Friday, 13 December 2019

Winter Solstice - a Wondering on Novelty

Winter's world is whirling past and it's nearly the Solstice - that wonderful bi-annual moment when the worlds of dark and light catch their breath, pause a moment in the dance before the balance shifts and the retreating light becomes the returning light, the returning dark becomes the retreating dark. 
The sun herself seems to stand still, rising and setting in the same place on three consecutive days. Sol - the sun. Stice - standing still.

It is no wonder that upon the very day that the northern curve of our tumbling Earth feels the increasing arc of the warming sun upon her, our calendar brings us the moment we chose to celebrate the birth of the child that many see as 'the light'.

But I've been wondering lately - why is it that we (as a culture) celebrate this birthday with such a lot of 'stuff'? And why do we still buy a lot of stuff even if we're not celebrating a birthday? Or even celebrating anything.

I've carried this question around for a while now and come up with a theory, I'd love to know what you think. I believe we're addicted to novelty: We buy a new thing and then it's not new any more and so maybe we throw it away or maybe we keep it but still we want another. And another. And another.
I believe the constant desire for novelty is hardwired into us as part of our animal bodies.

Because novelty is what the sensuous, sentient, ever turning, changing world is always offering us. No two days are the same, the berries are not the same today as they were yesterday. The moon waxes and wanes, the seasons change, things grow and blossom and bloom and fruit and die. They compost, they are born again, or their descendants are - our world is transformed constantly around us. Newness is an unavoidable condition of aliveness. You cannot - as they say - step in the same river twice.
Unless of course you are completely separated from nature and stuck inside all day. Your wall does not change. Your view, quite literally, does not change.

If we went outside more, if we started to deliberately observe the ways in which each new day brings us newness - even in a city, even on the way to work - perhaps shopping would loose it's attraction?  Perhaps we could stop filling the world with plastic and fumes, cutting down forests and polluting rivers. Perhaps we would no longer believe that the convenience of 'the internet of things' is worth the lives of the majority of our pollinators?

Please, let's go outside and find out. The Anthropocene might just as well be labelled the Consumerpocene, because it's our shopping habit that's one of the main stays in keeping the 21st century version of capitalism alive - and that only seems to be good for a very few.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Samhain and The Many Necessary Deaths

The wheel of the year turns, what was up is now down. The apples and many of the leaves are fallen, every kind of seed is lying on the ground, it's cold, and there's that ever flowing wet. If  you don't live in the gentle green of the British Isles this might sound like a very unappealing thing, but it's gorgeous, my favourite time of year. Even in the pouring rain there is something utterly magical about the slow unleaving of the land, how the skeletal shapes of granite and branch emerge from the yellows and golds of once photosynthesised light. There is so much elegance in this slow death dance.

Samhain is for remembering the dead. It's the time of the year when the veil between this world and the other is thin; so thin we can perhaps see through it, so thin our ancestors can perhaps return to us, just for the night, just for a short chat. As ever the Western Mind has made this time of year, this celebration of death and the dead, all about itself. We have forgotten that there is so much more to life than that which is human. We have forgotten to remember All the dead, and we seem to have completely forgotten that death is the prerequisite for life - in the ever turning cycle of being.

How exquisite and excruciating would it be if we remembered all the dead, not just the heartbreaking ones - all those species we have brought to extinction - but also all those previously living beings who have nourished us in a myriad of different ways, upon whose lives our own depend. Imagine if we acknowledged the life-death-life cycle as one in which we will all play a part, instead of hiding our eyes in phones and quietly expecting immortality or perhaps eternal youth. What if we could join in the morning songs of the blackbird as she sings her gratitude to another new day... Instead of sticking our figurative fingers into our already plugged ears in order not to hear the keening of Life itself as we saunter along without so much as a thank you. At this time when the veil is thin, we have the opportunity to offer both our grief and our gratitude for the gift of our life, and to change the story, mend the weave, paint a new picture for the coming year.

Only following death can there be rebirth - and for me that's the very necessary work of the season; to allow what needs to die within me its death. And then in the darkness between Samhain and Imbolc to gestate all those beautiful seeds of what I hope will grow. It is no coincidence that this is a fire festival; fire is our oldest ally in this work of death, clearing away, burning away that which is no longer alive. The fires of purification may be painful, but they are vital, and if we forget to undergo them then we will accidentally carry what's dead into this gestation and it will pollute what we bring to birth.

We mostly live within a myth of separation, believing ourselves to be separate from the sacred body of the earth, from the rest of nature, separate from the other creatures, separate from each other, even separate from our own bodies. The cult of the mind has us firmly in it's grasp and we are terrified by the magnitude of the grief we might experience if we re-connect. We fill the emptiness that we feel from that loss of connection with the 'stuff' our consumer society tells us will make us happy, or if not happy then at least successful, which by its measure means yet more stuff. And so the wheel of acquisition goes round. We buy a shiny thing, we throw it out, we buy another - the cycle is unavoidably present everywhere we look. What used to be a pattern of harvest has become a pattern of purchase, but we're no longer making wonderful regenerative compost within which to grow next year's seeds, we're creating land-fill.

There is a Zen saying (I believe) that says "all sickness is homesickness". This makes perfect sense to me. If we could come home to ourselves, to our relationships, remember that our bodies are made of the same thing as the whole of the rest of creation, come home to our place on our Earth, among the family of creature relations (human and otherwise), come home to Earth herself - to remember reciprocity, to remember our manners. How beautiful the world is when we remember reciprocity, gratitude, remember that life is a gift and nothing can be taken for granted.

In the dark dreaming of this time betwix and between, at the dying of the old year, before the birthing of the new, we have the opportunity to go through the fire, let go of all our illusions of separation, re-member ourselves. It may hurt, but it's healing pain, being re-woven into Life.

Perhaps we can make ourselves a basket, to fill with new seeds, new dreams for a new/old way of being human. New stories for a re-vivified life, which can only come from the death of the way we are now.

Perhaps the 'things' we aspire to could be those of which Rilke writes so poignantly -

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing -
each stone, blossom, child -
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's' intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Rainer Maria Rilke  - Book of Hours 11, 16

Monday, 23 September 2019

Equinox Balance

Today is the Autumn Equinox.  The word Equinox - as I'm sure you've heard before - comes from aequus, the Latin word for "equal", and nox, the Latin word for "night". All over the world day and night are of equal length. Perfect balance.

Today, walking in the wet and misty morning song of this equinox morning, it seems to me that balance is the thing we need to attend to more than almost anything else.

We live in a society that's so wildly out of balance it's keeling over. We almost all know it now, even those with their heads deeply buried in their own comfort and convenience are being delivered the unwelcome news via mainstream media which at long last is starting to speak about 'climate emergency', 'mass extinction' and 'global heating'. 

To me, the major source of our imbalance can be boiled down to our ignoring of the notion of 'The Honourable Harvest' - this is most eloquently expressed by the Native American elder, scientist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer. She calls the Honourable Harvest "a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the living world. A very sophisticated ethical protocol." It's the way I was taught to forage and it's a way of seeing the world, that were we to adopt it as a universal truth, would completely change the way we lived our lives. 

"One of the firs steps of the honourable harvest is to understand that the lives that we are taking are the lives of generous beings, of sovereign beings. And in order to accept their gift we owe them at least our attention. To care for them we must know what they need, and at the very minimum we should know their names. And yet the average American can name over 100 corporate logos and ten plants." I'm reasonably confident your average Brit could do a little better, but how many of us really know the names of our more-than-human neighbours?  How many of us address the plant before we harvest it, asking permission and listening until that permission is given, not taking if permission is not given, speaking with the Spirit of that plant about our gratitude and acknowledging our responsibility in the cycle of life? Not many.

I'm fully aware that not everyone has the privilege of being able to go foraging, to collect food directly from source. But everything we have is part of Earth's generous giving, whether we picked it from a hedgerow or bought it in a shop. Life supports life, life feeds life, and Life is not a 'product' to be momentarily fashionable and then thrown away. No part of it should be. In the democracy of species that is the world wide web of life everyone is equal, not in stature or strength for sure, but in their importance to the interwoven, interdependent whole. We all have our part to play. Most of life is doing the best it can, but in the West humans are careering out of control in a centuries long frenzy of over-consumption, with no respect for the needs of anyone else. Imagine if we refused to buy those things that had not been honourably harvested. I suspect the choice would be pretty limited on a supermarket's shelves... but what if we didn't shop in supermarkets? What if we found local producers, local growers, makers, bakers...

Implicit in the honourable harvest - and the first rule of foraging - is the instruction to never take the first plant you see. This means that you will never be accidentally taking the last one, leaving nothing to make seeds for next year. And making sure that you only ever take a small percentage of what is there, so that others - human and non-human, may have a share in the harvest too.

These ancient instructions tell us to harvest in a way that does no damage to the plant and use to everything you harvest. Waste is an insult to the life that gave so freely.  If you have accidentally taken more than you need then share. In fact - just share anyway: It's so good for us, to give, to share, to participate, to feel ourselves part of community. To also be the generosity of the abundant Earth.

The last part of the honourable harvest is gratitude. To be grateful for what we have been given and to express that gratitude to the plant that gave the gift. Spreading seeds and singing songs are my favourite ways. What's yours? Imagine if instead of always wanting more... a new one, a better one, another one, the upgrade, update, up-with-consumerism and down-with-any-sense-of-enough one, instead we sat with our gratitude, really felt our gratitude, felt how it pours into our hearts and makes us feel rich.

I can think of very few instances in life where the protocols of The Honourable Harvest could not apply, and would not make Western Culture a better place to live. If we remembered a world where we honoured the gifts we are constantly being given by the generous Wild, if we shared those gifts with each other and with the more-than-human world. If we remembered that there are a finite number of leaves and berries, hips and haws, on any given plant, and that everyone is entitled to their share. Everyone entitled to enough. No-one taking more than what Satish Kumar calls "an elegant sufficiency" - I've always loved that phrase.

That's balance.

I wish it for you this equinox, and for all of us.

Monday, 16 September 2019

About Time


Oh do you have time 
to linger
for just a little while 
out of your busy 

and very important day 
for the goldfinches 
that have gathered 
in a field of thistles 

for a musical battle, 
to see who can sing 
the highest note, 
or the lowest, 

or the most expressive of mirth, 
or the most tender? 
Their strong, blunt beaks 
drink the air 

as they strive 
not for your sake 
and not for mine 

and not for the sake of winning 
but for sheer delight and gratitude - 
believe us, they say, 
it is a serious thing 

just to be alive 
on this fresh morning 
in this broken world. 
I beg you, 

do not walk by 
without pausing 
to attend to this 
rather ridiculous performance. 

It could mean something. 
It could mean everything. 
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote; 
You must change your life.

Mary Oliver, From the collection 'Red Bird' 

Once upon a time I had my head in a box of 'to-do' lists; stressed, my mind running from job to job on an internal hamster wheel accelerating exponentially, breathless with my busyness, but also perhaps just a little self satisfied. Busyness surely means business is good? Surely it means I'm doing it right? "Busy" is currently the correct answer to the question "How are you?" - is it not?!

Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do - and it's not the doing of it that has been the error of my ways: when I'm actually working I'm connected to Life, to the task, to The Spirits. It's glorious. But when I'm thinking about all the things I need to do and have not yet done - then comes tiredness, sadness, stress. When I'm 'busy',  when my thoughts are rampaging around my head, I'm not connected to the delicious abundance of the sensual world. 

Suddenly this weekend, in the midst of far too many cortisol inducing plans, I found myself heading for the sea, and just by lucky chance, towards the sound of small waves lapping against the sides of small boats - which is one of the many sounds of utter tranquillity for me.  It speaks of a time in my childhood when everything was pretty good all things considered - the sun was shining, the sea sparkling, and all those with the power to ruin a day were in a consistently fine mood. 

To be in tranquillity and listen to the waves, the wind, the songs of birds or the whispers of trees, even to engage in conversation with just one very persistent sandpiper - is to step outside of time - or perhaps more accurately it is to step outside of chronological time and into wild time. Anything is possible here. I am present to this moment so utterly that I lose contact with the to-do lists and all the stress slides away. I am not living in my head, or the box of babble around  it (this box mostly contains 'The Inspector' - that one who goes around pecking holes in everything to see if it's been done right and then criticises it for being full of holes!) I simply Am. We Are. Connected. 

Chronos, God of Time, keeper of clocks, eater of days and ravager of beautiful youth, has at his side (in my personal view of him) The White Rabbit; constantly running around with a watch in his hand, terribly sorry - dreadfully late, pursuing a work ethic strict enough to make a sixteenth century puritan proud. He's not very friendly but he's completely reliable. Won't let you down, won't stop ticking by, won't let you out to play. 

When I step fully into presence, in the breath between tick and tock, into the feral - moments can seem like hours and hours pass in a moment. The way a pebble turns and twists and changes colour as the tide pulls it along the beach can be observed in a millisecond, but truly felt only in a now that has no end. This is the place in which I can hear water speak, feel tides turn, know what it is to be wholly holy human. In this timeless time I know myself to be Earth-daughter, air-breather, sister to salt and stone, weed-wife, mother of men, kin to everything with blood, everyone with leaves, all who move, all who are still. I am life-lover, joy-drinker, utterly interwoven, interconnected, interdependent with all else that is. 

Sometimes, the only thing to do is this:

May your day be full of beauty. May you linger a while to listen to the birds sing. 

Thursday, 5 September 2019

A Conspiracy of Ravens

I haven't been here for a while - It's been so hard to know what to say. In the face of so much destruction around the world, so much sad news, so much grief.  Also much busy-ness.

In the end (or perhaps it was the beginning) I went to The Spirits for a conversation about what I'm doing, or not-doing, here. I had become becalmed, motionless as all around me environmental devastation and disasters filled the news, the Amazon being the one that really undid me. I couldn't find anything useful to say, and to write my anguish or my anger at what is happening didn't feel like the right thing to be doing. More than anything it didn't feel remotely useful. I write a blog because I was asked to by 'Them'. And until I embarked on this conversation I had lost sight of that, forgotten that I had been asked to share my love of the natural world, to share my experiences of a reciprocal world in which we all know ourselves to be part of a sacred, sentient, ensouled, whole. Speak the truth.

I walked away from this reminder straight into a Conspiracy of Ravens. I could hardly believe my eyes and sadly hadn't brought  my camera so you can't see. There were 32 Ravens (at minimum - that's the number in the air at one time, there may have been more on the ground) all kraaking and twirling, soaring and diving, flapping and floating in the soft late summer air. Mostly in pairs (ravens mate for life) their wing-beats filled the valley with the sound of air under five foot of feather, air supporting over two and a half pounds of bird flesh, air that is never more unexpectedly loud than when a raven's wing plays upon it.  What an incredible blessing, their savage beauty and wild grace held me still in the morning light, this time not feeling adrift, but high on the tumbling air and simultaneously tethered to the good green earth. I was so happy, so utterly peaceful.

Then suddenly, shuddering with tears, with unspeakable joy, for the Raven is one of my dearest friends and in being with so many I felt as if I had found my way back from the brink of utter despair and into hope. In walking to the top of the tor I also walked out along silver filaments into the blackness of the ravens eye, her wing, her wildly beating heart. I moved upwards and downwards and within. I am everywhere and everyone. I am no-thing and I am nothing. In the few seconds it takes to form these words hours have passed, suns have risen, shone and been obliterated, lifetimes have passed, aeons of time have faded into the darkness.

Ravens - so reviled, so beloved. Our history and theirs has intertwined for millennia. They are the battle bird, blood bird, death delighter, feaster on corpses. Bird of augury, teller of futures, I remembered:

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed.

There will always be love.
There will always be hope.
There will always be now
And some sort of strange tomorrow.

So may it be.
And so it is.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Mending The World

The knowledge that everything is sacred is the context within which everything I see is framed, the song that accompanies every sound that reaches my ear. It is the sensuality of taste and scent and the delight in my touch. It is why my heart thrums with love for the wild, for all of life.

I am sacred, you are sacred; he, she, we are sacred.

And they.... they are sacred too, but in a world where everything is sacred there is no they. Only US.

The divided state, the transition from 'we' to 'us and them' - 'othering' - is the fundamental blockage to remembering who we are.

As soon as there is 'them' there is loss of connection, and it is connection, that sense of being part of something greater than our individual selves, that is the most potent pathway to healing all that is broken in our world.

In truth - it IS the healing of what is broken. Finding our connection with and respect for the other-than-human world would immediately bring about the mending of our world. If we began to think, speak and act from the place of experiencing our indivisibility from all of sacred, sentient life there would be radical and rapid change on our planet.

Recognising that all of the interwoven, interdependent, living, breathing, sighing Earth is ensouled, is one being, is all we need. At the moment we are her lost soul parts, wondering around having forgotten where we belong. Thrashing about in our loss of connection to our real selves, in pain, destructively kicking out against ourselves, we are destroying the healthful balance of Earth's greater body. We must remember ourselves home, literally re-member ourselves back into Earth's community. 

WE are Earth
We ARE Earth
We are EARTH

It doesn't matter which way you say it, we need to get busy, clean up the mess we've been making and get on with living in the congruent bliss of right relationship with all of ourselves. For that is what is on the other side of this terrible disconnection: Connection.  Community. Love. And all the heart-full richness and beauty that those things bring.


Except that it isn't. The broken connection is now centuries old and we have mostly now forgotten how to listen to the wisdom of the land.

The flame at the heart of this relationship needs to be re-kindled. How do we begin?

By stepping out of complexity and into simplicity. Out of the reductionist, mechanical view of ourselves and our 'environment' and into a profoundly simple truth. That everything is made up of the same stuff. Everything is connected. Everything is containing of and contained in Spirit. The Divine.

If we have been acting as if we have forgotten, then now we simply need to act as if we remember.

Re-introduce ourselves to life.


I understand that this seems exceptionally simple from where I'm standing and that perhaps this is not the case for you. So let's just take the first step.

Decide which side of the fence you'd like to be on... Do you want to live on a living planet?

If you want to chose life, you must chose all of life.  From the smallest bug to the largest mountain, we need each other.

Sing with us.

Sing a song of love, for all that you see, for all that is contained within the world that you perceive as beauty and feel to be alive.

No matter who you are, no matter where you are, this is a first step that is attainable for all of us. It needs no special skills, no talent in music, the tune can be tuneless and the words are a litany of love for what is in front of you. They change with the seasons, with the light, with your heart.

The Land is listening.

And she loves songs.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Generosity of Bluebells

It's that day, the one when even though the sun is hidden behind clouds, the air is still warm. Spring's dress of bluebells and stitchwort has a haze of perfume rising from every flower and each bird not atop some nestlings is hurling notes into the air, hoping to catch something magnificent to bring home. It's a good day for a picnic.

Fergus had tucked his pastry safely into his belly before I'd finished rummaging through the basket for my phone and we began a search for the collective noun for bluebells.

I offered 'an insanity of bluebells', a madness, their intensity quite overwhelming.  A few sniffs more and I was sure it must be 'a sensuality of bluebells' or perhaps 'an opulence' or  even 'an epiphany'. Their scent fills me with some kind of wild deliciousness, I can't contain myself or restrain my desire to run about barefoot from one patch to the next taking deep  sniffing breaths. I become a child, or a honey bee, or perhaps I become the me that has not been trained by society to 'behave'. I cannot behave in any way other than as one utterly drunk on love in the presence of bluebells.

Fergus, so much less prone to being toppled by flowers, proclaimed them 'a generosity of bluebells' - and there we stayed, among the generosity of bluebells.

In our very visually obsessed culture it's easy to forget the smells of things, but smell, like all our senses, can feed our souls deeply. In fact there is some fascinating research that suggests that people who for whatever reason cannot smell are significantly more likely to suffer from depression than those who can. It makes perfect sense to me - we are fed by all our senses, we need beauty all-ways in order to be as deeply nourished as we can be. Without it we suffer.

Next time you see a flower, go and press your nose close and breathe in deeply.
I hope for your sake that it's a bluebell, for to me there is no smell more beautiful.