by James Murray-White
“And we are put on this earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love.”
My time on Embercombe’s ‘Journey’ programme three years ago this Easter, gave rise to a whole new chapter of my life: a kind of unravelling into an beautifully spacious inner and outer rewilding.
If I needed to categorise this time, it would be something like – ‘searching for Indigineity within and without’, or ‘rewilding and resecrating myself to this land’. I love this word, ‘Resecration’ – first heard from my great friend Bell, an eco-therapist and soul guide, and the sense that it brings of returning to a sacred connection and appreciation of place, with our land. This sense of land as the holding space – our only deep and continuous physical connection in this human life – and that if we answer our inner calling though our life (or lifetimes), or as poet & philosopher David Whyte calls it; our “courageous conversation”, and “allowing ourselves to feel the troubledness of longing”, then that true calling is to land, and knowing by walking it, either on pilgrimage, perhaps in a voyage of renunciation of physical things, or deeply connecting by living in a forest, or a remote hermitage.
My ‘Journey’ week was the finger poke to look at my life, realise that now I was in a real turning place, and events were freeing me up to move forward anew, and uncover some of the deeper truths and gifts within – of course, lots to deal with, and the past 3 years has been about cutting lots of the dead wood away, coming back to the fires I keep burning, and tending the powerful flame.
I was a month out from my mothers death, and the day after her funeral. A friend had told me on her death – and this was after caring for her for a few years with late-stage dementia, while holding down a f/t job in broadcast TV – once I had the date set for the funeral, to book a break and go off immediately.
I had been aware of Embercombe and Mac’s work for many years, alerted to the deep & joyous possibilities of the connection there by dear friend Dave Hampton. I joke though, and it remains in my mind, that I also was drawn to a week-long rafting adventure on a Moroccan river, guided by Berbers & sleeping under the stars! Devon won out, and I arrived in a state of open anticipation, glad to have got through the emotion and logistics of dealing with a death and arranging a funeral, and a long drive that always refocuses this oft-restless and perturbed mind.
I realise now upon reflection that many of my early ‘spiritual adventures’ were all about looking for a deeper land-based connection, mediated by people and prayers, energy and action. From a Findhorn ‘experience week’, through to a longer time living with Tibetan lamas and coming close to taking monk’s vows and the renunciation of earthy, grounded sexual and sensual appreciation, these were my youthful explorations into finding integration and integrity within, and striving toward a kind of resilience – just the balm for these current days of pandemic unravelling.
A memory that springs up here is stopping abruptly on the road somewhere in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, as we realised that the vultures were flying in and gobbling up severed parts of human corpses, dismembered in a high place and returned to earth elements as per tradition. My career as a filmmaker has helped to shape my journey as a creative maker, facilitator and observer – living and working amongst Bedouin in the Negev Desert 15 years ago, I realised that the way for me to get deep in and tell stories in this environment – literally humans surviving in a tough desert and political environment – was to point cameras and ask questions.
This has been the outward-facing me, my ‘self’ within the world, probing, marching in to communities and situations, sometimes teasing out dialogues, monologues, and human experiences.
My time living & working with the Bedouin taught me the privilege and power of such a position, and to remain in service to those eking out existence on the earth, and to the harsh, sometimes unforgiving earth itself. Several trips being of service within the Calais Jungle again was a confrontation with suffering on a huge scale – Individuals who had already suffered greatly to get to this point, corralled in a liminal space: for them, the hoped for ‘jumping off place’, but for the authorities, represented by the grey/black padded uniforms and brutal weaponry of the French riot police, a holding pen from which they might funnel these ‘human cattle’ back inland into who knows what.
As my dear friend, writer and deep thinker Mick Collins writes, “words create worlds, that then very much illustrate our wildness” – I’ve always tried to employ both the written word and the visual image to engage, to explore and encounter, and certainly to unravel and illustrate the wildness. Somehow, amongst all this, I had found my journey back to my home town of Cambridge – a place I had happily left and loved the intellectual memory of (a village childhood of books, early experiences of youth theatre and then dreams of a life on or around the stage, but most happily woodlands on the ‘edge’ of urban spaces), principally to care for my mum, now diagnosed with Alzheimers and yet happiest, yet confused in her own home – and also to get a job as senior producer at a new start-up TV Station. So I threw myself into making ‘culture’ programmes: an immersion with the poets, artists, creatives and anything I could get away with within that label!
On top of this, my experience as a Journalist and my growing interest in why and how my lovely mother’s brain was changing so rapidly, from the vibrant and sharp soul who had brought me up and lived a full life, to now being still warm and seemingly happy but absent of memory and ability to do the basic tasks of a so-called functional life in our Industrialised, compartmentalised life – had led me to becoming filmmaker in residence within the University/NHS Neuroscience labs, so I got to ask researchers about brains and cognitive function, handle slices of human tissue with great reverence, get into high-resolution scanners, and be involved in extraordinary testing and research that doesn’t yet have answers, and maybe never will. The moment I heard at a high-level conference that the highest tier of scientists are now admitting that consciousness ‘may not’ reside in our brains after all, and at another event, heard the CEO of ‘Deep Mind’ share that they have created an artificial hippocampus that to all extent and purpose is a living organ, galvanised me to disengage with this level of human exploration, and to start to seek a return to earth intelligence again.
I look back at that end stage of mum’s time as her ‘fermenting’ internally – the brain and her organs taking time to close down, and the neuron’s all fizzling out and disconnecting: the tiny lives dying off or finding new forms and different vessels.
And then William Blake bounced ‘back’ into my life, at probably the perfect moment! it has been a wild 3 years ride, delving into the relevance of this ‘poet – artist – mystic’, focussed around the creation of a stunning new gravestone for him, around the corner from my house – a years filming of that, including witnessing the massive block of Portland Stone being cut deep underground in Dorset, right to the huge unveiling ceremony in Bunhill Fields, London in September 2018, combined with raising some finance, finding and interviewing eloquent Blakean’s, the long and constantly interrupted edit process, and now being in the strange ‘liminal’ space of trying to organise screenings and distribution during extended pandemic lockdown! The final film, ‘Finding Blake’ (90’, 2020) explores the artists modern relevance to this time of massive transition – the carbon-based economy that Blake saw come in and corrode human minds and souls is now collapsing. Perhaps his visions of sweeter spiritual connection to angelic figures, and as David Whyte says in the film, his exhortation to “come out from beyond yourself” and to really know ourselves and the spiritual life is possible, if we fully look and listen and see the things and life of this world.
While working with the mind, and to a large extent this past year, my heart, with it’s beautiful fluctuations and mixed responses to people and situations, a very real physical experience with rewilding is the active versus passive debate. Here in Oxford, I’m looking after a mid terrace house that is on the market. The garden has become beautifully wild and verdant over these past months – cleavers and nettles dominate, and I’ve just been out this warm early morning to feel the dew on my feet and the brush of the tall grass. The owner ‘might’ want me to cut it and keep it ‘tidy’ for when lockdown ends and when prospective buyers come back. I might ‘resist’ and argue for this wilded energy of a 60 ft garden as a potential attraction. If I were staying long term, I would want to make more of the space and use it in various way, and would plant more – so far I’ve tucked in to the soil non-UK grown sunflower seeds, and have acorns collected from ancient knarly oaks at Wistman’s Wood growing in pots. Trying to apply permaculture principles within a small semi-domestic space while having a heart-wish to promote rewilding seems a challenge, though full of joyous opportunity! For success and failure. Watch this space.
Extinction Rebellion Rewilding (XRR)
XR Rewilding started life on a fellside in Cumbria, with composer/activist friend Lola Perrin and me looking out across the denuded moorland and dreaming of what it once had been like, and what it could be like, if the sheep were removed, and the land allowed to return to itself and rewild.
We dreamt of bringing buses of activists here with trees to plant, and to bring their passionate energy from the streets into the landscape or dreamscape – to envision and to create the wild.
Free access to land is a key component of this: as the anniversary of the 1932 mass trespass on Kinder Scout has just passed, and this Govt has pre-pandemic tried to tighten up laws on ‘trespass’, so we hope to bring these elements up within the global consciousness shift that Extinction Rebellion has been a big part of over the past 18 months. Merging rewilding within the models offered by XR of moving to a fairer, community based system of right relationship with the planet, is our aim, marrying the inner rewilding of the human, with that of the outer landscape. This starts with a genuine, authentic understanding of our self and our soul – moving into the deep soul work that will involve grief, and service, and re-emergence. It involves unshackling ourselves from the models of living that hold us back: looking at the addictions, dishonest and lazy communication patterns, and if needed, removing the dead wood – unless it truly creates a home for the fertile and subtle elements of life!
Currently, using XRR as a platform for rewilding projects, I was sent a month ago news that Tree Nurseries around the UK were threatening to “incinerate” 3/4 of a million oak saplings they had grown for Government planting schemes, which they now felt weren’t going to happen.
While there is a long history here of politics and probably subterfuge and more, the key issue is why at a time of human crisis, coupled with foolish political decisions like the HS2 Railway and the destruction of ancient woodlands and wildlife sanctuaries, on the back of recent ecological catastrophes in the Amazon and Australia, humanity even considers a living baby tree as expendable stock – so XRR and a dedicated group of treefolk are running a National campaign to buy and save as many as we can, store and nurture them, and then distribute to groups who will plant, and to get to the point where we can steward land, as a Community Trust, and in time create a woodland in the memory of the human victims of this virus, and to honour the ash trees that the planet is currently losing. I have an embedded memory of a great elm in my home village, being one of the early trees to succumb, and gathering as a community to witness its felling and removal.
So, that is our plan, and both money and interesting offers of land and help are pouring in. I’m loving the focus and potential of facilitating this, and feel very clear that many oak trees will be planted as a result of this campaign over the next season or 2, and that this is something positive and planet-focussed. Many arguments rage about the benefits of planting as carbon mitigation, and leaving certain types of land, such as peat bogs, to rewild naturally and absorb carbon, and we will be extremely careful to work with ecologists and advisors on the local level. My heart skips every few days during this lockdown when we escape the house and drive a few km to slivers of ancient forest, and we have the chance to connect with elderly oaks, some stands of rowan, ash, and lime. There is a truly ancient yew tree in a nearby graveyard that is said to be one of the oldest on this Island. Anything I can do with my impermanent time left in this human form I wish to be of service to the trees of this earth, and leave some kind of legacy of having planted some more.
All this is my ‘outer action work’, and my way of being physical and practical in this world, while finding balance within – never easy, and there’s been lots of struggle and trauma along the road to here.
In his talk for us within the Online into The Wild Beltane Festival earlier this month Mac spoke of the need for activists (and aren’t we all activists now?) to “walk the twin track of inner and outer – applying our love for nature, using aptitude, and good heartedness to have good effect in this world…” This is where I’m at, trying to be practical – to get these saplings into the ground in a meaningful and sustainable way, and for this to be an act of earth-centred integrity, planting them as a “radical act of love.”