Sunday, October 24, 2010


The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers.  But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.  
~Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance

What I love about my work is that in doing it I come across other like minded people around the world, dreaming the dream and making it come alive in their own ways. This week has been a wonderful busy week. The wires of communication have been buzzing and energy building in my little corner of the world... I have been in contact with educators who are also concerned about  our education system, and teachers and parents. A friend is running a visioning workshop for families wanting to create their own homes and communities. My husband's celebration of cycling is on this weekend. Others are joining together to create an alternative school in our area. I have 'met' a doula for the Amish community's home births in the US via the wonders of Facebook. And have come across some great resources, put together by people really thinking outside the box. I salute you all. Every man, woman and child who dares to dream and then act upon their dream. More power to you!
Thanks to all who lift my spirits on days when I despair of what doesn't work in the world, who work on regardless, who envisage beauty where there is only dullness, who have hope where there is only despair and who dare to dream big and share their dreams. 
Dream on... 
And finally some words to strengthen your resolve to dream louder, harder and bigger, from other dreamers of renown... (thanks to for these.)

Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire. 
 ~Arnold H. Glasow

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.  
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
When the world says, "Give up,"
Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."
~Author Unknown

 Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.  

 If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.  

~Flavia Weedn, Flavia and the Dream Maker

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adventures without sleep

Adventures without Sleep: how to survive a nightwaking child 
-2000 word article -published in JUNO, Winter 2010

WHOEVER COINED THE phrase “sleeping like a baby” was not, I would bet, a parent. Of course, there are some who are blessed with wonder-babies who sleep through the night from the beginning. But for the rest of us sleep is, at some stage in the first few years of a child's life, a major issue.

Well-meaning loved ones and medical professional shower you with suggestions, most commonly: stop breastfeeding, put them in their own bed and the worst, just let them cry it out.

Our story…
My son Timmy certainly prepared me for the time ahead before he was even born. I remember lying awake whilst he tumbled about inside me like a circus acrobat until his self appointed bedtime of 1.30am and not a moment sooner! Then whilst he had a lie in, I was up at 6am for work! And so this timetable continued after his gentle birth at home.

I have some friends who didn’t know what to do with themselves in the first few weeks of their newborns lives as they slept all the time. No such joy for me. My son fed all the time, and could sleep for long times at a stretch – as long as he was in my arms. However, the second I put him down to go to the toilet, or get feeling back into my dead arm; my peaceful child would scream as though possessed.

Whilst daytime sleep was almost non-existent - just half an hour here or there, he knew night from day, and by two weeks old had slept through the night. I was delighted. I was a good parent. I was in control. And so this continued until he was four months old, sleeping through more nights than he didn’t. Then, what started as an innocent sniffle turned into a severe cold; my life turned upside down.

My once sleeping baby, who had happily graduated to a crib beside our bed, was not only back in bed with us, but on the breast all night. Any time his mouth became detached from the nipple he would wake with a scream. He was snuffling and feverish: I felt desperately sorry for him. But days later when the cold had subsided his sleeping was just the same. After two weeks of this my nerves were raw, eyes so tired I couldn’t keep them open.

Christmas came; I was on my knees after a month of wakings every forty minutes from midnight till six, sometimes every twenty minutes. When asked what I wanted for Christmas my heartfelt request was a decent night’s sleep. And yet that was the one thing no one could give me. He was a joy to me most of the time, but at night I was at my wits end.

Boxing Day came, no sleep for Christmas and another cold. My previous lack of sleep seemed luxurious. Now I was awake for three hours straight from 2-5am as well as multiple other wakings. After that I banned any clocks from the bed room, each night became a blur of waking and dozing.

I begged friends, family, child care professionals for tips- I tried them all. Older locals rolled their eyes as I recounted how, not only was he not sleeping through the night, but also he was waking fifteen plus times. 'The rod for your own back speech' was rolled out. What sort of a mother was I for not letting him cry it out rather than martyr myself? And so after two months I gave in and tried. He cried for 45 minutes, despite my going in at intervals to reassure him, then vomited all over himself, his whole body shaking – I felt sick to my stomach – my exhaustion had led me to do something I swore I never would, and my husband and I swore to the bottom of our hearts that we never would do again. To this day I still feel sick thinking about it, it is my absolute parenting low point.

Over the next couple of months we tried putting him back in his own crib, having him in the bed with us, moving our whole family onto futons in front of the fire in the sitting room. We tried earlier and later bedtimes, not breastfeeding to sleep, musical box, bath time before bed, dummies and bottles, teddies and lovies – all to no avail.

Friends and family were supportive, incredulous that I was still surviving on so little sleep. But few had experienced night-waking to this degree and so did not truly understand the level of exhaustion I felt. My mother used to say sleep deprivation was a form of torture and whilst she was right, turning myself into the victim and my son the perpetrator did not help in any way. Instead I had to develop my compassion for him and myself and my resilience and acceptance of the situation. There were days when I was too tired to be safe to drive, many we curled up on the sofa in front of daytime TV. We went to friends’ houses where I would be eat, cry and be comforted.

My waking moments were spent searching for answers.The Science of Parenting confirmed my worries about leaving children to cry it out. I read some reassuring books - Night-time Parenting by William and Martha Sears was compassionate and supportive. “Nightwaking” they explained “has survival benefits. In the first few months, babies' needs are the highest, but their ability to communicate their needs is the lowest.” It explained that our societies’ expectation that babies sleep through the night was unrealistic and that just because it was night time didn’t mean you stopped being a parent. I agreed, I carried on another couple of weeks, thanking god for my special snuggly times with my baby at the breast, in the still of the night. But another month came and went, my acceptance evaporated as we returned to twenty minute wakings.Sleep had become the be all and end all of my life, dominating my thoughts day and night, I spent hour upon hour trying to get him to go to sleep for his day time naps, finally falling asleep with him.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution

And then, when I was nearly hallucinating from exhaustion, a friend suggested a book: The No-Cry Sleep Solution. It was written with true understanding by a mother who parented in the same way I did. She seemed to understand my predicament and included the words of countless other mothers in my situation. She had experienced endless sleepless nights herself with the first and last of her four children. She wrote with kindness and great compassion.

She recalls to me how her journey to writing the book started when her baby was waking multiple times a night: “I read piles of books and visited many websites to find solutions. No matter where I turned I found two basic answers: either let them cry-it-out or learn to live with less sleep! I wanted neither. I knew there had to be a kinder way, a road somewhere between night time neglect and daytime exhaustion that would be nurturing for my baby and for me.”

She explained the theory behind sleep cycles, and then, rather than prescribe a rigid plan, offered page after page of ideas to try and advice on how to apply these ideas. She suggests that you log your day and night time routines to be able to have an objective record of what is happening and why. I found these logs very useful, especially in proving to myself that I was not over-exaggerating the amount of wakings.

She sums up her common-sense approach: “I think that parents know in their heart what to do with their child – but the voices of unwanted advice from everyone around them are so loud and determined that it is hard for them to hear themselves think! For example, when your baby is crying what is your instinct? To pick him up! But when so many people around you are trying to tell you that it’s the wrong solution you begin to question your instincts.

Sleep issues are complicated, and they’re hard to deal with because when children aren’t sleeping, parents aren’t sleeping, and that lack of sleep affects every minute of every day for every person in the family. When parents don’t know what to do they search for easy solutions – and sleep techniques that call to put a baby in bed and shut the door seem like that easy solution. Sadly, most times it isn’t easy at all – often it means hours of crying for child, and parents, too.”

So why not just leave your baby to cry?

For a long time our culture has advocated leaving babies to cry themselves to sleep for a variety of reasons. In The Science of Parenting, Margot Sunderland, Director of Education at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London, shares research which shows that persistent, uncomforted crying leads cell death and premature ageing of the brain. Scans have shown that the brain becomes permanently wired for over-arousal and over-sensitivity, with children less able to calm themselves. “When your child cries in an intense, desperate way, her bodily arousal system is way out of balance...she is experiencing the fight-or-flight reaction, with large quantities of stress hormones being pumped into her body.” This can only be 'turned off' by comforting the baby, stimulating the vagus nerve: they are too immature to do this themselves. Babies cannot comfort themselves, and their eventual quieting down in the absence of a parental response, does not mean all is well.

According to Dr William Sears, paediatrician, sleep expert and father of eight:
Babies need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep. Some babies can be put down while drowsy yet still awake and drift, others need parental help by being rocked or nursed to sleep…While adults can usually go directly into the state of deep sleep, infants in the early months enter sleep through an initial period of light sleep.” So as a culture we are being unrealistic if we expect a baby to sleep like an adult. The are a variety of developmental reasons why babies do sleep differently, it is not for us to try to tamper with what we don’t understand.

There is now much information available to show that sleep issues are a normal part of parenting during the early years. James McKenna, Ph.D., who runs the Mother Baby Behavioural Sleep Centre at the University of Notre Dame: “When it comes to sleeping, whatever your baby does is normal. If one thing has damaged parents’ enjoyment of their babies, it’s rigid expectations about how and when the baby should sleep.”

The chances are that if you are struggling with night waking, then you are probably dealing with a child who is highly sensitive. 20% of children fall into this category and they require a parenting style that respects those needs. “An important fact for you to remember” counsels Sears “is that your baby's sleep habits are more a reflection of your baby's temperament rather than your style of nighttime parenting.”

The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. You have not failed. You can make little changes, which may make a big difference. And some stage soon your bleary-eyed existence will be a hazy memory. There are no miracle cures, and life without sleep is hard. May your dreams be sweet, whenever you finally have them.

The science of sleep

The science of sleep has been well-studied and experts are in agreement about this. Where they differ is in how to respond to the waking. Babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults. Whilst an adults sleep cycle (going from light to deep sleep, and then back to light sleep) lasts an average of ninety minutes, infants' sleep cycles are shorter, lasting fifty to sixty minutes, so they experience a vulnerable period for night-waking around every hour or even less. Dr Sears recommends “as your baby enters this light sleep, if you lay a comforting hand on your baby's back, sing a soothing lullaby, or just be there next to baby if he is in your bed; you can help him get through this light sleep period without waking.”

Pantley's sagely advises, “parents of new babies should know that their infants don’t need sleep lessons. They’ve been sleeping for twenty hours a day in the womb – they know how to sleep! However, their environment can cause disruption to the sleep that they crave. It is a parent’s job to protect their new baby’s need for sleep and provide a safe and comfortable place for it to occur at the right times.

“Babies will fail to sleep if the routine doesn’t match their needs.
For a new baby, a five-hour stretch is a full night. This may be a far cry from what you thought 'sleeping through the night' meant! It’s often a full year or more until your baby will settle into an all-night, every night sleep pattern.”

Helping your baby to sleep.

  • Make a log of your day, and your night so you get a sense of the pattern of your days and anything which might be affecting sleep.
  • A better daytime nap usually equals better night-time sleep, though be sure that naps do not happen too late in the day.
  • Establish a bed time routine which both you and your child enjoy, and happens the same every night, and which helps you both to feel sleepy, something like brush teeth and wash face, nappy, pajamas, story and milk. Many find a bath with some lavender in helps to get babies sleepy.
  • No TV or loud games at least half an hour before bed.
  • It is natural for a baby to fall asleep while sucking. But when a baby always falls asleep this way, he learns to associate sucking with falling asleep.
  • Try to ensure they don’t get into the habit of sucking to sleep, be it on bottle, dummy or breast. Remove it before they are fully asleep so they can learn to do the last bit by themselves.
  • Try a different bed arrangement- older babies might hate a cot but may be happier in a low bed (with safety precautions).
  • Make sure that they feel safe in their room, that it is as peaceful as it can be. Have it dimly lit, in case they are afraid of the dark and let them know you are there if they need you.
  • Listen to their calls or cries carefully each time. Could they settle themselves? Racing in to get them back to sleep as quickly as possible can become a habit when they wake a lot.
  • Don't talk and play during night feeds and nappy changes. Try to keep the lights off.
  • Be gentle with yourself: don’t take on too much. Sleep when you can, don’t try to catch up on cleaning or work when your baby is napping. Get all the support you can.
  • Be patient, you won’t change it all in one night and trying to do so will put you and your child under too much pressure. If they are particularly bad they could easily be getting ill or teething.


Night-time Parenting by William and Martha Sears
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley; McGraw-Hill, £9.99

The Science of Parenting, Margot Sunderland, Dorling Kindersley, £16.99

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Have you got Rhythm? Or has Routine got you?

(First published in JUNO magazine)

Have you got that baby into a routine yet?”
My skin crawls at that question. I object to it on so many levels: have I imposed my way of being onto my baby? Do we live a fixed pattern dictated by someone else? No, no no! But we’ve got rhythm.

I like to be free, yet I live in a world that values order and structure. I am not a regular person and my son was not a standard issue baby; I am not sure how many people are. And yet so much of what is offered as guidance to new parents asks them to abandon their own instincts or observations and follow a fail-proof, step-by-step plan to success written by an expert. It’s scientific, so it must be good, mustn’t it? You must have a routine, otherwise... Otherwise what? Otherwise you’ll have to think for yourself?

When I started out on the mothering road I didn’t go near the infamous “Contented Little Baby” book or anything else remotely similar: it went totally against my own nature to be that rigidly structured. I needed guidance, not a timetable. I like flexibility, the opportunity to see what each day presents me with and the chance to adapt to and integrate that, not ignore it because NOW and no other time is nap-time.

And then reality hit this idealist square in the face. It took me by my hair and shook me awake, every night, in the form of a waking baby. My little boy who until 4 months old had revelled in flexibility, suddenly began waking multiple times a night - and continued doing so, night after night, week after week, month after month. Muddle-headed from exhaustion, I had to re-evaluate. I was forced to confront this resistance to routine and its implications in my own life. Reflection led me to see that my son seemed to be literally crying out for more rhythm to our lives so that he could orientate himself in space and time. It was on reading two wonderful books that I began to create more balance in both our lives. Rahina Baldwin’s You are Your Child’s First Teacher and Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Sleep Solution brought home to me the importance of helping your child to establish rhythm in their day. It has been a powerful learning curve for me understanding the difference between routine and rhythm and the difference between guiding and imposing structure on your children. But is that just playing with words, I hear you ask, and what is the difference any way?

I would define a routine as a schedule which is set externally, usually based on external authority or advice. Especially popular in the last 50 years or so have been scientific routines based (supposedly) on objective scientific fact, rational and impersonal: babies should be fed every 4 hours, sleep in a crib and drink 8 fluid ounces of carefully balanced formula milk, wean at 4 or 6 months and not before or much after, potty train at 18 months, bed at 7pm etc. These systems were devised for an average baby, which I have yet to meet. They are based on the judgements of others and the fashions of the time. They do not take into account the individual’s idiosyncrasies, physical build, character type and living environment. They are a one-size-fits-all blueprint into which the individual must fit himself.

Rhythms on the other hand reflect and are propelled by nature: breathing in and out, eating and defecating, sleeping and waking, menstruation, the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the changing seasons, the passing of years. Each has its own ebb and flow; they are not static. To take just one example, menstruation, whilst often 28 days, is affected by stress or the hormones of other women that we are close to, and so is rarely precise in its arrival. Our own nature is rooted in its own internal rhythms and immersed in an external world of nature’s rhythms.

 Humans need rhythm to function healthily and achieve balance, indeed this is the basic principle behind many philosophies of health such as acupuncture or homeopathy, in biology it is know as homeostasis. Rhythm can be defined as a self-regulating system which fluctuates, tending towards equilibrium because of the constant feedback received from both itself and its environment. Routine, on the other hand, is pre-designated, man-made and arbitrary. Rather than seeing daily life as a set of alienated actions all requiring precision, as routine dictates, a rhythmic approach encourages us to look holistically at our days and the patterns woven into them by our basic physical needs and other activities requiring balance. It is the difference between creating an original piece of art and following a paint by numbers: one takes more thought and effort, but the result is infinitely more rewarding. In approaching our lives rhythmically we allow ourselves creativity and complexity, in routine we require systematic repetition of disjointed actions which are to be judged externally.

Take two babies: one is breastfed, home-birthed, he wakes and feeds when hungry, sleeps when tired, he is, even at this very young age guided by his own and his mother’s rhythms. There is no one to tell her what she must or must not do with her new child. He is as sensitive to his environment as it is to him. The other baby, born into a bright hospital is brought to his mother to feed every four hours, then returned to the hospital nursery. If he cries before then he is left, he cannot be hungry as four hours have not yet passed. He must learn to sleep and wait to be summonsed to feed once more at the appointed time. Neither is right or wrong. But if these two differing approaches are continued, in each decision which shapes their daily existence, the resulting children are sure to be quite different.

We live in a world run by routines - to question them is to question far more than how frequently a baby should feed - it is to question the very fabric of our society. Timetables ensure order and structure, and we are moving more towards this as the man-made world gets more complex. The thinking behind rigid scheduling for babies is that they become civilised early on, and so not interrupt our sacred adult schedules as little as possible. In doing this, however, they learn quickly to follow external markers rather than being atuned to their own inner drives. As do their parents, who learn to look outside for advice on how to manage every fiber of their child’s being. Schools, hospitals and work places are built around routines and timetables rather than natural rhythms, so it is seen as preparing the child for the world to break its own sense of rhythm. 

Certainly we all need to be able to interact and function together within our society and environment, but to do so at the expense of ourselves is dangerous: the inability of the body to self-regulate itself leads to stress, disease and insecurity. As a culture we currently focus on the external prompts (timetables and clocks) to govern our most basic functions of eating, sleeping and excreting. Think of the child told to wait to pee until break time, or to eat until the bell goes for lunch. To learn to trust internal rhythms is seen as moving towards uncontrollable urges and appetites, chaos and disorder, which as a culture we have a strong distrust of. Many of us are so used to controlling and ordering ourselves and our world, that to trust nature’s ability to self regulate is anathema to us.

Establishing rhythm with children is crucial, creating familiarity and a sense of their place in the world so that they can relax into it as they incarnate. A lack of rhythm causes disharmony which is experienced as stress for the individual and can be expressed in terms of unhappiness, behaviour problems or issues with eating or sleeping and even illness. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the skill of listening to and honouring their own rhythm within a structured and balanced family life. We can do this through our own example. We can show them the rhythms of the natural world, with which young children instinctively have such an affinity: pointing out that the sun is gone, and so it is time to sleep. Breathing practices and meditation, dance and music, looking at art or watching the waves breaking on the shore are all ways which we experience and enjoy rhythm in a tangible way. Through them we learn to reconnect with our own unique rhythms as well as the rhythms of others around us and our environment, allowing us to become more conscious of the rhythm which exists in all areas of life.

Things to be mindful of when establishing rhythms:
-sleeping- quiet before bed time, having a predictable routine, observing the rising and setting of the sun, moon and stars.
-eating- regular times, watch for cues for hunger, offering a range of seasonal foods, textures and flavours.
-movement – must be balanced with stillness, regular body stimulation for the physical being such as running, dancing, jumping, massage.
-celebrating festivals marking the passing of seasons and key events, noting the rhythms of the year.
-establishing simple but meaningful family traditions and ways of doing things to add familiarity and a sense of belonging.
-plenty of experience of rhythmic activity: dance, music, and experience of nature.

It is important to note that rhythms can soon become unconscious, and habitual routines in themselves. It is always useful to observe, or have someone else observe our habitual actions so that we might bring them to consciousness once more and re-evaluate their effectiveness for our or our child’s current stage of development. Each stage of life has its own rhythms and it is not healthy for us to carry one past its own useful stage just for the sake of comfort. This is, perhaps, the real meaning of weaning. Each stage of development is a new weaning from one comfort zone to another, but based on observation not on external development charts, calendars or clocks. An easy way to note if one is following a routine rather than a rhythm is that a routine is usually driven by ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and watching others; rhythm on internal watching and listening.

In the end it comes down to our intention for our children and ourselves. If our intention, which modern education and work places seem to suggest, is for unconscious action to follow the dictats of authority, then routines are perfect, and the younger the better so that people do not learn to question them. If our intention is healthy, self-reliant beings, then our rootedness in our environment and our ability to observe, respond and adapt are crucial. There are two tides in our culture at the moment, one towards autonomy and the other automation. However, the autonomy camp often takes laissez faire to the extreme, rejecting compulsion and force, but putting nothing in its place. To do so is, in my opinion, to act against, not with, our natures and Nature itself.

I wish you well with finding your own rhythm, and helping your child to find theirs.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming home to ourselves

(1500 word article, first published in JUNO)

I am an old-school Romantic. At university I fell in love twice: first with my husband and then the European Romantics and American Transcendentalists: Emerson, Thoreau, Schelling, Coleridge etc. Through their nearly 200 year old words I discovered a vision of the future so fresh, so relevant that it could have been written yesterday: a belief in the transformation of society, of self-reliance, on the importance of spirituality, of the wonder of the human experience and natural world. ‘Him the past instructs, him the future invites’ wrote Emerson in 1837 – “mankind must go backwards to achieve inner unity before he can progress further”. This I believe is key to any transformation. Not a top-down political manifesto, not a one size fits all global solution, there could never be one. The answers we will find will be different. It is a modern western myth to believe in a universal panacea. To find the solutions to how to live, we must first return to our roots: our human roots, our ecological roots and our ancestral roots. Solutions less deeply based will be merely rooted in reaction, denial or rejection. We have run away from home and lost the keys along the way. I invite you to come home…

We have been taught that in leaving home we find our independence. Maybe so, and maybe not. We have become a rootless, isolated society of individuals wandering from relationship to relationship, chasing high paying jobs across the globe in a society serviced by professionals. In returning home we recover the true meaning of eikos, the Greek word which forms the root of both economy and ecosphere in English. These strands have been separated for too long in our culture, alienating the economy from the environment by removing both from the domestic sphere. We begin to notice that once we focus on our microcosm (our individual homes) we become more aware of our macrocosm (the Earth as our home). Back and forth the awareness of one naturally infiltrates our awareness, sense of responsibility and deepening commitment and love for the other. People are beginning to recognise this through deep reflection. Gradually more and more are turning away from institutions, with their anonymity and lack of human scale, and returning home. So many of the movements we see emerging now are offshoots of the same desire: a desire to come home to ourselves, our roots, our families and communities, to imbue the basic act of living with meaning and depth. Supporting local producers, growing organic food, energy self-sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, home birth, home education, self-employment, self-building, all these and more are ways of coming home.

With this people are (re)discovering…
Interdependency, family, rootedness, community, simplicity, self-knowledge, involvement, exploring and creating, self-sufficiency, self-empowerment….

This is what I believe deep human fulfilment is based on. This is the well-spring from which we draw our joy and comfort. This should be the yardstick to judge any social change by, rather than material possessions or financial “security”. If we are rooted in ourselves, in our families, in the world and in the ever-changing cycles of nature then we are truly rich.

Homes are status symbols in our present culture. We pay them lip service as being the heart of family life, but this is not the reality for many. All the major events of our life: birth, marriage celebration, illness, death, food production, learning and work used to take place at home. Now they are looked after in institutional settings, saving us the bother of doing them ourselves; we hand ourselves over to the experts in professional surroundings. What was previously a place built with our own hands with local materials, according to local custom, with the help of the family and community is now constructed by contractors. We pay with money for what we used to do ourselves. When we commute for our shopping, our services, our work and schools, communities become shells, places where people sleep and pass through, but not where they live out the fullness of their lives. We no longer have communities, but networks. As Gatto observes in Dumbing us Down “Networks [rather than communities] do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs. The reality is they cannot.”

Through institutions we have created taboos, great fears of birth, death, even learning, as these activities become hidden away, no longer a part of daily family life. They become great mysteries which we are no longer initiated in and so we hand them over to the experts. Institutions have taken over so many of the roles previously served in our homes. Modernity has given us hospitals, offices, schools, nursing homes and orphanages. They play the same role, but without the depth of human connection that we receive at home.

We cannot change society from the outside, we cannot force others to change. Our institutions and culture are the way they are because of what we believe about the world. We live what we believe. We believe we are vulnerable and need protection and so we have armies to save our bodies, churches to save our souls and insurance companies to save us from fire and theft. We believe we are what we have, so we accumulate more and more money, possessions, diplomas. We believe that we are separate so we have ghettos and classes and the chosen few in all areas of our lives. We believe that there is not enough, and so we will fight tooth and claw for what we deserve. We believe that education can be made compulsory. None of this will or can change until we, the people who create and support this system with our energy, change. There is no other way: anything else is superficial tinkering. When we give our energy (be it time, money, creativity, thought or in any other form) we give our support to its existence. We currently expend vast amounts of energy racing about serving and fighting the needs of others: commuting to jobs, children to schools, endlessly travelling, exhaustedly chasing our own tails in the rat race. To change anything seems impossible, just getting through the days is hard enough. We are at the beginning of an energy crisis in more ways than one.

Now, what if we were to conserve this energy and focus it on what really matters to us? What would this be? For most it would be their homes, families, friends, communities and local environments. If each of us were to look after our own patch, not out of fear as we currently do, but out of love, honour and gratitude. Not for us to worry about the rest of the world: not save the children, but our children; not condemn the hoodies but engage with the teens in our village; not refer to the problem of the elderly but our parents. We need to start not with economics nor policies, but real people on a human scale, working “as if people mattered”. As John Taylor Gatto says: “Networks of urban reformers will convene to consider the problems of homeless vagrants as real people, not abstractions. Ron, Dave or Marty – a community will call its [homeless] by their names. It makes a difference.” Then real progress might happen. This progress would deeply rooted in caring and compassion for real people, by real people. With the political and financial pressure and “the ills of bigness” removed, real reform for institutions might be possible. Less energy will be needed because we are not racing around all the time, we will be locally based and responsible for ourselves rather than the responsibility of the state. Earning less and spending less, our lives will not be dictated to such an extent by the vagaries of the global economy. Then we will have enough time to breathe, and to see perhaps a little more clearly where our futures lie and how to move forward. When we withdraw our energy, take back our power then we are free to choose how to use it creatively. By living Gandhi’s motto, “be the change you want to see in the world”, we can make our contribution and pave the way for others to follow. More recently Gregg Braden wrote that each individual who lives change, however small, “becomes a living bridge – both the pioneer and midwife - for every other person with the courage to choose the same path. Each time someone makes the same choice, it’s a little easier because another person did it first.” By living an example we shine a light for those who might fear breaking out of their old ways of living, but if we have no other effect than doing no harm to ourselves and those we are close to we have done well. The biggest step we can take is the smallest one that we think impossible.

Coming home might feel traumatic or mundane. Whichever it shows us the best and worst of ourselves and others. Coming home means no more running, nowhere to hide. It is a letting down of pretence and illusion. Not every community or home of origin is a haven or nurturing place. But then we are free to make communities of intention which will nurture and support us. Families, whether consciously formed composites or blood relations show us in miniature the struggles of human interaction and diversity. Home might seem a utopian concept, but it is the crucible of human interaction, a literal and metaphorical shelter from the storm, amongst people who are, for better or worse, our people. Families are a common bond between all cultures and faiths, the basic currency that opens out to embrace the world as we are, rather than manipulating us to drop our differences for the pretence of homogeneity which a nation state requires. If we do not start from the bottom up, from our beginnings, to build a strong foundation for a brighter eternal now, where then shall we start?


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