EcoCarols: Addressing the Curse of Limited Brain Use

ann palmerAnn Palmer

Writer, creative writing teacher, and deep ecologist.

e-mail:  [email protected]




Abstract: The alignment of a project with nature’s own growth-process is familiar to many. To highlight it shows it in action and brings to the fore this author’s way of seeing and interpreting processes. First big influence on a child – father’s advice. To join up statements that resonate with us by people who are thinking leaders is a way to grow a personal coherent world view. This is headed up and kept on track by the Diversity-in-Unity model given by nature’s patterns and the growth processes on Earth. The objective of this article is to show where EcoCarols fit into current culture. To give a worked example of how to write EcoCarols as a template for teaching young people to write their own. The purpose is to give EcoCarols credibility in wide contexts. The methodology is focused in the amassing of statements from diverse leading figures and joining them up to reach a holistic synthesis. By investigating, questioning, reinventing, and synthesising, it is designed the story-structure with twists and turns that closely mimics tree or plant growth. In conclusion, EcoCarols contribute to a coherent worldview, via much loved traditional music of just one of the several leading religions operative and practised in the world today.

Key Words: EcoCarols, Earthcentrism, Anthropocentrism, Diversity-in-Unity model, Ecologise, Seed, Root, Germinate, Grow.


A bedrock of understanding

Make your weakness your strength,’ my father said. The advice hovered between us, like an indecisive bird. Surely a young person builds on their strengths? Yet, twice in my life, I’ve found myself working with two weaknesses I can do little to remedy.

   For I am colour blind and can’t draw, yet wrote a book on Writing and Imagery as the fast-track to creativity. I can’t sing either, yet wrote ecological lyrics to our much-loved well-known Christmas carols. These I call EcoCarols.

   ‘Science is slowly catching up with reality,‘ a health professional told me. This translates as so much that is intuited, innate human knowledge, pooh-poohed by science until science ‘discovers’ it (like the existence of telepathy), it’s forced to live in the shadowland of people’s minds.

   My postgraduate work led me to the understanding we are all partial, biased and prejudiced. With no pejorative meaning attached whatsoever. It is just a simple fact of life when information-overload is the general situation. But there is another more insidious factor at work here. People simply don’t have time or space – the inner reflective space – to connect it all up. American pioneer stem cell biologist and researcher Bruce Lipton amusingly refers to this phenomenon as ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’.

   Of course, we can join it all up too early. We see this happening with some of the funny things young children say, when they make wrong connections about the world. Like a pupil of mine did. As headteacher of an Orkney island school of eight pupils, I was given a pony for the children to ride. One night, as he rode Merrylegs towards his grandmother’s home, the Manse, the Aurora Borealis was putting on the best display I have ever seen, complete with sound effects. Contemplating the show, Laurence asked me ‘Teacher. Is the Northern Lights God having a Dance in the Sky?’

   Something deep inside warned me not to negate this for Laurence was a nature-loving child with what can only be described as a natural spirituality. So I replied: ‘I don’t know, Laurence. But it is a lovely idea.’

   Laurence’s question stayed with me. Last year it resulted in the EcoCarol Northern Lights. It’s a remake of the Christmas carol, Silent Night and was the first EcoCarol I wrote. It can take decades for these things to work through.

   ‘Nature is a hundred times more complex than originally believed,‘ stated biologist and t.v. presenter George McGavin. Now had he said ‘twice as complicated‘ that would have been mind-boggling. Ten times as complicated and it’s gone stratospheric. Where a hundred times takes us probably embraces the whole universe. It points that way.

   ‘We are nature. We are part of nature,‘ says Resurgence & Ecologist’s editor, Satish Kumar.

   It is well known that our brains filter reality to us, so we become selective seers, selective hunters and gatherers of information, experience. Otherwise our brains would be overloaded. We have no choice in the matter.

   But I believe we now have enough knowledge to directly address the issue of the curse of limited brain-use. Turn it around so that new information instantly finds its nesting point within our minds, courtesy of neural networks we continually grow throughout our lives. Evidence streams at us from so many directions. Once any specialised field finds its point of interconnection within the vision of wholeness, that overarch Diversity-in-Unity pattern, nature’s holding pattern, comes on scene. When logic gives way to patterns as the great informer, we move into a brain-use that is right-brain led rather than left brain led. When adding-up leads to exponential knowledge growth, we are all winners. (That’s a reworking of the old expression ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.)

   Yet subject-bound thinking is likely to put this knowledge into discrete boxes for eons yet, unless we re-see all forms of categorisations and classifications as simply our coping strategy as human beings living in a complex world. Everything is interconnected and at a far deeper more meaningful level than anyone has yet envisioned. This is the conclusion reached when you join up the McGavin-Kumar statements.

   A really useful question is how many discrete statements are needed for the joined-up perspective to be instantly available? We all hear, see and experience things that resonate for us. With energy healing, morphic resonance, and repatterning working together in the magnetics of sound and light, becoming intellectually respectable, acceptable, it is yet more evidence for the fact that the birthing of new words and concepts points the direction towards a knowledge-peak. A coming-together, consciousness heightening. It is now in sight, whatever the first direction of approach; scientific, holistic, environmental, spiritual.

   By putting together these seminal statements by the big influencers in our lives; parents, teachers, chosen gurus, we self-create a worldview of wholeness. As opposed to the fragmented one offered by cultures so deeply rooted into left-brain duality they completely miss the right-brain Diversity-in-Unity model given gratis to us by nature.

The seeding of EcoCarols

On a Nature Writing course I taught in the fall, I spontaneously sang an EcoCarol to the students. I began by asking which was their favourite Christmas carol. Michelle said ‘The Holly and the Ivy’. My reinvention is ‘The Mountain and the Ocean‘. Before I finished singing this EcoCarol, Michelle was nearly in tears. This is the power of connecting directly with nature, with no intermediaries, just a felt response to the wonder of nature.

   The academic world has boxed Wordsworth, Keats, Byron and Shelley as ‘romantic poets‘, which tends to minimise them in the public eye. I prefer their designation to be ‘reverential poets‘. It seems a more accurate description. From my way of seeing this recontextualising pointed the way forward. Romance is more applicable to what happens between two people than what happens between an individual consciousness and the cosmos.

   I realise these are fine distinctions, but if true they can alter our way of seeing. A lightbulb moment for me was when I came across the word ‘anthropocentrism’ as a descriptor of our age’s relationship with the Earth; its top-dog attitude. To me it was logical to invent the word ‘earthcentrism’ as a far more realistic descriptor of our actual status within the ecosystem of Planet Earth.

   Then the natural development fell into place. I asked myself what it was all religions, all-time, shared. What was the commonality? I was on the hunt for the glue, aruldite strong, with the potential to bind them together into a oneness, so each one could be seen as reflecting the overarch Diversity-in-Unity pattern of nature. Reverence is the answer that works for me. Reverence, and again this is a personal interpretation arising from the associative level, stands as a big uprate on respect. Respect plus love and a few other positive emotions like humility, compassion and awe brings our minds into a reverential state, touching the sacred within ourselves.

   Research for my book ‘Writing and Imagery: how to deepen creativity and improve your writing‘ published by Aber Publishing in 2010 confirmed all my earlier beliefs about the importance of right brain leadership if we are ever to see wholes, oneness, syntheses, patterns, interconnectivity as thinking-leaders across all contexts. With 80% of the western world having a left-brain bias, this is a tough call. Even erudite books that go viral, like Iain McGilchrist’s ‘The Master and His Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’ published in 2012 by Yale University Press has not the capability to change global brain hemisphere leadership. If we want to see differently, this is one job we have to do for ourselves.


Rooting: Seven Cultural Frameworks for EcoCarols 

This overview is essential to give the multi-perspectives. It is derived from the native Amerindian way of seeing and coming at issues; from the north, south, west, east, above, below and centred. The more we context-jump, the greater the integration, synthesis and coherence of the worldview accessed.

Sacrilegious. This reaction stems from the likely effect of EcoCarols… It turns an inner world upside down. A similar paradigm-shift must have happened for the first geologist discovering marine deposits on high mountain tops. Nature always offer a metaphor to underwrite life-experience.

In a secular society, irrelevant. This reaction is sourced at the point in time when a personal decision was made. The whole religious/spiritual matrix was discounted once and for all. Peeping under this for a moment, we will discover likely influences; parental belief, peer group pressure, a failure of the first religion encountered to satisfy the intellectual mind.

   Taken together these two embrace the extremes. The opposite sides of the same coin, coming, as they do, from a deeply spiritual and a deeply scientific mindset. This is developmental in that it may lead us to question whether being stripped of its spiritual nature is good for the evolution of humanity. It is outside the remit of this piece to consider the metaphorical gods that stand in today for the gods of old. Commercialism and money are high on that list; they are mentioned often enough in casual conversation.

Complementary Spirituality. Akin to Complementary Therapy, Complementary Spirituality is the attempt to try and fit into a culture that is tweaked-at-source towards the narrowing of the anthropocentric perspective and the dominance of the scientific method in western medical culture. Complementary Spirituality is a kindly, gentle box for EcoCarols to sit in; non-confrontational, optional, borrowing from ancient eastern traditions in its attempts to become generally accepted and acceptable. As the healing cultures move towards energy-healing and quantum perspectives, the really real basis of life comes into view.

The energy/spirit conflation. This is the place when science and spirituality meet. In many contexts, the two words are already interchangeable. The spirit of a movement, dance, project refers to the energy embedded within it. This energy/spirit is invisible, but palpable, felt at a sense-based level.

As a reintroduction of Christianity to our modern age, addressing the ecological and global perspective. For Green Christianity, EcoCarols come on board.

To clarify the picture, I favour Point 4. It feels right to me, in terms of the direction we are moving in collectively. Equally, I recognise Point 3 offers a way to forward EcoCarols within a cultural context.

The mind/body/spirit approach. This is the place where having an inner spirituality – regardless of its religious categorisation – is seen as a good thing per se. It encourages people to align more strongly with the meaningful in their lives; it gives depth, and richer perspectives. An eastern-based philosophy using meditation and yoga has been part of western culture since the pop-group the Beatles gave it a big push.

The Vision of Oneness. For the increasing number of people subscribing to a vision of Oneness – the Earth’s physical actuality – the reinvention of an earth-based spirituality may hit the nirvana note. Possibly it is only people with this mindset who will grasp the embedded unifying potential.

   To ecologise is to reinvent an earth-based spirituality to serve the needs of the present zeitgeist. It brings our species of homo sapiens full circle.

   Ghandi’s ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ is a recommendation I endorse, but there are hurdles to negotiate.

   The supremacy of scientific language in western culture means we do not resource to nature automatically and habitually as our prime and primal teacher. Or defer to its fractal patterning as the deep informer of life processes. To take models from nature as instructive concerning how life works is not taught today, though it once formed the bedrock of understanding in all indigenous cultures. We recognise our species homo sapiens as part of the ecosystem and therefore subject to Nature’s Lore but the full interconnection remains off-limits. The new science of biomimics is a step towards using ‘nature as teacher’ in a modern context. Indigenous people have always been well-versed in the art of reading an environment interactively, both physically and spiritually. We have reached the point, educationally, where the natural has to be taught; the virtual being home-base to the 21st century mind.

Germinating EcoCarols

   An EcoCarol or EcoHymn uses the tune of the original carol or hymn, combined with ecological words. An EcoSong takes a favourite or famous song and, likewise, gives it a new and ecological theme and subject matter. Recently, BBC television presenter Michaela Strachan danced and sang a remake of Grease as Geese to celebrate the autumn migration.

   To adopt a creative approach to the reinvention of writing of an EcoCarol requires right brain leadership. That is, using as many of the functions of the brain’s right hemisphere as possible in the process and preparatory stages. Functionality is not subject-bound, so the creative process is led by the functions the right hemisphere does best. The greater weight and myelination of the right brain, its general ability as a superior processor is well attested by biologist Bruce Lipton who compares the left brain to a 40 bit processor as against the right brain’s 40 million bit processor.

   Such claims need explanation. The linearity of left hemisphere processing means it can only handle one thing at a time, and communicates through words and language. The simultaneous functioning of the right hemisphere accesses big pictures and syntheses and communicates through pictures and images. The right hemisphere is also closer to the limbic brain, responsible for emotions and feeling tones.

   Sir Ken Robinson, awarded his knighthood for services to U.K. education and the most watched speaker on TED talks with 21.5 million viewers, states that, for the future, creativity will be more important than literacy. My own book ‘Writing and Imagery: how to deepen creativity and improve your writing’ published by Aber in 2011, and as an ebook in 2013, looks at the relationship between brain-use and the teaching of Creative Writing. It isolates twenty one functionality differences between the two hemispheres which highlight the need for the greatest possible right brain input into any creative project. The full circle on this way of thinking is derived from indigenous peoples, who sang, drew, danced and generally played with any problem they encountered. This right hemisphere led approach resulted in highly inventive solutions.

   This thinking underpins the following 3-stage preparatory process to writing an EcoCarol.

   The example used here is ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ and the ecological remake is ‘Trees of Earth’. The structure, rhythms and beat of this particular carol single it out as one that could be used across a broad spectrum of nature-based themes which have a single syllable such as birds, roots, rocks, seas, growth, ants, bees, plants. ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ is a carol well suited to the listing technique, with an inclusive, global underpinning which is the ecological imperative. It could be used to any song-tune a child or student enjoys, resonates with or simply loves. Choice of song by a student or child may come down to ‘what goes around your head’ when cycling, walking or running, a time when the mind is free of focused concerns.

Growing EcoCarols

Stage 1 – mindmaps

Originally the brainchild of Tony Buzan in the 1990’s, mindmaps acquired the status of an educational breakthrough. This is because children find it easier to free associate on a central idea than they do to make lists. Seen from a perspective interested in right hemisphere led brain functioning, it is the pattern and design qualities inherent and embedded in the mindmap that make it an easy, attractive and flexible tool for quickly producing and organising a lot of divergent material. The ‘field’ of thought accessed is automatically larger because the central idea written bold in the middle of the page or flip-chart is repeatedly returned to, inviting a fresh association along another of its spider-like arms. Mindmaps give a visual pattern, whereas lists are linear and sequential, the operating mode of the left brain.

   The Class Mindmap is a reliable tool to provide an overview of the feelings and ideas present in a group of students. Teacher-led, with all asked to contribute, it quickly produces a lot of material. I wait until the class run out of ideas, and then add my own, which usually starts another round of suggestions. The mindmap can be of favourite tunes, what the children want to say about the Earth, their relationship to nature, and/or related to other green projects going on in school.

Stage 2 – The Art-word meld

The importance of this stage is the development of image-speak, a term I use extensively in my book ‘Writing and Imagery: How to Deepen Creativity and Improve Your Writing’. A variety of approaches to this artwork is not only possible but highly desirable, as it encourages individuality of expression. The freestyle drawing or painting is, in some way, a representation of the EcoCarol or EcoSong the student wants to write. The options are to write about the artwork’s meaning in an ecological context afterwards, or incorporate words into the drawing as the artwork proceeds. I find it developmental to draw with my left hand and write with my right hand, at the whim of spontaneous impulse. This is an ambidextrous exercise that allows both sides of the brain to alternate leadership throughout, until the drawing is finished. If the unusualness of this procedure inhibits experimentation, the best antidote is to recollect what is happening at the brain level. That is, right hemisphere image leading, left hemisphere interpreting. In the opinion of Iain McGilchrist, in his erudite book ‘The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’, it is in allowing the right hemisphere to lead and the left hemisphere to interpret, that we have the greatest opportunity to evolve as a species. At this point, the connection with Sir Ken Robinson’s belief in the necessity of prioritising creativity in future education is once more in the frame.

Stage 3 – improvisation

If the words and tune of a song are closely associated, it requires effort and determination to not revert to singing the original words. Have students hum the tune over and over again, or even sing gobbledegook! It functions as a preparation to inviting the singing of spontaneous words, phrases or sentences related to the EcoCarol’s theme or subject matter. In a classroom situation, to choose a single carol, and give groups just one verse of the proposed EcoCarol to work on may prove the do-able option.

   Musical ability is not a specific requirement. I myself am slightly tone-deaf and cannot always hold a tune. Even if you are unable to read music, it’s useful to have the printed music available in order to see where words are held for two notes, and to trace the rise and fall of the tune. The original words assist in giving a template for a sound-alike pattern. This helps to make the new words a good fit.

   At any point in this three stage preparation to write an EcoCarol, a word, phrase or line may pop into the mind as being just right, or very nearly right. It should be noted down and treasured! The nature of creativity is newness and chaos, sourced in the right hemisphere’s natural divergent random functioning. The only prescriptive advice worth following is to ‘trust the process’. The bottom line is to re-engage with a mindset that knows there are probably hundreds of ways to develop any one idea. Furthermore, any one idea is capable of infinite development.




Trees of Earth                                                       Words and tune to ‘We Three Kings’

                                                                                   by John Henry Hopkins

Trees of Earth, we honour your part                         We three kings of Orient are,

Healthy planet, life-giving art.                                 Bearing gifts we traverse afar.

Pear and pine tree, gum and plum tree                     Field and fountain, moor and mountain,

Seeds are your chosen start.                                     Following yonder star.

O, Trees of Wonder, Trees of Earth                           O star of wonder, star of night,

Hosting homes for life’s new birth.                           Star with royal beauty bright,

Ace at sharing, air-repairing                                      Westward leading, still proceeding,

Trees have stratospheric worth.                                 Guide us to they perfect light.


Elm, ash, oak, birch, willow and plane                     Born a king on Bethlehem plain,

We praise your lovely forms again                           Gold I bring to crown him again,

Lemon, banyan, rowan, aspen,                                   King forever, ceasing never

Lovers of sun and rain.                                               Over us all to reign:

O, Trees of Wonder, Trees of Earth                             O star of wonder, etc.                                      

Hosting homes for life’s new birth.

Ace at sharing, air-repairing

Trees have stratospheric worth.


Copse or wood, rainforest and grove,                        Frankincense to offer have I,

Root to crown, in sap-rising grows.                           Incense owns a deity nigh,

Shading, shelt’ring, filtr’ing, cooling,                         Prayer and praising, all men raising,

Trees are a treasure-trove.                                           Worship him, God most high:

O Trees of Wonder, Trees of Earth,                             O star of wonder, etc.

Hosting homes for life’s new birth.

Ace at sharing, air-repairing,

Trees have stratospheric worth.


Arms and limbs, your branches long,                         Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume

Filled with movement and birdsong,                           Breathes a life of gathering gloom;

Budding, greening, rustling, breathing,                       Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,

Beauty in every one.                                                   Sealed in the stone-cold tomb:

O Leaves of Wonder, Leaves of Earth,                       O star of wonder, etc.

Hosting homes for life’s new birth

Ace at sharing, air-repairing,

Leaves have stratospheric worth.


Sacred trees, you give us the wood                             Glorious now behold him arise,

fashioned into millions of goods.                               King and God and sacrifice,

Tables, gables, books of fables,                                   Alleluia, alleluia,

Leaves are your clothes and food.                               Earth to the heav’ns replies:

O, Leaves of Wonder, Trees of Earth,                         O star of wonder, etc.

Hosting homes for life’s new birth.

Ace at sharing, air-repairing,

Trees have stratospheric worth


   A consideration of the whole of the original carol gives more developmental options for an EcoCarol, and also it may highlight directions unhelpful. Before beginning this project I did two things which, in hindsight, proved invaluable throughout the process. Firstly, I wrote down the feeling-tone words I associated with each individual carol, giving its special character. This aspect guided the treatment of the eventual EcoCarol. Secondly, I made a list of ten qualities I wanted an EcoCarol to have. These two little exercises set the scene, as it were. Even to me, their author, they felt like a stretch into something as yet unknown. But they give big frameworks, before starting work on the detail. Additionally, for ‘Trees of Earth’, research into the variety of trees, globally, was necessary to give me the rhyming pattern so distinctive in this carol.

Eco-Carol Guidelines...

Close to original with occasional word-borrows from it as a ‘nod’ to its source – though not in expected contexts. Enhancing in intent.

Words working hard – each individual word.

Youth-appealing. Fun if possible, or thoughtful. Good connections made so a coherent worldview emerges.

Totally relevant and real. Says it as it is but condensed. So the reality-match is closer than in the original carols.

Positive, empowering.

Focuses up our relationship with Earth.

Journey-story if applicable. Incorporating some element of story.

Retains something of the original emotion/mood of the original carol – whether loving, celebratory, unifying, joyful, reverential, exultant, jubilant, compassionate, caring, energy-raising, inspiring, full of awe, grandeur, simple innocent wonder or gratitude. Or combinations the original carol draws up.

Without inflation, it needs words ‘better than’ the original ones, in the sense of being more relevant to our interconnected world.

The EcoCarol must speak to something within the eco-psychological matrix. That is, nature’s healing/wholing ability.

This exercise allowed me to focus up the qualities I felt were essential and defined an EcoCarol’s parameters within holistic frameworks. The next phase concerns the changeover to adopting the full pattern of the original carol, much as does the poet when writing a sonnet or adopting any other formalised structure.

   Obviously, the major criteria is: ‘does it sing well?’ With a class of younger children, this may be as far as it need go. However, with older children, this project has potential as being an introduction to teaching a more formal poetry-like structure. To break down this process, the first stage is to see how the original words fit the music, because that is what needs emulating. Many carols are quite simple, with only the obvious end-word held over for another note. But others, like O come, Emmanuel, have an unusual word-tune marriage, which gives that particular carol its haunting quality.

   A rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus are essential to open up further word options. Neither resource may provide the right word though. Nevertheless both rhyming dictionary and thesaurus expand the range of possibilities, and that too is very necessary to keep a sense of forward momentum in this process.

   The four major determinants are: the rhythm, the rhyming pattern, borrows from the original carol, and the willingness to use partial rhymes to give meaning supremacy in situations where there is a dearth of sound-alike words. This requires a certain flexibility of thought. Far greater, though, is the need for a delight and passion in this activity, so the task becomes a high energy one. The creative guru’s guide is ‘to wrestle with the process’. I’ve also heard creative writing described as ‘wading through treacle‘ which is certainly the tastier simile! Creativity and imaginative work still has an aura of mystique about it. Re-seen as the divergent, random, intuitive, subjective individuality of right brain functioning, it is explainable at the level of neural networking.

The original meaning of the word ‘educare’ is to ‘draw out’. Here, as with dreamwork and spontaneous artwork, the word ‘educare’ comes into its own and does just that. EcoSongs invite students to interpret their own symbology, discover more meanings than they were previously aware of, reveal to themselves their own innate inner wisdom and sing about it.

   EcoCarol writing can be seen three ways. As an interesting Creative Writing exercise, based on reinvention. It’s also a dynamic and interactive introduction to open up the subject of formal poetry. However, its major contribution is to invite children to invent their own EarthSongs – ones they may remember all their lives. A full explanation of the different methods used in the composition of each of the15 EcoCarols forms the core of the ebook ‘Mindful Songs at Christmas’ by Gaia Dance.

   For me, and I suspect for many others, this activity acts as a deep self-healing process, taking on and working with the reverential driving all those human expressions of love, joy, awe, respect, passion, compassion, honouring,devotion, wonder, gratitude, thankfulness, celebration, courage, commitment – the full range of positive emotions. In directing them towards the Earth and the future of our own species on this planet we offer children a joined-up, integrated and coherent world view.



Writing and Imagery: How to Deepen Creativity and Improve Your Writing – A.J.Palmer – Aber Publishing – Paperback – October 2010

Second edition titled Writing and Imagery: How to avoid Writers Block – Aber Publishing – Amazon for Kindle – April 2013

Seven Ways to view Earthcentrism – Article in Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine Issue 274 – Ann Palmer – September/October 2012 ( – elements-of-existence.html)

Eco:Everyone’s Common Origin – Gaia Dance – Amazon for Kindle – February 2013

EarthBonding: The Matter of the Planet and You – Gaia Dance – Amazon for Kindle – July 2013

Earthcentrism: 100 Questions, 1,000 Answers – Gaia Dance – Amazon for Kindle -September 2015

Complementary Spirituality and EcoCarols – Gaia Dance – Amazon for Kindle October 2015

Mindful Songs at Christmas – Gaia Dance – Amazon for Kindle October 2015

This article was published on 5th December 2015, for the International VolunteerDay at Global Education Magazine.

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