On belonging

People need to feel they belong…. Otherwise, who knows what will happen? This civilisation of ours, perhaps it’ll just collapse.
(K. Ishiguro)

I no longer have the email itself, but its message isn’t forgotten. The sender – representing the Dark Mountain Project – paid me a backhanded insult, wishing me well in finding a sense of belonging elsewhere. I gathered he was implying, quite wrongly as it happens, that I didn’t have any friends to begin with. In any case, the point was that he wanted the last word, and it was his parting shot. Despite my continual support of the project, I found that when I dared to share my own perspective – that is, expressing my own voice – it proved to be too challenging. My experience was off-message and therefore unwelcome to those invested in building a successful enterprise around the image of one big happy hippie family.

That happy hippie DM family is like the cast of Friends, with the same small collection of names and faces cropping up over and over in every episode of book publication and event programming. What began, I believe, as an honest invitation to conversation seems now to have grown deeply scripted. Belonging is reduced to a piece of marketing bait.

Chris Corrigan has written about the process of invitation. An invitation, he says, is a process of several phases “starting with a flash of inspiration and carrying through all the way to stewarding the dissolution of intention long after an initiative has faded away.” The early stages of this process he calls “crossing the threshold of longing.” The longing – the intention to participate in the creation of something – is what propels and guides those who respond to the invitation.

And what is belonging, other than sharing that experience of intention with others – that is, to be with others in the act of longing. This is how we create. Tennesee Williams once observed that his writing was “nearly always about people trying to reach each other… because the only truly satisfying moments in life are those in which you are in contact… with some other human being.”

Corrigan ends his reflections with the advice: “Never let anyone arrive at a meeting alone. If the goal of good gatherings is to have people leave working together, then the goal of a good invitation process is to have people arrive so that no one shows up alone.” I confess that I am thrown back to the memory of one of the several Dark Mountain events that I attended: the first Uncivilisation festival in Llangollen. I arrived alone at the pre-festival camp – an act which took more courage than anyone there could realise – and I lingered at the margins throughout the week and ever after (I’ve described the experience before.)

The fourth and last Uncivilisation event takes place this weekend, and I’m not going. I am home, with my loved ones, and I am right where I belong. That backhanded wish for me has been fulfilled, and all is well.

4 thoughts on “On belonging

  1. We both, each, arrived alone at Llangollen. I’ll never regret having gone.

    This is the last festival. That is a good sign.

    I remember my own expectations of finding a “home” amongst the people there. I can’t discount how those expectations colored and even influenced how the event played out and subsequent interactions with those I met there.

    I’ve shared your misgivings, although I am not female and have not seen this as a purely gender-role issue – Not to discount all the ways it has been for you and others.

    The over-all lesson for me has been in the way expectation and desire clouds and confuses our interactions with each other and with “what-is.” That the people involved, those who started Dark Mountain, and those who have found a place in its orbit, have had expectations and that those have included finding, making, and perhaps “profiting” – in a very loose reading of that term – from it is something I see as a dead-end. I can only get traction and value from that realization as it affects how I see my complicity in those same expectations. I was “led-on,” but, also, I led them on, by propping up the illusion that such things are possible, useful, and somehow valuable and true.

    We share – in very different, though overlapping ways – the curse and vision of a Cassandra. We are always looking for what doesn’t make sense. We are unwilling, maybe incapable, of letting things slide.

    I happen to believe this is valuable. There’s even a fancy term for it, a “negative capability.”

    It is extremely difficult to confront the enormity of our condition and simultaneously appreciate the futility of so many of the reactions that have become stereotypical and useless. Including the acceptance of a comforting illusion in place of the questions such a stance attempts to paper over.

    I agree with your points and find what you have discovered to be illuminating. I’m struck by the power of your views on Voice and Relationship! This has been so important to me in developing my own views.

    So, it is in a spirit of gentle candor that I would counsel something that has been hard-won from my own experiences. We find our shadows reflected back at us. When we find obstacles we must not forget how our course was complicit in creating the collision. And, that we go where we are looking. So, if we continue to insist that we must achieve a resolution that satisfies our expectations we are maintaining the power of that obstacle over us as much as the resistance we feel coming from our foes.

    The most telling critique of Dark Mountain may be that at a given moment it provided an illumination many of us found useful, but then went on as if to hold that moment in suspension. As if within the very realization of the death of movements, it could create one where that rule need not apply. In that, all of us who fed that illusion were complicit.

    Now, the only way I can see not to remain complicit in the continuation of that illusion – wherever it springs up, and it springs up all around us and within us at every turn! Is to let go.

    Here again, I’m most likely only reaffirming what you have said here. This essay appears to be a final look back. Every attempt – on my part at least – to give an emphasis to a particular trajectory does result, if taken too literally, in an over-emphasis and a possible point of blockage.

    In my current silence – I’ve not had much to write in a while now – this issue looms large, How do we maintain the necessary flexibility while stopping long enough to have something to say? And, then, How do we gather around such illumination without overstaying its usefulness as a light?

    Light, even the illusory kind, draws us in. The darkness is forbidding. But if we park our selves in any particular light too long, we are lost. Navigating the darkness…. How is that done?

    My last bit of avuncular advice is that when we are caught up in how we are misunderstood we tend to devalue, maybe even to be unaware, of how and when we are appreciated and understood. At such times we are looking for the worm that “Just has to be there.” Hidden in what appears to be agreement or appreciation.

    At such times one may have to be blunt to break through. It’s been that way for me in the past. I was lucky enough to have a few who took the trouble to break through with me.

    I value having met you and now being able to read what you have to say among the top of the benefits of having gone to Llangollen. I cannot extricate those benefits from the drawbacks. There is no perfect world where such an accounting could be squared.

    I hope you can hear that.

    I look forward to reading your words whenever the opportunity arises.

    • Hi Tony

      Just now able to find time/space to respond to your generous and sweet message. Thank you for sharing all your thoughts here. These threads of ideas are still being woven. Let me respond to some of your points.

      First, most importantly: I value having met you too and likewise consider you one of the very best parts of the first Unciv. I know you arrived alone too – my lone arrival was by no means unique! My sense of marginality was by no means unique either, nor limited to gender. Many, many people have been called by DM’s invitation and found no purchase to their hold when they reached out to it.

      Thank you too for acknowledging that my ideas are being heard. I agree wholeheartedly: why else would the fourth Unciv programme (finally) have contained an exploration of gender, if not for the voices of several women (not just me!) speaking up and sharing their perspective, describing their experience? There was a very wilful dismissal of women’s concerns as being irrelevant, until the persistent exercise of voice made the message impossible to ignore or set aside.

      Another point: your comments are essentially saying ‘Enough already.’ May I ask you, also in sincere goodwill, why you feel entitled to offer me “advice”? Let’s sit with that a minute. There’s much in it to explore: you are offering me your perspective, which contains information for me to consider. When I write, I am offering my perspective, which contains information for you (or any reader) to consider.

      One thing I have learned in this blog-writing experiment, begun 2 years back, is that I write to follow an emotional thread, not to fill the space with words for the sake of filling it. Also, I am trying most deliberately to anchor my writing within my own personal experiences and the impressions and thoughts that have arisen/continue to arise for me out of them. I suppose I’ll stop writing about DM when I stop reflecting on all I’ve learned from my experience, when I stop finding triggers and connections in unexpected places – the Chris Corrigan article, for example, about the process of invitation.

      I agree with you absolutely about benefits and drawbacks, about darkness and light. DM is flawed, certainly; it also offers a rich selection of ideas from many different people who are trying to find meaning in this world despite our dead-end dominant culture.

      Anyway, must stop here and go out. Thank you for connecting 🙂 and on a different note: are you reading anything good lately?

      • A brief reply for now,

        In response to your question….

        Let me backtrack a bit….

        I’m not asking, or telling you, “enough already.”

        If I were, your gentle response would hopefully turn me off such a path.

        As for advising anyone. It is good to stay with these questions. I agree. And, I expect to have more come to mind in time when I will share it with you.

        Your description of how and why you write is compelling. It resonates with me. I would add, for myself, that I write to gain perspective and the usefulness of perspective is a form of advice. Often it is to advise myself. Sometimes, I take an opportunity to advise someone else.

        This is problematic since it requires steering between habits of coercion that we all have in our past and defenses we deploy against it.

        It is much easier to do this well in conversation than in volleys of text sent back and forth.

        I did attempt to at least mention these concerns, probably not clearly, when I said that any form of emphasis is a distortion and that my emphasis on the pitfalls of any reactive stance was just such a case.

        Finding “clean air.”

        This is a sailing term, probably quite obvious. We look for clear air, for a path where we can act and not be stuck in perpetual reaction.

        There is so much to react to. We do need to come to grips with it all – and DM is only a small part of that even if it is precisely so disappointing because it appeared to offer so much.

        What my advice, to me, more than anyone, is saying is that when we let go of attempting to turn our will on others and the world there is one last function that it might actually be good for. In the face of an unceasing landscape of potential and historic disappointments the only way out of that dirty air is through an act of will. Will, not as some pseudo-heroic masculine caricature, but will as a gentle hand we offer our bruised psyche to help her turn away from what can only be an endless vista of further disappointments.

        After a lifetime of not only depression but a seemingly unreachable deep anxiety I found it lifted in a fairly short period of time. The beginning came when it was pointed out to me that disappointment was my default attitude.

        “Why is he saying this to me?” You might ask.

        Not to sway you from what is your way of proceeding. You don’t need any guide or leader. No one does.

        I see you as one of the few people I interact with who would know what I was talking about, and that there are similarities in our situations. And, that just as you have given me perspectives and insights that I could use as I saw fit. It would be a repayment on my part to share what comes to mind with you.

        “Avuncular advice” is perhaps a form of shorthand that might be understandable in person. I do see how it can fall-flat in this form.

        To answer you last question, I’m not reading much, beyond a few blogs these days. Not writing much either. I have been painting.

        What I’ve been mulling over has to do with a train of thought JMG has been pursuing at the Archdruid Report. It appears to be a “tell-tale” that might help locate clean air. He’s been writing about religions and how they interact with cultures in decline. He points out that besides the “religious” religions there are civic religions and that as members of a culture we have all these scripts built into our conditioning.

        For example the way atheists and believers battle it out. Or, when it comes to what he sees as our civic religion writ large, PROGRESS! The way boosters and its opponents have fallen into roles as if in a ritualized morality play.

        This reaches directly into our shared concerns with DM. This perspective, in ways I have not yet been able to express, seems to me to be a way to break clear of the overall reactive stance we find ourselves in and find clean air and a way to act that is not strapped into the futility of some predefined role.

        If what you wrote didn’t resonate with me I would not respond. If my response were irredeemably taken as hostile you would not respond back. That our conversation thread these boundaries in a space where interest and gentleness intersect is my profound hope.


        PS, sorry about the length of this “brief reply!”

  2. Hi again

    Thank you for more conversation. 🙂 And please don’t worry: all is well, and my carefulness (and yes, defensiveness) is more to do with my own feeling of operating from a place that is fairly new to me, and not wanting to lose the path. Your response actually dovetails very neatly with a few things that have been going on for me this week. In fact, there is so much brewing now that a comment thread looks like inadequate space to catch it all! Bear with me, I have the rest of today to play with it, I will try to put it in order somehow and into a post and we can go from there. xx

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