It rains and it rains and it rains. Outside, the villagers who you once lived with look ascance at you. They clearly blame you for the river’s sickness. You do not worship the river as they do. You are not of their tribe. You don’t care, because you think they are stupid. But it;s been two months since the King conscripted your father and oldest brother for the war against the heathens. You and your brothers and sisters resemble those heathens.
The disdain of the villagers seems more venemous since the war. More dangerous. And it won’t stop raining. The river, the source of all your food and the focal point of your life, is sick. The villagers blame you, and your brother and sister. The river is greasy and bloated. The fish have gone. The rains keep falling….
…this the start of a book called the Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones. Fast forward to now, and our current reality.
Fires rage in Australia at an unprecedented rate, killing countless wild animals and livestock. Photos show the fires like raw scars across the continent. A charred kangaroo joey against a metal fence the symbol of thousands more animals.
At the same time Donald Trump orders leave the motorcade of an Iranian general a twisted wreck and inflames the middle east.
Here in the UK, we rejeuvenated right wing Tory party sweep to power after purging it’s progressive wing. They let the genie of nationalism from out of it’s bottle and drunk deeply from what’s in there. Now we all have to live with the consequences.
What can I do in such times?
It’s a question that looms so large that it seems utterly overwhelming.
To answer a question like that seems ridiculous. There is clearly no single thing to do that will necessarily make a difference. Things are out of control. There may be no turning back.
Still, even impossible questions want to be answered. And most of all, even in perilous times, we need to find a way to live.
It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But consider this; what is it that we cherish about the world so much that we despair at it’s destruction? And how are we connected to what we cherish?
What part of our selves has been so excluded from our sense of what our life is, that would enable the industrialism and mechanisation of the world?
Buhner tells us that within our intution, we can still find the secret kinesis of the world, the imaginal realm that arises from the body’s felt experience of the feeling of how it is.
What is it that makes me travel miles from home on a Sunday afternoon, in order to experience a few fleeting moment on a low bridge as the late January Sun washes into the cold river? And what makes that moment so satisfying, that all the pressures of the week mean nothiing in the face of the water’s flow?
A deep peace, gold glints on water near trampled muddy banks. The peace does not come from our own contentment, or the healing of our personal wounds, or our arching towards enlightenment. It does not come from our minds, or our hearts, or our desires. It just is something that is happening, in rivers that have not been spoiled, where water bulges and spills downstream, it’s surface pocked by dust and ripples, shimmers silver, it’s matchless liquid coagulates, shivers, bends like blown glass, moves in circles, reflects bare trees, flows.
What the world is
Now, I don’t think that introspection, or immersion in nature can save the world. I think that we have got something fundamental wrong with who we think we are and what the world is, and all other problems follow from that. I’m not claiming to know what the world is, but I know what is Isn’t. it isn’t dead, or mechanical or predictable. It’s alive.
I think we desperately need to rediscover again and again how the story of our own life sits within the deeper rhythms and patterns of a world we have disowned. That our own process and to become a better person IS our connection to what is within and beyond us, to nature.
I think that we need people who know how to come alive, people who can shift between frameworks and can articulate what it is for the world to be more alive than we bargained for. To root this in a deeply embodied sense of what it is to be a human in a living world. If we reject mechanism and accept the psyche goes all the way down to matter, and that we are in it, not the other way around, then we will have to face some strongly primal elements of the world.
Language was magic once.
In most stories worth their salt, it is clear that when you are offered 3 wishes, the exact phrasing of those wishes is of utmost importance. Otherwise you will get what you wish for, and what you wish for will be not what you need. It will have something unpleasant hidden inside it.
We are all getting what our ancestors wished for right now, a life of apparent comfort and luxury and we are all paying the price. Just as our descendents will pay the price for what we wish for now.
Because the question is not the right one. `What can I do? A story of seperation of a solo hero acting on the world. When identify too much with what we do, we take on unrightful ownership of the world. We subject it to another conquest, this time in our minds. And the restless pursuit of what we feel we need has clearly scarred the world deeply.
The current times mean that we must reconcile our human-ness and our concern for our brothers and sisters with the scars we have made upon the living earth and the vengeful ghosts of animals and plants we pretended were not really real.
Chris Packham once said that what keeps him going is not so much to save individual animals or species but his love for and interaction with what he calls the greater beauty – the endless, complex interactions between plants animals and environments that we call ecosystems
It is from this matrix that all life arises and returns to. It’s a dreaming matrix, a wild unpredictable dark mirror that is also the luminesence of a moth’s wings, the elegance of a butterflies brains the fecundity of bacteria.
It is only from our participation in and with this that we can face unnecessary suffering and death.
Each life is a journey. We might not ever comprehend how suffering can be so immense but we can stay connected to the regenerative reality of the nature that encompasses that process and guides our lives.
Imaginal Ecology means to take seriously the intuitive sensations that when followed through lead to works of art. Imagination comes from the body. The body comes from nature. All true art comes from nature, from something a little beyond our ken. We begin by taking a step forward, by taking a breath, by unwinding our muscles, by saying the first word on our mind, by picking up a brush, by picking up a guitar. We cough, splutter, clear our throats, stretch, start to warm up
When we have the courage to continue through any contractions of the self, through the limits of shame and self attack, something always happens. Something more than we expected. Something akin in a small way an ecosytem establishes itself on rocky wasteland.
The work of imaginal ecology is to get out of the way and to allow this to happen, to keep pulling at the tiny golden thread until it spools out into the shape of your hearts desire, and takes its place in the world…..
In a kingdom much like ours, once many moons ago, a king reigned whose queen had died. Grief weighted heavy on King and on Kingdom. The grief had turned him grey and hunched, mute and in pain. He could no longer bear to rule. He summoned his three sons and held aloft three feathers. He said that each son must follow a feather and bring back something of great worth. That which was of greatest worth would be King. The wind blew out of the palace window the feathers of the two older sons. The third feather was for the youngest son, a weakling and a dreamer, who never knew what time of day it was and couldn’t get the simplest thing done. His feather drifted softly to the floor beneath his feet. His brothers laughed cruelly, and strode off to find their feathers out in the world. The youngest son bent down, to pick up his feather. There, beneath his feet was a trapdoor, he had never opened before. he pulled it open, saw stone steps descending down lit by flame…..
the youngest brother has begun a journey to discover that the unpredictable feathers of intuition lead to a hidden cave right below his own feet. Down those steps is a treasure his brothers will never find if they scour the whole world.
Last year I taught the imaginal ecology workshop three times, twice indoors and once outdoors. This year, I want to hold open that space again. I want to offer a space to allow golden threads to be woven. There are threads of song, threads made from poetry, threads made from story. I plan to offer that space in a place where the wind bends branches and seeds can blow in on the wind, and there is mud under your feet, and roots.
i will be in touch to offer this again.
the workshops will look at how adjustments to the way we make sound, movement can allow us to experience a little unbinding, within ourselves, and allow us to catch that secret kinesis of living things, ariadne’s golden threads.
I have been practicing my own golden threads too, by making quick songs that follow the drift of a thread. These are rough shapes and patterns that could be shaped further, but i want to leave them as rough diamonds. I want to share them like that because we all know what polished music sounds like, it blares around us everyday. Rarer to hear an emergent pattern. I dont think improvisation is better than craft, but i think that it has a signature energy.
I want to share some of these quickly made songs, to share the little threads i have
the song below was inspired by a story called “The Spellcoats”
by Diana Wynne Jones.
I think this story has something to say about where we are at, in particular the way we so easily turn on difference and revert to our tribe, how we use language to ensnare and desacrate nature, the consquences of this and what it means to face the darkness. The book, nominally for young adults and part of the excellent Dalemark Quartet is in itself a surprisingly deep meditation on the deep nature of magic, the problems of families and the courage to face the unbearable. Like all her work, it is both light of touch, very well plotted, unpretentious and sparkling with fierce magic.
The story is about a family of children whose lives are in danger. It is set in Northern Europe in the neolithic past. The children are in danger because everyone worships the River, except them. They worship different gods and are from a different tribe. War has come, and children from the other tribe are no longer safe. The River is not well. It rains and rains, and the river is swelling. Their father has been killed in a war he was forced to fight in. The villagers blame them and they must flee by boat. But down where the River meets the Sea, there is a dark magician. He is using the magic of writing to capture the soul of the River, placing woven nets over the river, harvesting souls, seeking control. The children’s little boat is heading right for him…