Dawn

Returning to this piece—originally written about a year ago when I was still in deep retreat—I couldn’t help marvelling at how I ever managed to leave my little hut in the wonders. The simplicity of being and the wild connectedness of the way of life it afforded were so precious to me, so rare, and gained at such great cost, that only an act of god, I feel, could have moved me on. And so, here at Amma’s ashram with my beloved partner Vaishnavi, I feel held in grace, knowing that I am exactly where I’m meant to be. Still, I sometimes miss waking up in the woods…


I awaken to the dawn chorus pouring in through my open blanket door. Unhurriedly, sated by sleep, I come to full consciousness as if on the wings of birdsong. Beneath those wings is the continuous music of a little mossy stream that flows past my door, filling my little round hut and the wild glade in which it sits with beautiful liquid tones. The air in my hut is cold but not freezing, and my covers are thick. My bed is a woollen futon which I wove from two-dozen whole sheep’s fleeces. It’s very cosy. I am warm, happy to exist, curious about what this day will bring.

I roll over and gaze out of a window looking North-East. Night recedes slowly from the woods. The darkness lightens, the last stars fade. Branches appear silhouetted against the brightening sky. Shadowy boles emerge as distinct shapes and presences. A black carpet of shadow sinks to the woodland floor then fragments into separate pools before dispersing into ever-lightening greys. Finally, colours appear and grow clearer.

Yesterday evening I sat at dusk and watched this process in reverse. I was out under a tree in the tangly woods, gathering stillness and silence among the mossy stones. When the darkening was complete it was very dark and the stars sparkled white through the branches. I was pickled with silence. A little while later a fat waning moon appeared and by her cool light I walked slowly home to the warm embers of a log fire and a pot of stew still hot beside them.

Yes, I love the twilight transition times of dawn and dusk. I’m a regular spectator. I enjoy the vastness and total implacability of their unfolding, and the way their gradual, imperceptible shifts add up to such radical reversals. Again this morning I look for the exact moment when the shadowy greys of pre-dawn are replaced by distinct colours, the greens and browns of these wintry woods. Again it eludes me.

I sit up and gather blankets around my shoulders. I listen, watch, witness, using the opposable thumbs of my mind to behold the quiet miracles of breath, song, light and thought. More transitions to catch here as I become absorbed in following the back-and-forth play between inner and outer perception, and in trying to enter the space between the end of one breath or thought and the beginning of another. But it’s still too subtle for my intellect to connect to: that opening, that vanishing-point. Maybe one dawn, or dusk, or death.

I rise, step outside, pad naked down to the small fall in the stream and splash my face and body with its tumbling silver-black water, gasping slightly with the cold. Grasping the stone goblet that lives there beside the fall and filling it first with soft light and then liquid, I say a brief silent prayer for the beauty of this day and slowly drink down the clear living water. I drink in small sips, holding each one in my mouth to warm it before swallowing, for otherwise it chills the stomach, bringing lethargy. This way, it chills only the head, bringing clarity. Fire in the belly, moonlight in the mind, honey in the heart—a Welsh bardic saying, good advice for all aspiring mystics.

I crouch there as the daylight strengthens, my cold skin tingling. The soft aura of the sun crests the horizon. As the golden orb itself rises visible between the tree-trunks a song rises on my lips; a song of thanks, a song of wonder. A powerful sense of the great miracle overwhelms me: each ray of golden light, each soft hue of the splendrous sky, each droplet of water, every leaf and feathered note… Such a vast gift, to breathe and be part of all this. How do I deserve it? And how can I possibly reciprocate? Tears fill my eyes and overspill, falling into the stream.

“Your being here is enough,” I am told, by the stream, by the golden sun, the sky, the trees, the birds flitting about the woodland glade. I let this sink in as far as I can, and a little bit more. I smile, accepting my inherence in the miracle.

Suddenly I feel uncomfortably cold and pleasantly hungry. I stand up and return to my hut to get dressed and light a fire to cook breakfast. I am humming to myself and enjoying each of the movements involved. About fifteen minutes later I step back out through the blanket door, dressed in greens and browns and carrying porridge and coffee. The birds and the stream are still singing as I sit on my doorstep and eat. The sun is sporting among the branches of trees now, with the squirrels and birds. After breakfast I might go and join them.


 

My Woodland Abode

In some ways, my woodland abode occupies a parallel universe several magical steps removed from the one in which this document exists. It sounds strange to say, but it’s no exaggeration. To reach my place, to truly reach it, is to step beyond a cultural construct that you might not even know is there and which you probably wear like a second skin, a space suit, a portable existential framework of possibility. To get to my house is a journey in both topography and reality.

I’m going to do my best to describe both aspects of that journey for you here in words. However, I will no doubt fail to convey even a hundredth part of the adventure. I am resigned to this, and yet I am sorry. I wish to reach out to you with my heart, to take your hand in mine and walk with you along the snaking, tree-lined, moon-drenched path into the magic. But probably all that I will accomplish is to reach you with a thin echo of my voice distorted as if through an ancient gramophone played in some windswept place.

And so I also invite you to come and visit me in the woods sometime, to experience my place first-hand for yourself, should you be interested to see the full picture and not just the reflection of it in these few shards of coloured glass. There’s a cup of tea waiting for you beside the gently dancing flames of my earthen hearth. There’s stillness to bathe in, and the music of birdsong and living waters. There’s natural space, restful and vibrant, to enfold you in a Now that is as young and as old as dreamtime.

But please be warned. The magical steps required to reach my little hut, either in your imagination or on your earth-feet, will probably leave you transformed. After experiencing the enchanted and elemental simplicity of my humble home deep in the wonders you might find yourself pondering strange questions like, ‘how do I go about about growing a pelt?’ and ‘when did we forget how to fly?’ This Earth is a deeply magical realm, alive with a wild and full spectrum of possibilities. We are essentially unlimited in our capacity to experience joy and to create the lives of sacred beauty that our hearts fervently sing about.

Are you willing to wander some way towards paradise? Would you put a toe, maybe a foot, maybe the whole divine spiritual organism of your star-lit stardust miracle body outside the matrix of normality and backwards-forwards onto the sacred, pulsing, sentient goddess-body landmass of the Living Earth? Are you ready?

Yes? OK. Let’s go.

We let our feet wander out of the local settlement and along a little lane into the Welsh hills. It’s the kind of lane with a rogue strip of grass growing down the middle of it, running between drystone walls and tumbling hedges. It climbs up and over the boulder-strewn shoulder of a holy mountain and then down into a valley heavily wooded with broadleaf trees. At a certain unremarkable point there’s a greenway branching off to the left. We take this track and leave the tarmac behind. Buzzards and crows call from the sky, winged voices of the mountain. Trees line the way, meeting overhead. On the right runs a little stream which sings on its journey to the sea from a spring higher up the mountainside. We follow it, our own oceangoing songs not quite on our lips but whispering in the awakening quiet of our hearts as we meander out of the world and into the whispering woods.

We are walking along a path that has been in constant use since the days of the stone-circle makers, part of an ancient web linking sacred sites across the Mountain of Angels and far, far beyond. Echoes in forgotten languages still sound around the standing stones that have been incorporated in later millennia into the dry-stone walls lining some of the way. Who knows by what spells and under what conditions of reality those stones were originally erected, and to what purpose? Many say they were sung into place. Some propose that gravity is a modern construct, like linear time, and that outside that construct weight actually has little to do with mass and more to do with conditioning. Perhaps the very idea of purpose was alien to the hearts and minds that first walked this ancient pathway. Is there purpose in the dance of the sun and the moon?

Leaving these and other speculations unanswered, as would any fox or foxglove, we continue downhill, letting our feet feel the texture of the ground beneath us; letting our bodies draw telluric energy and the subtle information it so loves to receive from the energy field of the earth; letting our awareness contain the fact that the ground can feel us also, absorbing our footfalls, their rhythm, the tattooed intention they transmit to the soil and to the multitudes of insects and microscopic creatures that live there, as well as to the stones and to the interwoven root systems of all the living leafing beings that we walk amidst, as well as to the badgers and rabbits and voles and mice in their dens and underground nests. More naturally than writing or playing a jungle drum, our footfalls are at each step communicating our life-walk to the intricate web all around us, each pad spreading out like the flap of a butterfly’s wing from the epicentre of contact through concentric circles of connectivity to all beings on the planet and beyond.

Yes, the Earth knows us as we walk her textured surface, is aware of us, feels each breath we take, each beat of our heart, each rippling thought that flowers in the gardens of our minds. She is with us always, supporting us in being, each step of this multi-dimensional earth-walk.

Can we hold this awareness as we walk together deeper into the woods now, along a narrow ribbon of well-worn path, oaks rising taller and older all around us, holly and hazel clustering amongst an increasingly jungly gathering of sylvan revellers. Can we remain awake to the fields of sentience we move through as we move, holding our aliveness open to being experienced as we are in so many ways through the extraordinary sensory apparatus of countless wild beings and, through the combined sentience of all these, by the vast loving intelligence of the living earth herself, whose presence shines through all? We can try. We can open. We can feel ourself being known by knowers other than our own rational kind, sensed by a kaleidoscope of sentiences broader than our homo-sapience has hitherto appreciated. And we can feel ourselves accepted in our efforts to be present to the fragile and tender presence of those to whom we have long been strangers, marauders, conquistadors, alien managers. There are no grudges here, only hopes for renewed connection.

One of the reasons I came into these woods to create my woodland abode is my hope to do just this, to renew connection, to become present, open and reciprocal to the depth-field of felt intelligence that flows through and around and between all living beings, and to place myself in full and relentless contact with the mind and heart and body of Gaia, immersing in her elemental life so as better to experience my life in the context of her dreaming, her medicine.

We imbibe that medicine as we walk this snaking path, filling our eyes with the natural shapes of branches and leaves, stones and clouds. O to feast on natural contours and conjunctions until the hard lines and flat smooth reflective and labyrinthine facades of modernity dissolve from our psyches no longer to structure thought and being! The harmonious diversity of self-willed nature enfolds us in its wild embrace, its alchemycal symphonies of perpetual interspecies communication, its textural banquet of endless tactile delights, the musical tapestries woven from wind and singing water, from birdsong and buzz of transparent insect wings, rustling leaves and the minute sounds of the soil, woven on the loom of consciousness with warp of earth and sky and weft of listening heart.

Longing to be ourselves re-woven into this ecstatic diversity, re-kindled to its dance and re-rendered existentially vulnerable within the ever-quivering web of fire-lit dancers, we can choose to deeply re-experience our innate belonging to and contingency upon that precious, fragile, primordial web.

All around us as we move our miracle bodies through the endlessly vaulted cathedral spaces between these arching trees—scudding clouds and blue infinity glimpsed beyond—we are being offered communion. Here, deep in the woods, with only self-shaping nature visible in every direction, every which way we look our eyes are met by living presences happy that we are here, a panoramic party of wild consciousnesses to which we are innately invited. If we are quiet inside as we walk amidst these playful interwoven subjectivities, if we are open to them, whispers of welcome are offered at every step, fey voices speaking languages of wild fragrance and colour call to us, sparkling their greeting to our subtle senses. When we are unarmoured, vulnerable, our hearts hear and naturally respond in kind, a subtle reaching out with our auric field, translated sometimes into an appreciative loving glance, a stroke of a leaf, a brush of cheek to bark, and a myriad tiny responses we might not even consciously be aware of but which, at a subliminal level, token a natural affinity and spontaneous reciprocity.

Sometimes I just fall over in love and wonder and hug the ground, laughing or crying.

Caught in wonder, awakened to the vastness and intricacy of the wild dance around us, our hearts cradled in the overflowing love and creativity that is gifting our miracle earth to us anew each moment, we are reshaped, the vessel of our awareness softening, rounding and re-alchemising to accommodate a new wine, the sap-rich and moss-filtered starlight soma that is clear as light, deep as earth.

All our lives we have known this wine, have been peripherally aware of this dance going on around us, obliquely attuned to the almost overwhelming intensity of aliveness thrumming just beyond the horizon of our conscious perceptions. It is our natural, magical milieu, the life-blood in our veins, the rainbow substance of waking dreams and the divine ground we move on and excavate through as we make meaning out of stardust and then build our palaces or prisons with it. The sudden inundation of myriad wild and holy sentiences we’re experiencing now is only a remembering of what we have always known, some way beneath the conscious layers of our psyches. We’re only returning, rejoining the paradise party that in truth we never left.

Paradise is being alive with all of ourselves, here at home in the manifold mystery.

We cross over a trickling stream that sings like tiny silver bells and then flow up and over a series of small undulations in the land, our path snaking between boughs and hugging the gentlest contours as we ascend and descend the folded terrain. This path was chosen by feet that walked with love and understanding. Those footfalls still resonate here, and we add our own resonant steps to the many layers of human and animal patterings that this path has received over wild years uncounted. At the top of the last rise before we descend to arrive at my little hut we pause as the wind blows brightly around us, swaying us slightly, our hair dancing. Tuned in to the presence that moves through all things here, we let our eyes and hearts appreciate the flowing wholeness of the way everything in the woods moves together under the influence of the invisible element, not all in the same direction at once but as one, each branch and leafy stem and feather in accord with one un-willful will, responding each in its own way as parts of a single cogent motion. Can we flow down the incline to the stream that borders my clearing as part of this flowing harmony, surrendered to the natural force of grace that animates the living tapestry?

We do, allowing ourselves to be united to the hidden force, to surrender to its pervasive grace, carried by our feet and the energy that flows into them from within and without, moving as if through a living mandala. We cross over the stream on two stepping stones into a natural clearing. A few steps into the clearing and gradually our eyes make out that what might have been a small fairy mound in front of us is in fact a dwelling.

People arriving unprepared and for the first time often experience cognitive dissonance. If you’d stumbled upon it by chance you’d be forgiven for wondering what species of being might live in such a dwelling. Many people find their senses reporting something so at odds with ‘normality’ and with what the narrative of modernity says is desirable or even possible for human beings today that they find it hard to believe what their eyes are telling them. Most soon become delighted, however, delighted to be surprised by the encounter with a structure and a way of life so clearly other.

It’s almost a den, my little woodland dwelling, if we bring together the dual senses of a den being a wild mammal’s hidden home and a child’s self-built playspace. It’s certainly both hidden and playful. It appears to have sprouted from the Earth or from some woodland nymph’s wild imagination. It’s like something from out of a fairy tale, or from another culture far away in either time or space. A child who visited recently asked, quite seriously, “is this a dream?” and began counting his fingers and toes to establish whether he was actually awake or not. In many ways, it is a dream.

It’s a surreal and uncanny sight. Nestled between two mossy-banked streams, the one we just stepping-stoned over and another on the far side of the clearing, surrounded by bilberry bushes and other long-time leafy residents, and again by gnarled oaks and sprawling hollies, hazels and rowans, the habitat is entirely wild, un-managed in any way, and yet in the middle of all of this jungly growth a little chimney puffing woodsmoke into the breeze sticks up through a green roof covered in moss and honeysuckle, ivy, ferns, brambles and many more woodland plants. At the eaves the ivy and honeysuckle trail over the edge towards their friends climbing up from the woodland floor.

The lovely sound of the two streams tumbling over mossy rocks fills the clearing with lively burbling. Insects buzz about and many birds are to be seen and heard among the trees in every direction. The woods spread out all around, a wild profusion of trees, plants, fungi, insects, birds and animals in the throes of the great party that has been going on here uninterrupted since forever. One really feels that here it has always been paradise. The light filtering through the woodland canopy is green and the air is rich with verdant scents. There’s a hint of elves whispering somewhere just out of sight.

Beneath its green roof my hut smiles a muddy-toothed greeting. It is tiny, circular, cute in a sort of furry way, almost more like a curled-up dormouse than a house. Its wall (it only has one wall, being round) is a wooden frame in-filled with straw and covered with clay-and-dung plaster, the same colour and texture as the forest floor. There’s not a straight line in sight, only organic contours flowing along with the mood of the woods. The windows are round or curvy, and partly screened by the overhanging plants spilling off the roof. The whole hut blends almost entirely into the woods around it, barely to be seen from more than a few dozen feet away through the undergrowth in any direction.

There’s no flower garden here and no garden walls or fences. There’s no gate and no paved pathway up to the front door, only the narrow ribbon of a track worn through the woods, with the occasional stone placed at a particularly muddy spot and some just outside the door. The door is made of wool-felt blankets, soft and warm, and is almost always strung open to let in the season. There’s no place, in fact, where the woods end and my hut begins. They roll right up to my door and tumble inside, in scents, sounds and textures. The hut itself, along with its few items of furniture, is made largely out of materials gathered from the woods around. Visually, materially and energetically, it is almost one with its milieu.

A few yards in front of the hut, the stream we crossed falls over rocks to make a tiny waterfall. It is here that I go to gather water for drinking and cooking and to wash; and to sit and watch the sun and moonlight dance on the rippling surface; and to listen to the wisdoms of the bubbling fall. This stream rises from a natural spring inside these woods we are in and flows clear between mossy, root-fingered banks down to this little waterfall and on to join a larger version of itself and then to the sea not far away. I’ve walked and swam this sea-going journey with the cool waters, under leaves and over smoothed stones to the estuary. I’ve felt the joy of the merging waters and I know the excitement of the water here tumbling through my perception on its way home to the ocean. Maybe 20 years it has spent inside the mountain and now is but a few hours away from the salty embrace of the great mother. I give thanks for every drop that flows through my hands and my body and often come here to sing my own songs and offer my prayers to the flowing mystery that is this silver rainbow goddess in liquid form, that she may carry them onwards to her meeting with the earth-encompassing sea.

There’s a stone goblet belongs here for drinking, and we share a couple of draughts of the living water, quenching a thirst deeper than we know, before retracing our steps to the door of my hut, removing our shoes and going in through the soft felt doors.

Stepping inside does not feel like stepping out of the woods but merely into a more fully sheltered part of them. Shelter, but not separation. One is held in cosy warmth and stillness, like being hugged by someone who really knows how to do it well. And at the same time one is turned outwards to the life of the woods, held in connection to the thrumming web.

The roundness of the space reflects the roundness of the horizon and also the roundness of our eyes, as well as so much else in nature, and so feels natural to our primordial sense of place. Moreover, our energy fields extend around us in a sphere, and in a round space such as this our energy bodies are not jarred by straight lines and strange corners.

There is no form of electricity in here or anywhere nearby, and so our bodies’ electromagnetic circuits are not disturbed, nor are the subtle currents flowing through the woods and the ground beneath the floor shielded or distorted but can flow unhindered through the space and onwards with our thanks and blessings. There are no whirring motors of electrical gadgets in the background, nor are there any chemical paints or glues or toxic materials off-gassing into the space, causing our subtle senses to recoil and contract, confusing our systems and creating subliminal anxiety. Nor are there any of these things for many acres around.

All of these factors mean that we can relax and be at peace here at a level we rarely experience within a sheltered space. The peaceful quality is enhanced by how little stuff there is in here. A few low tables made from hand-sawn cross-sections of heart-oak; a rustic wooden bookshelf with a handful of books on it and a hand-carved bowl; a rolled-up woven woollen futon; and a hazel-pole hanging-rail holding a couple of sets of clothes. On the floor are rugs and skins.

There are windows spaced all around the hut, not continuously but plentifully, so that each way one looks one can see out into the woods, where nothing but trees and plants, mossy rocks and streams meet the eye in every direction, with the sky beyond. At night there is pure darkness or moonlight silver outside, uninterrupted by artificial lights. Now, during the day, the light coming through the windows is green-tinted by the leaves. It’s a little bit like being underwater, in a soothing way. Between the windows the walls are earthen plastered, rough textured, curvy and uneven. Somehow, even with all the windows, there is a womblike quality to the space, soft and round, soul-nurturing.

The roof structure can be seen from inside, a spiralling reciprocal frame made from roundwood poles cut with prayers to and permission from the trees themselves. In the circle at the centre of the frame is a five-pointed star of rowan staves.

The doorway looks to the East, to the dawn. The opening is formed of two curved branches of oak that I found on the woodland floor and peeled to reveal their golden heartwood. Fitted together they form the shape of a yoni, which increases the womblike quality of the space. Outside, the stream can be seen flowing and dancing along and its music constantly flows into the hut.

We sit beside my rounded earthen hearth on sheepskins. To make us tea I rouse the quietly smouldering embers with dried bracken, twigs and sticks gathered from fallen dead branches and thoroughly aired to take a flame instantly. I love gathering sticks from the surrounding woods, going out after a few days of no rain and in maybe half an hour filling a couple of sacks with enough fuel to last two weeks of firelighting and cooking. It’s such an simple source of wealth, such a direct relationship with natural abundance. I enjoy knowing that no wars are being fought and nobody is being exploited or precious irreplaceable natural resources plundered to bring me the fuel I need for the primitive luxuries of warmth and cooking.

The fire leaps and dances, crackles and pops, shedding light and heat and also something more subtle into the space. A magical presence is fire, deserving of awe and reverence. I tend to keep a very slow-burning fire going almost continuously, glowing embers smouldering at the ends of two sleeper logs, ready to be awoken and leap into flame at any moment. It’s a bit like having a cat, or a resident divinity.

I like an open fire for many reasons. Practically speaking, it’s much easier and more economical on fuel to cook on open flames than on the top of a woodburning stove, for example. But its magical presence is the main reason. It seems such an affront to enclose fire in a box, to shut it up behind iron and glass. Fire is an honoured guest in my home, where I give it as pleasant a seat as I can. Sculpted, belly-like, incense-fed and fat with offerings, my adobe hearth is as lovely a home for the fire spirits as I could create for them.

I add a few bigger sticks now and on goes the trivet and a kettle filled with fresh water from the stream. As the kettle heats we sit, allowing a comfortable stillness and silence to enfold us. We are beautiful. Our bright open awareness of each other and the living world about us is an unfathomable miracle. It is an honour to be here with you, to experience myself and this place in the heart-field of your perception.

To be witnessed in our being is the greatest nourishment anyone can receive, and to witness another in such a way is a deeply beautiful and humbling. To behold:—this witnessing power, this great gift, art of all arts, is what our human being is about, the true use for our opposable thumbs. But it is not our gift alone. The beings we witnessed as we made our way here are still singing of their own joy at having being in our hearts for a while, while our hearts are still singing of our having been in theirs. Even now the birdsong that pours in through the open door becomes somehow illuminated to itself when we give it our quiet and open attention, and our spirits quicken to realise that those songs are being sung for our ears too, that our presence in this hut is known and enjoyed by everyone in the clearing and the woods around. The trees lean in to listen to and subtly inform our exchange. Our very being here is being here held in awareness. The natural reciprocity we can be part of when we choose to be is soul-deep and scintillating with magic.

The kettle whistles and I warm the teapot before sprinkling in some dried mint and nettle leaf.

What, I wonder aloud, is substance? Of what, ultimately, is this little hut made? Classical descriptions of matter posit tiny indestructible building blocks which join together to make other building blocks out of which everything is composed. These  atomic building blocks are then supposed to interact mechanistically in predictable ways to create the movement and change we observe in the world around us. This is the Newtonian model. It is the foundation of the worldview most people live in today: atomised, mechanical. Current scientific descriptions of the universe have had to abandon this model. It is no longer viable as a true depiction of reality. Atoms are not indestructible. Sub-atomic particles do not interact mechanistically but in highly unpredictable ways. Physicists posit an underlying sea of intelligent energy—the quantum plenum—out of which the universe of form is constantly crystallising.

Personally I think it’s fair to say that everything is made of magic. This feels more true to me than any other description. In nature this is quite easy to experience. Dropping out of the mechanistic model and into a felt-experience of the inner life of natural beings is almost automatic, and it is a small step to then drop down deeper still into the vibrant sea of conscious energy that underlies each individual life-form and infuses the whole. In nature one is always but a few steps away from this experience. Much less so in built environments, which reflect and embody the mechanistically influenced consciousness that created them.

Yes, this is why I first came here, to remember my inherence in the mystery of root and pelt and winged heart, bloody and miraculous; to shrug off the strange  mechanical armour wrought to shield me from feeling one with the fabric of magic of which our earth is folded like living origami. In this way these woods have been my healer as, through their gentle influence, one by one the hooks and barbs that once held my armour in place fell out and became bluebells and wood anemone; while the weird energetic wires that were attached to it—and through which fear flowed both ways—have atrophied and broken off, falling to earth to become roots and vines, or flying away, winged serpents, into the stars. Piece by piece the armour collapsed and dissolved into soil and moss and lichens as I unplugged from the machine and immersed in tides of wildness, my bodymind slowly becoming reclaimed by the sensual sea of elemental existence, increasingly naked in an organic spiritual embrace.

And so I say that my little hut is made of magic, as are your eyes that see it. It is also, in a strange way, made of the journey of unplugging I went through to be here, crafted with the energy released as my armouring slowly dissolved and I surrendered to being part of the fabric of this woodland tapestry. Building it was a co-creation between me, this clearing in the woods with its many long-time wild residents, and the sea of magic itself. It came into being organically, playfully, with a knowledge of how structures work and a loose plan of what I wanted to make, but also with a willingness to listen to what wanted to come through in this particular space, with these particular materials, at this particular time.

I believe that what has emerged from this co-creation is quite radically different from purely human-designed and built structures. It is energetically transparent to the magic, and its presence is not imposed upon these woods but is part of them. Living here in it, this is exactly what I’d like one day to be able to say of myself.

 


 

Descent and Re-Connection

I’d been living in West Wales for a while and had just made friends with a visionary earth-dweller called Emerald. One day she invited me to visit her. Her home was a little round mud hut on about sixty acres of land that she was holding open as a sanctuary for both nature and humans, a healing and sacred re-wilding project for both land and spirit. It was located in a hidden valley at the foot of a holy mountain on the rugged and beautiful North Pembrokeshire coast, not far from where I’d been living for a few years. A soon as I’d met her and experienced the land she was working with I knew I’d found exactly what I’d been longing for—a truly radical alternative, an elemental way of life lived with deepest care for the Earth as a living being and with the intention for profound re-integration of humans and nature into harmonious reciprocal relationship. Half of her land was covered with lush, almost impenetrable woods, some of the few surviving pockets of temperate rainforest in the UK. The other was unimproved grassland with masses of wildflowers, and patches of trees seeding out from the woods and the wild hedges. A few working horses and goats grazed the meadows, a dozen or so chickens strayed about through a young orchard, and there was a large, circular vegetable and herb garden in a rather jungly but very healthy and productive state.

Her hut was the wildest and most organic house I’d ever seen, like something from out of a children’s story. It was sited in the woods near the edge of the meadows and nestled almost invisibly amongst the trees. It had the gentlest, most natural presence I’d ever met in a built structure.  I later learned that it was made of straw bales covered with earthen plaster, built on a wooden platform, with a reciprocal frame green roof on top. It had a few windows set into the muddy walls and some blankets for a door. It was entirely off-grid in the most elemental sense of that term, not in the way of solar panels, gas bottles and piped spring water, but in a completely pre-industrial way: no electricity, no plumbing, cooking and heating done with wood fire, water carried from the nearby spring-fed stream, compost loo in the woods. Energetically it felt totally clean and clear. I was moved almost to tears.

I soon asked if I could move onto the land and build something similar to live in in the same way, immersed in wild nature, without electricity, technology, or fossil fuels. I was told I was welcome, for the purpose of deep healing and conscious evolution. It was clear that at no level was this going to be a holiday or an avoidance of personal responsibility, but an intense and challenging quest—which was entirely what I wanted. I was an opening, I felt, created by my deep longing to live as simply and lightly as possible upon the Earth, to re-enter into harmonious relationship with the the land and it’s more-than-human creatures, to re-align with nature’s primordial wisdom. I had long sought to connect with the land as my teacher, to open to its healing power, to re-attune to its natural rhythms and let it re-shape me into someone who could be its friend. Here was my chance.

As soon as I could organise it I arrived on the land, with a few tools, simple clothes, basic cooking gear, and some books. It was early springtime. Building a hut would take some time so initially my shelter was a open-sided teepee fashioned out of a huge sheet of old canvas Emerald lent me and some birch poles I cut from the woods, pitched on the woodland floor just next to a mossy stream. It looked like a floating wizard’s hat in the wilderness. This was where I slept and cooked my meals on an open fire and kept somewhat dry when it rained for the first six months of what would be a very steep and long descent into natural simplicity and deep re-connection with the Earth as a wise and loving sentient being.

The intention wasn’t to attempt to return to a pre-historic way of life—I knew I didn’t have the skills or physical capacity for that—but to tread a path as close to the wild edge as I could handle. I did, however, aim to step quite fully out of modernity, unplug from the technological matrix and immerse as deeply as I could in the wild tide of elemental existence. I didn’t know what this would look like or what to expect from this journey. All I knew is that I had to plunge into a life lived very close to the earth.

At that time of year the woods were fresh and everywhere bursting back into life and leaf after the winter’s long sleep. Every day there was something new to see or touch or smell. I spent a lot of time listening to the birds and insects and to the sweet music of the stream, sitting and feeling into the pulse of the place or slowly exploring my new surroundings and getting to know my wild neighbours—a myriad of stony, mossy, rooted, leafy, flowering, furred, feathered and faery denizens of this jungly paradise. It was a delicious time as my senses awoke from their half-slumber and my bodymind dropped into a milieu that made complete sense to it at a primordial level and which it had long been hungry for. The sense of welcome was palpable. It was clear to me that the woods were happy that I was there. It felt like a profound homecoming.

As I slowly got used to living elementally I began to build my somewhat less makeshift dwelling, delighting in the naturalness of creating simple shelter from natural things in such a beautiful place. The site I chose, and which chose me, was a wild glade between two mossy-banked streams, just above the place where they met and mingled into one. The open space of the glade was covered mainly in bilberry bushes and sparse bracken, with a couple of small holly and rowan trees growing. It was surrounded by large gnarled oaks, more holly and rowan, hazel, ash and birch trees. The light filtering through the canopy was vibrantly green and the air was rich with woodland sounds and scents. There was a palpable magic in the air, a diffuse sentience present, the sense of elves whispering just out of earshot.

The building work felt like a collaboration between myself and this pervasive sentience. The more I opened up to the guidance and inspiration of the woods the smoother the work went. If I needed a certain sized piece of wood, and I remembered to ask the woods for help in finding it, I was more often than not taken straight to the piece I needed. If I forgot to ask it would often take me half a morning to find the right piece (although I did enjoy every minute of the time I spent ambling through the jungly woods in search of timber!), and when I’d found it and silently asked permission to cut it the answer was often a ‘no’!

I took the utmost care to be as respectful of the woods as I could while sourcing materials and building, doing my best to ask whenever I was cutting wood and to generally disturb the place as little as possible, aware that everywhere here was already someone’s home—literally under every stone a microcosm, every inch of ground a world teeming with life. For example, I gently removed as many plants as I could from the site before building, and kept them alive until the roof was done and I could transplant them up on top into the sunlight. This kind of thing made the work slow but wonderfully connected. It allowed me to remain open to the sentience of the place, to gain a little trust from the fairies, and to not close down because of guilt for transgressing the subtle bounds of interspecies decency. At the same time I didn’t give myself too hard a time for taking what I needed in terms ion materials and space to create my simple shelter. Every creature needs a home, and as long as I acted with consideration and moderation I felt supported by the local community and free to delight in the process of creation.

Alongside the peace and wellbeing, the newfound sense of connection and belonging I was experiencing, however, it was also a very challenging time. There were, of course, plenty of physical challenges. Naturally I encountered quite a lot of simple discomfort while acclimatising to such an elemental existence, divest of almost all the comforts and conveniences I’d grown up with. The relentless ‘chop wood carry water’ side of things took some getting used to. As did the damp and smoky conditions inside my ‘wizard’s hat’ teepee. Fortunately I received a lot of guidance and support from Emerald, otherwise I don’t don’t think I would have survived the transition. But still the experience was mine to live and endure. Living without electricity was a constant process of surrender to the natural rhythms of light and dark. Learning to cook entirely on fire was a long and often frustrating process. Bathing in the stream and drying off by the fire was intense, especially when it was windy.

But by far the main challenges were psychological. I was shocked by the strength of some of the resistance that arose in me as my suburban self rebelled at the absence of almost everything it was used to. This resistance started to appear in an intense way when my unconscious mind realised that I wasn’t just on a long wilderness camping holiday—this was permanent! This jungle was my home now and this elemental way of life was my ‘normality’. I had nowhere else to go back to. It was quite a scary realisation. At that point things started to get strange.

The endless natural shapes and textures of the tangly woods, the constant sound of birdsong, fluttering leaves, buzzing insects and singing water, the complex panorama of wild living beings, the relentless contact with the moving air and the ever-changing sky, the everywhere-uneven ground—such complete sensory immersion in a non-human, un-technologically mediated environment was as overwhelming as it was wondrously delightful. My deep, culturally constructed sense of separateness form nature could not survive in such wild conditions, and, although this erosion of separation was exactly what I was there for, I was unprepared for the often excruciating intensity of the process.

I realised too late that I was not only adopting a new and radical way of life but shedding an old identity, one deeply enmeshed with and thoroughly conditioned by the modern world. This process was something like a death to that part of me which had been born into and shaped by the culture of consumerism and separation from nature. Really it was very shocking. Sometimes it felt like falling or jumping off a cliff. Sometimes it felt like being torn apart. When it was really bad it felt like being torn apart while falling off a cliff! One or two times I thought I might go completely mad, sitting there after dark beside a fire with the night all around me and my whole relationship to life transforming within me as the deeply held beliefs that were my cultural inheritance slowly and painfully dissolved in the heat of my relentless exposure to nature in the raw. But, again with Emerald’s guidance and support, I managed to hold it together through the worst of the disorientation. And at other times it wasn’t nearly so bad. Often it all merely felt like putting down a lot of heavy and superfluous baggage I’d somehow grown attached to, and sometimes it even felt as pleasant as taking off some old clothes and relaxing into a warm bath. There are many styles of dying.

Building my little hut in the midst of this intense process felt deeply symbolic. In dream psychology the house is the symbol of the self. Here I was dying to my old sense of self as a product of modern culture and being reshaped by immersion in a more primordial milieu while building a home with natural things harvested largely from the woods around and shaped to integrate as harmoniously as possible into its environment. It couldn’t have been a more complete outer manifestation of an inner journey!

Anyway, the building itself took about six months to get to the stage where I was able to move in. I made the hut small and circular, like Emerald’s, and similarly set upon a raised wooden platform to keep it dry underneath. The structure was a wooden frame made from poles and branches harvested from the woods around. Between the poles I in-filled with straw for insulation, which I covered with clay-and- horse-dung plaster. I put in as many windows as I could fit (one of the few industrially made ingredients I gratefully incorporated into the hut), to allow in as much green-filtered light and as many woodland sights as possible. My door was made of wool-felt blankets, which let in the continuous flow of music from the stream and all the other sounds of the woods while keeping out the cold. On top of everything sat a shaggy green roof over the edge of which ivy and honeysuckle soon tumbled and trailed towards the woodland floor. In no time at all the hut had blended almost entirely into the woods around it, its earthy-textured organic contours flowing along with the mood of the place.

The space inside the hut was lovely, both earthy and light, cosy and open to the woods around. It was big enough for my basic needs and only that. It had a beautiful moulded clay hearth shaped quite like a lovely round belly, which warmed the space easily, cast beautiful dancing light into the night’s darkness, and upon which I cooked my meals. I made a woollen futon mattress out of 25 chunky Jacobs fleeces which rolled out at night to make a very soft and warm bed and away in the day to leave enough space before the hearth to do yoga, write, cook, make things, read, sit with company.

It was an epic challenge to create this woodland home, a creative act of profound transformative energy. I was so immersed in the process while it was happening that I didn’t really think much about it in an objective way, but after the hut was finished and I had more time to reflect on what had just happened it became clear to me what a massive thing it was. But really this was just the start of my journey, although I didn’t know it then. Anyway after the hut was finished my everyday life became much smoother, while still being close to the wild edge. Having a cosy place to be warm and dry was wonderful. Having a hearth with a chimney to take the smoke away was luxury. Being able to warm up the inside space before having a bath outside so that I could come in and dry off in comfort was delicious. So many little things were easier, although still very closely connected to the elements.

I was living entirely without electricity or fossil fuels. I drew water for drinking, cooking and washing from a clear spring-fed stream. I cooked on fire, with wood that I cut by hand using axe and bowsaw. I had no car, no bank account, no utilities or phone-line or internet connection. I did’t have an email address, a flushing toilet, life-insurance or any kind of gadgets whatsoever. I was outdoors most of the day, at work and at rest, and much of the time I went barefoot.

Through sustained exposure to the primary formative influences of elements and place, free from the distortions of electromagnetic fields and culturally constructed reality, I gradually experienced a renewed vibrancy of connection to my natural environment and to myself as a human animal, an organic spiritual being.

I lived immersed in the natural world, among the rocks and streams, the animals, plants and trees who are at home in the open space of Earth’s embrace. I was in near-constant relationship with the land, the weather, the seasons, sun, moon, stars and the web of life. I rarely traveled outside the environs of the mountain at whose feet I lived, and was feeling my sense of rootedness and belonging on the earth grow stronger with each season. As I acclimatised to the local weather patterns of the mountain, opened to its natural rhythms and made friends with the ‘genii loci’, I gradually attuned to the subtle energetics of the place and felt myself becoming a part of it.

I still visited the local wholefood shop to buy basic foodstuffs, but in many ways I lived to a large extent as our ancestors lived for the vast majority of human existence, as indigenous peoples still live, and as do all other beings on this blue-green jewel of a planet: in intimacy with the Earth. As this intimacy deepened I experienced a renewal of my sense of the sacredness of life and a natural re-awakening of the seed of the divine in my own heart.

As this seed slowly grew, and as I cleared away the debris of my suburban identity, I found myself becoming more naturally peaceful inside, more content simply to be. Analysing my physical needs with a refreshing clarity I found them to be few and beautiful: clean air and pure, living water; wholesome food; simple clothing; a small amount of renewable fuel from the woods I lived in; humble, soul-nurturing shelter; and close human relationships unmediated by technology. Beyond these primitive luxuries I needed very little else. Indeed, everything else felt increasingly like an obstruction to what truly nourished my wellbeing and joy. The simplicity I was living in felt like anything but a hardship. It was an enormous, magical gift.

From this place, I became more open to the vast beauty of the natural world. Little things like the shapes of leaves and the textures of bark began to delight me in new ways. Bigger things like the splendour of dawn, dusk and the ever-changing sky began to fill me with awe. With new eyes I enjoyed the everyday miracles of light, darkness, fire and the stars, the infinite shades and shapes of beauty present everywhere throughout nature. I could spend hours silently gazing at the sea, listening to birdsong, marvelling at the sparking dew, bathing in the scent of warm earth… The natural world became incredible rich with endlessly renewed wonders. I felt these great gifts to be an unlimited wealth that is our birthright as human beings, an exuberant abundance the value of which is incalculable! The simpler and more earthed my life became, the more I was able to open to these great gifts, the more moved by them I was.

Further, I found that the more time I spent immersed in the natural world as part of it, the more apparent the living presence of trees, plants, birds and other animals became to me. The inner aliveness of these beings, their primordial sentience, the fascinating self-effulgence that shines through their myriad forms and textures, colours and sounds and scents, and their awareness of me as I move among them, was a growing delight in my life. It felt like an inner armour that had shielded my own awareness from experiencing theirs was gradually being eroded. I was increasingly experiencing their sentience as naturally as I do that of other human beings. As I did so, the world became that much more alive and more magical.

More magical still was that, as the armouring of my consciousness got thinner and thinner and my sensitivity increased, I opened even further to the aliveness of the world around me and began to perceive the sentience also of non-living beings: rocks, water, the very air I breathed and the space I moved through awoke and began to sing. It was as if the native tales from before the great disenchantment were coming back to life. Everything shimmered and throbbed with energy and intelligence.

And sometimes, when I was really tuned in I felt this profusion of natural beauty and intelligences resolved into one magical field of conscious awareness, a harmonious whole through which a deeper presence moved. In these times I found myself dropping into relationship with what felt like the consciousness of the Earth itself. In these transformative encounters I experienced the Earth as a vastly wise and loving being, overflowing with a creativity and generosity beyond my ability to comprehend. And I experienced this conscious being to be aware of me too, deeply concerned with my wellbeing at every single moment, holding me in love and existence through every breath I took and each beat of my heart.

Here, in this relationship to the Earth, I felt more at home than I’d ever felt before. The sense of connection and belonging was incredible, the sense of acceptance and security was immense. My invisible roots, my energetic connection to the very ground of my being, which I had only dimly been aware of previously as something withered and brittle, began to feel strengthened and alive as my longed-for relationship with the living Earth was rekindled. It felt like I’d dropped beneath the cultural matrix and extracted myself not only from the ways of being that are destroying our Earth, but more importantly from the state of being that has created them: the state of separation.