Mystery School Question of the Week:
What would it be like to live in a culture that told stories that meant we didn’t walk backwards into our death?
I just harvested the last of the asparagus. The rest are blooming Dr. Who hairdos, green and yellow against the finally blue sky. Oh, has it rained this summer. The cucumbers are only now just starting to swell. The courgettes/zucchini (I enjoy saying both words) are elongating as if in a race that I watch by the day instead of the minute or second. The tomatoes are turning from green anticipation to red temptation. This week I will bake bread, two loaves white, two loaves sourdough. Thick slices will be toasted, slathered with butter or mayo (depending on one’s mood), layered with juicy, sun-rich tomatoes, dashed with the light sprinkling of salt and pepper, and greedily consumed while leaning over my plate, so as to catch the tomato juice as it drips down. The feast will be paired with daintily honeyed Earl Grey sipped from an enormous, thick-handled mug.
This is it, isn’t it? This sort of life, this pace. The kind where the day can unfold itself in front of you and you’re there to witness it all, as if you’d been specially selected to whisper “wow” at just the right moments on this part of the planet. You’ve got to be alert to the miracles to succeed at a job like that.
The internet doesn’t compare to the garden. The internet doesn’t compare to the masterful slowness and sudden storms of the living Earth. The more I disconnect from the screen world and move back into the more-than-human world (thank you David Abram for introducing me to this delicious phrase) the more I notice how Life never says no to Herself. If there’s even a fraction of an opportunity to have another go He takes it, dives in, chips down for the big win. Sometimes Life doesn’t last very long – a tiny flare and then it’s gone. But when the question arises “wanna try again?” the answer is always “Yes Yes let’s try again!” Life is endlessly fascinated with Herself. Not in any vain or arrogant way. In full, deliberate delight in His own power and potential. Zero shame.
No shame. What a concept. What a fertile bed in which to bloom. If I could hoover shame out of all of our Children I would do it. What a cage it can be. Shame is a moat around the Castle Awareness, where your true calling is tucked away in a dark, secret chamber. Only you can retrieve the gemstone from its hiding place. How many people today never leave home to start the search, instead staying chained to their shame desks with their eyes glued to their screens, waiting for the next pop-up culture directive that promises to fill all emotional vacancies (Listen to Tom Waits’ Step Right Up for the full sales pitch).
Today’s twitter-mob world makes it extremely difficult to convince someone that they have value. That they’re important, needed. That Their life matters. Life Herself knows She matters. The question never arises. It’s only an issue with the Humans. We have a unique need to understand our place, to feel a sense of purpose for our lives. If that need isn’t fulfilled, we tend to become destructive. To ourselves in the form of drug overdose, suicide, food addiction, self abuse in all forms. To others in the form of abuse, abortion, abandonment, bullying, violence. To the Earth in the form of gluttony, wastefulness and environmental degradation. As the poet Jaan Kaplinski wrote: Destruktivität ist das Ergebnis ungelebten Lebens – Destructivity is the result of an unlived life. Wherever nihilism rules, the desert gains ground. A culture made up of unlived lives destroys itself.
Recently on my walk, I stopped to watch a dying bee. It was lying on its back on the road, antennae moving slowly as if trying to communicate. Its stinger was missing, tiny guts bulging out its back end. Somewhere in the world lives a creature bearing that bee’s sting. I watched it for a long time. It seemed to have no trouble dying. Life passing through an exquisite shell. I’ve been around dying humans. We’re not so graceful as the bee. We carry complex emotional burdens we don’t understand or struggle to explain. The bee carries no such burdens. It lives by instinct, serves its purpose and dies without regret.
The moat around Castle Awareness is murky, the stench of stale water rising up to meet you as you approach. The drawbridge is up. Somehow you have to find your way across the moat and into the Castle if you’re ever going to retrieve your Soul prize. You could try calling out a guard and negotiating for the drawbridge to be brought down, but there’s a chance that will go like a Monty Python sketch or worse. Perhaps you can find a rope and one of those huge hooks to heave over the wall. Best to wait for darkness and hope you don’t make too much noise. If you brave the generous quantities of tepid slime and swim across, you might be able to find one of those tiny passageways you’ve seen in movies. Once inside, there will be more barriers and challenges. You’ll need a good plan and an inner relentlessness to see you through on your quest. The goal is to carry your bounty back to your family/tribe/unconditional love gang, and get to work on your many contributions to your group. Your Life and your Purpose will align within your community and the more-than-human world. Death, when it comes, will be like a visit from old friend.
I’ve noticed in the skies that Munin is missing. Munin is one of Odin’s ravens. He is Memory. The other raven is Hugin – Thought. The modern digital world has made Hugin a conspiracy unto himself. He swoops on countless pixelated up-drafts and perches by the million in our mental branches. Munin lives in tradition, in handmade skills like sewing, gardening, canning, carving. He lives in poems set to heart, in heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. He lives in old stories shared in small, intimate groups. The cloud version of Munin that we’ve been given is an imposter. The real Munin can’t survive in the hyper-abstract world of snap-chat-and-delete. He lives in what Martin Shaw calls “flesh memory” and “bone memory.” He belongs to the Earth as we do. Only we’ve forgotten that the Earth is our home, not the cloud.
In a healthy culture, people feel a sense of purpose and belonging, proudly using their gifts to contribute to the betterment of their community. A healthy culture honours Hugin and Munin equally, one forever searching for new Wisdom while the other helps learned Wisdom gather generational potency. A healthy culture doesn’t seek to disregard or destroy its own history, but to learn and grow from it.
To be in service to Munin is to help our wounded culture gain back a bit of health. Save something. Preserve a skill, a landscape, a language, a fragile object once held in the hands of a great ancestor. Save yourself. You came from somewhere, from people whose stories have value. Maybe the kids won’t care. Maybe the screen-pushers will win. Try anyway. To be of service to Munin is to be of service to the future and those who live in it. It is a worthy, magical way to Live.