Leonardo da Vinci, Star of Bethlehem and other plants, c.1506-12
Shantideva wrote in chapter eight, verse ninety-nine (VIII:99) of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that if someone is suffering and we refuse to help, it would be like our hand refusing to remove a thorn from our foot. If the foot is pierced by a thorn, our hand naturally pulls the thorn out of the foot. The hand doesn’t ask the foot if it needs help. The hand doesn’t say to the foot, ‘This is not my pain.’ Nor does the hand need to be thanked by the foot. They are part of one body, one heart.
Joan Halifax, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet (Flatiron Books, 2018)
The idea of ‘one body, one heart’ has been on my mind lately as I’ve been working on our collective poem Murmuration, as part of my Climate Residency, collaborating with artist Kate Sweeney on the filmpoem for Durham Book Festival. Murmuration is one thing – as the starlings’ flock is one thing – but made up of five hundred different voices. There is unity in diversity, similarity and difference – and I’ve worked hard to try and catch the sense of that: bearing with contradiction and not trying to look for answers, just staying with all the questions the lines and the poem itself throws up.
You can book a place to watch its launch at Durham Book Festival, right after an event with Jenny Offill, talking about her Climate Change novel Weather (Granta, 2020) – highly recommended. I’ve also written an essay on the making of Murmuration, which will be available during the Festival.
I’m very aware there’s an excess of things to watch and listen to online at the moment, but in the absence of human-to-human conversations and gatherings in the wild, it seems important to stay connected and be proactive in accessing alternative perspectives on how much is happening in the world that runs contrary to the news in the mainstream media, that insists on highlighting stories that communicate divisiveness, alienation and blame.
I recently discovered, we have 86,400 seconds every day to fill. And sometimes I do nothing but listen to them ticking away.
The people at TED Talks have created Countdown – a programme with a coalition of voices addressing different aspects of the Climate Crisis. Nothing is more important than the sharing of clear factual information. One thing we can do – even though we might often feel powerless – is to stay well-informed. How we take in and pass on what we know (and feel) is what makes society and culture. The imagination is powerful – it’s where the future resides.
You can take a look at the TED Countdown here.
The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.
The Eight Principles of Uncivilisation, Dark Mountain
And so we enter the dark of autumn and winter. One of my favourite times of year. We could do with a bit more darkness – that place where we can be with what we don’t know and just love each other. ‘Night is the mother of life’ says Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuna. ‘Light is born from darkness’.
So many thresholds and edges just now – happening on a level I won’t see the end of or understand in my lifetime. But I’m curious, interested to see what’s waiting in, what Joan Halifax calls, ‘the fruitful dark’. One of the things I’ve been doing lately thinking about hope in the dark is planting bulbs, burying them in the cooling earth so they can do their own magic and emerge in their own time next year. Next year…even that sounds like an unknown world.
Art is the flower – Life is the green leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing – something that will convince the world there may be – there are – things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life…you must offer real, living – beautifully coloured flowers – flowers that grow from but above the green leaf – flowers that are not dead – are not dying – not artificial – real flowers – you must offer the flowers of the art that is in you – the symbols of all that is noble – and beautiful and inspiring – flowers that will often change a colourless leaf – into an estimated and thoughtful thing.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, On Seemliness (1902)
I’m doing a couple of linked afternoon workshops online for Lapidus Scotland (Words for Wellbeing) in October (17th & 24th), called Climate Crisis: Looking our Demons in the Eye. I was experimenting with ways of tackling the subject with groups right at the beginning of my Residency and then the pandemic arrived. I’m very glad to have this chance to work with others now, looking at how we might find words for an experience that can so often feel beyond the reach of words.
Places are free, open to all, and you can book here.