Becoming Indigenous

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.


2 thoughts on “Becoming Indigenous”

  1. Totnes sounds delightful! Great that you’re loving it. And re:Thomas Berry, I was introduced to a wonderful quote of his recently that I now use often by colleagues from UWE: “You can’t have well humans on a sick planet…and with all our technologies that’s what we’re trying to do” (I’m paraphrasing…and typing on one of those technologies!)

    The Martin Luther King quote reminds me of a recent Flashman turn of phrase: “Put the foot of courage in the styrup of patience…and while you’re waiting put the shoulder of friendship beneath the backside of helplessness”.

  2. Hey Freds,

    I thought I might reply here than a text. I was pleased to read of your Cosmological meanderings. I am also delighted to hear you are feeling settled in Devon. You are both quite the sort of wayfaring souls that I love to be around and feel a kindred spirit with.

    Gosh – how to keep out that cacophony of consumerism is a real battle eh?

    Anyway – I am writing to touch base and hope we can find a time to meet soon? I am still in London but also residing in Hastings part-time, after recently buying a flat here. I am drawn to the Sea, and hope to be spending more time here in the coming years ahead – so consider coming this way too.

    I am conscious time since your travels has meant a long-overdue catch up. I hope the little nephew you found in London was a delight – I am yet to meet the little man.

    Sending my love as ever, and warmest wishes to you both, xx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *