Saturday 4th November Transformational Yoga!

Today’s workshop in Cornboy had, unfortunately, to be rescheduled to November 4th 2-4pm (I might go into why later, but suffice to say it was wonderful to see the people who came, and I very much look forward to seeing you all in November). I’d like to see if there’s enough interest for a second workshop either in the morning (10-12 noon) or the evening 6-8pm) of the same day in Belmullet. If there is, I’ll do a similar workshop there. Let me know – and pass the word!

Remember to bring mats and blankets, folks. And get ready for a transformational day of Yoga!

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Galway’s Festival of Yoga is a celebration of the joy of good practices and excellent teaching

I was thrilled to attend Optimum Health’s first Yoga festival on Sunday, September 10th in the Knocknacarra Community Centre on the edge of Galway, near sea and woods. The beauty of these and the other elements – wind, sun and sudden rain – was a wonderful tapestry woven into the background of our experience as we gathered to begin the day of practice which took place from 10 am to 6pm, covering a huge range of practices, from Astanga, through Yin, Kundalini, and Partner Yoga. Eleven classes were on offer, running concurrently in two rooms. In the great hall, there was a sense of space and light. The air vents rattled like enthusiastic applause each time a strong gust blew outside, sometimes almost drowning out the voice of the instructor. The other room was like a womb, by comparison, windows covered with cotton wraps, salt lamps lending a gentle glow, and the sounds from outside muffled almost to silence.

I drove three hours from Enniskerry to get there, leaving it until the last minute because I’d had a late shift the night before and needed, above all, to rest. So by 10am, I decided a strong, physical practice would best suit my needs. Marese Cregg’s Astanga class fitted the bill perfectly. I rarely give myself the opportunity to practice the complete, or even most of, the primary series, but Marese’s metronomic timing and occasional compassionate hands-on guidance ensured that we put in maximum effort, and reaped the full benefits of this demanding flow sequence. My circulation restored, and any niggling stagnation thoroughly sluiced by breath and effort, I was ready for one of the calming practices. I chose the Kundalini class, mostly because I was curious (and also because I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Yoga traditions that rely on more than the physical practice). The instructor, Linda Martin, an ethereally beautiful woman, guided us through a warm-up and Kriya with lightness and wisdom. Her voice was sometimes lost in the roar of the applauding vents, but she demonstrated each movement with aplomb, making each move look deceptively easy, and urging us on for ‘just another few seconds’ so that we really worked ourselves into the moment. I needed to slow the flow after raising my energy with two strong classes, so I headed for the second room, to a Yin class with Katrina Hardimann. I teach Yin-style yoga practices myself sometimes, and I love the paradox of what always looks like an easy way out, but confronts us with the challenge of staying in the moment, and the movement within stillness. The only difficulty I had with this class was that the room was a little too cool for my liking. I feel the cold very quickly and I was slightly uncomfortable by the end of this practice. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be learnt from practicing in discomfort and when I passed the desk, with almost psychic insight, Aisling remarked, you were cold, weren’t you? To which I replied that I had been, and she responded that she would talk to someone about turning down the air conditioning.

I needed to contact friends and family, rest, and eat, and because I was temporarily cash-strapped, and needed to be on the phone, I had to forego the pleasure of The Secret Garden cafe upstairs and eat instead the quinoa, rice and avocado I’d brought as a packed lunch. I did go up at the end of the day and the food on offer looked beautiful, the two young Latvian women were generous and welcoming, and I have every reason to believe that it would have been a great place to hang out between sessions.

Slightly struggling to maintain balance after the conversations I’d had over the phone, I returned to find I’d misread the timing of the next class and had about 20 minutes before it began. I missed being able to participate in Kasia’s Gong Bath, but watched from the gallery and understood that the experience must have been profoundly moving. I’ve used Tibetan bowls in the past myself and I know the trance-like state it’s possible to access from there. The instruments themselves are beautiful and it was wonderful to see them in use.

As I waited for my last taught class, I chatted to some of the other participants. They were glowing with enthusiasm for what had been offered so far, and were as curious as I was about what might come next. Paul Hardimann’s Partner Yoga was far less well attended than it should have been, perhaps because others, like me, were concerned that, having come alone, we were not in a position to participate. A lovely woman (Hi, Deirdre!) with blue green eyes who happened to be on my right turned immediately towards me on being asked by Paul, Do you have a partner, smiled, and said, Yes. Paul is a Master Yoga teacher, carrying the precepts as lightly as light, but with a depth of understanding and learning that embodies the essence of Yoga. He teased us with knowledge, humour and wisdom, and with the gentleness that only a truly great teacher can bring, led us up and over the mountainous challenge of handstanding against someone’s back, lifting a fellow human on one’s feet, chakrasana-ing in mandala-like circuits over and under and around one another until the barriers between us began to melt and crumble and we breathed, and laughed, astounded at the intimacy and sensuality that surfaces through this beautiful practice. It left me wanting to learn more: I’m no acrobat, but this practice gave me a sense of levitating, while at the same time allowing me to embrace all that is fragile, weak and all-too-human in my limitations.

We ended with a Yoga Dance in the small room. I felt this should have taken place in the great hall, as a thunderous affirmation of all we had achieved together, and as a celebration of this wonderful day. Perhaps we need more practice at Yogic Dance: I certainly felt that the awkwardness I felt would only have been mitigated if there had been some dynamic musical brocade to weave myself into. I love dancing, and can whirl myself into a frenzy, given half a chance, but like many westerners, it can take some time to shake of the bonds of self-consciousness, and I was unable to let go as completely as I’d have liked to during this final session. Some good still came of my shyness, however: I managed to thank and chat briefly to Paul, which was a pleasure, and I managed to meet a physicist studying the impact of chemical retardants on systems which is fascinating, and links with my own research in environmental philosophy. Every coincidence contains potential, I’m beginning to see!

I wanted the opportunity to talk about my vision for an ecotherapeutic community, and the meeting Jarlath had hoped to arrange where I might have had a chance to do this did not, in the end, materialise (but if you want to know more, please feel free to contact me!). I think that people had put so much into the day they needed to recover, and the centre had to be vacated by six, and cleared of all the decorations and props, so the time for meeting came to an end sooner than expected. Nevertheless, I left the day with every sense fulfilled, each fibre of each muscle singing with gratitude for the effort put in by the teachers and by my mirroring of their work. I really hope this is the beginning of a long tradition of Yoga festivals in Galway, and indeed in Ireland generally. Thanks to all who made it happen, teachers, organisers, and participants. Om Shanti, Shanti. Shanti.

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Edison’s lightbulbs: the grit begins

I met Lydia today in Ireland’s Botanic Gardens. http://www.botanicgardens.ie/.

Lydia gave me a free Soya Latte today. I didn’t ask for it. I told her the story of Edison’s lightbulbs.

The point about Lydia is…

We’d gone there – myself, a couple of colleagues, and three of the residents, from the Anne Sullivan Centre for Deafblind People http://www.annesullivan.ie which is where I work at the moment. I chatted to her as I waited for a coffee, and to pay for a cookie for one of the residents. I told her a wonderful story my boyfriend had told me about Thomas Edison. I’d written to my boyfriend yesterday to say goodbye, because I didn’t feel I was up to the task of being anyone’s significant other, given my inability to transfer what we both agreed were my considerable skills into action. I do a job that is, while brilliant in many ways, far less influential than the job I feel I could be doing, given the level of experience and research I have. I’ve grappled with the conundrums of climate change, the ecological emergency, fragmented systems, polarisation of opinions, resolution, interdependence, free will and non-dualism for around twenty years, and with ideas about how we should live for my entire life. What have I to show for it but a broken tooth (more on that anon), a rented room, and a job that doesn’t quite pay the bills? I have a PhD, of course, but no options for using it. I have ideas. Lots of them. But no one to share them with. Stony ground, as the good book says. And I have an attitude problem: I find it exceptionally hard to believe that I’m worth money. Partly that’s a hang up about money generally: do we really need to be wealthy to be successful? Can’t we be poor and happy? Isn’t there something beautifully elegant about monks in mended robes, treading softly and barefoot on the earth, leaving no trace? Is that not my tradition, rather than the red Porsche, the loud hurrah of a champagne lifestyle? And partly it’s a hangup about me. How could I, given my faults, and all I’ve ever done wrong, deserve to be wealthy? No  matter that those who currently occupy the upper strata of power are nasty, brutish, and more often than not, short. I must have some deep seated self contempt that keeps me from their benches. I was wrestling with this last night, after going to support a colleague by attending a gig at the button factory https://buttonfactory.ie/ and feeling utterly exhausted and rather annoyed with myself for not preparing my yoga workshop instead. My boyfriend had rung from the States via WhatsApp and commented that I’d looked ‘tired’. It was the final straw. I’d said he really didn’t need to bother any more. I was giving up on dreams of success. He’d sent me a long response, all about how often Edison had failed, and how when a journalist had asked what it felt like to fail a thousand times, he’d said, it wasn’t a thousand failures: it was a thousand steps to success. Lydia is doing a Tourism degree. I wish her all the best success that this blog can muster. She was spontaneously kind. That’s what we need in this world.

The second thing that happened is that my tooth broke, on the way home from the Botanic Gardens, as we drove through MacDonald’s (I don’t think I need to link MacDonald’s. Correct me if I’m wrong). I swore, and kept my mouth closed, but my tooth – actually it’s my front tooth, and it’s a crown – was sore, and sharp. I asked my colleagues to cover for me and I made some calls. The dentist who’d repaired it a couple of weeks ago said they couldn’t do anything else. It was bad luck. I wasn’t living locally to them, and I needed a longer term fix than a repetition of the procedure – basically, a filling of the gap, which is what had fallen out – than they’d done a couple of weeks back. I was on my own. I Googled (I got in touch with work, apologised. Took unpaid leave) and found a dentist who, after a bit of wrangling, was willing to see me. I was shaky and unsmiling at work. It’s strange how traumatic it is to lose your smile. The dentist fixed me up temporarily, said it wouldn’t last and that I’d need to think about a (much more expensive) longer term solution. I began to think like a yogi. What do I need to do to keep within the yogic tradition, and yet resolve my toothless look? I can have an implant, but that’s not very zen, surely. I can whip out the crown (which looks, the dentist said, like it’s got an infection behind it) and get it replaced. Pointlessly expensive. Get an implant, said the dentist. It’s the only thing we can guarantee. What would a yogi do? Live with a gap? Have a gold tooth? That’s as far as I’ve got with this line of thinking. I can’t help thinking implants, apart from the expense, are less than eco-friendly. Maybe I’m being too fussy. Maybe it’s just the thought of the cost that’s causing me to stall. Stalling has been default mode for me. No more. Now I’m just taking a thousand steps towards success. But help is welcome.

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A long, long time ago

I did something very stupid yesterday. In my defence, I was short of time, had just had a challenging day at work, and had a sore back, but I let myself get in a flap in the middle of Dublin while trying to park so I could get to a theatre performance on time. The fact is that I’m dreadful at following directions, particularly when they’re being barked at me over the phone while I’m driving in a foreign city (I know, it’s only Ireland, but subtle differences in language and culture can be overwhelmingly confusing). The net result was that I got lost and ended up missing the performance. My companion was not pleased, and lost no time in letting me know so. We spent a miserable evening alternately swapping recriminations and wondering what to do to make things better again. I tried to book fresh tickets but he furiously refused to countenance it and said the only way I’d get him to the theatre to see that play again would be if I rang The Gate and asked them to reallocate the tickets for tonight. I didn’t hold much hope of success, but I told them my story and after telling me the policy precluded any sort of compensation, they agreed to allow us to go.

I never thanked The Gate for their kindness, compounding the injury.

I’d promised to write a review for the play. I didn’t do that, either.

So, as with so many things in the life of a codependent, I have some reparation to make.

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Pranayama (that’s breathing to you and me), relaxation, blood pressure

When you inhale, your heart rate rises slightly. When you exhale it falls slightly. There are probably evolutionary reasons for this (possibly to do with the ‘diver’s breath’ mammals take in water), but Yoga practitioners have long exploited this knowledge to create the so-called ‘meditative mind’, a deeply relaxed state of consciousness that allows thoughts to connect and synthesise in creative ways, giving ‘insight wisdom’, or, in Zen terms, seeing things as they are.

The slow down of the heart rate is associated, in obvious and less obvious ways, with relaxation, a kind of ‘rest and restore’ phase in the cycle, and something that has a ‘positive feedback’ effect. When you’re relaxed, your system’s inclined to respond to the condition of being relaxed by engaging in more restorative activity. Since consciousness is directly correlated to brain activity, this, in turn, has an effect on how you perceive the world, and yourself. You can attain a state of deep relaxation while still being thoroughly engaged with everything that is going on, in and around you. This can allow you to develop much more fruitful relationships, as you find yourself adopting a calmer, more compassionate understanding of situations.

However, there are significant side benefits quite apart from the ‘meditative mind’ that are associated with controlling, or lengthening, the breath, and particularly with making sure that your exhalation is longer than your inhalation (experienced practitioners and athletes can cope with a 2:1 ratio, but this takes practice).

A consistently raised heart rate is associated (though not directly correlated) with high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high for an extensive period of time, you’re at risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, dementia, and other serious health problems. Using the very simple formulation of breathing out for longer than you breathe in can induce a slower heart rate which, in turn, can reduce blood pressure. Because the effect isn’t direct, and because there are other things involved, you shouldn’t assume that this is the answer to all your problems. Changing the rhythm of your breathing with conscious awareness is a kind of ‘top down’ approach, whereas being in an unstressful or relaxing environment is a kind of ‘bottom up’, or organic, approach, and probably has deeper effects. Yoga uses both. But you can’t always magic yourself off to a beach in Tahiti, or even go and lie down on Yoga mat. And it’s definitely more worthwhile getting a small beneficial effect from this exercise than it is to slump back fatefully and succumb to an adverse health condition.

Sit up tall, as tall as you can without straining. Have an awareness of moving towards a more upright posture, rather than holding yourself rigid. Take your palms to your belly, thumbs on the navel, fingers spread, and begin to feel the breath moving in and out. You should feel your belly moving into your hands as you inhale, and back towards your spine as you exhale. If this doesn’t happen naturally, see if you can create the movement deliberately. Some people find this tricky, but it will come, with practice. Don’t stop using your rib-cage which also expands and contracts as you breathe. Just be more focused on your belly. Finally, begin to allow the exhalation to lengthen and deepen. Let yourself become more and more conscious of how many associated responses there are to this lengthened, relaxed exhalation.

You can then introduce the practice of counting as you breathe. You could count up to four as you inhale (1234) and down from four (4321) and then up to four (1234) making a total count of eight on the exhalation. If this is too much to begin with, just add one more count to the exhalation until you are comfortable with that, and then add another, and another, week by week.

Five minutes a day is a good start. You might want to build up to longer sessions but it’s more important (isn’t this almost always the case?) to make this a habit than it is to do the occasional marathon session.

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International Day of Yoga: Mensa marking the event in Mayo with Dawn Yoga

India moved a Resolution in the United National General Assembly to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. The Resolution which was adopted unanimously on December 11, 2014 received a record 177 co-sponsorships of a total of 193 members, thus creating a new record for the highest number of co-sponsorship countries ever for a resolution of such a nature in the United Nations. The importance of Yoga can be judged from the fact that the Resolution was adopted within 75 days of the Indian Prime Minister proposing it in his address to the UNGA.

For those of us who can’t get to Dublin for the event, there are various other things going on around the country, including 108 sun salutations at dawn on Cross beach 4.50-6am! This is open to everyone who wants to come, but I’m also advertising it as a Mensa event – Yoga is intelligence, embodied! So come along, and come back for a cuppa and a snack and a chat afterwards, then spend the day enjoying all that Erris has to offer: I can give info, point out good picnic spots, organise maps and put you in touch with boathire, etc.

Bring warm clothing and a towel – we may swim afterwards (if it’s not raining!) Any questions, contact me here. IMG_1770 IMG_1776

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Keep safe while in class, or while practicing Yoga at home, by following these basic guidelines

  1. Share relevant information. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to certain poses or put you at risk. She can then advise on what you need to avoid, and  give you alternatives.

 

  1. Pay attention to pain. Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle, and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or ligament, or compressing structures to the point of injury.

 

  1. Listen to your breath. Although your breath may speed up in demanding poses such as backbends or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you’re over-stressed. Notice if you are holding your breath because this a possible sign you are becoming fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain. If you find you are holding your breath, consciously relax your breathing, avoid holding it, and see if you need to come out.

 

  1. Rest if you need to. If you feel you’ve reached the limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. Likewise, if you are suddenly sweating much more than normal, take the same precautions. If you feel like you just can’t finish the rest of a class, either let the teacher know so they can give you a resting pose to finish with or just lie down in a comfortable Relaxation pose (Savasana) Don’t just leave in the middle of a practice, without cooling down.

 

  1. Stay balanced. If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don’t fall over and can practice with confidence. You can practice with your back to a wall, with one foot on the wall in standing poses, or with a hand on the wall in certain poses. If you know you have problems with balance, come to class early and stake out a place next to the wall so the wall will always there when you need it.

 

  1. Use props. Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety (to keep you from over-stretching or falling or to use as padding for sensitive areas), go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts.

 

  1. Resist peer pressure. If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you just aren’t ready for, ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or, you can just watch the others do the pose, and learn through observation. If you find your class is consistently too challenging for you, look of another a class that fits your level of ability, such as an eight-week introductory series for beginners or a class that is designed specifically for older students.

 

  1. Only do inverted poses if they’re okay for you. Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina. If you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand, please. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop that is designed to introduce you to step by step to the inverted poses, so you can learn to practice these poses safely, under the careful guidance of an experienced teacher.

 

  1. Talk to Your Doctor. If you have had a surgery, or if you have a medical condition or an injury, explicitly ask your doctor or physical therapist which physical actions are safe for you and which are not. Don’t wait for the medical professional to tell you! Some doctors in particular (no offense, Baxter) often don’t even consider that you might be going upside down or twisting yourself like a pretzel, so you have to be sure to ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor’s recommendations.


(Edited from ‘Yoga for Healthy Aging’, and with grateful thanks to the team there.)

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Meditation and Yoga with a timer

I love doing Yoga with a timer: you get such objective feedback. This Youtube audio lasts 20 minutes – not too long, I hope you’ll agree, to spend on mindfulness in action – and there’s a chime every 30 seconds. That means you can take around five breaths in every pose (or stay for a minute, or two, and that, my friends, will concentrate the mind, or at least make you aware of how easily it wanders!) and know that you’ve stayed there that long. The minutes fly by, and yet you’re focused. It’s a wonderful experience: highly relaxing. It’s got me back on the mat more than anything else recently (and my zazen practice is also enhanced, though I do switch off all guides to ‘just sit’: that seems appropriate – like taking off training wheels when riding a bike).

I hope this helps you: I’ve got several sequences on this site, and there are thousands of others, just as good, all over the web. So choose a practice, or make one up as you go along, and spend 20 minutes in moving meditation. Greater love hath no person, than to lay down his time to benefit humanity.

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Keep safe while in class, or while practicing Yoga at home, by following these basic guidelines

  1. Share relevant information. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to certain poses or put you at risk. She can then advise on what you need to avoid, and  give you alternatives.

 

  1. Pay attention to pain. Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle, and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or ligament, or compressing structures to the point of injury.

 

  1. Listen to your breath. Although your breath may speed up in demanding poses such as backbends or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you’re over-stressed. Notice if you are holding your breath because this a possible sign you are becoming fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain. If you find you are holding your breath, consciously relax your breathing, avoid holding it, and see if you need to come out.

 

  1. Rest if you need to. If you feel you’ve reached the limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. Likewise, if you are suddenly sweating much more than normal, take the same precautions. If you feel like you just can’t finish the rest of a class, either let the teacher know so they can give you a resting pose to finish with or just lie down in a comfortable Relaxation pose (Savasana) Don’t just leave in the middle of a practice, without cooling down.

 

  1. Stay balanced. If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don’t fall over and can practice with confidence. You can practice with your back to a wall, with one foot on the wall in standing poses, or with a hand on the wall in certain poses. If you know you have problems with balance, come to class early and stake out a place next to the wall so the wall will always there when you need it.

 

  1. Use props. Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety (to keep you from over-stretching or falling or to use as padding for sensitive areas), go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts.

 

  1. Resist peer pressure. If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you just aren’t ready for, ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or, you can just watch the others do the pose, and learn through observation. If you find your class is consistently too challenging for you, look of another a class that fits your level of ability, such as an eight-week introductory series for beginners or a class that is designed specifically for older students.

 

  1. Only do inverted poses if they’re okay for you. Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina. If you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand, please. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop that is designed to introduce you to step by step to the inverted poses, so you can learn to practice these poses safely, under the careful guidance of an experienced teacher.

 

  1. Talk to Your Doctor. If you have had a surgery, or if you have a medical condition or an injury, explicitly ask your doctor or physical therapist which physical actions are safe for you and which are not. Don’t wait for the medical professional to tell you! Some doctors in particular (no offense, Baxter) often don’t even consider that you might be going upside down or twisting yourself like a pretzel, so you have to be sure to ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor’s recommendations.


(Edited from ‘Yoga for Healthy Aging’, and with grateful thanks to the team there.)

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Our sphere of knowledge is shifting: we need to respond to this shift now

We need to update the epistemic sphere to include current information that makes clear the human impact on the rest of the biosphere. We need to update how we see ourselves in relation to context, so that, for instance, we begin to understand and appreciate that the shared global commons is shared not just with other humans, but with everything that exists on this planet. We need to shift our sense of agency so we stop imagining that this is a top down approach, some willed event happening in the mental plane that gets translated into practice. Instead, we need to understand ourselves as entirely reacting within context, but with the capacity to get an insight into what is going on by ‘waking up’, or realising, our current situation. We need to enact these changes now, as a matter of prime importance, as though our lives depended on it. In a very real sense, they do. The story we tell ourselves about what is going on is, at the moment, killing us, causing immense suffering among the vast majority of humans, and destroying the very fabric of the ecological stability that supports and sustains our own health and well-being: our very survival.

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