“Oh you used mud for plaster? Oh dear. It's sure to go moldy in summer. That will never stand the damp.” The woman peered at my walls, mouth corners twitching. It was the only thing she said in the ten minutes she was there (and it was plain wrong of course). Frankly if she hadn’t been helping me carry a crate, things might have ended differently. Somehow I swallowed my outrage. Even so, it was detonating under my skin. My face felt like it was stuffed full of Molotov cocktails. There are a lot of people renovating old buildings around here, and for some reason more than a few seem addicted to put-downs and faultfinding. I'm often shocked how humans love to drag each other down and fill each other with fear and worry, rather than bolster each other up.
It’s a rare day I let someone on my land, because with a few notable exceptions, I nearly always regret it. Just like this time. Perhaps it’s me, but nine times out of ten when someone walks into this (for me) precious space, they seem hell bent on pulling it apart. Being a sensitive soul, these slights take me a day or two to recover from. I feel my home and her beauty have been violated. I fret. Perhaps I did it ‘wrong’. Then I recover my self-belief, and the anger rises. I consider the revenge (find something wrong with their creation and criticise that instead). Finally I haul my way out of the dark and see clearly again: That these put-downs are not about me or my home. They are about the other person’s fear of inferiority. And mine. I choose not to engage. But still it saddens me. Why are we so deranged?
Jockeying for some phantom of position is why I hate dinner parties, and (anti)social gatherings. It’s why I prefer conversing with trees. I can’t lie, when I see the level we are still at, it’s hard to feel optimism for our future. And yet...
As I sit, autumn rain pattering on the kitchen roof (which some other nitwit told me 18 months ago would start leaking after two years), I watch wads of sodden air washing over the valley. The drizzle creeps up the slopes in misty wreaths, turning the rocks into limestone amphibians. These slippery lithic creatures heave their way out of the earth and onto the grass, where they take their first breaths of winter.
The land is moving. It was never still. Things are always in transformation, either evolving or decaying. The shrivelled carcasses of leaves pile up on the ground, feeding the beetles and worms below. The old is sloughed off. Only the new survives, until it can no longer keep up.
Keeping up with the Joneses
It is of course a hallmark of the middle class to paddle frantically to keep up with the neighbours. The Joneses have a flat-screen TV darling, so we’d better get one. The Joneses redid their kitchen, so we must outdo them with our bathroom. More recently the Joneses have changed tack. They build cob ovens, buy organic food, and spend a stack of money trying to appear green (the urban poor can’t usually afford vegan shoes or ethically sourced avocados). Ecological one-upmanship is a the new big thing in certain circles.
Of course, be it competing about barn renovations, how 'eco' we are, or the price of a handbag, it’s all a symptom of one specific disease: Comparisona Virus. When exactly humanity contracted this illness I’m not sure, though it’s more likely to have been in a school or a home than a food market. Perhaps we really did inherit it from our chimpanzee relatives. Yet when I sit among the arcing hazel trees and inhale the peaty air, I smell the distinct whiff of change. Of evolution.
We can all see we are at a turning point, but it seems to me humanity is largely missing the point, with everyone more concerned about redecorating the Titanic and outranking their fellow passengers, rather than engaging in some simple observation of the terrain in front and within. Observation isn’t flashy. It’s quiet and still. It looks like nothing is happening.
When I sit and observe my own fragile mind, the pain of being slighted, the desire to retort with a snarky remark to put the other in ‘their place’, I see there are some psychological rafters which are now rotten to the core. One of them is rivalry and the desperate need to jostle for rank with our peers.
Without some attempt to turn inward and observe why we do things, to see the utter obsoleteness of competition and to realise we are all involved in it, we are finished. No one wins a war. Only the most short-sighted and broken viewpoint could ever think that dominating a situation or person means you’ve won. Time is long and victories amazingly short. Even those apparently at the ‘top’ live in a kind of perpetual paranoia that they will be ousted. No amount of wealth is ever enough. Imagine: private jets, yachts, whole islands, and yet you are still afraid you might lose status.
But it’s not just the elite. It’s not any group at all. It’s us. All of us. And this is actually very good news. It means rather than feeling we are powerless, we can do something. And do something we should. Fast. The time really is now.
I look up from my screen to see the rain pulling out and up, ripening into clouds that rise and drift like portents from another time and place. The Other World. That unquantifiable space where imagination and intuition call the shots. I feel a cool bluster now in the air. The trees have begun to sway. To call me. Yeees. Something tells me the time for competition is over. Whether it’s polarised political battles, immature home improvement rivalries, trying to be right in some absurd ideological boxing match, or bloody warfare, it’s going the way of the dinosaurs. Some of which are still with us. Some of which we may even be related to.
Phylogeny, and the way of the dinosaurs
When a species goes extinct, often one branch of it survives, one clan, one side-shoot of genetic material. When it comes to the dinosaurs, in retrospect we all know who was their success story. In an Earth engulfed in fire and dust, suddenly it was no longer those with the largest teeth and the most brawn who held the advantage. It was those who could navigate the sky. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course. I suspect if we told T. rex that a poxy chicken would be the future carrier of his DNA , he would snort, because on the face of it, the fragile bird looks a rank outsider. Today’s T. rexes are no different. In a world obsessed with being right, and where aggressive mouths take up the virtual space, those of us who are little more introspective are largely ignored. Perhaps that’s just as well. Perhaps that’s all exactly as it should be.
For those who can listen, Gaia is generous. There are always clues and nudges. Time spirals about itself, and ancient puzzles become rune stones for the future. But that knowledge and power is only accessible to those who can sit still and be quiet, for those who can observe. Through that stillness the subterranean cataclysm of transformation is audible. Many of the indigenous peoples of this planet know all about what’s coming. They know how to whisper with trees and follow the signs of the rocks and the eagles. Whenever I hear an elder speak, I’m struck by how similar our perspectives are. So much of the wisdom that has pulsed through my own land is old knowledge for the keystone peoples of this planet.
It’s that corroboration of experience that validates. Me, a Western woman in Spain hearing the same voices, seeing the same kind of spirits, feeling plants talk to me, nudge me, call me, listening to trees prophesising the future, and rocks remembering the past. There is indeed another reality out there. But the road toward it is far away from debate, and angry protest. It’s on another phylogenetic branch entirely from competition and battle and war.
The time for one group pitted against another, that entire mindset of battle, is on its way out. It may not look that way if you believe the media and buy into its every sensational word. If you embroil yourself in that energy line and are sure you are right and ‘they’ are wrong, it won’t seem that way at all. Even so, the ground has shifted and evolution is happening.
It’s evening now. Through the forking branches of the darkening woods, I see the path. It glistens in ophidian splendour as it winds through the trunks and dead leaves. A salamander, yellow and indigo, perches in the wet dirt, imbibing the hint of rain. Does she recall her lobe-fish ancestor, or sense how her legs unfolded back then? If she does, she holds the secret inside her still. As I stare into her watery eyes, I fancy I see my reflection. Am I an ape or a human, or something new?
The old will be shed like snake skin. The new will survive and grow in its place. But it won’t be based on who won or who lost. It will be based on those who can navigate the sky. And those who can burrow deep into the origins of things to find the waymarkers of the future.
We don’t need to force our opinions down people’s throats. We don’t need to beat anyone or join this side or that. These things are a complete waste of time, heck they are on the wrong tree branch altogether. We don’t need to keep up with the Joneses, because the Joneses don’t know what they’re doing. We need to keep up with the planet and evolution, and build ourselves some wings. It’s not something we can blame some other group for, because if you still see opposing groups, you’re on the road to nowhere my friend. Evolution is something we do to ourselves for ourselves. And as soon as we liberate that self from its terminal terror of losing, we are flying free. Soaring high above the clouds like that, the landscape looks so different. So new.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.