Friday, 1 January 2016

The Time Between The Years.

"When the world breaks the light pours in. It's always been this way." 
~ Karen Young.

It's New Year's Day, quite early. The sun is just creeping up through the inky night. The house is silent, seagulls clamour suddenly above the rooftop, the familiar clicks and cracks as the walls and floors cool down after the heating has gone off. I am very grateful for this warm house. Not so long ago we were in a very different situation and every day I appreciate what we have now.
I love this time of year. I love the Solstice, and Christmas, and I especially love this part now, where the important day has been and gone, and we get to pause, retreat back into our burrows and sit by the fire, watch through the rain spattered window as the dark swirls around us like a pulse, a vital sign, barely gone from the east side of the house before it's back again; indigo nights coalescing into skies too omnipresent to simply be called grey. I want to find new names, to call them cesious, cinerious, griseous, plumbeous.  To stand beneath them, to feel the stinging rain and know that this weather, these grim skies, belong to this dear island of ours, no matter how much it shocks people to find it here in December. The darkness holds, pulls us deeper into reflection, contemplation, and so here we are resting between the years, looking both backwards and forwards, making notes from the past for the future. It's been a couple years since I had any definitive new year resolutions, but this year I seem to have a ream of them.

This last year was not an easy one, for the last few months in particular it has felt as though everything around us has begun to fracture, unravel and come apart, the world wobbles on it's axis; murder and terror in Paris, children and families drowning in the Mediterranean, marginalised people right here on our doorstep dying tragically, unnecessarily, climate change, rising sea levels, pollution, suffering of animals, storms, floods, the list goes on. It's as though someone hit the fast forward button and everything is exploding, multiplying, and we cannot stop the tide.
Now stay with me for a moment while I dive into this dark place that I know we don't want to go, I promise it finds the light again. I have been mulling over this post for some time, the words eluding me, like a timid deer somewhere there among the trees but not quite visible, as though some part of me did not want to look too closely at what I want to say. I realised that I was paralysed, I realised that feeling in my chest and stomach was grief. I know I am not the only one to feel this. I found the exact things I needed to read were popping up in my news feed, articles (highlighted throughout here ~ please make a big pot of tea and click on them for further reading), that were addressing these very questions and thoughts that were waking me at five am, the rising panic that it was too late. What on earth can we do? And above all, how do I talk to my children about this? They know. They feel it. In particular, ask anyone with (or who works with) teenagers and they will tell you, if they don't have first hand experience then you can be sure they know someone who does, (their teenagers definitely do). They are the vanguard, whether they like it or not, and they are telling us in no uncertain terms we need to face this because they don't know how to. We have sailed some stormy seas with ours these last two years, and even though it has not been something we have, until recently, spoken much about with them, I have no doubt this is part of it, the fear, the unknowing, their growing awareness, their expanding sense of self, looking to their future and thinking 'what the hell!?'

Was I just naive and now I am cynical? I think I was naive, but I think I am now realistic rather than cynical. I was looking the other way even when I thought I wasn't because I was aware and doing my bit, right? And I know many people dear to me are there now, and like me, too uncomfortable to really go there. But I invite you to, now, before we are forced to (well, I admit, we are actually kind of being forced to already), for as fast as the forest darkens and grows frightening, dense with tangled undergrowth and clinging vines, there are lights among the trees, flickering there, if we can just slow down our thrashing (or come out of our hiding) and look for them quietly, hopefully. And if we find one another in the darkness we have hope because there is still so much we can do. And yes, we may have to really shake up and change our ideas, our perspective, about some very fundamental things, such as what exactly it is we actually need to live our lives. It is uncomfortable, maybe even painful. We are nostalgic creatures, we really are. We love tradition, and our sense of place and who we are that history gives us. We have become used to defining ourselves by what we have, what we own, how we dress, what we look like. But perhaps it's time to be defined by what we do, what we say. We are all here at this time, and there is no getting away from that, so we might as well buck up and take up the challenge. It's very empowering to stand up and say f**k you, I am not sitting back on this any more. It's absolutely not up to our children, it's up to us, it's our generation that need to doff our hats and say 'I'm sorry, here let me help". It's important to grieve, to accept this state of affairs and in doing so release ourselves from the paralysing non-action we have been stuck in.

"Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means being content with what is sufficient, and seeking enjoyment from non-material pursuits. Living in ways that are frugal and that minimise resource use should not be seen as a burdenor sacrifice that must be made to save the planet. These ways can be sources of great life satisfaction."
~Frederick Trainer

So how do we help our children? Hey Sigmund, a brilliant website I discovered a few months back, posted an article on this recently, which, while it may only skim the surface, at least helps to address the beginning of a conversation with them. Watch Tomorrowland with them, (it's brilliant - Disney meets Dr. Who, with a bit of Miyazaki thrown in, and 'if its diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world is ultimately simplistic and rather hokey, there’s still some truth to it' - what's not to love?) and ask them what they think about what Hugh Laurie has to say about the state of the world. I think they might surprise you with their depth of understanding.
Above all, talk to them, open up room for the possibility of having these conversations. Please don't pretend it's not an issue. In today's connected world you can be damn sure they are aware of it. We owe it to them to allow them to give voice to their concerns, to help them understand, because as we all know, misunderstandings can cause all manner of fear and confusion to the young, and that's why we are here for them.

"The answer is obvious. We don't need more scientific data or superficial behaviour change initiatives but to engage individuals at a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual level." 
~ Jo Confino

At times it may not seem like it, but there is much going on that is positive and hopeful. We know we really and truly cannot rely on the likes of COP21 to do what is necessary, so it's up to us, the real people. So go talk to your neighbour. Be visible. Ask questions. The bottom line is, start conversations. Honestly, in my experience people are relieved to talk about this. A kind of magic happens when people find their common ground, as I wrote about here before, and the most heartening things happen. There is power in coming together, it is tangible and real, and it is encouraging and gives you reason to get up and keep going. Find out what is already going on in your local area; if you live in Ireland check out ChangeX for a growing list of initiatives at community/local/grassroots level, and if you want to know how we started and made a success of Common Ground Bray, and Edible Bray, come and visit us, ask us, and we will help you do the same.

"However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. We humanise what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”
Hannah Arendt - Men In Dark Times.

Above all, remind yourself daily of all that is good and beautiful in this world, because this is where our hope resides. Physically get out into the forest, go up that mountain, it will help you sort it all out in your head and get the right perspective. For starters, read the illuminating writings of Maria Popova on Brainpickings, look at what they are doing in Canada with their Leap Manifesto, think about how you can implement a Simple Life Manifesto for yourself, check out Incredible Edibles in Todmorden in the UK, see what one small village in Spain has been doing since the late 70's, check out the Pachamama Alliance, and please share here in the comments any other things you think we should be reading or seeing.
There is nothing like a state of emergency to bring out the best in people. But I am proposing we initiate this response before it is actually a state of emergency. Here at the beginning of a New Year, we have an opportunity to reflect on what the coming year can mean for us. What do we want to invite into our lives? Let's reaffirm what a resolution really means, and why we make them at this time. Let's start living more co-operatively, open-heartedly, and honestly.
Reach out, and I bet you will find another extended hand taking yours.

No comments: