I've just returned from the Transition Training weekend in Totnes. As I've posted here before, Transition is a movement designed to assist communities make the transition from oil dependence to local resilience.
The training was good. We covered many techniques to use in developing a Transition Initiative as well as went through some inner work that was surprising in it's intensity. What I'd like to talk about here is that inner experience rather than the nuts and bolts of piecing an initiative together.
As one might expect most of the attendees were already engaged with the threats posed by climate change and peak oil and fully accepting of the concept that deep changes are necessary in the way we carry out our lives. What I didn't expect was the depth of emotion I encountered, in the attendees and in myself. The strongest emotion seemed to be centered around family and the possible consequences to them should we continue to get it wrong as a society.
My wife and I don't have children and have no intention of ever having children. This means that my motivations for pursuing change have been rather intellectual in nature. I want to do the work because it is work that so desperately needs to be done, not because I get up every day and watch my children grow and learn and make their way in life facing a scary future. In fact, I have been rather coldly calculating about the whole thing. I tend towards misanthropy and have just as easily accepted the potential suffering of innocent children as guilty parents, particularly those in the west who are part and parcel of the problem. Our voracious consumption patterns in the west have brought us to this state of affairs, with a vast proportion of the damage being caused by the rapacious capitalism of the US. As an US citizen I have to accept my share of the guilt. My usual response was the normal one of placing myself above those who do not accept this guilt and refuse to see reason and make the necessary changes in their lifestyles. Once that "us and them" leap has been made it is easy to consign "them" to their fate.
Rationally I could see the problem with this approach but internally nothing changed. My anger supported the status quo. While I could feel great empathy for the amazonian children poisoned by Texaco and Chevron in Ecuador, and even more empathy with the animals mowed down along with their living breathing habitats, I found it hard to feel empathy for those children living the high life now while innocently and blindly hurtling towards privation due to the apathy and ignorance of their parents.
This began to change on the weekend.
We did some visioning around our own plans and projects, seeing them through to successful conclusion far in the future. I imagined the little town of Hickory NC, specifically the neighborhood where my wife and I own a house. The yard was a vibrant permaculture garden, the house was completely off grid and renewables powered. The surrounding homes had followed the same path and the occupants all worked collaboratively to produce food, energy, culture, education, and entertainment for one another. As this was a visioning of the future, I saw not myself but my niece and nephew living there as grandparents. We were told to visit from the past and ask them questions and observe. In the final moments of the visualization I waved and smiled goodbye as they thanked me for starting this project in the first place. They watched as I faded back to my time. This was amazingly gratifying and motivating.
We next did an exercise where we envisioned ourselves as the founders of the movement that turned the world around and successfully established a sustainable and resilient economy. We imagined that the person in front of us was a descendant from the future. They, busy imagining themselves as grateful researchers from the future, asked us questions about what motivated us and how we managed to to accomplish so much. The gentleman opposite me I envisioned as the grandson of my nephew. I found this easy to do and it made the connection with the previous visualization. While I found it difficult to discuss my own actions as somehow being significant in the long run, it seemed kind of egotistical, I stuck with it because it really was motivating and helped to clarify my plans. The best part was imagining that I was talking to a descendant who was benefiting from my actions. Suddenly I could feel the motivation so many of the parents were feeling. Suddenly the tears of emotion welled up in my eyes as it was doing in theirs. We rotated through 6 cycles of this as we played both sides of the visualization, descendant and ancestor. One lady, pregnant and already a mother of one, was in a flood of tears, another mother was almost incapacitated with tears. She had spent much of the morning out of the training as it was too much for her. One gentleman like myself was red-eyed but more stable, the difference between he and I was that he is father and had been close to tears repeatedly for the entire training. I was grateful when I finished the exercise with a young lady who was merely cheerful. My eyes dried.
My motivations have shifted. While still intellectually involved I now feel a sense of connection to the human cost of our trajectory towards disaster and more committed than ever to work to create a new path, one that will take all those westerners as well as the innocent victims of witless consumerism to a healthier, more sustainable and resilient life. My anger is eased for now. For that alone I thank the trainers and the transition movement in general.
Bernadette and Naresh, and all the participants I shared this with, thank you.
What have you done today to lower your impact?
We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.
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- Video - Walkable cities, Enrique Penalosa
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