The map is not the territory
First things first. HAPPY SPRING EQUINOX! with love from this unshameable tree hugger.
This morning we went out to our local tumulus to welcome the tip of the year. Everything is happening out there! the earth making her first moves on the dance floor: cherry plum unfurling,thr ush singing, hare crossing, woodpecker drumming. We walked across the frosty watermeadow and stood on the rim of the sheep field, etched by oaks and hedgerow, and watched the sun rise. I climbed a black poplar with the carpet of wild daffodils below me. We didn't see one person. The world felt pristine.
This is the grove I come to each spring, first with the daffodils, and later with the bluebells and red campion. This is the season, between the Equinox and May Day, when England is her most green and exuberant. I love this spring moment. I love English marshes and Welsh hills, the deserts of Arizona, the valleys of Ecuador, the islands of Greece, the forests of Mexico. I have traversed many lands, sat with a thousand flowers and learned their medicine. I have climbed trees, swum in wild water, and spent a big part of my life immersed in the fabric of nature, trying to find words for the wild, the beautiful and the free . . .
But what on earth has this got to do with Transition?
Heart and Soul
In the Heart and Soul, Arts Culture and Well-Being group everyone is talking about themselves and their emotions. Oh the sorrow and the grief! they wail, the earth is angry and in despair. Are you sure it's not you? I ask. We are the earth, they tell me.
I look around and see people with closed eyes, sitting on cushions in a circle. A candle is flickering in the twilight. This is it says a notice on the studio wall. Outside the rain is falling softly, the cherry blossom is on the grass, a blackbird is singing gloriously. It's Spring 2009. I am about to leave the group, which is in the process of divesting itself of art and culture and wellbeing. I have loved coming into the city, bringing branches of blackthorn and bay into these speaking circles, the way we could share our untold stories and dreams for the future. It was fiery and liberating and new at the start of Transtion. But old spiritual hierachies are reasserting themselves, pressing on all sides for us to conform. And I'm not feeling connected to the song outside the window.
Somehow I know we have to connect with that Spring and agreeing we are All One and Connected to the Web of Life is not cutting the biscuit. Sitting alone on the mountains of Arizona, the Andes, up Cader Idris, that's not hard. Here in the middle of Norwich, in the arable district of East Anglia with others, it's another story. We're trying to find common ground, so we can tell that story, first to each other and then to the world. But this is not It in the workshop arena, where everyone is worshipping Joanna Macy and Thomas Berry, intrigued by shamanic ritual and talisman, enmeshed in the power of Me and Deep Ecology. People are meditating under willow trees outside the UEA. But the willow trees are not getting a look in.
One thing I know: you can't communicate wtih the planet without Art and Culture or Well-Being, without dance and poetry and medicine. On the community blog we start up later that year, Reconnection with Nature is our top topic. We are unabashed, creative and very free-form. John talks toads and woodpiles, Mark talks seeds and bees, Jon talks sea, Kerry talks hedgerow, Elena talks bird. We rediscover our neighbourhood, exchange foraging tips, write in praise of all the seasons. We love the planet. We have that in common. (we still have that in common). It's a thread that runs through all of our pieces. And I could talk quite happily about all those 98 posts, but somehow this is not what I want to say about Reconnecting with the Living Systems and Transition on this equinox morning, because there is an ur-difficulty here, and that is Transition, like everything else in our culture, is based on the control of what is known as the "environment". And whether this control is sustainable or organic, localised, low carbon, whether we strenuously downshift to mitigate climate change and all kinds of resource plundering, it is not making any real aligment happen. Because we are still human beings commanding the planet for our own use. Even the deep green practices of Permaculture assign wild nature to an unspecified region known as Zone 5. Not in my garden. Not in my country.
The Territory of the Heart
The ur-problem is that we are living in our minds and we look at the planet from that mind. We forget that it is a place of heart and soul. We give the planet to the commanders of the human mind - gurus and gods and government and big science - and think "nature" is a messy strange place outside ourselves, outside our artificial "built environment", something to be kept in reserves or on television programmes for our entertainment. As our economic systems collapse, so does the protection of the planet's eco-systems. Everything is up for grabs. Ocean, forest, mountain top. Economic growth is more important than air, water, tree, bird; the idea of social justice becomes more important than the reality of sandhill cranes. The countryside is portrayed as a place where rich and privileged people live.
What is the right response to this collective madness?
The earth is primary. The sun is primary. The air is primary. The water is primary. Our hearts are primary. These things come first. Our living bodies are made of these elements and everything we touch and feel and eat and breathe is made of these elements, no matter what our imperious and foolish minds tell us. If we do not somehow get aligned to the earth as a collective, the primary source of our own living systems will no longer be available to us.
How can we discuss the future together, if first things do not come first? If everything in our culture says that life comes from the marketplace (see our supermarket week), or from business (see funding) or that ideas are more important than physical reality? That the map is superior to the territory? How can we in Transition find a way to speak with one another that is not couched in dry, academic terms, concerned about top-down management and planning, illustrated by corporate-style photographs of ourselves inside and outside buildings? How can we reclothe ourselves in the fabric of the earth, connect with the high frequency of the trees and wild grasses, liberate our constricted bodies and minds, let ourselves flow like rivers, follow the shapes of clouds and coastlines, flourish, blossom, branch out, leap like the hare, sing like the wren? How can we feel the heartbeat of our fellow creatures, behold all mountains, all seas, all lands in the light of the sun? How can we now leave the room and go outside?
How can we dance with the planet on this Spring day?
Wild places: on the tumulus by black poplar and wild daffodils; valley of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, 1993; Sonora desert morning, 2001; cenote in the Yucatan, Mexico, 1991.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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