Finding Our Place On Earth Again: An Interview with John Stokes
by Forrest Craver
Excerpted from The Soul Unearthed: Celebrating Wildness and Spiritual Renewal Through Nature, edited by Cass Adams (First Sentient Publications, 2002).
This interview first appeared in Wingspan: Journal of the Male Spirit, Summer 1990.
Forrest Craver for Wingspan: What do men have to learn from nature?
John Stokes: What men have to learn from nature is that the natural world is the backdrop to the whole human experience. When we go into nature, we encounter the world we have lived in from the beginning. We hook up with our ancestors and the bodies of all who have gone before us. With this comes humility—something that makes it possible for us to be here. Taking a place in the grand line-up of life moves us away from our egocentric behavior, away from our anthropocentric behavior. When men go out to nature, they see the balance of life and death, hot and cold; they can go beyond the duality in nature. They discern a force that holds it all together. This third force is what leads us away from duality.
We need to learn more about predator-prey relationships in order to learn the love each being has for all the others, to understand the symbiosis of nature and the place of carnivores. All the books in the world cannot add up to the Holy Book of Nature! When you read this Book, you can feel it and move with the great circle of life. When you see the gentleness/ferocity of animals, when you see a volcano, when you watch certain trees bend in the wind and others stand firm, you realize there is a range of emotion and response and that there are many, many different ways to be. We urgently need to rediscover that great diversity. Nature helps us to see that we do not have to be one certain, fixed way.
Wingspan: What experiences in nature speak to men and get them back into a right relationship?
Stokes: After taking about seventy-five thousand people out into the woods, I have found that the simplest experiences have the deepest impact. Like going out and learning how to listen. As Robert Bly noted regarding the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, “Listening creates a pathway to the other worlds.” Many cues in nature are not visual, they are auditory. All men should go out and stalk. Take off your shoes and move silently through the landscape. Move to bless and caress the earth. This is probably a good time to mention the word “love.” Men must be humble and listen. Walk. Feel. When your heart opens, you hear things your ears cannot hear.
Just going out, sitting and breathing and becoming conscious of your own breath is important. The Great Peacemaker of the the Iroquois confederacy brought a three-fold message for peace and one of his tenets is health. Health of body and mind. But health also means peace, because when minds are sane and bodies are healthy, men desire peace. For men in this country, we must be healthy in our bodies to think healthy thoughts. And there are always group activities for the ecosystem—picking up bottles, cleaning refuse from streams, planting trees. The male vocation is to care for this world. Men feel good when they do it. It’s time for men to come out on the land and bring this land back!
Wingspan: What is your urgent plea to men?
Stokes: I can be real succinct. Wake up! Men have traditionally been the guardians of the earth. The true vocation of men was to guard the earth, love it, care for it. We are only caretakers stopping over here for a while. We are supposed to pass it on in an even more beautiful state than we received it in. People should go back and read the accounts of North America in the eyes of the first European explorers. It was a paradise here. This entire continent was kept in a state of radiant beauty. It’s time for men to wake up and take this historical role again. We need to define the new warriors. Men are called to be warriors for the earth. You love this earth so much you would defend it to the death and become a warrior for the earth. There is nothing more important than this world that gives us everything, our entire life. If men will awaken to that call, everything else follows. When a man walks in nature, his humanity is turned on, and he becomes complete. That’s why I sometimes describe aboriginal men as simultaneously tough and gentle. The natural world can bring this integration to full flower within men.
Wingspan: How can we tune in and be in nature?
Stokes: We have a lot more available to us than we think. I wonder how many people greet the sun each morning. How many give thanks for the sun that makes life on earth possible? Who thanks the water or the rain when it comes? These things are simple, but we have to go back to the beginning. Go outside and really see what is there. Our roots are in nature. Who thanks the wind? We don’t need rules to go back to nature. A friend who trained in Guatemala tells a story of First Man, how he comes here and he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know. And the Sun’s stipulation has been that this new creation can stick around if it can survive by listening. So he listens and things begin to speak to him and he learns why he is here. The earth is telling us how to be right now if we would only listen ….
There has been too much suffering at our hands, in the human and nonhuman worlds. We have a lot of work to do to heal this earth and the time is now for all of us to get busy. In the end, the human being is very beautiful. We have a place here. We need to find our place once again.