Sunday, 27 September 2015

Dreams, Duties and ‘Have-a-go’ Himbo’s

I’m an avid reader and have a knack for remembering with crystal clarity the oddest stories. Maybe it’s how we’re all wired if I remember correctly the account from the New Scientist about blood containing a cassette-tape like substance which records our most instrumental experiences. The article was addressing the connection between brain, mind and memory. I remember 2 other cool stories.

A tribe deep within the Columbian rainforest, known as the Elder Brothers, have a tradition that, to a Western mind, is incomprehensible. From a shamanic lineage, a child in every generation is isolated from their community, housed in a cave and given access to just enough of the elements to survive – light, food, water. Forced to only deal with his internal world for the majority of the time, the practice continues until the child enters his teens.  When the cave door is finally opened, the majesty of the world, his world within the lushest rainforest, is revealed. The profound impressions of both experiences must surely rival each other, if nothing but in their polarities. The purpose is to create a leader who is so astonished and moved by the beauty of both worlds that his life is a dedication to its guardianship. He truly embodies the knowledge of the preciousness of life, both internal and external.

The other life story I remember is that of the Arctic moth who stays dormant for most of his life except to awaken for 13 summers, and in each summer, he eats as much as he can before he falls asleep again. He is solidly frozen in the arms of Morpheus and then, in the 14th summer, he finds a mate, enjoys himself then dies.

They are both bizarre stories but nothing about either of these stories is inherently right or wrong, cruel or unfair; they provide novel metaphors for our own story. I have always been drawn to stories of indigenous tribes and undoubtedly, in some way, they have made me reflect on the definition of modern working ethos. After a deep division from what I considered to be my driving force and joie de vivre as a late teen, I reluctantly hopped to sensible academic study of languages. Ever since then, I’ve tried my hand at working mostly out of my comfort zone; imagery, fashion photography and sewing had become such an unconscious driving force that I was to begin consciously stepping further and further away from it in my early twenties, into deepest unknown.

Lyrics from David Bowie Major Tom
Rainforest picture from

I like to think that the narrowness of my vision of the world, seen so much through magazines, colour, fabric and the music I would absorb myself in during hours of creating, lent the tiniest glimpse of the effect of the Columbian cave upbringing insomuch as the worlds I was to discover outside boasted with all the lustre, and terror, of virgin rainforest.  The adventure from security or familiarity has been difficult but solo expeditions outdoors would absolutely provide comfort by reminding me of that endless inherent wonder and curiosity in me, sometimes to the extent where I was/am incapacitated to make decisions about the next step forward. Everything seems wonderful, equally. In service to something bigger than ourselves, we stay grateful.

I'm about to drive in the ocean
I'ma try to swim from something
bigger than me
                                                                      - lyric extract from Frank Ocean Swim Good

And yet, of course, it’s not perfect. Work, dedication, stamina for the day ahead…drain even the most enthusiastic person. Fundamentally, though, the navigating force of being on a mission to discover my values has stayed the same and now as I make more onward plans from the yoga retreat in a few months, my dreams still don’t seem as important as duty.

Story and myth are themes that continue to fascinate me because of the mammoth effect they impart on the many choices we make. And, in developed countries as reasonably well-off people, we float on the ethereal smoke of stories - the library of the stories that came before and who we consider ourselves to be now. We have the choice of many lenses through which to see; most of us are not subsistence farmers. Our environment, our consciousness is drenched in the magic of Everything. And now, many of us are motivated to live cleaner, greener, healthier lives. Naturally, we opt for food, water, air that is chemical-free. These are all powerful choices that connect us to the earth.

Author's photo shot at Peaceful Valley, nr Monchique
What many feel they aren’t cut out for, though, is the hard work that it takes to keep those systems flowing. When I first painstakingly collected raspberries or took wheelbarrows of pumpkins up a hill, or picked enough spinach leaves for 40 box scheme customers or almost froze my hands to the bone hammering in fence posts in Lancashire in Autumn, I was definitely ready to pick up i-D magazine and turn my back on the inherent brutality of the natural world. Recently, I was caring for a sick chicken in our coop – the first time ever. It was weird and gross and uncomfortable … but necessary. I do hope that yin and yang somehow mean that glamour is on its way.

To me, gardening, animal care, water upcycling and practices considered sustainable do not come naturally or, at least, they are finally now beginning to because I have been conscious (sometimes single-mindedly and brutishly) to install practices that seem more obviously healthy for us and the planet. I didn’t need to pack up, move to the forest, shed my clothes, grow a beard and go mental…but I did need to seriously take stock of my priorities.
Gucci menswear Spring 2016
 Of course, I still adore music, fashion, films…and they are a big part of my leisure life and keep my story fun, light-hearted and fresh. But now I no longer consider peripheral the types and manner of thinking, of resources, of attitudes, of priorities, of networks that has brought such meaning and joy to my life. They can be more important than the job itself. The kind of ‘biosphere’ of all those things are what makes the occasional drudgery of more manual jobs recede.

While I don’t tolerate the doomed talk I often hear from green-necks (educated and reasonably well-to-do folks that go and get the Good Life in the country), I do fully support the intention to not only wish the planet better, or Like an environment initiative, or pledge a donation to Greenpeace or sign an Avaaz petition….but, for integrity’s sake, to just get on and get my hands dirty, dutifully and with humility. Which in turn feeds the dream of a beautiful future. If I can make the evolution from a cleanse-tone-moisturise Vogue-reading fur-wearing space cadet Himbo to a rather ordinary (clean) happy human being, then so can you. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Spanish Eyes

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the majesty of the sea

- Marcus Aurelius

This afternoon, as the last few hours of sun waved its pastel goodbyes with spongy clouds, I was busy planting a bamboo fence, a task briefly interrupted to solemnly bury a chick with Leela then joyously dance around the grave, all to a soundtrack of Elvis Presley's Spanish Eyes. It's one of those moments which brings to mind the infinite line in Tracy Chapman's song, Fast Car: ..."and finally see what it's like to be living"; for that surreal moment, Leela and I were living in those rare moments in which I feel a peculiar comforting familiarity, that somehow I'm appearing in a play that was already written.

Leela is 5 years old. She inflated with joy when my voice rose to introduce the idea of her building a trap door for her den, neither of which she had ever heard of. If you are 5, discovering things once is enough to validate their worth. Her ease reminded me of the ease with which, when I began volunteering, I suggested that I made a pond where the old concrete depression was. I had been inspired to re-invent the gloomy grey space and my ideas were encouraged. Since that moment my work hasn't involved merely moving rocks, or planting bamboo, or adding water - I'm becoming friends with the space, dreaming about its future beauty, I'm playing... and then the rest is already history.

Despite my artistic, philosophical nature, there is a darker reductionist belly glistening beneath the fluffier thoughts - those which count, measure and verify, dismiss ideas which stem from a fun light-hearted sensibility. Creative thought wasn't particularly understood or encouraged from my traditional and conservative family, so the dismiss reflex...even the shame still strong in me despite my concerted efforts to stop censoring what I'm sure once was a very natural urge. I know living from that more intuitive way brings me immense joy, straight to the umbilical cord of energy that each day births.

On the contrary, the 'serious' concerns I can entertain often leave me a bit cold and I consider that someone or something is distracting me from my Very Important mission, I allow myself to become very grumpy, irritable and comfort myself with ideas like I am surrounded by idiots. I don't like that person and I shouldn't imagine many others do, either.

When Leela and I are working, or playing, or resting, all we're really doing is hanging out. There is no sense of boundary when she joins in with something, no glances at the clock to see when she will finish. Her will is her driving force. In siesta, she asked me for a piece of paper because she wanted to draw. After 5 minutes, she left the table and asked could she join me at the pond. I said, exacerbated a little by what I thought was her diminished attention span, "I thought you wanted to draw" to which she simply replied, "I did - I'm finished now". What a great reminder that we can pick up a pencil any time, draw for a few minutes and express whatever's on our mind - I suffocate and burden myself with the sludge of over-thinking, pigeon-holing an idea into something like a poem, or a serious piece of art, a perfect piece, a blog post. Leela's way of thinking shows me that nothing is important, and everything is - at the same time. That freedom is ours, every moment.

Freedom is a theme I am constantly working on as I try to find a sustainable way of living. I know that work or, rather, the urge to get involved in something we love, is as natural as breathing. But, it needs space, it needs to lack the constriction and superimposed scaffolding of the 'working day' (stifling a yawn). The move must come from within, like the best education - only then can we draw out and engage with, equally meet with what we truly find important. Going through the motions is no way to pass the time of day, the month and, before we know it, our lives. That's why connection to community has become so important to me - it is in our networks that we find support, encouragement, challenge and opportunity to grow, reverse, re-consider, step forwards, evolve.

A blogpost on Toward Community shared the point of view that being in community is a great way to consistently mirror the real us through the behaviour we exhibit and how we choose to react to situations. Alone, we can remain unchallenged and imagine, in our isolated ease, what wonderful, kind and easy-going people we are. However, being around many people for much of the time, barriers that we put up can be immediately highlighted and challenged. I have realised many times that, as cliched as it is to write, the obstacles I can regularly invent are purely imaginary and spring from that old devil, fear...silly fears like, "I might feel vulnerable", or "I'm wasting time". None of it is true. And, because I have only intellectually agreed with living in a loving way, community living constantly forces me to put those beliefs into practice.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

This day begins like no other
And will be like none before or after
Can we see all its majesty?
Can we truly see it?
And, if we can, can we meet it with our own magic?

Each time the sun describes the sky with its brilliant arc
Let it remind us that our luminosity and brilliance are no lesser
And that amongst the grubbery and drudgery of quotidien tasks -
And perhaps, more so, within them -
we are nothing less than colossal beams of some distant collapsing galaxy
Humbly channeled through this mortal dream of life
in our eyes, our mind, our habits, our hearts.

Only sentimental nostalgic regret, foolishness and cowardice
could force us to overlook these facts;
Hopefulness, joyousness, awe, wonder and enchantment consistently
outweigh any doubt, grief or uncertainty.

We are one light within the lecture halls, the stadiums and 
the universal symphony of lights
And we can see its presence in the shell gleam of the smallest beetle.
So, sing your your beat...step to the infinite melody
of the inexhaustible turning record of the world
Your groove and its silent lovebirds patiently wait for you
unblemished since the day you were born.

Inspired by the unmatchable wondrousness I feel around Rishi and Chandra