I sometimes write for Dark Mountain and I am profoundly humbled by the work, honesty, openness and general kindness I find in this network.
I encourage you to check them out and maybe donate to them if you are one of those people who actually have money to give.
A while ago I read an essay by Dark Mountaineer Charlotte Du Cann. It was a farewell letter of sorts to the Transition movement. The essay moved me so much. SO much!
A community activist resigning from community activism, an activist losing heart.
A writer putting into words… the sense of sorrow and despair but somehow it didn’t make me sad at all, just… thoughtful.
So I wrote her and asked her some questions for this yule calendar. Below you will find her answers.
It seems as if the first part of this yule calendar was about the concept of giving and receiving and the concept of gift. We are moving towards the concept of community and I think Charlotte Du Cann has something very important to say about this.
Also she wrote a book called “52 flowers that shook my world” and I love that title so much that I would her book any day of the week and twice on a sunday!
“1. What happened to you? Who are you now in relation to who you were when you first became an activist? Is that deep urge gone?
2. What are you feelings about change now?
I feel our human blueprint is to undergo change through time. We are natural transformers in the same way mushrooms or bacteria activate and change other substances by their presence. All archaic and indigenous cultures celebrate these processes through their art and song and spiritual practice. We live however in a civilisation that prevents these kind of change from happening. People in industrialised culture are trained to be workers and consumers and act according to ‘fairytales’ told them by their education and media. We have become functions in an artificial system, not natural symbionts with the Earth.
So change always upsets the ‘stability’ of this known world. It exposes the reality underneath the dysfunctional narratives of our civilisation. Most people don’t want to look at the full implications of what they do every day without thinking. Not because they are mean, but because they instinctively fear the consequences. When you let go of that unnatural cramped position you have been holding for years, there is a lot of pain and anger and bewilderment to deal with and very little to guide you. Changing your shopping habits is the least of it.
Radical change is far more demanding than either modern spirituality or community activism make space for, partly because there are feedback loops to cope with. There is no way to jump this suffering but there are a lot of ways of making it easier to bear. Sharing them with fellow Transitioners is one way. Turning them into creative material is another. However we have to weather this process because we need to become a different people, people who can live in synch with the Earth and each other. That’s an outer and an inner thing. It’s personal and it’s planetary. And it isalso political.
One of the reasons Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything says institutions deny climate change is because they know that you can’t act on climate without radically altering the whole system, without acting on capitalism, without bringing in social and environmental justice.
That’s the same for individuals. When you change one thing, you end up changing everything. The systems are interlocked.
3. How do you celebrate Christmas? What does this season mean to you? What happens to you around Christmas? What do you wish for it to be? Do you have new years resolutions?
I don’t think I’ve ever made a resolution! I gave up Christmas in my 20s (way too much family arguing!) and went travelling with my friends instead. I never looked back. However I do celebrate the winter solstice. In the Celtic tradition there was a time either side of the solstice called the Halcyon Days, after the mythic kingfisher who builds her nest at this time. And so I keep those 14 days as free as possible and tune into the world outside my door: the weather and light, the frost and trees, to keep an ear out for the moment the birds start to sing again. I usually do most of the pruning of the apple trees and hedges at this time (by hand!) and so am outside in all weathers. I love the winter twilight, chopping the firewood, watching the stars come out. It’s easy to forget those things when you are indoors or working.
We (that’s with my partner and colleague Mark Watson) mark all the eight stations of the year, the solstices and equinoxes and feast days. We light a new fire at night and watch the sun rise the next morning from under the neighbourhood oak. or by the sea. Usually I go for a long walk through the land at this time, or visit our local tumuli. It’s about paying a certain attention at these times. They are all doors that usher in another season and make sense of the relationship between the sun and the Earth that plays out in the growing year and in the larger cycles of life. They help keep us on track and rooted in time and place.
4. I know you lost heart as an activist. Is your heart back? What makes your heart pound now?
My heart is no longer the way it once was when I was fully immersed in a creative project or at the start of my involvement with the Transition movement, which is to say full of excitement and enthusiasm. But the heart needs to undergo radical change too. It needs to become the central governing intelligence of our lives and not be limited to the things we normally associate with it, such as passion or romantic love or inspiration.
My practice as a community activist in the last 6 years has been a social practice. This opens you in ways that you do not expect. You can’t really live a conveniently personal life once you have accessed your community self, because you are not separate from the people you live among. Here in England there is a lot of hardship and inequality and a desire to escape. Like everywhere else the land is being badly treated and we are the inheritors of a bloody history. We bear the scars of these things, and only a big medicine will turn that around.
So I find I can still celebrate the small joys of life – the light on the sea, the taste of food, daily interchanges with people and creatures – but looking at the state of the planet with true eyes needs our very adult attention. I don’t think we know what that really means yet. When I look around me I see a lot of childish and adolescent behaviour, but not much depth and integrity or fairness. So that’s what I am trying to bring into everything I do. The heart desires equality of exchange. It is exacting in these matters. You need to get back as much as you give. Making those demands for yourself, for the people, for the land, requires you to be a tough negotiator in a hostile culture that is used to giving nothing in return.
I think the heart changes its function as you get older (I am 58). So it doesn’t pound in the way you felt it pound when you loved the boy in the next room, or the words you once wrote for a glossy magazine. One day you wake up and realise that not only can you not go to nightclubs any more, you can’t keep flying to other countries either, or eating fish, or thinking you are special, and that’s a sobering thing.
Our civilised lives are off kilter and we are not at home or in time. The sober heart straightens this out from the inside and changes the way you walk through the world. It teaches you to make yourself at home and how to live in time. So perhaps it would be fair to say a pounding heart, an excited, upbeat heart, the kinds of feeling and kinship I originally felt when I joined my Transition initiatives, do not create the best state with which to face the future. You have to meet it on its own terms. And that’s not been done before by a post-industrialised people.
For me the people who know how to live with that kind of challenge, with uncertainty, who can provide beauty and depth and meaning, who can regenerate and remember the world, are my fellow artists and writers.
Creativity is the best gift we can give – and the best any of us can receive”.
You can buy Charlotte Du Canns book on Two Ravens Press and I hope that you do, I wish for christmas that you do.
As for me… I’ll practise being a tougher negotiator in a hostile culture and I’ll also practise opening my heart even more. Those two things. At the same time.
(all pictures provided by Du Cann and this is her blog)