Time to Slow Down and Listen
Glastonbury Oracle, December 2020
Over the past four months I have done my best to describe the present situation in the world as an essentially spiritual crisis. As what’s happening out there gets progressively more dire there is still hope, but we need to be realistic. What’s required is no less than a whole new society based on different values from those that got us into this mess. It will probably take far longer than we have thought. Meanwhile the old, corrupt, destructive civilisation that we still live in is now well past its sell-by date – but it’s still in place. Its days are numbered but we don’t know how long it will last. The question arises, what do we do in the mean time?
I quoted the American writer Dahr Jamail: “We need to be really listening to the Earth, and to people who listen to the Earth as part of their culture”. Taking on indigenous wisdom in a practical sense, though, is much easier said than done. It won’t help to dress up in fancy dress and learn a few ‘sacred’ phrases to spout. We need to actually listen.
During lockdown it became uncomfortably clear that significantly slowing down actually did more good for the planet and the natural world than the environmental movement has in over fifty years. So this is a clue as to how we can start: slow down, stop trying to fix the situation (or stop worrying but not fixing the situation), become more receptive. Meditation might help, but however we can do it, consciously become more receptive.
This, I’m suggesting, is the way to start. There is still a huge job to be done. We’re likely to find ourselves getting extremely busy, though we need to make that inner shift first. That way, what we do can be part of creating the new civilisation that is needed. I am basically an old hippy, and I still believe that ‘peace and love’ will, after all, become the reality. It’s just that getting there turned out to be more complicated – or a deeper process – than we used to imagine.
What we can do right now is listen to what the indigenous people are saying. One such person is Robin Wall Kemmerer, and I’ve finally ordered her book Braiding Sweetgrass. In the introduction to a new edition, she writes that she takes her guidance from the forests, “who teach us something about change”. She uses the ‘overstory’, the established trees that shade out new growth, as an allegory for the established powers in human society:
“A long-lived overstory can dominate the forest for generations, setting the ecological conditions for its own thriving while suppressing others by exploiting all the resources with a self-serving dominance. But, all the while it sets the stage for what happens next and something always happens that is more powerful than that overstory: a fire, a windstorm, a disease. Eventually, the old forest is disrupted and replaced by the understory, by the buried seedbank that has been readying itself for this moment of transformation and renewal. A whole new ecosystem rises to replace that which no longer works in a changed world.”
There’s plenty to do, ‘readying ourselves for the moment’. Braiding Sweetgrass should arrive on Friday – I shall begin by reading it.