by Marsha Rakestraw

What does a mountain wish for? A wolf? A cow? A river?

We can’t know for sure, but when we tap into our empathy and creativity, we can imagine.

We can also envision what we would want if we were that mountain or cow.

The Council of All Beings (suitable for older children and adults) is a great activity for helping participants make connections and build reverence. Participants “become” a being or part of nature and share the lives, concerns, hopes, and wisdom of their being in a council.

This Council of All Beings activity is modified from the book Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings by Joanna Macy, Arne Naess, John Seed and Pat Fleming.

Here’s how it works:

1. Explain the entire premise before beginning, so students know what is going to happen. Emphasize that silence (in between the spoken comments of council members) is an important part of the sanctity of the council.

2. Invite students to sit or lie down so they are comfortable. Ask them to close their eyes and let the image of an animal (human or nonhuman), or part of nature or landscape, come to them in their imaginations. Remind them not to force themselves to think about a certain animal or part of nature, but rather to let the being visit them in their thoughts.

3. Ask the students to “become” the being who has visited them in their imaginations. Ask that they feel themselves turning into this animal or part of nature (such as a cloud, mountain,  tree,  wolf, spider or another human). Ask them: “What is happening to me as this being? How do I feel? What is my life like? My days? My nights? My interactions with other beings? With my environment? What do I want? What do I have to say? What would I like to tell people? What wisdom do I have as this being?” Remind them to listen inside themselves for the answers.

4. After giving students some time to really “become” their being, bring the art supplies into the center of the circle and invite students to open their eyes and make a mask, silently, to represent themselves as this being. The mask does not have to look like the being, as long as it feels like it is representative. Some participants will be tempted to spend a long time on their mask. Remind them that the mask is only a representation, and give five- and one-minute warnings for finishing the mask.

5. When all have finished their masks, form the council.

6. One by one, beings should introduce themselves and say what their lives are like, who they are and how they spend their time. After each being speaks, the council should respond by saying, “We hear you, ____ (name of being).”

7. Ask the beings to speak again, this time telling the council what is happening to them, including what people have done to them and what they would like to say to people. Once again, the rest of the group responds by saying, “We hear you, ____ (name of being).”

8. After each being has spoken again, ask them to talk once more, sharing whatever wisdom, knowledge or gifts they have to offer, and what they might teach people who are willing to listen. The group responds by saying, “We thank you, ____ (name of being).”

9. Finally, after each being has spoken for the last time, ask participants to remove their masks one by one. As each of them takes off the mask, invite them to turn their masks toward themselves and make a small promise to change one aspect of their lives that hurts their being.

10. The council ends when you say something like “These promises made shall not be broken. We give thanks to the beings who have come together today to share their feelings, dreams, hopes and wisdom.”

Download the complete activity, which includes links to U.S. Common Core Standards.

Find more of our humane education activities in our Resource Center.