genderwild mystic; diary #6

I almost died again two days ago -in my favourite place to almost-die. The last time was much more serious. The last time, misjudging the light and the tide, I found myself edging up a broken cliff-face of dirt and loose rock -worse than scree- visibility rapidly decreasing to the point that, as I reached the summit I was practically advancing by touch alone. As I strode along the cliff-top directly afterwards, I felt consciously reborn.

This time, a bit further north again from Bude, sleeping in the abandoned military shelter (probably) a little south along the coast-path from Hawker’s Hut, I took a day to scramble around the cliffs and beaches below, although it had only meant to be a few hours. On the other side of the ridge from Tidna Shute I descended a scree slope, full of boulders at precarious angles, sure that I knew what I was doing. It turned out to be a little tougher than it looked as, near the bottom, throwing my bag down before me, I had to skirt round some jagged boulders and grab on to loose gravelly dirt for half a second in order to swing me safely the final few yards to the solid boulder-scape which extended into the sea. These boulder-scapes are characteristic of the north Devon and Cornwall coastline.

Okay, so I didn’t ‘almost die’ this time but I was closer to death than I care to get on the average day. It then seemed to take me forever to jog and climb the boulders around the cliff-side -as well as some dragons-teeth sections of cliff in order to get to the beach on the other side of Tidna Shute, the objective of the whole exercise. I lay on the beach, exhausted from recent days of mental anguish, thinking that I would lie there right up until the tide retreated once more. I observed and heard some comical and stunning-looking birds, which I now know to be oystercatchers, and on a faraway rock mid-water a cormorant sunned itself. It was then that a darkness descended within me. Perhaps it was for lack of drinking water but I suddenly did not want to write or to study the books that I had brought. Suddenly I did not like the feeling of being isolated and trapped on the pebbles. Observing the cormorant which perched almost still for a few hours, did not help much. This was despite that I had come here to be less human, to be more of the wild. As the tide began to retreat and I began to edge back along the coastline, I realised I would not be able to return to my shelter via the scree slope. I would have to travel further back towards Bude, hoping or assuming that with the tide retreating there would be a clear passage to the place where I knew a stream cut a cleft in the cliff-side that could be walked up.

Early on on my way back round, before reaching the scree slope I risked a brave but safe climb to negotiate some lingering waters -a little higher than they had been on my outward journey- I was shaking afterwards. Then I found a clear path up a short face next to the outcome of Tidna Shute, filling my bottle from the waterfall. This easy traverse had been hidden ‘over the edge’ on my outward journey, forcing me to double-back earlier. So I reflected now, that when running and climbing rocks, what looks easy may be very dangerous and what looks impossible may actually be simple and safe. With a little thought, this lesson can be applied to life in general: only through taking risks can we develop our intuition and experiential learning about which situations require practice and study, which situations can be traversed easily with existing skills (although bravery may be needed) and which situations should be avoided entirely.

When I was sat on the beach before heading back, I wondered at the apparent default thinking patterns of my brain when facing a difficult situation. Thoughts of self-recrimination and even self-hate quickly gathered momentum. When I was a fair way past the scree slope and back towards Bude, as an oystercatcher circled my head, squeaking like a rat warning me off, the darkness suddenly gave way to light. This was not to do with my immediate predicament. It was that a new strategy of life, for the foreseeable future presented itself. This was the remedy to the mental anguish I had felt prior to taking the bus to Bude for this much needed break.

Knowing how clever the unconscious mind is, I now realise that I had engineered my strandedness on the beach, via that dangerous descent to reflect the urgency of this point in my life, a crisis in home (where shall I live?) and career (what should I spend my time on and how?). The wilderness of the coastline and the sure rhythm of the tide then became my comrades as, escaping immediate physical danger, their bareness and profound non-human beauty, along with my mindful jumping from rock to rock, were the perfect alert and blank canvas for sheer despondency to give way to sheer hope, like an inevitable wave, and then a pivotal plan for my near future emerged -I sat in the shade of a rock to scribble, oystercatcher circling aggressively.

It was apt that I still didn’t know whether I would safely reach the point where I could access the mainland, at least not without entering the water. I think at this point the danger was minimal. Apt because I didn’t know, because I don’t know, whether my new ‘life-plan’ will take me safely onto the main path of my life, which I have envisioned from behind and below, as if from a dangerous rocky beach, for so long now.

One of my writing jobs for this little wilderness retreat was to pen the next instalment of my genderwild mystic diary. I had thought to write of gratitude, including as related to the ‘first’ mystic practice of self-restraint. I also wanted to expand my explanation and exploration of my first practice to incorporate proactivity and the fresh directing of will-power, from moment to moment, seeking out the new, or the ‘solution’ in any given moment in a way that springs released, a shute through the side of old negative habits that are now being restrained. For instance, having been sex-obsessed and vulnerable to the obsession re-surfacing at times of stress and change, as I paced my way along the coast-path from Bude towards my temporary abode one day previously, just off the bus, I proclaimed of the wilderness around me that was teeming with insect-life and punctuated by birdsong and wild blooms of colour that also sung; ‘this is sex!’ I meant that the wild unfolding of life around me, the rugged coastline and my awareness of these, were a deep-felt and vibrant sensuality as satisfying as any orgasm.

The experience of despair and then breakthrough amidst the rocky coast are an affirmation of this mystic breaking free, moving forward with new solutions and new ways in the context of a Nature which will always be dangerous. Since that experience, it is easy once again to feel that gratitude which I periodically lose in the arrogance of my desire. Desire for sex or for achievement, desire that was righteously robbed from me by rocks and the ocean as I was forced to live moment by moment by quick wits and feet, desire ironically returned to me once I had paid Nature Her dues, once I had briefly sacrificed not just my selfishness but my existential security. ‘Here, so make your little plans’ She mocked, once my safety was assured.

The second practice of this genderwild mystic is gratitude. I have so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for this fit and healthy body that at nearly forty years old can run across boulders and free-climb cliffs. I am grateful for the clarity of this mind that can process the life with which it comes into contact daily, in such a fulfilling way. I am grateful to every member of my family -all have helped bring me to this place, however dark the means at times. I am very grateful to be alive at this extraordinary moment in human history, although I have sometimes wished it otherwise. This moment of Transition between two forms of global civilisation, this moment of sped-up Evolution due to ecological crises (much publicised, much ignored). Even though I know the bloodshed is likely to increase over the coming decades, I have great faith in what lies beyond, and gratitude that I am playing my small role in the beginnings of that beyond.

I hope and pray that whenever I lose this proper perspective, this gratitude, my unconscious mind and the sexy wilderness will collude once again to bring me closer to death, even if it must be uncomfortably close to rouse me from my arrogant spell and breathe my life.

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story; Permaculture, Business and Mental Health Integrated Process #1

Hello! Let’s introduce some music into this blog -or it will dry up completely! Here is an old gothic song by Type O Negative, paying homage to my origins amongst the wilds of Scotland. I am the perennial Green Man.  Permaculture must always begin with wilderness! The wild non-human society of the whole of Earth is the mother of human society; and that umbilical chord is meant never to be broken.

This is a post all about my lifepath (the short version!) and how this bears on my current perception of myself as a practising ‘activist ecopreneur’ in the realms of mental health, business and Permaculture. I want to INSPIRE other folk who at heart want to try a similar path, folk who have a lot of drive if only they would uncover it and stop listening to the voices in society that would have them follow a conventional career path, to serve conventional masters. That is, those entrenched institutions of corporate capitalism, patriarchy and kyriarchy that would appear to reward coercion and greed. We must rebel against those! Resistance is everything!

This post may seem like a very self-absorbed exercise, but I feel that to properly know oneself, including one’s whole history in its socio-cultural (including political) context, is necessary for the wisdom required by the aspiring positive changemaker (that’s me). Permaculture -at least according to Graham Bell– requires that we individually and collectively track our impact on the Earth’s resources as far as possible. Coming to terms with my history will enable this. I will explore this further in future posts. I also want to build up trust with my readers; I want you to know me pretty well; and if you want, to learn from my victories and ‘mistakes’ i.e. learning experiences.

My first community breakdown, the first of many, (but of course, I am a modern person) happened when I was three years’ old and I was torn away from my early playgroup friends (Craig, Caroline, Kirsten) for the sake of my father’s career. From Scotland to the southwest of England. It was not his fault. Market forces prevailed. It was and still is, a rich man’s world, of course. It’s all about the money.

dark side of moon

My father left the family home when I was six, not to return (although I would see him fairly regularly.) This remains the central wound of my life. However it is a wound that has taught me a great deal about the makeup of society; about gender roles, capitalism and marriage; about patriarchy and class. Moreover, this initial wound has spurred me on to a deep interest in the creation of a sustainable human society. There was a delay of a few decades before the wound was really focused into this positive drive for global harmony. Meanwhile, and not necessarily through any fault of my father’s, I missed out on being fathered. It was perhaps an ideal and elevated version of ‘the father’ when I would think, ‘Wish You Were Here’.

I didn’t know anything about mental health, business or Permaculture for the first 20 years of my life; well, not very consciously or coherently. However, I did learn how to write. Off and on since primary school age I have loved to write. I have also found an affinity with musical expression since aged three, mainly using the family piano.. Add to that an enjoyment of drama from aged 11 onwards; so I’ve always been highly creative and expressive. I’ve only begun to properly focus my creativity and expression recently; now in my late thirties. The Epic Tomorrows blog is partly a manifestation of all those years of creativity, re-focused. I have every faith that this could be a stairway to heaven.

I went to university mainly because everyone said I should. I had a pretty difficult time although I made a good friend, since lost to me. After two years I suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ and left without a degree. For want of more explanatory words, I was ‘anxious’, ‘depressed’ and ‘paranoid’. This was the drug-induced breakdown of my spurious ‘self’. Looking back, it was something that needed to happen. The violence and suddenness of it was unnecessary (blame the criminalised drug trade) but I certainly needed psychic ‘rearrangement’ in order to grow as a human being relative to a complex modern society; relative to the context of my upbringing. The violence and suddenness of a lot of the music I listened to was also unnecessary, but I still hold a place for the energy and righteous anger of heavy metal! It’s in my roots.

roots

After my breakdown I was soon taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics at the suggestion of the medical establishment. I was on these for a few years. Psychiatric medication is a very subtle issue on which I don’t want to be misunderstood. Let me put it like this: I strongly believe, from the research I have done, that although the medication superficially allowed me to move forward in life, on a deeper level it not only left the causes of my dis-ease unaddressed, but allowed underlying causes to be compounded and worsened by neglect. Nowadays, neuroscientists and psychiatrists at the top of their professions will admit that there is no known neurochemical cause of mental illness. This is despite public belief to the contrary, influenced by years of marketing by pharmaceutical companies. For an excellent and very well-researched expose of all psychiatric medications, please read this book Anatomy of an Epidemic. In short, the drugs don’t work, but I’m still very much alive.

-Which is more than I can say for some of the residents I worked with in a 12-bedded unit for adults living with ‘mental health issues’; knocked out by medication and the negative affirmations of psychiatrists-

-After I returned to Somerset from university, it took me a couple of years to get on my feet again. But something very beautiful happened. My deep suffering led to my feeling great empathy for other human beings for the first time; I wanted to help anyone and everyone who had ever suffered from mental ill-health. My own heart and mind were also helped enormously by taking up meditation in my mid-20’s. This helped me wean myself off psychiatric medication. My heart became a little firework. The problem was, in the mainstream mental health services, I was working in a system that on an institutional level didn’t care enough for the true causes and cures of mental dis-ease. After a few years, I left my mental health work, disillusioned.

To cut a longer story shorter, for the purposes of this post, I then started to volunteer on land-based projects; conservation projects, woodlands and smallholdings; gaining an understanding of land-based living and ecological sustainability issues. My attraction to these projects was partly their beneficial effect on my mental health, and I soon came to see, although I have only been able to fully express this recently, that mental health and the ecological sustainability of human culture as a whole, are fundamentally linked. I started to learn,  mercy, mercy me! about the ethics and principles of Permaculture (permanent culture) and how these could be applied to society in general; not just to sustainable food growing systems, which are the origin and specialisation of Permaculture.

During a few years where I lived on a low impact woodland project, mostly without electricity, in my own very individual way I developed a theoretical framework of ‘Permaculture’ (very loosely formed) with which I found it was useful to address all the ills of the world -including mental ill-health- in a coherent, sustainability-focused way. I developed strong political views during this time also, seeing the ‘neoliberal’ patriarchal corporate capitalist paradigm as the conglomerate evil monster of unsustainability that must be killed at all costs.

monster

 

All you good good people! It is only in the last three years or so that I have realised that capitalism, at least for the few decades to come, can be part of the solution, as well as the problem. In order to redistribute wealth for social and environmental justice (not to mention mental health!), change political and economic systems and weaken the power of the over-powerful institution of the nation state, there is a strong case for the rise of ethical, political, independent entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs whose aim it is with their businesses to re-embed human beings in their landscapes and create a globally sustainable human culture, necessarily involving challenges to those in government, local or central, as well as challenges to large corporations. Who said you can’t be an activist and an entrepreneur at the same time? I have now come to the view that more than ever we need those individuals who are critical of corporate capitalism in theory, to stop their hypocrisy of working for corporate giants and be more creative in how they make a living. This is the path I have chosen to follow, although in my case I was never working for a corporation (except perhaps the NHS).

In my own case, a fair degree of desperation and frustration have gone into my drive and aspiration to be an entrepreneur. I almost don’t know what else to do; but the ethics explained above and the integrity of my lifepath leading naturally into this new direction, still hold true. Nowadays, my mental health is a subtle subject (as any human being’s should be). I still suffer from certain extremes at times, addiction and instability. I still get kind of blue and I still need time out.

In modern times, mental health and well-being can best be expressed in terms of social and environmental sustainability; in other words, we need to ask ourselves, how are our emotional and mind states socially and environmentally defined, and how do they contribute to the larger narratives of our lives in the contexts of sustainable and unsustainable elements of modern global society?

Essentially, I am a writer first and an entrepreneur if I’m lucky. If one doesn’t follow from the other, at least I hope you get something from my writing. As for what’s to come, ah um…just…get ready!

christmas tree