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Grow Heathrow's Spiritual Ecology: One Resident's Personal Reflections
7th June, 2016
Living at Grow Heathrow has been a spiritual experience says resident Edward Thacker. We are actively rebelling against the wasted values of materialism, the capitalist world view which seeks to objectify nature.
Within our spiritual ecology, we must begin to challenge the commodification of nature. This must be central in the ‘great turning' (Macy 2007) we are to make.
Spiritual ecology is the knowing that we are all part of one living, spiritual being. It is the knowing of the connection of our soul and the soul of the world: The understanding that our fate is entwined with the fate of life on earth.
The rupture of this spiritual connection to the earth, and the resultant mind-set which sees the human experience as separate to life on earth, viewing nature as something external to our lives that can be controlled or managed, is fundamental in how we are to understand the breakdown of ecological systems around the world. We must move beyond the thinking that has created the problem. We must move beyond the logic of capital.
This home is on the site of an abandoned market garden, once agricultural land. Our protection of this land, to preserve it for agricultural use, means resistance, resulting in an antagonistic relationship with the landowners and the police. We do not recognise the private ownership of the land we live on. In this capitalist world system, where private property is enshrined by law over the rights of nature, we should confront the possession of land where we can. Within our spiritual ecology, we must begin to challenge the commodification of nature. This must be central in the ‘great turning' (Macy 2007) we are to make.
Living at Grow Heathrow has been a spiritual experience. We are actively rebelling against the wasted values of materialism, the capitalist world view which seeks to objectify nature.
We attempt to have a relationship with our home amongst the Elder tree, viewing the land we live on as sacred; this means rejecting the old habits of objectifying land, claiming it for an investment or naming it for empire. In this city of London, we see this ‘extractivist mind-set' in overdrive; land and property too often does not serve this city's children, their families and communities, but is simply banked on, viewed as a relatively safe and secure investment.
At Grow Heathrow, we do not own the land, it does not belong to us, there is only a relationship with the land, with the Elder tree. This is a relationship we are only just discovering, one that can nourish us. We are learning how the calendula can heal our skin. We are learning how the elder berries can protect us from viral infections.
We have become more attuned to the workings of the earth, the shifts in weather patterns on this island and how this influences our daily activity. Sometimes one experiences this in simple ways, like whether we need to water our plants, whether we have enough energy gained from the wind turbine and solar panel to power tonight's party.
Living here involves developing a greater understanding of earth's rhythms. We mark the equinox and solstice with celebration. This is a reminder of our connection with nature, the rhythms of growing food. It is our attempt to honour and give respect to nature.
Our compost toilets reaffirm our cyclical relationship with resources; ‘humanure' is used as a mulch for trees and flowers. Living in a community garden growing organic fruit and vegetables, one becomes more conscious of the health of the soil.
Whilst we learn organic food production on our occupied land, the objective is not to sustain ourselves solely from the land we live on. With the amount of land we have, and the number of mouths to feed, this is neither possible nor our primary aim. However, the sharing and giving of food is central in bringing people together; this gesture can be conceived as a spiritual component of our community work. Collecting waste food from wholesale markets and supermarket bins, we make use of this ‘waste', serving to volunteers, those who visit us for the day or attend our workshops.
We aspire to replicate nature and the gift economy, offering our events and resources for free. Nature has a gift economy. One can see this in how an apple tree gives its fruit with unconditional love. We must aspire to provide food, knowledge, festivity and love without expecting anything in return.
Moving to Grow Heathrow has had its challenges for those who have been brought up with western comforts; heating our homes without burning fossil fuels has been a steep learning curve. There is much to learn here. A cold night can connect one to the harsher reality of living on the streets of London. Just as fasting can be a spiritual tool to bring one closer to those without food, being inflicted more acutely by a cold winter snap makes one empathise with those without shelter.
There is an emphasis on preserving the wildlife that surrounds our self-built dwellings and communal spaces. There is a tension between the need for shelter, the need to create infrastructure for a community numbering 40 to 50 at times, and cutting back wildlife. This is in the context of a housing crisis in London, with brutal evictions making people homeless. We've taken in many. There is a need for land, to house people. We have discussions attempting to overcome this issue. In the practise of our democracy, the care and respect for other species is present. But we are learning - we will make mistakes.
The straw-bale house could be described as a sacred building, the temple of our community. A building, which was constructed with a respect and reverence for nature, using locally sourced, organic materials. When meditating in the straw-bale house, one cannot erase this memory from the depths of the mind, the memory of love and care that went into the building. The house is surrounded by Elder trees, providing homes for a variety of birds; their singing surrounding us as we sit in stillness.
With the sometimes daunting challenge of facing up to corporate greed and state imperialism, meditation can help us find clarity and conviction. The state of peril that we find ourselves in, with 6 degrees of planetary warming a real possibility, spelling the widespread extinction of species on earth - if we are not to despair, we must ‘touch eternity in the present moment, with our in-breath and out-breath' (Thich Nhat Hanh 2012).
If we are to truly acknowledge our intimate relationship between our bodies and the health of the soul of the world, how are we to persist obediently to the norms of modern society that are destroying our health? Understanding of this intimate relationship must translate into a fierce love to protect it, a love whose reach moves beyond the legal authority of any given land.
We must protect nature. We must protect ourselves. The love we have for each other and life on earth must result in a fierce resolve to protect us. Sometimes we will have to act in a way which sacrifices our legal rights for the rights of other humans, for other life to flourish. We must embrace an antinomian spiritual ecology, whereby our ecological responsibility demands a rejection of civil legal authorities and their laws. With a spiritual ecology, this act no longer is sacrificial, but a self-interested act; an eroding detached ego-self making way for an identity as one with nature. In our movements we can garner great strength and resilience with this understanding of oneness.
One indicator that the earth is degrading is the lack of empathy and love for those most vulnerable in society. This is a cause anyone concerned with our collective spiritual awakening should engage with. We can measure the greatness of a society by how it treats those most poor and marginalised. This is why we must wed any ecological resistance to struggles against austerity in the UK, and the oppressive, egotistical ideology which serves it. Struggles against patriarchy, racism and colonialism cannot be detached from our spiritual work. If we begin not to care for our own kind, how will we develop empathy for life as a whole? A lack of empathy for humankind is a signpost for the degradation of our ecology.
The change that is required of us, to become more fully awaken ecologically minded humans, cannot come from a top down approach. The change we need cannot come from government alone. We will rely on the local actions of all of us. We depend on all of us individually and in communities, making self-determination the centre of our activity, to weaken the tyrant of capital that enchains us.
We must no longer prop up capital, or any power structures which oppress human beings or exploit life on earth. Our driving momentum is not to convince those in power to change their direction. It is often very tempting to be lured into the logic of the state and its power. Instead we hope to transcend the logic of party politics, enhance a culture of DIY, encouraging others to take politics into their own hand.
We must engage with experiences which teach us how to commune together, how to live together as an interdependent community. There are emotional resources and wisdom one can acquire from living communally, or in Grow Heathrow's case, living in a squatted eco community. This experience, that is both taxing and enriching, can help us develop the kind of compassion we will need to embrace each other in wider society and the ecology as a whole.
Part of our project as spiritual ecologists is to undermine the political narrative that justifies our exploitative economies. The ideology that believes we cannot act as ‘we', but as self-centred individuals. This notion has to be undermined, we must be part of a political project which demonstrates that human beings can and are motivated by far nobler causes than financial gain; instead, being driven by mutual aid and cooperation, care and compassion for humans and other beings.
We must reawaken the identity which wishes to respect the ancient soul of the world, ensure this life giving force prevails over the competitive, industrialist psyche that has dominated capitalist economic production. We can hope that the struggle against corporate interests and the state can reinvigorate our spirit, allowing us to become more centred to the needs of the global ecology within our political framework. We can hope that by mobilising in solidarity against the objectification of nature, we can grow a greater ecological awareness amongst humanity.
Everything we achieve at Grow Heathrow is only with the comradery of trusted allies who inspire as much as they are friends. Living there has demanded everything of us, trials that have touched our whole humanity. I am continually moved and inspired by the individuals who move here. They have made a spiritual step, for they have recognised the emptiness of materialism, how the pursuit of financial gain bankrupts the soul. By moving to Grow Heathrow, one has placed greater importance on human bonds, the need to take care of human beings, and take care of nature. This is a step that I admire in everyone who has moved there, one that I admire in all human beings.
Thich Nhat Hanh. 2012. Thich Nhat Hanh: in 100 years there may be no more humans on planet earth.
Macy, J. 2007. The Great Turning. Berkeley: Centre for Ecoliteracy
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