single use article

 

I grew up with plastic even though I was raised somewhere very rural and unpolluted in the 80’s and 90’s. Plastic was a handy substance and I remember when my uncle put plastic roofing on his sheds to replace the rusty corrugated iron stuff. I remember when ’roundy bales‘ of silage appeared, each wrapped in a few lovely, clean layers of black plastic, easily incinerated afterwards. The black smoke towered into the sky on the still day of burning. I also remember watching crisp packets hilariously shrink on the open fire on hot coals. It was absorbing to watch. I passed many a mindful moment with this pursuit, as a kid.

These Days We Hate Plastic

I watched some of Hugh’s programme about plastic recently and was as disgusted as I’m sure most were, at the piles of plastic slowly fading away in a developing country and we, the world’s important, with our SM profiles, personal attention and adoration, are happily disconnected from the result of our unchecked consumption. This truly is a beautiful symbol of where we’re at. More recently I’ve been wondering about taking responsibility for my own plastic, since it appears nobody else is. The other day I put some plastic on a campfire and it felt really wrong, denuding the woodland scene with this ‘unnatural’ substance.  Does being disconnected from the end result of my consumption mean I’m being ripped off, in some way? If I dispose of my own plastic am I taking responsibility where others obviously aren’t? If we all had to burn our own plastic would we stop buying so much? Or would it just be fun to do?

Shit Food

I mean, who’s not familiar with the simple perfection of a mars bar wrapper, its vibrant durability expresses confidence and hints at a strong result. Ads for Mars in the 90’s contained athletes and highly motivated people choosing to chew a mars bar simply because it made them bigger and more capable of success.  Not only that but it’s got nostalgia attached, its inherent value goes beyond its contents into complex emotional connections.

Shit Attitudes

Plastic is the perfect metaphor/definition for the advertising industry, upon which so much of branding is based. A medium which builds in longevity and puts an inflated value on what would otherwise be worthless. Hence the mars bar and plastic coke bottle. Plastic is a symbol of convenience, longevity, modern consumption, that everything is taken care of. In our lives and the way we live now, there is no getting away from it. For many of us, cutting out single use plastics would mean starving to death. It is the lifeblood of our modern sleepy attitude, it flows through our veins. Even the (social) media is plastic, a shiny wrapper which hides connection.

Invisible plastic

There’s the plastic we use every day which somehow seems to escape the lambasting, for example: the humble crisp packet. Somehow it doesn’t seem like plastic. I mean, how would we eat crisps at all if it weren’t for plastic? We’d probably have to make our own or maybe nominate one crisp-maker per street, or maybe use a rota system. Community Crisps CIC. Put then in paper bags, maybe or reused take away tubs. We simply must have our crisps! Chocolate bars, once again. Cheese! We can’t have cheese without plastic. We really can’t! No please don’t give us cheese without plastic. Or organic vegetables. My organic supermarket bought vegetables have to be in a plastic bag. They have to be taken care of in that way.

How would we brush our teeth without plastic?! The toothpaste — the TOOTHBRUSH!! You can get wooden ones of course but who wants to put a dirty piece of wood near their mouth? Yuk, dirty, natural wood soaked in water and stuff, a breeding ground for germs, that’s what I heard. Then there’s most of our modern cars, plastic. We bought a really comfy sofa recently – PLASTIC. Computers, carpets, duvets, pillows, clothes! Windows, doors, phones. Everything is taken care of. I love glitter.

SFW

The symbol is not only of our disconnection from what happens with our waste but also our disconnection from responsibility, if that’s not too much of a moral tack for you. It’s taken care of, that’s what we were led to believe. In a world of convenience we’re lazy and ignorant because we think we’re being taken care of in some way, that things will be ok. Perhaps because governments know they can get votes by saying that their business is about looking after people, and of course to some extent it is. We think they can solve the problems we’ve helped create, bought into and not taken responsibility for.

Hugh does great work in spelling out the issues and confronting the people who he feels are responsible, including us as consumers. It’s brilliant work and so needed. Attenborough as well, has helped bring this big lifestyle problem of ours into consciousness. Before that we were asleep. Oh hang on. Were we asleep? No, this has been going on for ages, surely? Reusable bags, etc, people have been doing that for decades, right? You know, the hippies, the ones complaining about ‘the man’. Those people, the longhairs, those people who’ve been shouting about pollution and the state of the planet for decades. They’re so lame though! It’s the critical mass thing, the modern fragmented community, which can’t decide or be responsible for anything apart from complaining all the time is becoming hippified, slowly churning through indecision into a clunky sort of unity. Individualised, empowered westerners having to work together. Yuk! We who have worked for decades to be independent of each other now need to drop our habits and work together to save the world by stopping something which we thought was amazing only a few years ago. Eff you, I’m not doing it! People whose homes, cars, gardens, jobs and choices are their own and nobody else’s to make. The experience of economic freedom means we don’t have to commit to help others. everything is taken care of. The whole point is to be my own person, to do my own thing, to play the game by my rules. I give to charity, I pay my bills and taxes, don’t make me feel shame! Everything is taken care of.

I have heard people say that they hate plastic which may be a little bit misplaced, like all the hate campaigns out there. Positive hate! Yeah! I work in a shop sometimes and the other day a person came in for some salad and we only had salad which was in a plastic bag. Up until recently one would be applauded for the use of plastic to keep food fresh. He asked <have you got anything that’s not in plastic?> I said sorry, no. <No greens for my lunch, then>, he arraigned with passive aggressive fury as he gently stormed out, unable to make eye contact with one so evil as me.

amen

Show Me

While making lunch i spotted this cheeky twig which snuck its way under my shoelace during my morning hike. Loving the poetry of this moment, outdoor meets indoor, instant recall of making my way through crackly, fallen branches on the river bank. It gives me the powerful feeling that nature is always here for me, ready to show me at any moment. Then it takes me deeper into my experience by the river this morning..

Sitting on a fallen tree trunk, right in the middle of the river…hearing the river rush and play either side of me…in surround sound..closing my eyes for a while I allow the sound to completely drown me, it fills me…until I can’t keep my eyes closed any more, it literally feels like the water is up to my throat. Opening my eyes again I am enveloped in the scene, the rushing water…the bank looks like it is slowly moving upstream, against the current. I revel in this ‘trippy’ moment, when my world and the outer world collide to make something new and unexpected happen – and thoughts not being centre stage. That feeling of otherness which can only be experienced by me, in this moment, without explanation, just openness. When that stops it helps me see that all is not what it seems and anything is possible. I have doubt thoughts of optical illusion and scientific studies which may say that this is a phenomenon caused by blah blah blah blah…but that’s not what I’m looking for here.

I’m after a new sense of the world, of my world…a portal to creativity and new experiences, a way for me to open my eyes with a different lens in the natural environment..a world of meaning and unquestioned interconnections. That tucked away twig took me back to the river and through its wisdom I found a new way to experience a moment and the trees which fall, tumble and are rolled down its length..to really feel the contrast between outer and inner and take the time to integrate an experience.

 

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The Clearing

postre (1)

This May I am going to be hosting a retreat in the beautiful mountains of Tuscany. This experience will give you the chance to step out of your normal ‘stuff’ and into something different. We’re not trying to sell a package holiday here – this is a chance to really step out of ‘normal’ life and stop – then open your senses in a new way.

A couple of years ago I decided to do a walk that would change my life forever. I was holding myself back, ignoring the grief of my sister’s life and death. She had died 5 years before, having had serious physical and mental disabilities all her life. I actually didn’t know how to grieve for a life which to me felt so tragic and sad. I made the scariest choice I ever made: to drop everything (apart from my lovely family, of course) and walk home. That 600km walk showed me what I’m capable of, who I was and could be and how showing love to myself, healing my grief and looking at what I considered to be my ‘messed up mind’ ended up helping not only me, but also those around me, to heal.

Often, we don’t know what power lies inside us. Since my walk I’ve tirelessly continued working on my ‘stuff’, chipped away at my self-judgement fears and I feel stronger, more connected and have deeper relationships with those around me because of it, plus my nature connection training has given me a powerful and simple toolkit which is always there for me – opening my senses and taking me out of worry or fear – those elements of worry or fear are just facts of life nobody wants to admit to.

We go through life (as I was) ‘coping’ with our lot. Work, family life, occasional hobbies, all washed down with a few glasses of red. But where are YOU in all this? Are you looking for something more?

Now, I’m ready to share this more, because I know, as I learned through Walk for Aoife, DOING inspires others. This retreat comes from what I learned through my 600km walk. It comes from the training I’ve done and the powerful integration and self-knowledge I’ve gained through it. So I’m just a little bit excited about it, you could say

How about it, then? Join us in Tuscany, this spring and let us help you make space for yourself.
Please get in touch and we’ll send you a brochure
endlessriverflow@gmail.com
endless-river.org
07568577062

Always a River

There is beauty in everything but it is important to acknowledge that hard times happen. They do! Most people deal with these alone. And in many ways it is a lonely journey, because growth can only happen for you and these feelings only happen to your personal journey. But, actually they also happen to every single other human too. There is cultural shame attached to being open about your state – unless you’re ‘fine’ of course. It’s not always easy, but it is possible to find the beauty in these moments, to break through to a new realisation or feel its pull, asking you to let go and break through….

Like when I think there may be no way to resolve things or there is some irreparable damage done. Hours turn into days of uncertainty – desperation, even – times when I am even unsure of the ground I walk upon and of what can keep me there.

Have you ever felt like that? Like you’ve reached the limit of where you can go and it actually seems like the world is fucking with you just for fun. You’re lost, you’ve been trudging through mud.

Yesterday I went down to the river. I’ve been going to the river a lot lately. We’ve been having a lot of rain and snow melt and the river gets high and loud and riotous and we can hear it from our house which is about 2 kilometres away. It feels powerful. It’s a draw. I go to just stand there. And these past days, struggling with some unresolvable puzzle, fatigued through thinking and trying – I watch.

I listen.

And it tells me. The flow tells me that it’s all going to be ok. It says sometimes things are overwhelming. I see the flow is not all smooth; there are rocks an driftwood underneath which create tension, alter the course – get in the way. I see that it just keeps going despite impedences and, actually they add character: ripples, bubbles, plumes, adding colour and sound. That sound which pulled me there to help me heal.

Then on the bank I see oak saplings. These whips have gathered leaves from the flood. They cling to thin trunks, dead oak leaves washed downstream. They tell me that sometimes the flood is too much and we cling. They tell me I have a choice; to go with the flow or to hold on. To let go that which I have already made peace with.

It helps. I trust what I read. Nature shows me it’s ok and it’s ok to not be ok.

The river has a course. It changes. It can rage, destroy and kill. It can gently hold, play, trickle and sometimes disappear altogether. It is never the same.

And the river is not just water. It is rock, tree, hill, rain, cloud and me – all coalescing to make it.

The story is always there, ready for you – in Nature.

Do We Live in a Monoculture?

I grew up in a different time. Time literally was different. People had time for each other. Things happened slowly.

Growing up in a rural community, it wasn’t always easy to get the right part for the job. Parts for tractors and farm machinery were sometimes improvised; people weren’t so bothered about replacing original lights with original lights. Often, lights weren’t even replaced: I mean, who would be driving a tractor at night, anyway?

When I was young, my uncle and the neighbours clubbed together and bought silage-harvesting equipment, to cut and store the grass for winter animal feed. It was harking back to the ‘old days’ when neighbours shared the workload, saving the hay together and doing ‘big’ jobs, which many hands made a bit lighter.

This had been done for generations where I grew up, but in a different way. The hay was saved by hand, after the corncrake had fledged, and a natural cycle of community and nature working in harmony, continued. It was never perfect, but it worked. It involved hard labour and collaboration, both of which seem unpopular now.

I loved being part of that. For me, as a boy, the excitement and joy of being part of a team of workers who were doing an important job, was almost overwhelming, even if at the time I was just in the tractor with whoever was ‘drawing’ the silage. I was just there in the thick of it, relishing the whole experience. Sparse conversation: an odd word exchanged about some nuance of the experience.; a change in the weather, a heavier load, two birds fighting on the wing. The waft of oil, grease, diesel and fumes together – the essence of this recipe – slow-cooking on the lively, early summer, west Kerry landscape.

And after the work at dusk, the men would have drinks before setting off home, after dark. Sometimes Guinness and sometimes a ‘tin’ or a ‘mineral’, as soft drinks were called . I was allowed to take part in this too, handing out the bottles and tins, then having my own. The men talked about nothing I understood, but the air of excitement and ‘difference’ was inspiring.

Farming and outdoor work stayed with me, though and throughout my sustainable food ‘career’, in a city, 400 miles away,  I spent much time either working outdoors or involved with food growing and farmers. I loved being able to buy farm fresh goods from producers I got to know personally and getting to know them a little gave me a sense of connection with the land I felt I didn’t have, in Manchester. When I got a job as a grower at 36 I was revisiting my childhood in a new and easy way. In those early days of going ‘back to the land’ I used the phrase ‘Farming Equals Freedom’, quite a lot.

Within the local food movement in Manchester I found something else very important: Community. That experience which I had lost touch with over the years but finally felt again, gave me a new hope. I felt that collaborative spirit, the buzz of people doing something together for a bigger, more tangible goal, and suddenly things clicked into place for me.

It was good for me, so what?

It’s not possible to convince everybody that being part of something which connects you to a bigger ideal or practical goal is the thing, but I can see how things have changed since I was young.

Take industrial agriculture, for example. The western need for efficiency in production has had a devastating effect on the landscape and culture of many countries. This top-down control of food production has led to monocultural farming practices, using vast swathes of land, blanket use of chemical sprays and often, eventual abandonment of the land due to erosion and degradation.

How does soil degradation happen?

In Brazil, land reform in the 1960’s led to millions of peasant tenant farmers (in Brazil, at least up until recently 45% of agricultural land was owned by 1% of the population) being displaced to cities as the ‘underused’, pesky tropical rainforests were cut down and replaced with useful soya bean plantations, for example. As the years passed, millions of tons of chemical-laden topsoil washed away into rivers, leaving waterways clogged and polluted and the land abandoned and degraded, through a combination of land being under cultivation all the time and rain. Bare soil and tropical rainstorms equals masses of polluted topsoil eroded.

This degradation is not only of the land but with the degrading practice of the enforced relocation of people, splitting up communities and diverse cultural heritage. This rarely gets a mention. This results in landless peasant movements such as MST Brazil, whose aim is to repopulate and ‘re-culture’ vast areas of land which were taken ownership of by powerful people, in colonial days when everything was ‘free’ for the taking.

“The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power.” Eric Schlosser, Author of Fast Food Nation.

In relation to food, farming and culture, this quote marks the death of community and cultural cultivation as we knew it. Mainstream food cultivation and production has taken a back seat, now carried out mainly by those who have large, efficient farms and who use chemical sprays to ‘control’ weeds and insects. This, of course, frees up the population to be better, more efficient workers, for the benefit of the ‘free world’. The aspirational example America sets is enough to make one cringe in disbelief. Is this really the way the world is going? World leader or world-bleeder? Of course, every modern, industrialised country does things the same way. The question is, can we work together, or is it just going to be about sifting through the rubble, later?

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Are we heading towards a monocultural world?

It’s so hard to know what lies ahead. It’s so easy to become distracted by bad news culture and what to buy next. Things that keep us in our place, quietly confused and feeling bad about the state of things.

What do we stand to lose through monocultural, industrial and corporate takeover of culture? Are the ‘old ways’ dead and gone?  Has rural culture gone the way of the corncrake, whose call is no longer heard in the fields where I grew up?

My uncle and a neighbour once made an entire tractor cab from scrap metal and bits of old PVC windows. I remember Uncle Tom telling me how quiet and rattle-free the finished cab was due to all the rubber seals and plastic joints they used. At the time I found it a bit amusing. I thought my uncle a bit naive, spending all that time bodging a tractor cab when he could have bought one. I had been living in England for a while – moved away from and in some ways rejected the ‘old ways’, probably thinking I knew better, and judging my uncle for his ‘simple’ ways. I kind of missed the point though, didn’t I?

I can’t deny what’s happening in the world and so I have to ask the questions: What can I do about it? How can I take action? Is it possible to make a difference? How do I reconcile being part of the problem, because, as far as I can see it, we all are?

Working together to create something new, especially something food-based – even survival-based – feels like a strong way to make alternatives to the corporate monoculture which deskills us, making us its dependents.  We are disconnected from our food and therefore from each other. At one time not so long ago, we all depended on having the skills to produce our own food. Culture grew up around that and not much had changed for hundreds, or even thousands of years. Of course, there always has been some oppression, but it wasn’t so all pervasive as it now is. TV advertising, smartphone advertising, social pressure to have the latest tech, keeps us locked in. What’s actually happening to us as we’re all looking over there, blaming religion for the world’s problems?

We are now perfectly oppressed.

Monoculture is the ice age, a frozen landscape, covering all the potential underneath. Soon, we will have forgotten that trickle of water beneath the frozen river and the lakes, trees and dormant seeds which lie concealed by that numbing surface, awaiting release. It is always there, just under the surface. Monoculture masquerades as freedom and it does contain the seeds of freedom – we just need to see through its barren, uniform, transparent surface.

I helped my friend who is building a sauna, the other day. It was fun and we somewhat made it up as we went, neither of us experts in woodwork, nor having exactly the right tools. That was part of the experience – we listened to each other, planned and made it work. I want to find more of that kind of experience, because we have created a world where happiness is measured by what one owns, where achievement is about school grades, then pay grades and where we are in competition with each other and with ourselves to do ‘better’. We have developed a complex and unnecessary monoculture, far from the simplicity of what it takes to have a satisfying life.

We need to recreate community and diversity, we need to make time to recreate culture.

 

 

Lazy Winter Creative

How can I do nothing?

I would love to do nothing all the time. Look at the trees. Look at the rocks. These things appear pretty lazy – or are they just in a constant creative state?

I’ve never considered myself a lazy person until recently. I worked hard for years and years at jobs I loved and I achieved what I consider to be great things. I played drums in bands, toured and worked hard at that. “So what’s your problem?” I heard myself say just then. None of it was really MINE, is the thing.

So at the moment I’m not really working at a job – lucky enough to pretty much be a kept man right now (that’s a whole other blog piece) – and so I have the opportunity to look a bit harder at what I want. To get creative, and I’m realising that creativity is the key for me to find what I want. I could classify myself as a ‘blocked creative’. Anyone else feel that way?

So, maybe it’s not so much about doing nothing but feeling like it’s nothing – like everything is exciting, instead of scary and triggering my ‘stuff’. That’s my goal at the moment. How do I do this? Some of it involves being in a state of analysis, I feel how I am in certain situations and how I am around people who appear to be doing what they want. I tease out my old ideals of resentment and bitterness and see how they’re the opposite of creativity. I think less – or at least I allow thoughts to stick – less. These kind of changes take time and commitment, and if you’re like me it may take many false starts and cynical breakdowns before you get to a point of seeing change.

And what is change?

Nothing. It’s nothing. It’s the space into which I wish to put something more valuable than judgement, sadness, loneliness, bitterness or worry. This hard fought for space feels so valuable that I will not clog it up with shit again. It’s like restoration or something. I notice the condition of a battered old staircase: the cracked wood, exposed nails, and general ricketiness (probably not an accepted word, but hey), and I do a complete overhaul. That doesn’t involve taking off the old wood and putting it back together again. It’s getting hold of the best manual on staircase building, finding some locally sourced oak wood, seasoning it, hand planing and sanding it and then building the staircase with as much care and consideration as I can. That way, every time I go up those stairs, I will feel like I am going somewhere amazing and every step is an inspiration. How’s that for an extended metaphor?! Well, it is Christmas.

I am learning to make space in my life for new things – to break through the clamour, the clutter, the complete possibility of not doing – but instead I create – something way better than I otherwise would have. And it does come from nothing.

Creating nothing takes effort for me, but when it happens things start to flow. Letting my life float by would be too easy and I would die full of regret. I could continue being lazy but I’m choosing its opposite and creating my own life. I might even become a tree or a rock or something, eventually.

 

 

Amusings

What are we here for? What am I for?

My wife sometimes laughs when I ask this question, which usually starts with something like “Isn’t it weird, though?” She rolls her eyes. “Who are we, though? What are we doing? What’s it all about?”

At that point she attempts to leave the conversation. And I wouldn’t blame her, as it usually happens when we’re driving or putting the shopping away or something. I just get stuck sometimes, staring at a packet of pasta, noticing the shiny plastic packaging and its refined text, made up of letters and other symbols, the straightness and uniformity of the product, the dietary advice written on the back and the complexity of events which led to me asking this, most tedious of questions. I do it just for a laugh sometimes, because I kind of enjoy my weirdo-ness. I like to attempt to contemplate all the evolutionary steps it took for that packet of pasta to be in my hand, or how a loom was designed, or when we first decided to tunnel through a mountain rather than going over it.

So what is the point of me?

I don’t actually think there is. I’m not sure anyway. When I say ‘sure’ I think I know what I’m talking about. I mean, I can attach myself to all sorts of stuff, but am I nothing without it?

Does this even matter?

I jumped into the sea the other day, on my own. The Atlantic, that is. It was cold, and windy and I got brainfreeze from putting my head under. I know that my body craved the experience of jumping in the sea, even though my mind was totally against it. Picture me, hurriedly taking off my clothes on a cold beach, the goosebumps immediately jumping to attention, an inner voice screaming at me “What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doooooiiiiiing?” And there I am, just ignoring it. Fear and excitement happen, both pushing me and holding me back.  Another voice is answering “I don’t know what I’m doing, this is ridiculous.” And then I run, in the full awareness that I am about to do something out of the ordinary, against my most own best advice. Still feeling a bit self-conscious, I splash in the shallows, wading in towards the deep. With the shock as I experience the pure feeling of cold water immersion, I am released into the moment and the voices fade away.

Of course, I felt great after that jump in the sea. It was a reminder that I am alive and connected in a deeper way to the world around me. I appreciated the privilege of getting into warm clothes and living the relatively luxurious life I live and at the same time I can do what I want and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I need to have this kind of experience.

“You’re crazy for jumping in the Atlantic in November.” How ridiculous is that statement? But I said it, and I am the voice of reason, the fear, the courage and the stupidity. All me.

So, next time I stop and stare at something, thinking what’s it all about, and not find an answer, I will feel grateful that I ask the question. Because I honestly don’t know which reality I live in, if not my own. I’m old enough to deal with that, now. I am my own worst judge, but that judge needs locking up sometimes, for his own good so the creative can come out to play.

 

 

Between Chaos and Rigidity

 

When I worked in organic food I believed in the produce I was selling. I knew that it had come from a good place. I knew that the people who grew it had integrity and really cared about what they were doing. I still believe that to be true.

Somewhere in there, though, I put my trust in a set of ideals and deep down I felt like that choice would somehow be enough to make me happy. Like I wouldn’t need to worry about anything after that. I realised after many years that it wasn’t working for me. It didn’t change how I was feeling, even after 12 years of doing ‘good work’. I was surrounded by great people who were (and still are) driven to change things and work for the benefit of the world.

But there I was, burning out. I went from job to job within the same world, gained expertise in local food and really knew my stuff. I believed wholeheartedly in what I was doing, but couldn’t escape the misery I was feeling. The work was easy to believe in, because it ticked all the boxes for me: community, people working together, spreading the message of healthy, chemical free food; taking responsibility for the state of the planet.

So, how could that have been bad?

It wasn’t bad, of course, but there was something missing. What went wrong for me was that I put too much trust in the system I was part of. I thought it was all I needed. I felt that people would look after me and I would leave suffering behind. I ended up feeling hurt and resentful, unworthy, yet somehow superior.  Messed up, eh?

I have fallen in and out of love with trust over the years. I have been hurt and even abused – as I believe everyone has to some extent – but I always regain my trust of others. I don’t like to hide my feelings from people; I speak about what hurts and also about what is beautiful. I have suffered greatly from an overactive imagination, which has helped talk me out of countless opportunities and possibilities. I also judge myself and others, but I am slowly learning to live with that and see that it’s not OK to judge. When I am judging, I will never meet that person in openness. I have a lot to lose when I am Judge.

Being over-reliant on others and my ideals, I lost sight of my responsibility for myself. I hadn’t grown up – and without knowing it I allowed the responsibility of my actions and decisions to rest on others’ shoulders. I blamed others when things went wrong for me, because I put too high an expectation on friendships, work relationships and the outcomes of my work.

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Now, almost 2 years after making a conscious decision to take responsibility for my existence, and experiencing both the tough challenges and the bliss of what that’s like (more details in future blog posts), I have changed the source from where I act in the world. I am slowly learning to trust my Nature, by spending time in open, wild surroundings and connecting with the landscape, just as I did as a child. This helps ground my trust, helps take me out of judgment and into unity. How does that happen?

It’s simple.

I see that the very land and planet which supports me has no judgment, allows me to be who I want, whilst all the time being its own full potential. This helps take doubt away. This may sound facile, but it makes much sense. Ideals and beliefs are a lot less tangible than the world around me. To me, this openness is Nature’s most powerful resource, not timber or diamonds, oil or even food. My arguments, my opinions, which I consider so important, fade away when I spend time in Nature. My problems, including blame and long held pain, feel insignificant when I spend time alone in Nature. The Earth, without which I would not exist, is completely supportive of me. Like a parent, I suppose, and I know I can rely on that support. The rest is up to me. I am solely responsible. That perspective blew my mind. I learned to create space, to slow down and stop, actually seeing where I was at, for once. Just watching my life, as if from outside myself.

Of course, I still have purpose and drive to change things and to contribute, but knowing I am entirely responsible for my own well being, including what has happened to me and what will happen to me, I know that I can now approach family life, the work I do and my creativity using my own inner resources, rather than relying on others’. About time.

If you’re feeling disconnected, like the world is broken, and people are messed up and we’re not going to make it (and that may very well be the case), then talk to someone about it. Make yourself vulnerable. Don’t hide behind your long held beliefs. They will not support you in growth.

When I ask ‘how are you?’ and I receive an automatic ‘yes, I’m fine, thanks’, accompanied by a deflective smile, I want to ask ‘what are your biggest fears?’ or ‘what is it you hate?’ or ‘what is it you really love?’

 

I want to get past the pleasantries. Tell me how you really are, not some preprogrammed answer. Tell me what you think stops you from enjoying life. Then we can get to the truth, those emotions which lie underneath, protecting some long held, painful hurt. Tell me why you think you hate other people. It’s not the truth but it’s a way in. The truth lies under that. We can do this for each other.

I spent about three decades there. Lying to myself, getting pissed off with other people and situations, when all the time I was just building defensive structures, in the form of judgments and accusations to protect my hurts. “They did this because they are like that.” “They are inferior to me because they don’t have the great insights I have.” Feeling inferior. Afraid. Alone with my negative thoughts. I was like a child, trying to protect myself, operating from survival mode.

To me, this is the core of disconnection; from ourselves, others and the planet.

How can we get past the outrage, past the surface, that armoury, trained to fight back at the hint of ‘attack’?

Let’s talk. Let’s go deeper.

 

 

 

Is a Cricket ever not a Cricket?

I was happy with myself for swapping my Way of Nature UK training in Scotland (meaning lots of travel and flying, which I wrote about here) to doing the training here with Way of Nature Tuscany with John Milton, who started Way of Nature in the US in the 1980’s. That’s a lot of ‘Way of Nature’, there, I apologise.  As usual, I felt a little cynical about the whole thing as I wasn’t sure what was in it for me in the long run.

I have to admit I quickly and unexpectedly felt a camaraderie with John, especially as he has Irish roots and identifies strongly with them. We talked a lot about farming and growing at dinner and what it took to grow organically and sustainably. As he was part Native American, his family grew using the ‘Three Sisters’ method; corn, beans and squash. The corn grew up, the beans climbed the corn, bringing nitrogen to the soil for the squash growing at ground level. Great to learn about this. “Neat”, as an American might say.

Over the course of the weekend we talked about activism, environmentalism and then need for grounding within all that. His story was fascinating and definitely shone a light on what I felt could be possible for myself, having experienced what I can only describe as burnout working in the organic food sector and volunteering in other sorts of food/sustainability-centred activism. John Milton is an extraordinary, ordinary man who is down to earth and practical yet at the same time totally cosmic – an really great combo, I have to say.

So I found myself in this field as part of this course, doing some ‘solo time’. It was a beautiful field, with a hawthorn (or whitethorn, as we used to call it) and blackthorn hedge, with long grass and bramble coating the bottom, very similar to what I grew up with. It was almost impassable, but a great habitat for wild creatures. This ‘solo’ is a time set out for each participant to explore ideas and concepts and come back with some perspective. I experienced my first guided solo time (which I wrote about here) in April and it had a profound effect on me. This time was no different.

We’re all aware of weird things happening, the sort of stuff that’s difficult to explain or not ‘normal’. Anyway, at one point during my solo time I found myself on a blanket my hands and knees. Nothing unusual there, you might think. Well, as I knelt there, in a wild bristly, dry stubbly field, at 1000m above sea level in the 25 degree heat, I heard a cricket call. “Cheep cheep” it said, catching my attention. Somewhere inside I said “I can do that!”, answering the cricket with my best “cheep cheep.” After a bit I felt like I was chatting to the cricket – still pretty normal behaviour, I know. Then I saw it, making its way across the grass towards me. I was surprised and a bit excited that it might actually be coming to ‘say hello’. We continued the dialogue until the cricket clambered on to my blanket and up on to a piece of paper I had. Then I noticed it was missing a back leg. “Wow, weird!” I thought, marvelling at this freak of nature which had come to hang out with me. I noticed its bright orange abdomen and could clearly see the vibration of its one back leg as it called to me. It was definitely at a disadvantage, I mused, but it seemed to be doing ok, but that didn’t stop me from feeling some kind of sympathy for it. Then it tried to climb onto my leg and kind of fell off. I felt sorry for it and tried to help it up, at which point it took off and flew away into the long grass growing into the hawthorn hedge about 15 feet away. I was blown away. Not only because this cricket had apparently taken a fancy to me but also in my fascination I forgot that crickets could fly and got a bit of a shock when it just took off. I realised in that moment that I didn’t need to feel sorry for that cricket because it could fly; its secret weapon.

I then stood up, still a little bewildered and turned to the sky. Just as I was about to put it all behind me and get on with my life, I heard it again. “Cheep cheep” the cheeky cricket chappie chimed, once again. This time I felt pretty certain it was him again so I resumed my grounded position and called out again. Sure enough, the one legged cricket was making his way back to me. Now I started feeling a bit weird. I also kind of felt like I knew what to do, so, a couple of minutes later, when it got near I put my hand down and it hobbled straight on to it and sat in my palm. I gently lifted my hand until the cricket was level with my eyes. We observed each other for about ten seconds, but this ten seconds was like an hour and this moment felt like something out of a sci-fi movie, all surreal and super-real – the moment when the insects started telling us how shit were were and it was time to be nice to the world. THAT kind of moment, when one has an unexplainable (yet supremely describable) intimate moment with an invertebrate which could easily count as one of the most interesting interactions I had ever had with another being, amongst the countless hundreds of thousands of interactions I had had in my life previous to that moment.

“Even a one legged cricket can fly”, I reflected to myself, still totally absorbed in its inexplicable magic. I felt overwhelmed by how I sometimes diminish my own capabilities and possibilities by thinking I’m not good enough or I’m a bit broken or something, but that one crickety moment gave me something which really helped me see that we may all think we have something wrong with us, buy why should that stop us from flying? You can hobble along if you like, with your injured life, but taking off is also always an option. Wow!

I came back from my 2 hour solo absolutely buzzing about my cricket interaction and feeling that through connecting with nature in an open and grounded way, being in the moment, I can get these kind of lessons, I can grow and progress through learning from my environment, as it reflects my way of being, just like I reflect its state too. That was just ONE mindblowing experience in a weekend of deep learning and seeing this ever changing world a little differently once more. I didn’t feel quite so cynical after that.

We are nothing if not a part of nature. Go out and connect, it’s there for you.

 

Making Meaning Less Mean – An Autobiography

I have been a terrible reader all my life.

I was rubbish at school and, after the age of about thirteen, was about as interested in it as I was in listening to my parents go on. I had no drive, no interest in the subjects, many of the teachers taught by rote and were unimaginative and disciplinarian, which I automatically rebelled against. It’s probably the same everywhere.

When I was about 14, my parents went to a parent-teacher meeting where they met with Mr Carroll, my English teacher. Mr Carroll informed them that it was obvious I read a lot because I had a good command of the English language. I have never forgotten that compliment, partly because I felt proud to have received such kind words from Mr Carroll, one of my favourite teachers and partly because it was so inaccurate. I rarely read a book and didn’t even read most of my reading list for English at school. I’m not writing this to show off but to illustrate something; maybe I thought I was too cool for school.

Having said that, my maths teacher, Tommy Dowd, in what I consider a shrewd assessment of my general character, summarised “He’s looking for problems where there are none.” That phrase has always both fascinated and perplexed me. It’s a kind of ‘wood for the trees’ thing for me. I understand the phrase ‘looking for problems where there are none’ but I could never see when I was doing it.

This is why I chose to opt out.

In the past, it was always easier for me to not get involved. If something seemed difficult I immediately gave up, finding it really hard to keep going with it. Unless I had someone overseeing me, ‘holding my hand’ in a certain situation, it was likely that I would sack it off altogether. Hence the lack of interest in school and study and not being bothered with reading.

Through this neglect I decided that I ‘knew better’ and was somehow superior to others. Occasionally bolstered by misplaced compliments such as ‘it’s obvious that he reads a lot’, it felt like a no-brainer.

I spent many years avoiding knowing about what was really going on in the world and focusing only on my own subjective take on things. This led me to become more interested in nature, dreams and intuition. It distracted from the cerebral world which I did not wish to be part of. I felt close to people emotionally but intellectually inferior which cased me to create a gulf. I worked hard physically but not mentally. I put up a wall between myself anf the ‘real world’.

So what did that cost me?

I grew up somewhere rural where it was easy to be away from people and despite living in the city for 20 years, surrounded by people at all times and being married and having a child, ( I often marevelled at how regularly I was within grabbing distance of my next door neighbour) I still managed to live mostly in my own head and most of my theories about how the world really worked were in my own imagination. Throughout this I managed to hold down some good jobs, be part of some amazing and groundbreaking sustainable food projects, start, run and sell my own business and play in bands and tour Europe. Outwardly, I could have appeared to be ‘an achiever’.

Gradually, in these past 4 years or so, since my beautiful daughter was born, I began to put a stop to my old, isolating, judgmental ways, mainly through challenging myself in new ways, so I could look at things differently. I learned to swim, began to emerge from my anxiety of walking down the street. I used to react with extreme discomfort and self consciousness in the most mundane situations, like going to the shops. Instead, I began to enjoy little interactions with people in shops and in regular, everyday moments. I even began smiling at people in the street for no other reason than just to smile. I was becoming a happy person. I read about 25 books last year. I even went on a great adventure/walk/challenge, talked publicly in front of audiences about it many times afterwards and then packed up and left the UK after 20 years to live a new life in the mountains.

It is only since arriving here that I have seen a clearer picture of who I am.

Arriving here and trying to get straight into a new life without a job or speaking the language hit me like a train. Stopped in my tracks of having spent the previous couple of years progressing steadily with the ‘job’ of growing into what I considered my true self, I sought the nearest rock and attempted to crawl under it. I approached going out in public with anxiety in a situation where I might have to talk to someone. Even simple, everyday, meaningless interactions I took for granted, and even learned to enjoy in the UK became instead, stressful awkward and frustrating moments here in Italy. This lasted for many weeks and I made myself ill for a month with stomach cramps, nausea and other digestive issues. The realness of the pain and not being able to ease it left me feeling anxious and perpetuated the uncertainty. I had no idea that this was going to happen, and I was shocked, as I had never suffered from stomach problems before. In fact, I prided myself, in some secretly superior way of having a particularly strong stomach, handling lots of booze and whatever else I would decide to indulge in.

Thankfully this appears to be passing, and the track I fell off when arriving here is again beginning to catch up with me.

There is nothing worse than that sense of uncertainty about one’s place and future. I carried that uncertainty with me for decades and just when I thought I had cured myself of it and was moving to a new level, it came back. Call it depression, opting out, anxiety, mistrust; it takes many forms. I spent much of my life feeling alone, feeling like I knew better, but at the same time I was desperate to belong. I trusted few and feared many. I put myself in destructive situations and friendships where I only hurt myself more and got more isolation. I am so immensely lucky to have an incomparably amazing wife, lover and life partner and fantastic sisters whom I know I can always rely on. Not everyone is so lucky.

Since returning to the ‘real world’, the world I shunned back in the early 1990’s, I know it’s not about finding my place in society, being part of the gang or even having intense, short lived friendships and relationships which end in ‘necessary hurt’ that matters. What counts is that I am ok with who I am and I am ok with the way the world is. If I’m not ok I have to express it. Writing helps me do that, along with physical work and now, more intellectual pursuits, such as reading books, having to learn a new language from scratch and getting more into what we as a species have done in the past and how we can do things better in the future. To do that I have to overcome the greatest barrier I put in front of myself and admit that I really don’t know better, but if I stay open to new possibilities, I can better myself and feel better about myself and my place in this world.

I love the fact that I am a people person, that I feel I can relate to peoples’ pain and am not afraid to express my own, despite having ‘hidden myself away’ for a long time. I still love dreams and the cosmic, otherworldly possibilities of the imagination; those intangible, but undeniably personal experiences available to us all.

From now on, my ultimate goal is to stop looking for problems where there are none and to actually read and learn a lot, thus gaining a better command of both the English (and Italian) language and of my place in this world. I owe that to myself.

Grazie