Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Entering the Fifth Zone - 2012

I confess. I am having an affair, and looking ahead as we are this week, I see it's going to become serious. I love Transition and the whole resilience thing. I have been faithful to the max to her for three years, but someone else came back into my life this month and my attention and my typing keeps wandering in her direction.

Her name is 52 Flowers That Shook My World. She is a book about plants and thanks to this blog (and Simeon who inspired me to write about it in our Sustainable Livelihoods week), the Uncivilisation Festival and Two Ravens Press, she is about to be published this summer. I love writing blogs, but there is something about the printed page. There is something about wild and medicine plants that takes me to places no meeting or community event can ever reach.

You could say the affair was inevitable given the times we are living in, where the symptoms of systemic collapse are all about us - financial markets crashing, methane spouting through the Arctic tundra. One thing I learned from experience: pushed to the edge, the best of ourselves can come to the fore. Close to death, no one worries about social niceties, about paying the mortgage or what people think of their hair. They remember the plum tree as it blossoms, or people they once cherished. And often they ask themselves: did I live life as I could, was I bold or free enough, did I love people as I could have, and the world?

52 Flowers was written at an edge time, when I had just returned from travelling. It's subtitle is A Radical Return to Earth and it looks at the steps modern people need to take to get back down to earth, the tools that will turn the tanker around as Jon put it yesterday. Most of all it considers the wild places, the fifth zone of permaculture, without which nothing in the zones closer to home and garden makes sense. It looks at the big frame in which Transition sits, the physical nature of the planet and our position in the vast wheel of time. 2012 is a big year, crunch time for civilisation, discussed as the culmination point in some spheres, as the end of one way of life and the beginning of another. It is the end of a huge cycle of time in a calendar that stretches across 5,000 years.

Oh, no, Charlotte! Not the Mayan calendar, you cry. But listen: to be truly resilient we need other ways of looking at life and ourselves if we are going to weather the storm that's brewing on the horizon. We need to connect with all our relations on the planet and know we are not just consumers and house-owners/renters, stuck in what we call History. This is how the book begins in 1991, with a Mexican plant called epazote that leads me on a journey to discover that we are more interesting, more powerful, than any of our parents or teachers or "leaders" would like us to think we are. I'm not talking woo-woo workshop or crystals here, I mean being activists for change in a real way, in our minds, bodies and hearts, in everyday life.

Here's an idea about time that I discovered on my travels. The Mayan people call the human being winclil which means vibratory root. The harmony and beauty of the spheres is perceived on earth by different “tribes” or types of human beings (which correspond to the different days of the week in their three calendars). These human roots vibrate in the fabric of life at different frequencies. Most modern human winclils however are deactivated. Lacking connection with the living systems of the planet, we vibrate only when artificially stimulated by sex and war, which creates an incoherent, low frequency. Mayan systems (such as we understand them in the modern world) activate the life-forces in order to create a high and coherent frequency. In short, instead of making noise, human beings make music. You only have to look at their textiles to know what this colourful world looks like.

In the forest where the passionflower grows, where its leaves have been used as a poultice for thousands of years, the Maya sit in small straw huts and weave patterns of extraordinary complexity, the most beautiful fabrics of the world in all the colours of the quetzal bird. In their imaginations and in their hearts they hold calendars of equal complexity, that rotate at different speeds like the stars around the sun. They have held these complex patterns inside them for thousands of years – patterns of time, of colour, of beauty. They held them before the cities came and after they fell into ruin. The temples did not hold them. The temples never do (2: Passionflower, 52 Flowers That Shook My World)

So forecasting ahead and describing what I wish to see happen, or think I might see happen (which are different things) is a year of living within a wider perspective. A year in which the bigger forces come into play, whether we like it or not. A year when Transition is understood within a frame of the wild places. When all activists, all social movements for change, are understood as vital strands in a worldwide web. As the bringers of colour and vibrancy and harmony, within a black-and-white, dissonant culture. The collective butterfly emerging from an all-consuming, caterpillar world.

On the ground I plan to continue the Social Reporting project that had its successful pilot this year, this blog, the Low Carbon Cookbook and the communications work for Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay. I'll keep spreading the word about our myriad projects and events, our community-building and low-carbon ethos that are key to resilience in downshifting and difficult times. But elsewhere I'll be coming out with 52 Flowers, speaking about life in the fifth zone, connecting with our wildness and our inner transformative abilities. This will start next month with a talk on Roots for the Plant Medicine Bed at the Library Community Garden which Mark will write about tomorrow. Watch this space!

Climbing the Temple of the Magician, Uxmal, Mexico, 1991; Wild by Jay Griffiths and Martin's woodworking tools, Uncivilisaiton Festival, August 2011; with Teresa and Cecilia in Real de Catorce, 1993, from 52 Flowers that Shook my World; fairtrade textiles from Mayan Traditions; speaking about medicine plants at Transition Camp, October 2011;

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sun, sun, sun here it comes!

Dawn in the Garden. Dead sunflower faces the sunrise, toward the sea down by the compost heap. Ghosts of hogweed and cosmos, wild carrot in threadbare nests, frost-bitten leaves - all the old forms are breaking down, providing mulch for new life. Out in the lane the jackdaws are flying out to the fields, owls still hooting. Ivy berries now ripe in the bare hedges. A waning moon in the sky. We set out to sit under our neighbourhood oak and wait for the turn . . . Sun, sun, sun, here it comes! Rising above the oaks and the barley fields on a peerless morning, fresh breeze, curlews calling. Breaking down old forms Thinking about John's theme for the week on the way home and getting an idea (notice jumping in air!). Soltstice is the moment you let go of what you don't need in order to go forward into the lightness and clarity of the new solar year. Providing mulch from our earthtime and blowing on those sparks for the future all around us. Pull to climax In the natural world there is a movement known as “the pull to climax”, a condition in which natural systems become complex and symbiotic, interweaving with one another in a web of extrordinary intricacy. The poet and activist, Gary Synder once wrote that in a climax situation, such as a mature oak or rainforest, a high percentage of the energy is not gleaned from the living biomass, but from the recycling of dead matter – dead trees and animals – that lie on the forest floor. This “detritus energy” is liberated from these dead forms by the transformative actions of fungi and insects.

“As climax forest is to biome, and fungus is to the recycling of energy, so ‘enlightened mind’ is to daily ego mind, and art to the recycling of neglected inner potential.”

Transforming old thoughts and feelings, composting our past becomes the life-energy that fuels our present lives. Within the personal life and within the collective, the individual and the creative writer, act like mushrooms. We liberate energy from what is dead and give energy to the living, and thus become symbionts rather than parasites within the collective consciousness of the earth.

Composting the past If you don't let go you don't get any compost for the future, or any fuel. We've been living on borrowed energy for aeons, now we have to find our own. Not just fossil fuel but life force for ourselves. For that we need to key into the living systems, learn to break stuff down - possessions, habits, unnecessary desires - in order to provide ourselves with energy and vigour for the big year ahead. We need to throw new light onto our old organisational structures, into our social and political institutions and question everything. Are all those antiquated traditions and costumes, those hostile and haughty shows necessary? Are they impeding new ways of doing things? Are they dampening down those collective sparks we see in Transition, in Occupy, in all the dynamic dialogues and ideas that are going on as we move towards 2012? Get some clues from those mushrooms! Get in touch with the ants! Happy Solstice everyone! Quote from Gary Synder in a talk based on his essay, Poetry, Community and Climax. Photos of moon, sun, tree, flower and fly agaric by CDC and Mark Watson. Ants, Angels and Human Nature, from the blog, Peak Oil Blues by Kathy McMahon.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

the spark that lights the stove

i
"People don't want to be told about those things anymore," said Diana. We're at a Dark Mountain meeting on a dark December night in a small house in Pottergate. Nine of us, arts and science PhD students mostly, are sitting in a circle. We're working out a way we can create an event, based on Iain McGilchrist's work on the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

One of the characteristics of the left hemisphere is that it gets overloaded with too much information. It can only cope with one problem at a time, segregated into boxes with right and wrong, yes and no solutions. Phil, a marine biologist, who also helps run Norwich's weekly FoodCycle Cafe, has suggested we show what lies behind the industrialised food machine.

To face that kind of reality and make complect, consensus decisions you need to enter the right hemisphere and see everything it takes - plants, animals, people, land, systems, water - to bring our daily bread on to the table. You need imagination, feeling, connection and right relation. To understand all-things-at-once and undergo a complete change of heart is what sages once called illumination - the light bulb moment when everything becomes clear. It's the fire-brand that all creators steal to bring warmth and nourishment to the people.


ii
At The Nectar Cafe off the Unthank Road a small circle of people, Transitioners mostly, are sitting before a midwinter meal of spicy dahl, chickpea stew, millet, buckwheat, pumpkins, sprouts, parsnips, almond cheese, wild mushrooms and red bean hummus. We're closing up the year and discussing how to proceed with our Low Carbon Cookbook. I'm eating something I have never tasted in my life. It's dried curly kale that tastes of cheddar. Chewy, strange and very very more-ish*.

Jo's shelves are stacked with local herb teas and hedgerow cordials and jars and jars of lacto-fermented vegetables, chutney and salsas. A tall jar of sliced preserved carrots stands on the side, next to our brewing chai from redbush and home-made almond milk. Jo has been preparing all autumn for next year's hungry gap. Her cafe, like our Low Carbon Cookbook, is seasonal to the max. To live within these kind of constraints happily, as we have discovered, requires a whole different approach to cooking and living life. It's something that all cooks and creators find as they bridge the gap between the left and the right ways of seeing the world - the spark that lights the stove.

The spark is what you look for when you write a book, a creative way to mix that left-side heavy-duty information and the right-side possibilities of living lightly in synch with the planet. None of us wants to write an entertainment, or a text book. What makes you pick up a cookbook? we are asking each other around the table. To proceed towards a low-carbon future an imaginative relationship with the physical world is necessary, which certain key commitments have already been made. What wastes time is convincing people you think don't want to know. What we need is an encounter that illuminates the dilemma our industrialised culture is in. What we need is to be rekindled by something stronger, more alluring than any feel-bad information. Something you never thought of before, like curly kale tasting of cheese.

What you need is a practice. A spark that lights up your mind.

Field kitchen
In Japan a sixty year old farmer decided to write a book about farming and food. It is called The One Straw Revolution. For forty years, contrary to all modern Japanese agricultural practices after the war, the ex-scientist Masanobu Fukuoka tended his small fields of rice and wheat and orchards of tangerines without any pesticides or technology. He did not till or weed the soil or use machines and his fields yielded as much grain as the monoculture that surrounded his traditional hillside farm. When pests swept through the land his crops survived. He called his way of interacting with the land natural farming and maintained (until his death in 2008 aged ninety five) that a healthy body came out of a healthy environment. To keep sane and sound you needed to eat according to nature and the territory in which you live. Food that needed to be struggled for to obtain was the least beneficial. Nature or the body itself was the guide you needed to follow,“but this subtle guidance goes unheard by most people because of the clamour caused by desire and the discriminating mind.”

To restore the body requires a readaption to nature. To renovate exhausted soil or soil rendered sterile with pesticides and herbicides and artificial fertilizer requires perseverance. It takes time for the body, revved up by an exotic, highly processed, high-fat Western diet, to reorganise and recover its natural appetite. It takes time to learn how to absorb the kind of food Fukuoka (and several contemporary Western writers on food) are talking about: plenty of plants, not much meat, not much. It takes time to break habits and to let go of the complexity of diets and science in one’s mind and the emotional reactions caused by an unnatural way of life. To engage in a way of being where food is naturally limited by place and time.

Once engaged in this process however your body self-organises in a revolutionary way: you don’t suffer from depression, anger or restlessness, you are not filled with the desires and cravings of the modern snack-and-go culture, the hostility that comes as a consequence of eating unnaturally formed plants and caged animals. However this transformative re-naturalisation process is rarely discussed. Our present Western diet, with its glamour, its comforts and its treats, fully backed by a corporate food industry, is the elephant in the room. And no one wants to go there.

Except that we have to go there, because it’s killing us and everything else in the room. The industrial food machine has substituted lifestyle for life, a way of thinking that convinces us we have a choice and that the choices we take have no consequence. But this does not mean that consequences do not exist. To continue to uphold our lifestyle, to choose cheap and convenient food, means we choose to compromise not only the natural life of eco-systems and the livelihoods of farmers everywhere (including those in East Anglia) but also the very nature of our own bodies and minds. For the future to happen we don’t need choice in the kitchen, we need to make decisions.

This decision starts as we stand at the chopping board and by the stove. It doesn’t mean facing another direction so we don’t see the elephant, it means facing reality and undergoing a radical shift of values. Reality is what we are doing everyday with our hands, our ability to ask intelligent questions: What does it mean to eat and cook in connection with the living systems, ecologically, to take account of the consequences of our actions? What does it take to live and eat within our means?

Our book is about growing food and about eating food. As well as the bring-to-share recipes, resources and carbon calculations, we look at the decisions people are making not only to re-establish links with the living world but also with each other. The industrial food machine, powered by cheap fossil fuel, has enabled some of us to dine like Roman emperors. Eating for resilience means we will eat a lot more like peasants, more simply and more often together.

This book looks at what it takes to make these kinds of practical decisions, what happens in an energy descent kitchen, what kind of food you cook in downshift cuisine. How you go about putting life back into plants, into the pot, what Hopi farmers call navoti, the life in the seed, and Mexican cooks call chispa, the spark that fires up human beings.

The pilot light that fires us all from within.

*CRISPY CURLY KALE: Marinate small pieces of curly kale in olive oil, garlic, ginger and tamari overnight. Dry in dehydrator or low oven for a couple of hours. Store in an air tight container. The key with processing any raw food is not to cook it over 39 degrees, the point at which the enzymes are destroyed. The Nectar Cafe is at 16 Onley Street, Tue-Sat, 10am-5pm.

Photos: Gwyl y Golau or the Festival of Light in Machynlleth from Ann Owen's Social Reporting post on Arts and Creativity in Transition; Masanobu Fukuoka in the field; wheel of the local food year from One Straw Revolution; chia, food plant of the future by Mark Watson

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

walking the time-line - a torch song

. . .in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape a servile life into the freedom of just conditions (memorial to Robert Kett, Norwich Castle)
In 2009 four of us from TN's Transition Circles– myself, Mark, Helen and Alex - began a project called The Dreaming of Norwich. We would meet up for a day, go walkabout in the city and then reconvene and share our findings. We walked along the river, through the market, visited buildings, sat in gardens, by ourselves and together. Helen photographed the streets, Mark wrote notes. Alex and I sparred under the willow trees outside Julian of Norwich's cell.

During our first journey I climbed the steps to the Castle. It was a hot day and in the meadow below the ramparts I counted 42 species of flowers and trees. Norwich Castle was built by the Norman as a fortress and overlooks the old Saxon settlement and the historical quarters of this small modernised city. I had just been reading John Berger's Hold Everything Dear about the occupation of Palestinian land, and the image of the Israeli watchtowers on the hills kept coming into my mind.

Same domination, same mindset, different century.

To find the dreaming of places requires you to shift your attention into what some call the right-hemisphere - a perception of the world brilliantly conveyed by the psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and the Emissary. For a 12 minute whistlestop tour of the relationship between our left and right hemispheres and how these affect behaviour and culture do watch this video:



Kett's Rebellion
Last week some of us from Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay went with Occupy Norwich on a memorial march up to the Castle to commemorate Robert Kett and the Norfolk uprising that took place in 1549. Ian lit several flambards as we stood at the spot where Kett was killed, and listened to Andy Wood, professor of social history at the UEA, talk about the commonwealth and the people's struggle for fairness and liberty in the face of a "hard-hearted" elite. At the height of the rebellion the camp on Mousehold Heath housed 10,000 people until it was brutally suppressed by foreign soldiers under the Earl of Warwick.

Something happens at night when you gather together, when you gather beneath the citadels of power. All those experiential right-hemisphere connections that link centuries and nations, Mousehold Heath with the Occupy camp at Hay Hill, the barons with the bankers. At the Uncivilisation Festival this year all the great events - music, storytelling, performances - happened in the dark, in the woods, by candlelight and firelight.

By night we remember something else of ourselves. Something our 1066 civilisation doesn't want us to see.

The dreaming is in the people
Our year of dreaming together did not complete itself. By winter an argument had broken out between us and even though we explored our differences, using a method known as conflict resolution, we could not come to an agreement. The allegiance demanded by history and civilisation destroyed our every attempt.

That's when I realised new ways of proceeding would not be found within these kinds of self-absorbed endeavour, no matter how intelligent or well meaning, but within another context entirely.

Finding our way back
The reason I am writing about this today is because time is a mysterious thing and in order to proceed within Transition we need to see ourselves within a bigger political frame, to access our deep memory of how life works beyond the way we have been taught to look at it, as resources for the few. We live in a culture that keeps us trapped in a fearful present, afraid of looking back, afraid of looking forward (what future? is there a future?), trapped in the objectifying, separating, hierarchical world of the left hemisphere.

When you allow yourself to look back you can find treasures that you didn't see when you were fiercely embedded in the present moment (even in those conflicts many of us have experienced in Transition), what Roberto Calasso in his great work on the French Revolution, The Ruin of Kasch, calls the douceur of the past, the sweet essence of experience, tempered by time. We live on an island where time and memory have a great influence on our imaginations. Some of this is called History and is carefully managed and exploited by the custodians of civilisation. It is praised and worshipped in the form of buildings and possessions and figures of power, whilst the knowledge of how the earth and the people really are remains elsewhere, hidden from view.

In the mysterious all-encompassing universe of our right hemisphere consciousness and the empathy of the heart.

This is the part of ourselves that can make connections, that can step outside the official version of history and see the pattern of things. This is the perception, for example, that Justin Kenrick, in Land Reform: losing and recovering the Commons employs as he juxtaposes the present land-grabbing in Africa, with the historical clearances of Scotland and England.

Same domination, same mindset, different continent.

In many ways capitalism began here in East Anglia with the enclosure of the commons, said the historian, as we stood beside the plaque where Kett was hanged on a freezing December day.

As the almost-full moon appeared in the sky.

Finding our way back
Our last dreaming journey took place outside the city in the East Anglian waterlands. We walked toward the estuary, through the marshland, along the shoreline, sat in a grove of sweet chestnut trees and found a tiny slow worm basking in the autumn sun. What we concluded that day was that the medicine of the heart this majestic nut tree embodied, was key to our reestablishing proper relations with the earth.

Our quarrel, such as it was, was the quarrel that breaks out between the left and the right hemisphere when such attempts at return are made. The Master knows he needs the Emissary to carry out the task in hand, but the Emissary believes he is the master of the universe and denies any other authority exists. This is the big problem in our world. One the Kogi Elders of Colombia call the struggle between the Older and Younger Brother. It plays out in ourselves and our societies. The 1% dominator mindset that refuses to listen to anything but its own voice.

When you struggle through the conflict zone however and don't give up, that's when you realise that the dreaming of cities is not in the buildings or History, or even the land that supports them, it's held within the people. The people who live there and the visitors who come to meet them, who come together to work out a way to proceed. To walk the time-line is to remember that time lives inside human beings, who are capable of seeing in all-at-once time, in which each moment holds the key to the past and the future. Everything can be changed when we tap into this way of seeing, whether in Norwich, New York, Madrid or Cairo.

To witness the butterfly effect as it plays out in every city in the world.

For press release on the relationship between Kett's Rebellion and Occupy Norwich by Nick Watts (Sustainable Bungay) see here

Kett's Memorial March at Norwich Castle, organised by Occupy Norwich; under the torchlight; tee at Mt Elgon, Kenya by Justin Kenrick; painting of sweet chestnut, Walberswick Marshes and butterflies drinking the nectar from a city buddleia bush, from a video by Helen Wells.

Monday, 5 December 2011

the fire stealers - a love story

Once upon a time the world was dark, very dark indeed and cold. The people moved around in the darkness like great lumbering beasts, afraid of everything, of the invisible forces that threatened them on every side. Then they discovered fire: they had warmth and light. They could see each other, cook meals, feast and dance and sing. How did the fire come to the people? In the Far North it was brought by the trickster bird, Raven, who stole the sun from the grandfather; in Greece by the rebel Titan, Prometheus. Both were hounded and punished for their acts of generosity. All creators follow their dangerous path and become fire-stealers by trade. They steal the fire from the gods and give it to the people. They can’t keep the fire for themselves, or it burns their house down.

Some people in Transition stand on the earth and dig the soil. They are the ones who run the the food projects. Some people look at roofs and spaces. They are the builders and organisers. Some of us write blogs and bulletins. We are the communicators. We keep the lines open, cross-reference, untangle, make live, feed back. We do this because we're good at it, but most of all because we know what happens if we don't.

The fact is our rulers, gods or government, corporate CEOs, the 1%, however you like to look at it, want to keep the fire for themselves. They like to govern over the people, but they do not like the people. They do not like you. Some part of you doesn't like you either. That's the hard part. Psychologists and mystics can chip away at that part for years, and yet the only thing that transforms us is doing the one thing it is terrified of: connecting with the heart.


The heart changes the game completely. So we are trained to be like our cold-blooded ancestors, like empire builders, to struggle in a frigid and loveless world, to attack and put each other down: criticise, mock, humiliate, dismiss. To be as successful and cruel as Alexander, as brilliant and heartless as Newton, inhuman, grasping for power, governed entirely by will and policed by terror. To bring the fire, to hold the fire, means we have to love the people, though for sure the people do not love us. We don't love in a squishy way, a mummy and daddy, best friend way, or even in a comradely, Quakery way. We love each other as fellows because we know that without these heart connections we fall big time. We end up in that cold sunless universe, without a dream to sustain us, without a voice.

And so something deeper in us pushes us out of our houses and our comfort zones to go to meetings and events and workdays. Pushes me out today into Lowestoft High Street to stand beside the striking workers, to stand by the Sustainable Bungay stall, pushes me toward the Community Centre to edit this month's Transition Norwich bulletin, though no one will thank us for it, or cares whether we do it or not.

The fact is some of us can see in the dark, and we know what's coming if we don't pass on the fire.

Climate Change

"What if climate change were about something else, so that instead of fighting for resources it made us come together. What if climate were about memory, about the snow in the mountains?" I am in the Alexandra pub in Norwich on a Friday night and we're discussing a Dark Mountain project, looking at ways to encounter climate change, beyond data and stats. Mathis and Jeppe are from the UEA, we are from Transition Norwich. I'm remembering when I first joined Transition and how, even though we talked about climate change and peak oil, it was really about people. Right from the start.

At first it was about opening my mouth. It was about going into those Heart and Soul circles and speaking about our experiences, sharing what we knew. About being welcomed into both the initiatives that have become integral to my life for the last three and a half years. About meeting a lot of people after being isolated and disenfranchised for a long time. Exploring the lexicon of Transition in a kind of wild collective jubilation, events, films, shared meals, posters and press releases. It was about our first Transition East Gathering at Downham Market, about Carol and John, Gary and Josiah, Chris and Christine.

And then it was work: about resisting those ancien regimeforces that tried to pull Sustainable Bungay apart around its Unleashing in 2009; it was about standing up to those caterpillar forces pushing for censorship on our Norwich blog in 2010. Those people who kept trying to push us down and out: you don't belong here, you can't write, you are a communist/vegan/scrounger, middle class, a suspect. Learning to say I am not moving. It was engaging in the Transition Circles, reducing carbon emissions, teaching peak oil in a primary school, throwing a party, writing a cookbook, creating culture. About Andy and Elena, Helen and Tully and Tom.

And then it became about branching out, finding the connections with Dark Mountain, with Occupy, with Greenpeace, with Stopclimatechaos and the OneWorldColumn. Seeing the pattern - the butterfly emerging from the collapse. It was working at the Transition Conferences and Camps, the Sunrise Festival, Unciviliation Festival. Going to the Bee Summit, talking to politicians, standing up for our library, our recycling depot, our woods, our seas. In solidarity with indignados, with occupiers, striking workers, with the 99%. It was Mark and Trevor and Rupert, Nick and Kate, Kerry, Simeon, Jeppe and Mathis.

Connections

How you hold the connection is by learning not to take things personally and realising that sometimes you have to feel everything personally in order to know it is not. How you keep going in Transition, especially if you are the kind of communicator who brings elephants into the room, is by seeing what you do, beyond your personal involvement. By knowing that everything, and I mean everything, conspires against our holding this pattern, against bringing this warmth and this light to the people. All the rulers of Empire, all the gods of the universe.

We are trained to think in left-hemisphere ways, in ever-diminishing circles of power and hostility, to worship data and systems and hierarchy. We abide by autocratic religions, by creeds that tell us to scarifice our hearts to invisible entities, who rule the universe like Goldman Sachs. Transition is as much full of these controlling forces and egoic fantasies as any other sphere of human activity. It’s not the fault of the movement, of its ingredients or philosophy, it's what each of us brings to the meeting table, into the room, unwittingly by virtue of being human at this point in time.

In order to live in a different paradigm we need to be different people. Powerdown people, who are capable of self-organisation, warmth and generosity and who can see the universe at play in all our small moves and relationships. How I treat you is how I treat the world. To evolve our indoctrinated individualism needs to undergo a social alchemy, whose first process pushes all the dark hidden stuff into the light for ruthless examination. Our primary materia is the the nuclear force by which all Empires fuel themselves: hate thy neighbour.

We think we are smart and enlightened and know about peak oil and fractional reserve banking, but none of us have got it down about social relationships. At least no one I’ve come across in Transition.  None of us love each other as we need to love each other, which is to say, without condition as people. We are all creatures of Empire, deracinated, separated, traumatised by history, educated to resist change and right-hemisphere imagination. We gush about community and sharing, but in reality we are all Wizards of Oz, running our small-minded empires from our IPhones. We say We, but it’s still Me in control 24/7, full of self-pity and self-importance, blind to the beauty and suffering of the people who stand before us. Our flesh and blood.

In 2009 conducting an inquiry into 29 initiatives of the Eastern Region for the second Transition East conference, no group reported they were without fallout and bad relations. By 2011 some of those intiatives had disappeared. The ones that flourished underwent reorganisation. Most of us are split off into small groups, working on practical and creative projects where we can shine and get on with things unimpeded. It’s not the best of all possibilities, and we know it, but don't necessarily know how to proceed.

The fact is sometimes we don't make it in Transition. Even the best of us. And that is a hard thing to acknowledge for a movement characterised by optimism and possibility. If we had a language that allowed us to recognise these difficult shifts it would be easier. The world is tranformed when we transform ourselves, and the truth is sometimes we don’t want to. Or our overworked wife doesn’t want to, our bolshy children, or the conventional small town where we tried to make it happen. Or our bodies and our minds can’t cope with the challenge. We’re too old or too sick. Many people leave or disappear without trace, And mostly it's because the old forms inside haven't wanted to change and relinquish their power over our consciousness, and the rest of us lack the lexicon and the humanity to give each other a break.

But sometimes we do change radically and come together in sudden surprising ways. And this is really a post about the people who keep linking up, and all those difficult people who challenge us, so we keep doing it, in spite of the violence of the status quo and the wrath of gods. It's about the Norwich bloggers and the Social Reporters, all the communicators and connectors. It's about the thousands of emails we write to each other and the hundreds of blogs.

It's about all the times you didn't send the email, didn't walk out of the meeting, let your antagonism and offendedness slide. It's about all those fellow feelings you have for the occupiers in Zuccotti Park and Oakland as they are truncheoned and pepper-sprayed by an increasingly militarised police force. All those times you don't go unconcious and you keep reading those difficult reports that Peter Lipman keeps sending in the small hours.

Transition is the people, because the strength and the wit to change is in the people, not the things, not the trees, not the mountains.Climate change brings us together so we can do this, because this transformation not a self-only task. We have to do this together.

So this is for all the fire-stealers and for those of us who are in it for the long haul: for Mark, for Adrienne and for Ed who made this project happen, for Chris Keene who cycled all the way to Copenhagen, for everyone at Occupy Norwich, for Nick who took me there, and to all the people in Transition who keep meeting in rooms, sitting in those circles of intent, in churches, in squares, in village halls, in the back rooms of desolate pubs on a windy night, and to those who in spite of everything keep remembering. having seen at one point in their lives the incandescent light that fills everything on this earth, each tree, each mountain, each wave that races to the shore, each beat of our hearts as they radiate outward. And for you, dear readers, all of you and all of us. We are not going to make it unless we keep connected. Hold that space. Hold that fire.

Photos: with Mark and Erik testing the rocket stoves, at Low Carbon Cookbook meeting, Norwich, Nov 2011; with Elena and fellow marchers at Great Norfolk Anti-Cuts March, December 2010; a darkling thrush, Suffolk, 2010; with Mark and Nick at the Greenpeace Fair, Sept 2011; Mark, Elinor and Gemma of Bungay Community Bees en route to London Bee Summit, Dec 2010; with Helen at the Magdalen Street Celebration; Occupy Norwich General Assembly, Nov 2011; Sustainable Bungay at The Wave. 2009.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Love in the Network

I am unashamedly, devotedly, a blogger. Never happier than facing that blank page at dawn, thinking as I do now: what on earth shall I write about today? A unsung painter once told me: artists always go back to their first love. And so, unequivocally, I returned in 2009 to putting words into empty spaces. For years I lived without true love, without a deadline. I had other affairs. I roamed the realms of plant medicine and dreams, traversed great geographies and met extraordinary people and I loved them all passionately. But something was missing. When I climbed trees and looked across the land I had no one to tell about my experiences.

Because as every writer knows words only come alive when they are read. You can't tell a story if no one is listening. You can keep notebooks and write manuscripts that gather dust under your bed but all these are a substitute for the real thing. In blogging I discovered, as thousands of other bloggers have, that you didn't need a publishing house or a newspaper to exist. As soon as you blog you become a part of a vibrant web of communication. Now alone in this birch tree on an ancient tumulus, thinking about the planet in a state of extreme shift, I find myself working alongside thousands of others in the cities, mountains and forests of the world.

So this is about the people who make that happen: my blogging colleagues. Because blogging not only liberated me from silence and solitude, it allowed me to work joyfully and productively with my fellow Transitioners, with Jon and Mark and Simeon and all the Norwich bloggers, with Mike at the Transition Newsletter and Ed at the Transition Network, all the regular writers and guest editors on the Social Reporting Project and people that I met as I set it up - from those who came to the talks on communications at the Sunrise Festival to the media team at the Transition Conference. With Adrienne Campbell (TT Lewes) of 100 Monkeys, with Shaun Chamberlin (TT Kingston) of Dark Optimism, with fellow writers at the Dark Mountain Project and the crew at the One World Column. Becoming a Transition blogger gave me licence to investigate, reflect, be creative, give back and make friends in a way I could never had imagined two years ago when Jon and I sat down before the empty screen just before the Transition Norwich First Birthday Party at Unit 5 (our first post).

Sometimes love redeems you from obscurity in a way you can never imagine, it comes out of the blue and rescues us from living a meaningless life, without relationship. It gives us all a second chance.

Scanning the news
Each morning I scan the tweetdeck for three or four retweets (for those who don't know this ace tool, it's a way of looking at four or more columns of tweet lists at a time). I look across those columns and the stories jump out. Each one of those links leads me to a blog and this now is how I see the world beyond my personal experience. This is how I know there are some bold and articulate writers and thinkers out there. Most of us writing for free and against the odds, looking at the big picture, facing reality, coming up with new moves, not losing heart. Providing coherence in a time of dissonance. As Mike Grenville described in his post on Navigating Change and Community Chaos, we are the imaginal cells of a butterfly meeting and joining up, while a rapacious caterpillar world violently resists our emergence.

We're creating a new kind of communications network that is not dominated by highly selective (and often manipulated) mainstream media, intent on fostering antagonism, 1% obeisance and consumer desire. We're writing because the world-in-Transition is created by forging new kinds of links and connections. We re-imagine this future through reading about what is happening, by tuning into the zeitgeist, by getting smart, and becoming empathic with our fellows. And most of all because we desire to wake up and live in a collective truth that has been kept from us. As Laurie Penny (Penny Red) wrote this week in the New Statesman reporting from Zuccotti Park on police brutality and citizen journalism:

Many of them are not even journalists in the traditional sense. Increasing numbers are bystanders, interested amateurs, or members of the occupations themselves, shooting footage on phones and pocket cameras, writing up eyewitness reports on Twitter and Facebook.

There's another problem for the authorities: not only do more of the journalists look like protesters, more of the protesters behave like journalists.

You can bar every reporter from the scene of a camp eviction, you can pen them way away from the action and rip off their credentials when they complain, you can arrest every single person with a press pass, and there will still be recording, publishing and broadcast technology beyond any 1990s news editor's most nicotine-addled fantasies right there in the sterile zone.

Energy Bulletin

My blog of choice for this week is the Energy Bulletin which is a nexus for many finger-on-the-pulse, thought-provoking posts, particularly at this point about the Occupy movement, which has appeared in the "blogosphere", like a flash fire, igniting the indignant hearts and minds of people everywhere. Uprisings in Tahrir Square and the plazas of Madrid and Athens provoked twitterstorms and blog commentary, but the Occupy movement that began in New York has opened the floodgates of the English speaking world.

Social justice, the environment, food systems, peak oil and Transition are some of the key subjects of this fast-moving productive blog, edited on both sides of the Atlantic by Transitioners, Bart Anderson (Palo Alto) and Kristin Sponsler and Simone Osborne (Bristol). It was adopted by the Post Carbon Institute in 2009 where (where peak everything, Richard Heinberg is a Senior Fellow-in-Residence) and is a vital "clearinghouse for information regarding the peak in global energy supply":
We publish news, research and analysis concerning: energy production statistics, models, projections and analysis articles which provide insight into the implications of peak oil across broad areas including geopolitics, climate change, ecology, population, finance, urban design, health and a range of information to help people prepare for peak energy, such as renewable energy information, alternative financial systems. low energy agriculture, relocalization... [and] any other subjects that could lead to better understanding the implications of an energy production peak.

We welcome original content, and we especially invite industry insiders, independent researchers, journalists, specialists and activists to submit their insights relevant to these issues.
The Energy Bulletin also publishes some of the blogs from This Low Carbon Life and the Social Reporters (Yay, many thanks!), where they enjoy a different and wider readership. Cross-posting and retweeting is part of this new butterfly effect. Check them out!


Up a birch tree; photo from Shaun Chamberlin's post on Economy for the Social Reporters Project; Buy Nothing Day poster from post by Lindsay Curren of Transition Voice; from TN's First Birthday poster, designed by Andy Croft, first post on This Low Carbon Life.