Thursday, 21 May 2015

Making Pilgrimage by Lucy Neal

I lived in a house called the Hopgarden for a couple of years as a child. It had a huge garden and I loved it. We only lived there a couple of years before moving on and on the day of the move, I went to school as normal, but realised as I left the house, it would be for the last time ever, as my parents spent the day transporting family life to our new home - actually quite near by.

Leaving the house, I raced back in again and in an improvised fashion marked my farewell to the house by walking steadily down each step of a long, curving staircase, counting as I went, cherishing life lived in the house, sad to go, knowing by instinct honouring, celebrating, paying attention to change was more than important, it was crucial. I think the number (not really the point of the excercise) was 68.

I feel I have been marking my life with such ritualised stepping ever since and walking has been an essential means to this. I spent a week walking Offa’s Dyke to kneel at my mother’s grave after she died: it was the first time I absorbed fully into my whole heart and soul, that she had gone. I walk around Tooting Bec Common every day to watch chestnut trees explode into bobbing white candles; I have had the grandest of privileges of participating in not one, but two of Emergence’s Land Journies: one in a graceful ellipsis around Machynlleth, north to Cader Idris and one along the open-hearted paths of the Gower Way. Both, marked enormous changes in my life: a growing awareness of a role I might have to play in the historic shifts our societies must make by the minute, by the day in service to life on Earth for the next millenias - cherishing, honouring, celebrating the life that dwells in the thin, rich, layer of our biospere.

Sometimes change is happening to us and we are not fully aware of it, but we pick up a few signals here and there that seed themselves for future provisioning in our lives. When I first met Satish Kumar in May 2003, I was co-director of the London International Festival of Theatre. A visionary colleague, Julia Rowntree, had invited Satish’s lifelong friend and co-activist Vandana Shiva to speak at the Natural History Museum on the subject of Biodiversity, cultural diversity and celebration: intimate links and matters of survival. Vandana’s lecture, staged with her audience seated beneath the famous Museum Diplodocus was part of a LIFT Festival series I was responsible for presenting called: Imagining A Cultural Commons. It was a stupendous evening: Peter Sellers made a noble introduction to Vandana who then spoke - without notes - for an hour or so. She pointed to the botanic plants painted on the tiles on the ceiling and made the connection between bio-diversity, cultural diversity and art’s role in survival on the planet. She ended by saying ‘..we don’t want to go the way of him’ pointing to the dinosaur. I listened to every word  but was possibly too embroiled with the intense, busy and immensely rewarding activity of running a wonderful festival, to listen with my whole heart and body. That took a few more years, and co-incided with my second meeting with Satish when I spent a residential week at Schumacher College. Standing one night with my back against the grand chestnut tree, something cracked within me: the vastness of space, my immeasurable smallness of lifespan, my sadness at the unwellness of the Earth and lack of certainty about how future generations and species could thrive, all collided in me.


From then on, my stepping has been more careful about how to live with the universe and let it act upon me and one day, I’d like to go on a pilgramage to mark such stepping. Where would I go? what would I go on pilrimage for? What would be risked? what changed? to what end? Having just finished a long, big project, writing Playing for Time - Making Art As If The World Mattered,  I am not 100% sure at this moment. I need to wait around on street corners, looking, observing, kind of hanging about for a while, picking up the signals, looking backwards and forwards.

"As we step into a new geological age of a four billion year process on Earth, called the 'anthropocene', it is hard to imagine as humans we are accountable for reimagining our world on behalf of ourselves, subsequent generations and all species. We need celebratory social spaces to look backwards and forwards in time, where our collective knowledge, intuition and a sense of wonder at what is possible can come together."

Satish’s pilgrimage from India has been a huge inspiration, not simply the miles of walking, and the engagement with intention and action along the way, but the knowledge gained about how the universe provides for us, if we trust it. We can travel openly, trusting in what uncertainty brings: we can let the universe act on and through us.  We can create the social, celebratory spaces. The conversation between Satish and Jane Davidson will provide a very grand one of these and I shall listen to every word, with heart and soul.



In the meantime, I take smaller walks, building into a grown up, intentional pilgrimage - or maybe not! maybe the daily, smaller walks are indeed a pilgrimage of their own. Each step, each day. Today I went for a walk near my father’s home in Wales. Campion in the sun; bluebells, dandelions and hawthorn peeping: the joy, the energy, the spring in the universe. I noticed numbers printed on the sheep’s backs - animals stamped as man’s possessions.  A lamb jumped about: 68 printed in red on its back, jogging my thoughts about what it is to belong to an abundantly rich world of all living things and journey through it.


Playing for Time - Making Art As If The World Mattered
Is published by Oberon Books

Promotion code: ONPFT2015 valid until June 30

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