Wisdom cries to all that lives saying, “I was there at the establishment of the fountains of the deep. I was beside the creator singing the world into being. I was Her daily delight, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Proverbs) It is not any notion of Divine wrath or punishment that brings me to tears, not the awareness of the Earth’s groaning struggle to support life or the idea that we are being starved, drowned or scorched from the surface of the world. It is not some thought that Mother Earth is slapping us in the face and calling us to either wake up or die. It is none of those things that break my heart (although they may be true). It is the relentless giving of life and love, the mystery of being alive in the blue heart of this universe that feels so unbearably beautiful. I am here. I am conscious, even for this brief lifetime. It is the call of the Holy Other into the depths of our being to come near and know that life has a meaning far beyond the reaches of our imagination. The adventure, even a perilous one, is endless, and the Love that calls us onward, holds not even a glimmer of rejection, just an open invitation to receive and become wholly ourselves. We can’t believe it of course because our human experience of love is based on fear of abandonment, pain and disapproval, but everything is given abundantly, both suffering and joy, yes both are given to expand us out of the narrow restrictions we force on ourselves. If we refuse one, we refuse the other and remain small, selfish, hidden and afraid. Wisdom, given a chance, will burst us apart like new wine in an old wine skin and make us forget how to judge each other, forget how to hate, forget how to hold a grudge because we will be dazzled by the beauty of our own being.
I was amazed at how many people have shared and commented on my facebook post about XR’s action on Trinity College’s lawn, so I thought I would get another word or two in, just in case I’m on a roll.
I was sorry to see how angry it had made some XR members and sympathisers, many of whom have supported much more spicy actions in the past. Then I realised that the upset wasn’t about the grass at all but what the grass represents. I’m thinking of words like culture, heritage, birthright, tradition and inheritance. I saw how long we have been in capture and famine within a deteriorating culture that is destroying both us and the natural world. I say “capture” because my first reaction to the digging up of the lawn was dismay. I was captured in the belief that revered establishments like Cambridge University would be holding themselves to the high standards they teach, and “famine” because whilst we may have a high degree of quantity available to us, our lives are starving for quality: consider the high rates of suicide among young men, the self harm, the loneliness, homelessness, violence and drug abuse that pervade our affluent society.
Bertrand Russell, alumni of Trinity College asks, “Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it stirs up friendly feeling?” A long time member of Green Peace recently told me that XR have done more to catapult the Climate Crisis into our consciousness in one year than in her 20 years of campaigning. The media are not interested in reporting the beautiful and poetic actions that XR take. The media want to stir a frenzy and we allow them to do it.
You may know the old fairy tale about the Red Shoes where a little girl, makes herself a pair of red shoes out of some rags. She is delighted by her resourcefulness and handiwork until an old lady in a gold carriage offers her a rich life of plenty. The girl steps into the golden carriage and gets a new pair of beautiful, red leather shoes. However, they dance her day and night until, exhausted and tortured, she begs the axe man to cut off her feet, which he does. Listen to this ancient message because we are the little girl, abandoning our instincts and natural resourcefulness and stepping into the golden cage, being complicit with the establishment, becoming wage slaves and never ceasing in our busy-ness. The old lady represents the repetition of a single value, that of continual increase and wealth. The axe man is at the foot of the tree but we still have time to recover our strength and resourcefulness, to recognise the traps and cages we are caught in, and to become aware of the things we value most before the earth and our one chance at life is felled and turned into ashes. Hold your nerve. The repairable damage to a bit of grass is a small sacrifice to pay in the struggle to make people aware that we are heading towards an earth that is too hot for habitation.
Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion in Cambridge dug up the lawn of Trinity College in what, to many people was a wanton act of vandalism. I have to admit, it gave me quite a shock to see it, and then I thought about why I felt outraged. Wikipedia says, ” …the English lawn was a symbol of status of the aristocracy and gentry; it showed that the owner could afford to keep land that was not being used for a building, or for food production.” Spokesperson for XR, Nathan Williams points out that, “Trinity College is the third largest landowner [in the UK] and backer of fossil fuels,” and his words made me consider my response more carefully. We all know beyond doubt that the continued use of fossil fuel is rapidly eroding any remaining hope we have of maintaining a planet that will support life. Those who back and invest in fossil fuels are causing destruction on a global scale. I’m seeing images of floating cars in the UK, a billion burnt animals in Australia, drowning Islands in the Pacific,a quarter of a million acres of California burnt….etc. So who, in this context is the vandal? Isn’t the continued logging of the Amazon vandalism? Trinity College will repair the lawn in a few days but will they hold out their arms to the refugees fleeing from their burnt out land?
There is an expression: “The trees kept voting for the axe because it was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.” Somehow I had felt attached to the lawn at Trinity College because it evokes a kind of British heritage and a bit of nostalgia, but I wouldn’t be allowed to walk upon it because I am not one of the elite. Why would I want to defend an institution than supports the destruction of the planet and promotes elitist values. Am I too, going to vote for the axe? Once again Extinction Rebellion have polarised opinion and made some of us consider what kind of deeply held elitist and colonial values we didn’t know we held, and once again they have propelled climate change to the forefront of the media. Unfortunately, outrage is a popular stance these days, and this is what the media will feed on like maggots on a carcass.
There is a Russian Proverb that says, “When money and power speaks, the truth keeps silent.” Power lacks principles and morality when it refuses to face the truth and act on it, and when it only has its own interests in mind, it is the precursor to corruption. The interests of the elite and the powerful do not often align themselves with the greater values of cultural life. It is not enough to hope that people in power will speak truth to power. While we squabble about a green herb in Cambridge, people are bailing water out of their homes, while others wonder how they will rebuild after devastating fires.
A few weeks ago I sent two videos to a friend who told me that she doesn’t really care about climate change. One video was scientific, one was emotional. “Sorry Linda,” She said. “It just doesn’t touch me.” Having mastered the desire to beat her with a frying pan, I realised she is not alone in this emotional paralysis. We fail to understand that radical change must engage our emotions. What we care for, what we love, is always charged with emotion. Emotions carry massive energy and the word contains “motion”, something that must moves through us. If anger is repressed it erupts in damaging violence. If outrage and anger can be expressed in a healthy way, it can change the world, as powerfully demonstrated by Greta Thunberg. Grief expressed in tears forces us to take up residency in our physical bodies so that we can locate ourselves in this time and place. We can reorientate ourselves. The latest UN climate report states that we have entered “uncharted waters”. We have no way to navigate, we are at the end of our knowledge but we haven’t yet let go of the old way of understanding and we are still operating from a scientific, evidence based consciousness. The report also used the word “transformation”, a word that contains the meaning of travel and transit, the altering of structure, form and appearance. Einstein might have said, “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. The end has already happened and we can’t go back to that old world, but something is reaching out to us from across the threshold, calling us out of our rigidity, to risk new ways of being, to relax that reductive empirical grip, and to soften into change and engage every part of our beings, not only our intellects. We are closer than were to a new way of life… “Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest,and let the spirit fly in and out.”
“Don’t worry about saving these songs!And if one of our instruments breaks,it doesn’t matter.We have fallen into the place where everything is music.The strumming and the flute note srise into the atmosphere,and even if the whole world’s harp should burn up, there will still be hidden instruments playing. So the candle flickers and goes out.We have a piece of flint, and a spark. This singing art is sea foam. The graceful movements come from a pearl somewhere on the ocean floor.Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge of driftwood along the beach, wanting!They derive from a slow and powerful root that we can’t see. Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest,and let the spirit fly in and out.
A culture disintegrates when old people don’t become Elders but are shuffled off into homes and forgotten, and the youth are rejected as a waste of space. Both feel isolated, suicidal and often live without purpose or meaning. Many young people say, “There’s nothing we can do, it’s gone too far and we are heading towards a hothouse earth. Everything is going to hell.” They perceive that previous generations who are supposed to care for their children, have instead committed ‘nepocide’, the crime of killing your grandchildren. The action at the Guildhall in Cambridge on Saturday saw Grandparents pour fake blood over the heads of the Grandchildren in a visceral and quite shocking demonstration of what this crime looks like in a mythically imagined way. The youth of today are staring into a future unlike anything we have ever conceived of before, but some of them are resisting despair. Some of them, without even knowing, are manifesting that old song, “we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” They are digging deep into the roots of the earth and also finding that spark of creation that bursts into their imaginative inner life. They are connecting with each other, supported by the Elders and engaging in actions that create meaningful change to help heal the world. Our challenge is, how do we continue to awaken the Elders so that they can support and confirm the youth who are carrying within them the dream of the future? As well as tragedy, the environmental crisis carries opportunity to re-imagine a world where community welcomes both old and young, black and white, straight and gay, and all the other divisions that have alienated and separated us as one human species among many other species on our planet.
On Thursay 17th October 2019, I was a Red Rebel, supporting the XR action at BAE systems, arms dealers in London. This is what they say about themselves: “At BAE Systems, we help our customers to stay a step ahead when protecting people and national security…” In other words, “We make sure, if you pay us a lot of money, you can kill other people before they kill you.” So the strange turned into the absurd when we Red Rebels needed a bit of protection from a downpour and found ourselves, completely by accident, sheltering in a glass roofed area, the threshold at the back of the same BAE building. There were a dozen or so people inside, all looking worried and outraged that fifteen red, soggily costumed people were huddled on their threshold. They locked their (probably bullet proof) glass doors and pulled across a heavy metal, indoor gate from where they viewed us with outrage and disgust. They even refused to open the door to their own staff. We sheltered for about 15 deeply uncomfortable moments, then I noticed a well groomed man in his 60’s stride into the defended reception. He got out his phone and began berating somebody at the other end. A minute or two later, the rained eased off and we began to move on. As we reassembled in the street, we were almost run over by a battalion of police offices who were clearly responding to an order to remove us from BAE’s back door. The message couldn’t be plainer. The (possible) Chairman of BAE had called his mate in the Met Police (?) and told him/her to get officers to the back door and remove us. (The most dangerous thing we could have done was drip on them.)
This story beautifully illustrates the threshold that we are on as a human species. The mythologist, Micheal Meade, talks about thresholds as the space between one place and another, between on state and another, or one consciousness and another. In order to go from one place to another we have to cross a threshold of change. Heraclitus says it is while we are trying to change that we find purpose. Instead of heavily defending ourselves against inevitable change, if we can allow ourselves to participate in the change then we will find meaningful purpose. This doesn’t mean finding an activity to do in the world, but it is something that awakens in the heart. When we act from this place of authenticity, we move into the realm of what St Teresa of Avila meant when she said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Meade goes on to talk about how institutions and cultures are collapsing. At the same time, our political climate and the natural climate are in a state of upheaval and this is what we are experiencing every moment. The threshold we are on is a new understanding, where we are coming to realise that we are connected and dependent on all other beings of the world. Most of us are on that threshold between letting go of the old world view and entering into the new world view. A new creation is waiting to emerge from the deep disorder and chaos we find ourselves in, and it is waiting to be found by us, because we are the souls who are alive at this time. The time to reconnect human nature to great nature is upon us, but here we are on this threshold, a place of anxiety, suffering and sometimes despair. But we are not alone. The oceans and seas need us, the forests need us, indeed all of creation is waiting in joyful hope to be reborn. We also have each other, and all across the world people and nature are joining hands as we humans finally, painfully wake up.
At the depths of the disorder is a new The myth of chaos and creation in the beginning.. then there was light… Once creation begins, a shadow also forms. We are falling out of the creation and into the shadow. We are seeing the shadow acted out at the centres of power, the breaking of biodiversity and loss of species. Myth says the re-emergence of life at a greater meaning is found in the depths of chaos and disorder. When we find ourselves facing this huge uncertainty we often fall into fear or despair, but by entering the chaos and descending into the disorder, we find a new creation waiting to awaken, and on this occasion it is waiting to be found by us because we are the souls who are alive at this time. The re-emergence of life and a deeper meaning is found at the depths of the disorder. All the creation stories start with chaos.
Today I was standing in a field between Abington and Hildersham. The freezing air held me on the frozen grass, and surrounding me, the black silhoutes of the trees reached their iced fingers upwards. Suddenly I realised that for years I had been trying to have a conversation with nature. I am of course, a climate change denier. Most of us are, it is the only way we can continue a normal life. But there in that field, the effort of holding back the evidence of my own senses collapsed and I realised that the conversation I had been trying to have, was “goodbye”. Goodbye to the birds, the flowers, the trees and all the myriad of insects that exist to create a profoundly lovely garden of delight that I had believed would always be there. Can I go back to believing it will be preserved? I wish I could but it is actually a relief…I have reached a personal tipping point where I have to admit that nothing is going to stop us reaching the global tipping point that the climate change scientists have been predicting will end a way of life that we have taken for granted. It is time for something else, and there is no training I can take, no degree, no MA or Phd that will equip me or my children for what is ahead. The grief I had been walking with put its arms around me and I stood on that footpath sobbing. I see that recycling, making environmentally wise shopping decisions, being a Green Party candidate, being vegan or vegetarian, none of this is going to be enough to avoid the onslaught of change that is coming. But there is still love and beauty. There is still compassion for all living beings and hard as it is to change, I will still make all the best decisions I can and I will not retreat in despair. My sons are arrows that are flying into the future and whatever that future holds, I want to walk with them into it, singing and praying and dancing and taking all the best that I can of human charity and goodness to fill a new world with a different hope, where value is measured in compassion and goodness instead of wealth and power and status, a world where a new consciousness will teach us to treat all life as sacred and connected to us in ways that we have only recently forgotten. This is my new hope. If we survive the coming onslaught, we will be remade with love and compassion. “The gods have not fled, they are not sulking, but they do want our full attention.” (Martin Shaw)
It was quite a sight this morning, seeing the scarecrow model of a prince, climbing up the church tower on a long braid of Rapunzel’s hair. It is St Mary’s Scarecrow festival in Linton, and the theme is Fairy tales but you should always be very, very careful with your Fairy tales because they are mythic, and myth always points to deep and unsettling truth. The myth of Rapunzel, sanitised first by the Brothers Grimm, then by Disney (Tangled), is a story that would make a gangster blush. Briefly, Rapunzel’s Mum, pregnant with Rapunzel, had a craving for rampion, (from which Rapunzel’s name is derived) so her husband steals the herb from the neighbouring witch’s garden. This infuriates the witch who demands that once the baby is born, it must be given to her. The parents agree (!) and the witch imprisons the girl in a high tower that has no stair or door. The witch brings Rapunzel all she needs by climbing Rapunzel’s long hair. One day a prince hears Rapunzel singing, climbs Rapunzel’s hair and has sex with her on his many visits. The witch finds out, throws the prince from the tower who falls on a thorn bush and gouges out his eyes. The highly pregnant Rapunzel has her hair chopped off and is banished to the desert where she gives birth to twins and years later the blind prince and Rapunzel meet again, she weeps magic tears into his eyes, he regains his sight and they all return to a rapturous welcome at the castle. (All this wildness desported on the church tower as I arrived at the 8am church service this morning was quite diverting, and I am sure the creators of the scarecrows were thinking of a different version than the original.)
Rapunzel is a tale of the imprisoned feminine, fortified against unwanted impregnation and not trusted to take responsibility for itself. The high tower signifies the mind, the cerebral and dominant left hemisphere of our brain where we acquire knowlege without being grounded in intuition and wisdom. Knowlege, as we witness in our disconnected world, is the rampant need for information, the dangerous intellectualising of things without the compassion or imagination to apply knowlege for the well-being of all that is created. Rapunzel is disconnected from the real world high up in her tower and In her naivete, she does not understand why her waist band is getting tight. She pays a high price for her naivete. Presumably she learns very rapidly how to find food in the wild to nourish herself and two babies. The crisis forces Rapunzel to connect with the ground, the earth, and the sustaining elements that means she will survive in the wilderness. She evolves from a coiffured pet in a tower to a hunter gatherer mother, fierce and strong. If she refused to evolve, she and her children would die very quickly. Evolution is like that…transform or die but essential to the process is a threat to life.
It is a fascinating tale on so many levels and there are many more truths that this myth points to. However I really resonate with this intellectualising of Rapunzel. How many talks and meetings have you sat through where you are inundated with information, when what you actually wanted was to have your heart set on fire. You wanted to hear a story. Almost the minute the speaker begins, you are bored and you shut down. I sometimes give a talk for Extinction Rebellion called “Heading for extinction and what to do about it.” It is a talk full of very good information but I know that if people have got as far as coming to hear this talk, there is a fair chance that they already know a lot of information. What they actually want to hear is how to hold this information, how to bear the grief and how to walk on with “new sight”, the new vision of a frightening future.
Rapunzel stands for our society, trapped in it’s mind, disconnected and unearthed. We are ‘fed’ by a malevolent entity (the media) that reaches us only because of our full cooperation in letting it climb up our hair (read: high speed internet cable) to our head. The world we receive is entirely mediated by this malevolent entity that keeps us absolutely imprisoned but fed and watered . The significance of Rapunzel singing, is that any activity, singing, dancing, drumming, meditating, compells us to take up residency in our own body. These days, apart from sport,most physical activities are consigned to the edges and attended by those hippy types: Drum workshops, freedom dancing, singing groups. They are few and far between unless you go to a houseparty, a rave or a concert. But significantly Rapunzel’s singing leads to sex, a potent way to reside in a body, then to pregnancy and childbirth. She transforms very rapidly from virgin intellectual to ravished hunter gatherer. Mind you, there is a lot of suffering. The blind prince stumbles around in a forest for years, Rapunzel is banished to the desert. Suffering is a powerful transformer, but true and lasting change will never occur if we find ways of avoiding or numbing the pain by substance abuse, vengeful bitterness or by sheer busyness. Grief is a deeply subversive act. The Industrial Growth Society does not want us to grieve or feel our pain. It wants us to numb it by offering pharmaceutical remedies, retail therapy, a package holiday, all of which require that we keep on earning, suffering and consuming. It is a horribly cruel system that keeps us captive.