‘Times are urgent. Let’s slow down’.
Bayo says this is an African proverb.
It’s incredible. I met Satish Kumar when I was seven months pregnant for my second-born. That’s about 26 years ago, when I went to Schumacher College for the very first time, attending Fritjof Capra’s first Systems Theory course held over five meandering weeks at a mysterious place in south Devon, England. It is a soft, beautiful place. Located right near the River Dart, not far from Dartmoor, and within the Dartington Estate. Home to a 2000 year old yew tree, it has been a haven for me ever since. A place for studies and experience in ecology and spirituality, attracting an extraordinary network of teachers and participants from 90 countries, it has influenced deeply my ways of being in the world. Satish came to visit in Stellenbosch, South Africa during the time of co-creating the Sustainability Institute and what became our Lynedoch EcoVillage.
Hosted by Sabine Denis, Spes Forum (Spiritualiteit in Economie en Sameleving), and an MA student last year in Ecology and Spirituality, Satish and I have come to Brussels to participate in creating ‘a Schumacher experience’. And what an experience. We were brought to an amazing farm, halfway between Brussels and Luxembourg. Working in an old castle in a typical Belgian winter. Rainy, verrrry cold for an African, and thick cloud. Perfect for circular conversations, warm wit, big fires and amazing food.
Mainly French speaking (impeccable English and Dutch too), the group feels elegant, sophisticated and healthily sceptical. I love that - it’s not cynicism. It seems like built-in bullshit detection. Where does that come from, I wonder. A nation known for its ability to compromise, or find a middle way, and with a fiercely cruel history as colonisers I find myself drawn into an exploration with Satish that is unafraid to ask probing questions. My relief from sustainability gurus and greenwashing feels palpable.
I’m mesmerised by timelessness. Satish is 83 years old. He and June Mitchell (who leads qigong) have been married for 45 years. He has been editor of the Resurgence journal for 43 years. One of the projects he co-founded is Schumacher College, which is now 29 years old. He left home when he was nine to become a Jain monk, and is known for long pilgrimages (years long) for peace.
The story he creates is around elegant simplicity. With June by his side, they create a sense of extraordinary lives. No grand narrative, no story-fying. Just a simple tale, that is not simplistic. It is so clear that living simply is rooted in imagination, creativity and attention to what we are constructing, each and every day, with all the difficulties involved. He smiles and shrugs eloquently. He says it’s love…I breathe out. This is inspiration.
We venture on a deep time walk of 4,9 kilometres. Where each kilometre measures a billion years, so we journey the history of Earth. Led by Schumacher College alumni, I am filled with happiness at their skill, knowledge and sheer ability. Another takes us on a tour of this wonderful farm - trying without any sense of whether it will be successful or not - to make a home for social entrepreneurs. Vegetable growers, earth based paints, cider and free-range chickens … the land feels energetic and creates a spring in our steps. It feels as if the old castle is heaving into something new, something different and no telling how it’s going to pan out.
And that’s how it is. No telling how it’s all going to pan out. It is just simply important to do - not the outcome, not the desire for recognition. Just doing is enough. Where our inner transformation is free from fear, desire and attachment. To stay engaged, and not attached, respecting all beings in their own right.
Our Kundalini teacher says this morning that ‘a pose starts right when you want to get out of it’.
That’s like life. How come we give up just when it gets interesting? How come if we don’t get our own way, immediate results, or the outcomes we envisaged, then we stop? How come we bail at some infantile whim or fantasy projection?
But get this. It’s not a wimpy kind of love that Satish reveres. A story-teller of all time at the College, Dr Martin Shaw, writes this on love:
“Not the stuff some therapists approve of: the reduced, off-the-boil, not in-love-but-loving kind, but finding a place for the indecent, howling hunger strike of a feeling that scythes all in its path. The perilous. The Chapel Perilous. Dionysus riding the leopard.
But not ‘place’ like something settled. No agriculture please. They want chunks of meat, blood on chin, flickering fire, the wild rumpus. Not a village. Not a town. No school run. There’s absolutely no planning permission where they’re heading. It’s a night sea journey and their compass is ecstatically drunk, indiscreetly lonesome and prone to abrupt changes of location.
Love. Not as a neurotic garnish for sexual desire, or a temporary, politic hallucination for wealthy coupling but as a sustainable, dangerous, uninsurable, risk-aggravated fit of telling the truth. With stages, and delicate negotiations and repentances, with tango twists and sudden, excruciating slips. With long periods of silences. Love as something utterly and profoundly important. As a thing worth taking seriously.”
Get that. Just get that.
Thanks Sabine. Thanks Satish and June. Thanks Belgium. And thanks Martin Shaw.