Category Archives: Green Living

Where do dreams come from?

Whether we’re talking about what happens when we sleep, or what happens when we daydream, dreams are significantly informed by our every day experiences. What we’re exposed to gets in. This means what is around us in our immediate environment. People we spend time with. Stuff we do. Things we watch. Books we read. It all goes in. From it we weave the often irrational seeming dreams we have at night, and we also create our ideals, hopes, aspirations and desires.

It’s worth pausing now and then to see what is coming in and where it comes from. What are you feeding your mind with? How much of that is advertising designed to sell products? How much of it normalises western consumer culture? How many of your daydreams come from what your society encourages you to want – fame, fortune, the fast car, the white carpet in the immaculate living room, the exotic holiday…?

Are you dreaming, and daydreaming as a Pagan? If you look at the imagery of your dreams, you’ll find the answer soon enough. If you can see your Paganism in your night time dreaming, it’s a good indicator that you are living it while awake. That doesn’t have to mean deities and mythic content – in my case it means that my dreams are full of landscape. Often when we analyse dreams, the temptation is to try and find meanings in specific symbols. However, it can be well worth looking at dreams over time, to pick up trends. The overall shape of your dreaming over a period of weeks or months can tell you a lot about what’s influencing you. A dream diary can be a good way of exploring this.

We’re being sold commercial dreams designed to lock us into patterns of work, consumerism and frantic, carbon guzzling leisure pursuits. These advertising-induced dreams keep us working, struggling, getting into debt, running after things we can’t have, and destroying our home and habitat as we go along. Reclaiming our dreams is part of how we change this. Taking back control of our longing and desire, and taking back control of what feeds our unconscious dreaming gives us a lot more options.

Perhaps one of the key things here, is how we handle instant gratification. Often, instant gratification – in the buy now pay later mode – is offered as a bad thing. But, life is now. It’s not next year, or when you retire. The dreams we are encouraged to aspire to are so often set just out of reach. When we get the promotion, the pay rise, or some other distant thing happens, then we can have the stuff we really want. The simpler our desires are, the easier it is to gratify them. An afternoon pottering in the garden, a night out dancing, a meal with friends – these are things you can have quickly. These are the kinds of things a good life is made of. If we’re always working towards some big dream, we may never get round to being happy in the moment, satisfied with what we have, or able to enjoy life.

Your dreams – especially your night dreaming, are in some ways very natural. That doesn’t mean dreams are immune from human influence. Dreams are made of what we absorb. Dreams can tell us a lot about what we expose ourselves to and what effect that has on us. Question your dreams and make sure they really are yours, and not someone else’s marketing strategy.

More about dreaming in my book, Pagan Dreaming, available from most places that sell books…  https://www.bookdepository.com/Pagan-Dreaming/9781785350900

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Dreaming differently

What would happen if our dreams were not driven by the desire to consume? What if we weren’t drawing our inspiration from adverts, and weren’t being fed a constant consumerist narrative about what we need to own in order to be happy? What would we daydream about then?

We might stop dreaming about new cars and kitchens and carpets and start dreaming about how to live at our hearth and in our homes. Dreams of community and time spent with people we care for, and who care for us. Not the look of the kitchen itself, but the scope to make good food and share it with good people. Life changes dramatically when you’re less focused on how a home might look and more concerned with what you can do in it.

Equally, if our gardens don’t have to look like something off the telly, we might dream of wildlife havens instead. We might plant trees and welcome insects, birds and small mammals to share the space with us. We might dream of the summer humming of bees and the beauty of butterflies. We might want a space to just chill out and watch the clouds go by – dreaming of a space in which to dream.

We might indeed dream of holidays, but not of planes and other countries. We might dream of having the time to really get to know the land we live on, or having more time for the people who come into our homes or the wild things in our gardens.

We might dream of changing our bodies, but not through the misery and seldom successful methods of commercial dieting, and not by purchasing a new look from the planet trashing fashion industry. We might dream of the things we can joyfully do with our bodies. We might aspire not to thinness or fashion, but to grace and delight. We might start listening to our bodies and let our dreams come from the needs our bodies have.

Rather than dreaming of fame and fortune, we could dream instead of the things we want to achieve. The book we want to write – not to be famous, but to say the things we need to say. The art we want to make. The dance styles we want to learn. The courses we want to study. The things we want to create with our hands. We can make space to dream up ways of re-using rather than throwing away. We can get excited about our own creativity.

We can dream about how good it would feel to know we are living sustainably. The pleasure of not harming the living planet, and of knowing we’ll leave it in good shape for those who come after us. We can dream of a world in which life and beauty flourish, rather than profit and greed. And the more we dream this, the more we move towards it. The more we share these dreams and draw other people into them, the more feasible it all becomes. Dream it and talk about it, and see who you can co-dream with, and then see what you can co-create as those dreams turn into ever more viable possibilities.

(And I can recommend the Transition Towns movement as an excellent place to find inspiration and turn dreams into action – https://transitionnetwork.org/ )


The joys of walking for transport

I’ve never driven a car, and I’ve not lived in a household with a car since my mid twenties. I’ve walked to shop, and carried groceries home. I’ve used trains and buses, and occasionally I get lifts, but mostly I’ve walked, or cycled. I don’t really enjoy cycling so these days I mostly get places by walking to them. Where I live was picked out with that in mind.

Most of the time, walking for transport is a joy. I get outside, I get exercise, I see wildlife, I meet people. While I’m walking, I get time to process ideas and feelings and come up with ideas. If I’m walking to work or to meetings, I get time to ready myself. I arrive calm and mentally prepared and I am never held up by traffic. At the end, I get to do my digesting on the way home, and I usually arrive home calm and on top of things.

I do not have to do radical things to feel adventurous. Every now and then I end up having to walk in adverse weather conditions – in snow, and ice and heavy rain. I have the kit for this, although as downpours increase in violence, I get soaked through more often. I do not need to seek out mountains to feel a bit heroic. Some weeks, all I have to do is handle the regular shopping in the conditions around me. I do not have to challenge myself with grand gestures to feel alive. I feel alive every time I’m going somewhere.

Often, the green answers are presented as losses. Could you give up your car? Could you do without it? As though the car makes us better off, and poverty is what we get in its absence. I’ve spent enough mornings walking past lines of traffic, seeing the faces of people stuck in their cars. None of them are smiling. I’ve got stress free easy movement, peace of mind, lower expenses and a healthier body because I walk. Every time I walk past a traffic queue I am reminded of the riches inherent in my choices.

There is so much freedom and independence to be had if you can set of from your own door and head out into the world on your own two feet. We could leave the roads for those who need them – for those who do not have the privilege of being able to walk, for the emergency services, for the movement of stuff too heavy to carry about on shoulders. We could empty our roads and fill our pavements, and put calmer human interactions into our days. We could improve our air quality and our personal health. It remains a mystery to me why more people don’t see the freedom and wealth inherent in walking as more desirable than the cost and stress of being in traffic.


The narratives of meat

Diet is a very emotive subject, so let me be clear – this is not a blog post about food choices, this is a post about the stories we tell around our food choices. It’s about a set of perceptions that are so normalised, so taken for granted that we might not even notice them. We tell stories about what it means to eat meat, and those have a powerful effect on us, even though we have more up to date stories that suggest high meat consumption isn’t good for your body or for the planet.

Meat is high status food. It costs more to produce, and always has, so we can go all the way back to the Celts and the hero’s portion at feasts. At any period in history, the poor have tended to eat little or no meat while the rich have eaten a lot more of it. Meat equates to wealth, meat consumption equates to wealth. Eating meat is part of the story our culture tells itself about what it means to be wealthy. It is feasts with whole roast swans, still with their feathers on, or Henry the 8th throwing bones over his shoulder for dogs to pick up.

Meat is seen as macho – red meat especially. So eating red meat is to be seen as masculine. To not eat meat is often seen as effeminate. Meat consumption is associated with sexually powerful heterosexual masculinity. It’s also associated with muscle building and physical strength, even though you can do that with any kind of decent protein sources. I think some of this has to do with the way our feudal history has constructed both masculinity and hierarchy. We’re back to that Henry the 8th image again.

Part of that macho red meat narrative taps in to ideas of man the hunter. Now, most men are not hunting down wild cows in order to get their steaks, but even so, there’s an emotional association that suggests to people that if they are eating red meat, they are the sort of person who could have hunted it. It’s an emotional effect that links feelings of power, competence and mastery with the consumption of meat, perhaps especially potent when the person in question has done nothing to earn those feelings.

How we feel about something often has more impact on us than logic or evidence. What we eat is part of our sense of self. The stories we tell ourselves about what our food means reinforces our food choices. The stories around eating meat are stories of strength and power, of dominance, and importance. I suspect that the less actual power you have, the more affecting those stories are.

Vegetarians and vegans tell stories about being healthy, living kindly and having less impact on the planet. There’s a different kind of power here, it’s about the power to make change rather than power over other beings. These are stories that help a person feel kind and virtuous, and worthy – all of which is also very attractive.

I find it interesting the way ideas of what is ‘natural’ enters these stories as well. As far as I can make out, everyone views their food choice as natural, but does not necessarily think everyone else’s food choices are also natural. Everyone thinks their own food choices are good and appropriate, but may well not hold the same beliefs about other people’s food choices. Food choices that supposedly make you powerful can result in some very fragile and defensive behaviour. Food choices that supposedly make you kind can result in some pretty aggressive and unkind behaviour. Our food stories can divide us into tribal groups, feeling conflict with those whose stories are different.

While we stay focused on the stories and the emotions, we aren’t looking properly at the science, the evidence and the climate impact of how we live.


Tree love

Each February, the Climate Coalition’s Show the Love campaign invites us to talk about what we love.

I love trees. I grew up on the edge of the Cotswolds, with hanging beech woods right on my doorstep. Beeches remain my favourite tree, although I’ve yet to meet a tree I don’t like. I’ve been a supporter of The Woodland Trust for more than ten years, and a volunteer for a couple of years now, in a modest and online sort of way. My love of trees makes me want to stand up for trees, and speak up for them.

Every now and then some bright spark will suggest that we need technology to get carbon out of the air and tackle climate change. We don’t need technology, we have a solution. Trees! Trees take carbon out of the air and store it. If we plant trees, we can store carbon.

Trees are also very good at managing water flows. Plant trees, and rain gets to the ground more slowly, reducing the risk of flash floods. Root systems keep soil in place where it might otherwise be washed away by excess water. Trees put water gently into their vicinity so in dry weather, trees can make a landscape more hospitable for everything else.

Trees cut down noise pollution, and air pollution. They improve our mental health.

Usually, when an answer is simple, it is wrong in some way. Magic bullets that easily fix complex problems are rare. However, trees are a real answer to many human problems and needs. Re-forestation is a solution we can crack on with right now. Protecting the trees we still have will be effective. Planting more trees will make a difference. Trees are here for us, and they may yet save us from ourselves, if only we give them the space to do what they do best (be trees).

Love trees. Plant trees. Speak up for trees. Protect trees.


Making pledges to show the love

I’m a big fan of making pledges in rituals with other people. It’s a simple, powerful act to do it alone, but when you are witnessed by your community, it adds weight to the pledge. Humans are better at feedback than Gods. Also, hearing other people’s pledges is often inspiring, and being able to come back and say how those pledges are going, affirms the work undertaken and helps you keep going.

I’ve made space for pledge making in ritual circles, and have seen the process in action. People who are new to all this will pledge things like growing herbs, or being more diligent with the recycling. Those further along the path to living lightly make more radical pledges. Over a few seasons, the people who were aspiring to recycle will become more involved too.

It is a powerful thing to speak to whatever you hold sacred and make a promise. If you’ve been having trouble really making the effort with something, pledging as a sacred act can give you the focus to see it through. It’s one thing to let yourself off the hook for making small car journeys when you could have walked, and very different to have promised your Gods, your ancestors or the land that you would do this differently. It’s also different when your community of people has heard your pledge. We like to look good for each other. We get a lot of emotional rewards from the good opinion of others. Ritual with humans tends to make us want to offer more impressive pledges, and to see them through so that we can tell people we saw them through.

Radical green change to enable sustainable living can feel a bit hair-shirt. If we feel we’re suffering by sacrificing, there’s less incentive to keep going. Emotional rewards from your human community can really help offset this. If people are impressed by you, then what you’re doing becomes more meaningful. The trouble with being green is that we tend not to see any immediate consequences of it – because most of us don’t see landfill sites, or plastic islands in the ocean, and we have no personal measure of air pollution or carbon excess. And even if we did, our own bit would be hard to spot in the grand scheme of things. That our efforts are both tiny and important is hard to work with.

If you want to make sacrifices to your Gods, (or anything else you hold sacred) then your sustainable life choices are some of the most powerful things you can offer up right now. If the Gods can smell your incense, they can also smell the fumes from your car. If you recognise the Earth as a sacred being, or as a mother Goddess, then the landfill, the plastic and the air pollution are what we do to her sacred body. We honour her when we pledge not to harm her.

If you’re looking for inspiration, try the spinner on this website – https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/spin-the-love

If you don’t have a ritual space to share your pledges in, use the internet. Talk about what you are doing. Inspire other people through your action. Watch out for #showthelove during February.


Saving the planet

When I hear people talking about saving the planet, I worry. Certainly there’s a great deal that must be changed if we are to survive as a species and not take even more of our fellow creatures down with us. However, we do not need to save the plant. We need to stop harming the planet. For me, it’s an important difference.

Imagine a scenario in which you have left a person tied up inside a building you have set fire to. You run back in time to ‘save’ them. This is the kind of ‘saving’ we are talking about when we talk about saving the planet. We urgently need to recognise that we are the ones who have caused the problems in the first place. If we stopped tying life to metaphorical chairs and setting fire to our actual home and habitat, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

We’re good at taking human agency out of the conversation. We talk about pollution, not the fact that humans are polluting the earth, air and water. We talk about extinction, not the fact that human activity is directly responsible for killing many of our fellow life forms. Terms like environmental degradation, habitat loss, deforestation, climate change, conservation, emissions – these words and many others like them all have one thing in common. There’s no direct reference to human activity here. We talk about all of these things as though they are things that are happening, not things we are causing. This in turn helps us ignore our personal and collective responsibility.

It would be nice to save the planet, wouldn’t it? But we’re not superheroes, we can’t ask huge things like that of ourselves and actually expect it to work.

If we talked instead about stopping trashing the planet, we might notice our own involvement in what’s wrong. Stop causing pollution. Stop cutting down trees. Stop killing other creatures. Stop dumping our crap in the oceans. It all has a very different ring to it – one that foregrounds the harm we do and our responsibility to do differently.

We need to stop talking about saving the planet, and start speaking in a way that recognises exactly what’s causing the problems in the first place.


Food choices and climate change

Food choices are always a really emotive subject and I try to stay out of that side of it as best I can. My starting point has the potential to offend everyone: I’m not ideologically opposed to meat eating, dairy, or eggs. I am deeply uncomfortable with how factory farming works and how we treat the living beings in our food chains. I am absolutely clear that whatever you eat, eliminating food waste should be your priority, because if we tackled that we would get to grips with reducing suffering, and reducing the climate impact of meat.

Animal products for human consumption, and the methods by which we ‘grow’ these are harming the planet. If we want to survive as a species, we have an obligation to cut back on what we consume and to support and encourage others in doing the same. If you eat meat, consider having some meat free days in a week. Vegetarians can consider having some vegan days in their weeks, and vegans, you still have to wrangle with food waste.

You can also look at reducing the food miles in your food if you have the means. If you can source from local producers with better cared for creatures, then do that. If you can’t afford to eat more kindly, cutting back is also a good choice. If you go vegan, depending on where you live, you may have a hard time cutting food miles – beans, nuts and soya products tend to come to the UK from overseas. There are no perfect solutions here, but make whatever moves you can to cut the carbon imprint of your diet.

I’ve pushed towards veganism before and found it difficult. Sourcing affordable protein is an issue, although I can manage it. What’s turned out to be a real problem, is fats. What dairy remains in my life is as much a fat source as anything else, and it is the need for fats in the diet that has thus far, thwarted me. It’s easy (especially if you have a penance aspect to your food choices) to view fats as bad and a diet light on them as good. In practice, neither my skin nor my brain work well without them.

To reduce the animal products in my diet I have to figure out an approach to food that sorts out the need for fats. Where in the food prep process the fats go, is a question I need to answer and I think it will take me away from the food approaches I am used to. My current project is to figure this out, and introduce the solutions gently so that I can change my relationship with food. I’ve replaced milk with substitutes with no trouble at all, and when there are vegan options I often take them.

I don’t think absolutism is the solution for all of us. Finding what works for you and how best to reduce your carbon footprint is a question to ask. Mine is pretty low as it is (carbon calculator over here – https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ ) but I want to do better.


New Year Resolutions

Yesterday I blogged about making radical green resolutions. So, you may well ask, what are mine? I already don’t own a car, a fridge, a freezer, a television or a microwave or washing machine. I’m already committed to not flying, and I’m already vegetarian. I can’t do much more to eco-fit my home because I live in a block of flats. I can’t grown my own food or compost my own waste for the same reason. My scope to make radical changes is not as big, as a consequence.

I am looking at strategies to reduce the amount of animal products in my diet. I’ll be blogging about this as I go.

I’m looking at how people drive because of me, as an extension of car use issues.

I’m going to invest more effort in persuading people to live more as I do, and I’m going to do that this year as part of a project to talk more about how to be happy. I get a lot out of my relatively low impact life and I think other people could, too.

Last year brought a lot of changes and challenges for me, but it’s made me think a lot about what I want in all aspects of my life. I’m rethinking where I am creatively – more on this to follow. I’m set on focusing more on how things work day to day, rather than being too long term about anything. I don’t have any long term goals at this stage in my life that don’t depend more on luck than my own efforts. How I live day to day has more impact on me than where I might be going.

This last year has taught me to rethink a lot of my relationships with people. Every time I’ve held my boundaries and said no, it has really paid off for me. I’ve asked for help – something I find difficult, but I’ve clearly asked the right people and have had help that has made a huge difference. I’m going to go forward more aware that help may be available, and more willing to ask for it.

My major intention for 2019 is to make more time for daydreaming. I’ve still got a lot to figure out. I feel like I’m in an in-between place, not really ready to set firm intentions for a calendar year, but needing to put in time on how I want to change and grow. Daydreaming has always been an important imaginative tool for me. I use it to test ideas, seed creative projects and figure out who and how I want to be. I need to dedicate more time to it.

I hope whatever you plan for yourself for this year, that you can do it in a way that serves you. I’ve tried resolutions as penitence and self-punishment and they don’t achieve much. I’ve done much better with them since I shifted to setting intentions and looking at my trajectory and needs. I can heartily recommend this as an approach.


Make radical green resolutions

This is the year to make radical green resolutions. Change your life, and help reduce the amount of harm we’re doing to the planet.

The most important areas to look at are energy use, transport, your home, your plastic use and your diet.

Where possible switch to a greener supplier or source.

However, many of these things can’t be dealt with by just buying a greener option. If for example we replaced all the single use plastic packaging with some other material, the scale of use means there would still be a massive environmental impact. We have to cut back, radically. All of us. Those of us who have most have to cut back most.

We have to question everything we do, everything we use, everything we buy. If you’ve been justifying to yourself something you know isn’t sustainable, now is a good time to re-think it. If you can’t give it up entirely, cut it back as much as you can. If it’s something you can’t solve personally, make a commitment to campaigning for change.

Make a New Year’s resolution that involves radical lifestyle change. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself. Do it to start building a better and more sustainable life. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.