I’ve just returned from a long, snowy, winter’s retreat in Belgium. From minus 2 degrees to 38 degrees in a matter of 14 hours, it’s enough to fry a brain. The funny thing about this kind of circuitous work is all the stuff that happens that is unexpected. It sidles in as if on the icy breath of a winter king, only present in the deepest winter season.
Does it all melt as I return to blazing summer? Or it spends a moment or two suspended in liminality, like the times between seasons. Fragile shifting, cracking and softening the way ice does before it melts into streams and rivers flowing out of one form into another, glistening in the sunlight.
Unbeknown to me, I’d find a huge park surrounded by woods and filled with water birds and lakes. When the whole lake freezes over, where do the swans go? A long walk to yoga teachers who daily would astound me and my body by coaxing us into positions, joy and flow that we’d forgotten we had. A soft spirit breath, so that when the snow came the practice felt as quiet, deep and as unique as every snowflake is, blended into a oneness that looks all the same. Only it’s not. Every single flake is different. Just knowing that, in this glimpse of nature so very different to the fynbos, mountains on fire and hot winds of home fills me with a sense of overwhelming awe. I feel full and fat and happy. Weird, because it takes me an age to get ready for going out. I’m usually quick, hassle-free and unburdened. In this weather, it’s thermals, socks, different layers, decisions about wet weather, different jackets, gloves, umbrella, waterproof boots with long laces - a whole array of attention that has to be given to that which I usually just take for granted.
And maybe that’s a way of exploring this strange beast that is being called ‘sacred activism’. Lots of un-layering the things we take for granted. Like how we act in the world in ways that we simply assume will change stuff - and it’s always amazing how the things that we do we assume to be ‘good’. I mean, we are the good guys, right?
Then how is it that we slide into becoming the very systems we are trying to change? How come we collude with existing power structures and institutions instead of calling out injustices? How come our families fall apart around us, how do we land up angry and shrill, burnt out and charred as our bodies scream their silent messages of warning? How come we start amazing work with good people and then fail to notice what is arising between us? (And it is this one which apparently the Dalai Lama named as the cause of suffering). Or, what makes us afraid to act, too cautious to follow a beautiful dream, or hanging on to some naivety for dear life as if it were the only identity possible? What makes vulnerability so terrifying, and what makes real risk an almost impossibility? When is it that fear crept in and made its dampening presence so silently obvious? When did the heavy hand of control start wielding its deadening axe?
And, how is it that the addictions to activism, adrenalin, the grandiose narratives of never ending work are somehow lauded? The tired old stories of ‘too much email’, working til two in the morning, all somehow sound as if the rest of us are bone idle twiddling our thumbs.
I get that a thousand flowers bloom. Really, I do.
But there’s something else afoot. Could it be that there are other ways of being, seeing and doing - where we act from a different place, and create effectively amazing pathways that slice through the noisy bramble almost without sound?
These, and a whole lot more, arrive when we open the door of the castle set on ancient farm land. Sabine Denis and Faze Ali, along with Nicholas, Pauline, Lara and a group of venturers hesitantly gather to explore, unwind the thread, and acting out of pure courage wonder aloud the dark and light of navigating huge transitions. The moat around the castle ices up, frozen solid.
It’s a funny feeling. Across France, in neighbouring Switzerland, the elite of the world are meeting in the annual WEF jamboree. Exactly the same time. It helps when Faze says that ‘economics’ is from the Greek oikonomia meaning ‘household management’. He wonders aloud what would happen if everyone at the WEF in Davos made their bed, shared the cooking, washed up, tidied the vast conference facilities and did what normal people do at home. He falls around at the thought, and so do we.
Brexit, US-China trade wars, social unrest all seem like intractable issues even for Clever People Who Know What’s Going On.
Our tiny group in its sheer bravery seems small and vulnerable. Because it is. It’s supposed to be.
I sometimes wish it weren’t so. I have found myself feeling protective, wishing that this kind of intrigue and mystique, delving into ancient myths and tense ambivalences was a popular, easy thing to do. Where finding sanctuary was something we all simply did. Where this kind of quest, a magical quest of what it means to be of the human species in this century was as scrambled after as invites to the WEF.
But it’s not. See, there are no agendas. No promised outcomes. No smart strategy. No management. No organisational charts. No job descriptions. Definitely no performance reviews. No spreadsheets. And we’ve never seen anything at all that came from written evaluations. No sanitised reports showing happy ‘recipients’. And actually, come to think of it, there are no Clever People. Only geniuses.
But somehow, on a whisper of a breeze, there’s something different that pops up. Another piece of writing that surfaces out of the grunge of creative birthing. A funder that wants to remain anonymous. A son that drags his mother into writing a book. A laugh that hints at spring. A couple that’s found a way round, through and over a gigantic boulder in their river. A woman weeping in joy at the insights of her friend. Somehow, somehow the expectations of a brittle society release their manic grip on a man as he Houdini’s out of the noose. The bareness of the silhouetted winter trees are as stark as the inner gazes of honesty. And quietly, almost without noticing, there’s an outward exhalation. The lines on our faces soften, the gaze into and beyond silence holds us steady.
And, it’s my guess that in this space of quirkiness, of Ursula le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, of imagination and creativity is a ripple growing to a roar. As the world shifts and changes, it may not be from expected places. Because then we would know what to expect.
It’s invisible work, this. Under the radar, where the wild ones go. There comes a softness in awkwardness, in embarrassment, in not knowing and stumbling over words. As if in these spaces, where there is no one who really knows, arrives a mysterious quality of being. It feels like a mixture between a wild ‘she’ and a kingly presence holding a kindness that makes men cry.
I’m not sure what sacred is. I know how it feels. I do know that I’ve met a strange type of the human species. They know ways of being that listen. And act from a place of engaged tenderness, where the heart is broken open again and again and again. Stuff happens around these sorts.
I walk out and the moat is water again, glimmering. After four days of what seemed impermeable ice, on the last morning it has melted completely. My heart melts too. For now, the work is done. Time to rest, drink wine, laugh, be amazed, and take me to the airport to head home.