I am embarking on my 18th book – perhaps the most difficult yet. It is titled BROKEN GLASS, which is about our broken world – particularly with respect to the impending Extinction brought about by Climate Change. The difficulty for me has been the darkness of Extinction and the pacifying alternative of Impermanence. Yet my writing so far has brought this steadily my way to document. I have drafted an Overview that sets the scenario. This will take a while with research, writing and persuading my publisher to run with it. http://www.ianprattis.com
OVERVIEW for BROKEN GLASS
I Had a Dream
I dreamed I was in a river running kayak, sitting quietly in a pool outside the swift eddies racing to the edge of a waterfall that was huge, sheer, with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. The kayak was bright yellow, the short stubby craft an extension of my body. My wetsuit was black and I wore a red lifejacket tightly fastened. My helmet was also red. The shaft of the paddle was black, the twin blades a dancing red. I looked around at the high mountains and forest, noticing the mist rising from the swift flowing river. Then pushed the kayak into the racing eddies straight to the edge of the waterfall. As I went over I raised the paddle high over my head and leaned back. I did nothing to steer or guide the kayak. The descent seemed forever – timeless. Yet in a moment my craft had submerged into the river below and then I was bobbing on the surface paddling downstream. My first thought in the dream as I manoeuvred close to the river’s edge was “That was a really bad run. I didn’t do anything.” Then moments later in the dream I stopped my thinking, realizing that it was the perfect run, precisely because I did not interfere with forces greater than mine. My lack of insight had missed the surrender to the fierce current of the waterfall, to the awesome power of the stream of consciousness. The surrender to the stream of consciousness was far more important than I realized. The dream lingered in my mind long enough to reveal that my literary works were the stream of consciousness – just different pearls on the same thread.
I had flown into the small airport of Castlegar in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia for my son’s wedding in the summer of 2009. The short hop over the Rockies in a Dash 8 aircraft from Calgary was spectacular, especially the flight into Castlegar airport. The wingtips seemed to touch the valley mountains as the aircraft swerved sharply into the river fringed village of Castlegar. My son Iain, his bride to be – Nancy – and my grandson Callun were there to pick me up and deliver me to where I was staying that night in nearby Nelson. The wedding ceremony was the next day in the Tibetan Buddhist Gompa.
The unforgettable dream, vivid in every detail, took place that evening in Nelson. I shared this dream with Iain and Nancy next morning, so they could perhaps see for themselves the surrender to the other, necessary for their marriage to work well. They understood. Their dharma and mountain friends enjoyed an incredible wedding in the Tibetan Gompa. There was a mountain of alcohol at the reception and dance afterwards, bottles of wine, beer and whisky with a line of glasses for Mai Tais. Yet hardly anyone drank, as the “high” was the quality of celebration and surrender in the wedding ceremony.
I have thought about this dream a great deal over the past decades and the reflections were revealing, though difficult to address. Where was it taking me? I eventually realized it was into the dark space of Extinction of our species. That was a shock that went through me.
The creation of my 2008 book – Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves – was part of this surrender though I did not realize it at the time. It was written from an unusual place and was also the midpoint for two trilogies of books. Several years ago at the beginning of spring after a severe winter in Canada, I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony with respected elders from the Ojibwa, Dene and Mohawk First Nations. We made deeply personal and collective commitments to serve the Earth. At the end of the ceremony we emerged into the pristine beauty of a late snowfall under a clear star studded sky. There had been a two-inch snowfall during the ceremony. As we walked barefoot to where we were camping I turned round and saw our footprints in the snow. It seemed as though these were the first footprints on the new Earth. I gestured to my companions to stop and look. They silently shared the same insight with soft smiles. In that instant the stillness and silence renewed our commitments to serve Mother Earth with all our hearts and minds. That was the moment when I became integrated with the Wisdom of the Elders.
Failsafe was born from that moment at the end of winter in 2006. It was published in October 2008. I was giving a talk about this experience to an audience in Vancouver and suddenly found myself talking about two previous books I had published and the next three books not yet written. Failsafe was the midpoint. All these books were writing me, although I was not aware of it. Each book had issued forth from the experience of profound silence, a life work writing me! It took me years to wake up to this. The first book in this trilogy Anthropology at The Edge was published in 1997, followed by The Essential Spiral in 2002 and Failsafe in 2008. They talk to you from the seasons of my life. My insights, disasters and occasional breakthroughs are the basis for this abundant creation.
These books were university text books and the basis for two television courses. They investigated the necessity of changing the mindset of humanity in order to combat Climate Change. I wrote about a Failed Genetic Experiment, though did place a question mark after “Experiment.” I knew that if we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglected ignorance, there is no place on Mother Earth to sustain our present civilization. It will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity. We have allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values – an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consume mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or our creation of vast inequality and poverty. Planetary care is not part of this agenda.
My deepest hope, however, was that our innate knowledge would somehow become manifest as we interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered. Diligent mindfulness can change our brain structures in the direction that permits new paradigms of behavior to come into form. As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia, it is as though humanity can align their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility. The plan in my mind was that the critical mass would arrive and amount to a collective tipping point for our species. Once the ego-driven mind is reined in, then clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way. This is what happens if we “Begin It Now” – the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.
The following book – Earth My Body, Water My Blood – was co-authored with students in my last university class on Ecology and Culture. The students brought passion, insight and sheer hard work to investigate the basic components of a new social and economic form for the 21st century – eco-community. It was based on the Five Great Elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space – inherent in all aspects of life. The driving force adopted by the students was from the feminine representation of enlightenment. I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate phenomenon, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. These principles have parallels with Vedic philosophy and are found in Indigenous, Chinese and Western Alchemical traditions. Circles within circles all interconnecting – beautifully expressed by the Oglala Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, as the interdependent hoops of all nations and traditions. The students had decided on a profound template for this collection. Their adventure to establish eco-communities reflects the shift in mindset required to salvage the global ecosystem for human habitation. Our present values and patterns are the architects of the present global ecological emergency. We are our environment. Whether we live in a rural or urban locale, in the industrial or developing worlds, our mindset has to be focused on living as one component of Gaia’s ecosystem.
The second trilogy after Failsafe begins with Redemption. It was a lost manuscript, first written in 1975. I rediscovered this heartfelt book in 2011. The narrative was vivified with hindsight from my writer’s eye forty years later. The story is an allegory for life difficulties I experienced at that time. I was a real mess, yet despite my desperate state of mind this novel about Awakening emerged. Laced with grim humor, the novel has nature’s harsh and beautiful rhapsody as the background for tragic human failings. Redemption is set in The Hebrides, islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, with startling cycles of maturing and downfall of the epic character, Callum Mor. He was a gifted child, master mariner and derelict drunk, who eventually gains wisdom from a hard life’s journey. Redemption reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and of human nature. The starkly gorgeous and remote island setting creates and reinforces the central themes of struggle, family, community and wonder at the beauty of the world. Redemption alludes to more than what is openly stated. Every scene provides a striking visual clarity that mystically slips into the realm of timeless storytelling. All of this provokes the tapestry for deeper, more subtle messages of compassion and faith to carefully unfold.
Book Two of the trilogy, Trailing Sky Six Feathers, is a Hero’s Journey – as if Indiana Jones meets the Buddha with a dash of Celestine Prophecy. Shamanic healing of childhood sexual abuse, guru training and near death experience in an Indian ashram has this author stumbling through the first part of life, then standing strong in his own sovereignty in the latter part. Past life memories collide head on with the present.
With a voice steeped in authentic experience, I navigate past and present lives over four centuries; from brutal raids on Indian settlements in 18th century Arizona, insane sea voyages off the Scottish Hebrides in the 20th century, to a decisive life moment of surrender to the Muse in the 21st century. These epic tales weave seamlessly to create inspiration for a wide range of fellow spiritual seekers. The genre is legend mixed with autobiography.
In New Planet, New World, I bring the 18th century to collide with the 21st century. Time, culture, space and consciousness are fused across centuries to create the final book of this trilogy. New Planet, New World provides a counterpoint to the demise of modern civilization. I chart a Beginning Anew for humanity, a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing, as power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth. This adventure is not without risk or cost. The clash of centuries opens Chapter One with a lyrical and dangerous meeting on a distant planet in 2080. The protagonists are from different centuries and cultures. The dark episodes and lyrical passages move the story along with action, fear, resolution, death, execution, bravery and exile in a futuristic opportunity for humanity. This action packed book of intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. This end game is a philosophy for the future. The reader now begins to harken to the rip tides of this futuristic novel and anticipate just where I am going!
In my career as an anthropologist I was fortunate to encounter many First Nation story tellers across North America: Dene, Hopi, Ojibwa, Algonquin, Inuit – to mention a few. Their poetic recounting of myths and history had a deep impact on how I thought and wrote. I would say that without poetry cultures implode. Four extraordinary indigenous medicine people enhanced my process of remembering the power of the poetic voice. Through their mentoring, I learned how to reconfigure my understanding of time, place and consciousness. I chose to listen to the feminine voice of Earth Wisdom rather than the multitude of competing voices in my deep unconscious.
This direction of my writing found its foundation in poetry. I made a radical turn to reconstruct anthropological methodology as the poetic voice was required for anthropological investigation of the cultural other. The language of the anthropologist could not represent raw experience about field work. therefor poetry is philosophically essential to the work of anthropology. I saw poetry as an uninterrupted process whereas field notes were not. I suggested to colleagues that the poetry of observation is what anthropologists are supposed to do.
To prove this, I called on forty brilliant anthropologists, many of them senior icons in the discipline, to send me the poems they wrote while studying the cultural other. Much to my surprise the American Anthropological Association (AAA) published the ensuing book I edited. In 1985 Reflections: The Anthropological Muse was released by the AAA at their annual conference and held up as a new direction for the next century of anthropology. Here’s why.
My basic contention, shared by many other anthropologists, was that something crucial was missing from field work. The study of other cultures had often become pseudo-forms, which were neither true to the cultural other or to the science of anthropology. I proposed a poetry of observation in order to close the epistemological gap between observer and cultural other. In this way the poetic dimension became a crucial part of the developing methodology of anthropology. It had the function of revealing what has been suppressed and ignored. Anthropological poetics at the level of “interiority” is a distinctive account that the accepted discourse in anthropology at that time did not convey.
I wanted a different kind of anthropology, one that will engage dialectically with the cultural other and express it in a way that is useful for the other culture and my own society. Reflections: The Anthropological Muse changed the manner in which anthropology is justified and practiced. Anthropologists who commit themselves to poetry in order to say something different about field experience are the tricksters and shamans of the discipline. I have been described as much worse! Though do believe that I am part of a basic radicalization of the discipline and an evolution into a different kind of anthropology. A continuation of this radical perspective emerged several decades later when I brought out a personal volume in 2018 – Painting with Words Poetry for a New Era. Some words from Five Star Reviews may bring that piece of the thread home.
Kathryn Bennet wrote:
“I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time I felt that I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me there is something truly magical about a work that can do that…….The poems strike right at the heart of the journey the author himself has taken in life, and yet it also has an ability to resound with others…….You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read….This collection of poems takes the reader through the full gamut of human emotions. The author has masterfully used his own life experience to transport the reader through this journey, while striving to leave a mark directly on the reader’s heart.”
From K.C. Finn:
“Shying away from the old fashioned traditions of symbolism and imagery, the work expresses an emotional outcry in a raw and direct form, creating powerful auditory moments to express the highs and lows of the human condition………What results is a work which runs the full spectrum of emotional consideration, taking a singular personal experience and reaching for the qualities which make it universal to all…..The poems are direct in address, but spiritual and philosophical in the message they leave lingering afterwards.”
Romuald Dzemo speaks:
“A collection of poems thematically arranged that reflect the very soul of humanity, filled with imagery and rhythms that mimic the different seasons of the human soul. The poems in this collection bear witness to what readers feel, perhaps in the hushed hours of the day; emotions, thoughts, feelings, and realities that allow readers to connect with the things he writes about…….The voice is powerful, the poetic lines rhythmic, and the entire collection is filled with powerful imagery……..I love the depth in Ian Prattis’ poetry and the beauty in the rhythm and richness of its diction…….For instance: “A week in the life/ of a poem/ has words racing to knowing’s edge.” Here is another: “Phrases creep/ over the dawn of logic/ suspended then gone.”
I also brought out four e books on Buddhist Dharma and placed them on Amazon Kindle, Keeping Dharma Alive Volume 1 & 2; Portals and Passages Book 1 & 2. I was assessing this path as a way to handle the incoming extinction I felt was so imminent, placing dharma and environment in sync with one another. In my television course on Ecology and Environment I presented the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Buddhism as being nothing other than Environmental Ethics. Our World Is Burning My Views on Mindful Engagement soon followed. The sixteen essays offered examples of how to respond to the most serious social, economic, environmental and personal challenges of the Twenty-First century. I thought Mindful Engagement would be a tenable tool to cultivate awareness as an ethical framework which would guide actions, create steadiness and equanimity, and furthermore replenish body, mind and spirit. The book was offered as a lightning bolt to singe incredulity and cynicism.
The reviews of this book reinforced my attempt to create an authentic tapestry about the state of the world and how we could best engage with it. I could only draw from my experience and hope that would be enough for the reader. My approach to life comes through experience, crises, difficulties and joys that may have common ground with many readers. To the best of my ability, I endeavor to follow Gandhi’s principles of ahimsa and the teachings on mindfulness. These are the guidelines and foundations for my peace and environmental activism. I live very simply as a planetary activist. I am a Zen teacher, also a recognized guru in India. My initial task is to refine my own consciousness – to be a vehicle to chart an authentic path. The focus on daily mindfulness from my Zen practice enables me to be still and clear. From this energy the poems, chapters and books emerge.
My activism is a result of my internal work. Steadiness, clarity and compassion are within me, rather than ego posturing from the lunatic fringe. Though there was certainly a “rush” from the latter, I prefer the still-point, uncoloured by the excess of ego and desire for recognition. Such a still-point permits me to be free in my own sovereignty, no matter what I am doing. It also propels me to serve the planet and humanity by creating bridges and pathways of harmony.
My writing delivers a vigorous message about personal transformation in order to become different stewards of the earth and society. In the Sixteen Essays of Our World is Burning, I offer reality-based information that is in high demand in today’s society, which provides the potential for my projects to become fresh, new icons for today’s hungry culture. Hungry, that is, for authentic transformation. It takes training, practice, intelligence and creative vision to find the drive to create a tangible spirit of co-operation, the willingness to share and be supportive, and learning how to cross the bridges of conflict. This thread of understanding finds a place in every essay in Our World is Burning.
However, my attempt to get mindful engagement across to society was not successful – very little changed. So I have to up my game, as it were, and steadily examine the Darkness and Extinction that is rapidly drawing closer to wiping humanity from this planet. In this present work – BROKEN GLASS – I am developing a perspective to handle Extinction well – though I find it difficult to write about Darkness and Extinction. So I draw on sages, Wisdom of the Elders and attempt to face Extinction with bravery and a developed consciousness. I am encouraged by a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens to fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.”
This takes me to recognize the significance of impermanence, which could be deemed a pacifying response to ecological apocalypse and the Sixth Extinction. Protest and rebellion to a nation’s inadequate attempts about Climate Change are unlikely to succeed. Protest and rebellion may be thought of as the alternative to impermanence – but they will certainly be brutally dispersed by national police and military. Thus the outcome of Extinction remains unstoppable before our eyes.
There is a Sequence to unravel the competing outcomes, captured with difficulty, though logic may sustain a rally.
Part One: Broken Glass is candid and brutal. It opens the darkness. It begins with a futuristic analysis of Climate Change and the inevitable fate provided by the suicide pact engineered by corrupt corporations for most of humanity. The next essay is about the Children’s Strike for Climate instigated by Greta Thunberg. I admire this magnificent young woman as she impacts generations and perhaps some politicians. Yet, the corporate oligarchy will not budge from their greed and power. They have already bought and sold governments. They will certainly gut the possibility of restraint with respect to Climate Change, thereby dashing the bravery of children worldwide. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion – a global grassroots environmental organization – is a disruption I fully support. The target of Extinction Rebellion is the existing political establishment at the beck and call of corporate cabals. Such very powerful financial interests, creators of Climate Change, will not allow their power and control to slip away. Inevitably this escalates to the collapse of societies amidst violent revolution.
Part Two: Facing Extinction begins with an understanding of impermanence, drawn from Buddhist perspectives that make sense. I add three stories that provide different faces of Extinction. Only one of them is uplifting.
Part Three: All My Relations rests on indigenous wisdom. Four stories that bear on the wisdom holders who patiently taught me their lore about Mother Earth.
Part Four: Hello Darkness is a relief from the darkness. Four stories about bravery – from India, through the eyes of a terrified nine year old boy, a futuristic gift from the Hopi and a moment of awakening.
Part Five: The Muse. Three poems to provide a stamp on the whole offering. The final poem draws on Ancient Wisdom, appropriately defining an alternative way that may no longer be available.
I return to the dream of the waterfall with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. This was where I surrendered to the awesome stream of consciousness pouring through me. One thing it has taught me – the many books created are one body of work that culminates in “BROKEN GLASS.”
Part One – Broken Glass
- A Candid Look at the Future
- The Children
Part Two – Facing Extinction
- Manifesto of Extinction
- Love Lost and Dark Shadows
- Solace of Winter
Part Three – All My Relations
- Wolfie’s Life in Death
- Four Arrows
- Sacred Stalker
Part Four – Hello Darkness
- Through Nine Year Old Eyes
- The Transfer Particle
- Transformation in India
- The Ewe
Part Five – The Muse
- Vietnam War Memorial
- Cabinet of Bigotry
- Ancient Wisdom