Friday 18 December 2009

Taking Life into our Own Hands

“Blimey, the blog is gloomy at the moment,” said Jane. She was tempted to put in something jolly, especially after hearing that the Northern Distributor Road, which she and the TN Transport group had rallied to avert, had just been given the go-ahead by the Department of Transport.

“It’s a solstice thing,” I said.

Outside there is a layer of snow on the ground and a bitter North wind is howling past the house. Inside it’s 7 degrees and I’m looking at the week that is coming to an end in the waning light of Copenhagen. At the second round of blogs in fact and seeing how they have shifted in tone, starting with Jon Curran’s post about his experience in the A&E when he began to ask questions about the effect of peak oil on the heath service.

One of the most successful meetings I went to in Transition was about Wellbeing, mostly because among the ten people present five of them were working or had worked for the NHS, one was a chemist and two of us knew about medicine plants. Each of us had brought an object to introduce our medicine stories: Mark brought a horse-chestnut tincture, Richard brought a quote from The Glass Bead Game and a small volume on homeopathy. Alex brought a daisy. He had been at a seminar in the Schumacher Institute when the deep ecologist Arne Naess, then in his eighties, had surprised everyone as he leapt through the window with a daisy in his hands. It was the medicine of vigour, Alex said.

What made this meeting vigorous and deep was the reality each of us brought into the room. Suddenly our discussions which up to then had been abstract, workshop-type encounters, full of spiritual possibility and solace, held our gritty experience of the world. When some of us exchanged opinions about our modern medical system, Angie, who had been a nurse on intensive care for 19 years, said simply:

“I hope when I need to be turned some of you will be there to turn me.”

And there was a silence in the room. As we realised what it would mean for us to take our own health, our lives, into our own hands.

When Jane wrote about gloom she quoted Winston Churchill. When he was asked what the secret of his success was, the old war leader replied: Seven words. Never give up. Never ever give up.

There is a lot of current talk about Blitz spirit, Dunkirk spirit and digging for Victory, as if the kind of rallying we need to tackle climate change and reverse our fortunes is the pulling together and keeping cheerful in the face of adversity, as Britian did during WW2. But the only way you can do this is by realising there is adversity. To have blitz spirit you have to recognise there is a Blitz. To never ever give up means you have to know the consequences of giving up. This is sharply obvious in the middle of a world war. In England where the consequences of climate change, including resource wars, are elsewhere, the reality of our situation is more difficult to see. It is easy living in England to avoid looking at the truth. Constantly bombarded by the “weapons of mass distraction” launched upon the populace by the media and the commerical world, it is hard to see that we are even in trouble.

I first joined Transition because I saw a film called What a Way to Go, Life at the End of Empire. It was being shown the Fisher Theatre in Bungay and there were, as is common in Transition awareness-raising, only about 30 people in the audience. We’d hesitated to go to what we thought was an environmental film because we didn’t want to be downloaded on. We certainly didn’t want to stay for the discussion afterwards. The film was relentless: a one man’s quest to find the truth beneath the Great American Dream, to document everything that occurs to our environment as a consequence of our life-style and everything that conspires to prevent our seeing it. For the first 20 minutes we wanted to run out of the room. At the end of the film I whispered to Mark, Shall we go? But something extraordinary had happened. We couldn’t go. We couldn’t wait to join in with the discussion. The theatre was buzzing with excitment. Everything all of us had been feeling or having nightmares about was out in the open. I hadn’t felt so invigorated for years.

“Whose the captain of this lifeboat?” I asked Kate who was faciliating. “Is it you?” She laughed, as in that moment the great ship Transition welcomed us on board.

What is really gloomy is waiting for other people, governments of the world, to take charge. What is really gloomy is denial. The insistence that everything is fine, that you can create your own reality and that business is as usual. Now in the second phase of our blog, we’ve been looking at what is going on underneath Transition, straight up. We’ve been going on climate actions, reporting on meetings, talking about our inner “dark side” experiences. Ed wrote about a difficult encounter in London, I brought some of our Dreaming of Norwich work into play. And in doing so we’ve been going beyond the Handbook and its Heart advice about personal oil addiction. Because our difficulties, as Tully pointed out in a searing and rigourous look at his own, are not simply personal. Depression, which has taken a monumental leap in the last few years, is directly linked to what is happening on our planet and our seeming inability to halt the spiralling destruction of eco-systems. Transition, which offers a good model for grassroots action, for a shared structure, is one of the ways to reverse this process. To begin the great work of transformation and regeneration. But we can’t just do this on optimisim. Or indeed on our own.

At the end of the film the author takes a long walk into the rain towards the Great Lake. After two hours detailing the massive effects of peak oil and climate change on the planet, he is listing the small actions we can take, including community participation and medicine herbs. Find your people he says, as he waits by the shore, and looks towards the Northern horizon. Build your lifeboat.

When you look at reality straight up the way ahead becomes clear: we have to meet these challenges the way warriors do, with impeccability, the way poets and artists do, with beauty, and most of all we have to meet them the way small tribes of human beings have successfully done for aeons, together.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for

BUTTERFLY AND FLOWERS ENDNOTE: We had a tech hitch on Monday uploading Helen's video, which is why I'm writing on what appears to be Helen's post! Here it is again with Helen's notes, in case you missed it the first time (incidently both Helens -Wells and Simpson Slapp - who provided the lovely pix for this week's blog, both work and have worked also for the NHS - in mental health.)

"The film shows a mutually beneficial relationship: buddleia the survivor, persistent, growing in the most extreme of places, along railway lines, in scrubby corners as well as in gardens and the butterfly, ephemeral, delicate, transient, transforming. The butterfly feeds on the nectar of the buddleia, the lightest of touches, and in its delicate flight from one slurpy waving pennant to another it polinates, part of the buddleia's life cycle, essential, propagating life with a light touch.

Its symbolic for me of what are mutually sustaining relationships and how nature teaches us. Its the kind of sustaining relationships we will need to develop in transition."

Butterfly and Buddleia- a mutually beneficial relationship by Helen Wells.

Daisy Chain from detail from Midsummer Party Flowers by Mark Watson.

Text: Charlotte Du Cann

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