It is Christmas Day, 2020 and I find myself in a gap. Between a glass of cava and the dinner being ready; between a sunshiny walk and the fall of darkness, I find myself. Perhaps it is always in the gaps that we find ourselves?
Husband is outside, making the beginnings of a bird box. In his last creation, a pair of tawny owls enjoy Christmas on their balcony. They, and the robins and crested tits, have been constant companions during this blighted year. Year of the the pandemic.
Yesterday, our friend, whose land and vineyard has been in his family since the Middle Ages, told us they had had a poor harvest. What have you harvested this year? Do we even know yet, what this year of pandemic has been growing?
I have the sense that the wholeness is beyond our knowing. Political leaders may mess with the details, try to trick the system and tinker with the edges of what is real, gas-lighting us all in the process of stealing wealth and resources for themselves. But I also have the sense that they are under-estimating the power of nature. And also, under-estimating the power of the people. We, like a force of nature, are awakening. There is no knowing, no telling what will come next.
Unprecedented. That must be the word of the year. The word of 2020. Unprecedented. Unforeseen. Unimaginable. Yet, really, as history and her story tells, it is all precedented. It has all been seen before. We humans. We think we have it all under control. Our lives. Nature. The world. But no. We do not.
I, for one, am looking forward to 2021. I hear the Herald Angels singing. What is born may not be a Christ child, but something is being born. We know this, because whenever we go into the dark, as we have done in this year of 2020, going back into our homes and into our own deepest minds, something is gestating. Eventually, we will give birth to it. It cannot help but be born.
Hark, the Herald Angels are singing. Glory is afoot.
I’m looking out of Ankur’s window in Kashipur, India. The sun is going down, spreading rays of pink and golden light across green fields. I keep watching. Nothing happens…
Sitara’s window opens onto a patio in Chennai, India, where a hanging chair swings idly. In front of Kristens’ window in Shawnee, Kansas, USA, a black cat is washing itself, while Andrea’s window in Lucerne, Switzerland opens onto lake and mountain scenery. The website is window-swap.com and it comes with an invitation to upload video of the scene through my own window.
This quarantine project by Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam aims to give us a fresh view while we are unable to travel. With a second wave of Covid-19 beginning all around the world, perhaps this project has legs for a little while longer. Or perhaps, in this new normal, people will stop travelling so much and stay home more? What do you think? How do you feel about travelling these days? How do you feel about staying home?
Hiraeth Book – Our Longing for Belonging
In my book Hiraeth – Our Longing for Belonging, I talk about how we love to travel but how, over the years, we seem to have forgotten how to build community. We know how to travel, but do we know how to come home?
There is something poignant about these images from people’s homes. At a time when we are largely unable to visit each other, we are invited to enter, settle and stay a while, listening to the sounds of everyday lives. We are asked to linger without speaking or interacting. Without doing anything. We are simply hanging out together.
From Simone’s window in Villongo, Italy, we hear the call of a cuckoo. From Sebastian’s window in Shanghai, China, we watch a neighbour hanging their washing. From a window in New York we hear traffic. Rain washes down the window pane. These homes tell a surprising amount about their residents, but perhaps even more about me. My reactions, the length of time I spend in each window tells me whether I enjoy that view, that lifestyle. I find myself making judgements. “Great view!” “Boring!” “Amazing”. “Why would anyone choose to live there?” In some windows, I spend the full ten minutes of video. Some I scroll past right away.
Forty Days of Quarantine
Where we have been quarantined this year reveals so much about us. About our choices (or lack of them), our work (or lack of it), our family demands and responsibilities. The period of forty days of quarantine holds significance as a length of time that supports change to happen. Christ wandered for 40 days in the desert. Babies in some cultures are quarantined for 40 days after birth. 40 days speaks to a state of purification and transition. Historically, quarantines signify change and following mass quarantines, such as during a pandemic, there have been mass uprisings – revolutions reflecting a shift in consciousness.
Emerging from their first period of confinement and preparing for the next, many people affected by both private and public events are are putting in the work to make changes in their lives. This might be a change in views, for example with regard to racism; or a change in daily habits, such as diet or exercise. Many of us have been reflecting on our impact on the world and on our situation in life. This crisis has made us think more about where and how we live, our resilience or lack of it, our good fortune or lack of it. Consider how, in early April, there was a shortage of seeds dues to so many people wanting to grow food. Was this because many people had more time, or was it a direct result of seeing the fragility in our food systems?
One friend, who was locked down alone, is re-thinking how he wants to live. Would he prefer to have his loved ones around him?
Friends confined with children are wishing they had more space for them to play. More support with day-to-day childcare. More time for them to just be children.
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support? A child of your imagination?
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support?
Woolgathering as an imaginative practice
This practice of staring out of the window – anybody’s window – resonates with me as something of value. In one of the weekly meditation groups I facilitate, we honour the practice of woolgathering, defined by Patti Smith in her book of the same name as :
“one of those inexplicable things…Where one, lost in thought, may feel a tap upon the shoudler and find oneself far flung, in a swirl of dust, swung about and brought to a sudden halt.”
Patti describes how, in childhood, she would ‘wander’ through her window at night :
“And the wind caught the edges of the cloth that covered my window. There I kept vigil, alert to the small, easily becoming, through an open eye, monstrous and beautiful.” Is it possible, engaged as we have been in physical travel, that we have forgotten how to travel in our minds? Neglected the skill required to “rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.” In short, have we lost the art of imagining?
During the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been running writing workshops based on the narrative form known as The Heroine’s Journey. On this path, we learn that meeting our unknowing takes courage. In the stillness of non-doing, we are tested by all the dragons and monsters we try hard to avoid. Instead of doing battle, how might we befriend them? How might we come face-to-face with these parts of ourselves and integrate them into our journey?
Ready to Change your View?
If you are ready to look through your own window, hear your own story and perhaps weave a new one, you may be interested in my new creative co-mentorship programme. The Heroines Alliance offers a co-creative space where you get to explore what’s next for you. Whether literally or metaphorically, if you feel ready to change the view from your window, maybe you’ll join us?
Next Heroines Alliance group begins September 2020. Click here for details and sign-up.
So this is what war looks like in the 21st century. As one wag put it (there are lots of wags in social media),
“Our grandparents were asked to go to battle. We are being asked to sit on the couch.”
So this is me, on my couch in my little eco-casita in Spain. To be honest, for me life has not changed much. Husband is working from home. I am offering an online meditation and writing retreat, which keeps me both busy and well-connected to my tribe. We have plenty to occupy us and a comfortable place to be in, surrounded by nature. Others, however, are not so lucky. Just today, two people have joined the retreat group from their places of isolation. One has been forced to go and stay with a friend because her living conditions with a new flat mate were not conducive to 24-7 confinement. Another is joining because she lives alone and is struggling with anxiety. From the UK, I speak to my son, who finds that there is no hand sanitiser to be found anywhere, not even in his workplace, who are nevertheless recommending that employees use it.
“Get some tea tree essential oil” I tell him. “It will not only kill germs, but will boost your immune system too. Scientist Husband refutes my hypothesis, so I am forced to go and get Mr. Google (or in this case, Ms. Ecosia) to put him right. I send it to my son as evidence. “Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including terpinen-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi. Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders. These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.”
I do a virtual fist-bump with my son and tell him most people will be unaware of the uses of tea tree so it’s probably still available. Sure enough, he finds some in his local chemist.
Alternative Lifestyle Resilience
The tea tree incident is just one example of how, as an alternative-lifestyler with twenty years of yoghurt-weaving under my hemp-crocheted belt, I feel more prepared than most for this crisis. We’re not exactly preppers, but we have solar electricity, solar hot water, and most of the tools we need to fix basic stuff around the home. We grow food and preserve it. The other day, I found a stash of tomato sauce that we bottled last summer. It’s delicious and saves me from having to put more pressure on the shops at this moment. My son informs me that there is not a single bag of pasta to be found anywhere in his town.
We giggle at the idea of some people sitting on twenty kilos of pasta, with a spare bedroom stuffed with toilet roll, but the truths are harsh. Our system cannot cope easily with increased demand. It functions on a just-enough, just-in-time assumption and is thrown by shoppers wanting more of something at odd times. I’m sure, given the proximity to Easter, that if it were chocolate eggs we wanted to hoard, there would be plenty, but wet-wipes? Forget it.
Permaculture as Inter-dependence
My friends in the permaculture movement feel similarly prepared. My timeline is full of people offering free meditations, body healing and advice on how to boost the immune system, and I enjoy them alongside the dark funnies about sending stool samples to the government for “testing”. These people have taken the time and made the effort to make their lives more resilient to sudden change. For a start, they tend to consume less. They have organised themselves to rely a little less on mainstream services. Not towards independence, they understand that is a myth, but further towards inter-dependence. Towards community and in many ways, towards themselves. They have more ways of coping. More tools for anxiety, stress and other strong emotions which accompany times of transition and change.
Most of us understand that the system supposed to support us is mostly stacked against us. But still people feel disappointed that the people charged with protecting us serve the wealthy first. We will do well to remember, next time we get a chance to vote, what kind of policies served best at this time. My friends in Spain are not complaining about being isolated in their homes, though under conditions that rule only dog-walkers may go outside, they are scrabbling to borrow dogs from their neighbours! On the whole, we feel grateful to the care-workers and government officials who are making difficult decisions every day to protect us. Mostly, we want to comply. To protect each other as well as ourselves.
Connection in Community
This is one of the heartwarming things about all this. The reaching out, the wish to support, the compassion. This must be a taste of why some older people feel nostalgic for wartime. What they remember is not only the rations and the pain of untimely death, but the intense joy of human connection. The kindness of neighbours. The comfort of community. For a while, we are not pitted against each other in competition, though there will always be those who profit in times like this. For a while, we do not see so clearly the colour of skin, the cultural background, the religious or political affiliation. We do not hear accent nor even language. We see humans. Human to human. And human to animal, too. Human to environment. Human to spirit. We would do well to rememebr this.
As I sit here on my couch, door open to the wide outside, a bird chirrups enthusiastically into the afternoon air. There is traffic on the road below, but much less. Less aeroplanes fly overhead. Even since yesterday, the first day of our confinement, my being feels calmer. We have at least thirteen more days of this. I think I can get used to it.
ps. If you’d like to join our Heroines’ Home Retreat, we’re virtually open. Email me directly: helen [@] livinginthefuture.org
Circling in…re-tuning and re-attuning…this is a key foundation for sustainable living.
To keep growing and learning, we all need to find our edge…
Back in 2008, Living in the Future began as a project documenting ecovillages and low impact communities in the UK and beyond. It was hard not to be concerned about the way things were going but as well as saying ‘no’, I wanted something to which I could say ‘yes’! Our team set about recording positive alternatives to mainstream lifestyles and twelve years on, Living in the Future engages in all aspects of this question, from natural building and offgrid living to food, health and nature connection. As well as the physical impact of this way of living, the human context is becoming increasingly evident. Society is facing a collapse in emotional and mental well-being and we find ourselves embracing an eco-spiritual edge. In permaculture, the edge effect describes how there is a greater diversity of life in the region where two adjacent ecosystems overlap, such as land/water, or forest/grassland.
Where is the fertile ground between ecology and spirituality?
Sustainable Living is more than an eco-house, more then a veggie garden, more than planning laws and turf roofs, though all of this is relevant and necessary. Sustainable living has to encompass the whole of it. The soul of it. The way we live includes our humanity, our community and our relationships – with ourselves, with the land and with each other. Filmmaker, writer, environmentalist and human rights advocate, I am also a yoga teacher and a meditation guide and my lifestyle encompasses all of these aspects. Many years ago, I made a commitment to earning my living through Right Livelihood and with your support, the Living in the Future project has helped me do that. Part art, part activism, we endeavour to bring fresh conversations, fresh inspirations and a fresh perspective.
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