A space for conversations in a time of global disruption
I'm home at last, after more than a week away at Uncivilisation and afterwards with friends in Wales, a happy dog-leg en route back to Scotland. But am I really home? Post-festival, I feel more restless than ever. I question even more the notion of home as place, as site-specific, geographical location. Home seems less and less about these old stone walls, the woods where we buried the badger, the fox and the hen. Home seems less veg patch and flower bed, less stove and desk and more a feeling of kinship with others, with fellow Dark Mountaineers who live scattered all over Great Britain.
I co-curated the writers' stage at this year's Unciv and loved every minute of it. There's something wonderful about being amongst a bunch of other writers trying to make sense of life in an era of collapse. I loved Gerry Loose's minute of silence, Pete-with-the-tartan-hat's fiery protest poem (stage-crashed), Sue Richardson & Emily Hinshelwood's woodland songs, and Gregory Normington's hilarious 'Visitors Book'. And I love the fact that a Dark Mountain audience is alive and kicking, is engaged and questioning; Helen Moore's Q&A session was passionate, fearless even. It felt as though the combined energy of writers and audience could light the whole country for a lifetime. I hope it does.
What I most value about Dark Mountain is the sense of community. That's funny coming from me, having just left an intentional community, vowing never to live in one again...But what was missing for me in the six years I lived in community, is there in abundance at Dark Mountain: artists, writers and thinkers who place as much value on the role of artistic creativity in our lives as digging the garden and chopping the firewood. It feels to me that art in all its manifestations is more important now than ever: as a form of catharsis, a kind of psycho-emotional exploration; as a means of continuing to bear witness and pay attention; and perhaps most importantly of all, as a way of honouring beauty in a dark time.
One of the highlights of the weekend for me was Tom Hirons' rites of passage workshop. After talking about his own experience of a wilderness rite of passage and introducing the ideas behind it, Tom sent us off into the woods for half an hour. We were asked to choose between two 'tasks': either to walk through the woods praying (silently or out loud) or to dig a hole the size and shape of your face, about 6 inches deep in the earth; to lie down with your face in the hole and scream. 'Whichever of the tasks is more challenging to you,' he said, 'choose that one.' I chose the hole. What a strange, ridiculous, hilarious, powerful, emotionally overwhelming thing to do! It took me a while to lie down. I felt self-conscious and daft. Someone had followed me into the thicket. I spent a few minutes making the hole a 'more perfect' shape. But when I lay down on the earth and screamed into the hole I'd made, I almost immediately 'lost' my sense of self. All around me in the woods, other men and women were howling and screaming into small, earthy holes. More than anything else, I wished that everyone in the world would give themselves permission to do this, to let go, to express themselves at a most fundamental level. It sounds unlikely, downright odd even, but screaming into the earth opened in me a profound sense of compassion. After a while, I realised I wasn't screaming but making a kind of whale-song and my lungs seemed to have quadrupled their capacity; I could hold a sound for what seemed like minutes.
Anyone who hasn't done this, or something similarly wild and strange, might be tempted to reject it as hippie nonsense. All I'd say is, try it for yourself and see; or better still, sign up to one of Tom's workshops. I heard that one man had scribbled a sign on a piece of paper and laid it next to him while he howled: 'I'm OK!'
I feel more than OK after this year's Unciv. I feel full-up, excited, grateful. Thank you everybody.
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