Last year around this time, I found myself responding to an invitation by Cat Lupton to contribute a piece to her new blog The Place Between Stories. That was the beginning of a longer conversation that has unwound itself into the words below. The text is based on a conversation we had in St. James’ Park last spring, which I transcribed and we subsequently played with in a process of continued dialogue. It begins, as many of these conversations have done, with Dark Mountain and unfolds in several directions at once. It still is.
JDG: How did you find Dark Mountain?
CL: Kind of by accident. I took this transition in my own life in 2009, I gave up my job as a university lecturer and was basically in recovery from that. And I stumbled on Paul Kingsnorth’s piece in the Ecologist which then led me to the manifesto. And I just felt very inspired by it. I guess the idea of new stories about the world, new possibilities for writing and creative responses to the world is what drew me towards it initially.
But I think the strongest thing is the expressed desire to have conversations differently, to carry out enquiry differently. To open up space for saying let’s not just bring our received ideas and ways of speaking, of engaging with each other, to the table and keep repeating them. What I mean is the kind of speaking that sounds pre-scripted and depersonalised – say, the habit any of us can fall into of saying things like ‘we really must do something!’, when it’s not at all clear to whom that ‘we’ is referring. I recently came across Andrew Taggart’s distinction between reciting and improvising, and I found that helpful for thinking further about this. I connected with people in the project who seemed to share this sense of openness. So that’s probably the touchstone for me.
And it’s a metaphor. The Dark Mountain. You are not dealing with a programme, you’re dealing with this poetic metaphor which is very powerful. People have the mountaineering metaphor, the image of base camp, or gathering around a fire. It’s a sort of place where you gather and a place where you can go off to have your own Dark Mountain experience. The suggestiveness of having a geographical image is very strong (and mountains are already powerful metaphors for difficult inner journeys and spiritual experiences across many cultures). So you kind of know what it means without having to define it.
JDG: Yes. What I’ve found is that by opening a space, as you say, for having a different kind of conversation we are also becoming able to re-story and re-narrate not just the collective story but our own life stories as well. If we stop using the old concepts and language of growth and development, there arises some kind of momentum, a kind of conceptual vacuum, where we can begin building new meanings. I experienced that in something Andrew has said about the end of the career, for example. I thought “actually yes, I’m probably not going to have career in that way”. It doesn’t really make sense to think about my future in terms of pursuing a career. And suddenly new possibilities arise. It’s interesting to observe that Dark Mountain is sometimes able to create this kind of space where old concepts can be challenged and where we are able to collectively come to new meanings together.
CL: It is, for want of a better word, a delicate process that you find a kind of reciprocity with and it takes an incredible generosity towards first of all yourself and then towards others. Not to be impatient with the ‘not knowing’ of that open enquiry. Or the process you describe of re-telling the story of your life, which is an incredibly hard thing to do. You can’t believe the new thing that you are trying to open up. And so a sense of support is important to be able to maintain the conversation.
JDG: I came to Dark Mountain through an environmentalist or activist path. And what was really refreshing about coming to the Uncivilisation festival was finding other people who just had a similar kind of heartache. Being allowed to ache in order to heal and come to terms with that feeling of heartache around these issues and what’s going on at a planetary scale. That it’s OK. I mean, activism can easily fall into a sentiment of “just toughen up and get on” or “we can’t give up”. So when you actually do give up and sit down and look at it, it is pretty overwhelming.
CL: I’ve always been, through most of my adult life, fairly close to a sort of left-wing milieu where a lot of people are political activists of various kinds. But I’ve just never found an activist in myself to connect to. To commit to that way of being. I guess I’ve always had a wariness of exactly that kind of attitude you’re describing, that the ends justify the means so we must keep pushing on regardless. There is a set of behaviours that goes with activism that can be incredibly useful and powerful in some circumstances but then there’s a lot that it is repressing.
The ability to just take a reality check and say “are we actually achieving the goals that we say we are achieving?” is really important. Sitting down and taking the blinders off. What comes out? What else do we find?
JDG: There is a spiritual aspect to that mixture of heartache, meaning-making, and taking off the blinders, I think. At least to me. Although ‘spiritual’ is such a loaded word. I’ve always been interested in Buddhism and was very inspired by Alan Watts early in my life, so that’s where I come from in that regard. But the experience I’ve had over the last year has been that some of my daily practices of yoga, meditation, small prayers, there’s seems to be a greater depth in that aspect of my life. Which has come as a bit of a surprise, really. I wonder if this has to do with having all these conversations and engaging in a mode of communication where I don’t have to have answers all the time. People have mentioned spirituality in different ways as an aspect of Dark Mountain. Is that related to your interaction with Dark Mountain and your writing, or the creative aspect you mention?
CL: I think it is connected. This feels like quite an odd thing to say, but there is something about being at the Uncivilization festivals where there are just these powerful energies or serendipities that go through them. In terms of the people you just meet or run into, or happen to sit next to in a session. And you find these new connections. And other people you just walk past and you don’t see. Also, something really important for me this year at Uncivilization 2012 was making a connection with the land of the Sustainability Centre where the last two festivals have been held. I wrote a blog post about this: about asking for, and receiving, help from the land itself, from the being(s) of that particular ecosystem. You’re on these pathways that I would say are to do with energy, spirit and following intuition, even if what you’re bringing is a very secular, or rational, mind frame or thinking.
I don’t know how to describe this well, but it is as if there is a bigger purpose trying to realise itself through these gatherings, that brings people together seemingly at random, and they find these deeper connections together. And I notice things like people I think of as “the Dark Mountain Elders” who are just often not doing very much that is visible, like speaking out in q & a sessions, for instance, but whose presence just seems incredibly reassuring. And then there is a little contingent of children. So different generations are present. And it’s just this sort of feeling that it’s a community that is re-finding ritual, that is making a ritual even without consciously intending to do so. Or, there is some kind of intention there but there is something bigger going on with it. Does that sort of make sense?
JDG: I think that makes a good deal of sense. As you say, it is hard to talk about, really. What are those dynamics and processes? Other people have also mentioned a sense of synchronicity, serendipity, and how things pop up at the same time and bring people together. It isn’t something you can plan out but something that emerges out of what first appears as random encounters.
CL: It’s the sort of things that you can’t really predict or plan for. Like with the Liminal performance, which I participated in in a small way in 2011. And on that basis I became part of the Mearcstapa clan, who were involved with decorating the festival space and doing weird and wonderful things around the edges at this year’s Uncivilisation. There’s an intention to create something that’s quite edgy – liminal means on the edge or at a threshold. But it is not deliberately creating magic, it is more about crafting, and then stepping into, a space where magic might just happen, if you have crafted well, if you’re lucky, if the spirits are pleased and want to come out to play.
The thing about serendipity is very strong. People meet it when they are going through that process of emotional questioning of progress. It is when you stop and take a breath, when you stop pushing for results, that it comes up. That seems to be when people find connections. And it hits people at different times and in different ways but it puts something in the ground that is there as long as it is needed. The thing about serendipity is that it can take you where you need to go, and that is not necessarily where you might have planned to go. It opens the doors you weren’t expecting to find.
JDG: That whole process is really interesting! It is actually reflected in how Dark Mountain developed and how it grew. The emergence and the coming together. It wasn’t planned for.
CL: I suppose it’s the beginning of being in that kind of cultural movement where there’s a lot of disparity or dissensus to use that word. You know, you don’t have to all agree and don’t have to all follow the same programme. But there are resonances and differences that are echoing across this kind of space. And then it is very interesting all that happens within this space and the different networks of people who are drawn to it.
I remember at the 2011 festival being conscious that there were hackers, geeks, steampunk folk, Transition Town folk, permaculture folk, artists/makers, poets, smallholders, people living wild in the woods, different environmental activist groups, and more. All these different tribes that you wouldn’t normally expect to see at the same event, all finding some kind of resonance with Dark Mountain.
JDG: You mention dissensus which is something I’ve come to use more as a way of thinking about Dark Mountain. It seems to describe accurately a kind of unspoken agreement on the form of the conversation rather than the content. The ambiguity within Dark Mountain seems to be a real strength because people can connect to their own life and their personal circumstance and don’t have to, like you say, subscribe to a programme of action. It seems we can kind of agree on the core stuff. Whatever that is! It is quite hard to describe what Dark Mountain is. The boundaries are blurry and there are no hard edges. I’ve been thinking about those edges. It seems like they only really appear when we come up against some limit of what Dark Mountain is not or when we hit on some really sensitive issue. People can quickly become divided into ‘for and against’, and ‘right and wrong’, when the conversation turns on deep emotional and personal stuff. Then the form of the conversation all too quickly breaks down.
I was trying to make sense of this thing about edges when I read your essay from Dark Mountain 2 [based on the blog post Wandering Around Words], which is dealing with how language sometimes becomes an obstacle for the deeper interaction that goes on within our conversations. I found that really interesting because I feel like we easily trip when we talk about more emotionally charged ideas or topics. Then people seem to get into fixed positions and the conversation breaks down into an argument much quicker.
CL: My interpretation of that is to do with the cultural fear and entrenchment we bring from a society that values certainty and holding your position. Which would rather try to be strong than say “I don’t know”, or ask “can we look at this differently”. In many of these situations you are dealing with a shadow, in a Jungian sense, a part of yourself that is so repressed that when it emerges, it emerges very violently. And one of those things, I guess, would be violence. Living in a society where most of us privileged people are pretty uncomfortable with and removed from direct physical violence, we don’t meet violence in our day-to-day lives, yet our civilization is built on incredibly deep violence. We practice violence indirectly through non-physical forms, through intellectual violence or emotional violence or by projecting the source of violence onto somebody or something else. I’ve begun dipping into Marshall Rosenberg’s work on Non-Violent Communication, and just the fact that he identifies most of the normal, taken-for-granted ways that we speak and converse with one another as violent, and then explains why they are violent, is itself a revelation. Subliminally you think of yourself as being a nice person and not being violent. Yet that violence is still there within oneself and it doesn’t take much for it to surface and overwhelm a conversation. And then it is not possible to have that kind of dialogic space anymore.
JDG: Yes, that describes it well! In Wandering Around with Words you ask:
“what happens if we act in the name of certain words without questioning them? They might, for a while, set hard enough to make a crust to stand upon, to rally around. ‘Sustainable development’, ‘uncivilisation’, ‘stop the war’. But underneath, molten questions and challenges are moving all the time; sooner or later the pressure of what has been left unsaid and unexamined will break to the surface and demand attention.”
The importance of the language we use has become a central theme to my research. Not in the sense that we need to analyse everything or be pernickety about every word we use. But in the sense that we need to recognise language as a dynamic flow, a continual stream, where it is implicit that the words or categories we articulate are useful only insofar as they allow for emergence and avoid closing down meaning.
As you say, it seems really important that we pay attention to this. And refrain from just regurgitating words and phrases because we feel they signal something we can identify with. That too easily leads us into a use of language that makes the world appear static and dead. Which ends up reproducing the unspoken power relations that plague our social interactions. I almost want to say that if stories open new possibilities, language can make or break them. How do we deal effectively with our ‘encultured inability to engage with complexity’, as you call it, and begin to embrace the openness and uncertainty of language?
CL: One of the things that’s begun to interest me is how English, and many other languages, are predominantly oriented towards nouns. So our entire language drives a habit of dividing the world up into discrete objects which are supposed to stay put, to be what they say they are, to have labels stuck on them. I wrote a blog post recently which was about being weary of this kind of language, the last line of which ended with the phrase “hand the power of nouns over to rich, ever-unfolding variations upon verbness.” I had in mind languages like Navajo, which famously place much less emphasis on nouns and use a lot more combinations of verbs, and how this nurtures in speakers a much more dynamic sense of being-in-process-within-a-world-in-process, if I can put it like that.
Daniela has also been looking into this aspect of Navajo and also a similar tendency in Inuit languages. Adding to this – more synchronicity! – I got around to reading the second part of your conversation with Tony Dias, and the passages where you talk about not reducing things to labels, which is about setting them up as fixed things outside yourself that you then have to subjugate yourself to, but staying in more fluid relationship with something like Dark Mountain. That was the best articulation I’ve found so far of trying to understand this kind of dynamic.
There’s also a question for me of nurturing the kinds of spaces where people can have these kinds of conversations, because they are about learning, experimenting, and taking risks, so it’s important that people feel safe, that trust is built and maintained. That judgement is put to one side, that those involved will practice generosity and compassion towards one another. It’s worth emphasising ‘practice’ because most of us aren’t automatically good at these things, so it is very much about practicing and learning to do them better. Although it’s not appropriate to every circumstance, for me the Way of Council is a good starting point, a good container, for this kind of work, because it has forms and ground rules that promote that kind of trust, safety and openness – speaking and listening from the heart.
The Rise and Root session that I helped co-host at Uncivilization this year, along with some of the other members of Mearcstapa (the other hosts were Allie Stewart, Daniela Othieno, Tom Hirons, Steve Wheeler and Rima Staines), was a first attempt at creating that kind of space for the whole Unciv community to encounter each other, to speak and listen deeply in a place where all voices are equal. Allowing for things that could be done better next time, many people seemed really to appreciate that session, and for me helping to hold that space was a very powerful and instructive experience, and a real honour as well.
Coming back to the point you made earlier: if a conversation hits on something really sensitive and the people participating don’t feel safe (which might not be a conscious awareness), if their sense of reality is threatened, then everyone starts clamping down, retreating to very entrenched positions and hurling insults at one another, which boil down to ‘you’re a so-and-so’ (forcing a label onto them). In my experience, people often have a certain tone of speaking, or certain words or catch phrases they use, or a little routine that they go through, or they start talking faster and blocking their interlocutors out, if they’re feeling insecure or threatened or under pressure, and these are always very clammed up and defensive ways of using language. I know I have these habits myself.
The psychologist Wilhelm Reich saw people as having ‘character armour’, that they store emotional pain and repression and the effects of social moulding within their bodies as a kind of rigidity and tightness (the classic English stiff upper lip, which is about men especially not showing emotion, is an example), which is hugely detrimental to their physical, emotional and spiritual health. I wonder if it’s possible to talk about a parallel phenomenon of ‘language armour’.
JDG: That’s an interesting idea! So we could say that we need to remove our language armour before being able to engage in this kind of conversation. I guess that is another way of saying that we are vulnerable when we open up to ‘not being right’. And that’s why trust and support is so important. It helps us move beyond that initial feeling of exposure into a deeper sense of mutuality.
I’m trying to get to grips with how people express the Dark Mountain narrative in their lives and how to talk about that. You mentioned being attracted to the creative and poetic in Dark Mountain. How do you engage with Dark Mountain in a creative way?
CL: It’s interesting because it’s not that I don’t think I do, it’s just that if I do it is not intentional. When I try to have intentional engagement with some kind of mental construct of what I think the Dark Mountain Project is about, things like local living, storytelling, reconnecting to land and, eco-poetry, I don’t actually do any of that stuff. And it doesn’t come to me, or through me, in any sense.
Yet in the last year I’ve done a series of photography-related projects for Dark Mountain: I wrote an illustrated post for the blog, and curated a photo-essay of my own work and that of three other photographers (Bridget McKenzie, Tony Hall and Andy Broomfield) for Dark Mountain 3, and with Bridget and her husband Brian I put together the Light Leaves installation for this year’s Uncivilisation. And when I see these things finished there are definite resonances with Dark Mountain concerns: with re-wilding the self, for instance, with the complicated place of photography and more broadly digital technology in a declining civilization; but those are not like ingredients that I set out to put consciously into those projects.
It links back to the question we were just talking about, and again your conversation with Tony Dias really helped my understanding of this. If I try and relate to Dark Mountain as a set of fixed concerns which I’m ‘supposed’ to be engaging with, paralysis ensues. But if can let go of my preconceptions enough and just make something, I look back at what I’ve done and can and see that it definitely fits with, or adds to, Dark Mountain’s preoccupations. Also, it’s worth stressing that all of these projects are in some degree collaborative, they’re ‘conversations’ involving the work of a group of people, not just me.
I guess Dark Mountain has also prompted me to ask bigger questions, about how to live well in a world in which economic and ecological certainties are unravelling. How to make sense of really drastic changes to the world’s climate, if you happen to be in a place where the impacts are indirect, and have to be inferred from quite abstract data? How to you make sense of, and live with, the myriad layers of what is happening and what is changing? What are the right choices for me to make, in the context of where I’m at now?
For me, writing and art aren’t about responding with the kind of urgency and immediacy that on one level those kinds of questions seem to demand. Or, to be specific, I can’t do the kind of writing that I do and feel it is any good if I submit myself to those kinds of pressures. It is much more about a longer rumination, an I-don’t-quite-know-what’s-going-on process of responding to things in the world which I am not even consciously aware of. It changes the time of reaction. Although you are living in a civilisation which is in the process of decline, materially or culturally, you don’t suddenly wake up one morning and see the end result of that process. Even in fifty years, you could only see a fraction of things changing. So how do we live in that much longer scale? It’s made me think about that process of adjusting life to that kind of temporality. And be honest about that.
JDG: Wendell Berry, in his recent Jefferson Lecture, says very succinctly and powerfully that sustainability is really about developing cultural cycles that map back onto fertility cycles of the planet. That has condensed what the whole sustainability issue is about for me. And I think that is directly related to what you are saying about time and how time is constructed in our civilisation and that sense of urgency and hurry. When you look at the development of the mechanical clock, for example, it’s apparent that over the last thousand years cultural cycles have been increasingly pushed out of sync with natural cycles by a tendency towards speed and efficiency created by clock technology itself.
In Norwich you still find a few churches which have sundials. That was how you measured time and that was all that was needed until you had railroads when you needed to be there on time for the train. It ties in with the development of industrialism all the way up to computers and network time. Today time seems to be just an abstract. We’ve abstracted time from actual physical process as well as extracted space from physical place.
What seems to be a kind of cultural task is to start paying more attention to natural temporalities, getting used to thinking in different, slower or much longer time-scales. I think that relates to what you are saying about looking ahead and saying it is not just about the next five years, or a small window in which we can deal with climate change or something like that. We actually need to think deeper about how we want to live and how we re-inhabit longer temporalities.
CL: I think that’s right. I was thinking about indigenous temporalities as well – although that’s a very generalised way of putting it. I recently read Rebecca Solnit’s book A Book of Migrations where she goes travelling in Ireland. She was talking to people in Southwestern Ireland, which is a rural area where things move slowly, and heard a story about a local guy in a pub nearly getting into a fight with an English visitor, because the local guy was raging quite seriously about an episode that happened during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland – that’s around 350 years ago! And that really made me stop and think, about how there are cultures where people still carry a much deeper, denser sense of historical time, of ancestral time, than we in our speeded-up lives do. What then counts as ‘recent’ history, or ‘too far’ in the past to be worth getting into a fight about? Where are past, present and future? Who gets to make those kinds of decisions and judgements? Even my saying ‘time moves slowly in Southwestern Ireland’ feels like me imposing my assumptions about time on that place – I actually haven’t a clue how fast people there feel themselves to be moving!
Going off at a tangent from that, I’ve been thinking recently that you can also get into the same pattern of linear narrative thinking that the growth society isn’t going to continue. What if it actually does? What if it does so for the next twenty years in the part of the world where you find yourself? It almost becomes a challenge of not how you deal with things falling apart but how you deal with things not falling apart! Although the bigger picture is decline, growth could continue in some places, just serving smaller and smaller fractions of society. A number of things brought me to this point where I felt the need for a reality check about the story of the end of growth as much as the story of growth.
I’ve been haunted on and off by a comment that a guy posted after one of the Dark Mountain blogs, going back a while now so I’m paraphrasing this instead of digging out the source. He was a teenager in the early 1970s, and had heard Teddy Goldsmith speaking at his school, basically saying that within 20 years, industrial civilization would have completely collapsed and the survivors would be subsisting off the land. So the guy decided to go live on the land and become an organic farmer in Devon. He’d raised a family there and it sounded like in every sense he’d lived a beautiful, valuable life, helping to heal the land where he was. Yet he was now finding himself having to face up to his adult kids, who felt that he’d been crying wolf all those years about a terrible future that just didn’t materialise, so rather than following his path they want to go live in the city, drive cars, have conventional jobs, that kind of mainstream life. Lots of similar stories dog the environmental movement: over-precise predictions of calamity that didn’t come to pass as anticipated.
Several things come out of this for me. Many of the stories in circulation about how collapse will happen seem to mirror the narrative of progress in that they are extraordinarily simplistic – they presume that things will unfold in predictable ways with large-scale general effects. It’s curious: in many ways John Michael Greer is one of the most subtle, historically-informed thinkers about peak oil and collapse: he points out over and over again that it’s not about a one-hit apocalypse, but a process of slow and uneven contraction and decline, punctuated by brief periods of consolidation, over long stretches of time. But I’ve started to wonder (although I’m nowhere near an expert on these issues) whether he underestimates some of the ways that current technology might, at least in some places for some segments of the population, complicate or speed up that overall process. It’s knowing that the overall picture is correct, but the devil is in the detail, and it’s in the detail that each one of us has to work out the best way for him- or herself to live!
It always puzzles me how few people, even extremely smart people, really seem to take to heart that the world is composed of many multiple, discontinuous realities. How often big, general, global consequences get confidently extrapolated from a comparatively narrow set of experiences and perceptions. One of the really hard things to confront about the current crises is how the impacts are extremely uneven, the reactions to those impacts often seem totally counter-intuitive and counter-productive (well, at least from a liberal, left-leaning perspective they do: I guess if you are one of the tiny percentage of financial beneficiaries of the crises, you want to wring as much from the Earth as you can while you still can), and there seems to be no connection or even mutual recognition across the increasingly sharp divides.
Why is it the overly-simplistic story memes that seem to float around and hold people’s attention and belief, rather than the more complicated but more probable versions? Why is there this sense in someone like Greer’s writings that he has to keep on repeating certain core premises about the long and uneven descent, to reign in some tendency ‘out there’ to reduce future events to a one-dimensional collapse? It’s like we’re telling ourselves stories to try and stay in control of a process of unravelling that actually we can’t control to anything like the extent we believe we can, because there are so many variables, and so many uncertainties. Like – this comes back to a point you made earlier – trying to fit events into the mathematical, decimal time-frame that the culture of our modern minds is comfortable with: ten year chunks, fifty year chunks, things that will happen in the short, medium and long term. But again, how does a particular modern (Western) human social notion of ‘the short term’ map onto unfolding, not directly predictable, patterns of climactic instability caused by global warming? Or onto the natural planetary cycles you talked about earlier? Put it another way, how do you keep in your mind at once the ‘slow violence’, the little incremental changes that are impossible to see, the fact that these can add up to sudden tipping points of rapid and very drastic transformation, and the eventualities covered by neither of these?
I’ve been thinking quite a bit for various reasons about stories and credulity, which comes back to the Devon farmer. About the risks of believing someone else’s version of reality – especially someone who has authority as a figure of power, an expert or leader – letting it carry you along to the point where you lose your own bearings, and then it turning out that they were not quite as right as you’d believed them to be. Again, Tony Dias’s distinction between following your inner compass and following an external pilot is a really helpful metaphor for this. Funnily enough, these thoughts always end up with me recalling the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, who spirited all the town’s children away with his beautiful music and shut them up in the mountainside – all except for the little crippled boy who couldn’t keep up with the rest, and so was able to raise the alarm. In this light, it intrigues me no end that Rima Staines happened to choose the Pied Piper for her extraordinary painting for the cover of the second Dark Mountain book!
JDG: Yes, it seems like we have a set of deep habits to overcome in breaking away from the one-size-fits-all, quick-and-ready answers we find for ourselves. It’s such a difficult process because it involves giving up our sense of control and security, getting comfortable with being vulnerable and being held by others, not seeking salvation in technology and not having solutions! It involves a deeper and longer rumination, as you say, that really doesn’t feel very comfortable in the beginning. And we are so used to having our attention taken away by political slogans, economic master-plans, advertisement and propaganda that it is hard just to hold our focus. At the heart of this is something that Tony talks and writes about so well, the fact that our attention is all we have. When I first noticed how often my attention wandered, I was discouraged. It is all too easy for some seemingly brilliant idea to capture our imagination without the slightest resistance.
I am by no means adept in holding my attention but it undeniably gets easier. In those longer moments of rumination we can begin to see how senseless this dissipation of attention is. I’m beginning to think that this lies at the core of every move towards brutality, fascism and cruelty (and the fact that these things are hard to watch makes it all the easier to turn our attention elsewhere). As soon as we lose our attention we are projecting or filling in the gaps with past observations. We miss an opportunity to see what usually falls in between the cracks. And we certainly can’t grasp this thing you mention about the diversity, multiplicity and complexity of reality. Which is the very source of any beginning to feel ok in this world!
And it seems plausible to me that we can only begin to make sense of what a non-linear narrative or perspective is, when we have some kind of experience of it. It is there, readily available, all the time in our being present. There is a moment in David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous where he goes out into a field and has an experience of past and future coming together into the present. It is that kind of presence I’m alluding to. If we can hone in on that, we may begin to become more attuned to the astonishingly diverse realities we exist within. The way we are so deeply intermeshed with the rest of the world that surround is undeniable when we let go of our projections and really step into the present.
CL: Yes, I think you’re right. Coming back to choosing where to place one’s attention, coming back to the present and learning to observe what is there without the baggage of preconceptions and labels and without rushing to classify and extrapolate, this is the beginning of a capacity to approach these matters in fresh ways. As you say, it’s not an easy thing to do: it’s practicing and failing and trusting yourself to pick it up again, and that you can get better at it, and that then your sense of what the world is does gradually begin to shift.