On horror, helplessness and longing
It's Spring here in Aotearoa, the harakeke flowers are just emerging from their sheaths, and the tūi are coming to drink the nectar. Because I moved house in Winter, all of this is happening on the bank at the back of my house as if for the first time. (In other local news, starlings tried to nest in the hole under the corrugated iron over my ((one)) door. They were ferrying grass back and forth. I couldn't let them do it, or they'd get territorial, yell at me every time I went in and out of my house, and shit everywhere- also chase away other birds- so I stuffed bubblewrap into the hole. Twice I jammed the bubblewrap in, twice they pulled it out and threw it scornfully to the ground. But the third time I stuffed it in so tight they couldn't get it out despite their best efforts. They were very angry, but eventually gave up.)
My thoughts have been reaching towards what you've articulated here. It's important that we feel. It's important to somehow compost the world into fuel. On the subject of planting trees, I highly recommend Rebecca Solnit's book Orwell's Roses.
(In writing this, I remembered the dream I just woke up from: cut trees showing pictures on their cut faces- patterns had been made to grow through through them, like messages inside a stick of rock, to make the logs a cuter commodity.)
Your insights and sharings and perserverance are some of the few things that reaffirm my own vision which dim too often. I immediately recall John Berger, Merwyn, C.L. Martin, among so many others, and can feel the support of My Tribe. Thank you!
Your conversation with David Cayley is FASCINATING. So I signed up. Can't wait to see what comes up next in this space. All the best to everyone here.
Please forgive me for stopping (pausing, actually) early in my reading to respond to a single paragraph. But I must!
"Last week, I wrote about guarding our capacity for joy and for care. After talking about this further in Sunday’s conversation with David Cayley – which is now available on YouTube or as a podcast – it seems to me that there is a third term worth emphasising: let us guard our capacity for horror."
It's true that care is not most aptly understood as a feeling or an emotion. Care is an activity, a doing, not merely a feeling. But, anyway, when I read this particular quoted paragraph the fact of feeling and emotion leaped forward. Horror and joy are feeling / emotion. (I say that not all feeling/s is/are emotion -- since emotions all have names, while not all feelings do. I say, feelings are the sea in any vast archipelago of named emotions. I say, our capacities to speak of feeling truly is perhaps the most undervalued of arts. For we do not KNOW feeling rightly. Our maps and models are deficient, faulty, in error.)
Let us observe closely, and we will discover that all feeling and emotion is profoundly tied to action, to doing -- and to intention. So often, though, we imagine feeling as a passive and inert substance. (It is no substance.)
What I want to say is that, for humans at least, all meaningfulness (meaning itself) is found in the circulatory relationship between feeling, thinking, being and action (activity, doing). But we can't stop there. Also sensing and imagining. These are all bound up, entangled and intertwined.
As for horror.... I'm horrified by what's happening in Israel and Palestine -- between these. But I tend to strongly associate horror with fear, as the word is really speaking to a particular quality of fear. But what am I afriad of here, in this situation? What fear arises when MEANINGFULNESS as I know and understand it is bombed like a hospital? What becomes of me without the circulatory relations of all of my faculties of being within and "making" meaning? That's what horrifies me here. It's what horrifies me in our relatively absurd failure to respond intelligently to the ecological and climate crisis -- the polycrisis.
What's happening, I fear in horror, is that the human capacity for understanding felt meaningfulness is in shock and horror, is caught in collective trauma cycles from which we don't know how to emerge and move on.
I have to be willing to feel all of my feelings fully, without judgement, to meet them as they are. To welcome them as they are. And that's profoundly difficult. Horror is no joke! But I'm finding that when I open even to horror my heart begins to wake up just a little more.
That is, empathy and compassion -- as more than mere notions -- becomes a living presence. And in this living presence a living culture becomes possible.
Dougald, I didn't realise you spent time in Cape Town but I'm not surprised. Your perspective seems to be informed by encounters with many different groups with very different needs. I live in Johannesburg and can resonate with what you say about not knowing how to contribute in the big events playing out on the world stage. Yet I'm reminded that there are so many other needs on our doorstep—people going hungry, parents unable to afford school fees for their children, boys and girls without role models, old people who are lonely and depressed. Each one of us was formed by caregivers who cared because it was their work to do, not because it earned them prestige. Recently, a man who started a chain of supermarkets died and people phoned into the radio station to share tributes. Although he'd played a huge role in the country's economy and led the way for other supermarket chains, nearly all the tributes were from ordinary shop workers and community members who remembered him for the way he greeted them and believed in their potential to fulfil their dreams.
Will you be doing the "Regrowing a living culture" course again this winter or sometime in the future? I would really like to take it but the timing does not work for me this session.