This episode, I’m delighted to be speaking with Manda Scott, a best-selling author, columnist and teacher, whose new platform Accidental Gods explores how we might to transform ourselves and evolve our conscious engagement with the world.
Our conversation spans from consciousness, resilience and the evolution and interconnectedness of complex systems, to shamanic practice, trust, and the courage required to leap into the void.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
Manda is a best-selling author who started her professional life as a veterinary surgeon specialising in neonatal equine intensive care.
At the turn of the millennium, as her early crime novels gave way to the Boudica: Dreaming series, she gave up the day job to write full time and teach the shamanic dreaming that fed into and then arose from the Dreaming books.
Four years ago, she became a student again, reading for a Masters in sustainable economics at Schumacher College in Devon, and, now that we’re entering the third decade of the third millennium, she’s moving from writing to activism.
Last year, she sat on the streets with Extinction Rebellion, canvassed for the Labour party and worked her socks off for local resilience networks.
NN: So, the first question I’d like to ask you is a question that I’m asking everyone, and that’s “where do you think we’re headed as a species?”
MS: Okay, no, that’s very interesting because I’ve spent the entirety of the last 13 months thinking very hard about that. So there’s the easy answer and there’s the complex answer. So the more easy answer is that I think we are a hyper complex system. I think therefore we will follow [inaudible] rules of complex systems which is we will reach a layer of complexity, a level of complexity beyond which there is a bifurcation of choice and the one arm goes to chaos and extinction, and the other arm emerges into a new system that is not predictable from the previous system. And so I am putting everything I have into the new system because I don’t really like the chaos and extinction option.
Although quite clearly, you know Daniel Schmachtenberger and everybody else in that media, we are the first… we are the first generation that has given itself species-level extinction capacity and every continue to be tribal, if we continue with rivalrous behaviour, and we continue to evolve weapons technology, then we will render ourselves extinct without question, or regardless of the climate change and the biodiversity loss and the possibilities of somebody giving one antibiotic too many and creating antibiotic resistance that will pretty much wipe us out, or biological warfare or any of the other ways.
There are several university departments now that are looking quite closely at the many ways that we could wipe ourselves out. But I also think that we are on the knife edge where we could move towards the emergence into a new way of being a new system. So my preferred route for that is conscious evolution. I think it’s possible, but I think it needs quite a lot of us to work quite hard at it, which I’m guessing is how you’ve got me because I’ve been talking about this on various forms of social media for the last six weeks or so since Accidental Gods was about to launch.
NN: I’m curious. So I have two questions that I’m thinking of as you’re speaking. The first is around your optimism for how likely it is for us to take that second fork: the more adaptive, progressive, creative, innovative path. And the second question was actually, “What’s the more complicated, longer story of that answer?” So I don’t know which you want to go for first.
MS: Well let’s go for the “why”. So you’ve seen my bio I, my spiritual practice is shamanic, and the essence of shamanic practice is that we ask for help. And the people who practice well are the ones who can ask for help in a way that yields answers that are not tainted by ego, or projection, or self-judgment, or judgment of others, or fear, so that you get clean answers that are coherent, clear and constructive. And I am watching myself and people around the world. The answers that we are getting and the help that we’re getting is ramping up in ways that leave me gobsmacked frankly. Are you familiar with Gail Bradbrook’s story of the starting of Extinction Rebellion for instance?
NN: I am, but I’m not sure everyone else is though. If you’d be happy to share, we’d love to hear.
MS: Okay, well it’s not my story and I really need to talk to Gail, but she has shared this in other podcasts so I think it’s out there on the internet and it’s okay to share. So she has been an activist for a long time. She was wanting to get something off the ground and was finding it very frustrating. And she did a retreat, I’m not going to specify the nature of the retreat, but it was a very intensive retreat in which she asked for help to find the codes for social change. She came back and within a very short time in coming back, she was contacted by Roger Hallam who is an academic who said, “I think we are working in the same area, we should meet.” And they scheduled an hour and four hours later he leaned forward, tapped on her notebook and said, “What I’ve just given you is the codes for social change.” And she had not mentioned her retreat to him at all. So she thinks, “Okay, whatever it is that I am connecting with is responding, this is good.”
And she goes back to Stroud which is a pretty switched-on place and goes, “Okay, guys, let’s make this happen.” And they all go, “Yeah, yeah, Gail,” and pat her on the head and nothing happens. And about six months of this goes past and she goes on a full moon retreat. Another one, a different kind of retreat, but as intense asking for help. And that same weekend, one of the big movers and shakers in Stroud was on a different kind of workshop, which was the first gathering that Jem Bendell had convened after writing the Deep Adaptation. And so for those of your listeners who aren’t familiar with Deep Adaptation, let’s take a slight segue, which is… Jem Bendell is a professor of sustainability at Cambria University. About 2016 he realized that what they were teaching basically was not adding up anymore. So he gave himself a year’s unpaid sabbatical, which I kind of think is a good thing.
Somebody takes a year off without money, because they believe in what they’re doing, tick, and he went back to Cambridge where he had been an undergraduate and he spoke to all of the climate scientists and he did a lot of very intensive joining the dots and he wrote a 36-page paper. And he took it to the sustainability journals and it went through the peer review process and they said, “No, no, no, we can’t publish this because you have not cited anybody else who has come to the same conclusion.” And he went, “Well nobody has.” So this is a world first, you can publish this world-first and they went, “You know what? We can’t do this. You just can’t tell people this. It’s not good.” So he published it himself and you can download it now. It is the single most downloaded scientific paper of all time now.
And his basic conclusion is that we have between five and 10 years before complete societal collapse if we don’t act now. And I read the paper. And I wept for a week after it because it is very hard-hitting, but I hadn’t found any holes in it. And I hadn’t read any sensible people online who have found holes. Of course the right-wing libertarians have taken it apart, but not in any way that has any coherence to it. And so that was published in July, 2018, and I think it was about September when Gail went on her retreat, and her compatriot went on Jem Bendell’s first gathering and she came back and she said, “I have seen grown men in uncontrollable tears. I had no idea how bad things were. We have to listen to Gail.” And In Stroud that counted, and Extinction Rebellion basically took off from that point.
And so, I listened to that and I think we were being given help. I have a much longer story of how I got to Accidental Gods, but I was being given help every step of the way and that’s the slightly longer story. And so my understanding is that we are not being given help in order to drive ourselves off the edge of a cliff slightly more efficiently than the other way… I could be wrong. I have listened to someone who is in contact with the shamans of an Amazonian tribe that has not much in contact with the West, and there are future seers quite recently cannot see beyond 2026 for any of us. And so, either they’re wrong, which of course they might be if January 2027 rolls around and my friends and relatives will all laugh a lot, or they’re right.
And if they’re right, it’s either because one of the absolute infants that we appear to like electing to rule us has pressed the wrong button, or we have made the place shift to emergence into a different system that they cannot see. And I don’t know what the likelihood of that is, but it’s the only one in which I have proper agency. And given the process of the last year, I feel that I do have actual agency, so I am giving it everything I’ve got, because what is there to lose? It might be wrong, we may be going to drive ourselves off a cliff. We may be heading for extinction in a very short timeframe, but if we’re not, then it is down to those of us who can see a path a little bit forward to walk that path, and everything that I get when I do my morning ceremony on the hill, when I go and sit out, when I do the meditation to other journeys, everything that I’m getting is “Do this, keep going. We are here. Do not stall.”
And it’s remarkably clear. Quite a lot of shamanic stuff when it comes through, you have to spend quite a while interpreting it. It did take a while to get to where we got, but now we’re here and there’s not a huge amount of deviation in what I’m hearing, and maybe it’s a huge projection. It could be, I don’t know, but I think given where we are, given the science, given the likelihood of Deep Adaptation, then I want to be doing something that feels constructive, and if that’s self-delusion, then so be it.
NN: One of the things that I’m thinking while you’re speaking is around other themes that have come up in conversation when we talk about this, which is that if we really grapple with the complexity of both our species and the interconnected systems that are likely to collapse if we continue on the course that we’re on. One of the biggest impacts, at least that I’ve encountered, that I find really difficult to counter, is our emotional reaction, and however that shows up. So there’s obviously… There’s a deep grief. There’s also the reluctance. That’s something that I grapple with a lot. Sometimes I have pockets of deep grief in which I go into my music and that’s something that I find connects me more deeply. And then I’m really reluctant to engage in any practice that takes me back to that place. And so I wonder what are some of the things that you do to help keep yourself feeling, and connected and open without dipping unsustainably into despair.
MS: Yeah. So the keyword there is “unsustainably”, because denial and dissociation, for me… and I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re doing, but, it matters that we are where we are. Okay. So I have a longer answer to this, which takes us back to how I got to where I am because I think we were folded in, so we know that I started off being a vet. We know that. Then I wrote novels. I’m still writing novels, just a lot slower than I used to. And the short long version is that… So I sit with the fires on the solstice, of the winter solstice particularly, I sit out on the hill on the summer solstice. And the point of that is to review the past year and then to look forward into the fire and seeing what can I do in the coming 12 months and solstice, December 2018, I had just… so, backtrack a little. When I first wrote the Boudica books, when the first one came out, I went off around the country on a three-week book tour because in those days people actually came out in the evenings to book tours. Doesn’t happen anymore.
And I had a number of rules writing because the Boudica books arose out of my shamanic practice, and the rule for the first one at least was that everything in this book I have either done or seen done. And this has to be my rule, I had to bend it a bit for the second book and it had to be things that I’d heard of second-hand. But first book, that I’d seen done. And mostly a series of that. So I read it around the country, saying, “This is who we were, this is who we could be,” because that’s what I believe to be true. And I had been… my journeys then had said, “This is going to change the world.” And actually it changed my world. I don’t know to what extent it changed the world.
But anyway, so this is who we were, this is who we could be, and people would come and get their books signed and go, “How do we do this?” And I’d say, “It’s all in the book, just read the book.” You can read it, but it’s there as a manual. If I go under a bus tomorrow, it’s all in the book. And at the end of the three weeks, people were coming back and, “I’ve already signed your book. What are you doing here?” It was quite a long way from the place I started. And they’re going, “We want to know how to do this.” “Yeah, yeah, it’s in the book.” And they go, “No, we read the book and we’re still not quite getting this.”
So I started teaching, and I thought I would teach maybe two or three courses and that would be it and interest would die. And 15 years later, I am teaching a minimum of 10 courses a year, slightly fewer this year because I have a marriage. And so, in the process of that teaching there’s a cycle, and it took… my first group had finally got all the way around the cycle. Now the hundreds who started 15 years ago, nine people got all the way around. They’re extraordinary dreamers. The difference, if we look back over the 15 years, it’s amazing. But I sat down in front of the fire and basically whatever we call comes, we’ll say the fire is focused. It’s not but that’s a useful shorthand. What the fire said was, “Nine people in 15 years is not going to cut it.”
And I hadn’t read the Deep Adaptation paper at this point or I might’ve understood more, but this is not good. You have to start teaching at scale. And what I was shown was a vision of me in America with really quite a large number of people and I [inaudible 00:13:52] but I don’t fly. I haven’t flown since the late nineties because carbon, and anyway, I don’t like flying. carbon isn’t [crosstalk 00:14:00] and why would I go to the States and what? That just doesn’t make sense. And three days later I got an email from someone which essentially said there’s a lot of [inaudible 00:14:09] one of you, which way would you like the flights to go? A lot of us can come to you or one of you can come to us.
“Oh,” and if I hadn’t done the journey, I’m sure I would’ve said, “No, you know what? Don’t. Just don’t.” But I’d had the journey, so okay, I’m coming to the States. And then I have to think, “What am I going to teach? Because I cannot teach this demonic stuff.” I am very, very safety-conscious. Either shamanic work is something that you can learn in a weekend, or it’s a very old, very powerful, astonishing process that takes a long time to learn, and these two are not compatible. And given that I believe the latter, or I frankly would not give my time to it. I am very conscious of the safety issues and aspects and so I am not going to teach groups of more than 15, it’s not safe. And so that’s not teaching at scale. So I went home, but it was very clear.
So I spent most of last year was finding out what can I teach at scale, and interwoven with this is a kind of story of three deaths. And the first death was a lactating hare that got me writing the Boudica books, and the second death was [inaudible 00:15:20] that got me to Schumacher. And the third death was in August of this year, was an owl. And I’m not going to go into the details partly because I will cry a new and partly because it is too long. But in each case, the animal that died was the animal version of the guide with which I was working most strongly at the time, and in each case it’s like, “Why do you have to die in order that I understand what you were saying?” Which is quite hard really. And the whole grief and despair, each death matters and I don’t have a problem with death. Death is a wonderful transformation. I have a problem when it’s a death that I could have avoided that otherwise doesn’t seem necessary.
Anyway, what the owl was teaching was the final piece of the puzzle of what we needed to do for Accidental Gods. And so my understanding at the moment that you clearly understand about complex systems, therefore, obviously your listeners understand about complex systems, but when we get emergence from a complex system, when it reaches that point of complexity that it breaks apart either into the chaos and extinction or into the emergence, what emerges is absolutely unpredictable. I’m sorry my cats [crosstalk 00:16:40] in what emerges is absolutely unpredictable from the perspective of before. So then classical ones are eukaryotic organisms emerging from the prokaryotic soup, or the one that’s easier for people to get their heads around is the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. If you didn’t know what was coming, you could not possibly predict from the DNA soup that is a chrysalis that little imaginal cells that begin to come together, and finally make imaginal items and to finally make a butterfly, you would not predict that. So, it is utterly unpredictable.
If we are going to have emergence from the complex system that is us, then my understanding is that where we’re heading is not something that we can predict. That’s the point. If we could predict it, it’s not emergence from the complex system. [inaudible 00:17:31] to Einstein say, “No problem is solved from the mindset that created it.” So that, anyway, and I often get this with the shamanic stuff, something comes through and I go, “But why?” And they go, “Why is not your problem. You just have to do this in the best way that you can.” And this feels like a kind of larger iteration of that, which is, it’s not up to me to work out where we’re going. It’s up to me to work out how we are going to get there.
That seems to be my job in this is to find a structure where ordinary people, ordinary [inaudible 00:18:04] super stressed people with not very much bandwidth, watching a world falling apart around them can find a pathway through that will get us to the point, not where we can see where we’re going, but where conscious evolution is the next iterative step. And we are in a position where we have the flexibility, because I think really important in all of this, this is what the owl taught, was that we need to get to a point where we have let go of everything that we believe to be true. Because no problem is solved in the mindset that created it, and we go into this thinking that we know how to fix it, then we’re screwed.
And that’s not up to us. So, from my point of view, what I am trying to teach people is how to connect with the rest of the web of consciousness. And this depends on whether you believe in pan-psychism or idealism or any of the maps of consciousness. And to be honest, I don’t care what people believe unless it helps them get through, because belief systems are not necessarily useful things and they all have boundaries. So we need to get to a point where we are connected. Heart connected, taking our place in the way that only we can because for all of our guilt and despair, and for me, the pain and the despair is absolutely riddled with guilt for simply being human. And what I understand at the moment, and I’m not particularly brilliant at actually doing this, is I need to let go of that.
It’s not useful. I need to get to a point where I am who I am in a clean, clear way, being the absolute best that I can possibly be in a way that is open to when I stand there and say, “Okay, I am here. I have shown up. I am what I am, where I am, who I am in, the clearest way that I can be. What do you want of me?” Then I can respond to the answer with absolute flexibility in the moment. And we’re not there yet. I think we need a critical mass of people able to do this. And I don’t know what that critical mass is, and that’s what Accidental Gods is about, is trying to gather a critical mass of people who are even prepared to try this because at the moment that’s my understanding of that’s the only way we’ll get there, and it kind of cuts past your question of our complex system is going to fall apart. But you know that’s Deep Adaptation and everything that falls from it, it is going to fall apart.
It is in the process of falling apart. And that, if I let myself go down that route, I can become paralyzed quite fast with raw terror, actually. I get quite afraid of dying very slowly for instance because the bad guys have turned up, and I have conversations with people about what is faster than a rope and a beam in a barn because I’m not sure I really like that option. And those are conversations that I am still having, but I am also working on how can we make the transition because the help is there and I just don’t think… I think if I were being given help to faster ways out than the rope and the beam in the barn, I would be following that path, but I’m not, I’m being given help to do something that feels very different and I am prepared to go with that until the rope and the beam in the barn seems like the only possible option.
NN: One of the things that you mentioned, this sense of finding our way towards critical mass of people being in connection truly with themselves-
MS: And the web of consciousness.
NN: Yeah. And I think also one of the things that comes up for me there, is somehow finding a way to acknowledge all of the incoherences that we hold within us. So for instance, you’re talking about flights. I fly for my work, I don’t enjoy flying for my work, but it’s the way I make my living and the way I can teach things like this, unless I radically transform everything, which I should probably do.
MS: Yeah, no, and we can’t. Well, yes, but there’s the straw bale house in the West of Wales, one of my students did do that for two years and she’s not in it anymore. I mean, if we’re going to go down that route of each of us has to make the transition ourselves, then it’s the straw bale house in the West of Wales and it’s off-grid, and this time of year it’s not a lot of fun. And however many of you and I do that, the overwhelming majority of the population is not going to do that.
NN: So what is it then that gets this critical mass of people connected with this web enough to get some kind of change or at least some willingness to adapt? Because if we don’t know what’s coming, there has to be a resilience that we create a foundation for that enables us to embrace whatever does come.
MS: Okay. And so I think these are two separate branches and I am involved locally in building local resilience networks. That’s a kind of local activism and even discussing with people what local resilience networks are. And that’s part of the conference that I mentioned before we started this. We’re trying to set up a conference and this will be part of it. So for me the conscious evolution is a spiritual project, and I want ordinary people in their ordinary lives to be engaging with this. And I’ve broken it down as much as I can into manageable parts that people can do. And we’ve only been launched two weeks, but we had our first webinar last weekend, and we had a couple of women get up ungodly early in Australia in order to be on a webinar at 8:00 PM in UK time.
And it was so heartening because my first intent was, I want this to go around the world. I thought, “Okay, we’re there. Check that box. Carry on, the rest of the boxes, we need a lot more people.” So because I don’t think it’s the same, I think one of the things that I don’t know were you part of Extinction Rebellion in October and you’re sitting in the streets in Trafalgar and people going past you going, “I bet you got here in a car.” And I think, well no, actually I took the train, but that’s not the point. And the people who invented the car, were riding on horses while they did it. The guy who invented the light bulb did it by candlelight. The change that we need to make does not require that we abandon. There is no point. We all know, I don’t fly because I don’t like flying.
I have basic fundamentals of… I think it’s a bit like not eating meat. Possibly if all of us did it the world would be different, but the unintended consequences of that, I am working really hard locally on regenerative agriculture because monocultures are a very bad idea and if the world goes vegan, vegan monocultures will destroy our biodiversity far faster than anything else. It’s not enough to tweak one part of the system. We need total systemic change. And I worked my socks off before the election out on the streets canvasing. You’re never going to get a different political result than we got and I failed. And so at this moment, the political reach is not open to me. Anyone who thinks they’ve got influence on the current government, please use it.
But it’s not going in directions that seem to be terribly useful for where I think we need to go. And also I’m discovering that my own internal mental and emotional health requires me not to be deeply involved in politics at the moment. I just end up in a little amygdaloid mouse trap running in circles screaming hysterically. And it’s just not worth it. So I’m endeavouring to just… I’m teaching people how to create different internal emotional states. And part of my own practice of that is not engaging in the current political scene.
So Joanna Macy, who I’m sure your listeners will be familiar with, an amazing Buddhist thinker who is deeply involved in the whole of bringing awareness of where we are in the world. And she calls this the Great Turning, which is a good starting point because it’s better than the Great Despair or the Great Catastrophe or any of the things that I would otherwise think it might be. And she has three pillars of the Great Turning, and the first is the holding actions, which is normal activism, direct action, getting out in the streets saying, “Absolutely no, [inaudible 00:26:26] now is not enough.” All of the things that we do to make a difference now.
And the second one is structural change where we actively work to build new societal forums, new economies. This is our local resilience networks. And to use the book [inaudible 00:26:46] praised, this is where we change something by building a new model that makes the old model obsolete. And that has to happen. But what I am looking at with Accidental Gods and with my understanding of conscious evolution is the third pillar, which is the shift in consciousness where we do the inner spiritual and psychological transformation where, and I’m reading off the internet now, where we intentionally try and develop beyond our skin-encapsulated egos and open into wider spheres of identity with the arts, the cosmos and the whole of humanity. So I have to say it’s a very long time since I saw that, but it must’ve gone in at some level because that’s exactly what I’m trying to do now is build this new relationship between ourselves and the web of consciousness such that.
So I have four parts to what I think we’re doing. The first one I’m calling “Reawakening Interconnection”, because this is the key, I think. We have this idea that just because we’re people, because we have big neocortices, that it’s up to us to work out how to fix this. And a lot of the corners of the internet devoted to conscious evolution. If we meditate for another a hundred hours, or we philosophize even more deeply or we put a nano-chip in our brains, God help us, we will get our way through to conscious evolution. And my understanding, and this obviously grows out of my shamanic experience and on much my mind, which revolves around my shamanic practice, is that’s not our job.
Our job is to be in connection, to be… This sounds really pretentious. I have an inner image. I was about to say I was given a vision, but it’s an inner image that arises a lot, of the earth as we see it from space, that beautiful picture, that amazing blue pearl floating in the blackness of space, and around it is this hyper complex web that’s either the colour of the sun or the colour of the moon depending on when I’m seeing this. And at every crossing point of this many, many, many crisscrossing web right around the world is a node of consciousness.
And some of these are humans, and some of them are quails, and some of them are Oak trees and some of them are mountains. And I don’t know where consciousness begins and ends. And again, that’s not, it’s not really my job to think about that. It’s my job to experience it. And my experience going out in the world is that if I can get myself to the right place where the boundaries drop, everything has consciousness and I feel part of that mesh. And so I am hoping that we can find ways to help people to reconnect those because it’s part of our heritage, and we’re very few generations away from when we were forager hunters. When shamanic spirituality, however we define it, was the only spirituality of humanity and for all of our evolution. And that’s however many millions of years or hundreds of thousands of years depending on who you listen to.
That was our spiritual practice, and we lived in context with the earth. I read something a while ago, which on one level was horrifying, which was that in Australia, the first nations, the Aboriginal peoples were only redefined as not being native wildlife in the 1970s, so prior to the 1970s they were defined as native wildlife, which on one level is just obscene. But actually we were wildlife, and the point where we were fully connected, it wasn’t meant to be an honoring thing, but from the perspective of where I am now, that is actually a great honor to be part of the wildlife of the world. I teach courses called “Re-wilding Our Souls” because we need to be reconnected. We need to learn how to live in context again, not in a way that goes back and tries to recreate some vanished past that we can know nothing about, but is real for us here and now. It feels authentic, it feels grounded. It has integrity for us in the moment as we are.
NN: So what are some of the practices that you find most helpful for those of us who are more frazzled and don’t have a daily practice?
MS: Go on the internet, come on to Accidental Gods, it’s all there and we’ve had to charge, this is all very difficult, but there is, there is a monthly fee. We set it at the price of a decent cup of coffee a week because we found that if people were not invested, they didn’t engage. But if anybody listening out there wants to do this and the finance is an issue, just please for goodness’ sake, [inaudible 00:31:24] because that’s completely flexible. However, so I have created a set of visualizations. I spent most of the year asking for help on this. “What can we do? How can we make this work?”
And what I got was, we start off, we connect with the elements. And of the elements, we start with water because water is intermittently ubiquitous, which is to say everybody touches it at some point in their day, but not all the day. So I have done the tap meditation, visualization, the shower visualization. The river, the ocean, the rain, whatever. I am doing more. I was about to do more when we’d started to speak. So once you’ve done it, and I’ve started because people don’t even know how to build habits. I’ve gone into the neuroscience of how do we build habits.I’ve created a habits workbook. The very first thing is a three second soundtrack. Anyone can listen to a three second soundtrack, because building habits is a skill in itself and we don’t have it. We build habits that we’re not thinking about.
So building the habit of looking at Facebook. No problem at all. Building a habit of doing some kind of spiritual practice in the morning. It’s really hard because most people start with 20 minutes, and that’s crazy. You know, I spent most of my life studying behavioural training for dogs and horses and you don’t start at the finished behaviour, you break it down into tiny little bits that are doable. So I created blogs on the neuroscience of how we build habits. I created a workbook that talks people through it and obviously if you don’t want to follow the workbook, that’s completely fine. But if you want to, we have the three second track, and then we have the five second track and we have a ten second track and then you can build up, so that in a relatively short time, and you give yourself the [inaudible 00:33:12] at what is it that it takes to build a habit.
That’s probably a whole other podcast. So this is the structure of habits. This is, I don’t need to sit down and work out what is reinforcing for you. So if a square of chocolate is reinforcing to you, that’s great, it wouldn’t be for me because I hate chocolate, but I’ve worked out what is reinforcing for me. How can I reinforce this new behaviour that I want? What is a behavioural sequence? What is [inaudible 00:33:34]? All of the things that we know in behavioural science that doesn’t seem to have made it across into building behaviours so that we can build the habit of listening to the visualization that helps you to connect to the water when you turn on the track. And then hopefully after a while when you’ve done this and the whole point is not that you do the visualization and the rest of your day remains unchanged. The point is you do the visualization and go, “Oh look, I can connect to the water as it comes over the tap. Let me do that.”
And you won’t remember every time. And my partner, [inaudible 00:34:05] is going through and is doing this as my Guinea pig. And she said the other day… she listened to the shower visualization which has a lot of stuff, and in the time going from sitting on her bed to getting into the shower, she’d gone into autopilot and halfway through the shower she remembered. So she got out and started again with the visualization and it’s fine. I don’t think we have a huge amount of time, but this is not a race that we need to build the foundations of connection.
And after a while we’ve got people, we’ve been going for two and a half weeks. We have people who are reporting, and I have to believe they’re honest, actual genuine heart connections intermittently, not all the time was water. And then we’ll go through the rest of the elements and then we’ll gradually work out to the rest of the world. And it’s slow. And we have to build this up because it has to be real. We have not got time anymore for the bullshit. And teaching shamanic practice and people come with a lot of protections, and a lot of the early work is letting go of the projections and getting to a part where we can actually be honest with ourselves and not have to make the Disney sparkling unicorns or whatever. And we have not got time for the Disney unicorns. This has to be real. It takes as long as it takes. But I have endeavoured to break it down.
And the thing that I need to say is that the connecting… Because we need to get to a point where we can ask for help in a way that yields answers that are coherent, clear and constructive and in a way that is not tainted by our egos, our self-judgments, our projections and our fears. You can tell I’ve said this before, I will say it again. Along with that we have to do the inner work, what I’m calling growing into coherence because the two have to go together. Because we can’t ask the questions that yield the coherent, clear and constructive answers if we’re still full of self-judgment and ego, and despair, and denial, and all of the things that are there. So there are the meditations to help people to find ways of doing that. But the plus the closed focus, the open focus, the heart place, the intent place, and then move on with those. Because if just meditating were going to get us here, I think enough people are doing mindfulness and things that we would be on the way, and we’re not.
So I think we need the four pillars. I have four pillars instead of three and I think we need each of those. And the last one, which we will get to when we have a critical mass of people who are competent to do this, is the empty-handed leap into the void where we let go of everything we believed to be true except the ability to ask that question, but in a way that is fully connected, so that we are part of the web of whatever we choose to call it, the web of consciousness, the web of life, the other-than-human world, the more-than-human world.
And we can stand in our place, in our power, being the right person in the right place at the right time and go, “I am here, what do you need of me?” And then act on the answer. And that is a ways off. But I think I really genuinely believe that it’s worth working for and that we can do this. I’m seeing changes in people in what is it 14-20 days, which, a year from now, ask me again. Come and play, come and play with us, let’s do this. People are thinking it takes a long time. The whole point of this is it’s designed to be compatible with your average working life.
NN: Yeah. I think one of the things that I get asked a lot and that comes up in lots of conversations is about the ways in which we go about bringing change that’s going to be more regenerative in the world. And I think if you sort of take the angle of economists or people leading in green tech, et cetera, often they’ll talk about the need for changing things at scale and changing things very rapidly, and changing the infrastructure of systems that currently exist. It’s very interesting and I agree. I don’t see a clear path moving forward in that direction that’s going to be as rapid as we need it to be.
But then I also hear the other theme, which is the one that you’re pointing towards, which there’s a sense of whole ecosystems of people from the ground up changing the interstates changing, therefore, the way that they relate to the living environment around them, the way they relate to themselves, and then choices arising that then are aligned with something deeper, something that’s more connected. And I wonder how you conceive of these two approaches. So kind of the grassroots ground up approach of people transforming both themselves, the community and the relationship with the living world, and the more high-level systemic influence. And what happens when, for instance, those structures are very reluctant to relinquish their grasp? So whether that’s presidents and prime ministers or the media or financial institutions, the list goes on. What do you think about that dance?
MS: That’s a really interesting question. So before I stepped back from politics, I was quite interested in Dominic Cummings and his thinking and I think we are about to see very rapid change. I think they’re going to break everything apart. I think they are going for shock doctrine. It’s just, they’re going for Steve Bannon’s version of shock doctrine, which is not the one that I would prefer. But the thing about complex systems is that you cannot predict the outcome. So I think they think they can predict the outcome. And I think what happens when everything falls apart is going to be very interesting. So I think we’re back to Joanna Macy and her three pillars and this is the Structural Changes pillar. And things probably do have to change very fast. We haven’t even got a coherent narrative on our side. If you look at Bannon and anything that he said and even talking about it makes me feel toxic.
So we’ll keep this very tight and very short. But they did not bring their heads above the parapet until they had worked out… They being, let’s call it whatever we call the alt-right is an easy shorthand for that grouping. They made an agreement to not bring their heads above the parapet in any forum until they had worked out what they wanted and how they were going to get there. And we just have in whatever we choose to call our political grouping, a tendency to think that the trajectory of history is heading roughly in the right direction. And all we have to do is watch it happen. Until very recently that was already fault. And we have no plan. And I’m looking at a lot of separate people trying to create a lot of separate plans and I’m not seeing a huge amount of coherence.
And partly because when I listened, so we listened to someone like, I don’t know, Noah Yuval Harari, the deep question that they get to is we cannot plan where we’re going until we know what humanity is for. And because even resisting the whole tribalism of this, but there is a grouping of people who know exactly what they want, and what they want is a white supremacist patriarchal theocracy that makes the Handmaid’s Tale look like Toy Town. And they want them very badly, and they have a lot of money behind it, and they have a structure and they know how they think they’re going to get there. And I think this is a perfect sign of the old order falling apart. But that exists and we have until we know what we are here for, it’s really hard to work out how we’re going to get there.
And I spent most of my time at college when I was at Schumacher doing the Masters, sitting with that question of, “What are we here for?” Because the very first term paper I did, we’d been taught all about Buddhist economics and all the various different forms of economics, and I thought, “What does a shamanic economics look like?” Because every single one of these, even the ones that were presented to us as being quite shamanic, they were going out and they were saying, “We need to build a dam across here for our economic structure. Therefore we’re going to ask the spirit of the of the river if it’s okay.” And that just made my blood turn into vapor in my veins because I thought, “No, no, no, no, no. You go and you ask the river, what do we need to do?”
You don’t say, “We’re going to put a dam across. Is that okay?” That’s not the right way to be doing things. I couldn’t find an economic model that was predicated on the question, “What do we need to do?”, rather than, “We’re doing this, how do we do it?” And the work I did that was part of part of the term paper and I was doing the spirit I thought was going to answer it, and my main guide kind of stepped out in front of me and said, “You are asking completely the wrong question.”
“Oh, really? Okay. So what’s the question?” And he said, “The question is, ‘what are we here for?’ And until you can answer that, there is no point in looking at the rest.” Okay. And then I started listening to others and realized that I was quite late to that game. And so I’ve been asking that. And so for me, what I am here for at the moment is to facilitate conscious evolution because I think what we can become, if we can take our place in the web of consciousness in a way that facilitates whatever it is that emerges from our complex system will be so far beyond anything that we can imagine at the moment that we can’t imagine it. And then a lot of the questions of tweaking the existing structures will become redundant. That’s the point about emergence from complex systems.
All of the questions that arose, all the questions of how do prokaryotic organisms survive in an increasingly oxygenated atmosphere, which is toxic to them, cease to matter overnight when they join up and become eukaryotic organisms that metabolize oxygen. The old questions are no longer relevant. And it may be that this is an escape and that this is my own form of denialism. I don’t know because I’m not seeing a lot of ways forward. I think Extinction Rebellion is extraordinary in its ability to model other possible ways of being. And I found October much as I came away from it, pretty much with PTSD and I was by far from being on the front line for most of it. I nevertheless found extraordinary sense of hope and awe and wonder in 5,000 people in Trafalgar Square self-organizing or the police kick us out of St James’ Park and within an hour we have self-organized groups to get us to Vauxhall Street Gardens and everybody is helping everybody else. And this is how we could be. Even the police, everybody was helping. And it was an extraordinary model of how humanity can be when we have a common goal and agreed ways of getting there that’s are not conflict-based.
NN: No, that’s the key thing.
MS: Yeah, how do we get beyond rivalrous behaviour and I think that’s a really big thing of… and part of what I’m trying to do is to model that. It’s one of the reasons I’m stepping out to the politics, partly it’s too distressing. But partly also we have to start modelling non-rivalrous behaviour. We have to, or we’re finished. So I think a lot of what we need to do rather than tweaking the actual structures is to tweak ourselves, and then the structures will change, because if we change the structures and don’t change ourselves, they will just be iterations of what we already have.
NN: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you implicitly describe a sense of hope about what can be ahead of us. And I’d like to bring that into the final question cause I’m realizing we’re already close to time.
MS: Yes, I’m sorry, I talk too much.
NN: That’s exactly why I’m here is to listen to you. So this is perfect. This is a wonderful rich conversation.
MS: Thank you.
NN: So please, this has been a pleasure. But yes, when you talk, of course I hear the pain with which we’re kind of charged if we’re going to wake up to the gravity of the situation. But there’s also, what I hear in what you’re saying, there’s also a lot of hope in terms of a possibility of a way forward of a change of taking ourselves to that edge and then openheartedly jumping into the void, as frightening and also as exciting as that sounds. And so my last question really to you is alongside a deeper exploration on AccidentalGods.life, which is your wonderful platform and other resources that people can find out. What one insight or advice would you give to anyone listening to help them reconnect right now?
MS: Go outside. Go out of your house, into a place that is green, ideally not a monoculture, and as openheartedly as you know how, which is ever as good as we get, ask “What do you need of me?”, and see what happens. Honestly, I think if everybody just did that, the world would be a different place.
NN: Okay. I’m going to do that too.
MS: Yeah, let me know. Let me know. Because that’s what we’re doing in creating a community of people who are prepared to take that risk. It feels lucky the first time you do it, but then if you feed back, then other people find the courage to do that too.