Monday, 22 December 2008


Spending time in nature, having some time away from the distractions of life simply to be with myself, my mind is calming down, the internalised noise of the city is dying away, I am becoming aligned with the sounds and rhythms of the natural environment. My heart is opening, my dreams are becoming richer, I am starting to have realisations about who I am and how I am.

The natural world isn’t just something you look at and think ‘that’s pretty’. It infects you and affects you deeply. You drink it in and it awakens the wilderness in you. And in this way, it alters your perception. It is like a de-hallucinogen. You start to see what’s really going on.

We tend not to realise the impact that being surrounded by a human-made, human-controlled environment has on our awareness. We walk on tarmac, we see straight lines everywhere, everything around us has been designed by humans, to benefit humans in some way. If there’s a problem, there’s someone you can call to complain about it. We can hardly see the sky. The weather can be a mild irritant, but it doesn’t affect us much – we turn on the heat (designed and installed by someone else), close the curtains and turn on the TV, mentally inhabiting a world that has been designed and scripted by humans. It has the look of reality about it, but really it is just the product of someone’s mind.

Where is the god in all this? Gods have become irrelevant. I’m not surprised Big Brother is so popular. I am not a Christian, but I know that this universe is majestic and immense, and it is a miracle. Right down to a single leaf falling from a branch in the forest, as the wind breezes past to carry it to the floor. Right up to the magnificence of the roof of this world – a million stars every night, away from the pollution of street lights and exhaust fumes, you can never get bored of looking at them. Every hour they are different. No wonder the druids built Stonehenge. No wonder the Egyptians found their gods in the stars.

Humans cannot possibly match this magnificence, no matter how clever their creations. And in surrounding ourselves with the built environment we lose touch with our place in the universe, and with that feeling of being blessed that wells up all the time when you are surrounded by miracles.

We are supposed to be happy. That’s our natural state. I am becoming increasingly militant in my belief that the city makes happiness difficult.

I went to the city this week. When I have been away from it for a while and then I go back, it is always a bit of a shock. It’s like there has been some enormous national disaster while I was away and I didn’t get to hear about it. Everyone looks so traumatised. And then I remember, no, this is just the city.

The other thing I noticed this time was that life is hard for the vast majority of people. The current economic system is not working in their favour. We are taught that anyone can make it in the Western world, but when I look around I start to think that maybe this is propaganda being floated by the few people at the top with the money. When you look at it as a whole, from the outside so to speak, it just doesn’t seem to be the case. There are lots and lots of tiny apartments, loads of people working hard to pay for the privilege of living in them, and there is crime and litter and overcrowding and ill health. It seems to have all the attributes that people think of when they think of a non-Westernised, non-‘civilised’ life: it’s dirty, it’s dangerous, it’s uncomfortable, it makes you ill, it requires a lot of hard work just to survive. Hello? Is anyone actually looking at how things are in the modern world? Do we really want to fuck the environment beyond repair just to keep living like this?

The thing about not living that city life is that, yes it might well be all those things, but at least you have some autonomy. There is a self-respect that comes out of making your own place (to your own design, based on how you actually want to live), gathering your own wood and water, etc etc. This self-respect is the birthright of all of us – not just for the people who have managed to score some high-paying job selling shares in battery hen futures or something. Buy buy, sell sell, fuck off.

The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me that the future should be, and probably must be, about scaling things down. The economy is so complex it allows credit crunches and global exploitation. Would we really buy trainers made by kids in sweatshops if those kids lived on our street?

Schumacher wrote a book called ‘Small is Beautiful’- I have probably written about this before, but he’s right. I am thinking about this not just in economic terms, but as a way to structure society too.

So death to the city. We need small. We need local. And when things are small they don’t need so much policing by external bodies, and they don’t need so many bureaucrats, and that means we don’t have to be bullied by them, and we don’t have to pay them for the privilege. We can run our own lives, and help our own neighbours.

And don’t think this can’t happen either. I’m reading a history of Britain at the moment and, as far as I can work out, things started to go downhill round about the end of the Stone Age. But the other interesting thing is that when Britain was ruled by the Romans there were cities. When the Romans buggared off to play elsewhere, the cities broke down. And then the Vikings came and built them up again, but that was a few hundred years later. In the meantime people got back to having a less sophisticated economy – more local, more village-based. You have to do without your fancy trinkets from Rome and your spices from Africa, but you get to work from home and you don't have some twatty Roman robbing you. Sorry, I mean 'taxing' you.

Anyway, that’s it from me for 2008CE. I shall be back in 2009 with more opinions and news of how I managed to spend the Christmas period without seeing the Queen’s speech and without watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Ho ho ho (said the hallucinating shaman from Lapland) and have a lovely festive period.



sorby said...

Hi Padma! Enjoyed your xmyth 'Death to the City' blog immensely. I've read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful and often recommend it to others. So much good stuff in there. I enjoyed his 'A guide for the perplexed' too - have you read that? Hope you're happy & well and not too cold in that Yurt! How's the songwriting coming along? Best wishes, Rob.

Padma said...

Hi Rob

A guide to the perplexed? Sounds like exactly the sort of thing that I should be reading!

The songwriting is going really well. Lots of creativity happening in that there yurt - the second album is shaping up to be a bit of a different beast from the first!

I am also having some interesting ideas about putting on a live show that will be somewhere between a gig and a piece of theatre, exploring the spiritual and political dimensions of modern life...

Happy new year!