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 :-)
20/02/2014 § Leave a comment
A thought came to me while strolling this morning through an orderly, well managed village in the Rheinland Pfalz area of Germany where my “schwieger-eltern” (parents-in-law) live. Most of the plots are carefully controlled environments where no plant can grow without permission. Paths are neat and run in straight lines. Concrete predominates. There are few trees, but bushes grown in carefully mulched borders.
It seems to me that our efforts to manage and control our environment, to keep wildness out, are mirrored by our efforts to control our own inner wildness. We are scared of what we might unleash if we let our own tiger loose. So rather than risk it, we keep our inner tiger, our inner rain forest, tightly leashed.
I have noticed as I have got older and have chosen to follow my heart more, that my own inner wildness is expressing itself more. This might be in subtle ways such as allowing the curls in my hair to grow rather than maintaining a “short back and sides” look, or in being bolder with the colours I wear. I find this blog is a place where I can express some of my slightly wilder thoughts freely. And gradually I am giving myself permission to bring myself fully to my work, trusting that I can contribute with my slightly off-beat, unpredictable thinking.
In wildness is danger, chaos and uncontrolled energy. At the same time, without it there is no life. In our over-managed, over-safe, fear-ridden lives, we could all do with a bit more wildness. Couldn’t we?
PS. Microsoft Word has its own wild ways too, I am finding. I recently updated my version, and it now guesses what I want to write. I thought I typed “In praise of wildness” yet instead “In praise of writing” came up on the first published version of this blog. Yet you can’t do anything about Word’s wildness – it is a highly controlled, not really wild, type of energy. It just drives the user wild!
10/02/2014 § 1 Comment
“Did you clean your teeth, Lucas?” “Erm, yes.”
“Are you sure?” “Erm, no” “Go and clean them please.”
My son, I’m glad to say, is a pretty poor liar. It is written all over his face. It is also, in general, pretty easy to test if he is telling the truth. If we suspect he did not clean his teeth, we can simply check his toothbrush, and the mere suggestion that we will do this tends to make him admit the truth.
His lies tend to be small lies – the sort that most scandals in our society are about. “Did you sleep with her?” “Did you tap those phones?” “Did you say such and such to so-and-so?” When people with power tell little lies, we get very excited. If it can be proved that they told a lie, they often lose their post (Bill Clinton was threatened with impeachment for lying about having sex in the White House. It wasn’t so much the sex that got him into trouble, it was the suggestion that he had lied about it).
It is similar in the world of large corporations. There was a big food scandal in the UK recently where it turned out that food labelled as beef or pork was in fact partly horsemeat. It is not in fact of earth-shattering consequence – the meat was just as safe to eat as other processed meat – it is just that we don’t like being misled. So politicians queued up to be outraged and huge numbers of minions in the food industry were mobilised to sort the situation out.
Because small lies are relatively easy to spot, politicians and corporations tend to be fairly rigorous about avoiding them. They are truthful almost to a fault, but only in small things. It is the big lies they are much more bold about. This is, in part at least, because they are much easier to get away with, much harder to disprove. Think of some of the lies that are commonplace in our society. “Invading country XXX will bring peace.” “Economic growth is the most important thing“. “We have to pay our CEO £5m in order to motivate him/her.” And the favourite one “Everything is under control”.
Often the biggest lies aren’t even spoken. The deceiver simply act as if something is true, making us feel obstructive or unreasonable for questioning something so obviously true. Thus it becomes perfectly normal and right for a company to make profits out of selling alcohol and tobacco, and to take pride and pleasure in “growing the market”. In a society where obesity is the major health threat, it is considered normal and respectable for supermarkets to spend huge sums persuading their customers to eat sugary confections of no nutritional value.
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, understood this dynamic well: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
These big lies are therefore far more dangerous, subtle and powerful than the little lies. That’s why the deceivers are able to act so brazenly, simply continue with their behaviour as long as they can get away with it.
Part of the reason they get away with it is that the deceived are often subtly complicit in the deceit. We want to believe we live in a true democracy (demos – people, kratia – power) because then we don’t actually have to fight for anything, we don’t have to stand up for what we believe in. It’s a convenient lie. In a similar way, we like the consumer goods and cheap titillation that are freely available in a society bent upon growth above all else, and so we allow ourselves to be deceived about the downsides (devastation of the planet’s life-support systems, rising inequality and, perhaps worst of all, lives lived without meaning). Thus a friend of mine can tell me “I don’t believe in climate change” when what he really means is “I choose not to look into this question too deeply because the truth might scare me.”
So what are we to do if we spot the truth? It can be easy to despair – after all, when so many people go along with these lies, and when those in power seem so good at maintaining those lies, it can all feel overwhelming. Joseph Goebbels again: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
For “state” we can just as well read “large corporations”. We have to be willing to tell the truth, our truth, no matter what the consequences. We may be considered crazy, we may at times feel crazy, but we have to do it if we wish to retain any self-respect, any sense of our own integrity. We have to allow life to speak through us, in order to save the only life we can save.
What is the truth that you would like to speak?
21/01/2014 § 1 Comment
There’s a lot of work to be done, isn’t there, in this age into which we are born. We have to re-imagine, re-think, re-design and re-build the way we do so many things – make things, move about, provide energy for our daily activities, feed ourselves, organise ourselves, relate to each other.
We don’t always do ourselves favours. Too often we work in silos, when so much of the work can be done better when shared. We allow ourselves to get discouraged when we could be empowered through cooperating with others.
So a big part of our work is also to build communities, communities that are bound together by shared values, by a shared and inspiring purpose, and by hope. In dark times hope is sometimes all we have to hold onto. As Vaclav Havel put it: “Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
But how do you build such communities? How do you find the time and the courage? Where do you get a chance to practise? There are some really excellent short courses, lasting a few days, where you go to a wilderness or a foreign country and find yourself through encounters with others. Leaders Quest, Embercombe, Natural Change, vision quests, all these can be powerful transformative experiences that draw on the power of community. But what do you do when you get home, when you return to the daily grind? How do you foster that spirit of community when you are back in the belly of the beast?
That’s the question I set out to address last year when I set up Mastery in Sustainability with Debbie Warrener. We wanted to create our own community of hope in the heart of London. It was an amazing experience. 15 of us came together in 10 sessions over 6 months. We supported, inspired and challenged ourselves. Through truly meeting each other, we found ways to express our whole selves, and then to take that back into our daily lives. “One of the most healing trainings I have ever done” as one participant put it.
This year we are running the course again, starting in a week’s time, and there are still spaces. If you would like to be part of this journey, if you would like to start 2014 by joining an emerging community of hope, then you can book on the course here. We even have a special offer if you sign-up today. Or go back home, or back into your workplace, and start one yourself. There is no more important work in this age.