In many ways my life so far has been an unusual one. I have, to quite an extreme degree, departed from conventional reality and stepped into a radical relationship with life and the universe.
You see, I seek to embody a paradigm shift into a new reality here on Earth. From the glimpses I’ve had of this emerging reality I’d say that it unites a consciousness of the divine with a deep connection to the Earth.
These two elements—spirit and matter—have for a long time been split and polarized into incompatible opposites. Patriarchal religions have famously maligned the earthly realm, placing all value in the heavenly. Secular culture today has no time for the sacred, placing all value in the material. Both these gestures are rooted in the literally diabolical (from the Greek dia, meaning apart, and ballein, meaning to throw) polarization into antagonistic opposition of the spiritual and the earthly. The consequences of this division are profound and extensive. Healing this split is, I believe, of paramount importance to the survival of our species and possibly the rest of life on Earth as we move into the heart of the planetary crisis we now face.
My way along that healing path has followed a radical course of Dissent and Descent: Dissent from the structures and systems of a culture founded on the split, and Descent into intimate connection to the Earth.
Sometimes I feel like I’m waking up from a long, horrific dream in which I have been participating in the destruction of everything I love. I find myself looking around to see a few others in various stages of awakening from similar dreams, while most of the population is still asleep, twitching and groaning in the grip of the nightmare. What is this nightmare? I call it “normality.”
The way I see it, business-as-usual is destroying our lives and our world.
The Earth is our ground, our constant companion, our primary relationship here in the physical. We can call the Earth our life-support system, our mother, our very substance. Our bodies and psyches and relationships have evolved with the wide, wild Earth as their milieu. Our basic human nature has been entirely shaped by her textures, energies, patterns, and rhythms. Thus, we depend upon her entirely, are formed of her elements, and formed by and for her natural environment.
To be out of alignment with her is to be out of alignment with our own nature; to be in conflict with her is to be in conflict with ourselves; to injure her is to strike at our own larger body; to destroy her would be to destroy ourselves.
Recognizing this, the modern world appears to me to be a madhouse. Seen objectively, it’s nothing short of insane what we are doing to our planet. Individuals with self-harming and suicidal tendencies are forcibly hospitalized. Others are imprisoned for violence and murder. What we are doing to ourselves and the whole of our planet is almost inconceivably more terrible than anything even the most brutally damaged psychopath could do to him/herself or others. I find it totally baffling that so few of us care or even notice how horrendous what is called “civilization” actually is. And even among those who do, it’s bizarre to me to see how feeble the response of the majority is.
Personally, I simply couldn’t endure a life of minor modifications of the prevailing world-destroying insanity. For some inexplicable reason I see and feel the depth of the tragedy too acutely for that. I love life too much to go along with modernity’s industrial ravaging of this precious planet. I feel powerful grief for the loss of the paradise Earth to the monstrous machine, for the beauty that has been buried beneath the concrete and ploughed up to create the agricultural desert. Why are we not doing more to reverse this?
Choosing to recycle and buy organic food isn’t enough. The madness is systemic, pervasive, woven into the very fabric of the diabolical matrix. I needed a more satisfying response. I sought to step out completely. But I experienced “civilization” as a spiderweb I was caught in; the more I struggled to escape, the more entrapped I became.
What to do? I kept struggling. Eventually my determination grew sharp enough to cut through the web. My longing for a more beautiful world became strong enough to free me from the centripetal force of the collective consciousness and its version of reality. The stories told about what is possible, desirable, allowed, lost their power to entrap, and I plunged deep into nature to heal and renew my connection to the divine ground.
I made my way into a surviving pocket of primordial Welsh rainforest. I meant to live as lightly as possible upon the Earth, to re-enter into harmonious relationship with her and her more-than-human children, to re-align my heart with her wisdom and beauty. Little did I know what that would involve!
Step by step, I’ve been unplugging from the matrix and simplifying my life as much as I can. This is no small journey. I’ve experienced each step as a little death. Built into the modern identity construct is the belief that it is neither safe nor good to live simply and in close connection to the Earth. Also built in is the belief that we are essentially insufficient—that we need a huge amount of material luxuries in order simply to be okay. These two mutually reinforcing beliefs are at the core of the ravening madness that is the modern matrix. Separation from nature and addiction to consumption are pre-installed in the operating system of normality we have been born into and updated a thousand times a day. In order to adopt a more deeply connected way of life, the identity shaped according to this operating system has to be deconstructed and the fears it holds in place faced and released. This is a huge and deeply scary process when we really follow it.
I did just that, as fully as I could. Sometimes it felt like being torn apart. Sometimes it felt like falling or jumping off a cliff. When it was really bad it felt like being torn apart while falling off a cliff! But at other times it merely felt like putting down a lot of heavy and superfluous baggage I’d somehow grown attached to. And at others it felt as pleasant as taking off some old clothes and relaxing into a warm bath. I realize now that everything depends on the level of attachment to a certain way of being, and the consequent level of resistance to its transformation. Death is like this. The experience of dying can be like any one of these versions of letting go.
Anyway, I now have no car, no bank account, no utilities or phone line or internet connection. I don’t have an email address, a flushing toilet, life insurance, or any kind of gadgets whatsoever. I don’t engage with the media, vote, or even know who the prime minister is.
My dwelling is a small round hut that I built by hand using the simplest tools and materials. I live without any form of electricity or fossil fuels. I draw water for drinking, cooking, and washing from a clear, spring-fed stream. I cook on fire, with wood that I cut by hand using axe and bowsaw, with prayers of thanks to the trees. I am outdoors most of the day, at work and at rest, and much of the year I go barefoot.
I live immersed in the natural world, among the rocks and streams, the animals, plants, and trees who are at home here in the open space of Earth’s embrace. I am in near-constant relationship with the elements, the weather, the seasons, sun, moon, stars, and the web of life. I rarely travel outside the environs of the mountain on which I live, and I feel my sense of belonging here grow stronger with each season. As I acclimatize to local weather patterns, open to the natural rhythms of this place, and make friends with the genius loci, I gradually attune to the subtle energies of this land and become a part of it. Through this sustained exposure to the primary formative influences of elements and place, I gradually experience a renewed vibrancy of connection to my natural environment and to myself as a natural human being.
I live to a large extent as our ancestors lived for the vast majority of human existence, as indigenous peoples still live, and as do all other beings on this blue-green jewel of a planet: in intimacy with the Earth. As this intimacy deepens I experience a renewal of my sense of the sacredness of life and a natural re-awakening of the seed of the divine in my own heart.
As this seed slowly grows, and as I clear away the debris of my suburban identity, I become more peaceful inside, more content simply to be. Analyzing my physical needs, I find them to be few and beautiful: clean air and pure, living water; wholesome food; simple clothing; a small amount of renewable fuel from the woods I live in; humble, soul-nurturing shelter; and close human relationships unmediated by technology. Beyond these primitive luxuries I find I need very little else.
From this place, I become more open to the vast beauty of the natural world. The splendor of dawn, dusk, and the ever-changing sky; light, darkness, fire, and the stars; the infinite shades and shapes of beauty present everywhere throughout nature; love, laughter, tears, song; the sea; birdsong, dew, frost, the scent of warm earth. . . These great gifts, endlessly renewed and unfathomably wondrous, are an unlimited wealth that is our birthright as human beings, an exuberant abundance the value of which is incalculable!
I’ve found that the more time I spend immersed in the natural world as part of it, the more apparent the living presence of trees, plants, birds, and other animals becomes to me. The inner aliveness of these beings, their primordial sentience, the fascinating self-effulgence that shines through their myriad forms and textures, colors and sounds and scents, and their awareness of me as I move among them is a growing delight in my life. It feels like an inner armor that has shielded my own awareness from experiencing theirs is gradually being eroded. I increasingly experience their sentience as naturally as I do that of other human beings. As I do so, the world becomes that much richer, more alive, more magical.
More magical still is that, as the armoring of my consciousness gets thinner and my sensitivity increases, I open further to the aliveness of the world around me and begin also to perceive the sentience of non-living beings: rocks, water, the very air I breathe and the space I move through awaken and begin to sing of Being. It’s as if the native tales from before the great disenchantment have come back to life. Everything shimmers and throbs with energy and intelligence.
And sometimes, when I’m really tuned in—especially in pockets of land where the life-web of nature is still fairly intact—this profusion of natural beauty and intelligence resolves into one magical field of conscious awareness, a harmonious whole through which a deeper presence moves. In these times I find myself dropping into relationship with the Earth as a conscious being, Gaia. I experience her as vastly wise and loving, overflowing with a creativity and generosity beyond my ability to comprehend. And I experience her as aware of me, deeply concerned with my well-being at every single moment, holding me in love and being through every breath I take and each beat of my heart. Here the spiritual and the material unite in an Earth ensouled, alive with magic and wonder and song.
Exit the Matrix
In choosing to step out of the matrix of separation and into a deeply elemental way of life, I allow myself to re-enter this conscious field and begin to let it be the space I inhabit, the medium I live my life in, the animating force and self-shaping substance of everything I encounter here on Earth.
Re-entering this space, I feel like I’ve dropped beneath the cultural insanity and extracted myself not only from the ways of being that are destroying our Earth, but more importantly, from the state of being that has created them.
Only a heart cut off from the Miracle Earth and her myriad beautiful beings is able to participate in their destruction. Only a heart cut off from her wise and loving energy would want to.
It has taken me three years of radical dissent and descent to re-connect to this energy. How long, I wonder, will it take “civilization” to choose to do the same?