The Wild Ones: Scattered Thoughts After Uncivilization


When I was trying to decide whether or not to go to Uncivilization, the first Dark Mountain festival held last weekend in Wales, I asked the tarot; using a spread which, allowing for certain limits and caveats, will give you a yes / no answer to your question.

The answer I received was a fairly strong ‘yes’, but the two cards which delivered it are among the more difficult and painful members of the minor arcana: the Three of Swords and the Five of Cups. The graphic image of the Three in the Rider Waite deck gives it to you pretty straight: a heart run through by three swords, under a stormy sky. The Five is the card of grief and loss; being mired in these emotions, eventually seeing them as a necessary stage in growth. The black-clad figure on the Rider card mourns three overturned cups, but has not yet noticed the two standing cups behind them, nor the bridge in the distance that will carry the mourner onward.

A set of things happened today which made me realise that I’ve been trying to process my reactions to being at Uncivilization too quickly and precisely, putting them out in the public domain in an unhelpfully raw state before they or I are properly seasoned. So the following will remain deliberately vague and scattered impressions, which I nonetheless wanted to record while the immediate post-festival experience was still fresh within me, before unplugging for a bit to assimilate it further.

My deepest reaction to Uncivilization is unanticipated – a significant opening up of the heart. The most immediate effect of this is literal pain, a thick, heavy physical aching in the centre of my chest. My heart actually began opening like this back in March, when something shifted in the wake of my mother’s death and I began to experience what I think of as sentient energy movements within my heart chakra, meaning that the surges seemed to respond directly to thoughts or feelings passing through me in meditation, and at other times also. Similarly, although more intense, the new pain comes and goes more or less in concert with specific thoughts, actions and feelings. Were that not the case, I think I’d be seriously worried and on my way to the doctor.

This heart pain, I know, is partly about needing to wake up and confront some hard truths in my own life; but it’s also the kind of ache you get from over-using muscles that aren’t accustomed to it, like stiff legs after the first long hike of the summer. Over the course of the festival weekend I was conscious of trying deliberately to connect from the heart with the new people I met – largely because what comes out of my mind and mouth still tends to arrive from a far more awkward and combative place, so I’m honestly trying to get the underlying energy right! In the same time, I experienced directly heart-opening moments, the strongest by far being the sword of Alistair McIntosh’s shamanic / poetic invocation, and the Gaelic lament gifted by Iain. Everyone I spoke to about it, myself included, was brought to tears by his voice; brought back into the soul and body after the vital but narrowly cerebral debate between George Monbiot, Dougald Hine and the audience.

On day two, further serendipity in the shape-shifting form of Jay Griffiths, language-shaman, who ‘accidentally’ worked the powers in order to will femininity into the main conference space – getting us gathered in a close circle to catch her temporarily unamplified voice, shattering the unspoken hierarchy of sitting in straight rows before a stage. In moments like this, or perhaps more exactly in the unexpected bridging between different experiences within the conference – like the inner journey from Monbiot to McIntosh – the beginning chaos of Uncivilization (which from a practical perspective had both good and bad aspects) engendered glimpses of integration, a new wholeness: practical ideals, organisation and debate entwined at ease with spiritual, poetic, physical and heartfelt ways of being, doing and healing.

The tribes, scattered clans, pair bonds and solitary pilgrims who assembled for Dark Mountain, whether or not I met them in person or even especially liked the feel of them, were simply extraordinary. The word I keep coming back to is ALIVE. Wildly, intelligently, beautifully, defiantly ALIVE. To be whirled up in the collective energy of so many of them at once was quite something. I noticed that by the end of the festival I was feeling strongly energised; had it been a two day academic conference I would normally have felt by that stage frazzled and wrung dry. Over the course of the weekend, I believe I met the people I needed to meet, allowing myself to drift in and out of companies and be draw to what I needed to see and hear. My trust in synchronicity bore out (probably because I trust in it) – I’d leave someone with no arrangement to meet them again, but with some wish or need in myself to do so; then at the appointed time later I’d run into them.

Magic is in the air when things like this happen. A magic created by a community of people, their vision and will, but also held and willed by the place. Llangollen. Wales. The Celtic extremities, beyond the pale of Roman and Norman civilized conquest. My favourite human settlements are always clustered close to running water with mountains surrounding them: ideal feng shui, I suspect and should make a point of finding out. One morning I woke up very early in my hotel, and found myself imagining going back in time through Llangollen, stripping away the traces of numberless rising and falling civilizations, until I came down to a watering-place for hunter-gatherers and animals. The curious part is that while I’m fascinated by historical and archaeological layering – it’s one of the things I love so much about Berlin – it’s not an automatic habit of mine to drop into reverse journeying like this. Was Llangollen thinking about itself through me? A nice anti-anthropocentric conceit.

Some markers for the onward journey: idea-blades to hold up and examine in the light, new connections to nurture, being held in circles by magical words, the blessing of being there at the beginnings of something.

Thanks be to Uncivilization, for all this, and what remains to be said and seen.

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