Journal entry 7 – slowing down, stopping, presence, progress.

I have found the previous several weeks to be very interesting and telling ones, which might seem strange to some people considering that their responses might be along the lines that ‘not too much has been going on!’ Ostensibly, such a response might be true: very basic maintenance and ‘plot chores’ have been the main activities. In contrast to the previous 23 months especially, June might look like a hibernation of sorts.

Some hibernating has been inevitable, what with a recent bout of the cold/flu that has accompanied the onset of winter proper. The physical acts of being indoors more, and ‘wrapping up warmer’, and doing less doing the days compared to during the summer, may indeed create the appearance that less is happening – and on a physical level this is true. But on a different level, a lot is happening.

This ‘different level’ is the internal, mental, cognitive, reflective one. With the permaculture homestead being functional now, albeit in a very basic manner where there is room for much systemic improvement, I have not had to plan (for examples) building or ‘landscaping’ projects logistically, freeing up a lot of mental energy for more cognitive endeavours. The academic research takes up a bit of this energy, but compared to my past, where I lived in an ‘orthodox’ house and pursued a career in an ‘orthodox’ manner, a lot more mental energy is freed up here at the permaculture homestead for different ways of thinking.

For example, my conception of ‘progress’ has changed entirely. A few years ago I would have not been able to let the homestead remain ‘as is’ for very long when certain features remain ‘unfinished’ – the lack of proper ‘walls’ to the shed area (it has a few big old ‘carpet walls’ still hanging that I’ve intended to replace with off-cut wooden strips), the solar setup that needs a few more parts before it can be experimented with, the lack of a cool food-storage area that will be needed come summer, the lack of a thermal mass heater integrated into ‘the shack’… etc. etc. etc.! Now, however, it seems entirely appropriate, if not mandatory, to step back for a while, slow down (stop if possible), and reflect on a few things.

This post is not about those reflections specifically, but rather on the process just mentioned – the slowing down and stepping back from a constant activity of sorts. My partner Emma and I realised that when we worked as full-time employees in a college in the UK, we would never get the chance to slow down, never mind stop, in any meaningful way. Sure, the illusion of a holiday was maintained with academic holidays always around the corner, but work stole these breaks almost entirely from us – this is another different topic. Having made the choice to ditch various aspects of modern ‘comfortable’, ‘click of a switch’ living, and thereby dropping most major expenses and therefore the need for full-time work, we find ourselves in positions where it is possible to slow down significantly enough to create the accompanying ‘head-room’ for a kind of reflectivity that I, for one, now realise I was never really capable of conducting in the past.

In the past, the reflective process was always tainted by what seemed to be unquestionable outcomes: I am doing this; I am doing this because I need to be doing that eventually. What I had overlooked was the vicious circle – when I got to the point of ‘doing that’, I was doing it because I needed to be doing something else thereafter, and something else after that, ad nauseam. This was a terrible hamster-wheel to be stuck in. Now I realise that what I am doing is something of an end in itself. Sure, it’s an end in itself that will inevitably lead to other ends down the line, but those down-the-line ones are not speculated about too much lest they steal the spotlight from the all-important present moment.

So maybe it boils down to presence. This is something I learned first-hand at a meditation retreat early this year, but life at our permaculture plot seems like it would have taught me lessons about presence one way or another, eventually. The bitter cold of some slow nights seems something of a productive formative presence when one embraces it and accepts it as part of the continuous fluctuations of life; the unfinished shed walls (that will remain unfinished for as long as they need to!) seem appropriate when looked at as part of a cycle of activity that must ebb and flow, because this is the nature of all things…

…All things natural, that is. Some discourses have been advertised over the course of the past few centuries to transcend impermanence. Hundreds of millions of people – dare I say billions? – for example, have fallen prey to the notion of ‘infinite progress’. Progress, in such a view, is something constant, and it is constantly ‘good’. Progress comes in the form of constant activity, it seems, a constant activity that produces the same globalised results over and over again – capitalist consumer systems that invariably devastate the ecology of given areas, to the point now that the life-support networks of many life-forms on our planet – including human beings – are threatened (where they haven’t been destroyed completely already).

Is it a surprise that such a ubiquitous form of ‘progress’ is oblivious to the continuous changes of natural cycles? That the physical constructs of such ‘progress’ demand constant consumerism, rather than a ‘being-in-the-moment’. Why am I not surprised that becoming more acutely aware of such cycles, and of becoming aware of presence – of being present – have made it seem mandatory to stop, to look at what it is I am doing, to ponder why it is that I am doing any of it, and ultimately really to look beyond what it is that is being done or why its being done and instead appreciate the background in which it is being done?

It is a beautiful background. And it is disappearing fast – this is confirmed to me daily by the academic research I am currently doing into the ecological situation that has arisen due to the maniacal marriage of capitalism, development, technology and consumerism (to name a few). It seems that all of us, no matter who we are or what our socio-political and economic positions are, could benefit if we simply stopped. Stopped and realised that our insensitivity to the natural rhythms of the natural world is killing us, as well as killing many other life-forms of the natural world as well. Be cognisant of this fact; embrace the reality of the present, and let this be your ‘ebb’; when the flow starts again, what you learnt in the quieter, more reflective times may just help avert future crises.