Now Fuck Off.. .
Is a short essay... or long blog post about stepping in and out of the picture.
This month I co-facilitated another Nature Enquiry Weekend at The Quadrangle in Kent. Weekends which have, over the last three years, explored human relationship to ‘nature’ with the aspiration of deepening this relationship; engendering a level of empathy for non human nature and ability to respond to the catastrophic impact of the Anthropocene (the current era in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and environment) on ourselves and the world that we inhabit.
This weekend felt different for me. A couple of reasons contributed to this. Time, Joy and the woo woo! It was, for starters, longer. We had been talking about going deeper and taking more time since beginning these processes in 2016. This desire coincides with my current developing practice The Bakery Of Slow Ideas and a recognition of the need to slow down, to ‘un-pack’ our time. It was a summer bank holiday and we used that Monday well. The joy factor came in the alchemy of those present. This also resonates with my current understanding of how we can engage in considering and tackling the terrifying repercussions of the aggressive rise of the far-right worldwide, related climate breakdown and predicted social collapse. You need to want to turn up and this desire for me is about how much fun and laughter is present. And then the final element was the woo woo on the final day… I’ll get to that in a minute.
The Enquiry Weekend is a process, like all meaty and transformative processes, that has sticky and difficult elements to it; elements that need attention and consideration. One is that while I spend my life in recognition of both the need to engage in deep listening and the health-giving benefits of diversity on every level from microorganisms to cultural migration, the Enquiry still struggles to have a rich enough diversity of voices in the room. The Quadrangle is run by a family with a very inclusive and politized vision and all the founders of The Enquiry Weekend strive to reach out and pull in people for whom it will offer a new and affecting experience. Despite this, we often find it hard to diversify participants in relation to gender, economics, race, culture & ability. There is diversity but there can always be more. This diversity creates a robust and accepting context for exchange. My conclusion is that fundamentally, for participants to reflect a radically diverse community the core organizers need to reflect this diversity which means that we need to either step down or allow others to access the resources to design their own experience with aspirations of addressing similar issues. These thoughts lead to the exploration of new opportunities and possibilities for facilitating wider activities that will emerge in the future. But for now, I want to explore a group of experiences that occurred at this weekend’s nature Enquiry and speak to the related ideas of ally-dom and stepping out the picture when your input is no longer needed.
The weekend works. It is inspiring and creates community. I think this is due to an alchemy that occurs by bringing together several of the evolving tenets that underlie the vision:
1. Shared Responsibility and Self Organisation. The setting up & cleaning up of meals, the organization of space, the group engagement and choice to attend and even an Only Wolves And Lions style meal on one evening is all left to the group. This breeds a sense of communal ownership and joy in seeing the process evolve with your help and input.
2. Shared facilitation. No one person holds the content of the weekend and we invite all participants to offer sessions, whether a 15-minute provocation or two-hour workshop.
3. Adaptability and porosity. As a core curatorial group (which changes slightly from Enquiry to Enquiry) we try and act responsively shifting the sessions, adding dialogues, extracting talks, throwing in warm-ups and cool-downs, meditations, and check-ins where they feel needed. Response-ability for the collective physical and mental health is a priority.
4. Transparency. All organizer/facilitators also contribute financially to the weekend meaning that the costs are kept down for everyone and bursary places can be offered.
5. Somatic and sensorial processing. We input sensorial exploration, deep listening & ritual based experience from practices of letting go, to mycorrhizal meditations and fireside Shenanigans.
6. We translate the ‘woo woo’. Many of the people attending don’t consider themselves to be alternative minded. But we attempt to present the out-there ideas in digestible forms allowing people to experience the possibility of these things being real without clothing them in jargonistic/spiritual/overly academic terminology which would distance those who are most needing of the experience.
On the final day of the inquiry, one of the core creative team, the artist Fiona Macdonald offered several processes that are emerging from her current collaboration with practitioners of Bee Shamanism. I wanted to discuss this day for the effect it had on my thinking and my actions.
We started the day with a bee Meditation which is a process of walking the infinity sign (the consistent shape of a bee’s passage through space is a figure of 8). Each participant spent 20 minutes weaving around two stones placed about two metres from each other. Some hummed as they walked, others walked in silence. It was about focusing on journeying towards the energy of the Bees and asking what we needed to learn from them as a species. I enjoyed it. We did it as a collective in a field. It was hot and we were dressed in funny (and beautiful) Sun Ra style robes. We looked a bit like the Animal collective. I didn’t get profound thoughts, I did sweat a lot.
In the afternoon we did a Bee constellation. Taken from Family constellation or Systemic Constellations, whereupon an individual confronts blockages, family trauma, historical problems that feel like they are playing out in the present through the placing of other participants in relation to themselves and then ‘feeling in to’ how this makes them feel. The participants are also asked to speak from this placed position in space. Profound and surprising therapeutic phenomena often occur. All of the reports that I have heard over the years are positive and reveal that there is much that we don’t know about how to unlock psychological blockage. ‘Family constellations’ was a practice developed through psychologist Ben Hellinger, spending several years living with Zulus and observing their world view. Hellinger then assimilated their conflict resolution methods into his developing therapeutic practice.
So this Monday Fiona Macdonald, Debora Richmond and Liz Granfort ran a Bee constellation whereupon we were invited to play elements that contributed to the Bees experience of life and channel and articulate the felt experience from the position of these different situated elements.
I was the first participant that Liz approached, asking if I wanted to play the role of the queen bee. I complied and was lead to the center of the circle, then the Bee Keeper was invited in and placed diagonally in front, with her back to me and immediately I felt animosity. Thirdly the worker bee was lead-in. We were all then asked how we felt and further elements were brought in embodied by other participants: The honey, the trees, drone bees, the wild bee, human consumerism, and an unknown element. Each time an element was brought in we were all asked how we felt and invited to move either in relation to our own feelings or in response to the utterance of another.
Put in the position of the queen bee, faced with the dynamic of the beekeeper who wanted to ‘get it right’ while still farming and the trees desire to make it all alright I increasingly felt sickness, exhaustion, and fury. I felt like my skin was turning in to blackened armor and I wanted and expressed that I wanted the beekeeper to fuck off out of the constellation. I felt ambivalent about the human consumer, annoyed with the worker bees inability to protect me and my inability to protect her and slightly in love with the wild bees. But my main emotion and state was that of fury. Each time the beekeeper expressed its seemingly selfish desire to try and work out how to work ethically with us I felt the truth of the situation. There can be no compromise when redressing abusive relations. No partial t. No right way to enslave. The abuser cannot be part of the healing, not an initial part of the healing anyway.
After the experience & on reflection, It felt a direct comparison with colonialism: the massacres, the holocausts, the enslavement and imprisonment of whole nations for gain. And echoing in my brain was a sentiment from a book written in collaboration between a white American and an indigenous elder: Neither dog nor wolf by Kent Nerburn. In this book, the elder says [paraphrased]: Stop either deifying us or subjugating us, stop wearing our jewelry and smoking our peace pipes, or denigrating us, spitting at us in the street, just give us our land back, give us space to be ourselves. It echoed the urgent cries from the land protectors, the tribal leaders who I listened to this week at the Flourishing Diversity Summit (a unique opportunity to listen, dialogue, and participate with indigenous leaders from across the world many of whom express the critical situations faced by their people through climate breakdown), Cries demanding the giving back of land to those who understand how to care for it. And it echoed the west indies call for financial reparation from the 400-year slave trade. Recognition of the abuse that has occurred is the first step towards repair. And then at least for a while...just fuck off.
I knew what humans had to do. Stop farming bees. Re-wild large areas of the world and allow entire species to heal, especially those who have been enslaved and spent their lives working in continuous toil, to heal on their own.
…plant trees, give bees homes, take them out of the prisons (hives), stop eating their food and demanding that they supply slave labor. It was a profound and unnerving insight that left me with tears of anger throughout the constellation process.
This process allowed me to experience the commodification of nature from the perspective of that which is commodified and has implications on how I understand both contemporary human relationship to the natural world and its mirroring in the last 16,000 years of the Western drive towards ownership and subjugation. And so far I’ve stopped eating Honey….
The weekend ended with a surprise visitation. After the core group cleaned the space for a couple of hours and were ready to leave, 8 of us were left sitting in a circle surrounding an 8 cm bright green, blue & brown majestic dragonfly who had landed on one of the mats drying outside. We sat working out what this 16 cm wingspan of splendor wanted. Its tail was searching and sensing the blue damp rubber, curious and tender. After five minutes of watching in wonder, it lifted itself into the air like a carefully controlled drone (or vice versa… the drone being like a…Anyways). It looked directly into the face of several of us and then landed on the arm of Jane, and then on the shoulder of Jane and then on the bare leg of Jane and then on the hat of Anna and then again on her hat and then on my arm and then on my knee and then again hovered looking me straight in the eyes and then across to Max and back to Fiona landing each time and...what? Searching our skin for scent? For taste? Moisture? And then to Judith and Jessie, to Sam and Gabriel…. It went round and round returning to each of us, landing, sensing, watching enquiring…landing on each and all of us...for 15-20 minutes and then was gone. We sat there, breath taken.
Messages are there to be read, ritual is there to be made, action is there to be taken.
[In many cultural contexts Dragonflies symbolize change, transformation, adaptability and self-realization, often referring to emotional and mental maturity and an evolved understanding of the meaning of life.]