A Sacred Choice

DSC01641

Covid-19 has brought on an existential crisis for some people. These crises, as hard as they are at the time, can be portals to new ways of understanding our place in the world. So I thought I’d share one such experience from few years ago, which brought new freedom and joy to my life. 

Six years ago I had the good fortune to go on a wilderness solo in Spain, in the stunning landscape of the Pyrenean foothills of Catalunya. I had recently attended a Sustainability Leadership module at the university, an experiential learning week that had left me rather undone and grappling with what climate change could mean for us and our planet. I stuck with a question that I could not reconcile in myself. Wasn’t I just another burden on the earth? 

On my 24 hours alone on that mountainside I decided to face this agonising dilemma head on. I chose a spot on a ridge. To the south the mountain rolled down through dry, stunted oak woodland. To the north, a sheer 100m drop down to a cool, shaded beach and chestnut forest. 

I sat on the edge of that cliff and cried. I didn’t know what to do, so I asked a questions and awaited answers. They took their time, but steadily they came, like lightbulbs illuminating within me. The first question, I asked of mother earth, “Should I just throw myself off this cliff and no longer be a burden to you?” Please understand, I had no actual intention of doing this, but it felt  incredibly powerful to ask the question on the edge of such a potential. The first answer took me by surprise “You may not be afraid to die but you are afraid to live.” I knew there was truth in this and contemplated this the rest of that day, at the end of which another answer came “All you can do in this life is share your gifts.”   

Comforted I went to sleep in my hammock beneath the oak trees. In the morning I awoke to the sun rising over the mountains at the end of the ridge. It was beautiful. And there came another answer as clear as a bell. “You have a choice. Either all life is sacred or no life is sacred. But if you should choose all life to be sacred, then that must include yours, as well all others.” In that moment I had clear sight that the veil between these two options was not just thin, but actually none existent. Whether all life is sacred or not is not an actuality it is a choice, my choice, our choice. 

I spent the rest of my time on that mountainside in contemplation of this and a new question that had arisen in me. “If I choose all life to be sacred then what of rocks and water and all things supposedly none living.” In my contemplation I picked up a small rock that lay next to me and look at it closely. To my amazement it was made up of hundreds of tinny fossilised shells. Life, now past, lying still in this rocky form. In that moment the veil between inanimate and animate also faded away. And I could see, if I am to choose life as sacred, I must choose all other things too. 

The role of story and myth in our troubled times

(This piece was written for and originally published at Wilderculture.com – an organisation I work with developing ecosystem-based agriculture.)

by-the-fire-storytellingA Bosnian man who’d moved to the USA after the war wrote of all the difficulties he had had in adapting to a new culture. There were things that he just couldn’t understand like why Americans would leave the house with wet hair, when everyone knows that if you go outside with wet hair it gives you encephalitis! My boyfriend tells me this story with a certain level of self deprecation as we walk barefoot on the beach. I’ve been laughing at him for worrying about me getting cold feet after having had the flu. “I think it’s good for me!” I protest, but then he is Spanish, and in Spain it seems you can’t even go to the toilet in the night barefoot and not be told off. God forbid you walk down the street with no shoes, unless you seek disapproving looks from the Señoras that pass by. But then my boyfriend recalls when he was a child many people still could not afford shoes following the Spanish civil war and had to go barefoot.

The reasons we believe what we believe run deep, often so deep in the past we have no access to the original reasons why. The Bollywood director Shekhar Karpur once said “we are the stories we tell ourselves” and indeed societies and cultures are constructed almost entirely upon stories. Of course there are other powerful forces at work, but what the general populous buys into are stories. 

For example, why does chemical agriculture remain the dominant food growing method in the world? Well, there are number of commonly held beliefs, stories that are told to uphold this idea. The dominant one being that we have no other option, that we couldn’t possibly produce enough food any other way. I have, until recently, struggled greatly with this narrative. It made me feel I was being elitist wanting to eat organic food and promote organic agriculture in the world. Why should I eat food free of chemicals when millions can’t afford to? And how are we going to feed the world otherwise? But I have always had an instinct that this story we are living by just isn’t true.

Then I met Leontino Balbo, a Brazilian farmer who grows 1/3 of the worlds organic sugar. He has spent 30 years figuring out how to do so without chemicals, without burning the cane and with the help of all the living systems and organisms within nature. As a result his sugar estates now yield 24% more than the surrounding conventionally grown sugar. This alone is impressive, but it is just the start. The health of the water cycle on the land has returned, the streams from the farm run clear into the muddy rivers and new springs and water courses have arisen which have been planted with trees to protect them. Perhaps most exciting of all is the return of biodiversity to the farm.

Meeting Leontino has allowed me to believe in what deep down I already knew, that working with nature not against her, holds the solutions for the big problems facing humanity. And it is here that we might dive a little deeper into the role of stories. 

Storytelling is as old as humans themselves, telling each other tales around the fire at night is something humans always did until relatively recent times. But were these just tales told in order to entertain and hold oral histories? Well yes, but I believe they went much further than that. Storyteller Martin Shaw describes ‘myth’ as “the language in which the world thinks.” A strange concept to the modern scientific mind to whom myth has come to mean an untruth. For animist cultures, the idea that myth is the language that lies between all things is not strange at all. For they know how to listen to the subtle influxes that are available to those who are tuned in.

To carry on reading please click this link

 

 

Empowering Women Part 2: Journey into the feminine aspects of the world

6ecd4a176b39ee0c9554b303cfb4d292

A good friend of mine, a hetro-man, read part 1 of this and wrote to me some thoughts. He wondered whether the word ‘want’, or the sentence ‘what we want’ is not a masculine concept. And that Eastern traditions which speak of being ‘free from want’ is a fundamental quality that the western/modern world has lost.

This is a great point and raises a number of deeper issues. For a start we must discern from where it is want arises. Want of the ego mind is different to want of the soul. Freedom from want of the ego mind is the only way to access want of the soul, which can only arise from being in deep relationship with the soul of the earth. Wantings, yearnings, longings of the soul are what bring us to our true nature and into a role of service to the greater good of humans and the earth. But shifting from an ego-centric life to a soul-centric one, generally requires an initiation. For to bring the ego into the service of the soul in a ego-centric culture is not something that comes easily!

This is where the lack of true elders guiding young folk at the right time on journeys of initiation seriously hinders the maturation of modern humans, who in the words of depth psychologist Bill Plotkin celebrate the Forever 21 fantasy. We seem to have reached the pinnacle of this with the types of leaders we currently have in political roles. 

Eastern philosophies speak of being free of want but a common problem with western interpretations of these philosophies, and indeed with Christianity, is that they only focus on half of our spiritual reality, namely the masculine aspect of being. If we look back through the majority of ancient traditions it tends to be a case of mother earth, father sky, indeed it is upon such a basis that the Christian story arises. 

The Western appetite for Eastern philosophy is one of seeking a sense of oneness, transcendence from the mind and body. This too is the case in Christianity, in fact you will be hard pressed to find a mainstream religious tradition that does not have this outlook towards the sky, unity, spirit, oneness. This is being helped no less by science, with quantum physics demonstrating how matter is just energy – its all the same thing ultimately. 

While I too think this is all wonderful and worthy of exploration, it generally tends ignores the feminine aspect, the earthy aspect, the bodily beingness of life, the uniqueness of each being – the expression of soul. 

This feminine aspect of reality is earthy, dark, the ‘unknown’, it encompasses the underworld, the sexual energies, the world experienced through the body. All this has been desecrated by the Christian doctrine, being labelled the source of evil, and so we desecrate the earth itself. 

This loss of the feminine from our consciousness has left us deeply confused about what we are supposed to do with sexual energies other than expel them. The underworld and its role as initiator to soul is a totally alien concept to us culturally. The language of the world that only the body can understand has been rendered a fraudulent imposter next to the might of the human mind. 

This is life turned on its head! For it is the mind who is the fraudulent imposter, while the language of the body has become lost and confused; male sexuality is seen as more potent than female, despite the greater pleasure being hers; and the underworld label as hell, a place one doesn’t want to go. But it is only by journeying through the dark that we find the holy grail of who we really are, the wanting of our soul. 

I like the analogy of a volcano when talking about soul. A volcano is part of the earth, it is impossible in fact to say where the volcano ends and the earth carries on, but it has a beingness, is unique, has a role in the world. And so it is with humans, we are of the earth, each a unique expression of her, each with a longing, a wanting to take our true place in the order of things.

Empower Women! But what does that actually mean?

What do we (and in particular men), need to bear-in-mind

hqdefault

As a woman, I’m all for the empowerment of women, but what does that actually mean? In my experience men who want to help empower women might just be peddling an insidious form of patriarchy if their own identity is tied up in this role. A man who wants to help empower women might just be dependent on disempowered women for his sense of self worth. Therefore when the  woman in question really does find her power he has no idea how to deal with it, is threatened by it and might use shame and rejection as a result of this unconscious bias. In my experience of this has been from older men, who seem to hold the Christian fantasy of Eve, the meek and mild mannered woman, who’s behaviour is ‘pleasant’ and predictable, but above all deferent to men! Hardly an empowered archetype. 

I sometimes think, that rather than men being concerned with empowering women, they should get together and look at their fear of what an empowered woman might mean in their world. No less because any woman on the road to finding her power will, more often than not, have to navigate the territory of her own anger. Terrifying for her and others! Culturally we are called to reject and shame her and while I’m no more a fan of an angry woman, or man come to that matter than the next person, we have to face the fact that women hold a deep-seated anger about the patriarchy and there is no way around that anger, the only way – is through. 

Emotions are not there to be held onto, but to help us navigate through the swamp-forest of our psyche’s awakening. But in order to journey through an emotion, we have to allow ourselves to enter it entirely. This can be terrifying and dangerous and with anger it’s a good idea to be supported through it, in case what comes out is violent towards ourselves or others. But journey through it we must, in order to find who we are and what we want?

If your idea of empowering a woman is to ask what she wants and give it to her, you don’t understand a damn thing! Women, if brought up in a patriarchal system, have no idea what they want. Indeed, nor do many men. For a woman of patriarchal heritage, ‘wanting’ is an alien concept. Keeping safe is primary, keeping the men around you happy so that you are safe, is primary. Therefore what men want is primary. What we want as women does not simply materialise in our minds on being asked. So first we must find our ability to want.  

This all brings to mind the story of the Loathly Lady. King Arthur is challenged by a dark knight to solve the riddle of discovering what above all else it is that women want. He asks many women but the answers he gets are all different. Chocolates, flowers, a husband, a fairytale wedding, food for my child, healing for my mother. Then Arthur meets Sir Gawaine who joins the quest to solve the riddle and they ride out throughout the land together, but to no avail. Then one day they meet a hideous old hag in the forest, she claims to have the answer, but will only bestow it upon them in return for the hand of Sir Gawaine in marriage. The valiant Gawaine agrees, so committed is he to Arthur. So they are married, and that night when he enters the wedding chamber he finds, not the old hag, but a beautiful young woman. The Lady Ragnell. Gawaine is confused, but she explains she is the very same bride, but that she had a cursed spell put upon her by a sorcerer many years ago. Now that Gawaine has married her, half the spell is broken. “Half?” said Gwaine. “Yes, I will be like this half the time, and you my husband must choose, would you have me beautiful by day or by night?” Gawaine after some careful consideration refused the choice, handing it back to the Lady to choose. In so doing the rest of the spell is broken, for he has given her what she wants above all else, sovereignty over her choices. 

The only trouble with this story, is that we need to be in touch with what we really want, in order to use our sovereignty to make those choices. As I write this I am very aware that I am in the territory of privilege, a person free from fear and hunger, and therefore able to explore the philosophical depths of ‘wanting’, but hopefully there is something of use here for all women. 

How do we find our want? To me this is akin to the holy grail. We quest across the world looking for an object when all along what we seek is within. The mind wants to find some-thing, but only through the body can we come to know, and here in lies the problem not just of the patriarchy but of science and rationality as well. 

In our western cultures mind is king. But, while the mind is an excellent analytical tool, it is not who we are. Ultimately the question for all of us, men and women, is how do we come home to ourselves so that we might know who we are and therefore what we want? When it comes to empowering women, to my mind this is a very important question. 

Women bleed every month with the cycle of the moon. This body has it’s own intelligence, it is the piece of the earth we inhabit and because we are more connected to it due to our luna cycle, we are also inherently more connected with this – the consciousness of matter. The intelligence of the mind is secondary to this primary force, which as many women know is not passive but active. It is akin to a language that the rational mind of the modern era has been hell-bent on usurping, unlearning, belittling, denying the existence of. Which is quite an extraordinary thing when you stop to think about it, for the mind is formed of this primary force of material intelligence.

Women more than men are still connected to this intelligence, which speaks a truth through feelings that we know is far more reliable than any mind. With practice we come to understand this language of the felt sense and live guided by its subtle nudges and impulses. It is through this we come to know who we are and what we want. 

The beauty of this way of being is that it is ‘plugged in’ to the earth network. What we want becomes congruent once more with the interests of all earthly matter. We move into a role of ‘service to’ rather than ‘consumer of’ and with this shift, purpose and happiness are found. 

So, perhaps if we really want to empower women, one of the most important things we can do is to stop the obsessive rubbishing of these other windows of knowing that are not rational or scientific. Because this earthly knowledge, experienced through the felt senses of the body, lies beyond the jurisdiction of our current scientific and rational capabilities. 

Women want to create change in the world, but you have to let them do it their way, with their language, listen to them, try not to judge things that fall outside of your own understanding and experience, and ultimately cultivate the humility to learn from their way of being and doing in the world.

the river god

thm_giulio_romano_jupiter_olympias
I am the waters 
of the rivers flow
I am the earth 
beneath the leaves 
of the woodland floor

I am the rocks 
worn smooth
by the river god 
as he makes sensuous love 
to the depths of my soul

I am the roots of the oak
that plunge deep in the earth
and protect the river bank 
from this god’s wildest passions

My soul sits looking at me

DSC01033

My soul sits 
looking at me 
through the eyes 
of my dog 

What are we doing here
inside these 4 walls,
when we could be out there
being our wilder selves?

The pull is all consuming,
letting no other thought
rest in my mind,
making all actions
awkward and tortured

But where is that 
wild place 
that can fulfil 
this longing,

where wolf 
still hunts deer,
beaver 
still build dams,
and eagle 
soars in the sky,

They are the
ghosts
who’s presence
I crave

I die a thousand 
of their deaths
every time, 
these fur bound eyes 
gaze up at mine.

The Wellspring Source

Mount-Rainier-National-Park-20891

by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

This poem was a piece of writing that came as a stream of consciousness while sitting by a mountain river. I didn’t really understand it until a year later, when in the drought of 2018, here in the lake district, I cleared out an ancient wellspring. Once the sole source of water to the house where I was gardening (the new water source from the stream having dried up), the “Boggin Well” was brought back to life. People knew it was there but no-one in living memory had seen it cleaned out, alive. It was full of stinking anaerobic leaves that had collected there over decades, if you didn’t know it was there, you would be none the wiser. The clearing of the Boggin Well turned out to be quite an extraordinary experience, one that words can’t articulate. It was as if something in me cleared as this wellspring was brought back into being, able to breathe once more. It brought to my mind this piece of writing which at once made sense, and with a few adjustment took the form of this poem.

The reflected light that shows on the log
tells a story of the waters
that flow beneath

but to see into those watery depths
and what they may contain
you must go closer still

You must venture across the fallen trees
to the wellspring source
there where the dipper goes

The reflected light that shows on the log
is so alluring,
yet beautiful enough from here

you could stay here and admire it
from this place
for all eternity

From that place the dipper now comes
the parent
and the noisy, hungry baby

it spends most of its time screaming for food
but then occasionally will just get on
and find some for itself

that tussle of life
dependent
independent

And then the light that shows on the log fades
as the sun continues its course
and you are in danger of forgetting
that wellspring source

Go, drink from your source
everyday
so you don’t forget

Not just so you don’t forget
but so in that drinking
the very waters of your being
are slowly transformed

to be of that source
and that source
alone

The tree that grows its roots
around the rock at the edge of the river
drinks when it pleases him

but he also runs the risk
of flood waters
undermining his feet

So he wraps his root
like tentacles
around those rocks and along the shore
making homes for all those creatures
that inhabit that edge

Go dwell there amongst his roots
Be a creature of the edge
so you may take shelter from him
and drink from her

the wellspring of your life
your source
your soul

img_1370-e1555349717944.jpg

The Boggin Well

The No5 to Blackbird Leys

Blackbird-in-brambles-crop2

by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

The No5 to Blackbird Leys
sounds like a place from a different time
where thick hedgerows ramble
with berries and thorns
and blackbirds rule the roost.

I think I’d like to visit there
and be the stranger in their world,
but I fear their thicket thorny home
will be long gone
the name a ghost
a memory of a wilder time,
where man was not sole master of our world
and other beings had a say
in how it was the land might lay.

Blackbirds in blackberry leys
laid waste by paved modernity.
That divine untidiness
wild and ripe in possibility
of hedgehog, stoat, thrust and wren,
alas I fear they are long gone.

I don’t want to live
in a world of wild ghosts
for in that world I feel half dead
I want that wild chaos instead.
For it brings forth my soul in song
and I am alive and new again.

Day Break

img_0527.jpg

by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

The world was made
to love
and be loved in.

The song thrush
exquisite,
calls in
the first light of day.

I lay in bed
of feathers
warmed against the cool
morning air.

Enchantment all around
a robin
now joins
this chorused dawn.

To think
I’d learned
to dread
the day.

A sense now,
a silver thread
from childhood
recalled
of wonder,
curiosity,
excitement,

I am here!
To sing
my song back
into this world.