Getting back to nature

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If you dig down deep enough, fear is at the root at a lot of different issues.

Maybe you haven’t learnt to drive a car yet because you’re afraid of causing an accident.

Maybe you haven’t quit your dismal job and started your own business because you’re scared of failing, looking like a fool, losing all your money, and/or ending up homeless.

Maybe you haven’t got out of your toxic relationship because you’re scared of being alone, or of the consequences of leaving.  Or maybe you haven’t got into a relationship in the first place, for fear of getting hurt.

As I’ve discovered, the groundwork for understanding the true nature of fear and learning to work through it is, quite literally, to ground yourself in a natural environment.

When we re-ground ourselves and reconnect with the Earth, we find our way back to Love with a capital L – a Love that isn’t dependent on a particular person continuing to support us, be there for us, or make our dreams come true.

This process is at the root of ecopsychology and ecotherapy, although the exercises that I teach aren’t ‘therapy’ in the conventional sense – they can be used by anyone, with or without mental health difficulties.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy or comfortable process.   The nettles and thorns are just the beginning, and even the potential for disease-ridden ticks or venomous snakes isn’t the end of the story.  When we’re out wandering in the wilderness, we’re alone with ourselves.  We’re unprotected: away from all the distractions that keep us numbed and dumbed, like TV, overwork, overeating and social media obsession.  So the very soulwork that helps us to face our fears is, in itself, fundamentally scary for a lot of people.

It starts with a small, manageable step that most people probably wouldn’t expect…

Getting back to nature.

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Walking back to happiness?

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When I came back from Tanzania, I was a mess, which isn’t exactly surprising.  I’d walked away from my marriage, my extended family, my community, my business, my projects, and the land I loved.  All I’d brought back with me was my daughters, two suitcases per person weighing less than 20kg each, and an entire plane-load of emotional baggage.

My life was transformed, little by little, by consulting a spiritual counsellor who told me to go out walking and start re-rooting myself in my own ancestral landscape.  (She told me a lot of other things as well, but I’ll save those for future blogs, as they’re too important to squeeze into a paragraph.)

The work I’m doing now has all evolved from that point, but takes it a few steps further.  It’s based on the realisation that just walking the Land isn’t enough in itself, although it’s a great start: we need to learn specific skills if we’re ever to find our way home again, in this crazy society that we’ve constructed for ourselves.

There are actual strategies that we can use for observing the Land, breathing it in, meditating on it, encountering it, experiencing it, singing its songs, making art with it and about it, and having conversations with it and about it.

All this is `second nature’ (literally) to intact Indigenous communities living undisturbed on their ancestral lands, of which there are now sadly few left – but it’s almost disappeared in contemporary Western societies.  And when we lose our connection to the Earth, our Mother, we lose a crucial part of our own souls.

That ‘soul loss’ is at the root of all our fear and loneliness.

 

Do it for love, or not at all!

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It’s frighteningly easy to say ‘yes’ to things because we think someone expects us to, and then discover at the end of the day that we’ve taken on too much and can’t finish it all.  Not only do we end up disappointing the very people we were hoping to impress, but worse still, we let ourselves down because we STILL haven’t made time for that one special thing that we’re yearning to do.

We end up breaking promises, running up debts and backing out of commitments, and are left feeling frustrated, martyred, and resentful of the people who asked us to do the stuff in the first place.   Either that, or we keep up the fiction that we can ‘do it all’, and carry on trying to juggle seven plates and a flaming torch…until we drop ALL the plates and burn ourselves out completely, because a physical or mental health crisis comes along and we have to stop absolutely everything.

I hadn’t realised how deeply I was stuck in that particular behaviour pattern, until someone did it to me – and then proceeded to explain, in a beautifully clear and well-thought-out way, exactly why she’d changed her mind about the commitment that she’d made to me.   At first I was upset about it, but after sleeping on it, I had a new breakthrough.

What I realised is that through living in Tanzania, I became a world expert in putting other people’s needs ahead of my own – because other people’s needs were usually urgent and sometimes life-threatening.  I didn’t care if I had to sleep on a bed made of sticks with a couple of animal skins thrown over the top, and get bitten to death by fleas, as long as I was ‘making a difference’.  It didn’t matter to me if I had to live on boiled maize and soya beans for three days, as long as The Work got done.   As for savings – forget it.  Pah, who am I to worry about a savings account when the mother of the plumber that I’ve hired to fix the shower (yes, this is a real-life example…) has cerebral malaria, and her life depends on medicine that costs $10, and I’m the only person in the plumber’s immediate orbit with a ‘spare’ $10?

There was always a `plumber’s mother’, or some other such walk-on character in my drama, who seemingly had a greater need for my time and my money than I did.

Yet after coming back to the UK, I started carrying that same sense of obligation into other things, which weren’t matters of life and death.  The kids want to go to Tanzania and visit their family?  Of course they must – even if I have to put it on a credit card, and don’t have a plan for paying it off.  The teacher at the village nursery school wants me to take over paying his salary, because his funders have pulled out?  Well, I wouldn’t want the nursery school to be forced to close – even if I’m behind with my bills.  Someone wants me to do this, buy that, go there?  Has to be done, I suppose – even if I can’t really afford it.

But recently, I’ve started to examine my own motivations every time I’m on the point of saying ‘yes’ to a substantial commitment of time or money.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never offer to help anyone again, but it means I’ll try to be more realistic with the promises that I make, and ask myself questions like these:

Am I doing this because I really, truly care about it?  (Or is it because I’m afraid that you’ll think badly of me if I say no?) 

If yes: Have I got the time, energy and resources to do this properly, without hurting myself or anyone else?  (Or would it be at the expense of my true soulwork, if I agreed to do it?)

If yes: Am I the right person to do it?  (Or would it actually be more helpful, in the long run, if I just directed you to someone who already has this skill set?)

If yes: Is this the right time for me to do it?  (Or would it be more appropriate to wait until later?)

This still makes me squirm and feel selfish.  But I’m going to keep trying until I’m comfortable with it, because like Ani DiFranco in ‘Circle of Light’, “I ain’t got time for half-way, I ain’t got time for half-assed’.  I’m tired of wearing myself out with half-hearted commitments, and doing things ‘just for the sake of the money’.  Money is essential to life, of course, but money loves to flow wherever Love is – and when I’ve tried to do things `just for the money’ in the past, they haven’t tended to work out well.

My aim is to reach a point where if someone asks me to do something, I can either do it for Love, or delegate it to someone who really will love it…

 

The power of self-belief

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Just two votes decided the election result in one of the Scottish constituencies in yesterday’s General Election, and 31 votes in one in Southampton, my nearest big city. It reminded me that we all matter – we can all make a difference.   We have the power to co-create the future that we want to see, not just in politics but in other ways too!
My prayer today is that we might all be led to people who remind us who we are at our core, help us believe in ourselves, and keep us burning as brightly as we can.  
For me it’s Stephen Simmonds with his beautiful song ‘Lisa’ – I just love the refrain, “Who you are is good enough / You have my faith, you have my trust / All that matters now is our love / Hallelujah!” 
And then comes my favourite song lyric of all time: “Everything I’ve ever been afraid of is all in my mind…”

The remedy for deep fear is Deep Love

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There are so many people out there trying to spread fear, hatred and division.  We notice the violent ones, who make grand gestures and kill a lot of people in a short space of time, but we often don’t notice the ones who work in more subtle ways.

Much of today’s politics is based on fear.  Fear of those people who don’t look like us, or that culture that doesn’t do things the way we do them, or that guy who wants to change the system, or that group that calls itself by a different name and seems to be worshipping a different kind of Divinity.

That’s because fear is a natural human emotion.  It’s evolved to keep us alive, which is usually agreed to be a good thing.   So it’s easy for politicians to exploit it – to appeal to our primitive survival instincts, rather than our higher consciousness that keeps trying to wake us up and tell us the truth: There is no ‘us and them’.  

As I wrote in a poem when I was a teenager at the Drielandenpunt, where the borders of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet – countries that were once at war, but have now turned the site into an international peace park:

And should we speak of ‘them’ at all,

as ‘them and me’, or ‘them and us’,

or should we speak of us and us?

Why all this fuss?

A name is just a name…

 

God, Goddess, Allah, Mungu, Engai Brahma, Jehovah: these are just our feeble human attempts at naming something which is far, far bigger and more beautiful than we can ever dream of.

Muslim, Christian, Pagan, Druid, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jew, Zoroastrian, atheist, agnostic, spiritual wanderer, or whatever other names we might come up with: we are all seekers, chasing sparks of that Divine Love and trying to fan them into flames.

We can’t let ourselves be distracted from our quest by people who don’t understand it, and think that ‘those people’ over there are ‘the enemy’.   A name is just a name…

 

 

 

 

The healing power of song

One of the greatest tragedies of the West is that we’ve lost the magic of song.

In the Maasai community, singing is part of everyday life.  People sing to praise God, regardless of whether they’re Christians, Muslims, or followers of their own indigenous spiritual tradition (where ‘Engai’ is actually translated more accurately as ‘Goddess’).

People sing to preserve their memories and histories, most of which are still unwritten.  All the rites of passage have their own songs associated with them, including weddings, ceremonies to bless unborn children, child-naming ceremonies, initiation into adulthood, and the transition from warriorhood into elderhood (although the latter doesn’t have an equivalent for women), and funerals.

Songs are used to welcome important visitors, to launch projects, or – as in the photo above – to entertain parents at the school Open Day.   Crucially, they can also be used to open people’s minds to the possibility of change: in our project to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), we started every seminar and workshop with a performance by a women’s commuity choir.

Yet, in so-called ‘developed’ countries, we’ve created a culture in which most people are afraid to sing.

Shows like ‘The X Factor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – where harsh criticism of people’s vocal performance is seen as entertaining – certainly haven’t helped.  But a bigger issue is that, with the decline in church attendance, most people just don’t have a space in which they can sing freely without being criticised or judged.

When I recently started attending my local Baptist church in England and the very first song we sang was one that I recognised from an international church that I used to attend in Tanzania, it felt like coming home.  But traditional church services don’t appeal to everyone, and despite the vast amount of content available on YouTube, a lot of people – whatever their religion – wouldn’t know where to start looking for inspiring, uplifting, soul-stirring, life-changing, motivating songs that can support their own personal journey to reconnection and wholeness.

I’m a huge fan of Jodi Picoult’s book Sing You Home, which has a downloadable soundtrack.  I LOVE those songs, especially ‘Ordinary Life’ – a cry from the heart for LGBTQ rights and non-discrimination – and the title track, a haunting song dedicated to a child lost through miscarriage.

Maybe it’s time we all started learning how to sing ourselves home?