Sunday, March 27, 2011

From the Heart of the World
A Must-See Film for the Restless

What would happen to you if all our technological support systems failed and you had to make a quick transition to an indigenous lifestyle?

I’ve often pondered this probability, though I’ve done little to prepare for it. For one thing, what would an indigenous lifestyle really be like?

An answer to that question appears in a prophetic film, From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers' Warning, made for the BBC by film maker Alan Ereira. This remarkable video can now be seen on the internet here. Those who, like me, missed it the first time around may be shocked to realize that it was not filmed in the past three or four years but in 1988. Yet in 2011 its message of warning not only seems more urgent. It seems to be fulfilling itself.

From the Heart of the World lifts the veil for us to see into a matriarchal society, the Kogi, who escaped the Spanish conquest. Nestled in their refuge high in the mountains of Columbia, they’ve kept their indigenous way of life nearly totally intact from a time when human beings lived in harmony with Nature, not in conflict with her.

In the film the Mamas—the spiritual elders of the tribe—come forward, as the trailer might say, to share a message with “little brother,” meaning us who have usurped the planet for our own greedy purposes. They tell us we are killing the Earth with our wrong way of living. We must quit doing what we’re doing now and turn ourselves around or our Great Mother, our nurturer and provider—already very sick—will die, and all sentient beings, including the Kogi, will die with her.

We’ve heard this before, of course, to the point where we may pause for a moment and gravely nod our heads. But then we get in the car for a run to the super market. Is there anything about this particular presentation to make it different from any other environmental hand-wringing?

Yes, for me there is. It’s a documentary, for one thing. We aren’t simply lectured by this or that indigenous elder, though there are lectures—some of the most simple and eloquent I’ve ever heard. But we also see the Kogi in their daily life, literally cultivating their gardens (by hand) in their agricultural society. We’re introduced to their mythology, their version of Genesis, including how “little brother” strayed so far from relationship with the Earth, our Mother, that we forgot her in our dream of power and dominance over everything external. I found these exposures strongly evocative, resonating with me in a deep way.

Most impressive to me is the Kogi take on unfettered masculinity, which to them is the demon driving our mainstream world’s incessant restlessness and aggression. For harmony to exist between humanity and the natural world—to say nothing of men and women—that energy must be calmed down. The film introduces some of the simple practices in concentration and meditation which every Kogi man performs to siphon off his inborn restlessness.

After I watched this film, I looked around me at our home. We live in a three-room duplex with a kitchen (nice size) and a small but adequate bathroom with tub and shower. These are cramped quarters by American middle-class standards but perhaps normal for many middle-class Europeans and Asians. Still, I saw almost nothing around me that hadn’t been manufactured off the back—or from the innards—of Mother Earth.

I consciously strive to live a simple life, walking as lightly as I can on the Earth. I’m a long-time vegetarian. I recycle religiously, tend a small vegetable garden, ride my bicycle, drive our car only when “necessary,” and, of course, use compact fluorescent light bulbs. But I’m still as much a captive of a misguided way of life as any flashy entrepreneur making it on Wall Street.

Of course, the Kogi could be wrong. Their voices might be the last dirge of a long-gone past. Perhaps they’re remnants of a former race which evolution has left behind. Maybe, unlike the Sioux at Wounded Knee, they’re making their last stand nonviolently, begging for preservation of their own way of life to save themselves from extinction or being forced to change.

But in my opinion they’ve delivered a vital message. If they’re correct in their diagnosis of the health of the planet—as more and more scientists and average people agree—how are we going to make the changes we need to turn ourselves around?

I’ve noticed in the media that the messages to keep us focused on our present course are getting pretty frantic. Commercials are louder and more manic, entertainment is increasingly gaudy and violent, the news pumps up every little scene into a prime-time drama. Trivia is so elevated that when something really big happens—most recently, the tsunami in Japan or the rising tide of revolution around the world—we can hardly take it in. More likely, we shut it out. We hop in the car for yet another run to the super market.

In that context, the Kogi send a message we need to hear. Yes, it’s ironic that they’ve done it with the very technology they reject. But if, by some stretch of the probable, each of us were to follow some small part of their example, there might not be the craving need for more and more technology to bring us happiness. We might develop the capacity to understand and enjoy life without all our products and amenities, not losing but gaining peace, prosperity, and security in a more settled, friendly world.

What we’re doing isn’t working. It never did work except for a few. After 5,000 years on that path, I think a new approach is more than desirable. It’s required.

Risk altering your consciousness. Check out From the Heart of the World. Then wait a few months for an updated message. Advance press has gone out that the Kogi Mamas, alarmed that we didn’t take their warnings to heart in 1988, are trying again. After training some of their own people in film making, they invited Alan Ereira back with a crew to create a second film, Aluna, which promises to take us even deeper into the Kogi understanding of how the world works and what part humans are meant to play in it.

Aluna is scheduled for release later this year. For more information, visit


At 9:11 PM , Blogger kate loving shenk said...

I must see this movie! Thank you for suggesting it!


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