In this time between stories, where are the visions to guide us, the dreams to follow? How can we understand the conflicting forces that define our world and our shared future without this deeper wisdom? We have to learn once again how to listen to the rivers and wind, and to open the door to the visionary worlds that guided our ancestors.
Written in Early Spring
Today I went to the store to buy potting compost for the pots scattered across the garden, to fill them with peonies, sweet smelling, bringing back fragrance and colors after the Winter—pink, yellow, orange, and white. And I also bought a jar of local honey, for my oatmeal on these mornings when the frost still covers the early morning fields. These things return me to what is simple, essential, like feeling the earth between my fingers as I plant the flowers. They speak of the cycles of nature which reach deep into the ground and the soul, nourishing us in hidden ways, a restorative balance to the dystopia that has seeped into our world.
For too long I have walked between the worlds, seen too far into the future, watched a world fall apart and had visions of another being born amidst the ruins. When the Lakota medicine man Black Elk saw that “… the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” how did this “death of a dream” scar his soul? He saw the demise of his people, the loss of their sacred center. How did he carry this vision, this knowing born outside of time, and then to witness it enacted over the years with tears and blood, with the massacre at Wounded Knee?
Sometimes I wish I could just live a simple life as I did in my twenties, teaching Shakespeare, introducing teenagers to poetry. Going to the market on Saturday, working in the garden, growing vegetables, cooking the tomatoes and squash in the Autumn, watching my children and then grandchildren grow, knowing nothing of these vaster horizons—just simple exchanges like in the store this morning, or watching the deer eat the grass, walking the trails amidst the trees. I remember when I was younger taking our children to the park, flying a kite high over London, stories at bedtime. This was the horizon of my life, before visions came calling, before the darkness grew.
Now, as an old man I am tired beyond measure, seeing too many dreams that will be stolen or shattered in a world where young people are anxious about their future, about the world they will inhabit, the land they will walk. In a few short decades we have lost so much beauty and wildness, selling our heritage or having it stolen. We have broken the circle as we polluted the land, the sea, and the air. And we can no longer claim ignorance or innocence. Driving a car, flying in a plane, online shopping, using plastic or palm oil—we are all complicit in this ecocide. And in the land and the soul there is a deep sadness that belongs to what we have done.
The finality of this happening is overwhelming. It is not just land made toxic, a world soul in mourning as its sacred nature continues to be desecrated. Not just the dying days of an era of exploitation that cares only for profit, but a deeper, darker shadow through which our world is passing. In previous times shamans, medicine men like Black Elk, would have seen this shadow in their trances or visions. They could have spoken to the unborn, the undying, listened to an unseen world, read the signs. But today we know nothing of these worlds, even if they haunt our dreams, feed conspiracy theories. We are walking blindly into the future, not listening to the wind, with no access to the worlds where the horses sing.
How can we make rites of passage without our dreams? How can we follow the songlines through the coming decades? Stories in the news say nothing of our real destiny, they just repeat the memes of a civilization that has lost its way, hashtags of hysteria. And yet there is a story unfolding all around us, partly visible in the accelerating climate catastrophe, but also belonging to deeper dimensions of our collective psyche and the world soul. The war in Ukraine shows how an old story of empire and conquest embodies a dehumanizing darkness—senseless killings and torture and rape. Elsewhere in the world are other patriarchal stories of old men in positions of power imposing ideologies, frightened for a future they cannot control. These are the forces that are colliding—not political, social or even economic, but belonging to the way energy arises from the depths of the archetypal world, from the places where the gods used to live. But we no longer speak to these gods or listen to their stories. We live on the surface of the world with our fantasies of a future of AI, without awareness of the ground under our feet, of the real changes taking place.
There are two responses to these challenging times. How can we build walls against the rising seas, the storms that will come? How can we halt the mass immigration and climate refugees that will flow across the continents, that we imagine threaten our way of life? Or how can we work with the changes taking place, not building walls or bunkers but working with the energy patterns of life, how they are changing and will change our world? Maybe this is too threatening for those with affluence born from old patterns of colonization and commerce, but it is not too simple to say that if you don’t change you will die—you will be a part of a dying world, a darkening wasteland.
Walking between the worlds I have watched the primal patterns that belong to this changing landscape, the forces constellating like storms building far out to sea. I know that despite our patterns of control, our belief in science and technology, we cannot stop these changes because they belong to the energy of life itself which is now flowing in new riverbeds, new emerging patterns. The sadness I feel is from witnessing our resistance to these changes, just as our denial of climate change and the lack of limits to “growth” over the last decades has fractured the fragile web of life, made the Earth cry.
In my recent writings I have suggested that there is a way to work with these changes, to step onto a path that leads out of our present wasteland to a living future. I recognize that few will follow this pathway, because it is too simple and thus easily overlooked. It is not found on social media, TikTok or Twitter. It is not a solution to a problem because the living Earth is not a problem to be solved, but rather it suggests a way to reconnect with what is already around us. It is a way to trust the organic nature of life, one that is woven into our dreams as well as our senses. It is a fundamental belief that life can recreate itself following ancient patterns that also belong to our future—and a simple recognition that we are all a part of one living ecosystem that has its own intelligence, to which we belong. We are neither superior nor separate from the world around us, despite our past patterns of belief, and we can no longer afford to impose ourselves on the living system we call the Earth. We have to learn once again how to listen to the rivers and the wind, to hear the grass growing. And we have to open the door to the visionary worlds that guided our ancestors, and from which we have painfully excluded ourselves. We have to learn once again to walk in both worlds—the land under our feet and the places where the horses sing, where the songlines are, where the sacred speaks to us as it spoke to our elders.
Yes, we will have to walk through the shadowlands of our greed, of the darkness created by our endless desires that care nothing for the well-being of each other or for the Earth. We will have to pay the price for our forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation. It cannot be otherwise. But how long we will have to wait in the Winter of our world depends upon how we respond to these changes already happening. Spring will come, one day Spring will come and the colors appear again, numinous, vibrant. But we cannot escape the ruins of a civilization that has tried to enslave the world with its image of progress, this machine to which we pay homage.
In the early days of Spring the daffodils I planted in Autumn were the first to flower, bright yellow across the garden. This simple celebration of color touched my soul, calling to me, balancing the dark dreams I have described. A few flowers opening to the sun, sometimes battered by the spring rains, answered what was unspoken—speaking a simple truth of life’s beauty and regeneration. I will not live to see this greater Spring, nor will my grandchildren’s grandchildren. But I can learn to walk through these darkening days with lighter steps, knowing that we are all a part of a mystery vaster than the mind can ever grasp. Then every step is sacred, even if this present time of Winter shows few signs of turning towards Spring.