IT MAY SEEM like talking about love and holding a ceremony in the face of relentless bulldozing of the rainforest is a sentimental, weak, impractical thing to do, but I don’t see it that way at all. It is intense love of the forest that draws Asuy, a leader among the Dayak, to stop a bulldozer by standing in front of it, and then speak kindly to the driver. The sense of higher purpose connected to his love of life and dedication to its continuation gives him — and will give the whole tribe, if they are able to complete this ceremony — the fortitude to stand up to this aggression.
That’s why Asuy told me that the enemy is not the palm oil companies or the government officials that accept their bribes. They are just the current manifestations of greed and fear. The enemy, Asuy said, is despair. Despair comes when we disconnect from what we love. The ceremony is this tribe’s “cure” for despair. We can have enormous outer resources — money and power are the big ones — but if our internal experience is one of disconnection and despair, none of that helps at all. It means nothing. You see that in celebrity suicides — and in the ineffective responses to global situations coming from the power centers of the world.
The tribe’s ancient vow ceremony invites everyone back into alignment with their purpose and the incredible sense of fortitude that comes from clear intention, which you can feel in Asuy and the others at the center of the effort to defend this forest against all odds. They have no money or worldly power in the usual sense. What they have instead is connection to something larger than their little lives, and a fierce commitment to life born of their capacity to tolerate feeling intense heartbreak in order to access the love at its center. This is how they can keep going against all odds.
But others in the tribe aren’t this connected. Without this ceremony, the stress of watching their forest be bulldozed is making them feel too fragmented, despairing, and fearful of survival to unite and save what remains — especially against these formidable odds. And they will then turn out like many other indigenous communities: split apart, many of them living in slums, wandering without purpose and identity. That is why this ceremony is so vital. It will heal betrayals over land disputes and bring people back to their shared purpose and sense of unity. And as Asuy put it, what happens to Muara Tae happens to the world.
Once the tribe is united again in their sense of purpose, they will have tremendous internal resources, as I see in Asuy and his son, his wife and their family, who have profound equanimity and good spirits and fortitude in the face of constant setbacks. And that’s why I want to share their method of shedding despair and realigning with truth — the ceremony — with people in the Western world so that we can learn from them. We ALL need to shake off despair and access that same sense of common purpose to face up to what is happening to the earth and unite to deal with it. We ALL need to take this vow to protect the forest and the people. And Asuy gets this — that’s why we’re sharing the ceremony. It isn’t just a tactic.
We want to inspire people in the industrial world to break through their numbness or rage over what isn’t working in the system, get in touch with what they really feel — which for most of us is heartbreak, the thing most people are terrified of feeling — and then examine their values and how they can live by them. Here’s a short talk I gave at an earth day event in Ubud that speaks to the heart of this.
The point of the ceremony is to help the tribe reunite under their traditional mandate to protect the forest — and to inspire others in the industrial world to do the same. The strength of our united response will come from a deep connection to preserving life and healing divisions. The elders firmly believe that this is the only way to secure their forest — and all other forests. Everything else is a weak band aid.
Despair is the logical response to this situation. It’s a good thing love doesn’t care about logic.
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