As we mark a year of the world living with Covid-19 and all of it’s effects on how we live, and as Fern and I personally approach the launch of our latest projects, we look at what has happened to us, what the future holds and living into the new…
Phil: As the anniversary of the first lockdown rapidly approaches, and as the current ‘wave’ of the pandemic rolls on and ever on, Fern and I often sit down together of an evening and wonder about the future.
It’s obviously too early to say what will come next or what we will learn from all of this. And the differing opinions on whether or not we will go back to ‘normal’, or what ‘normal’ even means anymore, are likewise infinite and only add to the exhaustion…
With all of that said, we feel a strong pull to chew over what this year of loss, change, insight, and fear has brought us, and how we can begin to step into the uncertain future when the road ahead seems so very, very unclear… We begin with an image… but first some context...
All this past year since our last blog post ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, (where we found ourselves stopping, letting go of ‘doing’ and simply listening for what comes next), we have mused on how we feel these personal and global events rest on a spectrum of a rite of passage. After all, we are rites of passage guides (among the many other things we do) and if Covid-19 hasn’t been a rite of passage for humanity, then it’s hard to know what would be.
Lockdown in the UK in March 2020 felt like ‘severance’ or ‘separation’, the first phase of a rite of passage where, in the tradition in which we work - as taught by The School of Lost Borders - the initiate leaves behind the life they know and steps into the unknown. Everything we thought we knew about ourselves and the world was forcibly removed from us and we were left wondering what the future would hold and, most importantly, who we would be in that far off time…
As the weeks spread into months, we found ourselves accepting that we were in 'threshold' time, the dark, slow, painful, middle space of a rite of passage, where initiates face their darkest fears and spend four long days and nights alone in the wilderness with minimal shelter, crying for a vision. Threshold – literally named after ‘the threshing hold’ where wheat is separated from the chaff – is where we face ourselves in the clearest way possible, no illusions, just who we are in the face of adversity.
One thing is commonplace to all who pass through threshold initiation: we know we cannot return to the way life was before. That life is gone. As Leon Wieseltier says in his beautiful book ‘Kaddish’ – “The old life was a good life. But it is no longer available to you. It has been carried away irreversibly.” So, we must go forwards into the uncertain future.
With all of this in mind, and as we process the enormous changes that we have personally gone through, we find ourselves like the initiates packing up our makeshift camps, readying to depart from our ‘solo’ time and trudge back to the blessing circle and our community. We are exhausted, afraid, filled with trepidation and also exhilarated about stepping into the new unknown of ‘what comes next’…
|Blessing circle - Emergence Vision Fast 2020|
And so, the image we are sitting with is that of a chrysalis, the nascent butterfly within beginning to chafe against the strictures of its safe space and feeling the need to emerge. In order to reach this point, the original caterpillar has literally broken itself down to its DNA and reformed itself as an entirely different creature altogether. Now, in the most dangerous moment of all, it must face emerging into the new reality – soft, vulnerable, inexperienced… This is where we are now, collectively. How do we go forwards when things are so uncertain? Do we have the bravery to imagine what the future might look like? And are we strong enough to step into it? That’s what we’re here to work on…
Fern: It’s been a long time since we shared ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’! I thought we would have written a follow-up blog long before now. Phil and I had talked a little about perhaps writing ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ 2, but it always felt a bit presumptuous – like we already had a sense of where we were going and how long it might take to get there. Sometimes when the conditions are very specific, the cloud doesn’t shift, it just sits there.
I’d initially thought it would have shifted by the Summer of 2020, the Autumn, the Winter, surely by the New Year of 2021? A fresh start, a new beginning. But no, still the Cloud of Unknowing stuck around. The festival of Imbolc usually heralds the first signs of Spring in early February. But then arctic East Winds, sub-zero temperatures and floods hit many areas of the UK. Like a second Winter. Spring has been a long time coming.
|Walking through the winter fields|
We’ve spoken about writing an Emergence blog for some time now. We had spoken about this blog heralding the launch of a new season of work and offerings for 2021. But something told us to hold back. There was some preparatory work which needed doing first.
Through the dark Winter months, I’ve been waiting, hibernating, clearing, preparing and making ready for this time. Knowing that one day it would feel right to emerge.
During lock-down we found ourselves unexpectedly becoming custodians of a very large garden. We have taken on a loan to buy the beautiful place we’d been renting since the Summer of 2018. The work of ‘Pulling out the weeds, hands in the earth, planting seeds’ that I spoke about in the last blog has become increasingly significant as we daily tend and grow the garden and care for the surrounding woods.
|The garden at The Barn|
We trusted that there would be a time to plant seeds, but it wasn’t during those dark days. There was a forest of bamboo to clear, to dig out the strong, dense mass of roots. There has been a mass of leaves and last year’s brown matter to clear and compost. There have been brambles to clear, revealing a wash of snowdrops down by the river. Clearing away, cutting back the deadwood so that one day in the future something new will grow and it will have the space it needs to grow into what it will become.
Preparation is a slow process not to be hurried. Patience needs cultivating. And trust. These past few months, I have increasingly been saying to myself (and others) ‘keep your nerve’.
Last week, the frogs were busy in the garden pond. There were maybe 40 of them. An increase in temperature and wet conditions made the conditions just right. Perfect for a riotous mating season which went on for five days and has just now abruptly stopped.
And today, I feel it. Today I saw my first bee foraging in a bunch of deep purple crocuses. Then, my first primrose and a couple of early lambs.
On a more profane note... We even had our septic tank emptied for the first time yesterday. That’s 750 gallons of old and inherited shit which has literally been sucked up and is now gone from the premises enormous thanks to Abba Drains. There couldn’t be a better metaphor for being primed and ready for what comes next.
|The shitman cometh... and 700 gallons of shit goeth...|
The caterpillar is emerging. The chrysalis is cracking. We are in the early phase of ‘incorporation’ ready to take on our new identity, role, venture.
And now to plant the first seed…
Phil and I are launching a new venture – a space, this house with its beautiful adjoining converted barn. This will be a place for making, for ceremony, for nature connection, for rest, writing, and residencies, for soul and spirit connection for individuals and small groups…
In this space carved out by the Pandemic – of stopping, of letting go of expectation and outcome, something has emerged – a new space. A Centre for Emergence – a dream many years in the incubation.
|The Barn - a new Centre for Emergence|
We are committed to being here in this not-quite, almost-there space. We hope to welcome ‘artists in residence’. We are planning to offer creative, nurturing and transformative experiences. Over the coming year, we are planning to offer a Summer and Autumn Vision Fast, A Space for Change and Bardsey Time as well as supporting solo or group, self-guided residencies and retreats.
The world and all of us will never be the same again. We are learning what it is to be fully human in this time of flux, change, fluidity. I think we all have thinner skins, we are all finding our form, our way, our shape… Perhaps this is the learning of this lifetime. How do we become fully human in these times in which we are living? How do we allow the disintegration of who we were, in order to become who we will be? Let the chrysalis crack and see what emerges…
Fern & Phil