Retreat?

Kirstin Vanlierde
Dec 2, 2019 · 5 min read
© Inaya photography

There is a remarkable evolution taking place, deep within me.

So much in my life these last few years has been about stepping out. Holding my head a little higher, having the courage to say: this is what I do and this is what I stand for and what makes me happy. Being seen doing it. Being appreciated for it (at times).
But most of all: being in touch with who I am and my place in the world. At last.

One of my favorite semi-metaphorical images is: all is a respiration, a breath, a subconscious yet utterly powerful rhythm of expansion and contraction. Nature and its seasons, the expanding universe, the way in which we — as individuals, groups, cultures, continents, planets — learn and grow and subsequently fall apart and die: some patterns are deeply universal. There is an exquisite beauty to that.

© Inaya photography

So I am not surprised that, after a number of years of powerful expansion, I am feeling the urge to retreat. Not exactly from the public area, from writing or blogging, nor from professional labour of my family or any such thing. This is a psychological process, an underground current. Perhaps I might even be more visible than I have ever been, moving out ever further into the world. But deep within me, I am definitively moving in the opposite direction.

The call to retreat is partially connected to the fact that our global culture is continuously exceeding its limits in so many ways.
The planet we live on, and its ecology, of which we are all a part, is where my loyalties lie. Compared to that, the worries of individual people are as insignificant as ants’, crawling in some anthill in a giant tropical forest somewhere on an even more giant continent.
We really do believe ourselves to be the masters of all creation. And we are chasing the illusion of being almighty, not unlike Icarus, thinking himself capable of flying. But no matter how much technology we throw at our aspirations, we will end up falling. And it will be a very painful descent.

© Inaya photography

I can feel the pull of something deep, something fundamental, like a kind of baseline brewing and resounding under our feet, the voice of the earth itself. We don’t need to colonize the stars to understand what life in this universe is about. Sitting under a tree and being open to everything that happens in its immediate surroundings tunneling its way into us would be a far better approach.

The resources we are consuming in the production of our Icarus wings are killing all life in our environment. And our dream to escape the bonds of ‘nature’, like so many in the digital age love to believe — even though that dream is far, far older — is a downright delusion. We cannot escape nature, we are nature. We are colonized by billions of bacteria, we are intimately connected to every living organism in our near or further vicinity. If we cut into the living landscape that surrounds us, we are cutting into ourselves.

We might hardly be aware of any of this, as our heads are filled with abstract ideas, religious dogmas and so-called rational theories about how unusual the human species is. But all it takes is one tidal wave, one earthquake or some or other natural phenomenon to instantly throw us back to what we truly are: humanoid animals clawing at survival. Try going without any kind of home, try living outdoors, without heating, without security. There’s not much left of our great aspirations, then, and all the silicon wiring in the wold won’t help us.

© Inaya photography

Alright, perhaps I am sounding uncharacteristically sharp. I read a little too much Paul Kingsnorth, lately. Rarely has a book touched so eloquently and painfully upon all my deepest personal wounds and conflicts than Confessions of a recovering environmentalist.

In The Lord of the Rings, the elves described their gradual but unavoidable evacuation from Middle Earth as the slow defeat. That’s exactly what this is: the slow, tragic defeat of all those who are trying to honor this living organism we call our planet. The force we are up against at times seems to take such gigantic proportions that hope is dwindling into an every-diminishing luxury.

Am I any better than those whom I, at times, despise with desperateness? I am a child of my time, bred and raised in a culture that kneaded me into a thoroughly energy-dependent creature. I could’t survive three full weeks in the wild, with only myself for support. A century ago, my fragile health would have made it very unlikely for me to live to the age of twenty. A sobering thought if there ever was one. But it is no excuse to just keep going the way we are.

© Inaya photography

So I am heeding this deep call within. It recalls the sounds of roots, the widely webbed mycelium connection primal forests into one giant organism. It is whispering about layered rock, geological time, stellar dust and everything being (in)finite. It is all but the small human story of donning wings, thinking you can mock gravity.

Listening deeply and truly to this kind of voice requires some sort of silence. And therefore, retreat.

So that is what I am going to do. I have in fact already begun. It might not show on the outside, you won’t tell when you see me. The quality of my voice won’t change. But it is a very vibrant and active process, silently unfolding underneath everything my everyday life requires of me. I might not end up a hermit on a mountain top in any practical sense, but from an emotional or symbolic point of view, I have been one for a very long time, and that feeling is only getting stronger.

So what is it that I would still like to do, you are perhaps wondering (as am I), from that distant mountain top, among melting glaciers, with the roar of the chainsaws in the background, bringing down the last of the old growth mother trees?

Sow beauty. Enchanting and fragile like bubbles. Give connection and closeness a voice. For what connects us, is stronger than story, or collapse.

The respiration continues.

© Inaya photography

The Story Hall

Kirstin Vanlierde

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A songbird aiming to add its song to the endless music playing throughout the universe.

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