From conscious conversation to a wild night in the hills
We had a ‘conscious conversation’ evening at Cae Mabon recently. It was Charlie’s idea and she organised it. Twelve people came. Charlie served coffee cocktails and Ingwe cooked a delicious mezze style vegan meal. The theme was ‘what is ecological living?’ At first we chatted as we ate, with Charlie occasionally urging us to stick to the subject! Then, after we’d eaten our fill, out came the GoPro (to make a film for the Natural Arts Association) and we each had a chance to talk to camera about our answers to the question. Inevitably in such an opening sortie we all talked on the subject we know most about – ourselves, and the degree to which we are living eco-lives. Everybody had his or her story. It was the second feast of the evening.
There were many tasty morsels: from Alice about Tyddyn Teg, the permaculture farm growing vegetables for five hundred local people; from Luke, the ‘fun guy’ who’s researching for ways to use fungi to make phosphorus (an increasingly rare resource) from the soil, available to plants; from Huw who can do a vegan diet but likes the occasional steak; from Jodie who would never do bed changing work in the city but who loves doing it here because, ‘look at the place’! Peter talked about his passion to work prayerfully with his hands to create beauty. Samina spoke of how people have different ways of doing things and how we should welcome that diversity. There was a discussion of plastic and packaging. I talked about the emergent, evolving nature of Cae Mabon and contrasted it with ‘intentional communities’. Charlie said it was an ‘unintentional’ community!
It felt like we’d just scratched the surface when it was time to go. But at least we made a start. It was different from the usual chatter around a dinner table. We consciously made an effort to go deeper into a chosen topic. It reminded me of how, a few years ago, my friend Ali and I came up with an idea for ‘community conversation’. We had a few gatherings around his dinner table and some enjoyable, if rather rambling, conversations. But they weren’t particularly focussed so in the end decided to just talk to each other and began a ‘co-counselling’ relationship. We met every few weeks and one would talk for 35-40 minutes while the other mostly listened. We’d give a response then swap round. It was good to have a chance to intensely encapsulate your life like that. It helped to shape thoughts. In time we dropped the form and just chatted, mainly about work, relationships and home but also about building, community, politics and dreams. We talked about books Ali had read and music we liked. I felt I was talking to a wise soul, and sometimes, maybe, becoming a little wiser myself. Perhaps you only fully know what you know when you speak it out.
Another example of this came with a visit from students who are about to leave school. They were from Brockwood Park in Hampshire, a school founded by Krishnamurti in 1969. They stayed at Cae Mabon on Tuesday and Thursday nights but on the Wednesday walked into the Carneddau and wild camped. After three weeks of unbroken sunshine it was the night the weather broke. With sixty mile an hour mountain winds blasting them they couldn’t get their tents up. They had to think with and on their feet. So ensued a wild and elemental adventure. The next evening by the Roundhouse fire I asked them to tell their story, each person offering a piece and letting it move around. It was in turn tender, moving, awe-inspiring and hilarious. Their unusual education had led these young people to be independent, responsible, creative, courageous and articulate. (I never once saw anyone look at a mobile phone). They acted with maturity and yet the exuberance of youth. They spoke of running excitedly into the wind toward the summit; of rolling down steep grassy slopes, looking from afar like ‘quarter of a spider’; of, when the clouds cleared, seeing sunlit valleys appear in the distance. They were in two separate parties, the students, a.k.a. ‘the warriors’, and the teachers and mature students, who adapted their names to sound more tribal. They’d originally intended to camp separately, with the teacher group using a stone shelter. In the end they all stayed in or near this remote little hut.
The point is that in telling their tale not only did they relive their experience but the whole thing was lifted to a higher plane. What they’d shared became more collective, connected and meaningful. It assumed a mythic grandeur. It was soulful. As one of the teachers later said, it was the ‘spirit of storytelling’ that did it. ‘They will never forget that experience.’
There is something about this process of speaking our truth – in focussed conversation or in telling our stories – that is transformative. Is it because, I wonder, it is our soul talking? In my version of Merlin’s prophecy, delivered fifteen hundred years ago on the other side of the Great Mountain, he finishes by saying:
‘THE SOUL SHALL WALK OUT, the mind of fire shall burn and, in the twinkling of an eye, the dust of the ancients shall be restored’.
The playwright Christopher Fry in ‘The Sleep of Prisoners’ has a passage that includes these lines:
‘Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us until we take the GREATEST STRIDE OF SOUL we ever took. AFFAIRS ARE NOW SOUL SIZE. The enterprise is exploration into God.’
What does this mean, I wonder? What is the soul walking out, the soul striding? How big is the Soul? Is it time for ‘exploration into God’? * A rabbi from the Western Isles visiting Cae Mabon last month said she thought the world was ‘haunted by God’. She agreed with the much-publicised ‘death of God’ and said it is our job now to pick up the surviving fragments and make something new that works for us now. A kind of ‘exploration into God’.
I can’t help but think it’s something to do with soul talk: heartfelt conversation and speaking your story through a mythic lens. These actions are inevitably expansive. They may lead you to places in the Soul as yet unknown. But there’s also what you could call ‘soul walk’. This is when you ‘soul walk’ your ‘soul talk’. This can be done anywhere but improves in the presence of wild and ancient Nature. Having told them Merlin’s prophecy, the last thing I said to youngsters as they left for the mountains was: ‘imagine you are your soul walking out!’ Their story brought some of that soul walking back.
* Answers on a postcard please!