I wake up cosy in Mark’s little white caravan and read the wise words pinned on the wall:
“Security is not the things we have, but the things we can live without”
it says, and as I look around the little white caravan with no sink, toilet, or shower, feeling all comfortable and snug under my duvet and blanket, I think about how true that is. I think about my five months of walking with the bare minimum of belongings, and just my flip flops to walk in, and realise how free I feel. I recall the two months I spent crossing the Atlantic in a 12m yacht, and how happy I was. I think about the people who have money and land, their concerns, worries, and woes, and consequently their often poor awareness of the inequality of their having much whilst others have little, and wonder why it is we have bought into the story that money makes us happy, that more possessions will make us happy, that hoarding money and land, more than we need, will keep us safe.
I set out on my day’s walk, calling in at the compost loo on my way off the site, feeling sad at the little poster there advertising Radford Mill future events, child friendly, environmentally friendly, fun, seasonal, and celebratory, that may well not happen now thanks to all the land belonging to one man, with an inability to recognise the wisdom of the group over his own wants.
I have a steep walk out of Radford and then on ever westwards across Somerset. The countryside here is not so powerfully alive as it was in Wiltshire, and I wonder at this, until I come to Gurney Slade, and then it all makes sense; human kind has been at work here, less of the untouched glorious woodlands, still untamed and magical, more of the tamed, enslaved land that humans have used. The sheer ugliness of the slate and lime quarry shocks me deeply, all the more for having been industrial landscape free since Shropshire. Where was the humanity in the people who created this monstrous edifice that goes on affecting generation after generation; this quarry is still digging out the entrails of the earth, leaving the sticky muddy trails of its destructive behaviour all down the roads in the village well after the scene of the attack is out of sight. And those who would build homes out of natural found materials, grow food naturally without need for fertilizer, have been marginalised and given no land…what tyranny this we are in the grip of?
Soon afterwards, the most beautiful sight, some 15 miles in the distance I see Glastonbury Tor already visible on the horizon; one of the most important places in the world, seat of ancient wisdom from the times when most of this land was under the sea and places like Glastonbury and probably Wells were islands in the waters around Somerset than are now bog and moor.
The stark contrast between the two scenes so relatively close to each other almost caricatures the two cultures, our earth honouring past and our earth disrespecting present. Can we marry the two and find a way to live in harmony? What needs to change in both for that to happen?
Sally Lever comes out to meet me and to walk me into Wels and my heart is touched by the magnificence of a city that still retains its magical splendour. I feel like a Japanese tourist, slightly guilty feeling as Sally is telling me lots of things but I just want time to stop and drink in this food for the soul. The perfect beauty and symmetry of the ancient buildings begs me to stand and stare, to linger a while, and hear the story of these carefully places stones and the people who spent their lives creating them, testimony still to the work they did that still benefits all who witness it. The sharpest contrast to the structures I have passed housing those who quarry the lime and slate. How can those people who abuse the land for resources to receive money feel connected to the land when they serve it not? How can we have slipped so far from our relationship to the land that we do not even create beautiful buildings with soul with the materials we steal from the earth?
The sense of place is acute in me here in Wells, the rightness of the streets leading to the gate way and the cathedral in its magnificence as we enter the city from the Old Frome road, the original way in from the east. I have always liked Wells, but what a difference, to arrive this way, than by oil driven vehicle as I have in the past. What magic of experience we lose when we forgo our natural birthright to be able to walk into the places we visit. No wonder we then go into shops for retail therapy, though it won’t satisfy; our souls and spirits are literally being starved.
I realise I am love with this place and though the usual array of clone shops does much to dispel the wonder of the main street it has still managed to retain its integrity and allowed the new in, but not at the expense of the old, not supplanted by it, but ensuring it knows its place, alongside the other traders, not replacing them but simply joining them, shoulder to shoulder, and acknowledging the greater beauty of the buildings grown graceful with age.
As Sally talks to me about the cathedral clock she has just read about in the local paper; it is to have its manual winder taken away after the same family have wound it for 600 years and instead are putting in an automatic winder… (is there something not quite right in the head with the people that make decisions nowadays we ask ) the saddle chariot (…) people walk on by and I am in a quandary – I want to call out to see if my friend, Simon Mulholland from day 2 of my walk in Exeter is one of te men leading the donkeys but Sally is mid flow in her explanation and I miss my opportunity and only succeed in talking a quick photo as they already start to disappear…this is a challenge that I have really struggled with sometimes on the walk, how to be in the moment when someone is talking to you, unaware that something significant is happening in relation to your life; how do you give your attention to both?
At Sally’s home I meet Steve Brandon, her partner, and a fellow yoga teacher (…) and we discover a mutual acquaintance, Duncan Hulin (…) the most wonderfully passionate Devon yoga teacher and trainer. We cannot resist talking yoga for a while and it is lovely, a real coming home, to be amongst people who truly understand life in a deep and meaningful way, for we talk of the yoga that is not all about the current trend for posture, and exercising the physical body, the travesty of the original ancient Vedic science that was all about guiding people to find the sense of their spirit as well as putting them in touch with the responses and needs of their own body, not taming it, subjugating it to become fitter, but listening to its wisdom and thus becoming more in harmony as a person.
I meet Elliot too, Sally’s 18 year son, and Tim and Tabby, the cats. It is a very comfortable environment in which to be and we eat delicious homemade veg soup and the most delicious corn on the cob from their garden; bigger, better juicier, and sweeter than any I have ever eaten from a shop.
I ask if Transition Wells has a local food group and discover that though they don’t they do have a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture project), Harvest Share, and all the core group grow their own veg, and have a food coop for ordering their dry goods from the cooperative grocer Suma (..) and have successfully lobbied their local Coop supermarket by all writing down on customer comment forms that they wanted local organic produce so now it stocks dairy from a nearby Radford farm! The CSA was set up much the same time as transition did in Wells and the 2 have had close links ever since the awareness raising stall the transition group held in the market and met the Harvest Share representative who had so much fun she joined in!
Transition Wells have also established links with LEGS (Let Everybody Go Safely), a group who walk to ensure that all road users, not just car drivers, can use our roads in safety, and Somerset Council who have recently employed a Transition Champion. They also work with the Somerset Waste Group, and the local Sustrans group. The transition group themselves, as well as having their core group, also have an energy group, but achieve much of what having other working groups would do by their close links with these other organisations who are already established.
The energy group are currently working on a funding bid to pay someone to map the energy Wells will need to become sustainable, and what opportunities there are. Sally is writing this bid. One of the possibilities for energy is the well spring that Wells is names for, it is currently within the bishop’s castle walls, but there was once a water wheel built to supply the townsfolk with energy. It has been bubbling up plenty of fresh spring water from the Mendips for hundreds of years.
Sally presents me with a beautiful local terracotta tile to take on to the next town and I leave the lovely Bradford on Avon tapestry book, signed by the members of the core group, including their local mayor with her for Transition Wells. The tile is made by Black Dog of Wells (www.blackdogofwells.com ) local craftspeople who specialise in terracotta tiles and medieval and historic designs. The design on the tile to be taken on to the next town shows a carrier pigeon, now extinct in America, a symbol of the excesses of our times, and somehow poignant because of it, as I carry the message onwards.
We talk about the book Steve has just finished reading on NVC (non violent communication) and are inspired by its message to keep patiently working away not giving up and not responding in kind to violence of behaviour we do not condone but simply to set up a parallel structure and use that instead of the one we do not want. It is so simple, so obvious, very transition and it makes me feel happy. Every time we set up something new we are creating an alternative to the structure of society tis clearly in decadence. Soon we won’t need to use its services at all and then we will be free of it.
Sally asks if we think their efforts to speak to the Somerset council to get them won over through the transition champion (who has replaced the former environmental officer position and the climate change officer whose hours have been reduced to part time now) and we say of course, little by little like minded people are attracted and then the change starts to happen organically. There is no need for strife and confrontation, simply provide a better way. Steve sees the Big Society as being an opportunity as I do, and Sally talks of Somerset council’s decision to sell of all council owned farms and how worried the young tenant farmers are and of the debate taking place at the off grid festival this weekend, and of the two viewpoints Transition Wells held in their last meeting, how terrible the cuts are being made, and what a golden opportunity it is, for now there is an opening for us to buy up the farms, or to raise enough community interest to buy them. Guess which view I share….what a pity Devon council have decided not to sell off the farms it owns!
Steve and I talk of identity and how moving away from the place we grew up in helps us to re-form our identity in keeping with who we really are and not neatly fitting into the box our home town family and friends have labelled us into preventing us from growing into who we really are and, how yoga, in the way it is meant to be taught, can also assist that process of finding our passion and our gift to the world, lamenting the emphasis on keeping fit that is promoted in the west and the money that is being made from the business, completely by passing its deeply spiritual significance.
We discuss how yoga and ayurveda ( …) are the perfect transition way to health; people who practise yoga and follow ayurvedic principles of lifestyle (diet, adherence to seasonal; patterns, awareness of constitution) simply don’t get ill. People along the way have asked if I have never become ill on my walk, but I am never ill when I follow yogic and ayurvedic principles, they are simple common sense guides to listen to our environment and our body over anything anyone else might tell us, trusting our connection to the earth above any human made blanket guidelines for health. Ayurveda and yoga were designed for longevity and yogis commonly live to be 120, disease free.
This method is all about taking responsibility for our own health instead of giving away our power to doctors and hospitals whose main best use would be in emergencies, for no one could say they are typically any good at aftercare, or preventative care. Apparently, according to Steve there have been studies done that indicate that without NHS less people die! Thinking about the title of this blog I would add to it, it is more than non attachment to things, it is also about taking responsibility for our own actions, at all times, and that includes the choices we make about the well being of our bodies. Why should we expect anyone to take care of us and cure us when we are ill if we consistently make choices that are bad for our health? If there were no one to take care of us if we mismanaged our health we would certainly take a little more care of it! Apparently the NHS was originally set up as in interim measure to get everyone well so they wouldn’t need it anymore…
What a classic case of an organisation not wanting to disband when its work was done, result; dependence upon it and very unhealthy growth. Positively cancerous.
Long term attachment to a particular role is as pernicious as attachment to objects, both to our own well being, and to that of our society. The ancients understood this when they ceremoniously killed the king at the end of every year, not that I advocate such a violent solution, it is to be hoped we have evolved sufficiently now to each recognise when our usefulness in a particular position is over and stepped away to do something else where we could better serve the whole, we’d feel happier!