Geneen Marie Haugen, PhD, grew up as a free-range wildish kid with a run amok imagination. She is a guide to the experiential, intertwined mysteries of nature and psyche with the Animas Valley Institute, and is on the faculty of the Esalen Institute, Schumacher College, and the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality. Her writing has appeared in many journals and books, including Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth; Thomas Berry: Dreamer of the Earth; Parabola Journal; Ecopsychology Journal; DailyGood.org; High Country News; and others.
She answers the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- The power in our unique creativity and imagination as human beings
- The value of becoming more receptive to the dreams and consciousness of the community, earth and universe around us
- The increasing awareness of traditional Indigenous and ecological knowledge in the Western worldview
Connect with Geneen
Vicki Robin: Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of what Could Possibly Go Right?, a project at the Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good and social artists, people who take the pulse of the times and create in this time when so much seems to be coming apart, for sure, much is coming together that we can’t see. Our guests help us to see more clearly and act more courageously in this potent time of change.
Today’s guest is Dr. Geneen Marie Haugen, who grew up a little wild with a run amok imagination. Her matrilineal ancestors are the indigenous of the European Arctic. She is a content creator and guide to the mysteries of nature and psyche with the Animas Valley Institute, animas.org, and has been on the faculty of Esalen Institute, Schumacher College, and the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality. Her writing has appeared in Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth; Thomas Berry: Dreamer of the Earth; Parabola Journal; Cosmos Journal; Ecopsychology Journal; DailyGood.org; High Country News and many others. And now here’s my conversation with Geneen.
Geneen Marie Haugen, welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right? I am especially glad to talk with you this day after Thanksgiving 2022, because I sense a sorrowful, sort of self hatred under the surface in my circles of people and people in general as we wake up to how our world is unraveling.
We are waking up out of ignorance of our impact on nature and the marginalized exploited human groups, and how can we be thankful when dot dot dot. I sense in some that gratitude is modified by this sort of species or Western civilization, regret or shame, we withhold our praise, we’re not worthy. Post Carbon, which publishes this, has been a leader in awakening people to the polycrisis.
We bring our love and wry sense of humor and intellectual integrity to this, but joy is not a keynote nor gratitude if we can’t sense that we humans are anything but a curse. Our work for the world becomes punitive (“If only they would, then we could”) or hectoring (“Repent!”)
You and I met in a course called Coming Home to the Animate World. You invited us to wander and tilt our ears toward the animals and plants and to hear their sense of things, not about us, about themselves and not just as individuals, but as entire ecosystems. This initiated a profound shift that is still going on.
I read in an article recently what you said, what is necessary about human beings? What do humans offer the community of life? Is it possible that the intelligent earth and cosmos from which we emerged made such a mistake that our kind, unlike any of the others, has no contribution, no role, no niche in the ecosystem called Earth? If the others inhabit niches that express their unique abilities, what about us?
What is our unique capacity in relationship with the others? So, with that set up, Geneen, what are you sensing, observing, that maybe is trying to emerge in this time of unraveling what could possibly go right?
Geneen Marie Haugen: Such a great question, Vicki. It is the question right now, since we know so many things are going wrong, could go wrong, could get worse.
I also chose this day, partly because of the Black Friday shopping thing and the frenzy around that and the little questions it puts in me about the direction that we’ve chosen with all of our creativity and our imagination and our possibility. This is what we do. Yeah.
So what it seems to me, one of the things that seems to me is that we’ve got, we have come to a certain consciousness. We have a tremendous loss of perception as modern human beings, and it’s partly our Western worldview. We’ve all been raised, I mean, you and I were raised and probably the people listening to this podcast were raised in a certain worldview and raised to believe certain things: that we are entitled, we deserve this, we deserve that. The world is essentially, or the universe is essentially dead. A collection of resources for us to use to exploit. Maybe God gave us this to use. We don’t hear the world speaking. We’ve lost this sense of what the world is, what certainly our ancestors knew, something that we don’t do so well anymore. Because all of our beliefs about what the world is and what our lives are about, there’s a picture that’s been imposed on us.
I lived for a long time in Grand Teton National Park, where you met us, and that place… because of living with all those wild critters and walking every day or skiing or whatever, and having so many encounters with bison and moose and coyotes and wolves and bear. Having that kind of a life and that atmosphere to be in that wild atmosphere, it caused me to ask certain questions. Just watching them, all these other ones and who occupy their place in the world so perfectly, who don’t wonder about are they doing the right thing or probably they don’t wonder about this.
They just occupy their place and they occupy unique places in the ecology of the greater organism. And that made me wonder with all that human beings have done so badly. Is it possible that we don’t have a unique function too? So I wondered about what is, what is it about human beings that seems to be unique among the other animals, among the other creatures, among the other inhabitants of our planet.
It does seem to me that we have a unique form of not just consciousness, but our capacity to imagine what doesn’t exist and create what doesn’t exist. This seems to be unique among human beings. We know, we can see that beavers will create dams, but they don’t seem to be wanting to light Las Vegas with their dams. They also have to chew because their teeth just keep growing. So that’s what beavers, that’s what they have to do, is keep chewing.
So anyway, so what is it about us? I wondered. The other creatures, the other species, the other presences don’t seem to cultivate or have in the same way that we do. So this capacity to imagine and especially imagine what doesn’t exist and which has given us all of Western civilization for better and for worse, it seems to me that this is our most undervalued and underutilized capacity that we don’t even seem to be aware of how powerful this is. What if we were more intentional with our, what even is in the contents of our imaginations?
Because our imaginations are filled up all the time with all kinds of things that we probably don’t determine ourselves, all the messages that are coming to us from our social media, from the news, from entertainment, media and so on. So, Vicki, I could just go in so many directions, right?
Vicki Robin: Would you like me to pitch something to you to be something that you can bounce off of? Yeah. So I know that in your work, one of the divination tools, if you will, is dream work. And you talk about the dream maker. You know that there is actually something that’s the dream maker that’s offering you images that aren’t just undigested events from before.
Or you know, a set of symbols that you can look up online, like dream symbols. Okay. If I dream about a cat, it means you know, you really, you really respect that, that’s a portal to something. So I’m wondering if you’re noticing in the people that you work with, the people you encounter, if you’re noticing the dream world telling us something about what humans are learning now about our place in the world.
Rather than those terrible dreams about like, I, you know, I didn’t do my homework and now I have a test, but the dreams that are telling us something. Is there some ecology of dreams that you are noticing?
Geneen Marie Haugen: Let’s see. I would say yes sometimes. And it does seem to me, Vicki, that it’s partly how we see the field. It’s partly that I’ve seen this, for example, with Vision Fast, which I don’t guide really anymore. But, but how we present a vision of cosmology or the dream of the earth before people go out. This does seem to open up certain perceptual channels so that people are picking up something deeper or less mine and more of the, the bigger psyche.
The bigger dream. Yeah, so I think. And it, and I think it also has how we set it up, how, how each of us individually makes ourself more available in the night world and also in the day world. Like our daydreaming, how do we make ourselves more available in our waking life to the dreams of the earth, the dreams of the cosmos, or the dreams of the other than human beings.
And especially if we’re kind of conditioned not to really notice. I mean creative people notice, I think, like musicians will notice when they hear ome, you know, faint music or a poet will notice when they hear a, a line of poetry and so forth. But a lot of us, you know, we’re so busy and our minds are so occupied that we don’t notice where we are walking along and, and there’s a, a big impression or a like suddenly there’s a presence of grief.
And it doesn’t necessarily seem like ours, but we don’t really even notice it or, or we cast it aside because we don’t know how, it’s not part of our culture to slow down and wonder what’s that? Or we get really big ideas. Again, artists, creative people might go wandering or go put themselves in particular kind of settings in hopes of receiving something, so they’re real attentive to that.
But that possibility to be receiving, I think it’s all the time. It’s all the time, but we’re really busy in our minds are occupied, and we’ve got our psychic habits are in place, so we don’t even, we don’t even notice. So then the work that we do, and especially what I do, like what you came to Coming Home to an Animate World, and that we’re helping facilitate the attention to these other voices, presences the big ideas that just suddenly arrive.
Or the heartbreak that suddenly arrives or just suddenly there’s, maybe there’s a kind of knowing about something that isn’t necessarily mine. But it takes a, a shift in our everyday consciousness. Our everyday mind needs to be disrupted, a little bit. When we have the time like we did when you were with us, that number of days, that’s really great because you really get it’s not the ordinary world anymore.
But there’s a lot of ways to disrupt the everyday mind. You know, like kind of things we might suggest to people are trance drumming, dancing praising, I love praising and really going out with the intention to be as careful at noticing and honoring what is with me in the world, down to the details of the, the lichen, the way that the lichens have their little lettuce, like tiny leaves and how they change color when it’s humid and and so on.
But to be really in the attitude of praising is a consciousness shifter. It helps open some portal.
Vicki Robin: I sometimes go out. I find that if I go out with my, you know, just my phone with the camera on it. I used to go out on walks that I just call noticing. I just, and I think it’s like a praise walk without a little extra, without the spin of praise.
It’s just seeing, seeing, seeing, seeing, seeing. And then when I put my phone camera on, and I look through that and it’s the particularities of the seed stock that leap out. And I’m just thinking about, you know, what you’re saying in terms of people walking in the canyons of New York City or in the halls of power as you were well, you know, and we are walking, I don’t know, half of us in cities where it’s constructed environments, and I’m wondering about praise walks in cities. How do people, most of us, you know, not only in the sort of like the incredible swamp of social media, media advertising in this like polluted mental environment, how do we infuse our consciousness with this sense of that humans are here for a, we’re here as a, as a benefit. We’re here as part of the community. How do we do this in the subway? You know, how do we do this? Because it seems that praise consciousness, if you will, if you wanna call it blessing consciousness, that all life is sacred, that we live in an animate world that the, that the trees outside my window are in conversation with the grass, you know, whatever. How do we make that shift so that our work is not infused with self hatred, a hatred of our species, despair? How do we do this, Geneen? I want you to reflect on it because I don’t know where you’ll go with it, but it’s a big question for a lot of us.
Geneen Marie Haugen: Well, and you know, Joanna Macy’s work.
Vicki Robin: Of course. Yeah. I had her recently on the podcast.
Geneen Marie Haugen: She’s so wonderful. Yeah. And that, that idea and in practice, not just the idea, but in practice, that if we give ourselves to the despair instead of what we call, especially what Bill calls circling the drain, cuz we can just circle the drain and feel, you know, the weight of the despair without really giving ourselves to it. And what would Joanna say about giving ourselves to the despair? That it brings us to this place where we know our kinship with the suffering of the world. It’s, we’re not alone in it. We know the kinship of it. And, and that somehow in that, that we make ourselves more available to what’s ours to do, how, what’s ours, our way of being in response to that. But it’s, there’s something, I believe this is Joanna’s thought, about the giving ourselves to the despair is, is the way, rather than trying to, you know, keep it away from us. I think that’s, you know, really hard to do.
So for myself, some things that I’m aware of that I have to practice this, Vicki, because I’m a student of cosmology. I studied with Brian Swimme and Brian was a colleague, close colleague with Thomas Berry. And so looking at the origin and the evolution of the universe, and not just human beings, but the universe and Brian identified some patterns in the movement of the universe, and it’s always moving. And so this is really helpful for me is to remember some of these patterns, and one is cataclysm. That the unfolding of the universe requires this cataclysm. And that’s in the big scale, you know, the supernovas, the explosion of stars and so on, which is still happening, and that brings forth something else.
And so that’s helpful for me to just orient myself in a bigger, like in the cosmic, and I don’t mean cosmic in an airy way, but in the actual science of the unfolding universe. And something else I learned from Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in their book, The Universe Story, which this also is something that I hold when, when things seem really Greek to me, is their story of the early bacteria called prokaryotes. This is in the earliest unfolding of life on earth.
The atmosphere, everything was still real hot and chemical. And these early bacteria emerged who could eat, who could survive. They flourished on this super heated cosmic soup. But then the conditions of earth started to slow and cool down and the prokaryotes were pushed to a crisis point.
There’s more that happened in there, but they were pushed to a crisis point. And these prokaryotes, these are our ancestors. They were pushed to a crisis and, and they, and it, all of life could have collapsed. But what happened is these prokaryotes, these little tiny elements of life learned how to use the sun learned how to be in relationship with the sun to create photosynthesis.
They did this as Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry say, without hands, without eyes, without a brain, without blueprints. They learned how to do this and all, all of us are descendants of that and dependent on that. We wouldn’t be here without that.
So that’s something that, it’s one of those hinge points in life that I, you know, that it gives me a kind of comfort, but also inspiration that, well, what if it’s like that for us now that that we’ve, you know, we’ve, we’ve gone to the limit as all life forms do. We’ve gone to the limit and something has to change.
And but we have brains and hands and eyes and features and so it’s something that for me is I don’t know, it doesn’t keep the despair away, but it gives me a, it’s like a, again, a through line. There’s something else that we, there are patterns of emergence that, that are in our our evolutionary story, and we do seem to be at a crisis point, but there are patterns for us to look at.
Vicki Robin: It seems from what you’re saying, that these are going to express through us, not through our conscious minds. I mean, that’s sort of what the mind will do with that. Okay, fine. Now we’re gonna figure out how to do this. Right. And in figuring out how to do this, we, we, we create these, you know, we’re gonna send sulfur up into the atmosphere to cool the earth because that’s how we’re gonna do it.
So it’s not that, it’s that there’s something installed in us that senses the environment and senses a necessity for change and allows the change to happen. And it’s like that Anais Nin quote; eventually it gets just too hard for the bud to stay a bud and it has to. Yeah.
But also I wanna bring in here that one of the emerging projects at Post Carbon Institute is what we call the Liminality Network. It’s capturing that feeling that we’re on an edge of something and trying to get people in communication with one another who are out there like, you know, if you’re consciously working on this, then you are a bit of a sensor in the skin of the body of the planet. We’re all, you’re a sensor. I’m a sensor. Sensor, right? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that we are perhaps collectively sensing something that our social systems that have been imposed upon us are not permitting us to be a communicative you know, nervous system, you know, like allowing us to sort of sense that edge, you know, cuz you know, limit liminality, that’s the same thing. You know, a limit is like an edge in which something else is happening. Yeah. And I think a little bit, it’s the nature of what could possibly go right?
I’m trying to talk to people who are at that liminal place, who are sensing something else is gonna happen here, something else is trying to happen. And yeah, I don’t have a therefore, but if you have something to say about that, you know, and I had another word that I pulled out, but, but this idea of, of what happens when you reach a limit and what do you notice in the world today of this collective and co sensing of something and trying to be different.
Geneen Marie Haugen: Yeah. Good. Good question. You know something that I find really hopeful and this illustrates something is the legalization of psychedelics in different places. To me this is well, because I’ll say, let’s see that I did have a note on this.
I think a new consciousness, a new relationship with life and with earth and with community is something a lot of people have experienced one way or another, often through psychedelics, I think, but not only that way and and that, but that is really disturbing to the status quo, to our economy and to our, all of our institutions that because everything would have to change. And so it’s really disturbing. And so our, you know, our mainstream media, and I’m not a somebody who disses the mainstream media. But I see that it’s, whether it’s intentional or not, but it’s not, this is not a part of our, the story that we’re getting for the most part, except for somebody like Michael Pollan who wrote this very popular book, you know?
And that is a lot of people have been touched by that. That’s something that that I see that I find is, illustrates that there’s some change happening that is maybe evidence. I’m not sure. That’s kind of a terrible, that’s a sort of a terrible word, but it suggests something about what we might be allowing in more of a, a popular or a larger mass way as far as a different consciousness about how we are in, in the world.
That’s something I find yeah, really suggestive. And also that there’s a lot of popular work happening now around ancestors, and I also find this like for us modern, especially Americans, so many of us don’t know anything about our lineage. You know, to be trying to reroot ourselves in some kind of a, at least a lineage of our, our bloodlines, you know that seems to me to be also suggestive of something that it’s like, it is a kind of coming home.
Or rerooting ourselves in because cuz we, especially Americans, I think are pretty unrooted and you know, we don’t, we’ve cast off the lineages in so many ways. And so that seems to me to be very suggestive of something. And also and this is even creeping into the mainstream, is the awareness of indigenous knowledge in traditional indigenous knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge that the indigenous people have carried all these centuries. And that seems to me also to be something that is creeping into our popular culture and popular worldview.
Vicki Robin: I see what you’re saying. Indigenous knowledge used to be, oh, it’s exotic. It was, and it is no more. But it’s, it is still, it’s and yeah, I’ve had some wonderful conversations with Pat McCabe and Sherri Mitchell and Lyla June. And just like with you, when I listen to you, there’s something in what they’re speaking from.
It’s not what they’re speaking about, it’s what they’re speaking from. And I felt that with Joanna as well. It’s, it’s, we are beginning to learn in the public square on to not be embarrassed to speak from a, an inexplicable knowing that we, we sort of couch it in rational terms. I mean, I, I do this. It’s, there’s something a little bit embarrassing, like inviting somebody into your bedroom to tell them how gloriously connected you are with things that most people don’t think about or see, you know, so it’s, it’s almost like there’s some sort of delicious current of belonging to this world that is emerging from the unconscious, and it’s also the emergence of a respect for the feminine. Yes. You know, everything is translated into something political like feminism. You know, so there’s political work associated with this, but that should not obscure that there is a way of knowing that’s available to men and women, often more relegated to women, maybe some more arising from women that is holistic, is inclusive.
It’s naturally unable to banish parts of the community. You know, so I just feel like from what you’re saying, also the feminine, the emergence of the feminine, the goddess, if you will. Yeah. And it doesn’t even have to be new age. It’s sort of, I would imagine in the Catholic Church, Mary is, the emergence of Mary, of compassion.
I feel from what you’re saying, you’re speaking what you’re evoking that talisman. The ancestors, the feminine, the intrapsychic awareness, all of these are like talisman, these things that we can fold up, like we put in our briefcases along with our computers and we get on the plane and we sit in the seats, and we open our computer and you type. But you’ve got this thing, it’s almost like it’s becoming more radiant. Something in your pocket that it, that takes part in the wholeness of this world, the sacredness.
Geneen Marie Haugen: There’s a way of training ourselves our attention of practicing so that we notice more like we notice, for example, the, the synchronicities that, that often happen. And we notice the, the curious encounters that we have or I was gonna tell you something that happened just the other day, but now I can’t remember what it was, but sorry but, but we, it’s like training ourselves, retraining ourselves. Don’t really like that.
But it’s re-practicing something, re-learning something now, how to notice. How to notice what is, what happens in the field around us when we’re in conversation with people, when we’re walking in the city, when we’re out wandering in nature, nature what happens? And then, and also what happens like in our emotions as we’re, we’re wandering through the world and suddenly we’re gripped by some brilliance or sadness or, and our imaginations too. Learning to notice what happens and connecting that with, what am I doing when that happens?
Vicki Robin: Right. I mean, even the question of this podcast could be a walking meditation. Yeah. Like what could possibly go right here? Yeah. Not optimism, not hope, but just what are the little sort of creatures that are sitting on the shelves behind you?
What are these, what is trying to come into being in this moment? Through me and through this person I’m talking to at the cafe or on the plane. You know what, how can I participate in the emergence of. And it may take thousands of years, you know. It wasn’t like a prokaryote woke up one morning and thought, you know what, here guys, I’ve got the deal.
Geneen Marie Haugen: Yeah. Yeah. Generations, many generations probably. And this seems a little challenging in our culture too, Vicki, because we’ve got such a star culture. A celebrity culture, that one person will come in and be the great hero. And that’s also the myth, you know, that we, that our Western myths are, the one person who came in, you know, the savior who came in and fixed everything. And so I think that’s challenging too for, for people, for the modern human being is to like, what part is mine? It may be that nobody ever knows. And maybe I’m the only one who knows this, so.
Vicki Robin: Okay, I’m gonna go back to our Thanksgiving theme cuz I just, you, you painted a picture in my mind of 10 generations hence, who knows what’s there. But there will be a being who somehow through a journal, through an artifact, through a rumor, through something, will intuit that our existence, each one of us, and be thankful for.
You know, just something that we, how we lived, something that we, some gesture we made one direction or another. So just to hold also that as an image that there is a, there is a future human on this planet. You know, 500 years from now who is feeling thankful for something that we did in our lives that helped.
To come into being so it’s partaking of something. I’m just reflecting back what arises in me. I’m a mirror. It’s just partaking in that sort of gratitude, praise, partaking in that we’re part of something larger, mysterious, and beautiful, and we are imbued with this intelligence that comes out of the universe itself.
And we can despair of how our species is behaving in this moment and we can do everything we can to correct, but there’s this underlying something, this sort of spongy, beautiful mossy something that is ours as well. So that, that would be reflecting back. And is there anything you wanna like wrap this up or shape it?
Geneen Marie Haugen: Yeah. Beautiful. I love that. Spongy, mossy something. Yeah. The background or the matrix. The thing that we’re all swimming in and that can inform us, that has, I believe, its own longings that, like Robinson Jeffers said, I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it.
I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it and felt direction and chance and the great animals. Something like this. I don’t quite have the whole poem, but I believe this universe is not blind. This universe is not blind force, but feels and chooses, feels and chooses, and we’re a part of that feeling and choosing.
Yeah. Wow. Thank you. Thank you, Vicki.
Vicki Robin: I could talk to you all day long.
Geneen Marie Haugen: Yeah, I’m sure we’d have quite a gab fest.