Every day I close the doorway to my old barn with a line of rickety posts that are supposed to act as a gate. And every frickin’ day my hens find a way in. At some indeterminate point I’ll hear one of them chattering to her feathery compatriots, or the clang of a tool they’ve dislodged, upon which I charge down, huffing and growling and yelling at them, before turfing them out. The hens then run up the hill, bottoms waggling, gossiping amongst themselves like primary school kids caught pilfering from the stock cupboard.
My birds know very well the barn is out of bounds. I’m sure of this because a) their eyes roll guiltily when I catch them, and b) I hide and watch. When they think I’m out of sight, they’ll scuttle straight back down to the doorway, study the wooden slats, peering this way and that to find a gap. Then as soon as I show up to throw them a faceload of glower and reprimand, they stop in their tracks and gulp. Grrr.
But here’s the thing. In truth while all this bugs the hell out of me, it also makes me grin. Nature is shamelessly non-compliant. It’s a total scallywag, and I love it.
The great biorascal
It’s not simply the hens that are thoroughly mischief-making. I found a nettle growing into my camper van this week, and an arm of ivy burrowing merrily through my earth plaster. The mouse in the kitchen has just eaten the gas stove warranty, a wren is building nests in my brand new roof, and the vole has gobbled up every one of my broad beans. This onslaught of biospheric anarchy should irritate me. Others would lay traps or poison. But what’s the point? This is nature. And in five minutes there’ll be another mouse or vole to replace this one, because Gaia isn’t compliant and doesn’t bend under authority. Heck, nature doesn’t even recognise authority in the first place. This is why when I pull up a half-gnawed onion, I find myself chuckling. These miscreants inspire me.
Too bad humans have lost touch with their wild side. We could do with a bit more natural non-compliance in the human world, if you ask me. Apparently a lot of people like being led, though. They like being told what to think by billionaires, and reneging responsibility for their lives.
Nature doesn’t do politeness. She is raw, and often rude. She is the great boat-rocker. Yet she is also fair and holds a deep loyalty to her own. We’re going to see that soon, as some sell out and others don’t. History shows well, social acquiescence and “common courtesy” are often the conduits of abuse and horror. Good little girls have been told to comply when sleazy old men kiss them. If they say they don’t want to be molested or have their body violated they are apparently rude or bad. Good little boys have been told to be tough and emotionless and murder the “enemy”. When they say they don’t want to, they are apparently cowardly villains.
But what is this good and bad that society is so sure it has a hold on? Following rules like Nazi officers (and good ol' general public) did back in 1940? Following the letter of the law as many environmental protectors haven’t been doing since the ’80s? Following social norms in a bid to out do our peers, or from fear of becoming outcast?
I watch the sunlight grace the thousands of wriggling hazel arms in my copse, each one stretching and winding in its own way and yet respecting all the others in the ecosystem. This wood is now brimming with birds. The tree tops twitter and squawk and sing with such exuberance, I find myself laughing. Nests have blossomed without even considering a building permit. There is no single authority in that wood. No top-down leadership. No committees making the rules. Despite this, it's a mutually supportive yet striving community, with a balance between the individual and the group. This is because each tree and bird is plugged into the planet’s intelligence, so doesn’t need government press conferences or police officers to tell it where to go.
Human rules are different. They’re neither organic nor responsive. They doubt our innate wisdom, assume we are all out for ourselves, and keep us towing a certain uncreative line. Personally I prefer nature’s pathways. I prefer the freedom to be wild and mischievous and alive. We’ve been told mayhem will ensue if there are no laws, but who’s doing the telling here? Could it be those same people who are merrily trashing forests, selling us back our drinking water, and hiding the devastating effects of their pesticides?
Thank you Turkey (again)
I haven’t been compliant for a long long while. Perhaps in some ways I never was. When a good friend of mine told my dad recently he’d lost a power battle with me, he roared with laughter and said, “oh I lost that when she was about five.” So it was apt that I moved to Turkey, a country full of non-compliants like myself, where you routinely see people heartily puffing on a Marlboro under no-smoking signs, or cars parked brazenly beneath no parking signs. I remember when the government banned ashtrays from restaurant tables in a bid to stop smoking. In the blink of an eye restaurant owners had made ashtrays on legs which stood by the side of the table instead.
Ah Turkey. I’m grateful to you for showing me with wit and humour the art of non-compliance.
Life on the edge of The System
I’ve been hanging on (and sometimes falling off) the edge of the system for years and years. Turkey was mostly unsystemised when I first arrived there back in the late eighties, with well over half the economy “black” and untaxed. I left when that began to change, and I saw it was driving down the same mindless concrete highway that I had run away from. I know where that road leads to.
According to the world at large, I’ve been doing everything “wrong” since I was 26 and abandoned my state education career in London. I was told by older colleagues I’d never be able to “catch up” if I left, though no one could really explain what or who I was catching up with, or why that was so important. Within three years, I was working four days a week in the then eyeball-achingly beautiful city of Antalya, calling the shots on my hours, living a stone’s throw from the beach, and earning about three times what I would have done back in the UK education system. Agh! Don’t listen to these fools. They know nothing.
To be free, or on the margins of the system, is a beautiful thing. I will never return to that defunct, destructive, soul-and-body-crushing machine whatever they threaten me with, because I know they have no power over me. I know the natural intelligence within me has it covered. The zombie administration is going to have to run to keep up with those of us scampering down the natural paths. I haven’t seen it do much running though since I’ve been back here in Europe. It’s about as nimble as a sauropod in quicksand. Meat Loaf could sprint faster in a wet suit and flippers.
What is non-compliance?
One thing it took me a long time to understand is that non-compliance isn’t the same as rebellion. It isn’t the same as protest, as dear Maxim in Taiwan showed me about ten years ago now. Non-compliance comes from a very different place. It’s a psychological space where you know the other has no power over you. You know you are in the driving seat, and simply don’t do what they suggest or imply you should. You just don’t comply. It’s not noisy or aggressive or demanding everyone else does the same. Why should anyone be compliant to my non-compliance? They shouldn’t, and they won’t be. I don’t need the rest of the world to be like me to experience my truth. Good job, all things considered.
So if you can’t swallow the many uninspiring narratives of the day without a touch of indigestion, and don't feel particularly enthusiastic about everything to go back to ecocidal, slavery-condoning, war-mongering normal (230 000 dead in Yemen alone for example, but may be they don't matter because they're not first world, right?) don’t waste your energy trying to convince the mainstream world to “see”. We are all creating our own realities here. Some people didn’t like that idea for some reason, so decided to let other people create their reality for them. Absolutely their call. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals. We’re Gaia’s children, literally forged from her substance and intelligence, and when we’re aligned with that very non-compliant planetary power, when we hear and act not on the fear created by those with vested interests, or the pressure of the herd, but on the intuitive hunches within our very bodies, we birth our own brand new enchanting worlds. Those two realities are like oil and water. The greasy hand of fear and obedience just can’t get a firm grip on self-belief and intuitive action. It slides straight off into the great machine to lubricate the pistons and cogs of the productivity engine. Meanwhile Gaia’s streams flow where they want to, the grass grows no matter how much it is strimmed, and my hens continue to ferret out new ways into the coveted domain of the barn.
Yes it's a beautiful moment to be alive.
***Many thanks to my dear dad for accepting me for the non-compliant creative that I am. I am lucky. Many people are cajoled and coerced by their parents to tow a certain socially acceptable line which is in direct conflict with their mental or physical well being. I was never pushed to do anything other than what I wanted to in this life, and that is a great blessing.***
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“We think of ourselves as ‘in’ landscape, but sometimes we forget that landscape is also in us,” Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life.
It had been little more than a week. A flying visit to Britain and back, to that old moneyed island so sure of itself, yet in fundamental terms as precarious as anywhere else. With the ageing seams of Westminster pulled taut, the tension was palpable.
For those outside the UK, I am of course referring to Brexit, which when you’re inside the country/ies is a drama of outstanding proportions, the Houses of Parliament now apparently a film co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. Yet, strangely, fascinatingly, as soon as you leave the British coastline, disappears into the Atlantic mist.
Blinking, I stepped out of the tiny Santander airport. The rain was hammering on the tarmac, a million sodden sticks rapping on the drum of the Earth. It was like stepping out of a dream. Or at least someone else’s dream. Because we are all dreaming, aren’t we? The question is what kind of dream?
As I drove along the back of Cantabria and Asturias, the familiar arc of the mountains reached inside me. Everything was recognized. The swerves of the A8 so beautifully irrational, the glimpses of the Cantabrian sea thrashing at the cliffs of my heart. The closer I drew to home, the more intimate the land became. Until each rock and ridge were mine.
My dog died in the folds of this dirt. I found my land within it too. I’ve cried tears of sadness and joy here that have seeped into the Celtic soil. This topography and I now share history. And I marvel at how beautiful this place is. How resilient this capacity for bonding we hold within us. This power that despite the onslaught of propaganda against it, despite all our losses and disappointments, pushes on out through the cracks of our defences like wild flowers breaking apart concrete.
This is life. And it cannot be stopped. It will not be stopped. No matter which devices are contrived to ‘control’ or destroy it, they will fail. Because those devices are based on illusion, the illusion that we are separate. The odd concept that we are somehow not all expressions of this life force, growing from the earth of this incredible planet, breathing the same air.
We forget, we are not simply in the world. The world is in us too. Literally.
Soon enough I’m back on my land, rake in hand, staring out at my new world. As I gaze upon the hills, sunlight from 93 million miles away strikes the mountain flank, and the grass shimmers emerald beneath its touch. Some of that light is reflected off the mountainside, travelling until it hits my eye and enters my cornea. It then passes through the lens onto the retina, which converts the image into an electrical impulse for the brain to create my visual reality with.
A similar type of invasion occurs when I smell the sea. Or breathe. Or heat is transferred via touch. Or sound waves enter my ear. Everything I eat and drink literally becomes a part of me. There is no point in our lives when we are not being transformed by the landscape in which we find ourselves. Separation is a physical impossibility.
People who don’t know me too well often misunderstand my love of independence as isolationism, and my love of solitude as a refusal to connect. People also often wonder how I manage ‘all alone’. This is because somewhere along the line, we have have confused independence with separation. And healthy boundaries with trench warfare. There is no alone. There is no isolation. What there is, is plenty of noise pollution, distraction, intolerant (even violent) opinion, empty babble, and dubious agendas when interracting with humans. So naturally I try to avoid those types of engagement, because they pull me out of the experience that I am a living branch of this miraculous Earth tree pulsing full of star light.
We inhabit a time (perhaps we always have) where words and concepts are bandied about without much analysis of their meaning. Thus somehow in the group mind, independence has come to signify securing the perimeter and installing a few machine gun nests. If people looked inside themselves a little more than they looked outside, they might become clearer. What we really want when we bang on about independence is sovereignty over our own lives.
Meanwhile, back in the hippy love camp, the concept of ‘oneness’ and connection has been equally bastardised. Oh the ‘We are all one,’ shtick. It usually cruises under our noses under the guise of a vapid meme, probably with a sunset attached, where connection equals becoming the human equivalent of a bunny rabbit.
Thus in this vein:
Independence = Building walls, sealing borders and buying artillery.
Oneness/Connection = Being ‘nice’ to everyone, having no boundaries, and letting everyone screw you over.
These two misnomers have been created (or at least exploited and cemented) by left/right liberal/conservative politics. And this is why I won’t throw my energy into that arena. Because no matter which political football team you choose to support, it’s not founded in truth. The game is not founded in truth. What it’s founded in, is the manipulation of words and ideas to create conflict – divide and rule power games where the masses fight about vague concepts they often don’t understand for someone else’s gain. It’s sad. And I can’t believe in a day and age where you can access this much information, so many people are willing to throw their valuable life energy into giving some alien group they’ve never met, and who probably (once they’ve nabbed their vote) wouldn’t even give them the time of day, that much power.
Back in my corner of dreamland, three stone houses cling to a crag. The sun dips under. The air thickens into a silver paste. I walk to my favourite rock. Each rut on her hide is familiar. Each nobble is transmitted onto my retina in pearly light before the image is inverted and recorded somewhere in my mind. When I close my eyes I can still see my rock. She has become embedded in my memories, and thus a part of who I am. I grapple with the idea that this space has even changed my neural pathways.
Do we really understand what affects what in this world? Can we be so sure of how we influence this dream we call reality?
As I hunch down, my body heat enters the stone. Simultaneously her coolness enters me. The wind brushes my cheek, and as I smile the warm air from my lungs mixes with the air of the land. The eye of the moon rises, blinking through the clouds.
The entire planet (and beyond) is both within us and without us. It's communicating with us every second of every day and night. It’s feeding us, energising us, purifying us, inspiring us with its beauty and intelligence, responding to us, and creating with us in every thing we do. When you know this in your bones, when you sense it with every step you walk and draw on its power, then you are truly sovereign over your life. You are free.
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.