This May I attended the second “Be the Change” symposium, run by Susannah Darling Khan of Movement Medicine and Chris Salisbury of Wild Wise. The
work originated with the Achuar shamans in the jungles of Peru and
Ecuador.people who still live within the Dreamtime they were disturbed by visions of immpending destruction that they said would be wrought by what they call “The Dream of the North”. Sending out a call for help, they were responded to by, amongst others, Barry and Lynne Twist, with whom they
formed the Pachamama Alliance.
We had come together for the day to stare down the beast. That’s no way to speak about the facilitators I hear you cry. No, no, I meant the beast we see in the mirror each day, which is the face of Western consumption. Yes, dear
reader I meant us. Not them. Us! My companions and myself had come to look at our own hearts and to listen, ears straining to the wind, to hear to whose tune they dance. Was it a tune of our own composition? Did it bring joy and nurture to our world? Or were we somehow like the character in the fairy tale in shoes we cannot take off our feet, as we dance crazily over the edges of greed, trance and stupidity? I guess the answer for many of us is that most days we see what Bruce Coburn poetically refers to as the angel-beast
Before you lose track altogether, we had come together to look at how we might contribute to the creation of an
environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling human presence on our home (it’s the only one we’re gonna get} Planet Earth. A well-crafted mixture of information presented via DVD and group process exercises, it is shared in a compellingly engaging format, which is deeply moving, funny, beautiful and fresh enough to retain the capacity to shock. It is divided into four sections. “Where are we now?”, “How did we get here?”, “What’s possible for the future?” and something like “What can I do?” These sections are interspersed with small and larger exercises in groups, which included art, movement, poetry and old-fashioned talking to each other. Susannah very skillfully set up an emotionally contained environment in which I for one felt free to weep through the whole of the first section. Tissues were freely available and lets face it, what’s happening on our home is a tragedy.
For example, did you know that scientists publishing a report called Extinction Risk from Climate Change are predicting the loss of 37% of all species in 20% of the world’s land mass. That’s over a million species. That’s a worst-case scenario that would unfold from continuing levels of “response”. They regard 18% as inevitable now. On the social justice front these are some of the statistics that apply if we shrunk our planet to 100 inhabitants (which it may be anyhow, if we don’t get down to work). 50 would suffer from malnutrition; 6 would possess 59% of the world’s wealth and would be from the US and 80 would live in sub-standard housing. Basically if you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head you are richer than 75% of the world’s population. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy. Perhaps the deep spiritual malaise we see in our addictions, increasing mental
health problems, and violence is also woven together with the knowledge that we live in a deeply unfair world, teetering on the brink. None of this is comfortable to sit with. However, I encourage you to take heart and a big deep breath.
Having been taken through a whistle-stop tour of the mistaken worldviews which have led us here, we begin looking at the enormous ground swell of change which is happening just “off the radar”, represented in the thousands of groups working for change everywhere. This isn’t being reported in the mainstream media but it is happening. My favourite was Jesus People against Pollution, because it made me smile, challenged my prejudice and is a reminder that whether we like it or not we’re all in this together. Like the Chinese I Ching says, the greatest crisis is also the greatest opportunity, for respect, creativity,
compassion and transformation, which our species has ever seen. The Power of One reminds of all the individuals in history who have refused to accept the status quo and become remarkable change agents, leading great tidal waves of social change. We can all contribute.
Given that one of our last exercises of the day was to talk about what we already do which I found embarrassingly like
boasting, I’m going to do some more of it. I travelled home by a combination of scrounged lifts, which has been a way of life for me for decades and public transport. My first challenge came at the railway station in Exeter. I hadn’t eaten since around 12.30 and I was hungry. I bought both coffee and a sandwich encased in plastic but then and there I vowed to begin to carry a flask around with me if I know I might need a hot drink. Tackling the plastic cup addiction starts here. Two days later I went out for the day and did just that. It felt good. Later that same day I stood my ground with my 9 year old and refused to buy her a Snack Attack (aptly named) for her packed lunch. A feisty exchange took place that honestly, I would normally avoid after a long day. Plastic or future? It’s called informed choice and she has a right to it, even if the information isn’t to her liking. The future won. I’m noticing as I write, a concern that some of the readers will be feeling disgust that I didn’t take this
action years ago, and feel that public acknowledgement of shame may well be an important part of our change process.
I dreamt last night, that many of us journeyed behind the veil to be reminded by the ancestors that a better future already exists and that what we have to do is travel into the dream and bring it back. Interestingly, part of the mission of the Achuar is to awaken the Dreamers of the North in order that we might assist in changing the dream. I’d like to end by telling you a “little” story from last summer.
For the last few years the supermarket giant Asda has been applying and re-applying for planning permission to build a 400,000 square foot complex right next to one of our local areas of outstanding Natural Beauty, Exmouth Estuary. The Creative Visioning Group which is part of Transition Town activities in Exmouth decided to tackle the task of protecting the Spirit of the Estuary. Although 10,000 people in a town of 30,000 had objected to the plans, this particular pod comprised about 15 of us. In the month running up to the ultimate action before the planning meeting, 3 adults and 3 children spent a lot of time on the Estuary collecting, of her body, so we could represent what we came to call the Estuary family.
We walked the area that Asda wanted to build on time and again in protective circles we called Walks of Intention,
scattering rowan berries and comfrey as we walked. We drummed and spoke to the Estuary, who was, we discovered, fairly mouthy, although the ancestors told us it wasn’t the outcome we were to focus upon, so much as our own actions. A circle in Switzerland also drummed for her every week. On the day of the action I felt dis-spirited and ill. People told us we were wasting our time. It was said pockets had already been lined. We felt foolish!
A month later local newspapers reported that plans which had seemed absolutely set to go through were now “Dead in the Water”. Admittedly, the recession was the stated reason behind the change in the decision making process, but I like to think that justice wears many faces and I for one will never ever believe that anything is hopeless again. Relying upon the power, love and support that resides in the unseen realms of the Ancestors not only works, it is imperative, in order to plug into the grid which supports all life, rather than simply the petty concerns of the ego, as well as to avoid the burnout which many activists end up suffering. I heartily recommend the collective inspiration represented by the Be the Change symposium, for whilst we can all take responsibility for the “small things”, we also need each other for the journey ahead.
Ali Young is both a published poet and academic, with book chapters in collections on
embodiment published by
Routledge, as well as a
variety of academic papers.