Author and barrister Polly Higgins gave up a lucrative career in law to campaign on behalf of the Earth. In 2010 she presented her proposal to the United Nations to criminalise ecocide – causing serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, including climate or cultural damage as well as direct ecological damage.
Polly’s charity Earth Community Trust is Hoffman’s charitable partner in running the Hoffman Scholarship Fund. Here she explains why a fundraising meeting became the catalyst for her coming to the Process and how that’s now informing the legacy she wants to leave.
Earth Community Trust allows organisations like Hoffman to accept charitable donations – what inspired you set it up?
When I first received £50,000 funding from a wonderful individual who really believed in what I was doing advocating ecocide law, I had to either find a charity that would allow me to operate under their remit or set up my own. Not many charities operate as conduit charities, so after being unable to find one for me, I set up my own, explicitly to be a conduit charity for other individuals and organisations who are aligned with our values and purpose. It can be expensive and time consuming to set up a charity, so to be able to offer that to others who are doing great work in my field was a way of gifting it forward. As I am someone who operates in the gift economy, I was very keen to reciprocate in some form.
Can you explain a little more about the gift economy? How does that differ from the concept of donation?
The gift economy is gifting without attachment, freely from the heart. I call it ‘heart-to-heart funding’. I’m consciously calling in funds that come from a place of deep care and altruism, something that the word ‘donate’ seems to have lost over time. For me, it’s also about passing it forward, gifting something into the future, so that others can also benefit. Gifting back into a system (in the case of Hoffman, the Process) means that others coming up behind you who don’t have enough funds can also benefit.
You hadn’t done a lot of therapy before you did the Process, so what made you decide to spend seven days on such an intense course?
I didn’t know it then but I had reached a critical moment in my life. I felt very unsupported in my work (a pattern!) I had set up a charity and couldn’t get funding – I was burned out. At a meeting, I crashed in a big way (self-sabotage – another pattern!) and a friend of mine took me for a drink and gently mentioned the Hoffman Process. This was my turning point. It was like a feather in the air, I caught it, and decided to fly with it. After looking at the website that night, I got back to my friend and said, ‘I want to do this.’ What he did next changed my life. He funded me to take the course; that was an incredible gift.
What attracted me to Hoffman was the participatory and experiential nature of the course; it’s not just a matter of sitting and talking. I liked the fact that it would be very interactive, physical and I’d learn tools to take away.
What did you get from the Process personally?
It helped me to face what I call my own ‘inner ecocides’ (those patterns of serious harm that were preventing me from participating in my life). This was profound for me. At first I really did not want to be there – I remember thinking, ‘I have nothing in common with anyone here.’ But of course, by the end of the week, we were all bonded by our commonalities. Remarkably, I felt I’d become more humane and capable of loving others. That was an incredible insight to me – letting go of my own baggage literally freed me up to enjoy the greatness of others around me.
It’s a commitment, undertaking the Hoffman Process, and it’s a commitment to ourselves to gift time for our own self-development. That takes courage, and I’m proud to have done it. My teacher was incredibly insightful; he showed me a mirror into my soul. I realised I’d felt unsupported since I was a child, and that was affecting my ability to achieve what I wanted. On the Process, thanks to the work we did, I completely shifted how I saw myself and my world. It provided me with some amazing tools to embrace and release my shadows and gave me great takeaways. I still use some of the visualisations and other techniques that I learned on the course to this day. Plus it sharpened my vision of what I wanted to do with my life and the legacy I wanted to create. My creativity started to flow.
Hoffman is all about helping people to stop passing unhealthy patterns down generations. Do you think this can include patterns of how we treat our environment?
Absolutely. For me, the two are intimately intertwined. If we harm ourselves, we harm the world around us; not just our friends and family, but our Earth community too. There is a direct correlation between self-harm and environmental harm. By that I mean if we learn how to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness and we value ourselves, we also comprehend the intrinsic value of our non-human world. That has knock-on consequences; it becomes unconscionable to destroy it, so we consciously shift from destructive behaviour to constructive and protective action. That has huge implications for future generations.
How do you see Hoffman helping people to live more holistically?
I was very struck when I heard that Bob Hoffman’s vision was to spread peace in the world, one person at a time. I really got that – when we seek inner peace it becomes untenable to go to war, internally and externally, personally and globally. With each one of us that takes up the challenge, like drops in an ocean, the tide can change. It’s also about conscious relationships – how we interact with each other. Hoffman Process basically strapped me into a flying jet, showed me how to use it and set the course!
Ultimately I‘ve become far more conscious of my own behaviour and my impact on myself and others. That has shaped my work as a lawyer advocating for a law to protect the Earth and how I present it. And it continues to inform me. This is a lifelong process.
We all leave our mark on this Earth and we all have an effect. So, once we embrace that, how we choose to live our lives becomes a conscious decision. Once I’d experienced that, and started to take responsibility for my baggage, it became much harder to blame others (another pattern!), because I could see the part I played in my own life and in that of my community. My experience of Hoffman enabled me to take responsibility and to see the bigger picture of my life and the legacy I choose to leave. It opened me up to becoming a full-time participant in my world.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering the Process?
It’s advice that was given to me: it’s not about feeling better, it’s about getting better at feeling.
Since Polly’s death in 2019, the ECT also supports the continuation of her life’s work towards a future for Earth and all its inhabitants based on a principle of “first do no harm” – this is our Earth Protector work.
Polly is the author of the award-winning book Eradicating Ecocide and was a lawyer, visionary and pioneer. She was Scottish-born and loved whisky – organic of course… As a Hoffman graduate, she was a true advocate for people care and Earth care!
To read more about Polly Higgins visit her website at: http://pollyhiggins.com. To read about her charity Earth Community Trust and their collaboration with Hoffman, visit: http://www.earthcommunitytrust.org/voices-and-partners/hoffman-institute/