Saturday, December 11, 2010


Inspired by David Abram’s marvellous book Becoming Animal, I have been thinking a lot about reciprocity today. And about the lack of it. In our culture, insulated as most of us are from the realities of wild Nature, even when we are in the countryside our surroundings and the creatures that inhabit them tend to slide into a two-dimensional backdrop for our thoughts and human-based activities, like a kind of wallpaper. We forget to be fully present, to pay attention, to interact consciously with whoever and whatever is around us. Tuned only to signals from the human world—the voices of companions, the chatter in our heads and perhaps the music from our iPods—we fail to interact with the more-than-human world and fail to comprehend its depth and richness. We swim through an ocean of potential relationships in wetsuits of distraction and  withholding, in spacesuits of hollow solitude.

I have heard people who have spent all their lives in one place and know it intimately say that in a way they feel merged with the land. It  is so familiar that it has become a part of them—or they a part of it. They rest into it in comfort. And although they may not remain consciously aware of it at all times, since they know it so well they notice even the smallest change—the swelling of a bud, a slight rise in the water table, the first migrating bird. 

But those of us, like me, who have travelled a lot and lived on several different continents, face another problem over and above the problem of tuning out and that is the occasional lapse into nostalgic discontent. Walking under a dull, grey sky, I can so easily find myself yearning for remembered sunshine. Moving through the endlessly farmed and gardened landscapes of my native England I suddenly long for wildness and the challenge of mountain slopes, trackless forests and dry arroyos. And yet, when the wildness of a canyon or the strangeness of a strangler fig (or the sight of leeches crawling up my boots)  threatens to overwhelm me I start thinking about the benign nature of my familiar woods.

I have reminded myself, sternly, that every place has its own, particular beauty and that places I have known and loved are,  like old friends I rarely see, still a part of me. I belong here and I also belong there…and there, and there, and there. It is wonderful to feel that one belongs everywhere. But the dark side of belonging everywhere is to belong nowhere.

 There is one simple answer. It is that old sixties slogan that has never gone out of date—be here now. Be where you are. Be fully where you are. When you see a bird, the bird also sees you. When you touch a tree, the tree touches you in response.
Every step on the Earth is a question to which the Earth supplies the answer—yes I am touching you. Feel that pull of gravity? That’s me holding you tight, loving you. And as you walk, your feet massage my skin. Yes you are a part of me, yes you are here, we are always together, in death or in life it matters not which. We are one. All of us.

Reciprocity. An exchange of gifts. Breathing in and breathing out. To whatever is around us we give the gift of our energy, our attention, our love. And it comes back to us tenfold. Those are the times when the world suddenly seems to swell and deepen around us, everything leaps into three dimensions. Maybe even four dimensions. And there is such richness and beauty all around us that we can only gasp in wonderment. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…wow!

Tomorrow, when I go for a walk, I think I shall write a reminder on my hand. Delight in where you are. Wherever you are.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wild Elders

Just as we could say that becoming an adult it is the overall developmental task of the child, I believe that the overall developmental task of every adult is to become not just merely an ‘old person’ but a true elder. In my second book, Elderwoman, I listed what I saw as the twenty principles of true elderhood. These are:

Ø      simplicity: living lightly on the Earth
Ø      deep vision: seeing beneath the surface, the ‘big picture’
Ø      passion: caring deeply about what really matters
Ø      compassion: for humans and the more-then-human world
Ø      non-attachment: to people, possessions etc
Ø      Earth-centeredness: living ecocentrically, not egocentrically
Ø      comfort: in one’s community and surroundings
Ø      connectedness: with all that is
Ø      respect: for others, all other life forms and the Earth itself
Ø      creativity: in what one does and how one lives
Ø      delight: in one’s senses, simple pleasures and life in general
Ø      lightness: and the freedom to become one’s true self at last
Ø      enoughness: living within our means, and those of the planet
Ø      heart-listening: trusting the voice of intuition
Ø      peace and quiet: enjoying solitude and a slower pace of life
Ø      authenticity: being all one can be, like a ripening fruit
Ø      responsibility: playing one’s part in the healing of our Earth
Ø      radical aliveness: living fully  every moment. A ‘yes’ to life
Ø      acceptance of change: knowing it's the only constant
Ø      balance: balancing the yin and the yang in one’s life
Although Elderwoman, as its title implies, was written specifically for ‘third age’ women, I have been surprised and delighted by the number of men who have written to tell me they enjoyed it too. But my list of ‘Elderwoman Principles’ is probably appropriate for both genders.

One principle I didn’t include—although in a sense it is covered, in a way, by several of the others, is the principle of wildness.

‘Wild’ is not an adjective one often hears applied to older folk. And yet, when I read the following passage on page 414 of Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul (New World Library, 2008) it set my heartstrings twanging. That’s why I want to share it with you. Bill wrote:

A genuine elder possesses a good deal of wildness, perhaps more than any adult, adolescent or child. Our human wildness is our spontaneity, our untamed vitality, our innocent presence, our resistance to oppression, and our rule-transcending vivacity and self-reliance that social convention can never contain. We are designed to grow deeper into that wildness as we mature, not to recede from it. When we live soulcentrically, immersed in a lifelong dance with the mysteries of nature and psyche, our wildness flourishes. A wild elderhood is not a cantankerous old age or a devil-may-care attitude, nor is it stubbornness or dreamy detachment. Rather, the wildness of elderhood is a spunky exuberance in unmediated, ecstatic communion with the great mysteries of life—the birds, fishes, tress, mammals, the stars and galaxies, and the dream of the Earth” 

Wow! Isn’t that great? I wish I could write like that!

(Thanks to Jay Luttman-Johnson for the picture. It is one of my favourites.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

This Little Cog Went Walkabout

Today I read blog post about blogging. It was a list entitled
'10 Things Bloggers Should Not Do'.
Item #6 was: You Must Not Fail To Update Your Blog Regularly.  

Oops! I have sinned, haven’t I? been away from my desk for several weeks. I have been visiting family members, hiking along trails, reading novels, sitting in the sun, playing with grandchildren, reconnecting with old friends, giving talks, selling books…and then travelling all the way home, coping with a head cold and dealing with the backlog of work that built up during my absence. One thing I have not been doing is blogging.

Strange, isn’t it, how we in our culture manage to turn everything we do into a duty, with sets of rules and obligations and schedules? (Who writes these rules? I often wonder. Who is the Grand Master of the world’s bloggers whose word became law? Where are the stone tablets of blogdom kept?)

The things we love doing, just for the sheer joy of doing them, seem so easily to turn into ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’. They get swallowed up in the great, busy, bustling, non-stop world of commerce and communication, just as cottage industries once got swallowed up in the Industrial Revolution.
In fact it is a kind of industrial revolution. Industry is our ruling paradigm, here in the West. The factory and its machines and the way they work: reliable, steady, monotonous, turning our widgets at so many per hour from dawn till dusk – or better still, around the clock – have become the measure of all things.

European settlers in places like Australia and New Guinea were baffled and frustrated when their local workers turned up every morning for weeks and then disappeared for days on end for no apparent reason. The aboriginal concept of ‘going walkabout’ was—and probably still remains—totally incomprehensible to the Western industrial mind. (You want to work for me? OK, you report for duty every day of the year except for the miserable couple of weeks of annual leave I’m obliged to give you. Thank goodness my machines don’t ask for time off. If they break I replace them immediately.)

So pervasive is this way of thinking that we expect ourselves to be machines too. We demand reliability, predictability, regularity. We treat our bodies as though they were motor cars, expecting them to perform for us on command, in the same way, every day, no matter what.

This is particularly hard on women, whose juices and energy wax and wane with the moon and who are often forced to try and combine their childbearing with earning a living. It is particularly hard on young children whose biology did not equip them to spend all day trapped at desks, learning about abstract things that for the most part they cannot explore and touch and interact with. It is particularly hard on elders, whose perceived value seems to follow the 'blue book’ principle, whereas elders are in fact much more like wine. Their wisdom grows and matures and becomes more valuable to their communities with every year they remain on Earth.

Well I am not a machine. And I refuse to remain a cog in anyone else’s. I’m retired, out to pasture, doing my own thing. I blog when I really want to, when I have something I really want or need to say. And if that means I am a Bad Blogger, well so be it. Some days I would rather be quiet and walk in the woods or work in the garden or read a book. Sometimes I need to leave my desk and wander far and wide. I need to go walkabout. It’s good for the soul. I can recommend it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When Will They Ever Learn?

You would think, wouldn't you, that after the huge environmental disaster that happened in the Gulf of Mexico, there would be a serious re-think about the obvious dangers of deepwater drilling? But no, the search for those last few drops of oil continues unabated. Just so that humans can continue to follow unsustainable lifestyles.

I have been an environmental activist for more than 40 years now. And although most of my energy these days goes into writing about consciousness and all things 'green' rather than getting out there and taking direct action myself, I think it is very important to support those courageous folks, like the ones aboard the Rainbow Warrior, who continue to take risks on behalf of our planet's health and wellbeing.

That's why today's post is a Greenpeace message. I hope you will take action accordingly.


Stop deepwater drilling for oil in the Arctic from Greenpeace UK on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Close Quarters

My blog tour is over and I am home. It was intended to last another week or two, but I decided it was time to stop. Somehow, it felt finished.

This time of year, in my corner of rural England, the vegetation along the lanes has reached its peak. The succession of white is nearing its end. First came the frothy heads of sheep’s parsley, then the sturdier, cow parsnips, then—the white deepening into cream—came the strange, wonderfully-scented meadowsweet. Now even that is past its fullness, dying back, going to seed.

I never see this roadside profusion without remembering Vic.

Vic lived in the village where I spent the latter half of my childhood. He could neither read nor write but he could play, accurately and flawlessly on his piano accordion, any tune you cared to suggest. He carried in his pocket a scrap of paper with his name printed on it in large, block capitals. If ever he needed to sign something he would unfold the piece of paper and carefully, laboriously, copy out the letters.

Vic did odd jobs for our family, and in breaks we would sit and chat and he would tell his tales of local lore and the ways of wildlife.

He also worked for the local council, trimming the roadside vegetation with a hand-held sickle. So he was always outside and his skin was tanned like a leather shoe. I can see him now, his broad, brown face split by a wide smile as I passed him on my bicycle. I can see him with that sickle, deftly trimming back the stems that had begun to hang over into the lane. He always seemed content in the work of his hands and the slow pace of his days.

Trimming back vegetation is a job best done at close quarters, the way he did it. But any day now, with the nesting season pretty well over, a large, noisy, smelly machine will rumble down our lane, its blades held close against the hedge, ripping indiscriminately into everything it passes and leaving ugly gashes in the bark of trees.

Our machines make short work of many tasks. But for everything they give us, they take away more. I know it’s no good trying to return to a life long past, but I’m convinced that we can find slower, more careful, safer, greener alternatives to many of the things we do that are so thoughtlessly—and rapidly—destroying beauty, diversity and ecosystems. We need to build an entirely new infrastructure, based this time on renewable energy, on local economies, on bioregional identities, on that wonderful maxim of ‘thinking globally/acting locally.’ And in doing so, combine the best of the new technology, such as the Internet, with the best of the old, re-skilling ourselves in some of the tasks that people have forgotten to do, such as darning socks and baking bread … and wielding a sickle.

This is why, in Part III of the new book, GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness, I have drawn together experts from some of the major institutions of our culture—medicine, law, economics, education and so on—to talk about the many ways in which this new thinking can be translated into practice.

The old world—Vic’s world—is gone. The new one is being created, brick by brick, person by person, moment by moment. For where consciousness leads, matter will follow. Keep the faith.

PS: If you haven't bought your copy of the new book yet, and you are in the UK, click here to get it from GreenSpirit Books for £10.75. If you are in the USA, here is the link to the Amazon page. And in Australia, it's in stock now at Angus & Robertson. If anyone is having difficulty obtaining a copy, just contact me and let me know.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spirit of Green

The other little corner of cyberspace that I paid a visit to this week was a lively, green site called 'Earth Pages'. Here, I talked about the experience of the astronauts who are the only ones fortunate enough actually to see, with their physical eyes, the planet we live on, in all its glorious roundness and wholeness. The rest of us, although we have seen photographs, will never have that opportunity. But we can still imagine it and feel an upwelling of love and caring for our lovely Earth.

My post on Earth Pages is entitled Getting Into the Spirit of Green. To read it, please come and visit me over there.

On Deck - and in community.

Today's stop on my 'virtual blog tour' is one of the online communities I belong to. This one is the Creation Spirituality Communities Network, a rapidly-growing community of people (currently just over 700) from all around the world whose spirituality is grounded in our lovely Planet Earth and the wonder and beauty of all Creation. I chose this as a way to introduce you to a lovely and interesting community of people.

Today's post, inspired, as my posts often are, by my morning walk along the lanes, is entitled 'On the Deck of the Earthship'.

If you want to leave a comment on this post, you won't be able to leave it there unless you register with the site, so you can simply leave it here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Today’s topic: ‘Sacred Messiness’

As I said yesterday, this is a busy week, with two visits in quick succession. Today, thanks to my friend Tess Giles, I am making a guest appearance on a wonderful site called, ‘Anchors and Masts.’ This is a blog that focuses on learning and growth in the context of spirituality and creativity, and my post for today is entitled ‘Sacred Messiness’. You will find it at:

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Rainy Day Visit

My virtual book tour, up until now, has been proceeding at a leisurely pace. But suddenly, this week, all that has changed. I am making two stops in the same week—one today and another tomorrow.

Perhaps it is not surprising that I feel the pace picking up. For next Wednesday is the biggest and most exciting event so far: the London launch of the new book. It is a free event. And it will be taking place at St James’s Piccadilly at 6.00 p.m., with a talk by Jonathon Porritt entitled 'Growth, Prosperity and the Human Spirit'. (Click here for details.) If there are any London readers of this blog, I do hope you will join us there.

Meanwhile, today, a big thank you to veteran blogger Rain Truaux for hosting me on her attractive site, 'Rainy Day Thoughts.' As the name suggests, hers is a thoughtful, insightful blog that covers many interesting subjects and concepts. Rain lists her interests as: “… creativity, dreams, relationships, politics, photography, aging, country living, transitions, our senses (all 6), and spirituality.” Sounds a lot like me, as a matter of fact!

So come on over to the Pacific Northwest and join us. You’ll find me, and my ‘buttercup musings’ at:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

GreenSpirit Book Tour, Stop #3: 'The Madeleine Syndrome'

Alison Shaffer’s blog, ‘Meadowsweet and Myrrh’ is “…for the whispering poet and enchanted naturalist that dwells within each of us, jostling elbows with the anarchist, the skeptic, the cynic, the scientist, the self-deprecating intellectual and the humble, earnest seeker.”

Alison writes for a Druid Journal called 'Sky Earth Sea: A Journal of Practical Spirituality' and she is currently writing a book on paganism and peace.

She is kindly hosting me for the third visit on my ‘virtual book tour.’ I hope you will hop over there and read my latest post.

It is entitled ‘The Madeleine Syndrome’

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stop #2 - Seven Generational Ruminations

Getting to the second stop on my 'virtual book tour' took longer than expected because of a technical glitch in getting my post on to that site (they have such a problem with spammers that the software program they have set up to prevent it behaves like a rottweiler on steroids). But it is up there now and I hope you will visit. The site is called '7 Generational Ruminations'.

As they say in describing their site, "In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. That isn't just a marketing slogan from an excellent household products company. It can be a guiding principle leading us to low impact living for Sustainable Humanity so we can live in the garden paradise of our dreams."

It is an information-rich site, and as I visit there I find myself surrounded by dozens of posts about electric cars and motorcycles. But that's OK. We each do our part of The Great Work in our own way. Using renewable energy sources to create new forms of transport is an absolutely vital part of it. Changing our consciousness is another.

My post is called 'From Sunsets to Sustainability' and you will find it at:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On the Road Again (sort of!)

When my book Elderwoman was first published, I spent several weeks touring around, giving talks and workshops and signing books. It was all very interesting and enjoyable. I met some great people and saw a lot of places I had never seen before. It was also rather tiring and I was glad to get home again. I am an introvert by nature, so frankly I am more comfortable sitting at home in my slippers and sweatpants than I am dressing up and socializing. (I also wondered whether all the effort and expense had really been worth it.)

But now, there is a much better way to tour around. In terms of spreading the word about a new book it is a lot more effective, as it enables an author to introduce the book to many more people than the old-fashioned book tour. It incurs no cost at all. And best of all, you don’t even have to get out of your old, comfy clothes to do it.

It’s called a blog tour.

So as a way of taking the new book GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness out ‘on the road’, I am now embarking on a blog tour. The tour will take me to a number of interesting places over the next few weeks and I would be delighted if you could come along with me, read my blog posts and meet my hosts. In the process, you will, I am sure, discover blogs that are new to you, and if you like them, please bookmark them and come back to them often. I made the first stop today. So please come and meet my first host, Maddy Harland.
Maddy is the editor of Permaculture Magazine: Solutions for Sustainable Living and a co-founder of Permanent Publications, a publishing company specializing in developing our understanding of permaculture.
She is also one of the contributors to the new book. Her chapter, which is one of my favourites as it is so comprehensive and practical and also very thought-provoking is entitled: ‘Permaculture: Bringing Wisdom Down to Earth.’
Here is my post on Maddy’s blog. It's called 'The Web of Connections.' And when you have read it, be sure and check out the rest of her blog and bookmark it. It is great.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Familiarity breeds ...

... no, not contempt. Just a dulling of the senses: a loss of awe and amazement: a gradual failure of the 'wow' response.

I was thinking about this as I got ready to set off on my walk this morning. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. The birds were singing. There are wildflowers everywhere you look at the moment and the trees are waking into their glorious flush of spring green. And yet I knew it was quite likely that I would walk the entire three miles wrapped up in my thoughts, preoccupied with my inner landscapes, oblivious to all the beauty around me.

People come to the Westcountry for the scenery because it is one of the most beautiful areas of England. Over the long weekend just past, our little corner of Devon was full of visitors, especially hikers. I could see their faces as they walked past our kitchen window. They had that same look of awareness and keen enjoyment as I had myself on our hikes in Spain a few weeks ago. But I am so used to living in these surroundings that quite often I find myself walking in them without really seeing them. After nearly eleven years, I take this beauty for granted. It is only when I go away and come back that I realize how blessed I am to live here.

So I made a point, this morning, of turning my hour of walking into an hour of meditative contemplation, opening my senses as fully as I could to the sights and sounds and smells of this familiar piece of countryside, letting it come into me and fill me with its beauty.

And I took the camera with me so that I could take you with me also as I set off down the lane...

... over the bridge ...

... into the woods...

...and up the path to where the bluebells are blooming...

... in all their quiet glory.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Slowly to Spain and Back

I took time out from the bustle and busyness of promoting the new GreenSpirit book and - together with my beloved partner and soulmate Sky of course - spent three quiet weeks in Spain. Click here for a description and details of where we went and where we stayed and what we saw.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Man Who Was Not Green

I will not be wearing green today. I will NOT celebrate St Patrick’s Day, today or any other year. No way!!

Do you know why?

Because if the legend is true, then Patrick was a stupid, ignorant man who for some misguided and utterly wicked reason decided to wipe out all the snakes in his native Ireland. What a senseless, idiotic thing to do. And he got sainted for that?

I love snakes. I have had some wonderful encounters with snakes in my life and I treasure every one of them. I respect snakes. I admire them. I want my world always to have snakes in all their glory, their sinuous, undulating beauty, their quiet, mind-your-own business way of getting on with their lives and avoiding messing with mine.

I have only ever had one intimate encounter with a rattlesnake. The snake saw me and rattled its rattle in warning. I obeyed. And I watched as it moved away through the grass, marvelling that for the first time in my life a rattlesnake had spoken personally to me.

In my book, Elderwoman, I told the story of the brown snake (one of Australia’s deadliest creatures) who once lived underneath the floor of our cabin in the Aussie bush, and how that snake was my Zen master, reminding me every day to be mindful, to step with awareness, to stay in the moment.

Yes, snakes are amazing. I love them. Ireland is very much the poorer for not having any. That Patrick was a very, very stupid man. And for messing with the ecosystem he was a sinner, not a saint. I am glad he is long gone.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Balancing Act

I’ve become a bit unbalanced of late.
No, I don’t mean that I have been toppling over or that my mental health is any more precarious than it ever was, but that the ratio of time spent sitting at the computer to time spent moving around and doing other things has been steadily shrinking over these past few months. The result: some strong warning signals from my body, including eyestrain and a sore shoulder, forcing me away from my desk. Which is one of the reasons why my blog posts have been sparse (and they were never all that frequent to begin with, as you may have noticed).
I find myself feeling thinking back nostalgically, from time to time, to the early 1990s in Australia when Sky and I were building our own adobe house, making fifty bricks every morning, then turning yesterday’s bricks and stacking the week-old ones.

We planted trees all afternoon and spent almost every waking moment outside except when it was pouring with rain—which in that drought-prone area it very rarely did.
We ate outdoors, showered outdoors, came in only to sleep. Maybe we were unbalanced in the other direction, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. We felt fit and healthy and full of energy. And our little computer that drew its power from a solar panel could only run for an hour or two a day.Human bodies were not designed for a sedentary life. Our species was certainly not designed for a life spent indoors, in airless, climate-controlled houses with fitted carpets and double glazing, eating instant dinners defrosted in microwave ovens. And our children and grandchildren were certainly not meant to spend huge chunks of their days and evenings in front of screens, either passively soaking up commercial propaganda and mindless triviality or vanquishing armies of virtual enemies with their thumbs.

It seems as though we have removed ourselves further and further from any real contact with the Earth. Small wonder, then, that we have wreaked so much mindless havoc. I am not the only one who’s out of balance. Two thirds of us are. And many, worse than me. At least I walk miles every day in the fresh country air, chop wood, grow fruit and vegetables and cook from scratch.

Even so, I have some way to go to get back in balance the way I would really like to be. Which is difficult, since I am a writer and an editor and in this remote, rural area of England where we live it is the Internet that keeps me connected to the wider world. Plus we live in a cold climate and it rains a lot.

Anyone else out there wrestling with a similar dilemma?