Sunday, 16 December 2018


I've been sitting with the question of how I choose to live given the state of the planet. The more I learn, the more I understand that there's no chance we can sustain the world as it is. That evokes grief, anger, powerlessness...all that stuff. Chances are you're feeling it too.

If every single person in the UK switched their man made and/or toxic belongings to something natural and sustainable; stopped eating animals; stopped abusing animals; shared everything they own with their neighbours, it wouldn't even make a dent in the global situation. Fact is, a person owning a smart phone, a plastic bag, toxic cleaning products and a big car isn't a bad thing. Billions of people doing it - that's the problem. Bottom line: there's too many of us and we just keep breeding. We live longer, consume longer. The only recorded version of state-controlled birth rates was a humanitarian tragedy. At least one major religion tells its followers they are not allowed to decide how many children they have, the decision lies in the hands of their god. Motherhood (and even just that short bit at the beginning, pregnancy) is almost fetishised in developed countries these days. We've grown too fast as a species, for us to be able to lift (in the time we have left) the majority out of poverty and into a position where their basic needs are met and they can afford mental and financial focus on sustainability and altruism.

We blew it. It's a done deal. We're victims of our own success and we're taking most of the other species on the planet down with us.

It took a good long while for me to reach acceptance of this. Years. But I'm there now and it will never not make me sad but I've discovered that perspective helps. Remember that analogy that likens the history of Earth to the length of your arm? If life on Earth started at your shoulder, the dinosaurs were here until about half way down your forearm. Does anyone else tend to think of the dinosaurs as having been here for a few thousand years? I do. Try 165-177 million years, and if it hadn't been for that meddling asteroid...That's how you do sustainable. That's how you live gently on the planet that made you.

Anyway. Arm. Human life would be the very end of the fingernail and, it appears, just as disposable. If the dinosaurs were the favourite jeans that Earth wore for years until they got torn, humans are the sweater they tried on, looked in the mirror, thought,"Hmm, looks awesome but it's really itchy and way too tight for comfort" and threw it on the recycle pile.

Thank you next, bitch.

Who knows what comes after us. Some life that's here now may well survive. New life is probably already evolving, ready to fill the gap. The Great Big Gap. Once I realised that - that we probably won't kill the planet, we'll just kill ourselves and a bunch of other things - I felt better. Nothing lasts forever, eh? We'll just go back into the melting pot.

So what now? Party like it's 1999? If you can do that and not feel crappy then sure, why not? I wish that I could, not gonna lie. As I've lain awake at night thinking about these things I've longed to be able to go back and take the blue pill instead but it's too late. I'm also aware that my grief for this version of Earth's life and the suffering it brings to individuals, is in part a reflection of my fear around my own mortality - menopause'll do that to you - but you can't stop ageing either so here we are.

I've found a place of relative peace with this and as is the way with us Human Beans, in order to find it, I needed to look at my own philosophy and spirituality. Look hard and press refresh because, as it turns out, the version on my inner screen was way out of date.

My personal spiritual journey is not complicated. It started with a secular upbringing and an underlying Anglican culture. There's a brief (like, months) flirtation with Catholicism in my mid-teens when I found out my family is partly Irish. My 20s were New Age Lite, heavy on the astrology. My 30s weren't anything but a disaster and a vague interest in Buddhism. My 40s dipped deep into the Benevolent Universe/ Love and Light/Sacred Nature realm and I thought that was it. Until very recently I thought I knew what I believed. It was a changeable jewel that glimmered with eastern philosophies, magic and I'm-Not-Religious-But-I-Am-Spiritual-ness. Some days there were crystals. Some days there were prayers to The Universe. Some days there were plant spirits. Much animism.

Then one day I woke up and didn't believe any of that was my answer.

I think it had been creeping up on me for a while. The unease, the restlessness, the impatience with everything and everybody. I had a strong sense of my own identity, my values and beliefs. Until I didn't. How was I going to admit this? How would I tell people (I'm not sure who the hell I thought cared!)? What if I didn't qualify for inclusion any more? Would anyone still like me? What if I didn't like myself?

I went for a walk. A long one. With a dog, some trees and a bit of sunshine. I talked it out - out loud - and just kept talking until something took shape. Once what I was saying started to feel true and right, I kept going. Tracking that thread - the warm paw prints, as Martha Beck would say - and weaving it into  a big What I Believe Now blanket. (You'll notice I've added the word Now on to the end because who knows how long this version will last.) If you're still interested, here's how it looks...

I can't change the physical reality of the planet as it is but I have to live here and not sink into despair. What can I do? Perhaps whenever I witness something awful happening, the best I can do is counteract it with something good. When I see some hideous news story about deforestation and orphaned orangutans, I can't stop the deforestation single-handed, but I can do something based in love and kindness that will redress the balance between negative and positive just a tiny bit. I can dance with my daughter; plant a flower in my garden; give money to a homeless person without conditions attached to that gift; laugh until I cry; create something beautiful; sing out loud... Sometimes doing something you love, really really well (See: Noel Fitzgerald and the rock music that enables him to recharge, and save lives) changes the world for a moment and that just might be magnificent.

Do it mindfully and lovingly as an act of true rebellion against the horror. 

I can choose the few things that I can have a direct effect upon and commit to them instead of being paralysed by my inability to change the entire world. My decision not to have family dogs again after the passing of my current loves is a separate post, but part of it is because I can have a direct effect on dog welfare if I am free to foster homeless animals. Likewise, what I put on my plate has a direct effect on the demand for slaughtered animals, however small that effect may be. Keeping my environment free from litter will have a direct effect on the local wildlife. Using non-toxic products in my home, ditto. Financial support for people who work on the 'coal face' with the under-privileged of all effect. I can't change the world or the future, but I can change small things for individuals here and now. I believe it's worth it.

And if these times are approaching the Grand Finale both for humankind and this version of Earth, then shouldn't we go for a big song and dance number? Celebrate what we've had? Look at all the amazing, good things that the anthropocene era created? The altruism, the art, the scientific discoveries, the inventions, the bloody gorgeous things that people do every day? Now that's good energy. And then there's the natural world as it is now. The amazing animals and plants and phenomena that are here now. Let's celebrate the heck out of them while we can.

There is more I could say about how and why I think our interaction with the non-material matters. About how I'm stepping away from the often lovely, often beautiful stories we've woven around the non-physical world. I don't believe in 'woo' or 'supernatural'. I believe it's all natural and all accessible. I was already done with the cultural and spiritual appropriation that's rife in our culture. I think that if we're going to employ imagery, stories and characters as embodiments of energy and potential  - and that can be wonderful and empowering - then we should stick to those that come from our own ancestors or our own imagination. To do otherwise in current times is disrespectful and inflammatory. I've done it - a lot - but we know better now. Personally, my current belief system is somewhat 'minimalist'! Not to say there's not much in it, but rather that it doesn't feature benevolent entities or a whole lot of decoration, story and labelling.

This is more than long enough already. I've written it for my own clarity and my own reference. If any of it feels relevant to you then I'm happy(er). I could perhaps have written it in five words:

Refuse to be broken. Love.


  1. yes, let us go out with a magnificent swan song rather than a despairing and degrading continuation of business as usual... if we are going, let us show our best rather than our worst on the way.

    actually, for me, what causes the greatest angst is not that we may end, but how we'll go. the suffering of all life forms, the destruction, the conflicts. the tragic erosion of all that was best in humanity as we lose the context in which we came to be. it boggles...and that way lies madness and despair.

    at the same time, i always have a little flicker of hope in the deepest corner of my heart...the part that senses and believes in things we can't see or measure but that clearly are. the part that remembers that it is at the darkest hour in tales when transformation comes. when all hope is lost. it's utterly irrational, and quite possibly mistaken.

    but somehow, for me, that doesn't matter. at least not to what i shall do. with or without hope, i have this gift of life to live and i believe it is best to do it with as much gratitude and joy and gentleness as possible. like you, i don't require any particular system of belief or "decoration" (good word)... my motivations come from an organic interchange between my soul and the world's soul, or my matter and the matter with which i coexist. the words don't signify, for me.

    as you say, "refuse to be broken. love."

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  3. Re-reading this, and as boring as my response probably is, I just have to say that I agree with pretty much everything you've said. And the last couple of paragraphs reflect what I believe also.

    And especially, "refuse to be broken. Love". Yes. Except that I feel that I've already been broken, but that I wouldn't have it any other way now. Because now I love more.

    Thankyou for this post, Jo. These words, and the spirit and feeling behind them are so muchly appreciated, right now. xxx