9 June 2020
Since March 2019 Starter Culture have been speaking to people in Scotland, Oxfordshire and Devon who are involved, in a wide range of different ways, in the intersection between inner life and social change, in a wide range of different ways,. Through these conversations, we have begun to feel that we are seeing fragments of a collective response to our current political, social and environmental challenges, one which seeks both to resource and strengthen action in the outer world with deep, culture-changing roots into body, mind, and spirit and soul, and which, more ambitiously, challenges us to question, reimagine and re-work our ways of relating to ourselves, one another and to the planet.
We have come to think of our area of focus as a distinct, diverse but as yet, largely hidden social movement. Our hope is that articulating it as such will support its evolution towards the next level of its huge potential, emboldening its practitioners to see what they do not as part of a wide range of highly creative and focused, but disparate activities, but instead to understand it as a crucial part of a potent, collective movement for deep and unprecedented cultural change.
This movement has been hidden in part because its constituent parts can look very different from one another: they can look like two people talking quietly together; like a group of people playing, dancing, making art, crying, or standing in a circle; like a training on clear communication; like someone sitting under a tree, doing nothing... None of these activities look like our usual idea of ‘making social change happen’, but we are seeing that they all are, or can be, undertaken with the awareness that, though the work may be happening one individual or small group at a time, it is also our shared culture that is being re-woven and healed.
All of these practices address a deep and long-standing cultural severing from our inner worlds, from connection with one another, from the greater whole (however that is expressed), from a relationship of belonging with our places and ultimately our planet. This severing is so deep that it often passes unnoticed, but we experience frequently: in a moment - or a lifetime - of embarrassment or shame in expressing our feelings; in our sense of boredom as we sit behind desks in school instead of relating to other people and the wider world, finding out for ourselves; in our isolation as we end our lives forgotten, in the company of strangers; in our acceptance of or turning away from acts and systems of domination and abuse... It is this same severing that we see it playing out on a grand and terrifying scale in the extinction of growing numbers of other species and the pollution of our most essential commons.
It can be helpful to view this dislocation through the lense of colonisation. The violent appropriation of land, resources and people is a traumatic strand of our human inheritance and one which, though it began long, long ago has now gained close to global influence through neoliberal capitalism. And we know that those who started this process, centuries ago, setting sail for other lands with the intention to make them their own, were traumatised themselves, forced from their lands their traditional ways destroyed by domination or natural disaster.
Traditional, indigenous cultures typically have extensive practices that connect their members to one another, to the other species they depend on and to their beloved lands. The destruction of indigenous cultures leave people adrift and easy prey to much more insidious processes of inner colonisation: of worldview, sense of self, the right ways to behave towards others and sense of place and meaning in the world.
Colonisation of the inner is the ultimate achievement of the colonial project. When our inherent potential for generosity and goodwill towards others is traumatised, one way to respond is to turn our energies to dominating aspects of ourselves that no longer have a place - or to dominating others. In the absence of social processes that support our healing, through child rearing practices, education systems and enduring social norms, that stream of colonial trauma is passed on from generation to generation within our bodies and our cultures. And so many of us live lives which are largely disconnected from the magic of our own rich inner lives, from one another and from the wider world.
In spite of all of this, as living beings, we have an inherent drive towards maturity, wholeness and connection. Within the cultures that have committed the worst colonial atrocities and which continue to act as though the world and all life on it is their property - within all cultures - there are growing numbers of us who are seeing that there is another way. We who are working in a myriad different ways to better understand ourselves and others, to deepen connection and empathy, to support and help one another, to nurture their places and the whole of the earth.
Our movement is essentially a challenge, not only to the political and economic system which through alienating us from deep connection, has brought us to the brink of ending human and many other species’ existence, but also to the ways in which movements for change have traditionally tended to take action. In many instances, challenges to the implicit violence and inequality of the status quo have been underpinned by the same unspoken, unchallenged cultural norms as the system they are trying to change. Without questioning those assumptions, and fundamentally transforming our ways of being on a deeper level (and consequently transforming the ways we work together), movements for change risk inadvertently sowing seeds that will grow to replicate the very systems of domination that we are trying to shift.
Ultimately, this movement is hidden because it has not yet made its collective statement of intent. The wisdom and depth it brings are badly needed in the crises we are facing. Our project’s aim is to bring together those already involved, to re-birth this hidden movement, to collectively articulate - creating new language if and when we need to - what it is and what it intends for this precious world.
Connecting up, feeding and growing the huge reservoirs of goodwill, good practice and heart connection that already exist, all of us together will build a sense of common cause, of life-affirming movement, between those who, working together, can help us to sow and nurture the seeds of a profound and desperately needed cultural transformation.