Friday 26 March 2010

Coming Together in Resilience

Punk meets climate change and kills the Buddha on the road.

I’ve been writing some sleeve notes for my friend in Transition, John Preston. John’s got a great band called The John Preston Tribute Band (you might have heard them at the TN Birthday Party last October). John and Carol are building a straw bale house out in Stoke Ferry, one of the Villages in Transition around Downham Market, where the first Transition East gathering took place. Amongst other things, Reduced to Clear is a raw, witty take on how many ways we can stop real change from happening: personal stuff, small town grievances, spiritual autism. Me-only positions that keep us above it all, cut off, seemingly in control but actually not in life.

My self-ish, selfish self.

Resilience is a concept normally applied to eco-systems. In Transition Rob Hopkins uses it in terms of human communities, to measure how far we can weather shocks of peak oil and climate change and reorganise ourselves in a way that keeps us working together instead of falling apart. But resilience can also be one of those abstract manager words that keeps us detached from real experience (like it’s out of my skill set when you mean you don’t know what your doing).

The fact is people need to be resilient. Individual resilience is key to community resilience. If you’re not a resilient individual, you’re going to be relying on someone else to do your resilience for you. Demanding support for those fluctuating emotional states, your fragile ego eternally on the lookout for appreciation, those whooshy feel good moments. Dangerous position. Dependence is not resilience.

To be resilient in community, we need to be able to rely on each other to do those moves we can’t do ourselves.

Creative crews don’t support each other. They work together. It’s a different scene.

Reasons to be Resilient: Part One - PHYSICAL RESILIENCE

Eating Real Food
. About half way through winter I realised resilience is cabbage. I found myself wolfing down January Kings with alacrity and eyeing up the wild bittercress in the garden. In Britain we only grow 5% of the fruit we eat: so to eat resiliently in March means a larder of stored apples, forced rhubarb, bottled fruit from last summer and eating lots of peppery, pungent leaves. It sounds bleak when you think of colourful supermarket displays, but the reality is the more you eat a Real Time, Real Place diet, the more that exotic artificial oil-dependent one drops away.

Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese farmer sage, gives sound advice in his seminal book, The One Straw Revolution: eat according to nature and the territory in which you live. Food that needs to be struggled for to obtain is the least beneficial. Nature or the body itself is the guide you need to follow, “but this subtle guidance goes unheard by most people because of the clamour caused by desire and the discriminating mind.”
Eating treats and fancies, comfort food, out of season, out of context, spoils the body and turns you into a consumer. Consumers are not resilient; people are.

Not Turning the Heating On
. Last week we went to a really good climate change drama/audience discussion called Turning the Tide and afterwards everyone was madly talking about recycling, as if bottle banks and joking about beans from Kenya were going to change the world. Listen, I said. If you want to cut carbon, you just stop flying and turn the heating off. Everyone gasped in horror.

But having spent a winter scraping ice off the inside of windows in a draughty damp cottage, if that is as bad as it gets without oil, it’s really not that bad (and boy do you appreciate the Spring!). Physically you adapt. It’s the idea of being cold that people don’t like. We forget our natural resilience: our archaic bodies that are not at home in a fossil-fuelled lifestyle at 21 degrees.


The Earth is Not a Hotel. I once had a friend who liked to think of himself as a serious painter: I was born in the wrong hotel, he would sigh, as if the world was only there to serve the five star de luxe ideas we have of ourselves. When life sends you to work down in the kitchen however, you soon find out how unresilient these fancies are (he eventually become a successful theatre designer). What we need is to ditch the big ideas and get real about our talents.

Making Material. When times got bad, I learned a good trick. Something I discovered from being a writer all these years. Well, this is a horrible situation, you say to yourself as the relationship goes down in flames, you are forced to leave a place you love, run out of money, the bus doesn’t arrive when it said it would on the timetable . . . but hey! I’ve got a story. Making material means that whatever happens in Life it’s good experience. You can’t control anything, but you are in charge of how you play it, how you create something smart and beautiful out of every situation. Experience, you realise, is what really matters.

A Warrior Attitude. Another trick I learned, from travelling in South America where things rarely go your way (especially buses). People like to say be the change you would like to see, but you rarely see them in the world. The fact is change hurts and to get in line with those resilient natural eco-systems means we’ve got to change a lot, give up all those hotel-style pleasures. People jump the suffering this entails and insist that low-carbon life is fun and somehow better, but actually that doesn’t cut the biscuit when your own life downturns.

What matters is, even though you encounter difficulty, your life has meaning, that you feel alive and in synch with the planet and its peoples, part of the times, part of the big creative shift of Transition.

We need a warrior attitude because the earth is a demanding place: to take proper responsibility for life means we need to be strong and resourceful in a way that our society has not trained us to be. We live in our airy-fairy minds with our high-maintenance illusions. We’re all stars and gurus, masters and powerful people (it’s just that nobody has noticed) with our all important families, jobs and acquaintances. Holding on to illusions means you’re going to feed those star-struck ideas about Me and Them first and let everyone else down. Ditch the Illusions. We won’t make it unless we work together.

Resilience is an ensemble act.

With rocket from Greengrow. Reduced to Clear by the John Preston Tribute Band; One Straw Revolution reissue; Masanobu Fukuoka cooking. Joker from Turning the Tide - A Carbon Fantasy in One Act by Peppy Barlow ( Feb 18)

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic posts this week, a real feast of things to think about. Particularly liked the idea of "making material" it's a real shift in the way you can look at adversity. And the warrior attitude too. Thank you!