Sunday, 4 December 2016

Reaching For Home While The World Teeters And Cannot Right Itself.

Thoughts drawn to the past while contemplating our future.

Sometimes, in the small hours when my drowsy mind wanders through dusty hallways,
or when the rain is falling on the quiet house,
on the yellow leaves that drift in drifts in the abandoned garden,
I close my eyes,
try and reconfigure the cool air from the open window,
the light behind my eyes,
feel the chair against my back,
and for the briefest moment
I am back there - my senses expanding, reaching out to something bigger and greener and wilder.
And in that moment that other silent, lost place is inside me
and I'm inside it,
as though my skin,
painted with a lifetime of invisible layers of its particles
and all that is was to us,
is no longer just Me,
but Us
and It
and everything
that the atoms of our bodies


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Mapping; Finding.

You will find me in the edges of things.

In the hinterland where old things coalesce with new and something else begins to be born.

In the edges of things where it all happens, the new and juicy microbial beginnings we at first don't see,
that slowly grow to become part of us,
open up new, unimagined landscapes,
a bloom on the skin of yesterday.

Is this particular edge a threshold or a precipice? Or both?

I trust and thrust, run
forwards, towards something that is still in shadows beyond the edge,
trusting I am not alone,

the wrenching now sweet relief.

And I find it is true, the door to joy opens outwards.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

What Song Will You Follow?

As we drift lazily towards the end of the summer I am always amazed when I look back through my photos at just where we have been, what we have been getting up to. The lovely reminders. In spite of the odd weather, we have had a lovely time, and I suspect it's not over yet.

'In the forest, the child. Inside the child, the forest.'
Jay Griffiths.

Even though Autumn is my favourite time of year, I adore the summer for what it is ~ time to sink into just 'being', time to stop the schedule, take a different route, try new things, explore. What is it about warmer temperatures that make everything easier? We have wandered all over this lovely isle of ours (as well as a foray to Harry Potter world in London for some of us), and, as is our tendency, dipped our toes in the sea many times in many places. We just can't help ourselves! Each summer becomes a long lovely list of why we love this dear island of ours, why we love where we live. (For more regular photo updates you can follow me on Instagram).

Happiness runs...

Our wanderings took us here there and everywhere, finding pockets of time with lots of dear friends we don't see enough of during the year, time we filled with soul~deep conversations and lots of laughter, around many tables and many campfires that nourished us all no end. In beautiful homes and gardens, on tops of mountains, in deep valleys and by lake shores, in the sea, by the sea, and nestled in mountainous dunes, we delved deep into the human condition, explored our feelings about living in today's world, what it means for our children, and what we are or are not doing. We spent time dismantling the Old Story, examining its parts and figuring out how to proceed with creating a new one that upholds all that we hold dear in our hearts, and in doing so we moved along a little deeper into our understanding of what this future should look like.
One thing that struck me was the collective, deep and abiding love for our world and all it gives us, and a desire to counter the ugly craziness that is going on around the world and that is being flaunted in our face as though it is all we have. It's not all we have. The world is better than this but the power of social media would lead us to despair and hopelessness if we let it.
Instead, each of us, like millions of others, in our own small way, are making a difference.

'Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.'
Mary Oliver

And so, for the first time ever we are looking forward to September. The 'Back to School' signs in the supermarkets don't fill us with dread and spoil the last few weeks of the holidays. We are full of plans and promise and excitement. As I wrote about here in my last post, there are new beginnings afoot here, and not just for the younger two boys, but also for our older two, as well as for myself. Our eldest is off to college, (the very same one where our story began all those years ago), and our daughter has bravely decided to skip her last year in school and go straight to further education ~ 'I know what I want to do so I'll just skip the stressful, unnecessary part and go straight for what I want'. I am filled with admiration for her wisdom and bravery. And the journey we have been on with her has shown me, unequivocally, that there really is Another Way to educate our children, another perhaps more unconventional route to the exact same end, and the bravery is stepping out of line with your peers and finding your own way.

Summer's bounty.

As we continue our explorations of how we are reinventing our future, the more I read, the more videos I watch, the happier I am ~ every qualm and worry and question is being answered or put to rest, and as time goes by I sink deeper into the surety of what we are doing. I am filled with admiration for those who find it in themselves to begin this journey when it first becomes an issue for them, and the only thing that stops me from being filled with regret that I didn't is the knowledge that Homeschooling wouldn't have worked for us, (me teach a curriculum?!) and Unschooling sadly was not heard of here, twenty years ago (oh if only!). I am, however, grateful that I can at least do this for the younger two. I am grateful to our older two for giving me the impetus and bravery to 'be the change I want to see'. Without their two very different but equally difficult experiences of school, I never would have begun the journey we find ourselves on. Their experience and my helplessness in the face of it, ignited my mother-bear, made me take a stand, and so here we stand, on the cusp of new beginnings.

Irish summer...

So the seasons roll along under our feet, carrying us along towards this Next Thing, and this morning when I step into the garden there is a distinct cool whisper in the air after the rain. On the road yesterday we all commented on the sudden golden~ing on the trees, as though overnight they decided, party over, they are tired and its time at last to rest, and withdrew the bright light that gave us that viridian summer canopy that dappled our days these last few weeks. And as the tawny and umber creep in, all around us the trees and bushes are bursting with abundance and we pick and forage and graze as we go, summer exploding in our mouths as we do, warm and intoxicating and vibrant. Sustenance for the months ahead.

Fraochán berries ~ wild blueberries ~ Wicklow at it's finest.
So here at summer's end we dance on, towards this next chapter, full~filled, re~booted, energized, looking forward. We have no idea what is ahead for us, what bumps as well as joys we will encounter, and it is scary, as well as exciting. But given how difficult the last three years have been, it feels good and empowering to be doing something. To be taking control of what we are not happy with and changing it, making it better for ourselves and others.
And I hope to be here in the Blog~shire a bit more often now, as I'd love to share with you how we get on, warts and all, because already I have inspiring stories to tell of our deschooling experiences so far.

Here's to an abundant Autumn, wherever you happen to be.

Looking forward.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dwellers Under A Different Sky.

Friday morning. I'm sitting in the gloom. We are barely past the Summer Solstice, and monsoon~like rain is thundering down from ponderous clouds, bouncing vigorously on the table outside my window, turning the air white with moisture, the room suddenly dipping into evenfall light. In the distance, car alarms wail, seeming to waver and weave through the thick air. I am in a contemplative mood, and despite a significant to-do list, I cannot help myself but pause ~ something to do with the abundant, dripping green outside my window, and beyond that, Bray Head lost in the rain.

Regular readers here will be very familiar with what the Summer Solstice means to us, and the seventeen years of parties we celebrated in Kilcoole, and how hard it was to walk away from it when we moved to the town. The first two years here we distracted ourselves, but somehow this year it caught up with us and in the weeks leading up to it each child mentioned it to me at some point, with varying degrees of sorrow and nostalgia. It may have been prompted by the end of the school year which required photos to be found, which involved hours of pouring over our iphoto libraries. Each time someone sat down to search, the children, big and small, were drawn to it from all corners of the house, like dustly moths, alerted by giggles and exclamations of delight. And then began the reminiscences, spending literally hours at a time, our years in Kilcoole brought back to us through photos and videos that I realised we have avoided delving into very much over the last three years. We are only now acknowledging how painful it has been, tearing ourselves away from that place that was so intricately woven into the very fabric of our identity we grew as a family. It's impossible. It will never leave us, it will never be replaced, and we don't want it to.

But then, in the midst of our sadness something lovely happened ~ a most lovely friend, sensing our regret, threw a spontaneous Solstice gathering and sleepover (on a school night!), complete with fire and friends, and I cannot tell you how it filled our hearts. To wake with the din of the dawn chorus, in a house that smells of woodsmoke, made us glad and sad at the same time, and so very grateful to be reminded of why we did it every year for so long.

There is something about acknowledging the cycle of the year, our ancient history, how deep and abundant and important and tenacious the Green is. We cannot remove it from our bones, our blood, our genetic memory. So what happens when you turn away from something that is so deeply ingrained in us? What happens when we decide the bright shiny fake consumer world is more important? How long have we been pretending? How long have we forgotten?

This passage from 'Kith' is both magical and truthful, and so very poignant. It both reminds me of childhood yet also of what we lose when we grow up, and I can't help but wonder what the world would be like if we never lost this sense of wonder of the world.

{ "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', the Pan chapter from The Wind in the Willows, which is situated right in the middle of the book. Rat and Mole are rowing their boat, looking for a little otter which has gone missing, and they find not only the otter, but also Pan. The scene takes place at midsummer, on an island in the middle of the river. At the heart of everything is Pan. (Sadly this core chapter is excised in some editions of the book.)
Rat, entranced, hears the pipes just in the threshold of hearing. The music rouses 'a longing in me that is pain'. As they arrive at the island, Rat knows it with the unequivocal recognition of finding oneself at the heart of things: 'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me...This time, at last, it is real, the unmistakable thing, simple - passionate - perfect'.
Pan grants the animals a necessary forgetfulness so they are not later haunted by a nostalgia they cannot bear. It is as if Grahame is writing of the necessary forgetfulness which adulthood demands, that we forget some of the simple, passionate, perfect knowledge we had as children, dwellers under a different sky."
~ Jay Griffiths, 'Kith'. }

So, over the last year or so I have found myself on a an Unexpected Journey, one that I had no choice about, propelled forward by an awakening that was precipitated by challenges three of our four children were going through in school. I wanted to know if losing that 'simple, passionate, perfect knowledge' was inevitable or not, and what if it was not? What if it was a case of the emperors new clothes? What if we were just buying into something because we were told it was the only way by someone who was only interested in management and control and no one had bothered questioning it before now? Discovering people like Ken Robinson, and reading articles like Carol Black's 'On the Wildness of Children', really just catapulted me into a world there was no going back from.
I was on this journey before I realised it, and I never imagined where it would lead me to ~ to setting up an independent, alternative, democratic school, the first of it's kind here in Ireland.
When I began to give voice to my doubts and questions around the true nature of our children's education I quickly discovered that I really was not alone, and soon there had formed a collective of parents who felt the same, had the same questions, the same vision of something better for their children, and the result is Wicklow Sudbury School, the story of which you can read about here. I will be posting more on this as we go, but here today I just want to express something behind it all for me : the absolute conviction I now have that nature knows the answer, it knows what we need, what is best, how to fix the things that are broken, if we could just learn to listen again. To listen to our children, to listen to ourselves, to pay attention to how things evolve once we remove Ego. And by nature I mean in all it's forms ~ not just Nature, but our nature, our human nature that understands deeply what it is we need, and when given voice can be a powerful changemaker for us.

When we stop clenching our fists, when we soften our hold on our children's lives, when we learn to flow and trust, something kind of like magic happens, and it ripples and flows out to embrace everything else in our lives. I have likened it to a door in our minds (or hearts or souls) that once opened cannot ever be closed, and it is incredible to see your children from this perspective. To give them permission to be their true selves, to run through life like the wind, so sure of it's path, it's place in the wildness that is the natural world that lives beneath our feet and all around us, every day.  It's there, even when we are distracted and disconnected from it, when we are wholeheartedly enmeshed in this unsustainable, crazy, broken world that we have found ourselves living in. Our children don't need to think about it, they just know, but when we don't trust them it makes them doubt themselves.

I know my rejection of traditional school has upset some people. The Sudbury model is a radical leap to make, and the whole idea of questioning the norm makes people uncomfortable, challenges them, I understand that. But I'm not going to say I won't apologise for it because I do apologise ~ I have no desire to make life difficult for people, life is difficult enough without me adding to it, and I know that a lot of the time it's easier to not question things and to just get on with our struggles, and who am I to criticise that? So I am sorry. But I have to do what I have to do so I can live with myself, so I can look my children in the eye and know I did my best to create a better world for them to live in, and if in doing so other children can benefit, then I am happier still.  Earlier I said I had no choice about this and I truly mean that. I, like many other parents, was led to this new place by my children and their bewildered response to today's world.

Not our garden but our Solstice host's one ~ and far lovelier and wild than ours.

The sky has lightened now, the rain softened to a steady downpour. The dripping green outside my window makes so much sense to me now. It is wild and untended, and natural, a mish-mash explosion of all sorts of everything growing tangled and enveloped with one another, climbing our suburban walls, creeping over pathways, everything in it's natural state, just doing what it is meant to do, and I love it. The birds love it.  I recall yesterday's conversation with my lovely elder neighbour who was lamenting the loss of her ability to tend her beloved garden, and I sensed her dismay at our unruly mess that is now hanging over her wall like a friendly but unwelcome drunk. I assured her we would take care of it, and I will, but on days like this when Bray Head is swathed in rain or mist I miss my view so much it makes my eyes smart, and the last thing I want to do is tame it.
Yet I know this wild place where we can be our true selves is also in our hearts, and in our heads, and I am learning to trust myself, the child in me who knows what I need and is learning to give voice to it. And I have faith that in doing that, we are in our way, to quote Charles Eisenstein,  creating " the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible".  And that's a good enough reason as any for me.

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Time Between The Years.

"When the world breaks the light pours in. It's always been this way." 
~ Karen Young.

It's New Year's Day, quite early. The sun is just creeping up through the inky night. The house is silent, seagulls clamour suddenly above the rooftop, the familiar clicks and cracks as the walls and floors cool down after the heating has gone off. I am very grateful for this warm house. Not so long ago we were in a very different situation and every day I appreciate what we have now.
I love this time of year. I love the Solstice, and Christmas, and I especially love this part now, where the important day has been and gone, and we get to pause, retreat back into our burrows and sit by the fire, watch through the rain spattered window as the dark swirls around us like a pulse, a vital sign, barely gone from the east side of the house before it's back again; indigo nights coalescing into skies too omnipresent to simply be called grey. I want to find new names, to call them cesious, cinerious, griseous, plumbeous.  To stand beneath them, to feel the stinging rain and know that this weather, these grim skies, belong to this dear island of ours, no matter how much it shocks people to find it here in December. The darkness holds, pulls us deeper into reflection, contemplation, and so here we are resting between the years, looking both backwards and forwards, making notes from the past for the future. It's been a couple years since I had any definitive new year resolutions, but this year I seem to have a ream of them.

This last year was not an easy one, for the last few months in particular it has felt as though everything around us has begun to fracture, unravel and come apart, the world wobbles on it's axis; murder and terror in Paris, children and families drowning in the Mediterranean, marginalised people right here on our doorstep dying tragically, unnecessarily, climate change, rising sea levels, pollution, suffering of animals, storms, floods, the list goes on. It's as though someone hit the fast forward button and everything is exploding, multiplying, and we cannot stop the tide.
Now stay with me for a moment while I dive into this dark place that I know we don't want to go, I promise it finds the light again. I have been mulling over this post for some time, the words eluding me, like a timid deer somewhere there among the trees but not quite visible, as though some part of me did not want to look too closely at what I want to say. I realised that I was paralysed, I realised that feeling in my chest and stomach was grief. I know I am not the only one to feel this. I found the exact things I needed to read were popping up in my news feed, articles (highlighted throughout here ~ please make a big pot of tea and click on them for further reading), that were addressing these very questions and thoughts that were waking me at five am, the rising panic that it was too late. What on earth can we do? And above all, how do I talk to my children about this? They know. They feel it. In particular, ask anyone with (or who works with) teenagers and they will tell you, if they don't have first hand experience then you can be sure they know someone who does, (their teenagers definitely do). They are the vanguard, whether they like it or not, and they are telling us in no uncertain terms we need to face this because they don't know how to. We have sailed some stormy seas with ours these last two years, and even though it has not been something we have, until recently, spoken much about with them, I have no doubt this is part of it, the fear, the unknowing, their growing awareness, their expanding sense of self, looking to their future and thinking 'what the hell!?'

Was I just naive and now I am cynical? I think I was naive, but I think I am now realistic rather than cynical. I was looking the other way even when I thought I wasn't because I was aware and doing my bit, right? And I know many people dear to me are there now, and like me, too uncomfortable to really go there. But I invite you to, now, before we are forced to (well, I admit, we are actually kind of being forced to already), for as fast as the forest darkens and grows frightening, dense with tangled undergrowth and clinging vines, there are lights among the trees, flickering there, if we can just slow down our thrashing (or come out of our hiding) and look for them quietly, hopefully. And if we find one another in the darkness we have hope because there is still so much we can do. And yes, we may have to really shake up and change our ideas, our perspective, about some very fundamental things, such as what exactly it is we actually need to live our lives. It is uncomfortable, maybe even painful. We are nostalgic creatures, we really are. We love tradition, and our sense of place and who we are that history gives us. We have become used to defining ourselves by what we have, what we own, how we dress, what we look like. But perhaps it's time to be defined by what we do, what we say. We are all here at this time, and there is no getting away from that, so we might as well buck up and take up the challenge. It's very empowering to stand up and say f**k you, I am not sitting back on this any more. It's absolutely not up to our children, it's up to us, it's our generation that need to doff our hats and say 'I'm sorry, here let me help". It's important to grieve, to accept this state of affairs and in doing so release ourselves from the paralysing non-action we have been stuck in.

"Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means being content with what is sufficient, and seeking enjoyment from non-material pursuits. Living in ways that are frugal and that minimise resource use should not be seen as a burdenor sacrifice that must be made to save the planet. These ways can be sources of great life satisfaction."
~Frederick Trainer

So how do we help our children? Hey Sigmund, a brilliant website I discovered a few months back, posted an article on this recently, which, while it may only skim the surface, at least helps to address the beginning of a conversation with them. Watch Tomorrowland with them, (it's brilliant - Disney meets Dr. Who, with a bit of Miyazaki thrown in, and 'if its diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world is ultimately simplistic and rather hokey, there’s still some truth to it' - what's not to love?) and ask them what they think about what Hugh Laurie has to say about the state of the world. I think they might surprise you with their depth of understanding.
Above all, talk to them, open up room for the possibility of having these conversations. Please don't pretend it's not an issue. In today's connected world you can be damn sure they are aware of it. We owe it to them to allow them to give voice to their concerns, to help them understand, because as we all know, misunderstandings can cause all manner of fear and confusion to the young, and that's why we are here for them.

"The answer is obvious. We don't need more scientific data or superficial behaviour change initiatives but to engage individuals at a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual level." 
~ Jo Confino

At times it may not seem like it, but there is much going on that is positive and hopeful. We know we really and truly cannot rely on the likes of COP21 to do what is necessary, so it's up to us, the real people. So go talk to your neighbour. Be visible. Ask questions. The bottom line is, start conversations. Honestly, in my experience people are relieved to talk about this. A kind of magic happens when people find their common ground, as I wrote about here before, and the most heartening things happen. There is power in coming together, it is tangible and real, and it is encouraging and gives you reason to get up and keep going. Find out what is already going on in your local area; if you live in Ireland check out ChangeX for a growing list of initiatives at community/local/grassroots level, and if you want to know how we started and made a success of Common Ground Bray, and Edible Bray, come and visit us, ask us, and we will help you do the same.

"However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. We humanise what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”
Hannah Arendt - Men In Dark Times.

Above all, remind yourself daily of all that is good and beautiful in this world, because this is where our hope resides. Physically get out into the forest, go up that mountain, it will help you sort it all out in your head and get the right perspective. For starters, read the illuminating writings of Maria Popova on Brainpickings, look at what they are doing in Canada with their Leap Manifesto, think about how you can implement a Simple Life Manifesto for yourself, check out Incredible Edibles in Todmorden in the UK, see what one small village in Spain has been doing since the late 70's, check out the Pachamama Alliance, and please share here in the comments any other things you think we should be reading or seeing.
There is nothing like a state of emergency to bring out the best in people. But I am proposing we initiate this response before it is actually a state of emergency. Here at the beginning of a New Year, we have an opportunity to reflect on what the coming year can mean for us. What do we want to invite into our lives? Let's reaffirm what a resolution really means, and why we make them at this time. Let's start living more co-operatively, open-heartedly, and honestly.
Reach out, and I bet you will find another extended hand taking yours.