A few years ago I was given a dream which led to a restored optimism that I’d not felt for at least a decade.
In the shadow of last week’s General Election results, momentarily that optimism vanished. Now after seven days of staring into the darkness at the bottom of the well with my fingernails pushed into the dirt, tentacles of hope are finally emerging once again. We are just moments away from the Winter Solstice, and so as the wheel turns towards the light once more, if you have been feeling the same as me, anger, despair and bewilderment maybe these words will offer a little much-needed balm for the soul.
I am usually a glass half full kind of person, and I also have an ability to rise quickly above a situation and see rationally what is going on from a long-term perspective. I lost both of these qualities this past week. In the rawness I, like many people, swung on the pendulum of ranting and raging at one end to retreating within and going completely silent, lost for words, on the other. I didn’t get a whole lot done as my creativity disappeared out of the window, to be washed away with the endless rain which fell outside. I felt the black dog scratching at the door.
I think the reason for this amplified feeling compared with the last three election defeats, is because this time I felt an emotion in the days preceding it which I haven’t felt so strongly for a long time. I haven’t dared. But in the final days in the run-up to voting day last week I felt it in bucket loads. It was hope.
It began when the economists started to back labour but the clinch for me, and I know many of you chuckled along with this too, was when Boris walked into a fridge to hide from a persistent reporter on the final day of his campaign. Surely, I thought, with such a terrible campaign and refusal to speak to the people he can’t win.
So, on hearing the election results, to fall from such a great height I could only crash to the ground at great speed. I didn’t land well, and it hurt. I know from years of exploring all my broken bits, when I am in my wounded place, I can see a very different world. It has taken me a whole week to emerge the other side.
I am a firm believer that it is good to be angry. It is good to rant and rave and let it all out in order to emerge into something else. I don’t think I am done yet, but I am in a place where can I can offer some perspective which has helped me, and to do this we need to travel back to Victorian Britain in the late nineteenth century.
What my ancestral research going back seven generations tells me is that we stand at the front of a long line of ancestors who are watching our backs. These ancestors have felt the hopelessness we feel when the ruling elite make decisions which are in their own self-interest rather than that of the people. These ancestors have felt the same despair we feel right now and found their way through it. We are not alone in this, and I can take comfort from that. They have survived through adverse conditions which are barely imaginable, and I am living proof of that.
I have many ancestors who were cleared from their land in the early part of the 19th Century and were forced to take their chances in the slums, factories and workhouses of the Industrial Revolution. I carry many of their stories in me, brought to the light after lying waiting in archive documents for two centuries. There is one story which has captured my heart above all others, and that is my paternal great, great, great grandmother Catherine. She was an economic migrant, fleeing the Great Famine of Ireland in 1848. Escaping certain death in her homeland, she found herself within a few months both a widow and a mother of a new-born daughter in a foreign country. Destitute with no means of earning a living on the streets of Westminster, just one mile from Buckingham Palace in one direction and one mile from the Houses of Parliament in the other, she walked barefoot down the cobbled streets of Soho to the doorstep of one of the world’s greatest social atrocities, the workhouse. Designed to strip a person of their soul and demean them to the lowest place a human being can descend to, it was here in the Piccadilly Workhouse where she attempted to raise her daughter to the age of two. Had Charlotte survived the whooping cough which claimed her little life, she would have been ripped from her mothers’ arms close to her second birthday and sent to an orphanage for her remaining childhood years.
The following three decades are not a pretty picture. I have struggled to find any happiness in Catherine’s story from that point on. Between slum living and the workhouse, working up to eighteen-hour days and alcoholism, she had a further two sons who grew up in what were called ‘Industrial Schools’. Deprived of the love of their mother, the only person they had in the world and the very person the state believed would breed insolence in them, her sons lived in Oliver Twist style orphanage conditions to emerge as young men in the late 19th Century. They were trained from the age of two years old to be prolific workers building Victorian Britain. One of these sons was my great, great grandfather.
There was no hope for Catherine during her lifetime. Parliament took little or no interest in the plight of the Irish. They believed the poor brought their conditions on themselves, and that through hard work anyone could work their way out if they really wanted to.
Sound familiar? It wasn’t the government at fault, it was the poor. The poor were just lazy and should just work their way out of poverty. This is what people were led to believe. This is what the poor were led to believe. That this was all their own doing.
Now you might be wondering why, given that you are already at an all-time low point, I am sharing such a story of despair. Well, there is a reason, and that is that there was one person who was instrumental in changing this rhetoric. He saw the plight of the Irish for what it really was and being in a position of leadership strove to do something about it. That person was called William Ewart Gladstone and was Britains Prime minister for a total of twelve years. On leaving office in 1894 aged 84 he was both the oldest person to serve as Prime Minister and the only Prime Minister to have ever served for four terms.
Gladstone is acclaimed by many historians to be the best Prime Minister we have ever had and one of Britain’s greatest leaders. He began his political career as a Tory and over time defected towards the left and was instrumental in establishing the Liberal Party. His political principles emphasised the equality of opportunity and his popularity amongst the working class earned him the title ‘The People’s William”.
During his time in office, he brought in major reforms around the election process, including the introduction of secret voting and extending the vote to agricultural labourers, taking the number of people eligible to vote up to 6 million. He successfully fought for the rights of coal dock workers and arranged employment for ex-prostitutes. He unsuccessfully fought for the abolition of income tax for the labouring community. He also believed in what was called Home Rule for Ireland. He proposed several bills during his term as Prime Minister to give the Irish control over their own country once again. His proposed Home Rule Bills were overthrown several times whilst he was in office, the first overthrown in the House of Commons and the second making it through only to be overthrown in the House of Lords. Despite these setbacks, when we take a longer term view we can see that the seed Gladstone sowed ultimately lead to Ireland achieving its independence several decades later.
I first came across Gladstone in a dream. I was on a camping holiday in the Yorkshire Dales which coincided with the government’s announcement that the moorlands I love so much behind my home were being opened up for fracking license applications. I was devastated and I couldn’t sleep for several nights. I felt so hopeless and so angry. Then one morning I woke in my tent shouting the words Gladstone, Gladstone, Gladstone. I am not a sleep talker and so I thought there must be something in this, particularly because I had shouted that word three times. So, I spent some time googling Gladstone, and the breadcrumb trail begun. I read essays written by him and opinion pieces written by historians. I even stumbled upon an entire chapter on him in an old Irish history book I found in a second-hand bookshop in Scotland which is when the jigsaw pieces started to come together.
Gladstone is a bit of an enigma for social and political historians alike. In reviewing the man behind the movement, I am yet to find anyone who is sure why he worked so hard for the Irish cause. He didn’t have any vested interest and he didn’t have anything to gain.
Gladstone fought to give back the power to the Irish so they had a say in the running of Ireland. It didn’t happen immediately, in fact it took many years beyond Gladstone’s death, but change did come. His vision set a precedent which I have read ultimately led to the fall of the British Empire as swathes of countries followed in being granted their independence from British rule.
He also fought for the rights of the poor. He sat and listened to prostitutes speak and then set up schemes to help them. He supported the dockers when they went on strike. He fought for the common man to have the vote. In the final few years of his long life he said “I am not so much afraid of Democracy or of Science as of the love of money. This seems to me to be a growing evil”.
Just days after my Gladstone dream Jeremy Corbyn was chosen as the new leader of the Labour Party. Ever since then I have associated the two leaders together.
Jeremy Corbyn has always filled me with hope. Just as Gladstone was someone I have shared values with, so is Jeremy. I haven’t engaged with the smear campaigns which began immediately he took his post and reached their ultimate crescendo last week. For me Jeremy is a light. Finally, here was a man whom I can stand behind. Over the years, despite the multi-billionaire controlled media’s very best and quite extraordinary attempts to turn the tide, I don’t see they have succeeded. Yes, they have won this election, and will now set in motion changes which will affect us for maybe another seven generations to come. However, Jeremy has painted a vision for us now and that is not being put to one side.
I have heard calls for Labour to move to the centre and radically reform. Tony Blair is holding the loud hailer for this, but he is godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter so I think it’s fair to say he isn’t a man to be listened to. This week I have been encouraged by seeing speeches made by some of the MPs proposed to take over the leadership of the Labour Party. These are not politicians who sit in the centre. These are passionate people who have risen through a life of hard knocks right at the bottom of the ladder.
Let there be hope
This is where I still see hope. Jeremy’s vision will live on.
I also see hope in that despite everything that was published in the newspapers about Jeremy, over 10.2 million people voted for his new vision, just 3.6 million fewer than voted Tory in this election despite all the money and propaganda they had behind their campaign.
Corbyn also secured 0.7 million more votes than Tony Blair received in his 2005 election victory.
There is a movement here. There is an appetite for what Jeremy Corbyn stands for. We might not be able to see it right now. We are all tired and we are being told this is the greatest defeat of Labour since 1935. Yet when Labour returned ten years after that defeat, and return they did, they led an extensive programme of welfare measures which included our National Health Service.
With a hard Brexit taking centre stage on the table alongside our Christmas turkey we know we are in for tough times. We are all wondering how we will be affected, and I see a wave of people considering their move out of England. I have family and friends who have already left for Europe.
This has left me wondering where I want to be amongst all of this, and my vision is very clear. My place is to remain standing on the burning coals.
Esoteric Philosopher William Meader taught me the model of standing on the burning coals at a workshop I attended many years ago. When we awaken, we move across the coals and walk to the other side from one world to the next. It is a difficult process, but we are pulled towards a place the other side, this new world which is where we intuitively want to be. There is a group of people who make it to the other side and live there contently.
But there is a group of people who stop and look back to where they have just been, towards the old world. Doing so, they see all the people who haven’t yet started to make the journey across. They realise that we are in this together and that we aren’t complete until every last person has made it across. So, they stand in the middle, firm on the coals and reach out to help people cross. That is my role. This is where I have chosen to stand. I have foreseen this descent for two decades. Working in a career in sustainability you can’t avoid the fact that a crash is imminent in my lifetime. However, many years ago I decided that my path wasn’t to go somewhere far away. My path was to stay exactly where I was, in the heartlands of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution where much of this began.
The currency of being awake and seeing things for how they really are is grief. The grief that it could be different. The grief that it really doesn’t need to be this way, if only… if only the media didn’t have such a hold… if only people wouldn’t believe what they read in the papers, if only people would wake up… if only… if only.
But waking up is a painful process and so it is natural to avoid it. We usually only wake up when things get terribly, terribly bad. What this election told us is that things just aren’t bad enough yet.
That makes me fearful, yet I also know as I sit in my anxiety the one thing that always emerges from chaos and crisis is something new. We see this in nature all the time. We see this when we reflect back on our lives. I know I had my biggest insights when I was at rock bottom. We see this in social history which I have been studying alongside my ancestral research; of Catherine’s story and how Gladstone saw her plight and put in motion changes which were to give Ireland back to the people in two generations time.
The point when real change happens is the point when we are sitting in the depths. Last Friday I felt us descending. This week I have watched Boris form his new Government and make daily announcements which alarm me to the point where I have pretty much forgotten about Christmas. I certainly haven’t reached that ‘Christmassy’ feeling yet. I see the beginnings of a dictatorship emerging, and the thing I am so passionate about, democracy, slipping away from underneath us. I see not just a country divided, but families divided, friends divided, and so much charged emotion flying around. This polarisation greatly worries me in one sense, but I also know from my own experience in group therapy and knowledge of psychotherapy theory, amplification of polar views is a necessary part of the process in order to ultimately find a resolution. It is never pretty. Sometimes it doesn’t happen in time, but other times it does. I know which horse I am betting on.
Moving to empowerment
So how can we move from this anger and despair to be a positive force once again in the world. Joanna Macey in her ‘Work That Reconnects’ talks about the idea of honouring our grief and then moving through it to a place where we can take empowered action.
For this again I turn to my ancestors lives for inspiration. When they felt powerless, in most case as far as I can see they were powerless. They were unable to change their lives, their living conditions, their prospects in how they lived their lives. They had just one choice, which was work or die.
In the 21st Century, at the moment and I hope for some time yet, we have many more choices available for us and I find this incredibly empowering. I know at times it really doesn’t feel like this, but it is certainly my experience and the experience of many people who stand around me. So here is my list of eight things I have done to move myself into a different space. Maybe some of these things might chime with you today. I have balanced four outward-facing actions with four internal process actions.
Campaign for Proportional Representation.
I have been into this for some years now as a different model for our election and one which many other European countries follow. The way the votes are counted in the UK at the moment means that our country is governed by a party that most voters rejected at the ballot box. Only 43.6% of the electorate who chose to vote voted for a Tory government.
Proportional Representation is a model which levels the playing field, so Parliament reflects the people and all votes count equally. Have you ever lived in a constituency where there was little point in going to the ballot box because you knew your vote wouldn’t matter? I have. I lived in the Tory constituency stronghold of Macclesfield. Here my vote for Labour didn’t count, as there was never a chance of Labour getting this seat in our current First Past The Post system. Taking the 2019 election results as an example, with a Proportional Representation voting system, the other parties would have benefited from this fairer system, as Labour would have gained 14 additional seats, the Lib Dems 59, the Brexit Party 10 and the Greens 11.
There are really positive moves to change our current First Past the Post system to Proportional Representation and you can help this momentum by donating to the charities who drive this and be ready to go to the protests when they are announced. Here are the two I donate to monthly: The Electoral Reform Society and Make Votes Matter.
Give to charities.
Look at the groups of people the Tories have cut funding for and start up or increase your charitable donations to these groups. The homeless and those vulnerable to losing their homes are two of the groups I have begun regular direct debits to this past week. If you are time-rich then also consider volunteering out on the ground.
Join the Labour Party.
I joined the Labour Party the week Jeremy Corbyn became their leader. I didn’t think about it, I just did it and set up my direct debit there and then. Finally, I had a voice in one of the major political parties and so I was prepared to put money behind them. Now more than ever this is important as the Labour Party is funded by the people, not by billionaires. Here is the link to their website.
Invest in real news.
I can’t understand why it is legal for a political party to be allowed to run a campaign on lies. An investigation found nearly 90% of Facebook ads paid for by the Conservative Party in the first few days of December contained misleading claims.
In Finland they have embarked on a programme to fight fake news, with children being taught to be critical of what they read, and are at the top of the league table of nations most resilient to fake news followed by the Netherlands and then Sweden. Meanwhile, some countries including Germany and France are legislating to try to combat fake news. My approach is to invest in organisations which are championing real news, and I have a regular direct debit with Double Down News.
Their current caption on their home page is “Jeremy Corbyn is the lantern but the movement is the light. That light will not be extinguished. This genie will not be put back in the bottle.”
This is news which I can believe in.
Find your balm.
For me, and for many of us, this is getting outside, as much as possible. Nature has the answers and I always feel better about things when I have been for a wander or a sit. Today I took a bracing walk up onto the moors. I was all alone for over two hours and was given a fresh perspective on things, including insights for this blog.
Last Friday it was pouring with rain, metaphorically and literally and I didn’t have it in me to leave the house. Instead that day nature came to me. I pulled one of my Celtic Tree Ogham sticks and received a message from Gorse. It was a surprise given my state of mood as I was expecting something more like Blackthorn with its sharp thorns or Vine with its restrictive binding.
What Gorse taught me in just a few minutes was that there is something else going on here outside of the jar of dark treacle I found myself sitting in on that day. There was the beginning of a harvest, the beginning of fruition from a life of hard work. There was hope that we would achieve this restored direction. Just not today.
Find your connection to your guides.
Go and ask them what it is that you should be doing, and then do it. Einstein said we cannot solve the problems with the same level of thinking that they were created with. We have been left to the limitation of our conscious minds for too long. Learn a technique to access your inner guidance, your spiritual guidance. Then practise it, and practise it, and practise it until you have nailed it. Then follow the messages that you receive. For me it’s shamanic journeying with the drum, nature connection, dream work and observing synchronicities. For you it might be this or something else.
Build your team around you.
My guides have told me one of the most important things we can do is build community. You need to find people who think and feel like you if you haven’t already done this and spend time with them. Don’t be alone in this as you don’t need to be.
For the big stuff, the really hard stuff to work through, reach out for professional support. There’s a whole world of people out there who have spent their lives training for this moment. Friends and family, as superb as they are at supporting you, just don’t have the skills you need for the inner work you need to do. When the atrocities in the world ramp up they shine a light on our own inner workings which need sorting out. If you haven’t sat with an elder yet in your life, go find one. There are countless psychotherapists and counsellors out there waiting for you to reach out for help.
We were born to create. Our creativity will lead us to life fulfilment and spiritual fulfilment. It is the thing we most loved to do as children but it is the thing which so easily disappears once we become adults. Follow the tug towards creating absolutely anything you are drawn to, no matter how random, for it will lead you to where you need to be. If you want to find out more about this read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear this holiday season.
Standing in the eye of the storm
We are going into a new decade now. Amongst all the adversity which awaits us, let this be your decade. Let this be your decade to find what it is that you are here to do if you don’t already know. Create a life which is yours, doing the things that you love doing. Being free is the most radical act that we can do in these times. If you aren’t sure where to start, keep an eye out for my next blog coming around the time of the new year where I will be sharing my story of how I made my great escape.
These times are hard but we were made for these times and you have your ancestors standing right behind you watching your back. Decisions were made seven generations ago which impacted greatly on my ancestors lives and I am living with the effects of this now, two hundred years on. But I know they still loved, laughed, found joy and found meaning in their lives. I know that they passed on their strength and their resilience to me. Your job is to ride what is ahead with the same grace your ancestors did, with the same character and style, and live your life to a greater degree of freedom than they could only dream of.
Standing in the eye of the storm, dare to dream this new decade into being.
As the great Sufi poet Rumi said: “I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.”