Nuthin’ Much

Amazing! I wrote below’s entry while travelling to London on the train from Scotland two days ago. Just the process of writing it made me feel better, but since then I’ve been attending UKESAD – an addiction symposium that included a panel discussion between Professor David Nutt, Bruce Parry, Kurikindi (a 5th generation Amazonian shaman) and more – and have renewed old connections, had lots of positive avenues for work opening up, and generally been reminded that there’s a big beautiful world out there beyond my own limited mind! Happy Beltane, May Day, Spring to us all….

….I have set myself the task of writing a post each week this month. But what happens if you are feeling down, morose and have nothing to say?! What then?

That is exactly how I feel at this moment in time. No bon mots, no derring-do, no flow. I am beginning to suspect that I am a bit stuck. I’ve been on this vibe for quite some time. I’m quite bored of ruminating about myself (too much time at present) and frustrated by waiting for the potential land in Devon of which Helena and I are hoping to become the grateful stewards. The owners are elderly, don’t really want to move out and are in a massive chain beyond them, upon which we depend. It’s not a strong position! It’s been 3 months already and not much sign of movement. Attempts to bargain with them have been met with threats to take the property off the market, so pressing for a date doesn’t seem to be a possibility. Everyone says keep looking – we are, but there’s nothing that seems to fit anything like this gorgeous little place does.

Then there’s work. I feel like I’ve run out of steam to create the retreat/workshop emporium I was envisioning. I’ve had the go-ahead to offer a progressive addiction workshop at Innisfree Therapy in London, but again am waiting on a date. I have a meeting scheduled to propose offering a spirituality-based workshop at another treatment facility in London in 10 days time and am trialling one of them with friends and ex-colleagues next Sunday.

I’ve been offered unpaid (for now) work with Sweet Enough, an exciting multi-media programme for those who want to transition from sugar-fuelled diets to healthy eating, and I’m doing some work as and when required at an exclusive treatment centre in Zurich. In Devon I’ve been offered voluntary work on a meditation and writing retreat at Sharpham House and an addiction-focused life narrative rewriting retreat on Dartmoor. Perhaps things are quite so bad as I am thinking they are…

I suspect, and feel, that I am still in a massive transitionary process in moving from Bristol to Devon but also from conventional counseling to…….something else, as yet unknown.

Anyway, I have survived the challenge of family and my father’s (ample!) 70th birthday celebrations: three nights of schmoozing with his pals, many of whom I am very fond of, some I am not. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than throwing parties and providing food, drink, games and merriment for as many people as possible. Over as long a period of time as possible. Owning a hotel makes entertaining people for extended periods of time not a mere possibility but a duty, at least in his eyes!

Apart from thinking (and talking) about little else for the last three months (my mother had to put a ban on the mention of it whilst on holiday to regain her flagging sanity) my father made the bold move of inviting us children to write a few words to say about him. I think he may have regretted it! Ever more frequent calls, enquiring about our “contribution” came through, to us all. Being a master of “doggerel verse”, meaning silly, hopefully humorous, rhyming poetry, he’s a hard man to follow, but putting it together was extremely entertaining. I was laughing out loud on the train at my siblings’ contributions highlighting the various foibles and eccentricities (of which there are many) of his life. Luckily my sisters vetoed some bits that were too close to the bone, but here’s some for your amusement. It probably won’t make much sense, because it’s so Giles-centric, with loads of references, and I’m just putting my bit in because it is really quite long! But to make it more relevant I’ll explain: he was called Sloth at school because he was so idle; he genuinely filled in as accountant for someone at the Beatles’ record label, Apple, and handed John, Paul, Ringo and George their weekly stipend; he fronted the Prudential’s fund management division and headed up Aberdeen Asset Management for a good while; he was Chairman of the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh and, most prestigiously, Prior of the order of the Monks of St Giles, a ridiculous fellowship of the doggerelly-inclined who meet monthly to recite their own verse to each other in a Greyfriars’ bell-tower. I am, I realise, very proud of him.

My father writes these sorts of ditties for most major occasions (all our births, major birthdays, weddings, absurd moments and more) so this will give you some insight into my family’s strange but warm ways. He said, of his birthday – seeing 150+ people, putting up and organizing a pentathlon for half of them, a boat trip around the Bass Rock and uncorking two bottles of Chateau Petrus for the winners – that his favourite moment was of us reading out our poem to him.

Maybe writing without much to say isn’t, like my work prospects, so bad after all?


Fred’s section of Dad’s 70th Birthday Blast

At work dad’s efforts have risen above an early lack of edge

The “Sloth” transformed itself to Hulk as he raked in the wedge!

From accountant to the Beatles, to the visage of the Pru,

And the Svengali of Aberdeen – there’s nothing he can’t do!


Director of the Galleries, and Prior of the Monks –

And even Harvard Business School’s own MBA slam-dunk!

Imagine, then, with that success, that drive and all that clout

If your treasured children turned out filthy layabouts…


That was his fear – that was his line – for, sadly, quite some time

But thankfully our paths have crossed from idle to sublime;

For tending to the suffering souls and nourishing with art

Are lucrative “growth markets” – if you’ve the stomach and the heart!


Heart is something that Giles has in plentiful amounts

To him the role of bon-viveur and “Buddy” is what counts

His laugh, his glee, his merriment is succour in itself

And all that warmth will always be, to us, his greatest wealth.


I’ve just spent the week on Iona, mystical Isle of beauteous repute, drinking in the colours, winds and wilds. There were lambs. Miniature, black ones. On tumbling, shaky legs. There were stones. Pink, speckled ones. IMG_4514On shores by turns soft and icily slicing. There were dead things – skulls, rabbits rotting, placentas. There was enormous sky, and moon half showing her luminosity as we wandered, seeking solace, answers, or better still, questions. There were the otherworldly, metallic, radar sounds of snipe flying overhead at night. And then, there were humans, like the moon, waxing into wholeness.

We were studying Bill Plotkin’s nature-based map of the human psyche and indulging in all sorts of outlandish activities, cross-species communication and other foolishness. Simply delicious. tumblr_inline_n8xb0lxwBD1qa3edrThe beauty of this map is its focus on “wholing”, without forgetting the fragments of our wounded selves – the parts that protect us in ever-more astonishing, disturbing, ways and can’t be ignored. But they can be loved, conversed with, related with and – in some imperfect way – integrated back into the community of the self. Just as the world around us, and all its inhabitants, can be brought back into right relationship with humanity. Or rather, we can allow ourselves to be restored to a conscious relating with this whole interconnected web of life that accompanies and supports us every moment of every day. Last time I checked.

I discovered my raspberry fool.IMG_4527

I was told by a kilted, arms-bearing protector of the realm to look west. Enter Mr Batman. An exceedingly shy, socially awkward blood-sucking gentlebat with some questionable appetites. I look forward to further making his acquaintance. Others, possibly, won’t.

Skye was ever-present. Its southern peaks looming out of the clouds across the sea. It’s the second time I’ve spent a week staring at the Cuillin range and it would be fair to say it’s worked its magic on me. Apart from reading Robert Macfarlane’s description of them as one of the few remaining wild places on these isles, my thinly Scottish blood flows with MacDonald of Skye and I really want to go there. To continue the harvesting of ancestral explorations and soak up further Hebridean flavours.


I need to write. To express. To sing. To run around in Nature, on paper, in Spirit, like a loon. Since I started this blog the fear of writing and sharing my authentic self has significantly diminished, but in recent times it has crept in through the back door, not showing its face but showing up in the length of time between posts and a careful, constricting editor. The repressor is strong and ever-active so I am choosing to test myself and seed the intention to post something every week for the next month. Rough and unpolished as it might be. I hope this will be of benefit to you, kind reader, as much as it is me. May my less edited missives coax some more magnificence from us all!

IMG_4434On that note I have just heard back from the “Lower Master” of my old all boys boarding school – that he is going to schedule me in for a talk to the “C-blockers” (17 year olds to the rest of the world). I’m in! Mental health, emotional intelligence, vulnerability, distorted masculinity, sexuality, sovereignty, ecology, purpose…. I am truly excited. If you have any ideas and suggestions of stuff to get in there to help them consider their own unique potential, especially in how to seize and hold the attention of 250 seventeen year old boys of the ADHD age I’d love to hear them.

I shall leave you now with Shane Koyczan – *WTF* – who reminds me of the importance of taking that risk (thanks Duncs). 7 minutes of musically accompanied spoken word with an awesomely illustrated video spilling gold.

Today All I Can Write About Is Pain

I said I was going to write more about the ancestors, and I shall. But not today. Today all I can write about is pain.

blobSoft blobs of sensations squeezing themselves up and out of my oesophagus, beyond understanding. They often announce themselves this way, without warning, save in the traces of a slow internal coiling when I place my attention intensely, obsessively, elsewhere. The longer the absence from self, the more costly the re-admission. Today it is steep. I’ve been promoting the upcoming Spirituality workshop in London and, ironically, losing myself in the process!

Although hard, what a relief to come back to now. And breathe… As I surrender to this prickly re-presencing the pain drifts closer towards that mysterious, imaginary dividing line with pleasure. Pain becomes sensation, becomes experiencing, becomes body, becomes incarnation – the one true indication of being alive. Thought is, blessedly, relegated to the sidelines, right-sized.

As I write, this connection comes in and ebbs out. I notice and re-orient. I forget and drift. It’s the unending dance of existence in duality – our birthright to manage and master as we please.

f07b349d1afab118adb6202f4f6a20e9For many years, of course, I’ve been following the thread of dysfunction that lies like a fractured faultline through my personality, pulling me away from this presence. The aspect that, despite my blessings and bounty, can perceive only darkness and bring only ruin in an ill-advisable attempt to escape itself. Why was it that I needed to damage myself and others so to wake up?

Genetic inheritance – maybe. Behavioural patterns gone barmy – yes. Stemming from emotional regulation gone wrong – yes. Stemming from attachment-based “first world trauma” – yes. And yet, though the knowledge helps, it doesn’t solve. Structure stabilizes. Awareness assists. Expression opens. But once the major behavioural changes have taken place and a certain occupation of the self has established itself – then – only living the unprocessed pain allows a repatterning, a resolution. How do you live it?

54817f4f118c89c1ce534efbe3325f9aIn meditation I began to encounter a sense of falling. It was terrifying. Like there was no ground beneath me and if I kept going I’d fall foverever, lose myself for all time…dissolve into darkness. It was accompanied by white noise, so terrifying that it has taken me years to face. Slowly, as I’ve stabilized in myself, I’ve been able edge closer to that terrible sound. White noise has given way to screams of intense desperation. A baby, so distressed that nothing can calm it. No wonder I wanted to obliterate my awareness.

The development of the psyche, the self, is so mysterious. I remember when I began my own healing process and then began studying it also, I would hear theories that early experiences, including birth and even in utero, could have huge impacts on individual development. 2687080647_876953309bI understood it but I couldn’t feel the truth of it. In truth I dismissed it, perhaps advisably, as it wasn’t relevant to my level of development at the time. Then, it was about learning how to stop self-destructive behaviours, acknowledge feelings and learn emotional intelligence.

But recently I’ve been blessed with another piece of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place. On the Journey at Embercombe – an excellent, grounded immersion into self-exploration in service to finding one’s purpose – the part of me that makes these decisions felt safe enough to loosen the armour that bit further. I had understood that my birth was problematic. I had been told that my mother was injected with pethidine shortly before my birth, and that I came out blue and needed to be put in an incubator for some time afterwards. But I’d never felt any connection with that event. In an exercise I found myself falling surrounded by darkness, and the felt sense was of extreme loneliness. The sadness and fear were crippling – there was no one to greet me, no one to hold me, no one to let me know that it would be alright. Just darkness. Just falling.

I was able, magically, to experience the falling, the screaming, the terror, from the perspective of this new-born being and hold it in the greater awareness of my adult consciousness (between the sobs) – present and loving, affirming, there – and be assisted in that by others (Tommy and Tina) who also were present and loving, affirming, there.

Rowan, my nephew, and me - feeling the love!
Rowan, my nephew, and me – feeling the love!

Since then I have been more able to stay with that young distressed part, who is never far away – imprinted perhaps on my psyche – in meditation and normal waking consciousness. It has offered a little more explanation for this unfathomable sense of sadness that has always been there and is opening the way for a more embodied experience of being with myself, being here. It’s like inner child work on depth-charge and I’m feeling its power.

Suddenly cranio-sacral, sensorimotor and delicate somatic work make sense and are offering leaps in growth that the psychotherapeutic realm can’t, for this stage of the process.

So, thank you for the pain. Thank you for the pathway into awareness and presence. Thank you to the beings who continue to support me in this unfolding adventure of life. Helena, my ever-loving wife, especially. And God, Source, Life, ultimately.

P.S. For myself I think it important to say the following… I am under no illusions that this insight will sustain itself. My ego’s attempts to manage the intensity of the sensations will no doubt reassert themselves. This is the ebb and flow of awareness, just as the onion always reveals new unexpected layers to peel away on the road to the heart of being. That is ok. This is not a race. This is an adventure – a not knowing – a living into the questions themselves as dear Rilke reminds us, and my friends remind me.b3673b85e91f101246e5880508db64fb

Honouring The Ancestors

Many years ago, now, I had my first encounter with this concept of “ancestors”. I was standing in a circle of men, being guided to imagine my ancestral lineage stretching back behind me; a line of beings upon whose shoulders I stand.ancestor tree I liked the image. I was in the midst of an intense transformational experience so, even if I wasn’t actually able to, I imagined I could feel them – those shoulders behind me.

Whether I did or not, from that time onwards I couldn’t connect with any sense of ancestry. In similar ceremonial situations I would feel the absence of any comfort or presence, wondering thinly why that might be, and wishing for the next part of proceedings to begin.

Unexpectedly, a change began in April last year, when I visited the death place of my uncle Martin, in New Mexico, and conducted a ceremony in remembrance of him. I was joined by his son and, equally unexpectedly, given the blessing of my father. My primary lens for viewing myself and the human condition, up until that point, was through that of psychology. Having done lots of therapeutic work on the psychodynamics of my childhood, and come to some understanding of the pressures that formed my own patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour, I carried a fair degree of resentment towards my ancestors. I wouldn’t have termed it so, but in essence that’s what it was.

Emerson AncestorsAs I had come to understand and hold a more forgiving attitude towards my parents’ conditioning (that had then contributed to my own conditioning) I had transferred that hurt, anger and distrust towards those that hurt them. Not a very enlightened view! But the best I could manage at the time.

The process of healing is a long one. It involved, firstly, developing compassion for myself, despite the profoundly self-destructive, shame-inducing behaviours I had developed. Gaining insight into the psychological wounds I had sustained over the course of my life was instrumental. The hatred and anger that I felt towards myself was initially redirected towards those who had (in the most part unwittingly and unintentionally) inculcated those feelings in the first place. But as I developed compassion for them the resentment was shunted up another generation, and so on. It had got stuck at the level of those who were no longer here, whose humanity I was less able to perceive.

But a remarkable thing happened after the ceremony for Martin. He visited me in a dream and I felt reassured of both his supportive presence and the fulfillment of his own path, despite the terrible circumstances surrounding his death. A few days later, in the dirt of the rim overlooking De Chelley canyon in Arizona, sacred to the Dine Nation, I found a necklace with a silver wing.

Martin's message
Martin’s message

At the end of the ceremony I had left a necklace that was precious to me, as an offering. On seeing this one, with such an apt symbol, a surge of joy from being recognized and related to rose up within me. It remains around my neck as a reminder of Martin’s presence.

The next time I encountered an explicit instruction to connect with the ancestors was in the first week of the Becoming Indigenous course, with Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen. Usually at this moment, as I imagined my ancestors stretching out behind me, I would experience a split from felt sense to intellectually-driven imagination – the willful creation of a mental picture for the purposes of the exercise – neither embodied nor authentic. But being a committed perfectionist I wouldn’t dream of letting my actual experience get in the way of how I believed it ‘should’ be!! But this time a choice presented itself in my mind. I could either go on with the exercise as usual – an exercise in imagination. Or I could stay focused at the point that the emotional connection drops away – on my immediate ancestors. I chose the latter.

tree ancestorsI was unable to continue the exercise as instructed. An image of my grandfather’s haunted face formed in my mind’s eye. It was painful and distressing to see. Resisting the impulse to look away I slowly began to allow the emotional spill of his perceived presence to enter my body. There was a lot of pain – dread, horror, confusion, fear. It was challenging to stay with but I felt a sense of pressing importance to ‘honour’ his presence by remaining emotionally open and available.

Over the course of the next few days this mysterious exchange between us unfolded. My job was simply to hold myself open to the feelings that his perceived presence stirred within me. My feelings moved from fear and disgust to a weighty compassion for his suffering, and an understanding of where his difficulties arose. It seemed that he needed appreciation, care, psychic holding and healing every bit as much as I do! And that in doing this for him I was doing it for both of us.

copy-of-ancestors-posing-for-posterityMy bitterness for the failures that I perceived in his personhood were dissolved in a growing awareness of the challenges he had been facing. They turned to huge appreciation for not only passing on his many gifts to my father but also for simply surviving full-stop. It is hard to explain without sounding like a crazed Romantic, but I honestly feel like I know and love him now. I feel such a tenderness towards him and gratitude for his gentle, kind and playful mind.

Perhaps this kind of contact, resolution and relationship is available to everyone? I suspect so. As I explore the practices taught to us on the Becoming Indigenous course it is spreading into different ancestral lines. It seems to be a question of attuning sensibilities towards it. The indigenous cultures we learnt of exist in constant communication with ancestry, and to them the idea of not being in an ongoing dance of related-ness is baffling and absurd. I will share some of the beautiful ceremonies that I’ve been trying out (and that have been so vividly enriching my life) next time.

Until then, peace of a thousand prayers be upon you.

On the Remarkable Potential of Grief

I’m glad to say that all is not sorrowful. I have just celebrated my dear older sister’s 40th birthday. There was merriment as we luxuriated and romped around our old family home. Doggerel verse was declaimed in her name, songs were sung, and coastal walks were claimed. My newborn nephew Rowan was there also – a gurgling, ham-fisted delight! Ah – the passage of time..

And now 2016 is here. Stretching invitingly before us. There is much for me to be thankful for, excited about and engaged with. This is set to be the year we find our home in Devon, launch our new retreat business, and translate some of the learning of these last years, studies and travels into a tangible experience of benefit for others. Scary and delicious! Who knows what will actualize? All I know is that it’s time to step up and into the next phase of life. And it’s a whole lot easier to do that when you’ve got some fine listening to soothe you along the way.. Here’s Ryley Walker’s live rendition of On The Banks of The Old Kishwaukee should you want some as we delve into the uncomfortable territory of grief..

There were certain pivotal moments in the Becoming Indigenous course during which grief shifted from the fringes of my awareness into centre stage. Our teachers had a beautiful range of different responses to the horrors of where we find ourselves, and the enormity of what we face. Some deeply proactive – Louis Fox (film), Atossa Soltani (activism) and Drew Dellinger (poetry) spreading information, educating and activating. Some more ceremonial: Pat Macabe, Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, Linda Lorimer and Carolyn Hillier, bringing rich lineage of how to engage with the worlds behind the veil. And some more focused on using the grief as a means to finding soul purpose: Bill Plotkin, Colin Campbell, Lucy Hinton and Tim Mac Macartney. All engaging generously and inspiringly with their gifts to help heed the call.

One of the practices we undertook in our amazing introduction to indigeneity was an overnight 24 hour fast and wild vigil.Tree-of-Life-Meditation Time almost stood still, measured only by the imperceptible movement of the moon, which, over the course of the hours, arced in luminous post-fullness across the blackened sky. My mind ranged impatiently, exhaustedly, listlessly, illuminatedly over that vast expanse of moments. I returned with many gifts: in the midst of that vast silence a meeting with a busily bungling badger, face to face; sight of the fluid, fleeting slink of fox across dusked fields; dragon, in my dreaming.

But, nestled amidst the vigil trove, was a less welcome awareness. Despite being in the depths of the Dartington Estate, over the course of the entire night I encountered only three wild creatures. I had anticipated the sound-stirrings of unnamable life throughout the night – rustles, twig-cracks, flutterings that would set my heart alight with wild imagining. I was met with devastating silence. I can count the number of owl hoots I heard on one hand. And the refrain “Where are my animal brothers and sisters? Where have they gone?” has haunted me since.

Surrendering to this loss is the only way I know.images-3 Taking all the actions that will support the emergence of a different future, yes, but surrendering to the oceanic sadness that sits just beneath the urgent doing, the desperate distracting, even the artful activist-ing, feels like an interesting and fertile way through.

Bayo Akomolefe, our poetic philosopher-psychotherapist-teacher, whose infectious humour and intelligence crackle in his words, facilitated an exercise that dissolved my sense of blame, guilt, rage, and righteousness over the destruction we are reaping on our world. The systems, the peoples, the nations, the individuals morphed into each other, leaving only love standing. The love that “bears all things”. “The times are urgent…”, he is fond of saying, “…we must slow down”. For how can a solution that springs from the consciousness that created the problem, solve a crisis as complex as the one we are facing? I found, to my surprise and delight, that the sense of disruption to my usual rationale and the significant discomfort that ensued, then harmonized into a sense of greater possibility not lead by logic alone. Through the acknowledgement of and emotional immersion into my own inability to solve this problem, suddenly room for something else was possible.

The price for creating a space within ourselves for an emergent possibility is the letting go of certainty, absolutes, binaries. That means experiencing VULNERABILITY. If we’re not holding a fixed cognitive position we can feel what’s there, what’s so often denied in our everyday attempts to navigate life in a culture that over-values logic, achievement, the material and the illusion of safety this creates. The cost of that illusion is now becoming apparent – the illusion is shattering.. See Bayo’s brilliant talk at Dartington to get a richer flavour of what I mean.

As a result of this I am now engaged in working to support the movement into culturally-sanctioned expressions of grief. As Francis Weller so insightfully explains, without witnessing grief remains dry. In the past tribal societies had their grieving rituals – every week if not more often. It was never meant to be a solo experience! In this validated acknowledgement of the profound losses that our very existence ensures, we are given a catalytic container in which our grief can transform, fulfilling Rumi’s assertion that “Tears water the garden of your soul”.5-stages-of-grief

I often think of Dylan Thomas’ incandescent injunction “Rage, rage against the dying of the day” as the culturally sanctioned response to loss. Despite recognising the defiant strength and yearning I always feel a sadness when I hear them because I experience them as a further discouragement to revealing the softer, deeper, more potentially transformative emotion of sadness that rests untapped beneath reactive anger.

So I am now part of a Grief Composting Circle. It’s a community initiative to enable all those who want to touch and transform their grief – to allow it to be witnessed as it is, in relation to whatever it comes from. It’s a true priviledge to be a part of it. It will be offered monthly and we’ll see where it goes. Here’s the link:

We are drawing from the work of Joanna Macy, Francis Weller, Stephen Jenkinson, Sobonfu and more. Francis Weller gives an extraordinarily clear-sighted, elegant explanation of the place of grief in our contemporary culture illustrating why it can be so difficult to successfully grieve, and the consequences of this on ourselves and our world.  It’s not too long and truly worth coming back to if you don’t have time to watch it now.

images-2May we each find our optimal pathways through that which must be felt, and create the conditions for others to do the same, so that we can make the shift that must be made. And recognise that it might not go in a neat, straight line!

IndigiDays Drawing In

This image by Carolyn Hillier, who elegantly and groundedly hosted us up on Dartmoor to explore the practices of these lands more deeply, speaks to some of the wisdom we’ve been blessed to encounter along our winding way.

But I’ve got to say: the Schumacher immersion into Indigineity has been intense! With little digestion time in between each weekly experience we have explored many different traditions and cosmologies from around the world: all night Nature Vigils, Vuutas (Southern African Steam ceremony), call and responses, Native American Inipis (Sweatlodges), Ceremonies to let go of fear, Ancestral ceremonies to re-establish connection, spiritual support and healing, Ecuadorian Amazonian tea-dream rituals, we’ve walked stone circles and rows on Dartmoor, deepened the connection to this land in our own ceremonies in a roundhouse,

Carolyn Hillier and Nigel Shaw's Roundhouse on Dartmoor
Carolyn Hillier and Nigel Shaw’s Roundhouse on Dartmoor

studied the experience through an astrological lens, we have danced, and drummed and chanted. We have even made our own ritual instruments out of wild Dartmoor horse hide, hazel and horse hair. It has been AMAZING. The final teaching, last week, was undertaking The Journey at Embercombe – a powerful descent to the depths of oneself and out into manifesting purpose in the world.

I am so excited about having the time to digest this extraordinary wealth of teachings and share some of the gold with you in the weeks to come. We say our goodbyes this week and give presentations on the projects we intend to carry forward into the world. Not quite ready to share mine yet, but it’s about using my “voice” in the service of life – I’ve got a particular place in which to do this in mind!

Well done world for facing the future
Well done world for facing the future

And finally, go COP21! It may not be legally binding, it may be deeply flawed, but the agreement world leaders and nations came to this weekend is an historic global acknowledgement of the problems we are facing and statement of intent that is paving the way for a new collectively-shaped future. Let’s make it happen!

Becoming Indigenous

We’ve moved down to Devon – Totnes High street no less, where we’re a stone’s throw from a yoga studio, the Happy Apple (a renowned Totnesian independent food shop open all hours, full of intriguing characters, as is the entire town come to think of it..) and Drift Records (“The local record shop, Drift, is mind-bogglingly great: the kind of place that you’d think was amazing if you found it in New York” – John Harris, The Guardian). 

The delight of Drift Records....
The delight of Drift Records….

The record shop has nothing to do with why I chose this flat, honest… I went in there the day we viewed the flat and experienced this aural delicacy caressing the atmosphere.

In terms of a broader orientation, the Dart is at the bottom of the high street. Dartington Estate, with it’s ample woodland, sweeping views up to Haytor on Dartmoor, and brimming swimming spots, is an amble away. I am so happy to be here. This is the view from the hill above Totnes, just 10 minutes stroll from our flat.

North across the South Hams to Dartmoor beyond
North across the South Hams to Dartmoor beyond

On the estate sits Schumacher College, where I’m studying Cosmology! The actual title of the course is “Becoming Indigenous – Finding Our Way Home”. I’m not really sure what that means and neither is anyone else. And that is part of its charm, as well as its potency. It is extraordinarily stimulating to sit in a circle with a bunch of curious others willing to grapple with questions, enter the mystery and explore a new-ancient way to be in the world. We are being taught, but much of that teaching is experience lead.

From what I can tell, we’re engaging in a genuine enquiry as to how a sense of indigeneity can help those of us within the Western industrialised worldview belong, once again, to this extraordinary collective system: Earth. How do we find ourselves cut off, adrift from this natural birthright, destroying the very system that has given us life? And in rediscovering a sense of belonging can we rouse ourselves to weave a mutually enhancing relationship with our planet?

There is much wisdom to draw upon: analyses and critiques of the Western mindset that credit various historical periods and philosophies with the split of our consciousness from the context in which it exists. Precipitous moments in which Nature was no longer something we were living within but became ‘out there’. The Story of Separation.

Cosmology, in this context, is the study of “the story that a culture tells itself about how the world came to be and how we fit into it” – Thomas Berry. It seems that he has done much to deconstruct the scientific story that has dominated our thinking for a long time, and reframe it as a creation myth. Which is not to say that the scientific story does not have a great deal to offer – it has done a great job of exploring the surface of physical reality, enabling communication such as this, surgery, etc. However, all cultures have a creation myth, and ours is one that would have us believe that we were created out of nothing, by chance, without purpose, and we’re going nowhere. Now I’m all for a bit of existential angst – it can prove deeply motivating – but only when meaning can be made from it. For example, on contemplating death and descending into a felt relationship with the singular sorrow of the human situation, often a profound sense of the preciousness of life can emerge. If, however, bleak despair is all that we can find – i.e. no meaning –  then perhaps some greater philosophical context is required.

Gloriously, the universally shared indigenous belief (also shared by Eastern wisdom), namely that everything is connected, is becoming reflected in the outer edges of science’s unfolding. Quantum physicians are concluding that reality is not a fixed absolute but a web of relationships – that which is studied is affected by the observer – in fact there is no observer because both observed and observer are engaged in a collective dance. Thomas Berry’s invites us to consider that “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”.

One of our teachers, Drew Dellinger, whose poem I included a link to last time, brought Martin Luther King’s voice to the debate. This towering figure is usually thought of in terms of his contribution to the civil rights movement, but it turns out he has a broad perspective on “the interrelated structure of all reality”. He proclaimed “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny”.

The terrible, hopeful possibility is that we, each of us, have our own thread to weave. But how do we identify the thread that is ours to offer? It might be said that it is not possible to identify, let alone live this supremely creative, yet ordinary, undertaking, without some space between us and the dominant worldview we’ve been steeped in. De-conditioning, decolonizing ourselves, becomes an important part of reclaiming the independence of mind to be able to see ourselves more clearly. To listen to the still, small voice within us and the embodied world, and to distinguish its restorative song from the cacophonous cultural imperatives, is itself an act of liberation.


Hope vs the Quintuple Threat

I am dying to tell you all about my current adventures on the “Becoming Indigenous” course at Schumacher College” – a blissful cross between Harry Potter and the university that you always wanted to go to – but it’ll have to wait! I promised to follow up on my last blog entry, in which I wrote about the impact of witnessing the biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest. I need to close the loop, which means launching into some unsavoury discussion, but stay with me – there is inspiration at the end!

The joy and the sadness of coming face to face with the paucity of wildlife in the UK, Europe, and now the majority of the world. The figures, whilst hard to verify due to the complexity of measuring living systems, are nonetheless staggering – 60% of marine life gone in the last 40 years; as has over half of the Amazon rainforest; species are going extinct, not least due to the loss of habitats stemming from human expansion. That’s not even taking into account climate change…

loss of biodiversity

When faced with the facts about what has been dubbed the “Quintuple Threat” – bio-devastation, overpopulation, Peak Oil, climate change and the underlying culprit of an industrial growth, debt-based economic model that cannot adapt to a sustainable, natural system of growth…decay…regeneration, even if we want it to – most of us feel so overwhelmed, horrified and powerless (how can any one person have any effect in the face of such a monumental challenge?) that we shut down. This first response of denial or distraction is described in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s classic work on the cycle we go through in response to grief. “This isn’t happening… It can’t be as bad as all that… If I don’t think about it, it’ll go away…” It is only human to find ways to avoid recognising the devastating consequences of our unchecked industrialisation.

Next up is anger: “Why is this happening? Who is responsible? How dare they / we continue to act in this ignorant, greedy, crippling way?” Anger is useful – it is the most dynamic of all the emotions and can drive helpful action. It can also generate blame, which in this case may be very useful in terms of targeting the organisations that continue to act against the interests of the environment and consequently all life including humanity’s long term survival. It is most effective when anger can be contained and filtered through a discerning self-reflective attitude that then brings us to a place of taking personal responsibility for our own contribution to the situation and active engagement with the creation of something new.

Joanna Macy’s incredibly powerful and beautiful ‘the Work that Reconnects’ focuses on helping us find the courage to turn and face the reality of our situation. Only by embracing the grief process of feeling the loss and the pain can we move to a place of acceptance, from which we can think effectively and act. Perhaps more importantly, through dropping out of a purely intellect-based approach to solving these problems and embracing the mysterious dimension of emotions, we give the unconscious a portal through which to express itself and contribute its genius to the creative process of reconstructing the way we live.

Ultimately, we each have our own way through these murky waters of overwhelm-inspired indifference. For me tuning into the ‘Cry of the Earth’ as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (an old Etonian turned Sufi master) puts it has been an essential step. It has helped me to find the motivation to take small actions such as recycling (which doesn’t really do anything, just outsources the problem, but seems like a sensible step), using more local suppliers, eating organic where possible, driving an energy efficient car, supporting online campaigns such as Greenpeace and Avaaz, switching my bank account and financial investments to institutions aligned with my ethics. However it is all too easy to fall back into a pit of despair at the seemingly endless advance of our monolithic consumption-heavy culture. But discovering this permaculture framework for envisioning the future has felt tremendously empowering.

Four Energy Futures from Permaculture
Four Energy Futures from Permaculture

A leading proponent of Permaculture, David Holmgren, has developed an overview of the routes humanity can take in the face of the quintuple threat. Brown Tech (Techno Explosion) – which is a pressing the carbon-foot-to-the-accelerator approach, essentially maintaining our current worldview that the Earth’s resources are here for our benefit alone and that we can solve our environmental crisis with technology. Then there’s Green Tech (Techno Stability) – the aim is to stabilise our use of fossil fuels through improving our technology to use less carbon. Then there’s Regenerative Descent (Creative Response) – a controlled divestment away from fossil fuels to increasingly Life-sustaining practices in which humanity works increasingly in concert with planet’s Eco-system. Finally, the Lifeboat (Collapse) approach – a build-yer-bunkers and start stock-piling food and weaponry now outlook… We are all free to choose which of these scenario is we want to put our energy behind.

I’ve always loved the Chinese proverb “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. Increasingly I am finding grounded, realistic ways in which we can do that on an individual basis. I really like the concept of working within our sphere of influence. We all have a sphere of concern, but if we shift our focus to the sphere of our individual influence a flow of cumulative actions can build up into something significant. This is the age of people power.

Gandhi offers a more sober expression of the same idea: “whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”. He knows that to have too much attachment to an outcome undermines the capacity to act effectively, with persistence. He, mercifully, also encouraged us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. A call to arms (alms?) that Drew Dellinger delivers so powerfully in his poem Hieroglyphic Stairway. I offer it to you by way of inspiration.


The Watershed

Crossing over from the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain range, fringed as it is with ranch, agriculture and prarieland, has been a revelation. The America of the mid-west is behind us. No longer is every other car a phallically monumental pick up truck (that I have to admit I’ve grown to love!) No longer is every other person a devotee of hunting, cowboy clothes or southern rock. We are now in cosmopolitan country again. Helena is beside herself with joy!

Hippyville at last!
Hippyville at last!

The landscape has altered as dramatically. Alberta is surprisingly hot and dusty at this time of year, but British Colombia is so generously carpeted with trees, lakes and rivers we suddenly felt as if we’d come home – a wilder, vaster version of home. Nelson, a town infiltrated by draft-dodging artist and activist refugees from the Vietnam-war-era-States, heralded a return to the West coast mentality we’d unconsciously craved during our roadtrip thus far.

Crossing over to Vancouver Island was like being afforded a glimpse back in time to an era of naturally abundant biodiversity – flora and flora in such plenitude I could almost imagine how it might have been before industrialisation, over-population and humanity’s disconnection from the ecosystems surrounding and supporting us.

Valerie's dash suitably adorned for Vancouver Island's delights
Valerie’s dash suitably adorned for Vancouver Island’s delights

On the wild, almost untouched west coast, near Uclulet and Tofino, we camped by the beach, picking our way across barnacled, driftwood-strewn rocks. Even here it was not possible to leave any traces of food outside your vehicle, for fear of attracting bears. Washing-up-water and toothpaste waste had to be emptied into the fire’s embers before sleep, ensuring all food particles be burnt out of the reach of Bears’ questing nostrils.

Growing up on the south eastern shores of Scotland I am no stranger to marine life. My father used to issue rewards down at the beach for whoever could bring back the largest crab and to sing plodding English hymns at bemused seals (he insisted that singing was essential to keep their curiosity peaked enough to maintain their sea-dog stares). But for longer than I can remember now I have not seen seals in the Firth of Forth and even crustaceans are scarce. So it was with bittersweet delight that I witnessed the vast sea anemones and starfish as big as my hand, the carpets of crab and kelp.

On one glorious day we took a boat trip out across Clayoquot Sound – a network of mist-shrouded islands, inlets and bays – and saw grey whales, sea otters, seals, all manner of birds and most thrillingly a humpback whale pair – mother and child – breaching the surface in spiralling leaps, their bodies pitching in the gravity-laden air and crashing back down onto the water’s surface with almighty spray. We even smelt their oily breath, carried across to us on on the clear sea air.

Didn't have my camera so this'll have to do!
Didn’t have my camera so this’ll have to do!

Experiencing this children’s book image of the seaside in actuality, that I had always considered a caricature, has done something to me. It has brought home, in such a simple way, the scarcity of animal life in our modern world. Not only has that portion of the coastline in Scotland I described lost so much of its life in one single human generation, it has suffered untold species depletion over the course of recent history. Camping in a country which still has large predators, such as we would have had in Europe millennia ago, makes this loss of wilderness very real.

I recently came across this freshly published study outlining new and terrifying data on the speed of human-induced species loss. Scientists are saying that we have entered a sixth mass extinction phase for life on Earth. It can be found here:

As a species we appear to be crossing a threshold…

In recent weeks I have been buoyed by the news reports from the frontiers of ecological campaigning. Helena and I have been listening to the weekly #KeepItInTheGround podcast detailing the Guardian newspaper’s efforts to encourage the Gates foundation and the Welcome Trust to “divest” from any shares in the fossil fuel industry. It is intelligent, honest, and self-reflective, if a initially uninformed, journalism explaining in layman’s terms exactly what we are up against. A brilliant introduction to where we are now. The pope’s pontifications and the G7’s agreed goals to secure a fossil fuel free future are huge wins against the complacency and climate change science-smearing obfuscation of the political and corporate worlds.

But the situation could not be more serious.

Nothing short of a revolution in human consciousness is required if we are to mobilise the level of global cooperation we need to accomplish the task of coming off hydrocarbons in time and reversing the impact that has already been done. We have to shift from our current fourth dimensional worldview – that we are all separate entities independent from each other and able to profit from another beings misfortune – to a viewpoint that lifts this veil of illusion and embraces the interconnectivity of all things. If we do that the motivation to face the music will arise of its own accord. If we do not we face severe, some say cataclysmic, consequences.

We are now in Ashland, southern Oregon. The heat is astounding, as well as stupefying. There has been a drought here and in California for years and it’s getting critical. I find it quite shocking to see the aridity and feel the heat. Is this what’s in store for us?

So I feel that it is time to make the shift. Time to address the obstacles within each of our own minds and hearts to recognising the urgency of the call to change ourselves and our societies. This is what I want to devote myself to now. Assisting that shift in whatever ways I can. It is the primary need of our time, if we are to afford later generations the opportunity to have their own challeges to face.

If you’re anything like me the thought of addressing this monumental challenge will raise strong emotions – hopelessness (there’s nothing I can do, it’s too big a problem), fear (help, we’re doomed and I don’t know what to do), grief (my heart is breaking at the realisation of what we have done and continue to do), rage (someone has got to pay). I’m sure there are plenty others. The outcome for me, and it would seem for the majority of society, is avoidance (too busy, someone else’s problem, whatever) and denial (ranging from “I’m not the problem, I recycle” to “there’s no point in the west doing anything – it’s all about China and other developing nations” to “human-caused climate change does not exist”). I have felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of my own emotional responses, let alone the external task we face, that I often turn the other way.

So I want to set up a retreat/workshop specifically dedicated to helping us work through our deeply understandable psychological blocks towards engaging with these issues. And to come up with manageable, meaningful actions each of us can take according to our own consciences.

Although it seems we have no power to influence the global stage of multinational multi-billion pound petrochemical companies and the political puppets hamstrung by their campaign funders, or indeed our own collective consumer greed, it is entirely possible to work* on aligning our ethics with our actions, putting our own houses in order and exercising the avenues of influence that we each have.

*note I wrote “work on” rather than solve, because at this point there is no immediate, absolute solution. All that is asked for is a meaningful engagement with the question of how can I live more in alignment with my ethics and values regarding climate change?

I fail all the time – for the last two months I have been driving thousands of miles in an old, heavy van that guzzles gas. And I flew here in the first place. I’d say that unless I was living off grid, growing my own food and psycho-spiritually supporting the life forms around me, as well as assisting the wider shift in human consciousness, I would continue to be part of the problem. And this is exactly what’s so challenging about making this shift – we are all in it together, existing within a system that is reliant on the consumption of fossil fuels despite the fact most of us don’t want that.

I was greatly reassured and inspired by the permaculture course I attended at which I was reminded that nature is wildly abundant. The change required is not solely about restriction, backward technological motion into a Luddite idealism, though sacrifice and limitation will have to play a part in shifting the everlasting economic and energy consumption growth model we’ve been hiding behind for so long. The change called for is about aligning our systems with nature’s so we’re working together, not at loggerheads. If we can use our intelligence to design systems that operate economically, effectively and in concert with creation the shift will be phenomenal.

My invitation to us all is to spend some time – whatever time we can find – with our feelings about where we are as a species. No need to solve anything, just allowing ourselves to feel what’s in our hearts and minds. Next time I’ll talk more about permaculture and an emerging model of future scenarios that I’m finding remarkably empowering and liberating.

Following the Sun

In many ways this trip Helena and I are on is an exercise in faith. Not faith in a particular God or Deity, but in the process of life’s desire to unfold and experience itself. In the ultimate safety of trusting its call. If we are all miniscule but valued agents of this almighty unfoldment maybe our own deepest desires can lead us into the richest experiences of all?

In celebration of that theme I’ve just completed uploading a DJ mix to Mixcloud. You can listen to it by clicking below:

Click above to Follow the Sun
Click above to Follow the Sun

It’s a soulful and, of course, cheeky celebration of following your cross-continental dreams.

I’m always drawn West. The direction of the setting sun. It seems the industrious, the ordered, (at least in the UK and the new colonised nations) align with the eastern portions of continents – London vs Bristol, New York vs San Fran, Sydney vs Perth, Toronto vs Vancouver… There seems to me something wilder, something more magical about the West. In England the ancients knew it, studding the western lands with stone circles and ceremonial sites. I’m so excited about moving to Devon and embedding myself into that land, if it will take me.

yellowstone buff
Bison, rivers, geysers, meadowlands, trees of Yellowstone

But for now we have been holding a longitudinal line along the eastern edge of the Rockies. We’ve made it all the way up to Alberta, Canada, via Colorado and Montana – the land of the Big Sky as they call it.. Yellowstone was a revelation. 2.2 million acres of protected wilderness and surely one of the most gloriously diverse and beautiful, as well as bountiful (we saw bald eagles, bison, bears – black and grizzly – elk, chipmunks, marmots, woodpeckers, owls, blue mountain Jays, moose) natural areas in the world. Plus they have actual cowboys.

Before leaving the southwest we nipped (an understatement if ever there was one – an interstate drive is pretty much equivalent to crossing half our country!) across the New Mexican  borderline to Arizona from because the Grand Canyon was calling us. It is incomprehensibly, INSANELY huge. It actually defied my perceptual abilites to process the vastness of it as we stood looking out across a canyon that is at times 16 miles wide and a mile deep.

It's not small..
It’s not small..

I visited it a number of years ago on a short, sweet Mustang ride from Phoenix to San Francisco but because we (My friend Max and I) were in a rush (Halloween in Vegas, anyone?!) I didn’t get to spend any time with it beyond a brief hike below the rim. Consequently it didn’t make much of an impact on me. This time we allowed enough time to let its magnitude register. It was less than a week after holding the ceremony for Martin. There were unexpressed feelings bubbling up, and as I wandered along its almighty rim the canyon seemed to be boring a hole deep into my heart. These words came out (please forgive the spacing – another computer thing I’d love to know how to figure out!):

Torn open by the chisel-topped rivers of Time

Exposing near all of this ag’d Earth’s creation

The red, the rubble, the strata

The multiple layers of history’s data

The intricate carving of weakness in rock

It’s depth defying perception;

Her form is carving a hole in my heart,

Prising open its tiny secrets.

Tears are stinging my awe-opened eyes

As I witness God’s almighty treatise.

“I can do THIS. I am so big

That you can’t understand my true nature.

Instead, look on my carvings and weep.

Let your heart, not your mind, ascertain her.

The heart is the organ that sees with true sight

Your heart, ever silently beating.

Allow it to open its door to true sight

Allow it to depth-charge your feelings.

To do this you’ll have to unblock all the veins

That have clogged up with Life’s many mishaps.

So allow all the tears, and the hurt, and the hate

To be carried away by My waters.

I’ll chisel a canyon so deep in your heart

That you’ll know the true depths of your being,

And all of your pain will be carried away

Until you see as I’m seeing.

Imperfect perfection, human and real,

Embodied and here in duality –

Walking the tightrope of being in form

And holding a Spirit form-ality.

So Soar away on this bright Earth today

Witness the wonder…..weep hard.

Every emotion will whisper its part

In the great song of freedom, at last.

Not my photos, obviously. The stars really were amazing!
Not my photos, obviously. The stars really were amazing though!

Meeting Uncle Martin in New Mexico

Two weeks ago I collected my cousin from minuscule Santa Fe airport. We travelled up to Taos together – a Native American pueblo town in norther New Mexico, the scene of my uncle’s tragic death in 1971. I’ve felt drawn there since I turned twenty, as the threads of my family’s grief had, of course, wound themselves into my own nascent life-narrative.

We held a ceremony for Martin – beloved lover, brother, son, father – vanished from earthly form before I could even meet him. The circumstances of his death were so difficult for those who love(d) him that it seems there was something incomplete about those ritual undertakings, such as they were, that took place in honour of his death. Being there I understood precisely why this would be and touched a shadow of the horror his passing left in its wake.

imageSo, to speak to him in ritual space, to support my dear courageously honest cousin in his articulations, to play Charles Mingus’s version of Mood Indigo (my favourite from the wealth of vinyl records from his collection that opened my hungry, teenaged ears and etched themselves on my soul), and to pass on messages from those that still love him, was, for me, a sense of completion – a closing of a precious circle. How we wept.

Mayan Gold: Pretchel & Permaculture

Right now, in between staccato types, I am looking down at the altiplano of New Mexico, with Santa Fe just coming into view. Massive snow capped peaks alongside a pale red earth desert floor! It’s fitting that I should be first setting foot on American soil that was in fact Spanish soil for centuries previous to the American-Spanish war and of course home to indigenous Indian groups for time immemorial. But it’s not yet time to share the south-western States with you; the gold harvested from Central America yearns to be glimpsed!

Some of the inspiration that we’ve received from these lands is described below. Succinctly, it consists of the writings of a Mayan shaman, the psychoactive properties of the chocolate (or cacao) bean, and the Permaculture movement taking place around Lake Atitlan. Let us begin with the autobiography “Secrets of the Talking Jaguar”.

It’s author – half-Swiss, half-Native American, Martin Pretchel – grew up on a reservation in New Mexico (interestingly enough!), existing in a strange cultural no-mans-land with western education and sensibilities alongside a deep passionate yearning for a more connected way of life. He drifted, a gifted musician and artist, and found himself, after a string of extraordinary initiations, welcomed into the tutelage of an eccentric and powerful Tzutujil shaman on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. He writes beautifully, lucidly, and fiercely of an Earth-wise indigenous way of life that has been systematically eroded, most recently genocidally threatened by the Guatemalan Christian Right-wing (backed of course by the U.S.) who literally slaughtered thousands of innocent men, women and children from his very village, only a few miles across the lake from where we were staying, in the 1980’s. His book provides an incredibly amusing and detailed depiction of life in a traditional Mayan village, and the astonishing trials and tribulations of authentic shamanic practice.

Just as an aside, I see shamans – medicine men – as the indigenous equivalent of doctors, therapists, artists and anyone engaged in retrieving the parts of the self or the community that have been lost or “split off”, as psychotherapists might term it. But they have to be engaged from a soul level, actively conversing with the energies of this world and the other. Shamanic ways are becoming more popular in western alternative healing partly because they offer a more direct experience with the mystery of being a human animal, bringing us into contact with archetypes and narratives that shape us, whether we are aware of them or not. Ok, back to the subject at hand – this staying focused is hard!!

He described one of the village policies that helps to maintain equality within the community. When an individual is awarded with Village responsibility (there is a complex system of political and spiritual power spread throughout many individuals in the village) he is obliged to host a great feast for the entire community. Fridges etc don’t exist, so all that is made must be eaten and enjoyed. In this way the rewards of success and power continue being shared amongst the people, so much so that often successful and respected members of the community have beggared themselves in their climb to power! But it means that the poorer villagers have the opportunity to eat on a regular basis and share in the bounty of the whole.

Their society is structured to continually remind all people that they are stewards of their land and culture. The offerings that are ALWAYS given to the Gods, in preparation and return for the success of any significant undertaking, are equally rich and transient. For example, unlike in our culture where we make something beautiful, say a statue to honour something, which we then seek to preserve – behind a glass case, roped off, or behind bars – or sell, they give living offerings. Things that are made and remade each year or season as tradition dictates, which calls for much work from the people, but helps to keep their hearts engaged in the sacred task of living. Hence the Tzutujil language is almost exclusively oral, each utterance an opportunity to continue weaving the web of creation into an active whole.

We got a taste of that attitude during Santa Semana – the Holy Week of Easter – in which the newly converted Christians (whose worship retains a strong Mayan flourish – such as the enthusiastic reckoning of Maximon, a Judas / Mayan God hybrid) spent hours decorating the ground of the village streets with mosaics made from flowers, wood chips, fruit and anything else that came in handy. This carpet of flowers then becomes the pathway that the the holy procession, carrying effigies of Jesus and Mary, treads upon on its way to the church. Like the palm fronds that were laid under the feet of Jesus’s donkey at the Passover. It is a yearly, quite ordinary rite requiring active communal engagement that seems extraordinary to our culture. I guess street parties are making a minor comeback… (I’ve got some photos showing the folk artistry but am unab,e upload them at the moment, so in the spirit of imperfection I’m just going ahead as it’ll be ages before I’ve got another opportunity!).

Just a few minutes walk above the Tzununa streets shown above lies a more modern example of sustainable and engaged living. Atitlan Organics is a working Permaculture farm, yielding salad leaves, tomatoes, plentiful vegetables, chicken eggs and chicken, goats milk and cheese, and hosts of people newly-educated in the ways of Permaculture.

I don’t know about you but I thought permaculture was basically boring organic gardening. I thought that in order to be interested in it you needed to be vegan, militantly conservationist and, most importantly, have dreads. My beard helped steel me for a week long introductory course. But it turned out I was wrong! It is a new but exponentially expanding field of practically inspired approaches to living sustainably. It is a system limited only by our imagination that can be applied to any area of life. Far from being about lack, limitation and preservation, it can be about efficiency, natural wisdom and abundance – us working in harmony with Nature, as we are as much a part of Nature as plants, forests, animals, ecosystems. Really it’s about common-sense.

I’m going to expand on how Permaculture is helping me find a way to approach the “situation” we as a species and ecosystem are facing, but it’s too big to include now so, next time! For now I want to close with our intention-setting on the final morning of our time at Lake Atitlan.

With the magic garnered from having spent a number of weeks in stillness and semi-seclusion, Helena and I wrote out on paper the vision we have for establishing a retreat centre in Devon. We then wrapped the sheets of paper around a rock with a few crystals and tied it all up in a bundle of beautiful Mayan cloth that we’d been using as the basis for an altar over those weeks. After asking the powers that be and, in particular, the lake (considered a powerful feminine presence with great potential to manifest vision into form) we hefted the jolly blue bundle into the still waters and watched it sink slowly down until it was out of sight. Bubbles trailed its trajectory…