“I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.”
FROM 'LEAD' BY MARY OLIVER
Who would have thought? The beginning of my Bertha Fellowship (i.e. November 2019) saw, I thought, very light footsteps towards a road ahead. My intention was to explore the subversiveness of silence, as a radical contribution to activism. Living in the River Thames, and preparing for an inquiry with live humans in live space. And then …the pandemic. History will tell tales of half the planet in enforced retreat through various lockdowns for a very, very long time.
Strangely, with an approach of ‘following the invitation’, perhaps even more arose from 2020 than might have otherwise. I’ll never know for sure, but I do suspect this strongly.
From March to October 2020, I co-created A Journey Home (LINK TO TAB?) with Ruby Reed and Christabel Reed of Advaya, www.advaya.co : 52 extraordinary contributing teachers, 130 participants from 34 countries and six continents. 42 subsidised places. All online, all compelled by unfolding dramas in nine themes over nine months.
The themes are: Relating, Food & Farming, New Economies, Addictions & the Shadow, Death, Embodiment, Trauma & Healing, Consciousness & Meditation, Myth, Story & Imagination, and Reimagining Activisms.
I love what Jo Fong, one of our participants said: “it’s a university each day”.
From January to December 2020, as a Bertha Fellow, I joined Be the Earth, a small philanthropic foundation in their mission towards a world that nurtures all beings, with a special focus on food. With two other midwives, Renata Strengerowski and Anne Rammi, we co-created the Aura Fellowship. A two-year journey with 10 women activists from four different countries. Our gift is to accompany these women in further developing their spiritual pathways. In a world geared towards speed, so-called progress, deadlines, endless work, strategy, monitoring and evaluation, we are deeply curious as to what happens when there is a shift towards intuition, knowing differently, embodying nature, nurturing and love: the feminine. Present in all, explored by too few.
Contributing as Bertha Fellow in smaller ways to:
Bayo Akomolafe’s We Will Dance With Mountains
Sustainability Institute’s Soil, Soul and Society series that we started a decade ago
Co-teaching Leading Transitions & Environmental Ethics, Stellenbosch University, online (first time doing that in 18 years!)
Joining the Schumacher Sprouts, Belgium for conversations
Co-creating retreats in nature for NHS staff with Jessie Teggin, the Quadrangle www.thequadrangle.co
Storytelling on Surviving the Future, Sterling College, with Shaun Chamberlin
Storytelling on Reimagining Education with the Ecoversities Conference
I’m intrigued with the yearning for meaning, intense solitude, and - literally - living in the river. And, my intention remains: co-creating deep capability for justice, through exploring and falling in love with silence, non-action, flow and our own nature in nature.
2019 is unfolding a clear focus on re-enchanting activism, in a multiplicity of different ways. Under a working title of ‘Becoming Invisible’, I’m intrigued with shapeshifting and in particular what we may usefully learn from other ways that some humans, plants and animals are in the world.
I’ve stopped being able to distinguish between when I am being taught and when I am teaching.
Incredibly, I have received a Bertha Fellowship for an independent inquiry into exploring the art and power in retreat.
A long pilgrimage ahead, and some of the emerging work is named below.
2019 ENGAGEMENTS, ENTANGLEMENTS AND TEACHING
9-14 January: Elegant Simplicity retreat with Satish Kumar and Sabine Denis, Froidefontaine, Belgium
17 January: Earth Talk, Re-enchanting Activism, Brussels
23-27 January: Sacred Activism with Faze Ali and Sabine Denis, Froidefontaine, Belgium
February and March: Earth Listens, writing and re-wilding with Colin Campbell and Rachel Fleming, between Cape Town, Lynedoch and Embercombe, Devon, UK
1-6 April: Leading Transitions and Environmental Ethics with Johan Hattingh, Sustainability Institute, Lynedoch EcoVillage, Stellenbosch, South Africa
27 May - 14 June: Sacred Activism with Bayo Akomolafe and Andy Letcher, Schumacher College, Devon, UK
1 - 4 July: attending 42 acres retreat, Somerset, Dorset, UK with Gaia Foundation
15 - 19 July: attending 42 acres retreat, Somerset, Dorset, UK with Bertha housing activists and investigative journalists
July: Earth Listens with Luke Metelerkamp and Rosie Downey
August: Earth Listens with Colin Campbell
August, September: (almost) daily Iyengar, Yin or Restorative Yoga focus on my own continued deepening practice
13 - 15 September: Navigating Cultural Transitions, The Quadrangle, Kent, UK
30 September - 2 October: Medicine Festival, Wasing Park, UK
26 - 28 October: individual retreat, Akkersdal, Piketberg with Rosie Downey and Luke Metelerkamp, baby robins and tree planting
1 November: Sustainability Institute 20th birthday, planting 20 trees, Lynedoch Woodlands
8 - 10 November: individual research retreat, Potsdam, Germany, with Rebecca Freeth
11 - 15 November: participant in BUFA collaboration led by INSTITUT FÜR PARTIZIPATIVES GESTALTEN (IPG), with BUFA
22 - 24 November: participant in Tending the Rose Garden, Embercombe, exploring the integration between psychedelics and everyday life led by two psychologists, Ros Watts and Michelle Baker-Jones, both also involved in the Imperial College study on psylocybin and depression. (No plant medicine at this retreat).
RECENT WORK IN 2018
October: Exploring the Nearly Invisible with Bayo Akomolafe and Colin Campbell, hosted by the Dreamcoat Collective at the Bertha Retreat, Boschendal, Franschhoek
August: Trekking in Peru with my favourite humans of all time (my sons)
May to July: Transitions, bodywork and writing under the working title of Becoming Invisible
January to May: MA in Ecology and Spirituality resident teacher at Schumacher College, Devon, UK
“The Anthropocene is no time to set things straight”
IMMERSIVE LEARNING 2018
In the first months of 2018 I am exploring as researcher-collaborator-teacher the kinds of learning that ensoul, nourish and uproot radically all we may think we know.
I’m resident teacher on the MA in Ecology and Spirituality at Schumacher College, Devon, UK in a long, dark, wintery retreat in the Elmhirst Centre, part of the 13th century Dartington Hall, built of beautiful Devon granite and sitting in the 1000ha magical gardens.
It’s a good time for explorations into the unknown, and there is another MA in Myth and Ecology going on upstairs. Lunches are a hubbub of mythologies, soul, tectonic crashes between religions and spiritualities, and traverse between the depths of decomposition in the alchemical path and uproarious laughter over great food.
ECOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY
5 January to 2 February
This is the core module, and Andy Letcher (seriously this guy has a PhD in Ecology from Oxford, and another PhD in contemporary paganism. Really.)
‘At this moment of profound ecological crisis, many are calling for a fundamental rethink of our attitudes towards the environment. The ecological crisis is, they say, a spiritual crisis.
Our MA programme in Ecology and Spirituality takes this call seriously while providing a critical, intellectual framework for students to think through its implications. What would an ecological spirituality look like? Is there a universal ecological ethic by which we can all abide? What do we mean by spirituality and are our notions as universal and ahistorical as is typically claimed? What are the philosophical and intellectual roots of our ecological crisis? Can Western epistemology offer a solution or does intellectual abstraction always leave us removed from the world? What happens if we take indigenous world views seriously and can we learn to be animists?
This wide-ranging programme draws on theory and thought from a number of disciplines including Ecology, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Philosophy, and the History of Ideas.
Its ultimate aim is to provide students with a transformational programme of study during which they can question old certainties, seek intellectual justification for beliefs and , and discover new ways to align lifestyle with values.’practises
5 February to 2 March
Exploring what it means to be human. Who are we in nature? How do we belong? This intensive journey looks at the transitions we make in life, the ways we connect with other than human worlds, evolution of consciousness and how we approach socioecological ethics.
In a world of strident demands, vociferous threats and a seemingly never-ending array of violent exploitations of humans and nature alike, it is unsurprising that our students are on a different search. Tech-savvy, riveted by the contradictions and tensions between science, spirit and empire, our explorers are not fooled by quick fixes. Free from the mindless numbing of disconnected lives, they are deep in dialogues of radically pragmatic philosophy, knowing that engaging at these levels is where the opportunity lies to best influence the vast transitions ahead.
They want to lead the way to lives of engaged lightness and meaning, wise choices and sound judgement, though they know well the frustrations of sitting in long silence without easy answers. We need navigators like these in our seemingly inexplicable world.
The residential titles are:
Ecology and Spirituality
Western Esotericism (cosmologies, magic)
Evolution and Spirituality
And the electives (distance learning):
Heavenly Discourse; Environmental Philosophy; Religion and the Environment; Cosmology, Magic and Divination; Sacred Geography.
These titles are wonderful, and they hide a little the gritty engagement they bring. When I did Fritjof Capra’s first Systems Theory course in the early 90’s eyebrows were raised at concepts like ‘systems theory, complexity, Gaia, deep ecology’. Now, these are part of everyday language. The same too likely with the tectonic shifts within ecology and spirituality.
Searching for reconnection from dislocated lives has many roots.
“At this point in human history, many academics, activists, leaders and thinkers are calling for an urgent reconsideration of the cultural narratives and spiritual values that support our very existence on the planet. In an attempt to divert the current trajectory of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ towards a more sustainable and equitable future, this requires objective and critical thinking about our relationship and connection to the natural world, to the people and communities around us and to the very beliefs and values that drive our individual and collective actions.
This programme in Ecology and Spirituality brings together the theological legacy of academic work at University of Wales Trinity Saint David with the ecological and transformative learning developed to postgraduate level by Schumacher College over 25 years. It explores the role of spirituality, religion, philosophy, science and narrative as the underlying causes, but also the potential solutions, to the systemic ecological crises in which we find ourselves. From different perspectives this programme will track the roots, thought-lines and stories that have caused our modern-day disconnection from the natural world and from each other – and look at ways in which we might make re-connection, in theory and in practice, for ourselves and for others.”
“The times are very urgent. We must slow down.”