Friday, 24 June 2011

The Great Compost Heap

I have not posted anything here for a few months.  I have started writing five blog posts or so about books I've read, topics I thought important, but nothing flowed to any kind of conclusion. The simple truth is, my mother died in February, and it seems like this was asking to be written about first, some simple basic things.

The experience of loosing someone close makes all that is here sharpen in colour and contour. This is how I experienced it. The immensity of someone being here and then simply not being here made me want to  immerse myself in the actuality of life. Being in life rather than writing about it, I suppose.  In the elements around me, air, ground and living things; food; music; dance; fires. The very basic old stuff of Life.
I used to think of life as a big wheel or river. Now I feel more and more that it is the Great Compost Heap, and that is a good and beautiful thought. Death, I think, can only push us closer to Life in all its material and simultaneously spirited actuality. That which is here, in the face of somebody not being here any longer. And to see the breathtaking preciousness of it all.

Somebody tweeted a Jules Verne quote a while ago, that deeply touched me in this context:

"Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them."

In my experience, our human imagination even in its most abstract form is deeply rooted and grown from reality – reality as the material, embodied world around us. And bound to it by similarity.

I spent last weekend in an amazing wood. It was a thank you trip for my good friend who helped me with so much when I had to organise my mum's funeral in another country, look after my dad, and deal with my own grief. It was also – to me – a trip in honour of my mother. Staying inside a wood in a yurt’s round structure, I felt as if I had returned to be held by green and motherly arms. Arms that let me mourn the loss of a life and cherish Life itself at the same time.
We spent an afternoon roaming through the woods with a man who has lived there for ten years. He was like a guardian of that place. As he was sharing his knowledge and stories, he also showed us a beautiful spot in a willow grove where he had buried his dog, beloved companion to him and co-guardian of the woods. The dog had in fact given the wood its name. As we were admiring the beauty and serenity of the place, he told us that foxes had dug up and eaten the dog’s body, everything apart from the head. I expected to feel bad about this but didn’t. And he added calmly “It’s ok. He has simply gone back into it all. This is how it is.”

There was the Great Compost Heap again, and the pleasure of a kindred soul sharing my feelings about it.

What speaks to me in this exchange and in the Jules Verne quote, is the idea that the real glory, beauty, ecstasy, comfort, sustenance and learning – of lessons lovely and lessons dark - is right inside the material world, those romantic  facts, here, now. The glory is not in transcending it all, but in experiencing us at one with it. All the spirit you could want is contained right in it. And us humans, we need to understand fully, with our minds as well as our bodies, that we are it. There is a most beautiful chapter in David Abram’s book  The Spell of the Sensuous, 'The Forgetting and the Remembering of the Air' where he talks about a Navajo concept:

For the Navajo, then, the Air - particularly in its capacity to provide awareness, thought, and speech - has properties that European, alphabetic civilization has traditionally ascribed to an interior, individual human "mind" or "psyche". Yet by attributing these powers to the Air , and by insisting that the "Winds within us" are thoroughly continuous with the Wind at large - with the invisible medium in which we are immersed - the Navajo elders suggest that that which we call "mind" is not ours, is not a human possession. Rather, mind as Wind is a property of the encompassing world, in which humans  - like all other beings - participate. One's individual awareness, the sense of a relatively personal self or psyche, is simply that part of the enveloping Air that circulates within, through, and around one's particular body; hence; one's own intelligence is assumed, from the start, to be entirely participant with the swirling psyche of the land. Any undue harm that befalls the land is readily felt within the awareness of all who dwell within that land. And thus the health, balance, and well-being of each person is inseparable from the health and well-being of the enveloping earthly terrain. ( p. 237)

The other day a wonderful Permaculture teacher, shared this gem of information:  It is estimated that the number of microorganisms in our large intestine alone is ten times higher than the number of all our own cells in our body. So in a way, we carry more of “something else” in us than we carry “of ourselves”. Ponder this. We are it, very intimately.

Jay Griffiths has written an entire love story to our affinity and kinship with the whole of existence. In Wild: An Elemental Journey, probably my most beloved book of all time, she urges: 

Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary. In wildness truth. Wildness is the universal songline, sung in green gold, which we recognize the moment we hear it. (p. 103)

I wonder what other religion, spirituality, basis for ethics and law, impetus for philosophy, social organisation, art, technology and general action we really need? And where from that human drive to look in other places?

Instead of cherishing the beauty and immense potential of our deep bond with all other life forms, us humans have spun a big story about the supremacy of our imagination, intellect and inventiveness above all else that exists. Of our rights above all else that exists. The world for our use, and if we ever recognise the ingenuity of other life forms, it is usually to exploit it for human gain.

As the story of human supremacy is beginning to unravel all over the place, I talk a lot about beauty. Championing beauty does not mean denying difficulty, suffering, violence, death and decay. It depends on understanding these things. My mum, incidentally, was a great believer in beauty and a close acquaintance of suffering at the same time.
This is at the core of this blog. Not a superficial rose-spectacled vision of how pretty the world is and how everything will sort itself if we just feel at one with it.

The only way really is here and now in our highly complex and destructive cultures and in whatever we choose to do, to take our inspiration from and for the living world. To breathe it in, to get intimately close to all its manifestations. Or to simply remember that we already are and never have been otherwise.

Because the Great Compost Heap requires of us to accept limits, loss and decay even as its beauty asks us to celebrate and to care for it with loving and inventive action.