A Journey to Glimpsing the Dream of the Earth by Helena Kettleborough

In order to gain the energy and understanding to address the complex challenges and totally reshape society for  both ecological and social justice, there is a rise in ideas  advocating a wider paradigm within which to place our actions.  Berry (1999), Berry and Swimme (1992) and Swimme and Tucker (2011) explore humanity’s place within the universe. They propose a  New Universe Story, a way of exploring the world which sees human beings  take our place within our 13,800,000,000  year old universe.  From studying the social as well as ecological challenges  facing humanity,  Korten sees that only through ‘Earth as community’ can we find  a comprehensive story which will enable us to address these issues.
For me a wonderful expression of how we might find our way into this ancient history is through cultural historian Thomas Berry.  Berry  proposes the idea of the Dream of the Earth, not a human dream but the dream of the whole Earth community (1988). How might we learn to express and understand what the earth wants rather than ourselves as a single species?  How might we  learn to see the Dream of the Earth as for ‘all the children’ not simply the human children of the earth but  ‘for the children who swim beneath the waves of the sea’  and  the ‘children who roam over the land and the winged ones who fly with the wind’? (Berry, 1999).

Dream of the Earth

For the past five years I have been exploring by means of a PhD,  my way into this wider universe, and in particular the ideas of the Dream of the Earth.  As benefits a research study I had a methodology and I chose to work with action research as a reflective, learning process. I found however as I worked with the ideas of action research that I felt that not only was it a methodology for study but also an emerging practice for anyone wanting to undertake  their own journey into a wider paradigm.
Action research is ecumenical in its roots, coming from many different traditions, out of which emerges some common characteristics (Reason and Bradbury, 2001).  The knowledge sought through action research emerges out of everyday life and is always changing and moving.  The aim of knowledge is not for its own sake, but for the flourishing of the human and ecological communities of which human beings are a part.  A further important characteristic is that knowledge is found in action and action in knowledge (op.cit, p. 2).

So for me, this journey into a wider universe proposed by Berry (1999) and Swimme and Tucker (2011)  needs tools and maps. The maps and tools I found originated in action research and became an important part of the journey.

Using the journey into a wider paradigm as a hopeful lens we can place the continuous and growing range of literature and policy reports outlining why we need to  take action on  climate change and social justice issues (Blue Planet Laureates 2012, OCED, 2013) and biodiversity (OPOS, 2013) within a cosmological perspective.  We can use the forms of action research: first, second and third person to help us work out how we need to be taking action,  using for our guides such reports as the Millennium Eco Assessment 2005, which combines saving biodiversity and  addressing social justice challenges and Jonathon Porritt’s upbeat the World We Made (2013), which suggests how we might totally transform society in 40 years.
For the session for the Ragged University on the 16th October,  I trace the journey  of discovery I made into the Dream of the Earth and why I came to find ‘living life as inquiry’ (Marshall, 1999) important in  understanding  my own potential contribution, with others,  from where I stand.  I aim to do so in a participative way, offering some first person inquiry methods for people to use and illustrating second person action research through telling stories.

There will also be a bookstall with examples of books that are part of us learning to live in a wider universe:

Details of Event


Dr Helena Mary Kettleborough, 1st October 2014



  • Berry, T. (1988) The Dream of the Earth, San Francisco: Sierra Club.
  • Berry, T. (1999) the Great Work, Our Way into the Future. New York: Bell Tower.
  • Berry, T. and Swimme, B. (1992) the Universe story, London: Harper Collins.
  • Blue Planet Prize Laureates  (2012)
    Joint Paper by the Blue Planet Prize Laureates to UNEP: Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act,  http://www.af-info.or.jp/en/bpplaureates/ (accessed 1st October 2014).
  • International Programme on the State of the Ocean (2013), TheStateoftheOcean2013:Perils,Prognosesand Proposals: http://www.stateoftheocean.org/pdfs/IPSO-Summary-Oct13-FINAL.pdf (accessed 1st October 2014).
  • Marshall, J. (1999) ‘Living Life as Inquiry,’ Systemic Practice and Action Research, 12 (2): 155-71.
  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (online) http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx (Accessed 1st  October 2014).
  • Korten, D. (2006) The Great Turning, From Empire to Earth as Community.  Bloomfield CT: Kumarian Press.
  • OCED Environmental Outlook to 2050: the consequences of inaction (2013), http://www.oecd.org/env/indicators-modelling-outlooks/oecdenvironmentaloutlookto2050theconsequencesofinaction.htm (accessed 1st October 2014).
  • Porritt, J. (2013) The world we made. Alex McKay’s Story. London: Phaildon.
  • Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (eds) (2006) ‘Introduction: Inquiry and participation in search of world worthy of human aspiration’ in Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (eds) 2006 Handbook of Action Research Concise (paperback edition), London: Sage. pp. 1-14.
  • Swimme, B. and Tucker M. (2011) Journey of the Universe, New Haven: Yale University Press.