Often when I’m in the zone on stage, I’ll ask the audience if there’s anything they want to hear a poem about. Based on the response, I may pull something out of my repertoire or sometimes make up something new on the spot.
Several years ago I was doing a poetry gig in Wellington in a sweet art space high above the city street. I’d been speaking lots of intense political poems. I asked for audience requests, and a voice piped up from the crowd: “Have you got any poems about hope?”
The audience member’s request was friendly, but I felt like I was being called out. Sure I could rhyme impressively about the need for revolution, about processing our grief for the world, about the strength to stand up and fight. But could I actually invoke and believe in a hopeful future?
At that moment, I really couldn’t. At that time, I’d been reimmersing myself in the latest climate science, and I just could not feel good about the future of the world. It seemed like during the handful of years since I’d completed my master’s degree in environmental science, the predictions around climate change had gotten progressively more immediate and more frightening. Hope? No, that was not on the list of emotions I could channel on stage at that time.
I took it as a challenge, though. I knew I’d been called out. So I put writing a hope poem on my creative to-do list. However, it stayed on my to-do list. I just couldn’t get there.
Then, a few years later, I was granted a residency at a writer’s retreat in California – the Mesa Refuge, one of the places that has truly blessed my creative path. Lots of incredible writers have passed through this refuge in Point Reyes, where a few writers at a time live while working on projects relevant to ecological and social change. In the upstairs bedroom, with views over the estuary, there’s a tradition of writers signing their names on the walls in the walk-in closet. I was mindblown to discover that just a few weeks earlier, the tower bedroom where I was staying had been inhabited by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit, one of my absolute literary sheroes. I prayed that Rebecca’s propensity for creative lateral thinking might be still lingering in the room and rub off on me.
Downstairs in the epic Refuge library, I found a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark. I totally recommend this book to any progressive souls who like to nerd out about history and how change actually happens over time. The book helped me reorient my own concept of hope – and out came my Hope poem, at last. As Solnit writes:
“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and knowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what is may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”
So Hope doesn't mean we believe a particular outcome will happen. Hope means we choose to believe that the future is unwritten – and therefore that it is worth trying to write it. It is a commitment to love in the face of uncertainty.
I spoke my new Hope poem to my musical coconspirator Daniel Wander across the world on Skype one night, and he composed music for it, which we eventually recorded for my album Sacred Activist:
I’m still not at all into spiritual teachers who tell us we are crossing some magic cosmic threshold and everything is gonna be just fine if we stop worrying. Hope doesn’t mean blind optimism.
But another revelation in my journey with hope came this past summer, on the dance floor. My buddies in the band Mad Hallelujah were playing their song Condor. Various indigenous peoples of the Americas share a prophecy that the condor and eagle will fly again together. This prophecy is a metaphor for the ways of feminine and masculine, South and North coming back into balance, so that healing may come to the Earth. And while I was dancing to the Condor song, things inside me started moving too; hearing my friends sing their words about this healing prophecy, I realised that I still hadn't personally been believing in the possibility of a good future on Earth. That’s a funny thing, because I know many people see me as this inspiring beacon of positivity and hope when I’m on stage. But in spite of my ongoing rallying for good causes, when I’m off stage, I usually haven’t really been able to imagine that everything might actually turn out okay on this planet.
In truth I’ve been focused on medicinal cannabis activism the last few years in part because it feels easier than my history in ecological activism. What a relief to feel my voice joining with others to change things in the space of just a few years! Although the cannabis campaign has certainly been hard and frustrating at times, in other ways it feels like a vacation from the slog of fighting things like poison, habitat destruction and climate change, because the media loves this cause and the country does too, and so things are moving.
But what about our planet, and the climate? Many eco folks might say the perspective that it’s not gonna turn out okay for most species on Earth is just realistic! But I also reckon that believing we are definitely doomed is not helpful.
I’ve been on a massive physical healing journey myself in recent years to find my way out of a decade-plus of debilitating chronic illness. So I've had to learn a lot about the role of the mind in healing. One of the things that fascinates me most is that we know that belief can cure us; that’s what the placebo effect is all about. If someone takes a sugar pill, or even has a fake surgery, their faith in the treatment can heal them. On the other hand, if you talk to people who work with cancer patients, they’ll be well aware that folks who believe they are doomed tend to go downhill quickly. Our minds are that powerful. When our cells believe something, they can enact it.
So what about the healing of our world? If we are all one body, then it seems to me someone has got to plant some seeds of faith in the collective consciousness. Not a false faith, but an openness to possibility. An openness to grace and positive transformation. If we all believe we are definitely doomed, we are probably doomed; how could we possibly organize effective movements for change if we don’t actually believe we have the power to change things? Starting to believe in the impossible makes it a little more possible. I’m not saying faith in itself is enough; we still need to do the work. But belief in possibility opens a doorway. And it can start with any of us choosing to hold that candle of vision.
Rupert Sheldrake writes about morphic resonance — the concept that our collective consciousness is not confined to any one of our individual brains, but rather exists as a field. When one person stands up for change, it makes it more possible for others to do the same – whether or not we know about each other. I reflect on when I was busted for cannabis four years ago and was facing a massive list of criminal charges against me. I tuned into my highest self and asked, “Why is this happening to me?” I was told two reasons: “The plant wants to grow into the light and this is part of that”; and “This is to anchor sacred warriorship, in yourself and for the planet.” Looking back on the last few years, I can see how both of these purposes have been solidly in motion.
So on that sweaty dancefloor this summer, grooving to my brothers’ song for the Condor, I made a vow – or rather I remembered a vow that perhaps I made before I was born. This vow is to hold in myself the vision of a healed world; to anchor this vision of possibility on Earth, in the collective mindscape. Those who know my work know that I am NOT talking about denying the many, many problems that crave our work, or denying the necessity of pragmatic activism in the world. What I am denying is the inevitability of doom. The future has not been written yet. We are writing it every moment, and we need to know that. As I have recited so many times in the conclusion to my poem Sacred Activist:
For the power of the heart is infinite,
and the song of love is a symphony,
and we’ve all got an instrument to play
and if we close our eyes the darkness won’t go away
But when we open them holding each others’ hands,
together we have the strength to stand
on the edge of the cliff in strength and bliss
open hearts on the edge of a vast abyss.
So fellow firewalkers, summon your wits
A path of glowing embers is raked from the pit
If you reach trance, your foot soles will not be burned by hot coals
If that is possible – then ANYTHING is.
It took me about a year to get around to doing it... but I've just launched my Patreon site!
I'm excited about using this site as a platform to grow and sustain my activism and my voice – so that I can make change more sustainably, because life is finite and I want to give my energy where it's needed most.
For the last two and a half years, I've been deep in the fight to legalise medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. Some of my efforts have made headlines, while others have been behind the scenes.
However, it's been really tough at times for me to balance change-making with my own health journey – which is a bit more than ironic, since I'm supposedly fighting for everyone's health.
I'm ready to change the way I'm doing things... because I know that people actually love to support activists who are carrying big loads for the collective, and I know that I can deliver better when I'm healthy and well-supported. So it seems like it is actually an act of service to get off my butt and ask for some support! Every tree needs a forest...
Unless you've been obsessively Facebook-stalking me over the last few years, you may not realise how much time I've put into this cause. So here's a list of some sample projects I've done. These are the types of projects that my Patreon supporters will be supporting:
• Doing the groundwork to become the first person to legally possess raw cannabis in New Zealand since the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed
• Doing a ridiculous amount of media interviews relating to the above feat. (I actually hid in my house for weeks afterward as a result due to the overexposure.)
• Coordinating the first collaborative message to the government from current medicinal cannabis patients and caregivers. The Assoc Minister of Health was afraid to face me on national radio.
• I work as a journalist professionally, but I've occasionally broken my own rules to do unpaid or barely-paid journalism on cannabis in order to get an important story out.
• I coordinated a public message to the incoming government on behalf of medicinal cannabis patients to let them know our demands.
• I've been working hard to give the Labour government feedback on their terrible Medicinal Cannabis Amendment Bill, including doing heaps of media, writing a submission guide for patients; and co-writing and co-presenting the NORML submission at Parliament.
And then there is the ongoing background activity, that I'll probably keep doing regardless of funding: speaking at events, from protest to workshop; liaising with allies and politicians; arranging media coverage for other patients to get more stories into the public eye; getting up too early in the morning to be on the radio (sigh, first world problems); contributing to press releases; advising people I've never met on their health issues, because the medical system is failing them...
Whee! No wonder I've been a bit tired at times!
Don't get me wrong, I've also been massively fulfilled by this process. It's gratifying to have a public platform and be heard. The media adore talking about medicinal cannabis and portraying us favorably, which is pretty much spoiling me as an activist for all future causes. And it's particularly meaningful to me to be able to turn the hardest thing in my life – my invisible but very real health struggles – into a platform that benefits others. I now call getting busted by the cops the ‘best worst thing that ever happened to me'. (Actually I've come to feel that way about my neurological struggles in general – but more on that another time.) There is a beautiful solidarity joining those of us in this movement, as most of us are turning our own hard moments into fuel for collective liberation. Doesn't mean it's been easy – but it's deep and hearty.
I'm on a beautiful upswing in my health journey, thanks to intensive brain retraining practices. However, at this stage in my health journey I still need to be careful about where I put my energy.
A few years ago, a few changes occurred in my employment – a major research project ended, and a magazine that I wrote for folded (it was a great award-winning magazine, but it's a bad time in history to try to be a magazine!) Instead of replacing those projects with other income... I just channeled the spare time toward the cannabis cause.
At the moment I need to either find some more income-generating work, which could mean having less time for my passions... or find a way to generate some income from my passions, i.e. activism & poetics. Guess which of those options I like better?!
You feeling me? Then I hope you'll consider joining my community of support on Patreon.
You also will get some pretty awesome poetic rewards for joining in. We're all about reciprocity in this Redwood forest.
With eternal gratitude,
to my progressive friends in america:
if you’d like to experience spiritual attainment,
here's my recipe:
lie awake all night,
brain conjuring fresh horrors
of what could be, of the things they can take from us
greet the thin necks of every environmental protection law, every law that was ever meant to protect anyone
glistening in the sun
while the executioner paces the yard, sharpening,
wondering where to make the first cut
this exercise may take a long time
if you know too much
if you like sleeping
then i’m not sure i can recommend this practice
except that the tibetans say to meditate,
every day of your life,
on all the ways you could die.
it clarifies your purpose.
so that you may truly live
feel it all now
for numbness is non-specific;
if you build a dam against the river of grief,
it will also block you
from the joy for what you love
and there is still a lot of loving
we need to do
that's one thing they can never take.
connect with what feeds you
connect with your purpose
which has not changed
ask to be shown how you will serve
ask where the skills are that you need to embody
ask what you would put your tender magnificence
on the line for
for we are going to need to be
a lot stronger than we thought,
a lot sooner than we thought.
This pile (shown as we initially heaped it last winter), yielded the most luscious compost I've ever made. The result is fluffy, black, like crumbling chocolate cake. It looks and smells so deliciously, richly earthy that I almost could have eaten the compost itself.
The main ingredients were seagrass that washed up on a local beach, pony poo collected from a friend's paddock, and leaves/forest duff that washed up on another beach after a big storm. The sea, forest and animal realms joining together and transforming into a supreme source of food.
Compost is the most magic alchemy I know: huge piles of the stuff no one wants, transmuting into divine elixir that nourishes life. It feels like a hopeful metaphor for all the shit that happens to us, and ecological renewal, and social change. Sometimes, destruction gives birth to new life. Sometimes, massive change comes about through many humble, tiny beings (microbes... or humans) working in sync.
(Fellow garden nerds: here's an interview I did with Kay Baxter of the Koanga Institute, which includes her interesting tips for making nutrient-dense compost.)
I did not expect the following to become one of my most-requested poems. It was just supposed to be for a dear friend & gardening teacher while we were each going through our own rough times of inner composting. But apparently some other people besides me really, really love compost. I often hesitate to share my poems written down because they were made for speaking and breathing, so maybe you can read it aloud. To your compost pile. (This poem is also on my album Poetree, recorded with suitably earthy music.)
Just got home from a tour sharing the rhymes alongside my soul siblings, the Mad Hallelujah Tribe.
From watering fertile minds in the concrete jungle of Wellington, to acoustic all night improvisation round the fire at Autumn Arena (one of the most loved-up little festivals in the galaxy), to rhyming stories of protest and regeneration at the National Permaculture Hui, to jamming from deep poetic stillness up through big-hearted dancing at the Wunderbar in Lyttelton to a full house of grinning grooving souls.
Rapped all the way down the coast of the South Island in full moonlight with my soul brother/musical right hand human Daniel C, with no soundtrack except for freestyle rhymes…
For me, this tour was ostensibly to launch and share some of the poems/music from my new Sacred Activist album. Often when I talk about sacred activism, I'm referring to explicitly political action taken with sacred commitment. But in these times – particularly in a dark epoch politically for New Zealand – travelling around to coax hearts onto a unified vibration, recognising our shared commitment to earth, love and community – this feels like sacred activism in itself.
It felt big to bring my Hope poem home to Christchurch for the first time, with the original music that Daniel composed for it, and to share it with earthquake-weathered folk who know firsthand about the community and creativity that can emerge out of destruction.
Hope 'cause when I hold my quivering heart out onstage
Someone I've never met comes up and tells me they feel it
Hope 'cause no matter what the doctor's diagnonsense says
When the cells in the body believe any wound can be healed... they just heal it
Thank you to all the magnificent souls who came out to resonate and cocreate with us! And most massive of gratitudes to the generous friends both ancient and brand new, who hosted, supported and nourished us every step of the way, sharing abundance from your hearts and from the land (and dark chocolate quinoa cake...)
And keep an eye on those Mad Hallelujah Tribe kids! They're going places, and they're carrying some very special musical medicine.
Sing a Mad Hallelujah, darling
Sing it up & down the islands
When you wake up it's morning
When your rivers run to the sea,
The land's arms are there to hold you
And may flowers carpet your path
Find your love in everyone
Sing to the blood moon
if she calls you
to bleed with her
Get real quiet
when the violin
starts to unlock the
secrets of the universe
It's weird being a little bird
It's weird but it'll burn
Good luck with enlightenment!
rhyming down the long road
where mountains meet sea
The people will dance
to your songs,
or sometimes just the mountain
Either way, sing,
are neurotransmitters our
prayers sing back to the
body of universe
When the sound system feeds back,
pull the plug, pull the people close
on the porch steps of the galaxy
When words run out,
in languages we're only starting
When the recording equipment fails,
store it on your heart drive.
As you may know... I made a new album.
What an incredible team came together for this one. Making the album was a creative adventure that wove into my life for the better part of a year. Holing up with musician friends in studios in the rainy New Zealand winter... mixing on golden autumn afternoons in the Sierra mountain foothills... recording my vocals in a magical studio in the midnight silence of an abandoned gold mine with a sky full of stars and black bear for company... sending musical tracks back and forth with collaborators across the planet (in fact there are a couple of piano tracks that have been to outer space & back via satellite internet, and I like to think that the signals kept traveling and are currently being enjoyed in some distant star system).
You can make up your own mind about it here - listen, download, order a CD if you like: http://redwoodthepoet.bandcamp.com
The album is called Sacred Activist.
I didn't make up that term, by the way, but it's become a catchphrase that reminds me who to be. Activism as sacred practice. Spiritual centering and creative unleashing and loving connection as supports to activism. In fact, I can't see any other way to keep living with a smile on my face in this mad, gorgeous, oh so embattled world.
Here are some photos of the recording process, featuring some of the supremely talented folks who so kindly collaborated on this baby.
When I first heard the term “sacred activism” from some friends who’d met a special spiritual explorer/teacher/writer/benevolent-spirit-on-fire-madman named Andrew Harvey – my heart sang YES.
For years, one of the core explorations of my life had been to fuse my worldly eco-activism with my spiritual practice. My Buddhist world and my eco-political circles often felt like separate spheres; I felt that each needed the other, but that they only interacted inside me. So Andrew's phrase “sacred activism” set something off in my heart.
After journeying with Andrew Harvey’s books for several years, I finally got to attend his teachings recently, on his first trip to Aotearoa.
In the huge hall of a marae in Auckland, we listened, breathed and were breathed, as unsettling truths dropped into our laps with loving compassion. When I got to meet Andrew briefly after that first night’s teaching, he revealed that through my pesterings of various people, he had finally been shown “that rap poetry thing!” (my Sacred Activist poem), and told me to “go for broke!” as I (lovingly) chased him on his way out the door into the night. Alright then!
Andrew’s evening talk on Sacred Activism was not necessarily new material for those familiar with his teachings. But wow. The man speaks in perfect paragraphs, with no notes. Seeing him in person, it became clear that Sacred Activism is not some idea he thought up in his head; it is a river of fire that pours with eloquence and passion straight out of his heart. Or rather, out of the heart of the divine. A flaming gay preacher proclaiming the poems of Rumi and rewriting Christianity in a way the real Jesus would probably dig. I like this man.
Here are my favourite quotes that I managed to write down from his talk.
So what is sacred activism?
“The birthing force of this new embodied divine humanity is already amongst us.”
“When you combine and fuse together profound spiritual compassion, truth, strength, peace, and power, with an unswerving commitment to inspired radical direct action, a holy force is born which can over time transform the most terrifying situations and seemingly intractable problems.”
“When the river of the fire of the mystic’s passion for God fuses with the river of the fire of the activist’s passion for justice… when these two fires come together, what they create is the birth of the third fire…”
“What did you do while the world was burning?” is the real question by which to judge our lives.
“It is only by knowing you are deathless that you will be able to endure the alchemy of this great transformation.”
“It’s going to get much much worse very very soon… We’ve got to be real lovers.”
Andrew has snide remarks for what he terms “New Age narcissism,” i.e. spiritual seekers who reckon that if they just send out vibrations of love and light the world will be saved. When an audience member asked how to counter this, Andrew replied that saying “don’t be negative” about the state of the Earth is like having leukemia and beating the doctor who told you that you have leukemia. “Tell them you find their refusal to face the truth unspiritual.”
“99% of people are still in a coma about the depth of where we are.”
At this point you’re probably getting that this is not an easy path. But hearing Andrew speak, in that moment, I could feel hearts agreeing that this is the only path. To face what’s happening in our living world – and to shake others out of their apathy – knowledge is not enough; we need a charged up spiritual practice to power us through. Andrew spoke about the various types of personal spiritual practice necessary for this journey, but rather than copying it all down here, I recommend that you read his book The Hope if you’re interested, as his recommendations are spelled out in clear detail.
Perhaps the most challenging part of his recommended spiritual practices, is his exhortation to work with the Shadow. His book talks quite a lot about the importance of the Dark Night to our spiritual evolution.
In his talk, Andrew spoke of a few collective shadows as well, relevant to sacred activism. We must avoid succumbing to the shadow of the mystic – “addiction to transcendence” – as well as the shadow of the activist, which can manifest in “great orgies of self-righteousness” that lead to burnout, infighting, and generally pissing people off without actually achieving anything. (Yep, been there done that...)
Andrew does not have one single activist plan to save the world. But he clearly wishes for us to work in community.
How do you find your cause to focus on? Ask “What of all the causes in the world that cause me pain, breaks my heart the most?” You will find something in your heart that outrages you so much, causes such pain that you don’t want to go near it, he says. “That’s when you’re very close.”
“If the worst happens, we will go together into that worst knowing we have given absolutely everything.”
In a room full of not-necessarily-Yiddish-aware kiwis, I was probably the only one who laughed at his parting benediction…
“God bless you and give you chutzpah!”
• • •
At Andrew’s full day teaching on Rumi two days later, the church-marae filled with seekers seated in a huge circle. We listened, we got up and danced to music and spirit; we sat in deep silence and gazed into each others’ eyes.
Just a few more A.H. snippets from the notebook, on an epic, heart-opening day…
“This is the best time to wake up, when there’s no security in anything.”
“The dark night is the absolute door, you have to go through the annihilation process to be reborn as a divine human being.” He was pacing the room, sweating and shouting. I was lying on the floor and as he passed me in the circle each time he would practically stand right over me shouting. “The mad woman is the only sane person in the room! … Our world is doomed, we’ve got to allow divine love to come in!”
“If you’re a passionate person, do the peaceful practices. If you’re a peaceful person, get a Bunsen burner and stuff it up your ass!”
Sitting peacefully in the midst of injustice: this isn’t enlightenment; it’s psychosis, he says. Inner calm shouldn’t be the end goal of our spiritual practice; he says – the calm we can develop is merely a tool to use, to focus our passion and rage.
“You can have inner peace and sacred anguish at the same time – you have the inner peace to bear the anguish,” he says. “You have to bring the deepest peace and the wildest passion together.”
Well that was sort of completely amazing.
I recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for my next album, Sacred Activist. I was delightfully humbled and pleasantly blown away by the support. Dear community of listeners and friends. You really exceeded my expectations, not just with your collective dollars but with your loving enthusiasm. To sit in my little home amidst the trees at the tip of this island, and feel folks from all around the country and the globe urging me, ‘create, create, create,' was one of the most awesome artistic encouragements I've ever received.
Truth be told, I wasn't sure if I was up for running this campaign, with some unspecified nebulous nervousness associated with putting myself on the line and asking. Then I read somewhere on the Internet that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise, and thought, ‘just in case this is patriarchy inside my brain trying to get me to play small, I have to do it!' And the moon, when I asked her, agreed. I asked my council of wise women how to ask for support without fear and shame. They didn't have a specific answer for me. So I said, “okay, I just WILL ask without fear and shame." And I did.
Who made you believe you can't dance?
as though you were not made
Who told you the moon reflected in your own eyes
is anything other than the universe
knowing its own vastness through you
Who told you the question “What do you do?"
means “How do you earn money?"
Like what fills my bank account
is more real than what fills my heart
which is like comparing a solar panel to the sun...
We're all messengers
in our pockets carrying each other's jigsaw pieces
You might be hiding the shard of light
that shows me my own completeness
The above verses will be on the album, of course. Although the formal crowdfunding campaign is over and I'm happily turning from self-promotion mode to collaborative-creation mode, contributions are still trickling in and are most welcome! I'm still putting together my dream team for this album, and each bit of funding means more studio time to make it shine. You can still read about the possible rewards on the PledgeMe site for the album, and pledge for your selected reward by clicking this handy button and entering the details:
Now whatever healing gift you're dreaming of creating for this world – even if it scares you – I dare you to put yourself out there and do it! I'll show you mine if you'll show us all yours...
I've got a garden again! Growing my own food. Ahh, happiness. One of my favourite measures of wealth is how many species are in my salad and how freshly I harvested them. And it's inspiring some very DIRTY new poetry...
~ ~ ~
I've been co-editing the New Zealand biodynamic farming and gardening magazine, Harvests, for the last few years. Though I'm relatively new to biodynamics, I'm enjoying this gig, in large part because the people who read the magazine are possibly as nuts as me. (Um, if any of the readers stumble across this post, you can take that as a compliment.) This freedom of speaking to kindred souls allows my poetic sense to find its way into prose.
Here's an excerpt from a recent editorial I really loved writing, inspired by my deepening relationship with the garden outside my front door...
~ ~ ~
Okay, confession time. For the last few years, I’ve been spending a lot of time at work promoting organic (and now biodynamic) production all over New Zealand – while having almost no garden of my very own. A few lettuces here, a few garlics there, one lonely cucumber plant last summer behind my town apartment. Not out of lack of desire, just a result of my particular living circumstances.
The amazing thing, though, is what it’s therefore meant to finally come back into nourishing and being nourished by the land.
I’ve moved to a patch of abundantly fertile and well cared for earth, and coming into my first warm growing season now, I find myself bursting with glee at the miracles of gardening. I don’t mean the finer points of biodynamics; I’m just blown away that seeds want to rise up out of this rich earth, to the spring symphony of rain and sun, and burst into flowers and food. It’s not like how food grows is new news to me! Ah but it is new. Every moment is new. Every new two leaves poking out of the soil where I put a seed last week arrive into my consciousness as a messenger singing about the miracles of the universe. Rain is not an inconvenience but a blessing from the heavens. My consciousness of this world, and my place in it, changes when I am intimately engaged with the source of my sustenance.
Over the last few years I’ve been introduced, by some wise teachers, into practices for contacting the spirits of plants. Suddenly things I’d do in my last garden years ago feel untenable. To rip off celery stalks without asking and thanking the plant and soil feels quite rude. To uproot a lettuce feels like something I should at least do with kindness.
I’m not seriously losing sleep over whether I hurt my celery’s feelings; it’s more that my garden is re-minding me how connected my being is to all other beings. As I engage with the sentience around me, I notice how rushed utilitarian ways of doing things can lead me to treat the world as a collection of inert objects. This same mindset is wrecking much of our planet’s ecosystems right now. I’m not a perfect eco-saint, but I’m at least striking up a dialogue with my pumpkin plants. Making peace where I stand. This feels like a foundation for a life of greater integrity.
I’ve been wondering what consciousness of interconnectedness is lost when people stop growing their own food. In my super-sized birthland across the Pacific, there are more people playing Farmville on the computer than there are farmers. When we are cut off from the source of our sustenance, what happens to our understanding of our place on Earth, and how does this affect the other actions in our lives? To those of you helping people learn to grow their food naturally: this is noble work – and it is, inherently, political, in that it has the power to change our orientation to the world around us.
You’ve never been to this mountain before
laughs the cold wind
Last spring eleven artists went up to the mountains. We slept in two old houses in Kahurangi National Park, dwarfed by snowpeaks, in the Cobb valley.
we come bearing chocolate
we fossick the wreckage
we burn old logs all night laughing
telling stories of the mountain men
wondering what to paint in the sunlight
to say we breathed
on this island
As a child, my first poems came from nature. Sitting by the lake while my uncle fished, or walking through a canyon meadow on a summer camp trip, I arranged words in my head to pass time.
The journey to the Cobb for me was a return. My body was in pain, so I lay it on the valley floor by the river. Expanding my walls to merge into this high place: lying upon earth, watching and plunging in the freezing clear waters, letting words spill onto the page.
Before we are born
it is so quiet and still
the air is thinner and
clear as the
Friends sitting on rocky banks
laughing one plunges in naked
others kiss, the river sings
& here all is forgiven
the icy wind
whoever said what they said
when they said it whatever that
I am often so serious. Plenty of things in the world that one could worry about. I am very prone to considering those things my personal responsibility.
The weekend that we went to the Cobb came just after deadly 1080 poison got dumped out of helicopters over 18,000 hectares of the forests of my community, Golden Bay. Poison in the rivers, poison on the ground for anything to eat. I had worked very hard as an activist, alongside committed friends, to keep that poison operation from happening, banging heads on bureaucratic brick walls.
It’s quite something to feel you are responsible for an ecosystem and devote yourself to protecting it. It’s quite something to lose such a battle. A forced surrender, a wordlessness, a vigil for the waters, a humble bowing to all that is. It was good then to return to the arms of the mountains.
mountain sun on peaks at the end of the day:
this life is
clear water cupped in
the basket of our own fingers
to flow back into
Months later, we artists coalesced our many inspirations into a collaborative exhibition.
I handmade little books, brown paper and glue and poems and pictures. A meditation, like the construction paper projects I loved to do as a kid.
I love this quote from an Andrea Gibson poem, I've rubbed it soft like a stone in my mind's hands:
We have got to create
It is the only thing more powerful than destruction
Somehow, these hands tying these knots, fixing words in place for the power of the mountains to touch someone else's mind in quiet moments, is healing me. In this broken world, in this broken body, my refusal to let go of beauty is an act of resistance.
Leave your story
by this riverbank
The snowpeak remembers
the shape of your song from before you got it all
tangled in branches
Other artists in the exhibition also wrapped my words into their creations.
Nicola wove them into her baskets:
Ngarie, while I was writing on the valley floor, was on top of the peaks in a tutu, because of course she was. She merged the poems into her prints, joining our solo journeys:
At the opening of our exhibition, Aralyn, sculptor and painter, sang from somewhere deep. She became the wordless voice of the river as I read my words aloud, with a big colourful crowd of our community before us, surrounded by all our friends' magnificent artworks illuminated. Singing in a forest of art. One of those holy moments that is a poem in itself. A reminder of how we all weave pieces of each other’s puzzles…
the trees say
keep standing, keep loving,
the river says:
it’s the stones
that make me sing
(All the words in this entry are from my poetry/art book Bits of Cobb, pictured above – if you would like one contact me, NZ$30 covers the materials and assembly.)