A Journey Home: relating
15 October 2020
A Journey Home
As I settle quietly to write to you, the Thames tide is rising on this fresh autumn morning. I’ve been brooding a bit. If relationships are all we are, then why is relating often just so hard?
I loved the gathering we had with Merlin Sheldrake, Pat McCabe and Riane Eisler. And I loved your comments and questions. As I’ve read over what Ruby put up from the chat, I’ve been very moved.
While all our contributors can obviously be seen and listened to online, our intention with A Journey Home is to see what happens when we converse together. To relish sitting in what emerges for that theme, and to see it as a portal into other themes. They are all portals into each other! It’s a messy thing. Non-linear. How things might connect and how they may collide. What comes up for me is likely entirely different to what comes up for you. That’s the point. And then to write, pay attention, listen, draw, practice so that we build our inner capabilities which feed our work in the world. To hold constant curiosity. Where each theme is a tiny acupuncture point into our multiplicity of systems. Kind of like magic.
Entering last Tuesday with Ruby and Christabel in silence - the emptiness of all potential - and a quiet orientation into our bodies, Pat then dedicated our time together to all our relations. Asking to be heard as we gather in honour of the greatness of our Earth, and our love.
I began with a connecting a ‘relational self’ with an ancient African philosophy of 'ubuntu': I am me because of you. And 'ukama': a Shona (Zimbabwe) ethic of kinship, relational responsibility to the past, present and future generations. Where the root word ‘hama’ means relative, family relation, closeness.
Merlin’s extraordinary cross-fertilising, evolutionary context took us into the infinite plant kingdom of fungi. It is its very own kingdom. His words had a kind of mysterious poetics. Mycellium with rambling, shape-shifting, forming connections between beings and embodying relationality. The wood-wide-web, where as humans we have always depended on plants, the reciprocity between plants and fungi, and the swopping of minerals, materials and life itself between plants, fungi and ourselves.
Where you can ‘hear evolution happen’.
A community of microbes, where identity is not so simple. Nested selves, a walking set of relations. He demonstrates so articulately that the human grasping of ‘autonomy’ and ‘independence’ bear little resemblance, if any, to a reality of inextricable connectedness. That our work now is a strange and engaging re-evaluation of this disfunctionality of human fragments.
His deep experience, a long way from conventional academia, brings a change in the way he feels. Questions about how he is in the world. Where the inquiry, similar to ours, is “who am I?” In a context where everything is living in everything, then how does that work with me? Where the ‘longlasting intimacy of strangers’, braided relations, where the very smallest unit of analysis is relationship. Where biology becomes ecology and where all we are is collaboration, not merely unmitigated conflict.
(He mentions Donna Haraway, and Robin Kimmerer - giantesses - and you will find some of their work in our Relating reference list.)
Pat sings us into being with her grandmother’s calling song. She is of the Diné nation, and she has told me before that it is the grandmothers who decided when the warriors were to go to war - because only the grandmothers were wise enough to know. She brings in the exquisiteness of a language only in verbs, action and catalyst - in a sense, a feminine way, accessible to us all and long forgotten to many. She speaks of the nature of reality, an indigenous point of view, as a gift. A gift showing another way of being human. Lived today - not merely of a colonised past. Still lived today!
Her grandfather spoke of a ‘crisis of relationship’. To engage with relating as beyond intellect, and way out of reach of reductionism.
She offers a broad spectrum of ways of knowing - through song, dance, ceremony and prayer. Accessing through these parts and ways inside us that have been throttled for air. She brings that abundance has always been like that. That right relations have these kinds of ‘technologies’ to enhance health, harmony and happiness.
That this is not only a human thing. That our relationship with land, loving life is symbolised by a sacred hoop. Four directions, four seasons, perhaps even body, heart, mind and spirit. That our role is to uphold the integrity of the hoop. That, as five-fingered ones, we are sacred. And on the hoop now, it seems we are distracted, and deceiving the society of thriving life.
She talks of a ‘perfect design’. “The impeccable way that the animals conduct their lives”. That they uphold their part of the hoop. And do we understand that we have that very same capacity - do we remember it?
She points to opening the widest parts of ourselves, to enter relationship with the larger community of life, and included in this is our spiritual community. The invisibles.
While everything is breaking down now, creating massive and tiny cracks, we see these as the places of infinite opportunity. And our question might be “what else can we be open to?” If we put life at the very centre, we might be done with good ideas, and focus on impeccable living, spiritual community, our hearts. Being fair. And to hold each other, in our work places, every single community, to ‘learn how to love you like you want to be loved’ … and that may require a radical love and trust for and in oneself. And then again, what is ‘self’??
And, quietly, Riane offers a childhood in refuge from Nazism. An experience of growing up in material poverty in Havana. And these experiences form her lifelong question: why, if humans are as sensitive, caring and loving as we are, is there so much cruelty and insensitivity?
Of the 15 or so books she has written, perhaps it is The Chalice and the Blade (1987) that has guided all the rest. Her questioning as a cultural historian continues: we have this capacity for caring, consciousness and creativty AND for cruelty.
She highlights art in societies. That art changes our story, and changing our stories changes our lives. She talks of the life-giving powers of art - the cycles of sex, sacred, birth, death and re-birth. Her links between biology and neuroscience question deeply notions of original sin, selfish genes, and points out dominating hierarchies where the world would be without women, children, black, queer, and any of so-called ‘other’ …
She continues to ask what kind of society would help us express ourselves as creative, conscious, being and loving. With her latest book Nurturing our Humanity (2019) she says we are more wired for caring. That sharing sparks our brain off, literally.
That, like Merlin and Pat, our reality is relational, relating and relationships. And that our attention needs to focus on joining the dots.
With our earliest years most critical, her ‘four cornerstones’ are: childhood, gender, economics and story & language.
In a sense, the highlights are in fact where the dots join in this remarkable conversation between these remarkable humans. I offer some here:
Living on and in the circle of all life, the sacred hoop.
That all we are, are processes and flow. We are ‘verbing’ our miraculous lives!
That we are simply an event in time, as is every living being, even our universe.
A processual, process-oriented way of being and thinking and knowing is closer to the golden thread of living .. with the seasons, our bodies, continuously moving and changing.
That we ask, what it means to be human? Of this species.
That we are wider-than-human, more-than-human .. this is not a theoretical concept. That there may be a sphere of poles, non-binary, between partnership and hierarchy.
That all we are is collaborations.
That a power-over story is dusted, done and dead.
What’s another story?
We can have it any way we want. Any way we choose.
The step into an expanse of time, of timelessness.
And to ask ourselves: who am I, where am I .. where we ‘re-indigenise’ ourselves, not aping rituals and ceremonies far removed from ourselves, but re-connecting with our own place, in love.
I offer this as a tiny ice-cream lick into a time together that has set me off. Thank you for being with us, and I suspect that some of this is stewing quietly and noisily in you too. See you Saturday!