Last New Year I wrote about the need to move away from resolutions and towards new understandings of resilience:
But most of all, have the courage to embrace uncertainty, even when it meanders in the dark. Cultivate the resilience to value the journey, to put creativity, wherever it takes you, above productivity and have the grace to go on making, even in the dark
This year, has tested that resilience in ways I hadn’t dreamt possible.
I also began the year with a single question that I wanted to ask of how I work, write and live. The question was: Does it enhance connection? And, as with the need for resilience, when I wrote that question in my journal I had no idea how my notions of connection would be challenged and stretched by a novel coronavirus sweeping the globe.
But at the end of such an extraordinary year, I am more convinced than ever that resilience and connection are more crucial and urgent than any of us can fully appreciate.
Writing of cycles
New Year is an arbitrary beginning. It’s at different times in different parts of the world or varies across religious observances. It’s at different times if we follow a seasonal pattern of quarter days and cross days. But it is, nonetheless, a marker, a time when we can highlight how vital it is to begin again and again, no matter the project.
Yet too often new beginnings are thwarted because of the linear way in which they are framed. We often see history as a simple progression in which we are always improving. This liberal concept is frequently taken as self-evident. After all, we have more stuff, food from all over the world, modern medicine, constantly expanding technology,and higher standards of living. Or at least we do if we are part of the ‘we’ that is not one of the parents of the 3.1 million children who UNICEF say died in 2018 due to undernutrition. As long as we are not one of the ‘we’ without access to sufficient drinking water, let alone modern medicine and technology.
Yes, we progress. But not all progress is unquestionably good and hardly any of it is equitably shared across the planet. And the notion of linear time is at best simplistic. Linear time demands that we are always achieving more. Do more, earn more, have more, hoard more.
Cyclical notions of time work with the seasons, allow for concepts like ‘being’ (rather than always doing) and ‘enough’ (rather than always striving for more). Cyclical time sees death and failure as part of the cycle of life, not as an abrupt and unspeakable horrors.
Cyclical time makes space for different ways of connecting to the earth, as in the example of permaculture, which sees the notion of linearity as part of the cause of our alienation from Nature and attempts to replace this with virtuous cycles, linear thinking urges us to consume more than we give back, in turn leading to attempts to grab resources and take control. Linear thinking has little place for awe, wonder, and uncertainty in its attempt to have it all, preferably yesterday.
The world needs new beginnings. All of us need to begin again and again. But these beginnings are better conceived as cycles in which we move forward but also give back, always learning, always fallible.
Writing of connection
We are at a point in history marked by ecological degradation on a scale that we can hardly comprehend. We have had a year of threat and loss due to a global pandemic. Either we learn to connect to all life and live differently or we perish with it. Even if we are those who live in the privileged bubble of consumerism, we know that the apocalypse isn’t merely story for science fiction, but is happening already for many people around the world and has already obliterated many species.
Yet we are also at a time when more and more voices are questioning the cultural myths of ‘more’ and constant expansion. New stories are being told. And many people, in so many small but vital ways, live by those new stories. There are people choosing to live without money, others developing areas where gift economies replace transaction, or people setting up sustainable communities … There are people teaching others how to grow food or medicinal herbs, making art or writing stories and poetry that changes perspectives …
These choices are radical (the etymology of which is ‘having roots’). They are choices that embody a rooted life that connects: to others, to all life, to the planet.
How each of us does that will vary. Writing new stories (whether in poetry, fiction or essays) of how we can re-imagine life is an honourable way to sew the seeds of change. Others might begin to model these stories in new ways of living, some so radical that they constitute what Henry David Thoreau called ‘a peaceable revolution’.
However we choose to live in cycles and create new stories, the question will always be: Does it enhance connection?
Writing of courage
And if it does enhance connection then it is likely to take courage. If we are imagining new stories and even beginning to live by them, in whatever ways we can, step by step, then we will be creating and enacting resistance to the current, decaying myths.
There are corporations that would like us to believe we can shop our way to sustainability. But we can’t. The ‘we’ who have so much are going to have to make radical (to the roots) changes if we are actually going to re-connect with the ‘we’ who are barely subsisting or with the species dying out. That’s not a popular message.
Telling different stories and living differently, even by increments, takes us full circle to the need for courage and resilience.
Deep and courageous creativity and living demands not simply that we have vision for our work but that we have the passion and resilience to continue, even when the world thinks we are slightly (or completely) insane, even when the world thinks we are not sufficiently productive; and even when the world can’t weigh and measure our efforts or when the next step is uncertain.
At the centre of the word courage is the old French word for hear: coeur. Having such bravery and resilience is, of course, aided by making deep connections with others who are also telling different stories. We need others who don’t think we’re mad to want the Borneo pygmy elephant to survive even if that means we can’t buy palm oil. So this New Year I’m cycling back to last year’s resolutions: courage and connections:
… find a vision that thrills you in place of resolutions. Do all you can to follow your vision by throwing off distractions, nurturing yourself and making your environment as supportive as possible. Give your vision chance to flourish by making it focussed, breaking it into small steps and getting help.
But most of all, have the courage to embrace uncertainty, even when it meanders in the dark. Cultivate the resilience to value the journey to put creativity, wherever it takes you, above productivity and have the grace to go on making, even in the dark…
Happy New Year and here’s to health and radical stories of connection in 2021.
Becoming a different story
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