the dust off spirituality"
it made me curious as an icelander because it has often felt tricky to connect my roots to anything greek ( compared to usa assurance of it for example )
or "1st world countries "
of course it is dangerous to generalise with nations but i wonder if the sufi vein somehow bypassed this luggage ?
is it perhaps by design a humorous prangster , slippery and refuses to obey to those greek columns ?
in iceland we were brought up on tales that some of the modern dna tests seem to back up : that on the feminine side (dna splits like this ) we are celtics and then there are theories that the celtics came from phoenicians that were boat people and escaped from the mediterranean when the romans took over and moved to ireland later to be kidnapped by vikings
of course this is an extreme simplification
almost pseudo science
i based one of my songs "atom dance" on the fantasy of nordic mythology and sufism uniting . the song is in 5/4 , and in a cyclical style , kinda tapping playfully into the movement of the whirling dervishes but also into "vikivaki" , a scandinavian circular dance . of course the lyric is about the art of loving.
i wrote it with my friend philosopher and author oddný eir . she pointed out to me another homemade theory i discussed in an earlier talk with timothy morton : the theory is an attempt to place all religions and spiritualities on over-simplified scale from feminine to the masculine . if so : then zen buddism would be the most abstract and male and about placing oneself outside feelings , empty oneself , empty oneself until one reaches nirvana and becomes part of the whole in ecstasy . and sufism would then be on the opposite end , hyper female , complete abandon and constantly fall in love everything , the day , the food one is eating , the people around and the moment and swirl into ecstasy until one reaches a peak and empties oneself in a sublime state ?
2 different routes to the same destination ?
i have probably always been attracted by this total abandon route ....
but perhaps these are bad cliches about sufism . you talk about the extreme pain of it too , and your branch of sufi , is it without music ?
(my absolutely favourite singer is abida parveen . a sufi singer from pakistan)
there is also another story we were told as children that when we heard that the crusaders were on their way to us roughly thousand years ago
there was a hero called þorgeir , let´s hear it from wikipedia :
In the year 999 or 1000, Iceland's legislative assembly was debating which religion they should practice: Norse paganism or Christianity. Thorgeir, himself a pagan priest and chieftain (a gothi), decided in favour of Christianity after a day and a night of silent meditation under a fur blanket, thus averting potentially disastrous civil conflict. Under the compromise, pagans could still practice their religion in private and several of the old customs were retained. After his decision, Thorgeir himself converted to Christianity. Upon returning to his farm Ljósavatn, he is said to have thrown the idols of his gods into a nearby waterfall, for which it is now known in Icelandic as Godafoss, the "waterfall of the gods". Thorgeir's story is preserved in Ari Thorgilsson's Íslendingabók.
so in some strange way the door to paganism remained open til the day today
similar to how in japan they have shinto christenings and buddist funerals
and from my point of view therefore we remained open to nature too ?
and in this i find hope
perhaps the "second world" fringe views .... can inspire ?
I belong to a Sufi tradition that has travelled over the centuries from the Middle East to India, and then to the West. When I was nineteen I met my teacher, a white-haired Russian woman who had just come back from India, where she had been trained by a Sufi master. Sitting in her small room beside the train tracks in North London I experienced love. Not personal love—not the warmth of a mother I never had, or the tenderness of a lover’s touch—but a simple, pure, unbounded, effortless power that seeped through all my defenses, through all my patterns of identification, my sense of self. The first love I ever knew was divine presence, that sweet wine that intoxicates everything it touches, making every cell in my body alive in joy and wonder.
Sufism is a path of love, working with the mystery of the human heart. This thread of love has taken wayfarers home in different countries and different times, but it is always the same soul’s journey from the sense of separation to the experience of union. This is why Rumi begins his most famous poem, the Masnavi, with the cry of the ney flute, the reed torn from the reed-bed, longing to return to the Source.
Sufism has many forms, some with music and dance, like the whirling of Rumi’s dervishes, some, like my own tradition, just silence and remembrance. The journey may be the same, but hearts are different, and different ways suit different hearts. But always it is a surrender to love, and to the Beloved, the source of love, as you say, abandon, giving oneself to love and the Beloved. And yes, it is feminine in the sense that it begins with longing, the feminine side of love, the cup waiting to be filled.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love draws us back to love, love uncovers love, and love makes us whole. In the depths of the soul we are loved more than we know. This is the deepest secret of being human, the bond of love that is at the core of our being and belongs to all that exists. And the more we live this love—the more we give ourself to this mystery that is both human and divine—the more fully we participate in life as it really is, in its wonder and moment by moment revelation. And the deepest secret of love and life is oneness, what the Sufis call the unity of being.
The great Sufi, Ibn ‘Arabi, wrote about this oneness, this unity that is the foundation of life, and which we can now recognize in all of nature’s interconnections, its interbeing... And he also spoke about love, and following the path of love that embraces all the apparent divisions of humanity:
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa‘ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.
With simple and powerful imagery this man the Sufis call the Greatest Sheikh speaks of a space that knows no boundaries, but belongs to love. For the mystic, for the lover, everywhere is a place of devotion, a place of meeting our Beloved. This world – with its myriad forms, light and darkness, sadness and joy – is a sacred space, a place where love reveals its secrets, where divine oneness comes to meet us. All around us is an unending revelation, the wind whispering the secrets of love, messages from our heart’s Beloved. The Divine calls to us in so many ways, a hummingbird drinking nectar in my garden, a fox sneaking between city rubbish bins. Walking in a sacred manner, each foot touching the earth like a kiss, we can feel this place of meeting, this belonging.
For fifty years my own journey into love has continued. For me it is no longer even a spiritual path, but just a way of being, of being with love. Yes, it has been a journey, a journey to the very edges of myself and beyond, into the silent emptiness and then back, feet touching the ground, feeling the wisdom of the Earth, hearing the cry of the Earth in Her present time of distress.
And it is a love that includes many stories, the stories that are woven into the fabric of life, the stories of what you call “paganism” that knows the Earth is sacred. Stories that know the secrets of humanity and the heart, because the work of the lover, of the mystic, is to weave the stories of love into the fabric of creation. “Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love,” cries the dervish. In this circle of love all our stories are present. I am also a Zen monk sweeping the monastery courtyard, and a Taoist hermit in his hut by a stream. My roots are in emptiness, my song the song of humanity, my tears for the Earth and for a wonder that is hardly seen – a magic that is hardly known, a light that is fading away. These are the old ways, from a time before time. I remember when the colors sang in the air and magic was not a mystery but a way to live.
Again and again I return to the place of not knowing, to the heart’s silence and the textures of love that run through creation. This world is not as we think; it is made from a substance that is not of atoms or particles, and in its depths there is a hidden song. Maybe at some moments in my life I have touched this substance, caught a line of this song. Maybe I have felt the heart of the world in my dreams, or while walking one still early morning. But nothing is sure, nothing is definite, because lovers, artists, and mystics live on the edge, where the sand is always shifting, the shoreline moves and the currents of love’s ocean run deeper than we can ever know.