PERSONAL RESPONSES TO WHAT IS GOING ON
The Gift of the Desert
I adjust to the slow swinging pace of the camels and take in their mix of gentle grace, their unique body shapes and their massive animal presence. I stare at the beauty of the shadows we cast on the sand; the unmistakable camel silhouettes, linked in a caravan of four by their looping rope halters. I hear the intermittent rumbling of a stomach, the grinding of teeth. I notice their sexy eyelashes and delicate lips. My pubic bone grinds on the cloth saddle of my camel, as he lurches me back and forth. Dust and sand mist the air. We veil our faces with the free ends of our turbans; turning our faces away from the wind as it gusts from the east. I feel grit between my teeth.
The mother dune rises high above us, her orange sand muted in the misty light, as the evening draws in. The soft shapes and curves of the hillocks and valleys interlock and swirl around each other with an aesthetic that manmade shapes could never emulate. Nature’s beauty shines here, timeless in these shifting piles of sand.
Dusk and then dark arrives, as we approach our tented camp. Distant drums beat an african rhythm from a nearby bivouac, creating an aural backdrop to the tranquil scene that awaits us, like a syncopated heartbeat of the earth itself.
We drop into the shelter of our berber tent, its brown woven camel hair stretched taut over crooked poles. We sip mint tea, sweet and restorative after the journey. Then we lie out on the warm sand staring up at a big sky peppered with stars, as the wind sighs around the tents, sending flurries of sand into our faces to remind us where we are. Dry air, warm wind, smarting nostrils, gritty eyes, bodies surrendered to the earth.
There are conversations about nomadic life, timeless knowledge, the constant search for water and food for the goats and camels. We are served vegetable tagine and reflect on this tiny taste of another way to live, increasingly jostled and tainted by the modern materialist ways and needs we rely on. Yet the nomads are here, surviving, thriving, holding both worlds. There are Four-by-fours and motorbikes alongside camels; weekly markets, cell phones and solar lighting. Jeans and sports shoes are accompanied by turbans of every colour – still the most practical headdress for the desert.
We are so disconnected, so out of touch with the simple life, that even one night in a nomad tent is a challenge for us; forcing us to consider all that we take for granted in our world.
We greet the dawn with wonder and by eight we are mounted and making our way back through the dunes, drinking in the silence and the peace in this orange sunlit sea of sand.
Gradually we are aware of engines in the distance; motorised vehicles manouvering in the distant dunes. Suddenly a seriously customised car bursts over the hill infront of us, invading our senses in every way. Then we see an overweight man leveling a phallic telephoto lens towards the car. As we approach him, it dawns on us that we are walking through the middle of a car rally. Our moroccan guide shouts ‘Fuck You’! and raises his fist in defiance of this intrusion to our peace.
The man shouts back to reason with us; “But this is THE Libya Rally!” as if there could be noone on the planet that would fail to be impressed and excited to be involved, while showing his blindness to what we have come to the desert for.
The clash of patriarchy symbolised by these ultimate in ‘boys‘ toys‘, and our little caravan of camels, hits me with its poignancy in this moment, just as we had dropped into the essence of what we came to Morocco to experience. The camels become nervous, while I feel pain and confusion, as if caught in the crossfire on a battlefield.
And as we detour around the rally base, with its massive entourage of support trucks, cameras sponsorship banners, and crowds of followers, Sofia reminds us to bring love to the situation and I am suddenly filled with gratitude, as the significance of the moment sinks in.
Its a gift, that the very day that we decide to experience the desert, looking for a spiritual connection with the place and its people, has coincided with the one day in the year that the Libyan Rally came to this same spot on the planet, with all its noise and razamataz. It has shown me in such graphic terms the clash of two worlds. The paradox that I and so many others are living with.
I touch into the part of me who could enjoy an opportunity to feel part of this disconnected, frenetic, technically addicted world, and then I move into that bigger part of me who has always been there in the shadow of patriarchy, deeply connected, nature-based, timeless, grounded and still.
Our little group weaves its way to safety. the rhythm of my camel’s stride rocks and soothes my churned emotions.
I sit with my dilemmas; how to integrate and live my soul’s journey? How to give my life meaning and purpose? How to dance a new paradigm while surrounded by the old? And how to help others looking for healing and restorative means to deal with the split and disconnection that we are all suffering in the loss of what these berber nomads embody so well?
This is the gift and the challenge. This is our work. The work we are starting to do at Pozzuolo.
The Great Bell Chant
I was first given this beautiful chant and prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh while involved with a local group in the UK, part of the Community of Interbeing. Before that I was connected to an international Tibetan Buddhist organisation founded by Lama Yeshe, who died many years ago now and I never had the privilege of meeting him.
TNH’s prayer came back to me this morning via The Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and my Facebook page. I listened with great joy along with my precious memories of the people and places I shared during my times with those two communities.
The chant and the beautiful film footage has also moved me close to tears – of sadness for the planet and of longing for The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible.
I want to share The Great Bell Chant with you now:
Falling in Love Again
Rebuilding our relationship with the natural world can re-animate our own lives, as well as the ecosystem.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th July 2015
When the robin was voted the UK’s national bird last month, we chose to celebrate half of a broken relationship. The robin is to the wild boar what the oxpecker is to the Cape buffalo: it has evolved to catch the worms and insects exposed by their grubbing. But boar are mostly absent from the UK, so its survival often depends on finding the next best thing: human gardeners. This is why the robin is so tame in this country. As far as the bird is concerned, you and I are just fake pigs.
We are surrounded by such broken relationships, truncated natural processes, cauterised ecologies. In Britain we lack almost all large keystone species: ecological engineers that drive the fascinating dynamics which allow other lifeforms to flourish. Boar, beavers, lynx, wolves, whales, large sharks, pelicans, sturgeon: all used to be abundant here, all, but for a few small populations or rare visitors, are missing.
The living systems that conservationists seek to protect in some parts of this country are a parody of the natural world, kept, through intensive management, in suspended animation, like a collection in a museum. An ecosystem is not just a place. It is also a process.
I believe their diminished state also restricts the scope of human life. We head for the hills to escape the order and control that sometimes seem to crush the breath out of us. When we get there, we discover that the same forces prevail. Even our national parks are little better than wet deserts.
Our seas were once among the richest on earth. A few centuries ago, you could have watched fin whales and sperm whales hammering the herring within sight of the shore. Shoals of bluefin tuna thundered up the North Sea. Reefs of oysters and other sessile animals covered the seabed, over which giant cod, skate and halibut cruised. But today, industrial fishing rips up the living fabric of all but 0.01% of our territorial waters. To walk or dive in rich environments we must go abroad.
Though not, I hope, for long. On Wednesday, a new organisation, Rewilding Britain, was launched. (It was inspired by my book Feral and I helped to found it, but I don’t have a position there). Its aim is to try to catalyse the mass restoration of the living world, bring trees back to bare hills, allow reefs to form once more on the seabed and to return to these shores the magnificent, entrancing animals of which we have so long been deprived. Above all it seeks to enhance and enrich the lives of the people of this nation. I hope that it might help to change the face of Britain.
Already, local projects hint at what could be achieved. In the southern uplands of Scotland, the Borders Forest Trust has bought 3000 hectares of bare mountainside and planted hundreds of thousands of native trees. The community of Arran seabed trust in the Firth of Clyde managed, after 13 years of campaigning, to persuade the government to exclude trawlers and scallop dredgers from one square mile of seabed. The result, in this tiny reserve, is an explosion of lobsters, crabs, scallops and fish. It’s now trying to extend the project to a larger area.
In Sussex, the Knepp Castle estate gave up its unprofitable wheat farming, released a few cattle and pigs and let natural processes take over. Now it hosts some of Britain’s highest populations of nightingales, purple emperor butterflies and turtle doves. Partly through ecotourism and accommodation and selling high-grade meat, it has become profitable. In south London, the Wandle Trust has turned a mangled and polluted urban river back into a beautiful chalkstream, supporting kingfishers and wild trout. Wonderful as these projects are, until now they have lacked a national voice. Britain remains in a state of extreme depletion.
Some people argue that we should not seek to re-establish missing species until we’ve protected existing wildlife. But nothing better protects our ecosystems than keystone species. Beaver dams provide habitats for fish, invertebrates, amphibians and waterbirds. In Ireland, resurgent pine martens appear to have pushed back the grey squirrel, allowing red squirrels to recolonise. One study suggests that our woodland ecology cannot recover unless half the country’s deer are culled every year. Lynx could do it for nothing. Functional ecosystems, in which dynamic living processes prevail once more, are likely to be more resistant to climate change than stagnant collections in virtual glass cases.
Over the past two years, there has been a surge of enthusiasm for change. A poll in Scotland found that 60% support the reintroduction of beavers, with only 5% opposed. 91% of respondents to a survey by the Lynx UK Trust supported a trial reintroduction. Researchers at the University of Cumbria digitally altered photographs of Borrowdale in the Lake District, adding or subtracting trees. 69% of the people who saw them favoured the images with extra trees. A video extracted from my TED talk, about the relationship between wolves and other wildlife, has been watched 18 million times.
But the interests of local people must never be overruled. Rewilding must take place only with active consent. Already, landowners are coming forward, proposing to rewild their own property. Community groups, such as Cambrian Wildwood in mid-Wales, are seeking to buy and restore surrounding land. What rewilding offers is a new set of options in places where traditional industries can no longer keep communities alive, where schools and shops and chapels and pubs are closing and young people are leaving the land to find work elsewhere.
In the hills of southern Norway, the return of trees has been accompanied by a diversification and enrichment of the local economy. There, the small income from farming is supplemented with eco-tourism, forest products, rough hunting, fishing, outdoor education, skiing and hiking. The governments of Britain now claim to be willing to pay for the protection of soils and watersheds. These are likely to be more resilient sources of income than the current farm subsidy system upon which all hill farming in this country depends, whose gross injustice – transferring vast sums from the poor to the rich simply for owning land – is as unsustainable politically as it is ecologically.
Perhaps most importantly, rewilding offers hope. It offers the hope of recovery, of the enhancement of wonder and enchantment and delight in a world that often seems crushingly bleak. My involvement with rewilding, to my own amazement, has made me much happier and more optimistic than I was before. I feel an almost evangelical sense of excitement about the prospects for change. I want other people to be able to experience it too.
In 2009, the rewilding pioneers Trees for Life released some wild boar into an enclosure at Dundreggan, in the Scottish Highlands. Within twenty minutes, robins came down from the trees and started following them. Their ecological memory was intact. When I’ve accompanied children from deprived London boroughs to the woods and rockpools for the first time in their lives, I have seen something similar: an immediate, instinctive re-engagement, the restoration of a broken ecological relationship. Once we have richer wild places to explore, we won’t need much prompting to discover their enchantments.
A Map to the Next World
In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map
for those who would climb through the hole in the sky.
My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged from the killing fields,
from the bedrooms and the kitchens.
For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.
The map must be of sand and can't be read by ordinary light.
It must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.
In the legend are instructions on the language of the land,
how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.
Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the altars of money.
They best describe the detour from grace.
Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; a fog steals our children while we sleep.
Flowers of rage spring up in the depression, the monsters are born there of nuclear anger.
Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to disappear.
We no longer know the names of the birds here,
how to speak to them by their personal names.
Once we knew everything in this lush promise.
What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the map.
Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles and wasted blood.
An imperfect map will have to do little one.
The place of entry is the sea of your mother's blood,
your father's small death as he longs to know himself in another.
There is no exit.
The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine --
a spiral on the road of knowledge.
You will travel through the membrane of death,
smell cooking from the encampment where our relatives make a feast
of fresh deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.
They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.
And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world there will be no X,
no guide book with words you can carry.
You will have to navigate by your mother's voice, renew the song she is singing.
Fresh courage glimmers from planets.
And lights the map printed with the blood of history,
a map you will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.
When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers
where they entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.
You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.
A white deer will come to greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.
Remember the hole of our shame marking the act of abandoning our tribal grounds.
We were never perfect.
Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth
who was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.
We might make them again, she said.
Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.
You must make your own map.
~ Joy Harjo ~
Letter to my Younger Self
Dear self: Your secret, lonely knowledge is true. Despite all you have been told, the world that has been offered to you as normal is anything but normal. It is a pale semblance of the intimacy, connection, authenticity, community, joy and grief that lie just beneath the surface of society's habits and routines.
Dear self: You have a magnificent contribution to make to the more beautiful world your heart knows is possible. It may not make you famous, but you have an important gift, an indispensable gift, and it demands you to apply it to something you care about. Unless you do, you will feel like you aren't really living your life. You will live the life someone pays you to live, caring about things you are paid to care about. You can make a different choice.
Dear self: Do not believe the cynical voice, masquerading as the realistic voice, that says that nothing much can change. That voice will call your dreams by many names: naïve, unrealistic, immature, and irresponsible. Trust your knowledge that the world can be different, can be better. You needn't sell out and live a life complicit in maintaining the status quo.
Dear self: You carry a deep yearning to contribute to the healing of the world and fulfillment of its possibilities. This is your deepest desire, and if you abandon it you will feel like a ghost inhabiting the mere shell of a life. Instead, trust that desire and follow it toward whatever service it calls you to, however small and insignificant it might seem.
Dear self: The most reliable guide to choice is to follow whatever makes you feel happy and excited to get out of bed in the morning. Life is not supposed to be a grim slog of discipline and sacrifice. You practiced for such a life in school, tearing yourself out of bed for days of tedium, bribed with trivial rewards called grades, intimidated by artificial consequences, proceeding through a curriculum designed by faraway authorities, asking permission to use the toilet. It is time to undo those habits. Let your compass instead be joy, love, and whatever makes you feel alive.
Dear self: When you follow your passion and come fully alive, your choices will feel threatening to anyone who abides in the dominant story of normal. You will be reminding them of the path they didn't follow, and awaken in them the suppressed yearning to devote their gifts to something beautiful. Rather than face that grief, they may suppress it - and suppress you as well.
Dear self: At a certain moment it will become necessary for you to go on a journey. It isn't to escape forever. It is to find yourself outside of whomever your conditioning trained you to be. You must put yourself in a situation where you don't know who you are anymore. This is called an initiation. Who you were becomes inoperative; then, who you will be can emerge.
Dear self: Powerful forces will attempt to make you conform to society's normality. These will take the form of social pressure, parental pressure, and very likely, economic pressure. When you encounter them, please understand that they are giving you the opportunity to define yourself. When push comes to shove, who are you?
Dear self: The old maps do not apply in these times of transition. Even if you try to follow them, even if you accept their bribes and heed their threats, there is no guarantee you'll reap the promised rewards. The university graduates washing dishes and the Ph.D.'s driving taxis attest to this. We are entering new territory. Trust your guidance. It is OK to make mistakes, because in uncharted territory, even the wrong path is part of finding the right path.
Dear self: On this path, you are sure to get lost. But you are held, watched, and guided by a vast organic intelligence. It will become visible when things fall apart - as surely they must, in the transition between worlds. You will stumble, only to find overlooked treasure beneath your feet. You'll despair of finding the answer - and then the answer will find you. Breakdown clears the space for synchronicity, for help unimagined and unearned.
Dear self: None of this advice can be sustainably implemented by a heroic effort on your part. You need help. Seek out other people who reinforce your perception that a more beautiful world is possible, and that life's first priority is not security, but rather to give of your gifts, to play, to love and be loved, to learn, to explore. When those people (your tribe) are in crisis, you can hold them in the knowing of what you know. And they can do the same for you.
No one can do this alone.
Pope Francis' Encyclical: Hearing the Cry of the Earth
A commentary by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Earth "now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her." So begins Pope Francis in his powerful and long-awaited encyclical on ecology. "The earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor."
Pope Francis chose to be called after a saint for whom love for all of God's creation was central to his life, and all creatures were his brothers and sisters. Speaking in the voice of this saint "who loved and protects creation," he calls for a moral response to prevent the "unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem,"--that we urgently need to recognize the consequences of, and changes required in our way of life. He reflects on our abuse, the violence creating "the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things." And describing how climate change most adversely affects the poor, he combines ecological and social justice, that we "hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."
The state of the Earth is our most pressing concern. Our present ecological crisis is the greatest man-made disaster this planet has ever faced: the signs of global imbalance, climate change, and species depletion are all around us. The monster of materialism is ravaging the Earth, its rapacious greed destroying the ecosystem, the fragile web of life that supports and nourishes all of life's myriad creatures. We are part of a world of wonder and beauty which we are systematically sacrificing to feed our ever-increasing desires. We need to remember the simple wonder of the natural world around us, which St. Francis celebrated in his beautiful Canticle of Brother Sun:
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Yesterday, when I went to my small vegetable patch to pick a few zucchinis for supper, I was once again amazed at the Earth's generosity, how one plant could give so many vegetables. I had to look carefully under the spreading leaves to discover a zucchini unexpectedly growing almost too large. This is the sacred life that sustains us, part of the creation we desperately need to "love and protect," just as it loves and protects us.
A central but rarely addressed aspect of this crisis is our forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation, and how this affects our relationship to the environment. Pope Francis speaks of the pressing need to articulate a spiritual response to this ecological crisis and to "feel intimately united with all that exists." Today's world is dominated by a divisiveness that encourages exploitation and greed, and we need to return to a sense of wholeness, reflecting the living unity of all of creation and its myriad inhabitants.
The Earth needs both physical and spiritual attention and awareness, our acts and prayers, our hands and hearts. Life is a self-sustaining organic whole of which we are a part, and once we reconnect with this whole we can find a different way to live--one that is not based upon a need for continual distraction and the illusions of material fulfillment, but rather a way to live that is sustaining for the whole.
Each in our own way we can turn away from the patterns of consumerism that drain our money and our life energy. We can aspire to live a simpler life, learning how to live in a more sustainable way, and not be drawn into unnecessary materialism--filling our life with love and care rather than "stuff." A simple meal of vegetables and grains cooked with love and attention can nourish our body and soul.
But, to speak more with the voice of St. Francis, the Earth also needs our prayers, our spiritual attention. Many of us know the effectiveness of prayers for others, how healing and help is given, even in the most unexpected ways. It can be helpful first to acknowledge that the Earth is not "unfeeling matter," but a living being that has given us life. And then we can "hear its cry," sense its suffering: the physical suffering we see in the dying species and polluted waters--the deeper suffering of our collective disregard for its sacred nature.
Pope Francis ends his encyclical with two prayers for our Earth. There is also the simple prayer of placing the world as a living being within our hearts when we inwardly offer our self to the Divine. In this prayer we remember the sorrow and suffering of the Earth in our hearts, and ask that that the world be remembered, that divine love and mercy flow where it is needed; that even though we continue to treat the world so badly, divine grace will help us and help the world--help to bring the Earth back into balance. We need to remember that the power of the Divine is more than that of all the global corporations that continue to make the world a wasteland, even more than the global forces of consumerism that demand the life-blood of the planet. We pray that the Divine of which we are all a part can redeem and heal this beautiful and suffering world.
Sometimes it is easier to pray when we feel the earth in our hands, when we work in the garden tending our flowers or vegetables. Or when we cook, preparing the vegetables that the Earth has given us, mixing in the herbs and spices that give us pleasure. There are many ways to pray, and we will each find our own way of tending the Earth within our own hearts. Just as the song of St. Francis calls us to praise the Earth, and to praise God "through all your creatures."
As Pope Francis's message reminds us, we each need to be the person who "loves and protects creation," who remembers its sacred nature. We need to bring this song of love into our hearts and hands. Through our love for the Earth we can honor the call to climate action that comes from all faiths and from the single voice that is within all of humanity. We are all part of one living being we call the Earth and it desperately needs our love and attention.
May the divine feminine rule until balance is achieved. We are lost without your kindness and wisdom. The ways of the egoic and armoured masculine are dead. We are tripping over our weaponry and hurting innocents. We are bloated by egoic flatulence and congealed rage. We are clamoring for empty power. We are competing and accumulating without purpose. We are running on dead patterns. We don’t know what we are doing. Down on my knees with tears in my eyes, I ask Goddess to rule. You were right all along. We are alienated from the heartstring. Many of us are gun-toting warriors run amok. Hand the keys to the Kingdom to the women. It’s time for a Queendom. Let women make the laws. Let them abolish the guns. Let them create the heartfelt template we aspire to. Let them show us the way. I am sick and bloody tired of the damage my brothers do to innocents. May the divine feminine rule before its too late.
Where is the Healthy Masculine?
Where are the men in the awakening our species needs so badly?
Women have been recovering their stories and their archetypes.
Where is the healthy masculine in men and in women?
400 Nuclear Powerstations
Its shocking to face the fact that in our hunger for energy we have allowed 400 nuclear power stations to be built around the world without any way of ensuring their safety into the future, which will be needed for many hundreds of years to come.
But I hold onto one possible solution which might help to soften the immense fear this prospect evokes: