Tuesday 13 December 2011

walking the time-line - a torch song

. . .in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape a servile life into the freedom of just conditions (memorial to Robert Kett, Norwich Castle)
In 2009 four of us from TN's Transition Circles– myself, Mark, Helen and Alex - began a project called The Dreaming of Norwich. We would meet up for a day, go walkabout in the city and then reconvene and share our findings. We walked along the river, through the market, visited buildings, sat in gardens, by ourselves and together. Helen photographed the streets, Mark wrote notes. Alex and I sparred under the willow trees outside Julian of Norwich's cell.

During our first journey I climbed the steps to the Castle. It was a hot day and in the meadow below the ramparts I counted 42 species of flowers and trees. Norwich Castle was built by the Norman as a fortress and overlooks the old Saxon settlement and the historical quarters of this small modernised city. I had just been reading John Berger's Hold Everything Dear about the occupation of Palestinian land, and the image of the Israeli watchtowers on the hills kept coming into my mind.

Same domination, same mindset, different century.

To find the dreaming of places requires you to shift your attention into what some call the right-hemisphere - a perception of the world brilliantly conveyed by the psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and the Emissary. For a 12 minute whistlestop tour of the relationship between our left and right hemispheres and how these affect behaviour and culture do watch this video:

Kett's Rebellion
Last week some of us from Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay went with Occupy Norwich on a memorial march up to the Castle to commemorate Robert Kett and the Norfolk uprising that took place in 1549. Ian lit several flambards as we stood at the spot where Kett was killed, and listened to Andy Wood, professor of social history at the UEA, talk about the commonwealth and the people's struggle for fairness and liberty in the face of a "hard-hearted" elite. At the height of the rebellion the camp on Mousehold Heath housed 10,000 people until it was brutally suppressed by foreign soldiers under the Earl of Warwick.

Something happens at night when you gather together, when you gather beneath the citadels of power. All those experiential right-hemisphere connections that link centuries and nations, Mousehold Heath with the Occupy camp at Hay Hill, the barons with the bankers. At the Uncivilisation Festival this year all the great events - music, storytelling, performances - happened in the dark, in the woods, by candlelight and firelight.

By night we remember something else of ourselves. Something our 1066 civilisation doesn't want us to see.

The dreaming is in the people
Our year of dreaming together did not complete itself. By winter an argument had broken out between us and even though we explored our differences, using a method known as conflict resolution, we could not come to an agreement. The allegiance demanded by history and civilisation destroyed our every attempt.

That's when I realised new ways of proceeding would not be found within these kinds of self-absorbed endeavour, no matter how intelligent or well meaning, but within another context entirely.

Finding our way back
The reason I am writing about this today is because time is a mysterious thing and in order to proceed within Transition we need to see ourselves within a bigger political frame, to access our deep memory of how life works beyond the way we have been taught to look at it, as resources for the few. We live in a culture that keeps us trapped in a fearful present, afraid of looking back, afraid of looking forward (what future? is there a future?), trapped in the objectifying, separating, hierarchical world of the left hemisphere.

When you allow yourself to look back you can find treasures that you didn't see when you were fiercely embedded in the present moment (even in those conflicts many of us have experienced in Transition), what Roberto Calasso in his great work on the French Revolution, The Ruin of Kasch, calls the douceur of the past, the sweet essence of experience, tempered by time. We live on an island where time and memory have a great influence on our imaginations. Some of this is called History and is carefully managed and exploited by the custodians of civilisation. It is praised and worshipped in the form of buildings and possessions and figures of power, whilst the knowledge of how the earth and the people really are remains elsewhere, hidden from view.

In the mysterious all-encompassing universe of our right hemisphere consciousness and the empathy of the heart.

This is the part of ourselves that can make connections, that can step outside the official version of history and see the pattern of things. This is the perception, for example, that Justin Kenrick, in Land Reform: losing and recovering the Commons employs as he juxtaposes the present land-grabbing in Africa, with the historical clearances of Scotland and England.

Same domination, same mindset, different continent.

In many ways capitalism began here in East Anglia with the enclosure of the commons, said the historian, as we stood beside the plaque where Kett was hanged on a freezing December day.

As the almost-full moon appeared in the sky.

Finding our way back
Our last dreaming journey took place outside the city in the East Anglian waterlands. We walked toward the estuary, through the marshland, along the shoreline, sat in a grove of sweet chestnut trees and found a tiny slow worm basking in the autumn sun. What we concluded that day was that the medicine of the heart this majestic nut tree embodied, was key to our reestablishing proper relations with the earth.

Our quarrel, such as it was, was the quarrel that breaks out between the left and the right hemisphere when such attempts at return are made. The Master knows he needs the Emissary to carry out the task in hand, but the Emissary believes he is the master of the universe and denies any other authority exists. This is the big problem in our world. One the Kogi Elders of Colombia call the struggle between the Older and Younger Brother. It plays out in ourselves and our societies. The 1% dominator mindset that refuses to listen to anything but its own voice.

When you struggle through the conflict zone however and don't give up, that's when you realise that the dreaming of cities is not in the buildings or History, or even the land that supports them, it's held within the people. The people who live there and the visitors who come to meet them, who come together to work out a way to proceed. To walk the time-line is to remember that time lives inside human beings, who are capable of seeing in all-at-once time, in which each moment holds the key to the past and the future. Everything can be changed when we tap into this way of seeing, whether in Norwich, New York, Madrid or Cairo.

To witness the butterfly effect as it plays out in every city in the world.

For press release on the relationship between Kett's Rebellion and Occupy Norwich by Nick Watts (Sustainable Bungay) see here

Kett's Memorial March at Norwich Castle, organised by Occupy Norwich; under the torchlight; tee at Mt Elgon, Kenya by Justin Kenrick; painting of sweet chestnut, Walberswick Marshes and butterflies drinking the nectar from a city buddleia bush, from a video by Helen Wells.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful.

    Diving into deep time, we come up for air, able to see and shape the future since we have realised it is not ahead of us, but is here, emerging from how we are with each other in the present.