The God Head is a pilgrimage spot buried in the Stanley Park rainforest near my home in the city of Vancouver.
It was carved by an anonymous Indigenous carver in the early 1970s. It is carved out of the stump of an old-growth Western Red Cedar, which in local Coast Salish culture is considered the “Tree of Life.” This tree is highly valued and revered because of a natural preservative in the cedar wood, which makes it ideal for building longhouses, canoes, and many of the largest totem poles that stand today.
For me, the God Head is a symbol of the interplay between people and the forest. It represents the duality of forces that shape our experience in nature.
Life is a balancing act between opposites.
As an example of living art, the God Head symbolizes the interplay of matter and spirit, people and nature, reality and illusion.
I find it an apt symbol of the revival of Animism in the world today. Animism (from Latin anima, “breath, spirit, life”) is defined by Anthropologists as:
1. The attribution of a spirit to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
2. The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.
Incredibly, we have been animists for most of human history.
What we call agricultural civilization with its strict hierarchies and organized religions with priesthoods started in the late Bronze Age less than 6,000 years ago. Yet, we have had the awareness to communicate with each other and use Stone Age tools as hunter-gatherers in the forests for nearly 2.6 million years.
While monotheistic cultures with written languages and large agricultural surpluses have ruthlessly colonized animistic cultures throughout history, today there is a growing reconciliation with indigenous ways of knowing and a revival in animism as we wake up to the grand scale of our planetary ecological crisis.
This 4-minute video does a good job of describing the Animistic worldview:
Active participants in a planetary ecology.
It is only in changing the way we see nature and our place in it that we can solve our existential crisis. If we don’t experience the air, water and soil as sacred (instead of mistakenly pricing them as externalities in our economics), then our problems will only get worse and the modern way of life will face extinction.
Fortunately, a new generation is challenging the decadence of our current leadership. People of all ages today are using the globally-connected Internet and technological tools that empower self-organizing, grassroots movements to solve the global challenges of the 21st-century and bypass our centralized institutions that are rooted in the vested interests of the fossil fuel industrial complex.
We have the opportunity today to usher in a grassroots social, political and economic landscape that balances commerce and profit with the well-being of both people and our planetary ecology. If we care enough to make it happen, we can unleash our collective will and innate creativity to solve all of these problems.
But I don’t believe technological innovation alone will save us. We must learn to see the Great Spirit in everything again, instead of merely filling our minds with abstract ideas and ideological thinking that divide people and nature into strict categories in competition with each other.
That’s why I’m so passionate about teaching ecology and meditation in the forest. The ability to transcend dualistic thinking — even if just for a few moments in your day — can transform the way we see the world and also eliminate so much needless stress, anxiety, and cynicism in the world.
A calm and clear mind is exactly what we need to inquire deeply enough to understand today’s problems holistically, collaborate successfully with others to find the right solutions, and then take massive action together to restore a sustainable way of life.