Wednesday, 3 February 2010


" We’ve got to devise an ego descent action plan," I laughed. That was in a TN open space session in April. There were five of us down in the Belvedere Centre in NR2. We were discussing the question, How does Transition deal with our individual and collective desire for power? (you can find a write up of the session here Open Space Powerdown session ).

Powering down is normally associated with outside physical energy like electricty, with individual actions like turning down the theormostat. However its greatest challenge is on the inside: letting go of the power conferred by shiny and beautiful possessions and the identification with those who flaunt them to the max.

When I wrote this book about style I was enjoying life in the way you can in the city in your twenties, working in the fast track. But there was something missing. One day I woke up and realised I couldn't write fashion articles anymore. My heart was yearning for something else, something wilder and freer and deeper. I felt trapped in all those rooms and buildings.

I had woken with the memory of myself as a child hiding in an apple tree.

How to you get from here to there? From that picture to this?

"How much did this feather cost?" asked Lewis as we walked back along the path yesterday.
"Nothing!, I said. "It was free. The feathers came from wild birds."
"Can I get another one?"
"You can have as many as you like, " I told him. Keep your eyes on the ground".

He smiled and ran down to the hut to watch Cathy gut the pheasant. The children had never seen a feathered bird plucked or drawn before. "Now we know what chicken is," the girls said one to another.

Before we get back in touch with the earth the adults have got a few inner monstrosities to let go of. This is the second powerdown after materialism - the identification with old-school deities.

When I went traveling I sat in tipis and sweat lodges, worked in healing centres, read cards, did psychology and the whole new age thing. I stumbled across big truths in small awkward places and learned to be wary of the humble meditating person in an anorak. Because boy, before you knew it you'd find Jehovah or some other great entity inside in a big robe demanding your worship. If you don't do as I say it it's thunderbolts and off with your head!

The first insight that struck me in The Gift was that in a traditional community gifts circulate. You give feasts, you look after the family and you stay home where you are put. The gods leave you alone. If you want to develop as an individual you keep your good luck to yourself and break out of the circle and you pay a price for doing so. The price all travellers pay: exile for you!

The best stories however are travelling tales that go away and come back. When I left the city I left my community behind. But then so did the world: we live in a culture of individual breakaways. And no matter how modern people yearn for community none of us wants to go back to the villages that stifle us, to the gods who tell us we're out of line. We're a different kind of people, what the classical tales once called Nostoi, the returned ones. We've seen things and we want to go forwards. Most of all we want to live in a world without fighting each other over power. How we do that without being ostracised by the ones who stayed home is a task we face. But it starts by knowing we do not come empty handed.

This is what I love best about Transition. It gives you a chance to give back. And if you're lucky you find people who can accept the gifts you bring. Gifts for the future. Apple twigs for grafting, a feather for a hazel crown.

Above: front cover of Vogue's Modern Style (1988) by Alex Chatelain.
Holding russet twigs. Fairtrade Gloves by Pachamama, £12.90 from Focus Organic. Alpaca Coat by Scott Crolla (1990). Picture by Mark Watson.

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