Although this is not the final podcast, I want to summarize the themes I have explored. Other stories will follow as I am drawn down other pathways, trying to map the journey of the present time, a journey seen from the edge of the world. Here where the sea meets the sand, where the worlds come together, there is a moment in and out of time, that draws my attention again and again. In this moment, in this place, one story tells itself in different ways, circling around a central theme: how to find our way through these darkening days, a way that leads to what I have called “a living future.” Whether imaged as a pathway half hidden under a blood moon, or as returning to an imagined first day, this is a journey of reconnection, a reconnection to a forgotten part of ourselves—older, magical, and most important, part of the living Earth.
Whether in the simple act of watching river otters, or facing the darkness devouring Ukraine, I am trying to tell a story that holds hope even as it does not deny the difficulties of the present time, the crises surrounding us. In the last years we have experienced a global pandemic, are becoming more and more aware of the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity, and then the tragedy in Ukraine, where unprovoked violence and brutality are destroying lives and bringing famine to millions. This rising darkness tells its own story which we can no longer afford to dismiss.
I grew up in the idealistic days of the sixties, when spiritual traditions from India and the East brought new colors into the bleak world of middle-class England. I attended the first Glastonbury festival, near to the mysterious Tor that carries an ancient tradition of druids and King Arthur’s mystical Avalon. We learned about ley lines, the energy structure of the Earth known to our ancestors. We felt that here, beside the Tor, our dreams could be magnetized by the Earth and come alive. We were naïve and blissful, rejecting the materialistic world of our parents, believing that free-love, music, and meditation would change the world, that through dancing and chanting we could bring peace.
And this spark of hope is still alive within me, the promise of a different way to live. Of course it was idealistic, like the Summer I dug up a friend’s back yard in order to grow my own vegetables, until the brambles finally defeated me. It would be decades before I was able to harvest and cook my own squash and tomatoes, dig my potatoes from the ground. But although it may be difficult to live a dream, it is even more difficult to live without one, and I have always been haunted or blessed with a dream of a living future in which we return to the oneness, the unity that is at the core of all existence.
For decades I followed this dream through the traditional inward path of the mystic, the Sufi journey within the heart to love’s unity, which I described in the story Threads of Love. But at the beginning of the new century other visions came calling, of how these central themes of oneness and a return to an awareness of the sacred nature of creation belong to the next step in our human evolution and our journey together with the Earth. Being no longer an idealistic young man, having made the journey from innocence to experience over the intervening decades, I do not deny the darkness of the present time, a result of centuries of exploitation of both humans and the natural world.
I still believe in a possible future free from the stranglehold of materialism, but I also know that it will be a hard road to travel through the wasteland of our present civilization. And I believe that we have to begin to make this journey, find our way towards this living future, even if it will be many decades before a new civilization emerges. That is why I am drawn to tell these stories, simple signposts to reconnect us to a deeper knowing that we all carry within us. It is this knowing that we need if we are to find our way.
Watching my four-year-old granddaughter fully enjoy the simple things—drawing a chalk picture on the sidewalk, making a castle of cushions, enjoying her grandma’s banana muffins—I am drawn back to what is essential and deeply human. Her tears and laughter are so different to the discords that surround us, the senseless violence as well as the deep divisiveness that has grown in anger in the last years, together with a certain insanity that appears to have entered our collective consciousness, propelling it towards self-destructive behavior. Sometimes I wonder if I am just an old man seeking a childhood he never knew, a dream that will always remain just a dream. But then I look within my heart and know that there is another way to be. A lifetime of meditation has enabled me to glimpse a little of a future that is waiting, if we can only find our way through the coming years. If we can accept that our present civilization is unsustainable, both from its outer patterns of exploitation, of endless greed, but also inwardly because it has lost a fundamental connection with the sacred nature of creation, a connection that sustains both the soil and the soul.
This lack of connection is what concerns me most, especially because it is so unrecognized. Without this connection, or remembrance, there can be no living future, for the simple reason that it is this connection that sustains us, that recognizes how we are a part of the web of life. And this connection carries a spiritual dimension, as has always been known to Indigenous Peoples. Nature is not just a physical environment, but a world of spirit, alive in many different ways. And this spiritual dimension of the natural world nourishes us just as much as physical food. Plants are bearers of gifts, and as Robin Wall Kimmerer explains
One corn origin story of our Potawatomi people names corn as the first mother of the people, a woman who trailed a green leaf behind her. Out of love for the hungry children to come, she gave up her own life, and when laid in the fertile ground, she became Mother Corn, sacrificing her own beautiful seed children to all the generations that follow.
Regaining this connection to our ancestral knowing welcomes us back to the living land, alive in spirit and sustenance. It is this community, this quality of kinship, we need to return to a place of belonging.
These stories repeat these themes again and again in words and images that hopefully carry traces of the magic that binds the worlds together, that can help us to hear this hidden music, known to our soul if forgotten by our mind. How these coming years will unfold no one knows. We do not understand the forces within nature we have unleashed, that are now passing many tipping points and feedback loops, such as methane acceleration, for example, a gas 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide. And the pandemic showed how drastically natural forces can invade our way of life. What matters is that we keep alive these seeds for a future which we cannot see on our computer screens, cannot grasp with our rational selves.
Since those heady days in the fields near Glastonbury I have been watching this primal division—the vision of a future based upon oneness that recognizes the interdependence of all of life, and the bleakness of corporate greed and corruption and the wasteland it creates. Seeing young people cry out for a future that they may never know touches a deep chord—how many generations will be lost until we turn back to the Earth? Or most simply, how long will it take before we return to values that support life, that recognize that all life, all creation, is sacred? Not just human beings, but butterflies and spiders, rocks and rivers, grasses and forests, algae and fungi …
When we return our consciousness to this primary awareness, this simple truth known and honored by our ancestors, Spring will come again. How this Spring will awaken, what buds will flower, what trees will bear fruit, will depend upon our attitude and actions in the coming years and decades. Those who have recognized the Earth as a single, organic, interconnected living being can support this transition, can help to keep the inner rivers of life pure, so that they can nurture what will be born. Rebirth always comes from the darkness, like seeds underground, or the initiation chambers of the ancient mysteries. But this darkness can be full of the nutrients needed for rebirth, and soil that looks barren can still be tended with love and care.
However, for the coming decades we will have to travel through a season of Winter. It is hard to live at the end of an era when so much is uncertain, especially when our collective consciousness has so little awareness of what is happening. Some even still fantasize of a technological future, are chasing bitcoins and AI, while the Earth is telling such a different story—that of the danger of a global systems failure as the web of life is stretched to breaking. Caught in a dying dream and its patterns of delusion, we increasingly miss many of the opportunities that life is giving us.
In these stories I am trying to turn our attention to a way to travel through Winter to Spring, to walk through this dying land without losing our way. Hopefully they will resonate, help us attune to our deeper selves, reconnect us to our own knowing. The future when it arrives will be vastly different from our imaginings, for the simple reason it will speak a language very different to our rational self. It will speak of an awakening Earth and a new civilization founded upon the primal awareness of how we are a part of this organic web, how we are bonded to the Earth and her many beings, alive in spirit and matter. And it will carry a new note that speaks of the next steps in our journey together with the Earth, both a return to what is most natural, but which also carries the lessons of these years of alienation, finally taking responsibility for our abuse of the Earth. We will not leave behind the teachings of science, but weave them back into the tapestry of life, knowing that we are not separate, but part of the living oneness that is all around us. And there will be new patterns of connection that are a part of this wholeness, new ways to share what is deeply human, to live in both the seen and unseen worlds.
But for now we have to tread carefully, walk with awareness, feel the threads of care and kinship. And carry the light that is left to help us to find our way.
© 2022 The Golden Sufi Center, www.goldensufi.org