If climate protectors are to successfully keep campaigning to stop our planet burning up, we must also ensure that we ourselves do not burn out.
It has been 30 years since a brutal accident while performing with the Royal Opera Ballet led to my awakening to the destruction that humanity is inflicting on our natural world. I was doing a swallow dive from the shoulders of a fellow dancer and the four guys that were supposed to catch me... missed. I hit the stage chin-first from 12 feet with no warning. Miraculously, I survived but it was a life changing moment.
This was because Linda Mutch, the therapist I saw following the accident, said she was going with a group of alternative health practitioners to visit the Yanomami people in the heart of the Amazon. She said somebody had dropped out and would I like to take their place?
To cut a long story short, I ended up spending several weeks by myself with the Yanomami. It was there that I first witnessed the relentless destruction of the precious Amazonian Forest and all her natural abundance. And where I first learnt about the continuing heart-breaking genocide of its indigenous peoples. Six million indigenous people lived there when our rapacious “civilisation” first arrived in the 17th century. There are now less than 600,000 and the killings continue year after year.
While the Yanomami said they wanted no more outsiders to come, they did invite me to join the tribe and when I said I had to return home, they made me an honorary member in a parting ceremony.
This awakening to the crisis nature was in broke my heart and I resolved to do what I could to stop our destructive consumerism, which is driving the bulldozers into the heart of the Amazon and threatening my adoptive tribe with extinction. I understood that if I was to devote myself in loving service with others to protecting nature and humanity, then I had to also lovingly look after myself, if I was to avoid the burnout that has impacted so many others on this mission. I resolved to put effort into healing my own personal traumas in parallel with my contributions to healing nature.
I invested what I could afford in personal development training, therapies, acupuncture, massage and yoga. The primary spiritual teaching underpinning my campaigning was Gandhi’s maxim to be the change one wishes to see in the world. I resolved to make my own life and home as green as I practically could. Ecological campaigning is more spiritually powerful if it is based on the moral authority of practicing what we preach, in my view. This does not mean ecological perfection but to do as much as we can with the money, time and knowledge that we individually possess.
Early on, I was blessed to attend a week-long retreat with the inspiring former editor of Resurgence magazine, Satish Kumar, from whom I learnt the concept of the two-legged path of eco-spirituality. One leg is to pursue one’s personal spiritual journey and the second is to take actions in the physical world to protect and restore ecology and radically reduce carbon emissions. All of these approaches helped me avoid burnout over the first decade of some fraught campaigns at both grassroots level and in mainstream politics.
In my second decade, through yoga I stumbled upon gay tantra. Through the work I did with my teachers at tantra4gaymen, I released as much of my personal baggage as I could, enabling me to access more of my personal power, to be a more effective climate protector.
My third decade has been marked by integrating much of what I learnt on my personal inward journey, by attending some ecological leadership retreats at various earth-spirit centres in the UK, including Embercombe in Dorset and Cae Mabon in Gwynedd. Such courses allow participants to relate to them from the context of one’s own spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs, without any imposed external spiritual dogma.
It really does not matter whether you relate to your spirituality as the thought processes of a purely physical human being or as intuition, insight, spiritual or divine presence. What matters is if one is prepared for an inner journey that acknowledges what your current truths may be for where you are currently engaged in the world and with yourself.
Embercombe was founded by the inspirational Mac Macartney, who had spent many years training in native American spiritual traditions, with their emphasis on the spiritual integration of the human and natural worlds. I did Embercombe’s introductory course to ecological leadership called The Journey, in 2015. It was a profound experience and prepared me for the next phase when my campaigning moved into arrestable Gandhian peaceful direct action, with Occupy Democracy and Extinction Rebellion.
Nine arrests later and just one conviction for refusing to stop sitting on Waterloo Bridge in the 2019 Extinction Rebellion, I was ready this summer to dive into their advanced programme The Descent. This consists of a six-day ceremonial process, with three days of fasting and sleeping out in nature alone. A key theme was the indigenous concept of making decisions that take into account protecting the needs of seven generations going forward. It was a deeply moving experience re-connecting me with the mystery of nature and it offered me a chance to reflect on what my path should now be as an elder earth protector.
I share my personal path in order to convey that it is crucial that all of us protectors also lovingly care for ourselves, in whatever way feels true for each of us, as we seek together to protect humanity and nature from the greatest threats we have ever faced.
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