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What we know

This is what we know:

(Beneath the full-blooded hype)

That every atom is a mirror

That every drop of rain is an ocean

That every island is a mountain

That every river is an artery

That every tree is a system

That every whisper is a tornado

That every grain of sand is a memory

That every sound is a movement

That every blade of grass is a canopy

That every dew drop is a kiss

That your hand on my heart

Is a planet being born

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Earth Music

Coming up through the heart space
Is a new voice
Quieter and steady
Rhythmically weaving
Upwards like a fountain
Pouring forth a new story
That is yet to be told

This tender song
Emerging from the soul
Is not the beginning
Nor the end –
It is a birth canal
For the truth

We have known it
All along –
But to sing it out,
To hear it merge
With oxygen and come alive
Is to open new possibilities
New opportunities
To rewrite the story
To decolonise our minds

Will you sing with me?
Will we become a chorus?
A full body of sound
Reverberating through the air
Vibrating with the tremors
Of the earth body?
Come, lay yourself down on the ground
Let her speak to you
Let her hold your sound,
Your story,
And hear hers…
Together, let’s make music.

Omissions

Though I don’t write here often, it’s amazing to me when people stumble across this blog. I guess when they google me, it comes up. And it’s quite amusing – I wonder what they imaging from the patchwork of random snippets assembled here?

One thing that has been missing from this space is the fact that much of my life over the past eight years has been dedicated to learning about and facilitating cultural responses to the climate challenge, mostly with the endlessly inspiring Julie’s Bicycle and more recently through The Field. It’s a glaring omission. I haven’t written much about this work outside of the professional writing I’ve done, but in the last few years the itch of my inner voice has been irritating me to arrive back at the keyboard.

The itch began with a sense of deep disconnection, which I became aware of when I read Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott, a piece of work that charts how the rise of human population to ten billion in the coming years will put pressure on the systems that sustain life, and exacerbate climate change. I had read many climate related things before it, but Emmott’s unapologetically apocalyptic assessment ignited a kind of tipping point. I read the last page, in which the author decides the one thing he will give his son to survive the future is a gun, on the tube just as it arrived into my home station in north London. The sense of profound pain and grief that overcame me as I stepped onto the platform and out into the twilight of a wet London evening opened up a void into which my natural – and bordering on naïve – optimism plunged into. Bereft of the resource that had held my resolve to believe that a different future was possible, I reached out to the planet. What would it tell me if I asked for help, for direction on what to do next? What conversation would we have if (mother) Earth could speak? And how could I ignite this conversation? That night I went home and began writing. It was the only way I knew to converse with something well beyond the human (and my individual mind) – to dive into the creative flow that exists in the space between everything, where words are letters, lines and space, and also silence, and much more besides. Perhaps that was where I would be able to ask, and also to listen.

See the source image

Since then, the Conversation with Gaia, as I’ve now come to call it, has evolved in many different ways, and led me to people and practices which have offered different possibilities for “conversation” and dialogue with the Earth. I have increasingly found myself outdoors to commune with the non-human directly, and with people of different disciplines and cultural traditions to explore how the body and the imagination can facilitate dialogue and a “knowing” in relation to the planet beyond words. It’s been a deep process of integration that’s stitched my cultural, artistic, scientific, anthropological, and spiritual aspects interests together in new and revealing ways, exposing the common roots and intersections of human culture now and throughout history. And I have learned many things, am still learning many things, by asking, listening, and doing. I have come to appreciate this tripod, and the importance of all three elements in creating space for the Earth to be present in our lives, our activism, and the narrative that shapes the society we create through beliefs and behaviour. To re-member that I am (we are) one element of a larger whole – an ecosystem which is in itself an organism called planet Earth.

This “conversation” may sound esoteric, and it is, but it is also very tangible. It takes place in moments of real connection with people, in news items celebrating solutions to ecological breakdown, in protests that resist a system that is heading for a cliff edge, in the glint of solar panels across the land, in the rising voices of indigenous leaders calling to our conscience and reminding us that social and ecological justice are one – that a different way of being and seeing is possible because it has always been available to us. It exists in the steady voice of a 15 year old telling the UN to grow up, and in taking time to witness the incredible diversity of wildlife and complex miracle of everyday activity that makes the fragile balance of life on earth possible. It is relational, reciprocal, interconnected, collective. It is vulnerable, creative and courageous. It is present, timeless, powerful. It is personal, political, spiritual, and it’s available to all of us, calling for our participation.

Our survival, and the planet’s wellbeing, depends on the Earth being seen, being acknowledged and brought into our awareness. Only we can do that, individually and together. Our survival depends on whether we are able to stop denying the crisis, the disconnection, and the violence of separation, and find ways back into a conversation that honours that which gives us life, oxygen, water, nutrition, and the relationships between us humans, and non-humans, which create the conditions for thriving. Our survival depends on whether we can stop denying the part of us that IS nature, and embrace what it means to be part of something much larger than the self.

So this post is a humble door opening, and an invitation. I’m not alone in writing on these topics – it’s a very well-trodden path. But I want to share my journey into this regenerative inquiry more, to join the collective of minds and cultures exploring these practices, and continue asking, listening and doing.

I wrote my first complaint letter in a long while, possibly ever, a few weeks ago. OK, it wasn’t a letter, it was an email, but same difference. Anyone who knows me will know how out of character this is – I’ve got to be pretty damn angry to take the time to channel my fit of rage through a laborious internet feedback form. But this was serious, near-blind, blood-thumping anger. The kind that you can’t pass over.

The source? An innocent pack of Always pads.

Here’s a warning to anyone squeamish about periods – look away now – though having said that if you do have an issue then you should get over it 🙂

Continue Reading »

This isn’t a new video, but I watched it for the first time today despite having heard about the book it’s based on (Religion for Atheists, 2011) when it first came out.

Alain proposes that, rather than dispose of religion altogether, atheists should put aside the doctrine but keep the ritualistic, social and moral elements that make religion such a comforting and helpful tool for so many people.

He argues that we should bring back the sermon as much more effective model of communication than the dry lecture, and that we can use ritual, art and social spaces to encourage reflection on the big truths or virtues of life – love, generosity, compassion, for example. For me Alain’s talk makes a lot of sense on so many levels. He asks us not to reject thousands of years worth of social innovation simply because we don’t believe in the ideas that are being conveyed by it anymore, but to keep the infrastructure and instead infuse it with what makes most sense to us now. As he says, there is no reason why the mystery and wonderment of modern science can’t provide the same sensation as that of a “spiritual” experience, which helps us put our own lives and problems into perspective.

I would love to hear other people’s responses – are you religious? What do you think about his ideas? If you’re an atheist, do his ideas reflect your feelings… are you an atheist 2.0? If there was one positive quality in religion that you’d like to keep what would it be, and how would you use it?

I’ve just found out that 20th March is International Happiness Day. It seems like there’s an international day for pretty much everything now (the 20th March is also shared by “Snowman Burning Day” in the USA and Switzerland), but there is something rather nice about the first day of spring, the spring solstice and international happiness all coming together on the same day. It feels appropriate that as we welcome in the Persian new year (Nowrooz) we also celebrate happiness, and encourage it in our lives.

But what is “happiness”? It’s something we all want, but it’s not always clear how we get there. Here are some thoughts…

While the coming of the 13th Baktun of the Mayan calendar failed to bring about the end of the world on the winter solstice of 2012, other voices came forward to suggest that it was not an absolute ending that the ancients predicted, but the beginning of a new era. In particular, the Mayans of present-day Guatamala believe that this new era will be one in which big social and environmental issues will find resolution.

While I’m not one to jump to superstitious conclusions, it does seem that with the advent of the global financial crisis, enduring poverty worldwide and the rise of climate change as a pressing issue in our social consciousness, more people are questioning the values we live by and seeking to improve them.

At the very heart of this process of enquiry is our understanding of happiness, and the means by which we try to achieve it. A recent documentary, The Happy Movie, is a fascinating insight into the conditions in which happiness thrives in cultures across the world. One of it’s most poignant conclusions (taken from recent cross-cultural studies into happiness) is that a middle class American person has the same level of average happiness as a rickshaw driver in India, working 16 hours a day and living in a tiny shack with a large family and only basic possessions. In one fell swoop this documentary, and other similar films and writings, undermine the line our modern economy has been built on – that happiness and prosperity are won as a result of accumulating more, whether it be wealth, sexual appeal or Facebook friends. Instead, they present a version of happiness which is based on a basic level of financial sustainability and deep social connections.

It’s no secret that mental illness, particularly depression, is on the up in time-stressed Western societies as communities become fragmented and families get smaller and dispersed across the world. Think tanks like the new economics foundation (nef) have advised on the inevitability of shorter working weeks to encourage more time outside of the office participating in community-focused activity, and also wider distribution of wealth. What that means in practical terms, very few companies have figured out yet, but thought leadership like this is like a seed freshly planted – it takes time for them to develop root. But it seems like more and more people are in on the game of re-imagining how we might organise our social and economic systems to encourage more people-focused, rather than wealth-focused, priorities. Bhutan’s decision to adopt GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) over GDP as their primary measure of national prosperity is one macro example of how these ideas are manifesting.

The key seems to be that in happier societies, people come first. Social relationships are valued over financial wealth and material possessions. People are content with owning less because their lives are enriched by strong, cross-generational emotional bonds, and collaborative social activities. Both the ancient mystical traditions and science tell us that compassionate and empathetic activities don’t just help other people, but also make us happier and healthier.

As Rumi says: “When we practice loving kindness and compassion we are the first ones to profit.” There have been several campaigns and initiatives I’ve come across in recent years which have tried to galvanise more compassionate action, from Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion to the (perhaps more gimicky) Free Hugs campaign. And of course there are all of the individuals, organisations, carers, spiritual movements and religiously driven initiatives that work on local, national and international levels to bring happiness into people’s lives.

These are great and necessary, but at the end of the day, the only thing that can make us truly happy is ourselves – we have to work at it and, as the Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” We can’t buy it off the shelves, or receive it from a friend. It’s something we cultivate; it’s a state of mind. Abraham Lincoln once said that “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” And I think it’s true. Happiness almost always seems to walk hand in hand with contentment; be happy with what you have and you will always be rich. Seek riches and you will never have enough.

So, I guess my new years resolution is to value more what I already have, and try to find happiness through positive action. Happy Nowrooz to all my Persian-speaking friends and family… and make the new year/spring solstice bring good health, new adventures and happiness to you all!

I would ordinarily in this first paragraph be making some excuse for why it’s been so long since I posted anything on here, or remarking on how fast time flies, but I think I should probably just get over it and get on with the writing. I won’t make any promises about writing more often – I think it’s about time actions spoke louder than words.

So I just finished watching Fair Game, the 2011 film that depicted the true story of Valerie Plames, the CIA undercover operative whose cover was blown by her own government after her husband, Joe Wilson, accused the Bush administration of lying about WMDs in Iraq. I felt compelled to share Wilson’s great speech on democracy towards the end of film, which reminds us of our duties as citizens, subjects or whatever we are within a democratic state, to play an active role in our democracy – to hold those who claim authority over us to account in order to maintain a fair and uncorrupt system.

I think too often a democracy is assumed to be a healthy and self-sustaining system, that the fact that it is called “a democracy” is enough to ensure that it remains truly so. But what I feel around me is a distinct sense of mistrust and lack of control over our societal trajectory – it’s nothing new to say that our society is by comparison a politically apathetic one. Perhaps, because we’ve been allowed for too long to feel that the ways things are is stable and not in need of our time and effort to improve, and meanwhile the system has become too market driven to be easily affected by the will of its people, disempowering us further.

Listening to Wilson’s (Sean Penn’s) short speech reminded me in a nutshell about all the great reasons why it’s important to stay engaged, and not get swept up in media storms, which portray a politics more akin to Big Brother than a serious endeavour to responsibly govern our country/city/town/constituency. It reminds me most importantly why it’s worth risking the consequences to speak out for truth, and that it’s ok to believe that another way of being is possible.