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In The Eye of the Storm – How to Stay Sane in an Insane World

April 30th, 2008

This year I’m giving a talk in a number of places about the most pressing issue of our times, and I thought I would share these ideas with you here, but ‘serialised’ over time, to give readers a chance to voice their own ideas. One of the great advances, aided by the internet, is that we can now share and pool our thoughts and inspirations, so if what is below triggers any thoughts do share them by making a comment. This first bit will probably be familiar to you and just sets the scene, but it contains the core issue ‘Can we face the future positively?’ I’ll serialise it by pasting in sections every few days below…



But the time is not a strong prison either.
A little scraping of the walls of dishonest contractor’s concrete
Through a shower of chips and sand makes freedom.
Shake the dust from your hair.
This mountain sea-coast is real
For it reaches out far into the past and future;
It is part of the great and timeless excellence of things.

From the poem ‘A Little Scraping’ by Robinson Jeffers

All of us here are alive at a very unusual time in the history of the world. Some scientists are warning that humanity may not survive beyond this century and all sorts of predictions about impending catastrophes are being evoked, often in relation to the year 2012. So these are worrying times to be alive.

Some people respond by saying that every age has been scared of extinction – Millenarians prepared for the end of the world in 1000; prophets predicting doom have regularly appeared and have disappointed their followers by continuing to be alive beyond their ‘due date’; during the Cold War we were scared of humanity being destroyed by nuclear warfare, and here we still are, and so on. But a little thought tells us that the situation we are now in is different.

At least five factors are all converging to make the present status of civilisation unsustainable. Something has to give, something has to change. These five factors, all interrelated, are: the population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation from pollution and the destruction of habitats, and species extinction.

Like five runaway trains heading for the same destination the outcome is hardly going to be pleasant, and their arrival seems imminent. The trouble is we’re all sitting right where these trains are headed – in the eco-system itself.

So this is a very frightening thought. We’re at a time of crisis. There’s plenty of information out there about these factors, and indeed about what we can do individually and collectively to try to mitigate the situation – from living in a more eco-friendly way to looking at community and global solutions. So in this talk I’m not going to address these – not because they are not important – quite the contrary – but because others are doing this very well and there is a wealth of resources to turn to for this information.

The Gold Hidden in the Darkness

Instead I want to focus on the question of whether there is anything positive hidden within this time of crisis. Psychotherapy and the metaphor of alchemy are good at attempting to unearth the gold hidden in the darkness of the prima materia, or in the ‘darkness’ of a person’s experience or unconscious. In the past, alchemists even reasoned that if the ‘highest’ was hidden in the ‘lowest’ then gold or the elixir of life would be hidden within the lowest of matter: excrement. And so they tried working with that to get their results. Although they were wrong at a material level, at the psychological and spiritual level many believe they were on to something, and since humanity is now in ‘deep shit’, maybe an alchemical perspective can help us understand what is happening – to extract whatever gold there is out of the situation.

Some thinkers are now talking about this time as one of great potential – as a time of collective initiation, or of a great ‘shift’ in consciousness. And it’s not just New Age prophets who might be deluded, who are saying this. Deep thinkers like the neo-Jungian analyst James Hillman writes: “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

Now either this is all just nonsense – we’ve made the most incredible mess of the world and the ship is about to go down, and experts as we are at rationalisation, we are telling ourselves that something wonderful is really occurring, or it’s not nonsense and we are in fact living through one of the most exciting and potentially rewarding moments in the story of humanity.

Even though we might be tempted to say “Oh I just can’t cope with this New Age mumbo-jumbo. I’m off to the wilderness to grow beans, or – more likely – pour myself another drink and switch on the telly,” I think it’s worth pursuing the question “What if it’s true? What if there is gold hidden in the depths of this situation that seems so hopeless?”

The reward, if this is the case, is huge – which is why it’s worth pursuing this question. If it’s true, we can move from living in a state of fear to living with hope and trust in life. Given the size of the pay-off it’s worth a few minutes of our time, so let’s go! Read more

Houses I Would Like to Live In

April 29th, 2008

I guess we all have a vision of the ideal house and setting we would like to live in, and every so often one appears which seems to match that vision almost completely. In an earlier post I mentioned the Lammas Project which features some, and now Lindsay Hamilton, author of The Secret of Home, has told me of another one: the PENWHILWR STRAW BALE HOUSE. Here’s a picture! See more on the website of the Quiet Earth Trust

Lost Islands

April 25th, 2008

Books come into the office for review and I usually send them on to our monthly magazine editor, Penny Billington, but this week one has come in and I can’t let go of it… it’s called Lost Islands – Inventing Avalon, Destroying Eden by Kevan Manwaring.

I haven’t finished it, so it’s too early for a review, but I want to give it a plug. Kevan has written two novels inspired by the Long Man of Wilmington (see picture at the top here) The Long Woman and Windsmith, and they’re excellent. I went to the launch of his last book in the virtual world of Second Life.

Here’s the publisher’s description of Lost Islands:

Otherworldly islands haunt the imagination of the West. From Atlantis to Ys, the peoples of the Atlantic seaboard have dreamt of, searched for, journeyed to and lost several distinctive kingdoms of the sea – all ‘into the West’, where the sun sets and where the soul is said to go at death. Are they a collective dreaming of a real place, or mere salty yarns spun by ancient mariners?

In Lost Islands: Inventing Avalon, Destroying Eden Kevan Manwaring takes you on an adventurous odyssey charting this metaphysical archipelago, drawing upon philosophy, folklore, literature and myth. This voyage encompasses many imaginary Eden-like utopias. Can we ever hope to attain such paradises or are they ultimately within ourselves – states of consciousness and enlightenment to aspire to and fall from? And why do such island Edens seemingly inevitably end in disasters – whether inundated by mythic floods, as with Atlantis, or with all-too-real ecological disasters, as with Easter Island?

In an era of climate change and global uncertainty the myths of inundations are more poignant today than ever. How permanent is our own ‘island state’ of living on Earth?

Arthur in Avalon and Radical Slogans

April 23rd, 2008

Stephanie and I visited Tate Britain on the bank of the Thames on Monday. They have three exhibitions at the moment that all have England as part of their theme.

Upstairs they have on loan from Puerto Rico ‘The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon’ by Edward Burne-Jones, who worked on this painting for 18 years before he died. It is absolutely vast and immensely evocative. Above the figure of Arthur is a golden canopy with 12 scenes of the search for the grail.

All the figures around him are women. To the right there is a mysterious figure, evocative of Merlin but who may well be meant as a woman since all the others are, apart from Arthur. The figure has their back to us, and gazes into a hand-held mirror, as if scrying the future, or as if gazing at the figure of Arthur in reflection. This reminds me of a Jain practice in which devotees gaze upon the sacred image of the Tirthankara (Enlightened One) not directly but through a hand held mirror.

In another room there is a special exhibition on William Blake’s work, which reminded me of how important Albion, the Druids and Stonehenge was to his vision. And in the basement there was a film of Derek Jarman’s, with music by Benjamin Britten and Genesis P.Orridge.

At the height of the Thatcher era and before the arrival of Glasnost Jarman had filmed in secret in Moscow. Interposed between grainy shots of the city filmed at dawn with a hand-held camera and slowed down to a hypnotic pace was a re-enactment of artists painting men in communist ‘heroic’ poses. And at a certain moment the screen was simply filled with statements about the way Britain had become a country ruled by bankers and advertising men.

It was powerful stuff. And reminded anyone watching of how little has really changed. We came out wanting to make grainy hand-held films in the street interspersed with radical slogans. We probably should have bought some spray cans and done a ‘Bansky’ or two…

The God Stone

April 18th, 2008

In Hove Park just a few miles away from Lewes there stands the ‘Gold Stone’ which in the 19th century was called (at least on one map) the Godstone – perhaps because of the gnarled troll-like face on its side.

There’s an excellent site ‘Standing Stones in Sussex’ which talks of its history and has archive photos and sketches of it, but I couldn’t find any modern photographs of it. So yesterday while in Hove I took some pictures – if you click on the ones below you’ll get good sized images. Around the massive stone are nine smaller ones.

The Council’s sign beside it reads: ‘At the turn of the 19th century this ‘Goldstone’ was thought to be a sacred stone of the Druids. This led to large numbers of people visiting the site and causing damage to the surrounding farm crops. In the early 1830’s, the landowner buried the stone and the smaller surrounding stones to stop this happening.’ They were unearthed in 1900 and moved to Hove Park in 1906. I have read that some people blame the poor performance of Brighton & Hove Albion football club on this interference with the subtle earth energy grid of the planet!

More Druid connections are provided by the ‘Standing Stones in Sussex’ site: ‘The stone is popularly known as the site of a Druidic Gorsedd, but this is probably just modern fancy. A sign next to the Goldstone tells us that it is a “Tolmen or holy stone of the Druids”! Though it is debatable whether ancient druids used the site, more modern druids certainly have. On the 3rd June 1929, an oak tree was planted near the stone to commemorate the King’s recovery, also to commemorate the 1000th night of the Ames Lodge and the 100thchapter of the Brighton & Hove Royal Arch (Ancient Order of Druids). The ceremony and a banquet afterwards was attended by many important figures in Druidism of the time and a plaque was placed nearby to commemorate the occasion.’

Pagan Poetry at The Royal Opera House

April 16th, 2008

To appreciate opera often requires a bit of work on the part of the audience. Rather like a good massage one has to relax into it, resisting the urge to brace oneself against the shrieking divas. The Icelandic singer Bjork has the same effect on me. Like Kate Bush she has a strange childlike voice that I found initially unattractive, but staying with it I found it grew on me, and – like Kate Bush – her songs and her interests are far from childlike. In March this year she upset the Chinese government by shouting ‘Tibet! Tibet!’ at the end of her song ‘Declare Independence’ that she was singing at a concert in Shanghai.

Well blow me down but the first ‘pop’ singer the Royal Opera House has allowed in its hallowed halls has been Bjork whose concert there in 2001 was reportedly her best. With a choir from Greenland, a harpist and others she performed ‘All is Full of Love’, ‘Pagan Poetry’ and ‘Cocoon’, which you can see here. The others can be found on Youtube.

A DVD is also available, and Daniel Mitchell explains: ‘If you are a Bjork fan, this DVD is essential; if you are not, Live at the Royal Opera House offers an in depth and complete explanation as to why a bizarre little woman from Iceland can sell millions of records all over the world. Fans of Bjork must swallow the pill that Bjork, in her late thirties, is at her creative peak, and her latest album, Vespertine, is the work of a creative genius at the peak of her skills. Vespertine is one of the most unique and beautiful records ever made by a contemporary artist of any genre, and Live at the Royal Opera House captures Bjork performing songs taken mainly from Vespertine.

Lost Wonder

April 15th, 2008

The world is full of much sadness, but much that is beautiful and wondrous too. Have a look at this project, ‘The Museum of Lost Wonder’ – it’s really quite extraordinary and explores alchemy with a great sense of fun and ingenuity.  It’s creator, an exhibit designer at the Monterey Aquarium, explains the project in the movie clip below:

Humanity as the Wounded Wounder

April 11th, 2008

Here is a powerful thought for us to mull over. Are we, as human beings, both the cause of the planet’s perilous condition and at the same time initiators at a profound level of collective awareness?

We are destroying the world and it is easy to fall into despair and to say that this is yet another example of the fact that life is meaningless. What could be more meaningless than a planet of such beauty destroyed by plastic bags and burnt oil and coal? And yet wounding is one way in which greater consciousness is born, prompting the neo-Jungian analyst James Hillman to say: “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

At first sight this appears to be simply a monstruous anthropomorphism. The world drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms (such as ecological breakdown and species extinction)? ! And yet what if there was some deeper meaning in all that is happening? That is the message that comes across in the film What a Way to Go – Life at the End of Empire – A middle class white guy comes to grips with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American Lifestyle and which Chris Robertson of Revision is trying to explore in a workshop he and Nicky Marshall will be giving at The European Federation for Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy conference this summer. They explain: “In an age in which imagination has been degraded and surface glamour and style has usurped its potency, soul is starved through this impoverishment. Yet, within this sterile landscape may lie the seeds of change: if the world is becoming aware of itself through its wounds, then humanity, as the wounded wounder, is the means of that self awareness and healing.”

Fascinating ideas!

I need to go and cut some rhubarb.

Root Vegetables Again

April 6th, 2008

Regular readers will know of the ongoing theme of root vegetables that appears from time to time here.

Human eccentricity and ingenuity unite in the following film showing the work of The Vegetable Orchestra of Vienna

Reverse Stealing

April 4th, 2008

One of the reasons why the ‘Holy Blood & Holy Grail’ story generated such a lot of mileage was because it never occurred to anyone that someone might have engaged in the obscure but karmically less dangerous activity of ‘reverse stealing’. Security at libraries is designed to prevent people taking books and manuscripts OUT of the library, but not bringing them in and leaving them there. This is how Pierre Plantard managed to plant a forged document in the Bibliotheque National which he then drew attention to, and which then sparked off the whole ‘Priory of Sion’ story.

I’ve just discovered a Druid has been up to this same activity, but in a far less harmful way. Read on for the story!

Grand Bard of Exeter Mark Lindsey Earley has been unmasked as the mystery Druid who “infiltrated” a West model village.

Little figures of Druids started to turn up mysteriously – similar to the way graffiti artist Banksy’s works would appear in galleries – in the miniature Stonehenge at Babbacombe Model Village, near Torquay.

They were placed inside the model of the stone circle. But one of the tiny figures carried a banner for the Bardic Chair of Caer Wyse – the Celtic name for Exeter – and that gave the game away.

“They didn’t have any Druids at Stonehenge, so I thought I ought to sneak some in,” confessed Mark, of Stoke Gabriel, Devon.

“It’s the opposite of burglary, really. It was just a bit of fun.”

The model village removed the mini-Druids, saying they are “out of scale”, but has offered Mark the chance to sponsor some new ones which would be made specially for the site.

General manager Simon Wills said: “We’ve found this quite amusing. It was the most appropriate place to put Druids, after all. But we couldn’t have everybody coming in and adding their own figures – it would be chaos.”

The model village, founded in 1963, has more than 13,000 miniature people in it, and offers visitors the chance to have models of themselves made for display in a scene at GBP190 for a year.

Mark has announced that the search is now on for a new Bard of Exeter, following the resignation of Farren Gainer, reported on this page last month. It was Mark who revived the ancient Bardic Chair tradition at Exeter and who has now resumed it in a caretaker capacity.

He is calling on aspiring poets to compete for the title in a competition to be held soon.It’s part of a wider informal network known as a Bardic Gorsedd to which membership is free and which will appeal particularly to lovers of the arts, folklore and ceremony. Seven Bardic Chairs have been reclaimed – including Bath, Bristol and Glastonbury as well as Exeter – and it is hoped this will form the basis of an English Eisteddfod at which an annual Bard of England can be elected.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Financial Times Ltd.

(From Western Daily Press)