20/10/2014 § 3 Comments
I was on the train the other day (in west Wales, a remote part and beautiful of the UK) and met Rita. Rita was, I estimate, around 80 years old and dressed predominantly in sky blue, the sort of blue the Queen would wear. Almost the first words that came out of Rita’s mouth were a complaint about wind turbines ruining the landscape (there has been a rash of them appearing in the area). I am glad to say that I managed not to react to this, or to follow my initial temptation to stay in my own little world, and I ended up having a really good chat with Rita, who turned out to be bright and well-informed and to have strong opinions. She had even been involved in building one of the first computers, at Philips Electronics in Fleetwood in the 1950s.
I spoke to her about my interest in organising. She explained to me patiently that the thing is, men don’t really know how to organise whereas women do, since they have to organise themselves to cook, look after the children and the household. Yet most of our organisations are run by men…
One thing Rita said that stayed with me was that her children and those who come after her won’t be so well off as her generation. I wonder if this is true. I am not someone who buys into the myth of progress, the idea that things are just getting better and better and that it will continue in this way, with the odd hiccup, into some mythical utopian future. But I do believe that we are evolving, not just humans and also all life on the planet (and indeed the planet herself). In the second half of the 20th Century and the start of this, there’s been a lot of wealth around, particularly in rich countries. We have more food, bigger houses and we move about more. We take more drugs, watch more TV and have more information. We have, in short, more stuff. Yet I also note that all this stuff is poorly distributed and in many cases is accompanied by more illness, more stress, more loneliness and mistrust, more drug-taking and more general busy-ness.
So we may be better off in material terms but barely so in terms of well-being. Our acquisitive habits seem to be driven not by our true physical and emotional needs but rather by our need to fit in, to keep up with (but not get too far ahead of) the Jones or Patels. If our society changed to one where everyone had a lot less stuff, would we really suffer? Those who have less often learn to collaborate more and to help each other.
Although nothing is certain, it is at least possible to imagine a world where our material wants are significantly reduced and we all collectively are far more joyful, far more connected and have far more of our real needs met. So I am hoping that Rita is wrong. Yes, inevitably future generations will have less quantities of stuff – this is clear. What is much less clear is what their quality of life will be. So much of our quality of life is dependent on how we relate to others – both in our immediate community and outside it. If we can just get on with each other, and learn to live according to ecological principles, seeking harmony not domination over the planet, then we have a chance of, if not a better life, at least a more joyful one. Don’t we?
10/10/2014 § 6 Comments
I went to hear Naomi Klein speak on Monday at an event in London. She is the author of “No Logo” which I read 12 years ago. I found it a very sharp and articulate account of how large businesses are seeking to extend their sphere of influence in order to turn the world into products which can be sold for private gain. Her latest book is called “This changes everything”. As I understand it (I haven’t read the book yet) she makes an explicit link in the book between climate change (and other negative impacts of human behaviour on the planet) and capitalism, in particular the sort of neo-liberal capitalism that has predominated in Western countries since the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
I found her very articulate and passionate on Monday. As I understood it, one of her points was that this is an opportunity for the left-wing, those on the other side of the political spectrum from the neo-liberals, to get their way at last since only through left-wing measures involving lots of state spending will any plausible solution emerge. Time for capitalism to step back and socialism to step forward perhaps?
Much as I admire Naomi Klein, I cannot buy into this. I’m really bored of “isms” – I have seen communism (or at least the tail end of it, when I lived in Russia) and socialism and capitalism and they all seem to be about a group of powerful people, mainly middle-aged or elderly men, promoting their own pet solutions and then pushing them through against opposition. They all seem predicated on growth as the only solution to humanity’s predicament. I’m not at all convinced that there is any solution to humanity’s predicament – we deal with our predicament by living it, not by rushing towards some fantasy perfect future.
It’s time we started finding new language. I know I am for societies which allow and encourage initiative and creativity, and reward people who are willing to follow their hearts, their passion. I know I am not for societies which relentlessly seek to crush the human spirit on the wheel of progress and growth, societies that systematically make the rich richer and more powerful and make the poor and downtrodden pay for it. I know I am not for a society that seeks dominion over the Earth, but rather for one that seeks connection and joyful union with all life.
What sort of ism do we call that?
17/09/2014 § 2 Comments
Charles Eisenstein says that the world we see around us is built on a story (you can see an inspiring video illustrating his talk here). Every culture answers the fundamental questions about who we are and what it means to be a human being in different ways – the story is what holds it all together.
The part of our shared story (in the rich West at least) that I have become especially interested in is the part that says that businesses are motivated primarily by profit. I choose not to “buy” that story (in a consumer society, buying something is the primary way in which we engage with it!). I think it is as misguided as the now debunked notion that we are all “homo economicus” – making choices designed to maximise our financial returns. We are far more complex than that. And so is a business. A better way to think about it is as a field of forces – the directing minds of the business need to balance the interests of customers, staff and investors if they are to succeed. What’s more, the more powerful the business, the more it needs to serve the needs of less visible interest groups – their community, the planet and future generations.
The idea that businesses are motivated primarily by profit is a part of our accepted story that is extremely harmful. It justifies all sorts of predatory behaviour that results in environmental degradation, social fragmentation and unhappiness. As someone who doesn’t choose to buy this story, I feel obliged to tell a different story whenever I can. So I intend to write a few blog post about this alternative story over the coming months. I haven’t written a blog post for quite a while – it was summer, and a lot of my energy was going into a book which, not surprisingly, is all about this alternative story. But the book is taking some time and I don’t feel like rushing it. Besides, writing blogs about it helps me think. I hope you will join me for story time :-)
03/07/2014 § 3 Comments
I have been pondering the different ways we can look at the world, and contrasting a loving look with one where we turn the other into an object, something separate from us. This poem was the result. I share it with some trepidation – my poet’s ego is still raw and tender and I am nervous of being scorned or laughed at. And I have taken on a big subject, trying to express the inexpressible – taking a pot shot at the moon, as someone called it. Still, here goes:
When I look with love
I am open, willing to give
aware deep inside of my oneness
with this supposed other.
When I look with love
differences become something
to simply gaze at in awe
in no way to be despised
but celebrated, cherished.
When I look with love
I want to ravish and
to join my voice with my beloved’s,
to be truly seen and felt and heard.
When I objectify,
when I look out from this frail vessel
and see an “other”
I am denying my essential nature
which is wholeness,
life and death simultaneously.
When I see an other, an object
I turn myself into something static,
I create boundaries that exist
only in my mind, in my seeing.
When I look with love
I become love,
loving itself in reflection.
27/06/2014 § 12 Comments
I was 30 years old when my wife died. Eight months previously she had been diagnosed with small cell cancer, triggered apparently by becoming pregnant with what would have been our first child. The tumour was growing rapidly on her liver, fuelled by the growth hormones from the pregnancy. In order to save one life, albeit only for a short time, we sacrificed another and Alison had an abortion. It felt like murdering our unborn child but the doctors said we had no choice. After that, and powerful doses of chemotherapy, we had a precious few months together. But the cancer eventually came back with a vengeance and before I knew it I was standing by Alison’s grave, feeling useless, clutching a bunch of flowers. We’d been very happily married – we assumed we’d be together forever. What had happened to my beautiful life?
To say it took me a while to come to terms with all this is a gross understatement. 18 years on and it could still bring a lump to my throat. I was, initially, just numb. It took me 8 months to cry for the first time (I finally broke down when visiting my brother, which he found very awkward – crying wasn’t something we had much practise of in our family). I couldn’t see round, or over, or through this massive, invisible thing, this wound. The one thing I couldn’t do was ignore it. Yet neither did I know what to do with it, how to respond.
I sensed somehow from those around me that the thing to do was to get on with my life, not make too much of a fuss about what had happened. In a way, this suited me – I could tidy my emotions away and deal with them later on when I was ready to face them. So I got on with my work and day-to-day routines, glad to have something to hold onto.
Gradually I started to find ways of expressing my grief, in conversations with friends and family, and to find healing through time in nature and quiet reflection. The pain started to ease. And I began to rebuild my life. I re-married and had a son. I learned to be careful about sharing what had happened to me. I realised most people didn’t know how to respond. And whilst my new wife was very understanding about my past and my pain, I couldn’t keep parading my wound around the house.
So life went on yet the wound didn’t heal completely, and I began to wonder if it ever would. Perhaps it was too wrapped up with my self–image. For a long while, quietly, inside, amidst the pain and the sheer shock, I suppose I felt a bit special. I had this self-image of the young mourning widower, wounded but brave, suffering but stoic. When I told my story, and could see the surprise in people’s eyes, it gave me something of a buzz, if I am honest. Maybe we all like to feel special and this was one way in which I could show how special I was.
I feel I am past all that now. What shifted things, I think, was an invitation a couple of years ago to tell my story by writing a chapter in a book “Stories of the Great Turning”. This felt like a great gift. By really going into, and expressing, what had happened, I could finally come to terms with it. These days a scar still remains but it is no longer an open wound. I have been through the grief and come out the other side. What’s more, I can see what happened to me as a type of gift – something I can use to strengthen me as I encounter the ups and downs of life.
What I have realised on this journey is that my story is by no means unique. Yes, the details are particular to me. But pain, suffering, shattered dreams are something we all experience sooner or later. There are the human dramas: parents who lose a child, children who lose a parent, people who lose a limb, or an eye, victims of violence or neglect, of famine or war. On a wider scale, there are other tragedies that affect us all in some way – large swathes of rainforest destroyed each year, acidification of the oceans, pollution of the air, species loss on a massive scale, the mindless brutality of dictators, large corporations and other bullies, the stupidity of our economic system that only values what has no intrinsic value.
We are not encouraged to dwell on these occurrences. Our individual pain is, at best, to be dealt with quietly, out of public sight, by professionals. As for the larger scale tragedies, they are to be read about in a hurry over our morning cereal before we get on with being good, obedient, unquestionning citizens. So it is that a newspaper will tell a shocking story about climate change and its potential impact, or some major disaster, and then on the opposite (or sometimes the same) page, tell some utterly trivial story about a “celebrity”, someone who is well-known only for being well-known. It seems our tolerance for pain is so low that we need an instant antidote – a pick-me-up to stop us feeling anything deep, to stop us being moved.
Yet by refusing to acknowledge our pain and suffering, we dis-honour it. We also inhibit our healing process, leaving part of us frozen, traumatised. Trapped in our old story, our ability to respond appropriately to our situation is restricted.
I find people in general have contradictory responses to my story. Superficially, they don’t want me to dwell on my wound. They want me to move on, to play the role of a confident, happy, strong individual who can take anything on the chin and come up smiling again.
Yet when I have the chance to share my pain, people are touched. They allow themselves to get in touch with their own pain, their own unattended wounds. Attending to these wounds is the thing they most crave and yet most fear.
Now that I have this perspective, I have realised with a jolt (but also with relief) that I am not special. Or rather, that my story may be special to me and those close to me but that what connects people to my story is its universality. By sharing the pain, the grief, the vulnerability, the emptiness that I have felt, I give them permission to connect with their own feelings about what they have experienced in their lives and what is going on in the world. They can honour their pain and so heal themselves and move on.
When I share my story, I speak for us all.
25/04/2014 § 7 Comments
Here’s something I wrote last night, to help promote a workshop I am co-facilitating in London on Saturday – I quite like it so thought I would share it here…
Remember how it felt to be a child, running free in the woods, through the fields, exploring, playing, joyful. Can you remember before that time, when as a baby you could just be yourself, free to express all you felt, to wail, to giggle uncontrollably, to love freely and unconditionally.
We talk of “nature” as if it were somewhere else, out there, something to be fenced in and protected, ignoring the fact that we have come from, are part of and intimately connected to her.
We talk of “the wild” as if it is something a long way from our homes. found only in places beyond human influence. Yet wildness runs through all of us – we have just lost touch with this energy. In our rush to control and manage the non-human world, we have managed and suppressed our own wildness, an essential part of what makes us human. A sacred part.
Perhaps we are scared of what might happen if we unleash our inner wildness. What might we say or do? Quit that job? Drop that unhealthy relationship? Dare to tell someone close to us we love them. Stand up for what we believe rather than pretend to believe in nothing. That uncontrolled aspect of ourselves is at once scary and deeply thrilling.
You don’t have to leave the city to reconnect with your inner wildness. You just need to find a safe space, one where you can give yourself permission to let go, even just for a moment or two, and see what it feels like. It can be tremendously healing, exhilarating and deeply stirring.
This is the space that we offering to you on Saturday 10th May in the semi-wild surroundings of Hackney City Farm. We may dance, scream, hug each other, do some crazy painting, meditate or just sit quietly and appreciate each others’ presence. Who knows what may appear as we invite our aliveness, our fullness, into the space. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/journey-into-mastery-tickets-9772889977
Wherever you may be when reading this, the invitation is there to tune into your inner wildness right now. Because you are worth it :-)
24/03/2014 § 2 Comments
I knew a little boy (let’s call him James) who would constantly measure things in monetary terms “Have a look at my football gloves, they cost…”. “I have £xxx in my bank account”. In a 7 year old, this was impressive but also a bit disconcerting.
James had a hard time in his early years – his parents separated when he was 5, a very messy separation of mutual accusations and a court battle. Before that he had years of unpleasant arguments at home, often being caught in the middle. Such experiences can be extremely unsettling for a young child.
James was very good with numbers – no doubt he was a bit precocious. He was certainly bright, intellectually, for his years. But it occurs to me that his strange fondness for measuring things could be explained also by the tough time he had. One way of dealing with his trauma was to hold onto numbers, giving him some certainty in an uncertain world. Numbers are lovely in their predictability – one plus one always equals two. And it is possible to use numbers as a universal measure, creating apparent order in a messy world (“my mummy loves me because she spent this much on me.” Or “I am safe because I have £xxx in the bank.”)
James is not alone in suffering trauma and in finding strange ways to deal with it. Life is, by its nature, traumatizing. A friend of mine, a physchotherapist, tells me that we are all traumatised in some way. This doesn’t need to be by death of a loved one, or suffering violence or hunger or illness. It can be traumatizing, as a 17 year old boy, to ask a girl out (I remember). It can be traumatising for a young child to undergo exams, to see their parents arguing, to move house or move school. It is traumatizing to live in a society that behaves as if it cares nothing about other forms of life, a society that seems to place financial gain above beauty, compassion and peace.
If we stay open to change, open to life, we can move through our trauma and grow. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” said Nietsche. But at different stages of our growth many of us need props to hold on to – computer games, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, TV, newspapers, excessive work, all come to mind. In James case it was numbers. There is nothing wrong with this except these props can stunt our growth if we hold onto them too long.
I find this helpful when I think about our society and its obsession with money and mathematical measures. So much of our behaviour seems to be driven by the assumption that more money is always better, no matter how it is earned or used. Virtually all the political parties subscribe to this bizarre notion – indeed for most it appears to be the starting point for all their policies. It infiltrates education, health, war (sorry, a slip of the pen, I of course meant defence), energy, welfare and so on.
If I can see George Osborne, the UK chancellor, as traumatised (rather than making him evil or stupid, or blaming him in some way), it helps me to forgive him for his heartlessness and his simple minded approach to our nation’s finances. If I can see corporate executives as traumatised (and goodness knows, working within a large corporation can be traumatizing in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways) than I can be more understanding when they take actions that don’t serve themselves or don’t contribute to a more peaceful world.
Viewing people as traumatised doesn’t mean I pity them – pity doesn’t do any good. In fact when I pity someone, all I am doing is distancing myself, raising myself up and considering myself superior. Rather I can feel empathy and compassion towards them. I may still want to educate them, to oppose them, to challenge them, but I do so from a place of love, not fear.
Of course the same applies to me. If I view myself as traumatised I can forgive myself for all my fears and inadequacies. And forgiveness is the start of growth.
Will James grow out of his fixation on numbers? Will our society? Yes – I believe so. Life is extraordinary in its ability to heal, to re-create, to renew. But then, maybe that is just my misguided belief, an unfounded optimism that I have developed out of my need to deal with my trauma. Life is complex isn’t it :-)