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.




6 comments:

Jo said...

Going to your house in Kilcoole always made me ache for my own childhood view in Newcastle. It is one that's impossible to let go of.

And now I live in a house in a dip, where there are trees outside my bedroom window, and you can see Bray head if you stand on the bath and crane out the skylight... but I don't think I've ever felt as creative or inspired as I did where I grew up.

I hate to think your search for an alternative has upset others... surely they can choose to stay where there are if they're comfortable? You're forging a different way, not burning the school down. I have nothing but awe and admiration for your achievement. I love to think of a world where everyone's needs are provided for, and diversity is cherished.

Ciara Brehony said...

Thanks, Jo. I realise belatedly that for some of us our creativity and inspiration is indeed directly related to the environment we live in. We just have to make the most of what we have!

sarah said...

beautiful, powerful post. as a homeschooler, I love your courage in seeking a beautiful and true education for your children.

Ciara Brehony said...

Thank you, Sarah. I just wish I'd had the courage to homeschool all those years ago. We'd have saved ourselves a lot of heartache. Better late than never, I suppose. 😊

Acornmoon said...

What a fascinating post you have written, I have been transported back to a country that I feel I know deep down in my bones. The misty, moisture filled skies, the smell of woodsmoke. Now, more than ever, we need nature to remind us why we are here.

Martin Hodges said...

Don't how I missed this, Ciara. Great post, as ever. And super pics.