I had to wonder – what the true purpose was of spending a week camping out in Devon learning to make fire with a bow drill and weave baskets. At a conscious level, I had a list of reasons why I was attending the Schumacher College’s ‘Living on the Earth – remembering the ways of the ancients’ course.
Our ancestors once lived completely within the natural rhythms and senses of mother earth. They knew everything about nature and how to survive and thrive in its movements, just like how today, we know how to – well, actually, what do we know today? We know how to drive to shops to buy stuff that other people have made, consume it, and put the stuff we don’t want into bins that then gets mysteriously taken away. We know how to while away our time filling up our mental databases with information from an onslaught of mass media, all while our own planet, in real time, in reality, gets rapidly devastated.
These days, to be homeless and moneyless is seen as the lowest social status, yet our ancestors did not live in houses or have money to buy products. They were surrounded by food, by medicines, by everything they needed to build shelters, tools, cooking equipment, beds, clothes, weapons. They knew freedom like we can’t begin to imagine today. They knew community, they had tribe, in a way that we have lost and is responsible for a massive portion of national stress and depression. They had health too – from eating pure and wild foods, not the chemicals, sugar and grain that are making us sick today.
Libraries of knowledge for living a free, healthy and pure life are absent from our modern realities, replaced by useless information, dependency and imbalances.
And yet, I believe in moving forward – I do not think we are meant to still be living in the stone age, or going back to it. But our world is in such heart-breaking imbalance, and the only possible way forward is for humans to restore their connection to the natural world – to see what is truly happening, to appreciate that this earth is alive, to recognise how unconditionally she gives us everything we need to thrive, to enter into relationship with her, to love her and be loved in return – to nurture and rebuild a life with nature.
I have been teaching nature connection for six years – on a spiritual level. On my retreats and workshops I guide people into communion with the spirit of Mother Earth and the individual trees and plant and birds, to feel their song and experience the immense healing that comes from being in presence and openness with the natural world. Yet I did not have the other half to this connection: I had limited knowledge of what I can eat from the forest, how to make fire, how to stay physically safe, warm, dry.
Yes, it’s unlikely I’d ever be in a situation where I’d need to make my own fire from scratch – I always carry a lighter, knife, compass, and other essentials in my rucksack. But isn’t this a skill every human should have regardless? There is something powerfully alchemical about actually creating fire. It’s something that no other creature can do. As Jesse, one of the course teachers put it, we can easily identify the creatures that belong to the other of the 4 elements: water, air and earth, but who are the fire creatures? That is us. No other creature creates or moves towards or depends upon fire as we do.
When you look at it like that, making fire seems like an essential initiation in being human. It also makes you wonder if just that simple thing alone would make the difference in restoring wholeness to the human soul – and why the human soul has become so fractured. Everyone has experienced the power of sitting around a fire – suddenly the energy of profanity is replaced by an air of the sacred. People spontaneously cut the chit chat and start speaking from the heart, and instead of being drugged by television, people become animated and enlivened by stories and songs. This is what fire does.
It was for these reasons that I signed up for the course. It simply felt ridiculous that any human being claiming to be connected to mother Earth didn’t have basic ‘bush craft’ skills.
But what filled my consciousness, driving away after the course had ended was not the empowering skills I’d learned. It was a longing for the sacredness that had been woven into our tribe that week.
The week began with a ceremony, honouring the four directions and creating the fire that we would gather round every day until the closing ceremony. It followed with a circle, which would repeat each morning to begin the day, whereby every tribe member was given space to speak. These simple practices, along with the presence of spirit and heart-centredness held by the facilitators, set a tone of sacredness that nourished my being.
Sacredness is one of the main principles I stand for and teach. It is nothing but a portal into the divine, the realm of the miraculous. Without it, we are cut off from the filaments of spirit and life force that are secretly embedded in every moment and every thing. Yet the sacredness I experienced here, held by Jesse and Jane, Mac and Chris, was a sacredness of tribe, something I have been longing for. It is a drumbeat deep within my marrow that for the last couple of years gets louder for a while and then simmers back into a rolling background hum.
The south of England, particularly in East Sussex, around Lewes, Brighton and Forest row, contains an extensive conscious community, that constantly interlaces throughout the year at small gatherings and summer festivals. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this tribe. But even though the exchanges I share with people at gatherings are more heartfelt and real perhaps than the majority of exchanges that occur outside of conscious tribe, the limitations of modern social patterning are still present.
For instance, you attend a small gathering, where everyone is randomly talking to one another. You meet the first person you are on conversation terms with and one of three things could happen. 1) you have a satisfying conversation, where both parties get to share. 2) One person has a deep share and the doesn’t. 3) The conversation gets interrupted before anyone shared anything meaningful because people are constantly weaving in and out. It may be that you share fully with one person, and then after that you don’t feel like repeating the story to everyone else you connect with. You typically also have people that talk too much and others that listen too much, creating imbalanced exchanges.
Imagine however, if every small gathering began with a circle, perhaps with a brief ceremony to begin with, around a central fire or a lit candle, and every person was given equal chance to share where they’re at, what is happening for them, what they are currently challenged by or what insights they have recently received. Now every person has the opportunity of sharing with every person; every emotion, challenge, celebration and acknowledgement is placed within that sacred circle for all to witness, to be held by the tribe, transmuted by the fire. Following that people can get into 1:2:1 exchanges more sensitively, knowing already where each other are at, therefore creating more fulfilling conversations.
This to me is a key part of sacred living that would provide far-reaching benefits to families and friends and workplaces and communities if it were taken up as common social practice. It would open gateways of compassion and understanding, of shared learning and expanded awareness.
Call for a circle around a flame at the next gathering you go to and see what happens. Better still, learn what it means to be a human as part of the natural world and create your own fire. Sit with tribe who hold a deeply inspired space. You can only go as deeply sacred as your tribe leaders will allow.
As someone who often has the experience of being ‘talked at’ by people who misinterpret the very pregnant stillness, silence and space I hold as being a void to be filled, I rarely want to hear people talk more. But when in the company of people who have really – I mean really – attuned their hearts to nature, I could listen to them day and night. Jesse, Jane, and Mac held an inner beauty that sung to me. Was it Mac’s 20 years of mentoring with native American Indians, or his January pilgrimage from the Malvern hills over Snowdonia that carved such wisdom, humility and warmth in his heart? Was it the months spent in the wild mountains of North America and the forests of Sweden, living as the ancients, that awakened such kindness and scintillating presence in Jane and Jesse?
I think it is simply that Nature has deeply touched them.
For more information on courses, workshops and training on re-wilding and bush craft with the wonderful ‘Living on the Earth – remembering the ways of the ancients’ teachers:
Jane and Jesse: www.nettleseed.co.uk
Mac Macartney: www.embercombe.org
Chris Salisbury: www.wildwise.co.uk
Schumacher College: www.schumachercollege.co.org
For ‘The Deepening’ nature immersion days and retreats, or women’s Wild Womb Gatherings, get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org
The next Wild Womb Gathering set in the Brecon Beacons national park, with fire walking, cacao ceremony and nature immersion, is next month over the blue moon, 19 – 22nd May.