Journey to the Heart of the World, a parable reminiscent of the work of Paulo Coelho, was released in Kindle in 2015, and in print in 2016. Its message, both environmental and spiritual, has been hailed by such luminaries as spiritual author Marianne Williamson, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, National Geographic Explorer of the Millennium Wade Davis, and Earth Guardians teenage activist, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
With the current change in the political, economic, and environmental landscape, it seemed important to follow up with the author of the book, John Lundin, especially for Earth Day, which has had an even greater significance with recent events.
Could you talk a little bit about Journey to the Heart of the World, its subject matter and general significance at the time you wrote it?
The book project began in the spring of 2011, with an historic gathering of indigenous 'elders' from throughout the Americas - Hopi, Havasupai, Navajo, Algonquin, Mohawk and more - and a delegation of shamanic elders, 'mamos' as they're called, from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. They represented the Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo, indigenous peoples who have changed their ways little since the time of Columbus' arrival on their shores more than five-hundred years ago.
I was leading spiritual retreats at the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in the Catskills of New York, loosely affiliated with the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During the 10-day event I came to know the elders from Colombia, and they learned of my earlier book written with His Holiness. In fact they even had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama. They asked if I would come to Colombia, live with them, learn from them, and write a book with them - one that would share their environmental and spiritual message with the world. Of course I was thrilled with the idea and readily accepted. That was six years ago. Today the book has been researched, written, and published - and I'm still in Colombia!
So, what was the environmental and spiritual message the elders wanted me to share? Very simple, really. Our Earth Mother is gravely ill (I use the metaphor of a cancer in Journey to the Heart of the World) and she will surely die if we, the ones they call the “Younger Brother,” do not change our ways.
This was not a new message six years ago, but it was being widely ignored and even denied in 2011. The Kogi of la Sierra Nevada were actually among the first to sound the warning almost thirty years ago when they invited the BBC to come to la Sierra Nevada and report on what was happening. They expected the “Younger Brother” to be horrified and take action immediately. We all know that didn't happen.
But when I was invited to come visit them, the world was beginning to take notice.
Nonetheless, what the elders were asking me to do was radical. They wanted me to tell their story in a book, when they don't even have a written language or any idea what a book really is! They presented their request and invitation to me with tears in their eyes. Their mother was dying. Getting their message out to the world was the only way to save her. And they weren't really sure how to do that. And experience had already taught them that the rest of the world might not listen.
But over the past few years people have begun to listen. Still, I felt a responsibility and a sense of urgency as I researched and wrote the book, which was first published two years ago.
I wrote the book as a fiction, a novel, one aimed at a young adult audience. They are the ones who need to get the message. They are the ones who will eventually get us through this mess. And in an effort to reach that audience, and to touch their heart, it became a fantasy adventure novel. It's designed to engage the reader's imagination and evoke an emotional response.
Can a book save the world? That's a question I've asked myself rhetorically many times. My response is, "No, but it can help." So now my work has changed. I am no longer the researcher and the writer, I'm the promoter and the preacher - promoting the book to get it into as many readers' hands as possible, and a preacher online and in the media - calling for action on behalf of the environment and a vigorous global response to climate change.
What is the response you've received from those who have read it, both from among colleagues in the environmental/spiritual world and those general readers who have read the book?
The response from my so-called colleagues in the spiritual and environmental fields has been overwhelmingly positive. But they represent the 'choir,' so to speak. More important to me has been the response from readers for whom many of the concepts and much of the wisdom in the book are something new. They have actually had the most enthusiastic response. Many have said they have had their eyes opened to a new perspective.
In terms of its current significance, how has the world changed even in the brief time since the book has been out in digital and paperback editions?
We are at an important crossroad in time on many fronts - not just environmentally or spiritually, though I would argue those are the most profound. When I came here to Colombia six years ago I felt like I was on a crusade (not to be confused with the conquistadores!) and I was filled with a spirit of hope and optimism. We would tell the story, explain what needed to be done going forward, broadcast the message, and we could literally save the world.
And the message was taking hold. Not just because of my book, of course, but around the globe. Scientists and lay folk, from the Pope to the United Nations, people were taking note and standing up for our Mother Earth.
And then something appeared to change. The hope and the optimism, the care and the compassion being directed toward our Earth Mother, suddenly received a blow to the stomach.
We have been Trumped.
Environmental protections, years in the making, have been wiped out with the stroke of a pen. International cooperation and confidence have turned to suspicion and disdain. I am the perennial optimist, but I have to admit I have asked myself several times recently, was it all for naught? Was the world I was hoping to help save, in fact doomed?
So, in following up to the last question and your response, what do you think are the most important issues, especially now, that humanity is facing and that you address in the book and in your environmental activism?
First, there is the good news - news that is as current as today's headlines. Trump is going to fail, and We The People - and by extension, our Earth Mother - are going to prevail. You can take that to the bank.
A tidal wave of concern for the planet, for our Earth Mother, has begun. And no one person, certainly not Donald Trump, is going to stop it. Global corporations as well as establishment Republicans have just this week announced that they will not stand by Trump and his anti-environmental stance. In the six years that I have been here people have begun to take the problem seriously, and it is their actions - and change of heart - that are going to save the day, not the laws or absence of laws.
The title of my book, Journey to the Heart of the World, is more than a cute metaphor. It hints at the core message of the book - we need a global change of heart if we are to survive as a species. In the book I go so far as to argue that we need to become the heart of the world - the living, loving, caring compassionate heart of the organic planet. We don't need to drive smaller cars or reduce our carbon footprint, though those are important. We need to become the ones who love and care for our earth mother, and with her our brothers and sisters. If we can do that, the Al Gore, Inconvenient Truth, nuts-and-bolts stuff will take care of itself.
And in recent days I have become increasingly convinced that that is exactly what's going to happen. We The People are going to make it happen. And my little contribution is going to be in getting my little book into as many young readers' hands as possible, to encourage them on their journey.
The book is in the process of being licensed internationally; what do you think international readers, who might not know as much about indigenous culture in Colombia, can take from the book?
I talk with Colombians every day, and also many others who travel here from all over the world. My little village is something of an eco-tourism destination, and la Sierra Nevada has recently been named by the United Nations as “the most irreplaceable bio-reserve on the planet.” People here are proud of their environment, and those visiting are concerned with protecting it - here and around the globe.
My little book was not written to teach the reader about the unique indigenous peoples of la Sierra Nevada. In the book they serve as the messengers themselves. Again, I believe the wisdom shared in the book is universal and that it is taking hold. Virtually every conversation I have with folk passing through the jungles of Colombia feel the same way. There is genuine compassion for our Earth Mother, and a growing optimism that we can all work together to nurture her back to health.
You had formerly written a book with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, titled The New Mandala - Eastern wisdom for Western Living. There is some discussion that you might be either doing a second edition of the book, and/or following up with another book of non-fiction. Is there anything you'd like to mention about the potential subject matter?
I am undecided. I want to add the environmental message that was missing in my earlier book, The New Mandala, and I want to share the inclusiveness and connectedness that I have discovered over the years in my inherited Christianity, in Buddhist wisdom, and in the indigenous spirituality.
We all live in a spiritual environment - the two words are not separate. I want to continue to expand on that notion. What the resulting mélange will look like, I don't know. But yes, there will be another book. And we will still be here on planet Earth to enjoy it.
Journey to the Heart of the World will be offered as a free Kindle book from Friday, April 21st to Monday, April 24th by Humanitas Media Publishing to celebrate Earth Day (Saturday, April 22nd). Free Kindle reader software can also be downloaded from the same link.