Pic: Filipe Silvia
I can probably pin point the moment in my childhood when I did – a moment when I realised that my life wasn’t about me, it was about making as sure as possible that I pleased others. This had dire consequences for my family and children.
Maybe our eldest son would have developed schizophrenia and a passion for cannabis anyway, but I might have had a more imaginative response to this had I understood about the absolute necessity of allowing life to flow, and not tried to insist that my crabbed and confined way was the only way.
My gratitude to him and his brother and sister who have also suffered greatly, and challenged me in so many ways, is beyond measure. Slowly, slowly, I am finding out how real life could be, and was meant to be. At the age of 74, I am becoming aware and open to serendipitous happenings which is giving me not the optimism of ‘all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds’, but hope for the future, and not just for me and my family, but the wider community and our small earth.
Our relationship with this planet has to change in a similar way, since as Clive Hamilton, an Australian professor of public ethics, says: “The modern belief in the free, reflexive being making its own future by taking control of its environment—even to the point of geoengineering—is now impossible because we have rendered the Earth more unpredictable and less controllable, a disobedient planet” Hamilton, C., 2017, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene.
He was quoted at a conference called Small Earth I recently attended organised by Confer http://www.confer.uk.com on eco-psychology, which was introduced thus: ‘Psychotherapists, ecologists, economists, philosophical and spiritual thinkers ask: can we return to living within the terms of Earth’s ecosphere?’
The wide range of speakers included Chris Packham and Alistair McKintosh. To be among people of common purpose, recognising the enormity of the problems we face and responding to these problems with love, compassion and constructive ways forward was to be blessed.
Why don’t other responses to sustainability inspire me in the same way? Is it that we are not engaging with the heart of the problem? I heard of someone discussing sustainability, for instance, making the comment that, ‘we ought to stick to plastic, because we don’t want to frighten people’!
Scottish Quaker, Alastair McKintosh, in his book Hell and High Water takes up the idea of a consensus trance, put forward by Charles Tart, a psychologist of consciousness. He says, “Like someone hypnotised not to see the elephant in the room, we close down the wider horizons…….The consensus trance helps to maintain a sort of mental health.”
Rather than imposing our stewardship on nature, might we not benefit from relating more deeply to the world around us of which we are an integral part? We need to get our hands dirty. How much do we know about the life we share our homes and gardens with, let alone with that in the wild woods beyond? If the answer is not much, how can we sustain it?
What is more, there is (God-given?) joy to be found not only in listening to a drumming snipe or a booming bittern, but also in seeing the soft beauty of a blue tit, the smartness of a goldfinch’s colours, or in rescuing a worm from a concrete path and putting it on soil amongst the plants with whom it coexists.
In a different context – Howard’s End – E.M. Forster says through one of his characters, “only connect’. But it is easier than that – the connections are there, we all just need to recognise them, and in so doing I believe a way forward will emerge. Let go and let God (who/whatever you perceive your God to be).