“Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear”
I woke up to the climate emergency three years ago. I was aware of the rise in temperature, but I was enjoying the increasingly warm summers in London. And then someone spoke about plastic. I started seeing plastic everywhere. I decided to keep all the plastic packaging of the food I bought for three months. It was an experiment that I made my friends conduct as well. They soon called me to go and pick up their plastic because it was making them depressed. A pile of single use plastic was sitting in my kitchen for a month before I decided to do something about it.
I joined Extinction Rebellion in 2019 and started the Hackney family group. Since then, I have organized and participated in several actions. I met some seasoned activists, some nature lovers, and some who introduced me to listening circles and healing practices. After that I started seeing trees everywhere. I began exploring urban forests with my four-year-old son.
Those urban tree clusters must be otherworldly from my son’s point of view. Given his current obsessions, he sees these clusters as spaceships. He believes that we all came crashing to earth from outer space, each one of us riding a tree. I envy his perspective. He is free to make connections, befriend trees, talk to the birds, the ‘real’ doesn’t get in his way. I try to unconditionally enter the forest. I recite incantations, calling for it to transform the city sounds into a nameless buzz. I also pledged to give up on Google Maps, to challenge my observational skills. Soon enough, Google Maps gave up on me; I haven’t managed to load a single map for months. I blame it on Google but I know it’s me.
With our sticks and our muddy boots, we find our way. Sometimes we slip and fall. My son screams when his hands are soiled. The soil is like dark rotting matter. It smells and it is unfamiliar. Touching it is unfamiliar. It gets under my fingernails, a sight I was told is inelegant. I need to create a connection with the soil for him by getting my hands in there. I have no connection yet, but I understand now that leaves easily disintegrate, and the woody parts take longer to decompose. A forest feeds itself, a perfect example of a circular economy. Life itself maintains the conditions for life. In gratitude, I tiptoe so as not to disturb it too much. In this manner, I participate in the circular economy of nature.
Trees are old, trees are young. Yes, they are different, their leaves, their trunks, their fruits. They are different when it is sunny or misty, in winter and in spring. But what really strikes me is their age. Chunky, rooty, curved, wounded, haunted, old like an old human being. Or rather, an elder. An elder is someone that will offer you that connection with your lineage, what came before you. And if you look deeper you will find the trauma that is carried from generation to generation until it is finally healed. I live in the UK, older people are out of service, rarely appointed their elderly status. I am an immigrant here, my connection with my elders has been severed by aging ears struggling to hold a phone conversation. I miss elders more now. I am not sure if it is the pandemic that reminds me of their absence, our collective trauma that has become a solitary struggle. Or perhaps it is the whispers from the old trees. My son will grow up without any if I don’t find an elder to befriend.
Here, in England, animals in urban forests are few. I have only seen the birds that I am not allowed to feed. But then there are people, coming and going, with their dogs, and their kids, and their lovers. Are we all here to preserve our connections with each other? The great outdoors, the medicine for infectious, uncontrollable diseases. Or is this our chance to connect with something else, something that is beyond us, but inextricably linked to us as city dwellers, as urban animals who have forgotten our connection to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature? Those alien beings that are called trees and the ecosystem that they are part of is the same one that we are a part of. How will we react when those trees are chopped for a new train line, or an affordable housing block, or a temporary taxi rank? Are we going to react as if our hands, and feet, and bodies are wounded and amputated when those trees fall and become waste?
These walks transformed my perception and my connection to the world. As a European in the UK, Brexit has become another story of separation, an opportunity to disconnect. I resist letting go of my sense of belonging. I follow my son’s journey to the ‘unreal’, when the ‘real’ I was taught is a story of separation and scarcity. Nature is abundant in diverse and interdependent life. By no coincidence I was at the same time stumbling upon the work of people like Charles Eisenstein, Bayo Akomolafe, Sherri Mitchell, Dr Vandana Shiva, Dr John Francis etc. A new but old story is emerging to unsettle my discomfort with the world. I was lazily reacting with panic and despair to the climate emergency. But reacting was less fruitful than acting. I am now acting with intention and in search of a deeper understanding of interconnectedness and what it is to serve life. This for me is regenerative.
The call for submissions on Regenerative Cities and Cultures was an invitation to share ideas and form connections. A year on, we are proudly publishing work from around the world, as well as an interview with an inspiring individual, Neel Tamhane. We are all at the service of creating resilient and regenerative communities.
1. The Upanishads. Juan Mascaró (trans), 1965 Edition. Penguin Classics.
Image source: The Graphics Fairy