“All of our opinions, when they carry a high emotional charge, are suspect” Liz Greene 1977
Passion, for me, is the answer to all the challenges we face in life, be it on a personal, transpersonal or global level.
Let me unpack that a little; and refer to my latest radio broadcast, where I discuss, along with the founder of the ground-breaking Schumacher College, Satish Kumar, the metaphor of the sword and the whetstone. Our passion can be likened to our sword; it is a powerful tool for cutting through what we perceive as dark obstacles. What is often not remembered, however, by many warriors in their so many guises, is that if it is not sharp, focused, pointed; it is going to make a pretty jagged attempt at cutting through to the truth. That is where the whetstone comes in.
We must be able to hone our sword, focus our passion, have a clear purpose, untainted by emotional content.
Why, I hear you ask, do I suggest passion must be free of emotional content? Surely that is what makes it great. Well, only initially, once we become aware of what matters to us, and anger arises, it is time to question the roots of that anger, what are we really angry about. What is the fundamental truth that is being violated? Often, after a little going inward we are able to identify what that truth might be; is it equality, is it recognition of the value of diversity, is it respect for all living beings, is it reverence for life itself? That established it is time to hone the sword. An unsheathed and jagged sword wreaks unbelievable damage; whatever side we consider ourselves on. Passion without purpose is a dangerous thing.
Unbridled emotion is useful only in that it can provide the energy that makes us aware of what matters to us. (I talk about this on my radio show “Stories with Steph” in the episode when I describe my pilgrimage across Wales and the insights I gained regarding our relationship with land and its use.) Then it is time to examine this insight in the light of the specific gifts we uniquely bring to the world; maybe it is the gift of rhetoric, perhaps we are born teachers, it could be that we are empathic listeners or possibly we are one of those people who make a good leader. Whatever our particular purpose might be, it is by recognising which eternal truth we essentially stand for, coupled with which gifts we have and skills we have learnt, that we are able to effect real change in the world.
Anything less could be regarded as more inflammatory than useful. Especially damaging, to my mind, is to identify a particular movement or representative of a movement, as inherently bad and then use it/them as a whipping boy.
I would like to give a few examples here of what I mean by honing our purpose as opposed to unleashing unbridled passion onto the world.
A little while ago I was fortunate enough to win a commission to tell the story of local environmental group, Sustainable South Brent. You’ll soon be able hear the finished piece on Soundart Radio. What I encountered in my several weeks of meeting and talking with local inhabitants of all ages was a lot of enthusiasm; plenty of passion with purpose, and an almost unmatched record of achievement in producing sustainable community projects with a great deal of immediate practical benefit to the villagers in terms of community grants from income raised from such ambitious projects such as succeeding in erecting a community wind turbine, with almost unprecedented full buy-in both in terms of the cost and understanding and backing of the idea. It took 7 years of quiet but relentless work to bring a second hand working wind turbine to Brent that not only supplies 1000 million kw of electricity back to the grid, but releases nearly £7000.00 a year back into the community in the form of grants for local projects.
Big cost high risk projects are not the only illustrations we have that passion with purpose succeeds. During the busy weeks I spent attending community events in South Brent, in the newly surfaced free community car park for the community bought community centre I met the smiling face of a woman whose pop-up cake stall had sold out in just 2 hours raising more than £450 to benefit refugees. Her appearance spoke volumes. Here was someone with passion and purpose. Here was someone who spent her energy on making what she believed in happen. A local family, upset by the plight of the refugees in Greece, had moved over there to experience at firsthand what the situation was actually like. What they discovered was a lot of large empty abandoned houses in to one of which they moved and set about renovating it to provide homes for some refugee families. The cake sale proceeds were to be sent to support that project. When the Greek authorities saw this potential solution to their challenge they began to copy the idea and make other empty houses available to the refugees.
“I struggled with some demons; they were middle class and tame” Leonard Cohen 2016
I’d like to turn now to the current political environment. I do not profess to be qualified or even knowledgeable about political matters, not in the slightest, but we live in interesting times and from that perspective alone I offer my intuitive voice to the collective response to recent events.
I come from an aspiring working class family who succeeded by hard work and perseverance to raise my sister and I within a lower middle class background. It left me in particular in a quandary; I have written before about the dilemma of class and status on my Transition Network blog. There I was with middle class aspirations, and a university education within the culture of a working class family. The dichotomy would assault me from all sides; I couldn’t live up to the expectations of the green academics and professionals I felt akin to in my ideologies, after all, for one thing, my parents were still reading the Daily Mail. I couldn’t begin to feel comfortable in the middle class comfort zone of a (mortgaged) house, a car and 2.4 children and I felt threatened, and uncomfortable in a working class environment where even the choice of language, let alone the accompanying prejudices, both offended and frightened me.
Yet for all of that I believed and believe more than anything in equality and diversity. I know poverty at first hand. I know what it is like to be young and to have to shoplift for food, to not have the money for rent and to have to move and to have a drug addicted partner who attempted violent self harm and suicide on more than one occasion. I know firsthand what it is to be revered for your status, and live very well, as an English trainer abroad working with the privileged. I know firsthand how it is to be part of a ground breaking environmental charity and understand the deep rooted issues that underpin our current challenges.
I know from the inside out just how strong the bonds of kinship are in each of those groups; the fear and the frustration, the anguish and the love. I know firsthand the projections cast onto other groups; vilifying those we cannot understand and the sense of righteousness for our way, our condition, justifying actions that keep us within the chosen group for to challenge expected norms leads to ostracism of one kind or another. We are social beings. To belong is everything. It took me many years to realise that I was outside of the groups I had tried and failed to join completely. I was outside, but not an outsider.
I belong, for want of a better term, to that group of individuals I call Edge People; born between classes for a multitude of different reasons. We struggle, a great deal, wanting so desperately to be accepted, yet unable to comply fully with the terms of engagement. Finally we understand, as the ugly duckling discovered, that we belong to a group we didn’t know existed.
As an Edge Person I have viewed the world through many lenses and found all of them wanting. The reason for this is that fundamentally my essential truth, the one I am called on to uphold, is equality. Having been a member of various social and economic groups I can see from the inside out that each hold a set of truths that are not altogether the full picture. Lofty though the ideals of some may seem, worthy though the cause of others may be, without fully recognising and incorporating all of the truths that each lens perceives, none of them will achieve their goals.
Because my essential truth is equality I voted In when we came to look at our relationship with Europe. Because my essential truth is equality I had to speak out for the plight of the refugees. Because my essential truth is equality I had to start to look at the Brexit supporters’ point of view too.
Further afield I looked on anxiously at the American presidential campaign, yet I could not see there a possible choice that an Edge Person could have made so I had instead to look at what those voices were telling us; what is missing from our worldview? In some of the followers of Donald Trump I saw the answer; the voice of the disenfranchised, calling out to be heard in all its pain and distortion, hurling hatred whilst inside the soul screamed for justice, for equality. Where do the uneducated working classes and those without work have a say in what happens in our world? We think we have abolished slavery; we advocate fair trade and give to charities which support the disenfranchised from our comfortable heated homes in safe places where there is good food and no pollution.
We do all of this from the tame middle class belief system that has us in its thrall, the elephant in the room; in spite of our radical ideologies we walk past the homeless on our streets, not giving in case they feed their addictions, we complain mightily when some of those who voted Out of Europe do so thinking it would give our disenfranchised a chance and we, metaphorically speaking, fight hard to live in “nice areas” where we won’t have to witness alcoholism, street and domestic violence, and deeply damaged human beings self destructing.
“Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior” atrib.CG Jung
Psychology warns us of our shadow; the parts of our psyche we bury deep for we do not quite approve of them. There in the depths they gather power, mustering it until, distorted out of all recognition, those parts we have tried to lock away, to hide from view, dismiss as bad, burst forth and shatter all our illusions. That is the good news, for if they are repressed further still they in the end present themselves as sickness in the body; as cancers, as deformities and ultimately as chronic complaints that can have no cure but death.
When we do not heed our shadow, entice it out, gaze upon it with all our horror and of course then transmute it into its original intention; to give voice to a need not met, it turns on us.
If we do this collectively, as a society, the same thing happens.
Fortunately many years of conscious dance therapy has taught me that when the shadow appears we can dialogue with it, move with it, feel its energy from the inside out, understand its original impulse and by becoming it for a moment release the pent up emotional energy stored within it. Once that energy has become freed up we can move with it until it transforms into the healthy version of itself it always promised to be before it was disenfranchised.
We now have the opportunity, as one people, to dance with our shadow, transform and transmute it, turn lead into gold. What we need as a tool in order to understand this is perhaps a little Systems Thinking. Any group of beings, be they humans, bodily systems, cells, organisations, nations or societies will behave as one organism based on their original intention. Within that original intention roles will have been created; so that within a working system such as the blood stream the red corpuscles are responsible for carrying oxygen which the heart pumps around the body and the white cells are our defence system, and in a capitalist society system the bankers are responsible for looking after the money, the workers are responsible for creating the money that goes into the system whilst governments manage its use.
Within our current society in a small group of individuals a natural leader will often arise, there will be a conformist and a rebel, and an underdog and a scapegoat too, reflecting the prevalent story or belief system of our times. What is interesting to note, however, is that when one or more people are replaced by others, the dynamic changes, so that if person A was leader originally, when people B & C leave and person D arrives, A may suddenly find himself not the leader anymore but the rebel, for example.
What I wish to illustrate by this example is that roles are determined by intention but are not necessarily fixed to one person unless that person identifies with a role to such an extent as to become that thing, with the accompanying loss of human ability to respond naturally.
When a president or prime minister is elected under our current system they are merely playing a role for the party that they represent. They are not that role and as such anger directed at their person will always be ineffective and potentially damaging to the whole; triggering reactive behaviour by all parties and encouraging that person to adhere even more strongly to that role.
When we feel anger towards Donald Trump what is beneath it? Defence of minorities, protection of the environment; a rescuer role, and here we move close to the core wound of the society we have been existing in. We revolve around Aggressor – Victim – Rescuer cycles over and over, ad infinitum. It is a closed loop cycle and the only way out is to drop all of those roles completely. Playing the rescuer is no more healthy to the dynamic than identifying with either of the other 2 roles, for it perpetuates them.
I suggest it is time we dropped the story, the belief system that there is any aggressor here, or any victim. I suggest we look instead at the intention of our society and the values it promotes.
As long as we believe it necessary to have people voting to maintain a system that encourages some to get wealthy on the labour of others, as long as we allow fear to maintain systems that have reached the end of their purpose, we will come up against the shadow of capitalism. A shadow points to the true power of a system, when that power is released, truly listened to and heard, it becomes a powerful ally. What would our world look like if we began to hear the voices of the disenfranchised, all of them, however unskilfully or offensively they communicated? What if we were able to rise above political correctness and our culture of “doing good” and actually started really listening to all the voices? What wisdom are we denying ourselves by refusing to let the shadow speak?
There are no enemies, there are no bad guys, there is no evil, there is only intention and action and they are informed by the stories, the belief systems we believe. Change the system, imbue it with equality for everyone, respect for diversity and reverence for all life and watch the shadow melt into something strong and healthy, with an integral part to play in our world.
“Just being heard can be the shift between illness and wellness” Maura Sills 2007
How do we do that? We listen. We listen to every one of those shadow stories, we hear the pain in the hate and we say “I am sorry”. I am sorry for all that you have suffered and continue to suffer, I am sorry you have been held in an impossible cycle of hate begetting hate. I am sorry you were hurt and have hurt in your turn. I am sorry for all the inequalities that have given me a warm home in a safe place with good food to eat and clean air to breathe and you nothing. I am sorry you have been given no voice in our world. I am sorry I didn’t listen sooner.
Then let those stories break us. Break our hearts wide open. Let compassion inform the passion that hones our new purpose together on this planet. Without intention there can be no purpose. Without passion there can be no action. Without compassion there can be no true change. If we are not heard we cannot forgive. If we cannot forgive those that have wronged us we cannot move forwards and unleash our passion. If we cannot unleash our passion we can hone no new purpose.
Our future lies in the hearing of the stories of the disenfranchised; each and every one of them. The power suppressed in the psyches of the oppressed can change our world. Let it out and hold it in compassion; let it break us open. We cannot do this, we cannot go on as a species without each one of us living our passion and following our true purpose.
“The Fifth Element is Imagination” Satish Kumar 2016
As more and more of us are able to live in this way, where our imagination is undistorted by past pain and grievances, or projection of them onto others, the collective consciousness is birthing a New Story. Held within this vision, are many things already happening or being spoken of. In my work over the past decade, talking to young and old alike about their dreams for the future, and in the work of others such as Marion McCartney (and her Dream the Future project), Charles Eisenstein (‘A More Beautiful World is Possible’), Gary Alexander (E Gaia), Jonathan Porritt ( The World We Made), Starhawk (The Fifth Sacred Thing ), Rob Hopkins and the international Transition Movement and the Findhorn Foundation’s New Story project, the same themes appear repeatedly.
Let me name some:
Local food for local communities, grown organically and on a small scale
Sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods for all members of the community,
Homes built from local sustainable materials within easy walking distance from place of work,
Sustainable sources of fuel for heating and lighting
Meeting and supplying for local needs first, fairly trading further afield with any surplus,
Local currencies alongside more international trading devices
Caring for the health and well being of all members of the community,
Awareness of the inner dimension of any healing process,
Attention to relationships, personal, across the community and between communities, near and far,
Taking responsibility for our own part in communications (rather than naming and shaming),
A holistic approach to education where young people are encouraged and supported to follow their passion and honing their natural gifts by acquiring new relevant skills by self study and apprenticeship, enquiry and mentorship such as the programmes offered already by:
- Isabel Carlisle (a Year in Transition),
- the Embercombe Catalyst programme (for young people of all backgrounds)
- Felin Uchaf, the Storytelling, Mythology and Archaeology Centre being built in N Wales by and for young people learning the craft of natural building and organic permaculture gardening.
A method of governship whereby all local needs are met first, by a council representing all perspectives, where the individuals revolve frequently, unless by chosen unanimously to remain.
Support offered to neighbouring communities where local expertise is available
Welcoming of people from outside our community for the gifts and skills they bring
Respect of diversity of belief systems, cultural traditions and social norms
Awareness of the learning that comes from contact with those from other backgrounds
An awareness of group dynamics and how they affect our interactions with others
Economics based on small is beautiful principles
Recognition of the divinity of each living being and of the wisdom each has
Humility and openness towards that which is unknown or unfamiliar to us
Clear policies of ensuring that local needs for safe housing, locally grown food, clean water, fuel, physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual well being, and mechanisms for every person’s voice to be heard are in place before any interventions in other communities can be permissible (other than climatic and environmental disasters in which case all communities would respond according to what they have to offer)
Respect for nature and appropriate management of the local environment with a clear understanding of the short, medium and long term consequences of all questionable actions taken (such as mining, digging, cutting down, killing, poisoning or polluting)
Wisdom of the Elders and the Young taken as paramount in any decision making process
All members of a community brought up to feel able to add their voice to any community decision, and to recognise that all perspectives are a part of the answer.
Needless to say, in all of these visions, global peace is at the heart. This means we all need to learn the skills to become what Mac McCartney, (founder of Embercombe) in conversation, (which you can hear on my up and coming radio broadcast this Thursday morning) calls a peace warrior.
For most of my adult life I have been aware of the four essential building blocks of life; earth, water, air and fire. I have known too of a fifth. Starhawk calls it ‘the Fifth Sacred Thing’, some call it God, or Allah, divine presence, energy, Love, prana, spirit, the ether and there are surely more I do not know. Finally, however, in conversation with Satish Kumar, I heard the one that made sense to me; Imagination.
This is the thing I was told off for in primary school. I was told I could not write well because I used too much imagination. This is significant.
Have we, as a culture, been cut off from the very thing that enables us to create good in the world? Earth, water, air and fire spontaneously do their work in the world, sometimes causing disasters for living beings, sometimes creating things of great beauty and indeed are sources of life for us. What lives and breathes through living beings though is this ineffable quality of being; Imagination. We can use it for bad as well as good, depending on what informs us.
A wounded being, through pain, will sometimes freeze, shut down, in order to cope with sensation too overwhelming to process at the time, or to protect it from perceived or actual further harm. In the animal world the being will soon animate again once the source of danger has past. In human beings this faculty has become stuck, has become a chronic complaint. We exist in a multi faceted protective layer made up of unprocessed frozen emotional, physical and psychological responses to stimuli we are often no longer aware of. We call it trauma.
This sometimes causes our imagination to create unhealthy stories to live by which rightly belong to the past, or are based upon incomplete pictures or one sided perspectives of situations that trigger undigested past memories of episodes where we felt , or were indeed, powerless to defend ourselves, or others that mattered to us.
When the imagination speaks through us through this lens we are capable of affecting the world in a negative way because we are not seeing what actually is, but a distortion created by the story we told ourselves that would, we hoped, protect us from the very thing that caused us the pain we have not been able to fully feel.
If others around us somehow act, or are perceived to act, in ways that perpetuate that story we add on another protective layer, and our response to what we see happening around us becomes more and more distorted until for some, the actions believing our story has us carry out, can actually become more harmful than the initial hurt we suffered. In other words we become the perpetrator. This is unhealthy use of the imagination.
The imagination has immeasurable power. Through it we become the hands of creation. What we believe, we do in the world. As long as there are people in the world who believe in evil, evil actions will persist. We have the power to change the world. It starts with what we believe. It starts with what we dream, what we vision for the world we want to live in, for there we find our sense of purpose, and for that we will harness our passion, and for that reason we need to find it in ourselves to know and forgive the past, to feel its hold on us, to release the energy of compassion, and move on.
We can help one another to do that by not labelling or boxing this person, that decision, or that organisation bad. This will only perpetuate the story that caused it. We can help one another by separating actions from the person or people who carry them out. We can point out inappropriate behaviour. We can show or model a different way. We can put in place healthy boundaries to protect ourselves or others in our care from (further) harm. We can offer to listen, really listen to the stories of people who harm, as much as people who have been harmed, and find ways together to heal the collective pain humankind has inflicted on itself as well as on the environment, rather than relegating perpetrators to the role of bully ad infinitum thereby perpetuating the cycle.
One of the ways we can do this is to help create and promote the world we do want to live in because the closer we move towards that vision, the more people who are using imagination positively, the more we create a collective atmosphere which is capable of holding the process of all those wounded and suffering souls who are still living in the cycle of aggressor-victim-rescuer and finding no release. We can provide a welcoming bright new world vision for our young people to grown wise in and for our children to be born into. We are responsible for the world we find ourselves in and imagination through our hands can be our greatest weapon of destruction or our greatest tool for creation. In the end it is our individual choice whether we focus on the negative or the positive power we all have but whatever choice that is, and make no mistake about this, it has a direct impact on each and everyone of us and the world we all live in.
My own contribution to this work is a Utopic novel set in 2050 which weaves tales of our indigenous roots with the autobiographical account of my pilgrimage across Wales. It will be available summer 2018. You can comment and follow its progress on “The Warriors Way – A Journey to the Heart”. You can also hear visions of the future from some of the most inspirational people alive today on my monthly radio broadcast “Stories with Steph“.