It took several months to connect with Megan Hollingsworth of Extinction Witness for this interview, multiple calls to get through it, and then several months to finish writing it up. A long and winding road indeed. In short, I’ve taken entirely too long to complete this post and wanted to publicly thank Megan for her grace and patience in waiting for it to land. Fortunately, it seems the delays have been fortuitous as the organization is making great strides now, so it seems a good time to help get the word out.
In talking with Megan, I learned of her great desire to help people become aware of, and come to terms with, the impact we are having on our planet’s biodiversity. The Extinction Witness site endeavors to “help broaden the horizon of possibility for humanity by gathering, encouraging and promoting the creative response to genocide and species extermination of the Americas.” (A pretty great ikigai, if you ask me.) Running on the premise that the present mass extinction of species is driven by how we relate with ourselves and one another, Extinction Witness creates and curates regeneration projects to heal unrecognized and unresolved violations of individuals and whole cultures. The project serves in the realms of Spirit and human emotion, also known as energy. As Megan sees it, spiritual regeneration is a prerequisite for biological regeneration. As part of Extinction Witness’s goal to restore cultural and biological diversity to Earth, the project collaborates with on-the-ground regeneration projects to encourage and support practical action.
Well, I had been unemployed for eight months searching for jobs in a flooded market. I decided to take work experience off my resume and look at my true interests. That assessment led me back to my graduate study and the production of The Whale Memorial Dance, a multi-media performance piece that atones harms to whales and dolphins. Extinction Witness arose as I looked into building a website to promote The Whale Memorial Dance and found several species memorial projects in the works. Since undergrad, I have explored through observation and personal experience the human emotional and spiritual response to genocide and the present mass extinction, death at large. I came to a place of acceptance during my graduate study as I actively engaged in my own healing process. When I first started Extinction Witness, a dear friend asked how I maintain a gaze on such magnificent loss. I told her that I take breaks to dance. I do. I dance a lot every day. I also know that acceptance is what has liberated me to respond naturally to untold harms with the deepest sadness and sacred rage, which are equal to joy as expressions of love. The witness in Extinction Witness comes from my upbringing in Quaker faith and practice. Basically, Extinction Witness was birthed by my asking who am I? and what am I here for?, a process of imagining that continues to fulfill, excite and amaze me.
The website is a work in progress. We are currently raising funds for the build and will bring on The Change Creation team to design a stunning site. We are crafting and gathering site content now. Our first regeneration project, Virgin, is in the works as well. Like Extinction Witness on the whole, Virgin, a tribute to big trees and whole women, is very much inspired by my personal healing and passion for life. Virgin includes a short photo documentary film and a proposal to create a designated sacred site in the North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
I would love to see a burgeoning of memorials. There are myriad past and present losses to address and we are all sensitive to them. We will gladly share documentation of memorial gatherings and projects on the website with links to information on how to engage with groups dedicated to associated on-the-ground restoration projects. I also encourage participation in community grief ritual, which is what ultimately liberated me from chronic depression. Personal experiences of trauma and loss left unhealed complicate if not totally direct how we perceive the world. We all see through our own unique lens of experience and those of us who have been violated in any way, which is the overwhelming majority like 99.999% of humanity (that’s my estimate, you are welcome to prove me wrong), view life as if through a cloud. For some the cloud is almost black and life is imagined to be a very dark experience. The grief ritual inspired by Francis Weller’s genius that lifted me from despair was not directed at any particular loss, but an invitation to grieve with community as witness. Though I was at the time attending to genocide and mass extinction, my mother’s pain prompted my turn at the altar where I was able to offer a primal wail that felt like the unanswered cry of a newborn child. I was held in such a way that I managed to touch the absolute depth and rise again in celebration. I believe most have an unanswered cry within and holding it depletes us and thus the world of joy. Genocide and species extinction are but expressions of our learned mistrust of the world. I am not sure from what indigenous community this comes, but I recall reading in my studies a perception that a person causing harm to another “acts as if he knows no family”. This is precisely the experience we have inherited by way of how we are conceived and raised. We are ultimately asked to wonder what family is and to restore right relationship to the human child. For me, family is the whole world community of all beings. As I will gather with others in farewell to my mother and father when they pass, I will gather with anyone in gratitude for bees, wolves, bison, big trees, and whole ways of living. We are one family. Extinction Witness offers this gathering through the website and on the ground. Ultimately, I want us all to connect with ourselves so that the clouds of perception can be lifted and we can once again trust and revel in life as an extraordinarily creative experience. To get there, we have old wounds to heal.
I have only today watched a couple of the Ted X talks on de-extinction. When you first introduced me to this effort it seems a month or more ago now, my response was similar to yours. That is that this project misses the point. My own lens has been cleared since that time and I watched today with intrigue. What we need now are such miracles as the regeneration of whole species and peoples. If we stick with strict analysis of present statistics and project those out, we paint a desolate future. That stark landscape is born from a lack of human imagination, which is the seed-bed of creation now. I am a spiritual healer and teacher, not a geneticist. If anything, my role is to help ensure the peaceful co-existence necessary to complete this vision should geneticists succeed. Based on what I saw today, I trust the integrity of the people on this project and believe that, as with me and all of us, life is imagining its way through their genius. We are nature as much as the tree is nature. From this vantage point, life is complete and miraculous, and we are magic co-creators. Anything is possible so long as we believe.
Extinction Witness’s future is wide open. At present, I am focused on raising funds necessary to support the vision while gathering initial content and working on this first project dedicated to big trees and whole women. I have in mind memorials that will follow and am savoring every step of the creative flow.
Megan is leading a fund raiser to help continue to add content to the site and expand its reach. Please check out the short video below (http://player.vimeo.com/video/71931598) and please chip in if you can. They’re doing great work and could do even more with a little support.
Megan Elizabeth Hollingsworth, MS is a mother, artist and compassion activist. She is founder and director at Extinction Witness, a project of Empowerment WORKS, Inc. that creates and curates memorials for unrecognized losses of the Americas. Megan holds a BS in environmental health and MS in environmental studies with an emphasis on the human emotional and spiritual response to genocide and the present mass extinction of species.