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Don't Panic!

This week the theme of Transition Network's Social Reporters is Navigating Community Chaos and Transition.

Panic can render the most technically competent people helpless.  This observation came from a wise and seasoned teacher of mountain navigation. ‘If in doubt, stop in your tracks, stand still and breathe,’ he advised. ‘Once you're calm you can try and work out where you are.’ One of the most common reasons inexperienced hillgoers get into real trouble is that they freak out and start looking around in different directions. Before they know it they’ve lost their orientation as well as their cool, making the situation much more perilous.

With training and practice, you can learn to keep the clear, level head needed to deal with navigating through mist or blizzards, reducing the risk of freezing exhaustion or plunging over the edge of a cliff. It strikes me navigating the terrain of our turbulent times is little different.

Reading Adrienne’s blog A Well Fed Neighbour, a familiar feeling of fear kicked me deep in my belly. Talk about stockpiling food brings home the seriousness of the situation, the potential for disorder to descend on our society with terrifying speed. The threat of chaos and awareness of how close it is, triggers panic, an instinct to flee, to jump around, lose all sense of place and direction. Oooft. Stop and breathe. The scary thing about Transition is that so many well-informed, intelligent individuals share the conviction we’re on extremely dangerous ground. It would be such a relief to be able to dismiss it as a paranoid delusion.

Within Transition Black Isle (TBI) there’s a strong and supportive network of members across the peninsula, building and sharing experience and skills. We are growing not only in number, but as individuals and in how we work together as a team.

One technique that’s been helping some of us find calm is mindfulness. ‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally,’ according to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachussetts, a renowned mindfulness teacher.  Through differing routes and for varying reasons, a number of us have started practising, outwith TBI.  I’m only just beginning to appreciate the value it could bring to our Transition work.

A TBI friend has loaned me a book called Creating True Peace by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It describes how his students became social workers in war torn Vietnam, remaining peaceful, calm and neutral in the most dangerous and harrowing of circumstances. It’s an inspiring and humbling tale, and testament to the incredible potential of mindful non-violence.

“The practice of mindfulness helps us stop, see what we are doing and where we are headed,” Thich Nhat Hanh says. I am sure my navigation tutor would have wholeheartedly approved.

Pondering the theme of Navigating Community Chaos and Transition raises profound and serious questions. The terrain we’re navigating changes constantly, but now the degree of change seems to be ramping up scarily fast.  Where are we now?  Where are we going?  To what extent is chaos already taking hold?  How do we ensure we’re navigating away from it?  How fast do we need to go?

Bloggers this week have talked about the speed with which change is happening, of society reaching a tipping point, our ability to deal with sudden and chaotic change.  The fear that awareness of our vulnerability brings cannot be ignored; but like a mountaineer patience and calm and resisting the urge to run around in a blind panic are going to be key.

Martin Luther King Jr’s fourth and final book, which was reprinted last year, is called ‘Where do we go from Here: Chaos or Community?’

It’s interesting that he presents a choice between one or the other. We're well aware of the potential for chaos but by focusing on community, TBI seems headed in the right direction. Building trust takes time and patience, and it is heartening to reflect that membership is growing and our messages seem to be getting through. Events are well attended by a wide range of people. Many of them would be unlikely to join the Transition group but are beginning to appreciate what we’re about. I was surprised the other day on meeting a couple from the next village for the first time that they knew of me because of Transition Black Isle and were keen to find out more. We’re no longer automatically referred to as a ‘green group’ - putting the focus on communities, community markets and gardens, local firewood, events to find out what people think would help increase reslience in their communities has helped broaden out that perception.

Martin Luther King declares: “our most fruitful course is to stand firm, move forward nonviolently, accept disappointment and cling to hope.” His words resonate and seem as relevant to Transition today as they were to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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