Each December, as we roll into a new year, I find myself thinking about what's happened in the past twelve months and what's coming up as we move into a new year, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Because of my own interests in animal protection and the conservation sciences (conservation biology, conservation behavior, conservation psychology, and conservation social work), I tend to focus on nonhuman animals (animals) and their homes. As I've been doing interviews for my recent book Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence (the Kindle edition can be found here) and also talking about the growing global and interdisciplinary field called "compassionate conservation" (from July 28-31, 2015, there will be a meeting called "Compassionate Conservation 2015" at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) and thinking about how to make the world a better place for all individual beings, human and nonhuman alike, two new books and one "older" book that had escaped my radar were delivered to my mailbox as if they were meant to come to my attention at the moment they did. The timing could not have been better.
"In losing our sense of soul, we have trivialized our existence"
The "older," yet timeless book, by psychologist Bill Plotkin, founder of the Animas Valley Institute, is called Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (the Kindle edition can be found here). Dr. Plotkin shows over and over again, citing scientific research and through personal stories and those of people who have taken part in his hands-on journeys into the mysteries of nature and psyche, that our personal well being is closely tied into discovering "the wilderness of the soul." We renew and rediscover who we are by being outside, deeply immersed "in nature," and also by journeying "into the wilds of our own souls." (p. 1) This challenging, and not always "fun" personal journey, is what soulcraft is all about. Renowned cultural historian and ecotheologian -- and wonderful author and man -- Thomas Berry, notes in his foreword to Soulcraft, "In losing our sense of soul, we have trivialized our existence. Our industrial accomplishments are simply leading us deeper into a meaningless world, a meaningless, but not an innocent or a harmless world." (p. xv)
Dr. Berry's and Dr. Plotkin's words resonate with what I envision "personal rewilding" to be all about, namely, a spiritual and transformational journey into reconnecting with ourselves and nature as a whole, and then sharing these experiences with others so that they too can rewild and feel better about themselves, other humans, other animals, and the place we all call home, our one and only fascinating and magnificent planet. I often think of rewilding as a meme for rehabilitating our hearts, that can easily spread from one person to another, and I also see soulcrafting and compassion in the same light.
I highly recommend Dr. Plotkin's book for all who can, and are willing to, step out of the comfort zone of everyday living, and really discover who they are and what makes them thrive.
The two new books that accompanied the arrival of Soulcraft are called Turning Points in Compassion: Personal Journeys of Animal Advocates edited by Gypsy Wulff and Fran Chambers and Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice edited by Will Tuttle (the Kindle edition can be found here). Both books contain numerous personal stories on a wide range of topics that can be used as examples for others to follow. They both show that all people can make meaningful and positive differences for the lives of humans and other animals. One doesn't have to be a full-time activist nor a wealthy person to add compassion to a world that really needs more peace and love.
Turning Points in Compassion is summarized as follows: This inspirational collection of personal stories challenges our widespread perceptions about our relationship with animals. With a powerful blend of compassion and honesty, the writers in Turning Points in Compassion share pivotal moments that awakened them to a life-changing awareness. Each one's life has been enriched beyond measure as a result of their journey. With open eyes, hearts and minds, they describe their entry to a new world of compassionate living where they no longer see animals as their food or their property. Their description of a life lived with awareness of animals as equally feeling beings who have conscious awareness and lives that matter to them will touch the hearts of people everywhere. No readers will be left unchallenged by this book. All profits from sales are donated to animal sanctuaries and rescue groups.
In a similar vein, Circles of Compassion is summarized as follows: What is the link between compassion for animals, social justice, and harmony in our human world? This book consists of a series of essays by internationally recognized authors and activists. These insightful and inspiring essays focus on how the seemingly disparate issues of human, animal, and environmental rights are indeed connected. Illuminating the connections between injustice to animals and the various forms of social and ecological injustice, these thirty authors provide essential keys to effectively addressing the hidden roots of our dilemmas. The essays also provide practical guidance about how to make the individual, systemic, and social changes necessary to effectively create a peaceful and just world for all. This landmark book provides a crucial impetus for us to break through our confining delusions, build bridges of understanding, and awaken from the cultural trance of indifference and inequity.
You can see the list of contributors and essay titles here.
Both of these books are easy reads and I find myself going back to them and opening them randomly and reading and rereading the essays. It really doesn't matter if you agree with everything the authors write. What does matter is that you think about what you can do to make the world a more peaceful and compassionate place and do something to make this happen.
As I read and reflected on these two books, I thought about what a young student once said to me after we had a discussion about what we all need to do to help our troubled and wounded world. He simply said, "compassion rocks." It does indeed, as does rewildling. If this youngster got it and understood the power of compassion, then we should too. There's a Charter for Compassion that "transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world." You can easily sign on to and share this charter.
So, let's all do something as a unified community to foster compassion and rewilding all over the world, for all animals, human and nonhuman. We know humans care about what happens to them and to their families and friends, so let's stop pretending that other animals don't care as well (please see "A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience: No Pretending"). And, when we're doing something, let's use that positive feeling to be creative and do even more. The world needs all the help it can get from those who are able to do something.
Working as a unified community is essential. We need to present a united front and accept that people who share common goals that fall under the broad umbrella of compassion and rewildling may go about achieving them in different ways. Bickering weakens us all and can undermine efforts to add compassion, peace, and love to the world.
We're not "the radicals"
It's high time for a global social revolution that centers on compassion and rewilding, involving people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests, that focuses on how we think and how we act to make the world a better place for all. Often, people who really care about helping other animals or saving landscapes and who want to add compassion to the world are called "the radicals." We need to make it clear that we are not the radicals, but rather people who truly care about what the future will look like for following generations, including youngsters who will inherit what we leave them. The future of our magnificent planet rests in their hands and in their hearts.
It will be a most welcomed time when people who wantonly harm other animals and destroy our magnificent planet are called "the radicals," and those who want to stop the destruction will be seen as mainstream thinkers, feelers, and doers.
No one can disagree that adding compassion and rewilding in any number of arenas are good ways to move into the future. So let's just do it and continue to do so forever. Our planet is wounded and tired and needs to be rekindled, and we humans hold the key to the future. It's that simple.