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.
"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.
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.