Tuesday 27 December 2011

Entering the Fifth Zone - 2012

I confess. I am having an affair, and looking ahead as we are this week, I see it's going to become serious. I love Transition and the whole resilience thing. I have been faithful to the max to her for three years, but someone else came back into my life this month and my attention and my typing keeps wandering in her direction.

Her name is 52 Flowers That Shook My World. She is a book about plants and thanks to this blog (and Simeon who inspired me to write about it in our Sustainable Livelihoods week), the Uncivilisation Festival and Two Ravens Press, she is about to be published this summer. I love writing blogs, but there is something about the printed page. There is something about wild and medicine plants that takes me to places no meeting or community event can ever reach.

You could say the affair was inevitable given the times we are living in, where the symptoms of systemic collapse are all about us - financial markets crashing, methane spouting through the Arctic tundra. One thing I learned from experience: pushed to the edge, the best of ourselves can come to the fore. Close to death, no one worries about social niceties, about paying the mortgage or what people think of their hair. They remember the plum tree as it blossoms, or people they once cherished. And often they ask themselves: did I live life as I could, was I bold or free enough, did I love people as I could have, and the world?

52 Flowers was written at an edge time, when I had just returned from travelling. It's subtitle is A Radical Return to Earth and it looks at the steps modern people need to take to get back down to earth, the tools that will turn the tanker around as Jon put it yesterday. Most of all it considers the wild places, the fifth zone of permaculture, without which nothing in the zones closer to home and garden makes sense. It looks at the big frame in which Transition sits, the physical nature of the planet and our position in the vast wheel of time. 2012 is a big year, crunch time for civilisation, discussed as the culmination point in some spheres, as the end of one way of life and the beginning of another. It is the end of a huge cycle of time in a calendar that stretches across 5,000 years.

Oh, no, Charlotte! Not the Mayan calendar, you cry. But listen: to be truly resilient we need other ways of looking at life and ourselves if we are going to weather the storm that's brewing on the horizon. We need to connect with all our relations on the planet and know we are not just consumers and house-owners/renters, stuck in what we call History. This is how the book begins in 1991, with a Mexican plant called epazote that leads me on a journey to discover that we are more interesting, more powerful, than any of our parents or teachers or "leaders" would like us to think we are. I'm not talking woo-woo workshop or crystals here, I mean being activists for change in a real way, in our minds, bodies and hearts, in everyday life.

Here's an idea about time that I discovered on my travels. The Mayan people call the human being winclil which means vibratory root. The harmony and beauty of the spheres is perceived on earth by different “tribes” or types of human beings (which correspond to the different days of the week in their three calendars). These human roots vibrate in the fabric of life at different frequencies. Most modern human winclils however are deactivated. Lacking connection with the living systems of the planet, we vibrate only when artificially stimulated by sex and war, which creates an incoherent, low frequency. Mayan systems (such as we understand them in the modern world) activate the life-forces in order to create a high and coherent frequency. In short, instead of making noise, human beings make music. You only have to look at their textiles to know what this colourful world looks like.

In the forest where the passionflower grows, where its leaves have been used as a poultice for thousands of years, the Maya sit in small straw huts and weave patterns of extraordinary complexity, the most beautiful fabrics of the world in all the colours of the quetzal bird. In their imaginations and in their hearts they hold calendars of equal complexity, that rotate at different speeds like the stars around the sun. They have held these complex patterns inside them for thousands of years – patterns of time, of colour, of beauty. They held them before the cities came and after they fell into ruin. The temples did not hold them. The temples never do (2: Passionflower, 52 Flowers That Shook My World)

So forecasting ahead and describing what I wish to see happen, or think I might see happen (which are different things) is a year of living within a wider perspective. A year in which the bigger forces come into play, whether we like it or not. A year when Transition is understood within a frame of the wild places. When all activists, all social movements for change, are understood as vital strands in a worldwide web. As the bringers of colour and vibrancy and harmony, within a black-and-white, dissonant culture. The collective butterfly emerging from an all-consuming, caterpillar world.

On the ground I plan to continue the Social Reporting project that had its successful pilot this year, this blog, the Low Carbon Cookbook and the communications work for Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay. I'll keep spreading the word about our myriad projects and events, our community-building and low-carbon ethos that are key to resilience in downshifting and difficult times. But elsewhere I'll be coming out with 52 Flowers, speaking about life in the fifth zone, connecting with our wildness and our inner transformative abilities. This will start next month with a talk on Roots for the Plant Medicine Bed at the Library Community Garden which Mark will write about tomorrow. Watch this space!

Climbing the Temple of the Magician, Uxmal, Mexico, 1991; Wild by Jay Griffiths and Martin's woodworking tools, Uncivilisaiton Festival, August 2011; with Teresa and Cecilia in Real de Catorce, 1993, from 52 Flowers that Shook my World; fairtrade textiles from Mayan Traditions; speaking about medicine plants at Transition Camp, October 2011;


  1. all sounds great.. Do you know people doing the same/similar stuff in Slovenia ,where I live?

  2. Fabulous - looking forward to reading your book Charlotte x

  3. Charlotte,

    After reading your essay on poppies a few months ago, I wanted to read more from your experiences with the plant-folk & flower-sattvas along your path. I gladden to learn that I'll have the opportunity!