Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Solstice Message

Like most other children, I loved Christmas. I loved the mystery and magic of it, the scent of pine needles, the gifts, the food, the carols and of course the story. And like most other parents, I wanted my children to have the same experience. But in between my own childhood Christmases and my children’s childhood Christmases there was a very big gap: a gap of fifteen years and half a planet.

Oh I did all the same things that my mother had done and my grandmother had done: dressing the tree, hanging the decorations, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the turkey…and I made sure that the magic of Christmas was there for my children, just as it had been for me. It was—or so they tell me. However, it was not the same magic. Because by the time I had children I had relocated from one side of the globe to the other. So my children’s experience of Christmastime was not just the tree and the gifts and the rich food, it was also sunshine, blue skies and long, lazy days on the beach or at the local swimming pool.

It took me a long time to work out exactly why, as the years went by, I found myself disliking Christmas and wishing it did not have to happen. It was only when a friend of mine—an expert on symbolism—pointed out to me that almost all the traditional rituals we had taken with us from Europe to the Antipodes derived from ancient ways of celebrating the winter solstice— the promise of light returning to a dark, winter Earth—that my reaction suddenly made sense. Out there, in the blazing sunshine on the longest day of the year, why would I want to be lighting candles, stringing tinsel, hanging up stars, bringing in an evergreen tree…all those symbolic ways of honouring a midwinter moment?

Every year, I would hear various Australian friends talking about the irony of sending each other cards covered in snow and holly and eating rich, winter food when even the sparrows and mynah birds were wilting in the midsummer heat. “Let’s do it differently next year” they used to say, and everyone would nod and agree. Yet the old ways persisted. It seemed to me that there remained a deep disconnect between the migrants from Europe and the land in which they now moved. I felt it myself. The traditions and rituals we had grown up with didn’t work there but we all seemed incapable of devising new ones appropriate to the place and the season. To do so would require the kind of deep rootedness in the land from which rituals emerge organically, but the roots of many Europeans in Australia are still in the pots they arrived in. It may take centuries for the transplants to be complete.

By the time I came back to live in the Northern Hemisphere—and eventually, in retirement, to my native land—the over-advertised, stressful, jangly consumerfest that Christmas had become had no meaning or interest for me whatsoever. It now felt like something to avoid. At first, I felt like some kind of Scrooge, half guilty for not sharing what for others was still a joy. But as time went on that feeling dropped away, leaving me free to enjoy my own reality and seek my own sources of delight.

Nowadays, my partner and I quietly celebrate the winter solstice in our own small but meaningful ways—a meditative walk in the wintry woods, a glass of wine, a special, simple vegetarian meal at which we give thanks for the miracle of life within and around us, our deep and joyful belongingness to Earth and our faith that the days will once again lengthen and the sun will eventually return, as it does every year, to bathe and warm us with its rays.

What a joy it is to be free to choose. To be free of what the Russian writer Vadim Zeland—author of the much-acclaimed Reality Transurfing series of books—calls a ‘pendulum,’ a force field of communal energy that draws people into its embrace and traps them there. Over the years, dozens of people have told me they dislike Christmas…even dread it. Yet for one reason or another, they remain caught in the energy pendulum that Christmas has become.

This is one of the glorious freedoms we have discovered in our old age: the freedom, finally, to walk away from energy pendulums and do things in ways that are meaningful to us, regardless of what the rest of the world does. We don’t judge anyone else for their choices. For those who love to buy presents, send cards, hang baubles on a tree, pull crackers and eat some kind of bird, Christmas remains the magical experience it always was. And that’s great. For those who derive a special meaning and joy from the tale of a baby born in a stable, it is a special and holy time. Likewise for those who honour the traditions of their ancestors through Chanukah or Kwanzaa. For us, what is special and wonderful is that we no longer feel obliged to join in any of it. And we are fortunate in that, as far as we know, nobody judges us for that choice.

So my wish for you, as 2011 draws to a close and a new year begins, is that you will be happy in your choices and take delight in your freedom to choose.

(PS: Here's a great article on a similar topic, with lots of helpful and practical advice)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Murmurations

I remember blogging about this last year - or maybe it was the year before. But it happens every year and every year it gives me a thrill to see the winter starlings arrive again in their thousands and dance in the sky. I love to feel the rustling currents of them around me as they swoop low over the hedgerows or take off from the stubble fields with a roar of wings.
Of course, it signals a few months of heavy traffic around the bird feeders, as these brash migrants from northern Europe muscle their way in amongst the more timorous locals. But when they put on aerial ballets like this one so beautifully captured on video by Sophie Windsor Clive (to whom many thanks),I cannot begrudge them even one seed.
Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Future Primitive - an interview

Whenever someone asks me a question about how I see the world or what it is that I care about, my mind blossoms with a million answers. Shaping my response to fit the requirement of the moment is always a difficult task for me.

It is so much easier when I can give the answer in writing, for that gives me time to think, to choose, to employ the exact sequence of words and sentences that will best express my truth. But every now and then I am required to speak ‘off the cuff.’ And this was one such time. In this 47-minute interview with Joanna Harcourt-Smith, which took place a few days ago, I had an opportunity to talk about some of the subjects closest to my heart, especially conscious aging, simple living, green spirituality and the role of the elderwoman.

It was a great privilege to take part in Joanna’s project and I would encourage you to check out the Future Primitive website and download some of the other podcasts she has produced.

Meanwhile, here is mine, complete with all its ‘ums’ and hesitations and hastily-chosen words that the perfectionist writer in me would love to improve upon.

(The bio was taken from my website and is not entirely up to date, as I am no longer secretary of the WFA – my apologies to Tess for that oversight.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Eradicating Ecocide

Wonderful news!
Polly Higgins's landmark book Eradicating Ecocide has won the People's Book Prize, 2011. Congratulations, Polly!
And now, the whole world needs to read the book...

...and the whole world needs to come to its senses and recognize ecocide - the destruction of Earth's precious ecosystems - as the utterly heinous crime it truly is.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Shoulder High to a Thistle

This morning’s walk takes me through my favourite meadow. It is my favourite because it is one of the few fields around here that really is a meadow in the traditional sense, i.e. several unploughed, undisturbed acres of mixed grasses and wildflowers rather than one of those the ryegrass monocultures so beloved of present day agribusiness.

Right now, as we move into July, the meadow is a wild natural profusion, an effusive, flowering, seeding, jumble of colour, shape, size and texture. Except for the well-trodden footpath that runs through its centre, most of the grasses and flowers that live here are waist-high now.

I stand next to a tall, many-branched thistle plant that is at least a foot taller than I am. Looking around, I can see a dozen more such lofty specimens, each bristling with flowers, some already beginning to go to seed. Could that be why they aspire to such a height, to take advantage of the breeze when the time comes to waft their progeny aloft on thistledown wings? It can’t be just to catch the light that they grow so tall, surely, since the entire meadow is in full sun. But maybe, I think to myself, there is no basis for their decision to keep reaching for the sky except the sheer exuberance of the creative, universal life force that powers them. And I feel the tingling flow of that same energy in my own body as I stand there in the meadow in the morning sunshine, shoulder high to a thistle.

Which, when you think about it, is the sort of relationship in which we ought to see ourselves at all times, we puny humans, compared to the vast plant kingdom on which our very existence depends. In fact, if height were a measure of ultimate importance in the scheme of things, perhaps ankle high would be more accurate. Even that might be to exaggerate our own significance.

If we have any importance, any special role to play in all of this, I think it is, as Brian Swimme suggests in his chapter of GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness, our ability to be amazed. Perhaps my role, right in this moment is merely to stand next to this thistle plant that towers over me and reflect on the wonder, joy and beauty of that and of this beautiful sunny morning in the meadow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Downshifting? Easy Does It!

I am delighted to announce that my new book on downshifting,
Downshifting Made Easy: How to plan for your planet-friendly future is now available for purchase.
It is one of the first six books in the new ‘Made Easy’ series that my publisher, O Books, is launching at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday June 1st at Watkins Bookstore near Leicester Square in London.
Click here to find out more about the launch. It’s a free event, of course, so if any of my blog readers happen to be around I would love to meet you there.
The aim of the O Books ‘Made Easy’ series is to condense into small, inexpensive and easy-to-read books as much useful information as possible on a wide range of interesting topics.
The aim of Downshifting Made Easy, like that of my book The Lilypad List and so much of my other writing, is to inspire people to live more lightly and joyfully on this beautiful Earth.
In particular, I want to convince my readers of three key things that I have learned from my own experience and from that of many ‘downshifters’ I have met. These are:

- You don’t have to move house in order to downshift to a greener lifestyle

- Downshifting is an inward, spiritual process as well as an outward, practical one

- Once you start downshifting, your life gets steadily more satisfying and more joyful

Please break some (virtual) bubbly against the bows of this little book as it sails down the publishing slipway. And please share this post widely.
Thank you.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Definitely Voting 'YES' tomorrow

I lived in Australia for 35 years. At election time, I usually voted for a minority party that reflected my true beliefs In other words, whatever one was the greenest. At the same time, I knew that one of the other of the two main parties would almost certainly win. And I definitely had a preference for one of those (the Australian Labor Party) over the other.

Under the Australian system of preferential voting, I could express my loyalty to the party of my choice by voting for them. And at the same time I could indication my preference for the ALP. So that if it was a tight election, my vote would still count. In other words, my vote truly did express what I wanted.In full.

Here in England, under the FPTP system, if I vote for my party of first choice (the Green Party), which has a snowball's chance in hell of winning in my constituency, then in terms of the battle of Labour vs Conservative, mine is a wasted vote. I have no way, here, of expressing my full wishes. I am hobbled.

The UK Tories are telling people that Australians don't like their system. I believe that is a total lie. In all my 35 years there I never once heard anyone express a wish to switch to a FPTP ballot. A lot of people - including me - did say that proportional representation, like many European countries have, would be an even better way to choose a government. And maybe we'll even manage that, eventually. Meanwhile...

Brits are a conservative bunch and don't take kindly to change. I can hardly dare to hope that they will flock to the polls tomorrow to vote 'YES' and change this antiquated and unfair system to a fairer, more flexible and more democratic one. But oh, it would be so wonderful if they did!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Slow Boat to Sicily

I just arrived back from a wonderful five and a half weeks of 'slow travel' to - and around - Sicily and would love to share some of the details with you. So if you would like to read about where we went and what we saw, you will find my trip report and pictures at: http://www.elderwoman.org/sicily2011.html

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thomas Berry Meditations Book Now Available in USA

Last year, in my role as Publications Co-ordinator for GreenSpirit, I helped to birth June Raymond's wonderful little book entitled Meditations with Thomas Berry. This is a collection, lovingly chosen by June, of some of the most profound and inspiring things that Thomas Berry said and wrote over the course of his long life. And thanks to her, I am sure they will continue to inspire others for many, many decades to come. They will inspire not only people who, like me, were fortunate enough to meet this great teacher during his lifetime, but also those who are now discovering, after his death, what a truly wise man he was. Here is a small sample:

"There is an awe and reverence
due to the stars in the heavens,
the sun, and all heavenly bodies;
to the seas and the continents;
to all living forms of trees and flowers;
to the myriad expressions of life in the sea;
to the animals of the forests
and the birds of the air.
To wantonly destroy a living species
is to silence forever a divine voice."

(Dream of the Earth, p.46)

"Gravitation...binds everything
together so closely that nothing
can ever be separated from
everything else.
Alienation is an impossibility.
We can feel alienated,
but we can never be alienated."

(Befriending the Earth, p.14)

"Without the soaring birds,
the great forests, the sounds and
colouration of the insects,
the free-flowing streams,
the flowering fields,
the sight of the clouds by
day and the stars at night,
we become impoverished in
all that makes us human."

(The Great Work, p.200)

"Our human responsibility as one voice among
so many throughout the universe is to
develop our capacities to listen as
incessantly as the hovering hydrogen atoms,
as profoundly as our primal ancestors
and their faithful descendants in
today’s indigenous peoples.
The adventure of the universe depends on
our capacity to listen."

(The Universe Story, p.44)

Some of the quotes June chose were taken from The Universe Story, which Thomas co-authored with Brian Swimme, so some of those words are actually Brian's. And when he first saw the ones June had chosen, Brian remarked that she had chosen many of his favourites.

This little book, with an introduction by June and her guiding notes for meditation, has been on sale in the UK since last August but I am delighted to announce that as from this week it is also now available in North America and elsewhere, through Amazon.com. We eventually plan to have an ebook version available as well, and I shall be announcing it here when we do.