Tag Archives: environment

Druidry and making our own environments

Following on from yesterday’s blog about nature and nurture, I want to think about how taking up a spiritual path can involve deliberately changing your environment in order to change yourself. I suspect there are elements of this in any path, but Druidry is what I know best.

We can be quite critical of the apparently superficial things people do when they come to Paganism. Early on, some people can seem to be more about the surfaces than anything else. The bling, the clothes, the pretty things. It’s something I’ve tended to be suspicious of. However, I’m fortunate in that I grew up with music, folklore, and wildlife. For the person who grows up in a ‘muggle’ environment, sorely lacking in magic and creativity, the jump to Paganism can be a big one. Changing the surfaces around you can help affirm that jump and make it seem real, I realise.

Making our environment, and ourselves look ‘pagan’ can be part of a process for change. If what’s around us affirms our choices, we’ll perhaps be better equipped to act on them. It may be that we spend a lot of our time in environments that are banal and soulless, and that dressing the part and covering your home in green men is a necessary push back against that. What looks like a superficial, consumer-orientated approach may in fact be a way of creating space for Paganism, and for changing personally. It depends on what a person is looking for.

If you use environmental shifts to support personal changes, then they can help you. If you are buying Pagan things because you like the look, and a few years hence maybe you’ll take up a steampunk look, or a hippy look… then it won’t make much odds. If you want a pretty surface as a temporary amusement I don’t rate the chances of it transforming your life. If you are changing how things look around you, and how you look to reinforce other things you are doing, it’s likely to do that.

Take a glance around your living space and consider what’s there primarily to give a physical presence to your beliefs. Perhaps you have an altar, a depiction of deity, a green man. I have house plants and a scattering of fossils picked up on walks. And I do also have some dry mistletoe. I have art on the walls that, while not overtly Druidic, does things for me. I live in a colourful, chaotic space that reflects what I do. Other people may find soothing tones, or minimalism reflects their spiritual identity – there’s no one right answer here.

Doing things to your home to make it look more druidy, or witchy, or shamanic will require you to think about what that means. Where does a big TV screen fit into that? Do your kitchen cupboards reflect your path? If you walk into the bathroom and looked at the products there, do they affirm your sense of being a Pagan? If you align your living space with your beliefs, you may end up making radical changes to do that, and thus what starts out as a superficial, simple thing about looking the part can become a serious process of walking your talk.

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Nature, Nurture, Environment and Choice

How the balance between nature and nurture shapes us is something psychologists have been arguing about for about as long as there have been psychologists. How much of who we are comes from the genetic material we inherit, and how much comes from the environment we are exposed to? Faced with these two great forces, do we have much free will at all, or can we only be products of our biology and experience?

Once we become old enough to act for ourselves to any degree, we become active co-creators in making and choosing our environments. What we let ourselves dwell on, what we look at, listen to, go back to repeatedly – these are all things that shape us environmentally, and we do get a say in them. There’s a lot of practical difference between reading a book of nature poems and reading a fascist newspaper, for example. Why we choose one over the other may have a lot to do with where we came from, but at any time, any of us can choose these experiences, or refuse them.

Do you go for a walk in the wood or do you stare at your phone for an hour? Are you listening to music you love or is there some kind of wallpaper noise on in the background? Do you pause in your day to appreciate the good things and to express gratitude? Do you make time for self care or do you treat yourself like a disposable resource? How much time do you spend on things that give you joy, and how much time do you spend doing things you think are pointless, boring, or unpleasant? Do you go online to seek out inspiration, or to pick fights?

It’s in our smallest choices within a day that we construct the environment we inhabit.  It is easiest for us to do the things that align with where we’ve come from, but it isn’t inevitable. A little curiosity to explore what we don’t know can open up our choices no end. A willingness to notice what we feel good about and what we don’t and take action on it can lead to radical and powerful life changes. Often it’s the things we do with least thought, as habit, as what people like me do, that define us without our knowing it. No doubt some backgrounds and experiences make it harder to be the kind of adult who can look at how they live and make deliberate changes. Harder, but not, I think, impossible.

We are all shaped, one way and another, by where we come from. It’s easy to mistake that starting point for ‘real’ self. We are all full of far more potential and possibility than we can explore in one lifetime. We all have the scope to be more than we are, and other than we have been. Real freedom comes from owning that, taking total responsibility for who you are, and then living from a place of choice rather than habit.

 


The Tao of Earthsea

I started reading about Taoism somewhere in my early teens. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember the powerful sense of familiarity. I hit it again when reading my first version of the Tao Te Ching: I knew this stuff already, on a deep level, and could not explain it.

Recently I’ve re-read the first four of Ursula Le Guinn’s five Earthsea books. I first read them when much younger – I was in single figures when I started with The Tombs of Atuan, which isn’t the first book in the series. I’d never read anything like it.

On this read, it struck me how much the wizard Ged talks about doing and being, doing nothing, and the duties of the king in regards to his people. I recognised whole speeches as being reflections of the Tao Te Ching. Of course there is an Ursula Le Guinn Tao Te Ching, which I’ve got, and in it she talks about having read, re-read and lived with the core Taoist text for many years.

It was a potent reminder for me of the way in which fiction, things we delve into only to amuse ourselves, can have profound impact. Whether you wonder about the underlying philosophy of a book or not, you still let it in. We are shaped by our environments, and there’s nothing in us that is designed to respond to our psychological and emotional experience of arts and entertainments any differently from lived experience. When we pick what to watch, or read, or play, we pick our environments and those environments have the power to turn our genes on and off.

I stay away from torture porn films. I do my best not to look for too long at images of real life horror offered by the media. I’ve got room in my life for erotica, but not for pornography. I’ve never read any of the Game of Thrones books, nor watched any of it. Often I’m going by age rating and other people’s reviews, and a gut feeling about what I don’t want to have inside my head informing my body about what it needs to deal with the environment I live in.


A Druid on election day

I made the decision during this election not to campaign for a specific party. I’m Green, to the core, but aware that this is complicated. Hand on heart I believe nothing is more urgent than dealing with green issues – clean air and water, sustainable energy, food security and the long term viability of our species. I like and value the NHS, but if we can’t breathe the air, health care won’t save us.  At the same time, a Labour government would be a good deal better to press on this than a fracking-obsessed Tory outfit, and I have every sympathy for the SNP, and think independent candidates are an important part of the mix.

I’ve invested time in trying to persuade people that they should vote. I think non-voting is a massive issue. No matter why you do it, those in power will see it as apathy. They will see it as a blank cheque to do whatever they like. In all parts of the country, if non-voters  showed up, everything could change. If all previous non-voters voted Green, we’d have a Green parliament tomorrow. That’s a lot of potential power going to waste.

I want people to understand that their voting does make a difference and can change things. That even if you don’t get your candidate in, your support for them can still help shape national politics. I want people to realise that every single aspect of their lives is shaped by politics, and that not being interested means it is done to you, perhaps without your knowledge, likely not in ways that are in your interests.

There is a lot more to democracy than voting in general elections. There is a lot more to politics than newspaper headlines and dubious BBC reporting. It is not inevitable that things will stay as they are.

More than this, I want people to look around them, at the land they live on and the society they live in and vote for something better. Not the politics of fear, hate, and greed, which we’ve seen a lot of recently. Not the politics of who can give my family the best deal for the next five years. A proper look at who we want to be and how we want to live with an eye to the long term.

We have to ditch austerity. It doesn’t work on its own terms even – government borrowing is up. Austerity doesn’t deliver economic growth or prosperity for any but the very richest.

We need long term thinking so that our species can survive and thrive without wiping out everything else.

We need to care about each other, and care about our shared resources. We need to ditch the politics of the personal grab and face up to our collective responsibilities for each other. We need to be a good deal more civilized, and some enlightened self interest would go a long way. Any one of us can be knocked down by bad luck, and ill health. Most of us will be lucky enough to get old and need looking after. We have to stop pretending that the good things in our lives are earned and that our ‘hard work’ insulates us from misfortune and start recognising that anyone can get in to trouble, and build systems that are kinder, and fairer.


Living within our means

In economic terms, the idea of living within your means is straightforward – if what you spend is no more than that amount of money available to you, then you’ll be ok. Spend more than you have, and a downwards debt spiral is your destiny.

When it comes to the human species as household and the environment as ‘means’ no one seems to think in these terms. Governments treat the planet as an infinite resource that can be used in any way they see fit for short term profit. We have finite resources.  As a species, we’re running up quite a debt. When the bailiffs come round to deal with the debts, they will come as floods and droughts, famines and sickness from pollution. In many places, the bailiffs are already here. Our species keeps running up the debts even as people are dying from polluted air and water, and species go extinct.

Look at the cold hard facts of household economies, and it’s obvious that no sensible person would borrow more than they can pay back and get into the debt spiral. And yet, in our thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, we do just this. We do it because a short term crisis can land anyone in trouble. We do it because we’re bombarded constantly with messages about what we must have, and not everyone can defend themselves adequately from the constant brainwashing. We do it because poverty is a rigged game designed to drive you into debt and powerlessness. The ‘choice’ to live within our means often isn’t a choice at all.

These very same pressures and motives are at the heart of our species not living within its means. The constant pressure to own, consume, throw away and replace. The effects of poverty on the choices people can make around sustainability. Get into poverty and you’ll have a hard time of it affording the organic, fair traded, responsibly sourced, ethically made things. You’ll by cheap (to you, but expensive to the planet) to survive.

Until governments start thinking about how we, as a species, might live within in our means, this is going to be hard to tackle. For those of us who do have the luxury of choice, we can choose to have less. We can choose not to fuel the habit of competitive ownership. No more ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ If we were all a bit more willing to share our tools and toys, for example, we could reduce need, poverty and over-production. The more of us there are who don’t buy into the ideas of overconsumption, the more hope there is that this way of thinking will catch on.


Self esteem and the spaces that hold us

I’ve struggled with the idea of self esteem for some years. Struggled in a way I imagine is vaguely comparable to never having had some other functioning part of a body in that it’s really hard to imagine the functioning of something you’ve never had. I can’t figure out how to grow one and the self-help books leave me anxious and feeling inadequate.

The conventional wisdom is that we must not base our self esteem on external things, because that makes us too vulnerable. The truth is that what passes for self-esteem in me is entirely dependent on what’s around me. If I’m in kind, accepting spaces that value me and treat me well, I can be quite happy and functional. Treat me like shit and it’s almost instantly internalised and I fall into despair.

When I act based on the idea that my self esteem *should* come from within, and that I *fail* at this, I remain vulnerable to spaces that hurt me.

My impression is that the person with good self esteem will not accept the spaces where they are treated dishonourably, casually etc. They will leave. The person with poor self esteem is more likely to accept it as fair judgement, and stay. When your self esteem is a fair percentage externally sourced, this means a low self esteem increases the chances of staying in spaces that perpetuate a sense of low self esteem.

It’s taken me long enough to figure this out!

If I admit that my self esteem derives from my environment, everything changes. I can look at my environment differently. Do I feel safe, welcome and happy? Great, this is a good place, I should spend time in it. Do I feel cheap, worthless, used, and the like? Bad place, need to leave because if I stay it will start to define me.

I note that by thinking this way, and acknowledging how I am, I get to behave more like a person with good self esteem. If I can manage to work with this, and spend most, if not all of my time in spaces where I feel safe and happy, then to all intents and purposes, I will be a person with good self esteem.

This in turn raises questions about the people who, usually for economic reasons, are not able to vote with their feet to escape from oppressive and dehumanising situations. The psychological damage of being forced into appalling conditions out of poverty and desperation, is something we need to be thinking about, and working to change.


Art and the Druid

Scan of an original page from The Raven’s Child, drawn by Tom Brown.

On radio 6 recently Mark Radcliff claimed that only 0.7 % of the British public own an original work of art, but in France it’s more like 73%. I have no idea if this is true. Many of us will own prints, posters, mass produced knick knacks and other interior decor. It tends to be cheaper. Why would we pay more for a work of art?

First up there’s the question of the kind of world you want to live in. Do you want the spaces we inhabit to be prettied up by mass produced banality? Without original artists somewhere in the mix, that’s what we’d get. Often what you find as a poster or print is a piece of someone’s art, or photograph, duly copied and licensed. Popular, famous work involves artists who are dead and no longer subject to copyright. It may be that you’re fine with the driven starving artist model, where people spend their whole lives working unrecognised, Van Gogh style, only to make other people vast wads of cash after they’ve died. It’s not a model I’m a fan of.

We are affected by our environments. That includes the soundscapes and visual experiences we have on a daily basis. Mood, emotion, sense of self, even which genes are switching on and off, is informed by the space we are in. How we feel about that space is an important part of the mix. When you feel emotionally invested in what’s around you, it’s different to being surrounded by things you don’t really care about.

I have four pieces of original art on the walls – 2 pieces of my grandmother’s, 1 Andrew Wood, 1 Grizelda Holderness. I also have a limited edition Walter Sickert print (Army of Broken Toys Walter, not dead might have been Jack the ripper Walter). I have art prints from Matlock the Hare, and a Dr Geof poster. I have art postcards bought directly from local artists whose originals are out of my league. Each of these involved conversation, exchange, engagement, so when I look at the prints, they feel very different to other prints I’ve owned in the past. They feel personal. Beyond this, I have a small collection of Pete Brown (no relation) pottery, A Matlock the Hare Dripple, a handcrafted Hopeless Maine doll made by a young artist, a giant goth moth, small artefacts made by arty friends a pottery dragon, and a dragon made out of a coconut shell. Other people’s creativity is an everyday part of my life.

My living space is populated by things I care about, and representations of people I care about. Now, if you’re thinking in terms of spirits of place, on in animist terms that allow for objects to have spirit, art has implications. Here is someone else’s awen made manifest. Here is someone else’s soul poured into an act of creation. Here is a gift of creativity between friends. Bought or given, the object or image someone else has made with their own hands has a different feel to something mass produced.

I firmly believe that art should be affordable for everyone. For twenty five of your English pounds, Tom Brown will carefully roll an original page from Hopeless Maine or The Raven’s Child into a tube and post it to you. For £45 you can have two and we’ll throw in a poster. If you’re outside the UK, postage is a little more expensive. Original pages (as with the image in this post) are hand drawn in graphite, and are unique – each one having gone on to be a page in a book. They aren’t quite the same as art intended to hang on a wall, but they are most certainly art, and also very cheap, even by the standards of comics pages. Leave a comment if you’re interested and we’ll email you.


Vote for the Conservation of the Glorieta Stream

© Jesús Ortiz

Guest blog by Adam Brough, a member of CEN   CEN is an association in Tarragona, Spain working for the conservation and improvement of habitats and biodiversity.

One of our projects is the conservation of the Glorieta Stream, which became a finalist in the category of Alpine projects, and could receive support from EOCA. But this depends on a public vote accessible to anyone over the Internet.   The aim of CEN’s proposal for the Glorieta “is to guarantee the long term conservation of the Glorieta stream headwaters. The site is protected by the Natura 2000 Network of the Prades Mountains. The deep pools, long waterfalls, and turquoise waters are admired by thousands every year, including those that come specifically to hike and canyon. The area is rich in endangered species such as the white clawed crayfish, red tailed barbell and white throated dipper. The main threats are the increasing numbers of visitors, litter, graffiti and damage caused by visitors, and exotic invasive plant and animal species. Through CEN, this project will organise several clean up events, remove invasive species and raise awareness amongst local schools and businesses about the importance of the area. It will also negotiate with groups to regulate canyoning and fence off the most sensitive areas and highlight ‘safe’ routes and responsible behaviour.”

To vote for and get more information about the Glorieta stream visit this page: http://www.assoc-cen.org/Glorieta_eng.php

To get more people voting we ask that you pass this on to friends, family and other contacts through email, social networking sights, blogs, etc.. Thanks!

About EOCA’s project voting: http://outdoorconservation.eu/project-info.cfm?pageid=19   About CEN: “The association for the Conservation of Natural Ecosystems (CEN) is a non-profit organisation, whose objective is to work for the improvement and conservation of habitats and biodiversity. “…the CEN association develops projects to study and conserve natural ecosystems and makes a serious effort to raise the awareness of citizens of the necessity to respect the environment.” More information can be found on their website, in English here: http://www.assoc-cen.org/index_eng.php   Adam Brough is a British expat living in Spain. He’s always been interested in nature conservation from a young age, studying it in Sussex, England. As well as being a volunteer and board member of CEN, he lives and works in a private ecological project, Biosfera2030. He is a member of OBOD, studies psychosynthesis and ecopsychology, and regularly writes about his life and reflection in his blog, Druid in Training: http://www.druidintraining.wordpress.com/

 

If you are able to reblog this, please do as there aren’t many days left to get the word around.


Laundry for the revolution

If we take the solution of moving back to hand-washing as the greener solution, what happens? We use less water, less electricity and we have to use milder chemicals or we trash our hands. That’s a step down in terms of environmental impact. I’ve been doing this for a while. There are three of us, and none of us has continence issues, which makes it viable.

I was laundering this morning, thinking about how much time it takes. If I had some busy, well paid, high powered job it would be tempting to hire someone else to do the scrubbing for me. Someone less busy whose time is worth less money than mine. This is the great British solution to energy and work – servants. Take away the labour saving devices, and paying someone else to do it for you is the next logical step. Actually that’s not very comfortable.

Once you start paying people to be substitute washing machines, you’re going to start thinking of them as an underclass. These are the folk destined for drudgery, for the work that is beneath you. Thus we create our untouchables. The most essential work is often the least well paid and the least respected. Where would we be without waste collectors and toilet cleaners? What assumptions do we hold about the people who end up with those jobs?

Historically there’s been a lot of gender politics here, too. Laundry has been women’s work. It is women’s quality of life and freedom of time that has been most affected by labour saving devices in the home. It is still the case that women do the bulk of the domestic work, even where both partners also have employed jobs. Take away the washing machines, and there’s every reason to think this trend would continue, forcing women back into unpaid, time consuming, exhausting work.

Turning the clock back is not the answer to any of our modern issues. There is simply too great a risk that you bring back the ills that went alongside the previous solution, rather than making actual progress. In the case of laundry, the attendant ills are gender disparity and class divide. That’s a hefty risk to run with the issue of who is sorting out the underwear.

The way forward has to be about getting smarter, more efficient, more joined up in our thinking. I want a washing machine. I want it powered by a static bicycle. Currently people drive to gyms in order to use static bikes where nothing is done with that energy. I want places were static bikes sit next to washing machines and spin driers. Slow pedalling for the less athletic, while your hyper-fit gym bunnies run the spin driers. More fun and efficient than scrubbing by hand, no underclass and no gender divisions.

But for now I’ve got some wringing out to do.

 

(Anyone worried that I am living in a patriarchal scenario that means I get an unfair share of the domestics, I should mention that Tom does all the toilet and cat litter related stuff, it is an entirely workable trade-off!)


Working Green

There have been a lot of dramatic shifts in my life lately, and one of them is that I’ve just taken on a new job. I can’t call it ‘conventional employment’ because it won’t be – odd and variable hours, a lot of working from home, occasional periods of frenetic activity punctuated by quite bits, probably. I’m going to be the local press officer for The Green Party.

I’ve been a quiet member of The Green Party for about four years now, and for me it’s an important aspect of my being a Druid. The ancient Druids were, by all accounts, advisors to rulers. While I believe very strongly that the state should be separate from religion in terms of systems, as individual people we are both political and spiritual, or at least can be. I cannot separate the need for responsible political action from my spiritual life. The planet needs compassionate politics with an eye to the long term. We need social justice. Generally speaking, good environmental policy and social justice go together easily. We all need clean air and safe water, by way of obvious examples.

With the terrifying prospect of fracking on the agenda, with social justice pushed right out to the margins by a mainstream politics of short term greed, there is a real need for a Green agenda.

For me this is a dream job, because it enables me to take my writerly skills-base and put it to good use. One of the things that I struggle with, often, as a writer, is whether I am sufficiently useful to be making a difference. I got into writing in the first place because I wanted to make a meaningful contribution, and I believed that sharing words would be a good way to do that. I still do hold that belief, but these are different times from those in which Dickens raised awareness of the poor, or Blake challenged the dark, Satanic mills.

Putting my language skills to work for a good cause feels like a step in the right direction, for me. There’s also scope to work on making Green issues more acceptable, trying to reach out to a wider audience, not by ‘dumbing down’ but by finding accessible language, and engaging ways of telling the stories.

There are many things I love about Green politics. My job explicitly requires me not to do anything that looks at all like spin, or for that matter, that *is* spin. There is also a policy of polite and positive engagement. We don’t spend our time attacking individuals, it’s all about the ideas. We also don’t run campaigns full of negativity and misery. A big part of the idea is to try and inspire people, to facilitate individual responsibility, helping people who might not otherwise speak up, to engage with politics and make changes.

For a small party, the Greens in the UK punch well above their weight in terms of making changes. We get things done. Much of this happens outside of parliament (just the one green MP). There are a lot of Green councillors in the country, working quietly at a local level to try and improve things. I’m really proud to be stepping up to be a part of that.