“I love that solution-focused arrow that BrightSky holds”
An interview with Davina Mackail
Here at BrightSky we hold the values of the community above all else. We aim to create a space for people to be part of a movement of change, to join together in building a world based on respect for each other, the land and the generations to come. Living in a community is a vital skill many of us in the west have lost. The values of individualism and profit eclipsing all others in our society, but has this made us any happier? Do we feel more fulfilled with the more things we have? Our mental health crisis suggests not.
Loneliness is rife, suspicion of others, division, and polarisation are becoming more of a problem as social media and worlds built inside our computers and TVs erode the essential skills of speaking to each other from the heart. We don’t need to agree or be the same to be part of a community. Diversity is key to the health of society, but what we do need are platforms where we can listen to each other without reacting. Places where different points of view come together to create a balanced way of life, where we don’t act out of fear of what we lack but from a place of gratitude for what we have.
Many people are waking up to this realisation. We are searching for answers on how to fix the systemic problems built around philosophies of constant growth and endless ambition to get ahead at all costs. We realise that the earth can no longer sustain us at this rate of growth and destruction of natural resources. New ideas of sustainability are beginning to bring us back into balance, but not quickly enough if humanity is to survive. Our technology is pointless if we do not change the fundamental way we think and live.
These problems may seem insurmountable at times, but they are not, and it is not new ideas that hold the answer but wisdom from the past that is key to our future. Our ancestors and how they lived in community is still visible in the few earth-based societies left to humanity. Here the skills that we need are used every day. To survive, we need to stop running from our past and realise that community living, connecting with the natural world, and accepting that whilst we are all different, we are also all one, are what we need to make the change.
For many of us, the biggest battle is the silencing of our critical inner voice, and the best way to do this is by simply holding conversations with others, not just talking but listening.
What if we had a place where we could come and share how we’re really feeling? A place where respecting the heart-felt views of others as we wish to be respected when we open our hearts was the main focus.
A couple of weeks ago, I met one woman who has taken her search for a community to the extreme. In 2019 Davina Mackail moved to the Amazon to build Sipapu, a retreat centre in the jungle. We spoke over Zoom about the challenges she has faced and what she has learned about people when they are in extreme situations with no choice but to rely on each other to survive. Davina has spent many years working and studying in the Amazon with different tribes and elders. She bought a piece of land as part of a collective in 2017, to build Sipapu. It wasn’t long after moving that Lockdown hit, and plans were put on hold. The land became a refuge for people stranded by the virus — possibly one of the most extreme places to spend Lockdown, with a group of people thrown together in an inhospitable environment at an inhospitable time on our planet. It was a baptism of fire and all the skills learned from her years of studying with Amazonian tribes were needed.
I asked her what essential things are needed to hold a community together?
I know it sounds simple and obvious, but my absolute go-to tool is the talking stick. People need to be witnessed. You have to lead the way in this because if you hang around watching the talking stick circle, it won’t work. You have to be brutally honest yourself and encourage that honesty in the sharing. It’s about speaking your heart-felt truth and letting everyone respond as the stick goes round. By the time it comes back to the beginning, there is normally some resolution. It does take practice — there is an art to it.
What are the issues that have come up for you?
The jungle is an intense environment — you are constantly getting bitten by insects, a tree could fall silently at any minute, it’s hot and muggy, and the rain can be torrential.
The situation is like building pressure in a pressure cooker. The talking stick lets off the pressure. It is a valve that is needed to let off steam.
People’s personalities clash — they don’t deal very well with not having their space. They have different needs, want to do different things at different times. They feel hemmed in. It can get to the level of children in the playground, but people react in that way when they are out of their comfort zones. In the west, we learn to isolate, and we need to know how to come back together.
If we look at indigenous cultures, they have ceremonies, which we also do. Creating a space for everyone to come together allows them to see each other in their truth. We realise that we are all in this together, and we’re doing the best that we can with what’s available.
We need to rebuild our relationship with the natural world, it is our partner, and we’ve abused that partner for way too long.
We should be out there walking in the forests, singing to the trees, walking the ancient pilgrimage routes. This is the way to start that communication and is what’s needed right now for the planet.
What has that reconnection brought to you?
It brings me peace, and it brings me joy, and it brings me faith. It brings back respect. I think many of us have lost respect for each other, for the world, for resources. Dealing with elemental forces teaches patience. Your priorities become about survival — it brings you back to the very basics. You get back into the instinctual nature — food, security and water.
The most profound thing you learn in the jungle is that you can’t do anything alone. Without all the technology of the modern world, you need the help of others around you.
When you do open up again to the world, what will you be doing?
Personal, spiritual development retreats, working with the shadow, through ceremonies, ritual and learning to be in community. With the chaos that is going on in the world at the minute, we need to be resilient in our communities. We need to have tools that enable us to come together around the fire and move together as a whole. If we stay isolated and separated from each other, it doesn’t bode well.
As someone who has stepped out of it all, what’s your advice to everyone who is still very much plugged in?
Switch off — find the discipline to do it and give yourself a break from mainstream media. Take two months off and then go back in and see what your reaction is. Interrupt the narrative. Let’s make social media a tool rather than an addiction. All of the social media platforms are programmed to divide and conquer. The counteraction to everything that is going on on our planet is to come back into relationship.
What I find the saddest thing about all of this is that there is no public talking stick, no healthy genuine debate. The talking circle is more like a spiral because by the time you’ve gone round and heard everyone’s opinion you’ve spiralled up to the next level with all the new information that has offered. We don’t have that online — no one is listening to each other on social media. It’s easy to be a keyboard tormentor. People are in their pain bodies, spitting out at each other because when you’ve done that, then you can go and make a cup of tea and forget that you’ve hurt somebody. There is no one in front of you in tears. We’ve got to unplug and reconnect.
What drew you to BrightSky?
I love the ethos. In terms of creating a working community, what BrightSky is trying to do, is everything I believe in. I use the word working, deliberately because it is interactive and engaged. BrightSky holds witness to everyone, and it brings a bit of brightness in too. It’s focused on solutions rather than problems. I love that solution-focused arrow that I feel BrightSky holds.