Episode #53 Birthday/Solstice Celebration: a new Anniversary tradition, with Della Duncan and Nathalie Nahai
So, it’s our Birthday – and it’s that time of year when every pundit endeavours to look back at the year just gone and ahead to the one that is coming. And we thought we’d like to establish a parallel tradition, where we bring together our favourite podcasting-friends and explore the ways we think. So we set up a structure that will be repeatable in future years… where we give each other gifts of a book, podcast or something else that has brought us real insight, and then we explore each other’s existential questions. And we have fun. So that you can have fun too.
Della Duncan is a Renegade Economist who hosts the Upstream podcast challenging traditional economic thinking and uplifting stories of sustainable, just, and equitable economic systems-change around the world. Della is also a Right Livelihood Coach, a Senior Fellow of Social and Economic Equity at the International Inequalities Institute in the London School of Economics, the Course Development Manager of Fritjof Capra’s Capra Course on the Systems View of Life, and an Alternative Economics Consultant.
Nathalie Nahai is host of The Hive podcast. Nathalie is an international speaker and author of the best-selling book, Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, which has been translated into seven languages.
Her work explores the intersection between persuasive technology, ethics and the psychology of online behaviour, and clients include Google, Accenture, Unilever and Harvard Business Review, among others.
Nathalie gives keynotes, workshops and webinars on the psychological dynamics behind evolving consumer behaviours, teaching people how to ethically apply behavioural science principles to enhance their website, content marketing, product design and customer experience.
A member of the BIMA Human Insights Council, she also hosts The Hive Podcast, Seeking The Self and several Guardian podcasts, and contributes to national publications, television (BBC, Sky, CNN), and radio (BBC Radio 4) on the impact of technology in our lives.
From Nathalie: Book and Podcast recommendations –
• Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer
• Women Who Run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
• Foxfire Wolfskin – Sharon Blackie
• The Abundant Earth – Eileen Crist
• Podcast: Eco Civ Podcast
From Della: Book and Podcast recommendations –
• The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
• Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19 – Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women
• The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself – Richard Wolff
• Podcast: Upstream Conversations that I mentioned
From Manda: Book recommendations –
• English Pastoral – James Rebanks
• Less is More – Jason Hickel
• Slow Horses – Mick Herron
Thanks to Jen Forti and friends for the music at the beginning and end of this special episode.
Manda: Welcome to our anniversary edition!
We have been going for a year, and so today, on the Solstice, the dark night of the year, the long night when the seeds of the New Year are set, we wanted to do something different. We wanted, in fact, to establish a tradition. So today’s podcast is a three way pod boom, in which I am joined by two other podcast hosts who have been real inspirations for what we do here. They have been guests. But more than that, I listened endlessly to their podcasts when we were designing Accidental Gods.
Della Duncan is a friend, a teacher, a mentor, and host of the long-standing Upstream podcast that seeks to explore the origins of where we are so, that we can find the ways to change.
Nathalie Nahai is also a friend, an inspiration, and a guiding light in the world of podcasts. She’s host of The Hive, which enquires deeply into our journey with ourselves, with each other, and with the natural world. And so today, together, we explore the learning of the old year, and the possibilities of the new one yet to come. We give each other gifts and we offer our hopes for 2021.
And we also have some music echoing this song that Rob Shorter offered in Episode 41. We Shall Be Known, was originally written and recorded by Mamuse, and there have been so many other versions since then. But now we have two specially recorded for us by Jen Forti and her friends in Portland, Oregon. The first, which will come at the start, is Jen with her friend Melody Sunshine and Melody’s mother, Diane Sobczyk. I hope I pronounced this right. Anyway, I love the intergenerational nature of that one. The one at the end is a slightly different version with Jen, with Carrie Kent and Sarah Alexander. And in both cases, the technical recording was by Greg Hyatt. So People of the Podcast rest your ears with We Shall Be Known, and then welcome Della Duncan and Nathalie Nahai,
Jen, Melody and Diane: “We shall be known by the company we keep; by the ones who circle round to tend these fires. We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change in life and deep within the earth. It is time now. It is time now that we thrive. It is time we lead ourselves into the well. It is time now, and what a time to be alive in this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love. In this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love.”
Manda: Welcome to our joint solstice, end of year, beginning of next year podcast. This comes from Upstream, and the Hive, and Accidental Gods. And here today, we have Nathalie Nahai, Della Duncan, and Manda Scott. And this is the first time we’ve done this, and it feels like, I hope it becomes, one of those traditions that we can do for a long time. Because this feels like one of my favourite concepts and connected ways of being that I could possibly imagine. So we were going to start off… we have ideas, obviously; it will probably evolve beyond those ideas. But in the beginning, before everything has completely changed from what we planned: Nathalie, you were going to start with your bookend question from The Hive.
Nathalie: Sure. Thank you, Manda. And thanks, Della, for this lovely possibility together, if not personally, than virtually. So the question that I usually open my conversations with is to ask what’s happening in the global human psyche at this moment, and to invite whoever the guest is to answer from whatever perspective they hold. I never get to answer this question, but also it’s a very tricky question to answer for anyone. So maybe I should have a shot at it. From my own perspective, I feel as though there is a fragmentation happening in the global human psyche, that there is a sense of rupture, a sense of uncertainty, of discomfort. If I feel into it, which I was trying to do before this call, I was also sensing quite a lot of grief for unnamed things, for people who are lost, relationships that dissolve. For things that are left unresolved for whatever reason. So I think there’s a huge amount of tumult happening in the global human psyche, but at the same time, because there’s so much fracture, there’s also the possibility to rebuild in a way that we haven’t been able to before. So I think there’s a huge amount of potential, almost like the black void of potential that you get before the birthing of something. So I feel that’s probably how it began to answer that particular question. Della, would you like to offer your thoughts?
Della: Yeah, I think one thing that I’m sensing is depression, a real questioning of hope for a future and a loss of energy and action, and will to act. And I know personally, and I’ve seen in others that depression, if you go deep, deep, deep enough there is this sense of being held by the universe. And I love this Marianne Williamson quote, who says depression can be a sacred initiation into self-actualisation. So what I’m sensing in the global psyche is a depression for many, a hopelessness for many. And I’m just hoping and praying that as folks keep going down and down and down, that they will feel held by the universe and then able to rise from that source and continue again.
Nathalie: Manda, your sense? Global psyche?
Manda: Yeah, it’s interesting because mine, perhaps because of what I’ve been reading and who I’ve been talking to recently, feels more as if there’s light at the end of the tunnel than that sounds, and more than the sense of light at the end of the tunnel that I had this time last year, I feel there’s that sense of transition; of ‘Everything is going to change; nothing is going to be as it was.’ And it feels like that moment just before dawn, or just before a fire is lit, or just before the lightning strikes, when you feel the pressure and the electricity in the air, and you know something huge is coming, but you don’t know exactly what it is. And yet: the old wasn’t working. We felt comfortable perhaps with it, but the way we have been on the trajectory that we have been on is heading for catastrophe. We know that, but I am feeling more hopeful, and I’m feeling a sense of more people seeing a path to a different way of being than I have had at any point in my life. So I feel… and yes, we need to lean into the discomfort, and discomfort is uncomfortable, that’s the point. But I think if we can become comfortable with discomfort, able to find the resilience in the uncertainty, then I think this next year feels to me like it’s a balancing point. I think that more than anything else, it feels that the coming years, the fulcrum around which everything else turns… and we might crash into chaos and extinction, that’s always a possibility. But we might also see the phase shift to something that would be a way of being that the world and we have never known before, and I therefore think that’s worth working towards, however we get there. Brilliant question, Natalie. Thank you.
Nathalie: Thanks for your lovely answers. Very thought provoking and interesting, actually, that we’re each holding a different aspect of what’s happening. I feel like there are different experiences, which we together are weaving in and holding, which is lovely,
Manda: Yes, and I wonder perhaps by the end of the podcast, we’ll have a sense of how those three strands weave together, I keep seeing the front of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, and that sense of the braiding of ideas, and the braiding of feelings, and the braiding of being. So what we had as an idea next was that we would each give the other a gift for the turning of the year, the solstice, the dark nights, and that that would be either a podcast, or film, or a book, or frankly, whatever we think the others would like. So Della, have you got a gift that you would like to give? To one or other of me and Natalie.
Della: Yeah, I would love to. I have a gift for both of you. It’s the same gift and it may be a gift that you’ve already enjoyed. And if so, I just invite you to enjoy it again. And it is the audio books of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, mythologist storyteller. And I feel very late to the game. Like I don’t know why I never read or listened to her work before, but this past year I have been really deeply. So Women who run with the Wolves, but even more so, I would give to you The Dangerous Old Woman, which I am deep into right now. And it’s actually less of a book, and more of her telling stories and anecdotes about ageing, and being a woman over about six or seven hours, and it’s got stories woven in, but more importantly for you both, I felt it has a lot of ecological wisdom. She gives, for example, a story of heartwood in trees, and how it’s strengthened by adversity: that the heartwood is strengthened by wind, wind of adversity. And she gives this beautiful example of instead of being hard on the outside and soft on the inside, we ought to be soft and warm and comforting and generous on the outside, and hard on the inside, meaning having a deep sense of resilience and strength and dedication to our work, to our values. And I just love her. Her exploration of the ecology and how she weaves ecological wisdom. And, yeah, just for both of you, I invite us to think about our roles as women, and as the female archetype. One more anecdote from that, is she really encourages us to not worry about what other people think – to really step into who we are, and to do our work with a sense of integrity, and without fear of other people’s judgements. And so I wish that for both of you, I think you both already do that. But I just wish that for us as we move into the next year. So that would be mine: the audio books of Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Nathalie: Thank you.
Manda: Thank you. I have never listened to an audio book, so I will head off and do that. Thank you.
Nathalie: Manda, would you like to go next?
Manda: OK. Yes. So I have a pile of books sitting here beside me, and I still haven’t quite decided what we’re going to do. So there’ll be a little bit of rustling while I do the unwrapping, so that you can see it, or actually just pull it out of the pile. So Della, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I am bringing to you something called Rethinking Humanity, which I’m trying to show you on our Zoom call,, and I’ll show you later. It’s not so much a book as a think tank paper, so it’s not quite the easiest reading in the world, but it is the single most inspiring thing that I’ve read all year. And I’ve been reading inspiring books all year.
I thought Jason Hickel’s Less is More was that, until I read this, which even more than his book gives the ideas of where we’re going, how we could get there, and the possibilities opening up before us. And I’ll put a link in the show notes, we’ll all put links in the show notes to these. It’s Rethink X is the think tank, the authors of James Arbib and Tony Seba. And I heard about it from Alex Barker, who I interviewed. She’s the author of How to Be More Pirate, which I might have given you, but I thought the podcast had already heard about that. So let’s bring in something new. And this is just revolutionising my ideas of what we can do. And I think it doesn’t have the deep spirituality that Jason’s book has towards the end, but it’s got a lot of ideas of where the technology is going, and the nature of disruption that we have a tendency to imagine everything is linear. And we know from systems thinking that nothing is linear in the way the world works. And they go through the way the iPhone and the motor car and various other things created disruption so far beyond their own bubble. And that it was an S shaped curve, it starts off slow and slow and slow, and then it just basically takes off into that hyperbolic leap, and then it finally rounds off. But before it rounds off, it has changed the nature of how we function. And they give an outline of how we can move from the extractive system that we’ve been in basically since Neolithic times, since agriculture first became a thing, to a creative system which is distributed and regenerative, and at its heart and essence, creative communities, creative stuff: creative of networks, creative of new democracies, and how the old system is in its rigidity, desperately trying to reassert the heydays of its past. We can see that all around us.
And yet: the networks are growing, the creativity is happening, and everything of human history teaches us that when a new system arises, the old system will fight, but the new one will emerge through the middle of it. So. So that’s for Della, although anyone else who wants to read it can do. And then I’m still trying to decide, Nathalie, whether you would like fun fiction, or something a little bit deeper. And if a little bit deeper, so I have three books for Nathalie, we’ll go very briefly.
So one is An English Pastoral by James Rebanks, which is gorgeous, beautifully written. James Rebanks is a farmer in north of England. It’s a kind of a Dirt to Soil for Britain. Dirt to Soil is Gabe Brown’s book on regenerative agriculture in the U.S. and this is… James Rebanks went back to his grandfather’s farm and realised, having been a very traditional farmer and really feeling antagonism to the ecologists, or the ecological people, or generally metropolitan ecological people who were going, you know, your farmers are all bad, they’re doing everything wrong. And yet looking around and realising that the land was dead, and the rivers were dead, and the ecosystems were collapsing, and that he could change that. And he’s planted tens of thousands of trees that completely altered the flow of the river, to take it back to how it was. And he’s got everything back except the corncrakes, I think, that were there in his grandfather’s time. And it’s just really inspiring. So there’s that.
Very briefly, there’s also A Sacred Link, which is three years old now, by Kay Cordell Whittaker, who’s one of my kind of shamanic heroes. And this follows on from the Alan Watson Featherstone podcast of The Hive, which, as you know, I loved. And the subtitle is Joining Forces with the Unknown. How can we really connect to the Web of life?
So that’s a second, and third just because I thought we might have something a bit lighter. Have you come across Mick Heron, either of you? He’s kind of the new… or he’s even more… he’s not a new, he’s in and of himself. He writes spy novels. So I was going to say the new John le Carre, but his are much more of this time, and lively, and sparky, and they’re utterly brilliant. And this is – goodness knows, it’s probably the sixth or seventh, but you need to go back to the beginning. The first one’s called The Slow Horses. And the premise is that when MI5 wants to get rid of people, they can’t sack them because they’ll probably go off and write their memoirs and publish them, and blow everything apart. So what they do is they put them off to this place called Slough House, which is where the ‘slow horses’ come from, and give them the dullest possible work that you could possibly ever conceive of, and just leave them there to rot on the basis that eventually they’ll get tired, and they’ll leave of their own accord. And so that anyone who’s really made a mistake, or anybody that everybody hates, or the people who’ve made political misjudgements, they all end up in Slough House. And obviously the slow horses end up being the heroes of every single book, but in ways that are very anti heroic, it’s so much fun. And his outline of Boris Johnson: very obvious, although he’s got a different name. But, you know, five or six years ago it was like, oh, yeah, Boris Johnson. Well, hey you know, what the hell… OK, this is really interesting, this deeply ruthless, very unpleasant character who manages to worm his way into the heart of government despite having no talent at all. And I haven’t read this one yet to see what he’s doing with it, because it’s going to be very interesting. So I thoroughly recommend them, they are absolutely, totally entertaining and just, you know, to get away from the havoc of the world turning over and our entire system collapsing and reforming itself, that’ll give you fun. So that was mine. So now it’s your turn. What have you got?
Nathalie: Well, so a couple of the things that I was thinking of weaving into the conversation have already been named. I was thinking of bringing in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which is, of course, the most enchanting book. And Della, you already mentioned Women who Run with the Wolves. I myself was very late to this, and it being written in the 1990s, I started reading it this year, and have gifted it to two of my favourite women who live here in Barcelona. And one of the things I think were woven into both, which have led me into a different direction. I’m going to give you the names of two books that you might not yet have heard of. But some of the themes are around the ways in which we tell stories, and that we make space for different narratives to emerge, and the importance of being able to see a different way forward, a different archetype we might inhabit, and also to reclaim some of the power that we have within ourselves: not domination over, but power within and with. And so the two books that I have gifted myself, which I’m gifting to you both, but I have yet to read so they are very, very new, and they’re freshly wrapped in my living room waiting for Christmas.
The first is called The Abundant Earth by Eileen Crist, and it’s a fascinating looking book. I first heard her speak on the Ecociv podcast, and she talks about ways in which we need to work towards an ecological civilisation. And she talks about things like extractivism, the human dominance approach we have, where we dominate one another, we dominate other species. And she offers different ways in which to confront the reality of what we’re doing, and ways in which we can move towards a different relational approach of engaging with the web of life. So that’s the first one I would gift.
The second one is by one of my favourite authors who wrote a book which is my favourite last year, called The Enchanted Life. And her new book is called Foxfire Wolf Skin and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women. And it’s Sharon Blackie. And I know Manda you’re familiar with her wonderful work, and she’s just published this new book. And so I’ve bought myself this book and I’m waiting to read it, so I would definitely recommend this to you, as well as a gift to walk through the veil and into the world of magical women and shapeshifting. So those would be my gift to you.
Della: Thank you. Beautiful.
Manda: Thank you. I really look forward. Yes. That’s lots of reading still to be done. OK, so what we had planned next, and astonishingly enough, we’re still pretty much on track, is Della, you have a question that relates to your Upstream podcast, and you were going to have a chance to answer it, and also ask it of us. So would you like to do that now?
Della: I would love to. So my podcast is called The Upstream Podcast, and it’s based off a metaphor, inspired by a metaphor that I believe comes from public health. At least that’s where I first heard it. And the metaphor is that you imagine you’re standing at the bank of a river and you see someone float by who’s drowning. And so you jump in and pull them to shore. But as soon as you do, you look up and you see other people floating down the river drowning. So you jump in and pull them to shore. Eventually you look up and there’s just so many people floating down the river drowning that you call for help. You get other people involved, and eventually you or someone has to go upstream to figure out why people are falling in in the first place. So this metaphor was first told to me in the importance of not just doing intervention work for sexual assault survivors, which is the field I was working in a while back, but also to go upstream to prevention of sexual violence happening. How can we prevent it so that there aren’t survivors who even need our services, have to call the hotline, etc.. So that inspired the podcast title, which is about economics.
So thinking about the economic challenges of our time. But of course, for this conversation we’ll broaden that to whatever it is that breaks your heart or that concerns you, whatever societal or environmental issues. When you go upstream, what do you see as some of the root causes? And I will say, over this year I was in a presentation, I’m supporting the Capra course. Fritjof Capra offers a course on systemic thinking and one of his students, Tanuja Persaud, she gave it just a very short line. But she said, causation is a ball of yarn. There is no root cause, only a longitudinal layering of effects. Causation is a ball of yarn. There is no root cause, only a longitudinal layering of effects. And I have to say, I had a little bit of a ‘questioning everything’ moment where I was like, oh, does this going upstream metaphor, does that portray a mechanical or a linear paradigm of causation and effect? And is not the world more systemic or complex? And so I will be totally fine if you throw out the metaphor and choose to answer in whatever way that you wish. And I don’t know what to do about the title and theme of the podcast anymore. But what I will say is if I answer the question first, and then I’d love to hear what you both think and feel. But currently where I am is a deep exploration of who we are as humans and who we have the capacity to be. And I’m working on a documentary right now on debunking the myth of Homo Economicus. So this idea that we as humans are rational, self-interested, separate from nature and others and our self, and also that we see work as a utility, that we try to work as little as possible. So exploring that myth, and where that came from, and how it’s been upheld in the discipline of economics and beyond. And also what are the alternative views around who we are as humans? Are we actually altruistic, kind, compassionate beings who’ve lost our sense of deeper selves because of our systems or cultures, or do we have the capacity for both? And it’s about what we water and what is activated within us and also what we choose to portray.
So for me, when I go upstream for now, right now, one of the things I think about is how we think of ourselves as humans, whether we see ourselves as inherently altruistic, kind and compassionate, or egotistical, rational, self-interested, or the potential for both. That’s that’s what I’m exploring right now. So Manda, I’d love to ask you what’s going on for you when you take this journey upstream, when you explore the root causes of the challenges you see. And if that metaphor is not helpful, just at least what you’re thinking about when you go deep, when you go to those those deeper layers of causation.
Manda: Sure. Thank you. The metaphor does work for me. I hear the concept of reframing it as an entanglement, but I think for me still, and it may break down if I think about it more deeply, but at the moment very clearly, for me, the root cause is our disconnect from the web of life, our sense of ourselves as outside of that, and it links back. I have just interviewed for a podcast that will come out after this one, a really inspiring young man called Alnoor Ladha, who wrote a paper about something called the wetiko, also the windigo, which is a concept in the first peoples of the North Americas. And the idea is that if somebody got caught away from the rest of the tribe, somehow they would have to be at least two people, and was driven to the point of cannibalism, but one person at another. When they came back to the tribe, two things had happened. One, their their hearts had become icy and closed. They lost the capacity to connect with the rest of the tribe. And the second was that having had the taste of eating other people, they wanted more. And that this was not just something that happened to the individual, but it was a contagion that was possible when they came back to the tribe to pass to other people, and that unless there was great care in the holding of the space, an entire tribe could become infected. And it was a kind of a story amongst the first peoples. It wasn’t something that they saw very often. It was there in the mythology until the white invaders arrived on their shores, and they saw these people, and saw the way that they behaved and the entire culture, it has become infected with this wetiko.
And when I read it and then wanted to interview Ellner and went in very deeply. I have a big internal question that I’ve never resolved of what was the original inciting cause of that separation? Because we know that indigenous cultures in our Western European past, and in some cases in the world still exist. Where there’s a connectivity, there’s a sense of being absolutely part of the web of life, and nothing is separate the Amazon jungle, or the plains of the Mongols, or the ice wastes of the Sami, or any of the places in our deep and distant past. There was no Other. There was ‘us’, and ‘us’ was everything. And it wasn’t just the things that we would consider sentient now. It was the rocks and the trees, as well as the red kite and the otter and the fungal mycelia beneath our feet. And what was it? So the absolute answer to that question is, I don’t know what caused that separation. But I believe the separation is what has led us to the extraction, and the enslavement of ourselves and everybody else, that is the hallmark of our culture. What it takes me to, though, is once in a while I will read books by people who’ve had near-death experiences and to a woman and a man, the ones who come back are absolutely of the belief that everything is as it needs to be. And that always does really bad things to my head, because I look around and there really… are you actually kidding? Have you any idea of the trauma and the appalling things that are happening in our world? And yet if I sit with that, and think if I were to reconnect with the web of life in the way that I know is possible and were to ask, what do you want of me? What is there in who we are now? Because I absolutely think our generation, those alive on the planet now are the ones who have the capacity to make the difference. Either we head for a phase shift, or we head for chaos and extinction. It’s going to happen in our lifetimes. So what can we bring, what is it that the last 10000 years of human evolution have done that makes it worth all of the absolute hell that has been wrought by our separation? So I don’t have an answer to that either. So it’s a kind of… I think I’m not quite upstream enough yet. I’m still watching. I’m watching the place where the people hurl themselves in, but I haven’t worked out why they’re doing it. So it’s a half of an answer. But I still think the metaphor definitely stands up.
Nathalie: Well, I’m sitting here listening to you both with your wisdom, and I’m not entirely sure what I can contribute. I think one of the things that strikes me, that I’ve been thinking on especially this year, and especially when it comes to the seemingly senselessness of pain that is wrought upon people, of the suffering that we must endure, and obviously the growth that comes from that – if we choose, we’ll have the resources to be able to use it to move forward. I think one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is how do we find ways to work with what’s happening, to work with what we experience in order to make it something which allows us, or fuels our transformation. Because I think the question of going upstream, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if it’s a question of, you know, on one level, I think, well, maybe this is just a fundamental truth of existing in physical reality, that suffering exists, that growth happens through difficulty, and that that’s an aspect that we must at some level come to accept. If you take kind of more of a Buddhist or Zen perspective, this idea that suffering is inherent to our experience as embodied beings, then the question becomes, well, if that exists, and is woven into the fabric of physical embodiment, maybe there isn’t an upstream, but maybe we can change how we relate to it and change what we do with it. And so I’ve been thinking a bit about ways in which and times at which I feel really disconnected or cut off, and what I can do to reconnect. And at that point of reconnection is the thing that gives a thread of hope again. And one of the things that weaves into that is this idea of ritual. We’ve lost so much ritual of reconnection, whether it’s to ourselves, which I think is sacrosanct, and that we’re not encouraged to have. And I think the same applies to men and to women. We’ve lost that sense of ritual connection with ourselves, whether it’s through dance or through chants or through singing or movement or whatever it might be. We’ve lost that sense of ritual between one another. And we’ve lost that sense of ritual between ourselves and the web of life, and I think that tool which has become so forgotten or distant in so many cultures and replaced with other rituals which serve systems, which are abstractions and models that serve to empower those at the top. So I’m thinking in my instance, this would be capitalism, but it could be any kind of structure which siphons power to the very few. Those structures seem to have replaced the foundations upon which we build ritual to enrich our lives. I think there’s something there around what rituals can we engage in with ourselves, with each other and with the web of life that allow us to reconnect and allow us to make the most of the difficult experiences that we face, which are inherently a part of embodied existence. That’s where I go with that question.
Della: Thank you. Thank you, Natalie. Thank you, Manda.
Manda: Thank you. So the next idea was that we were going to have a chance each to reflect on the highlights of our own podcasts from the past year. What stood out for us? What really has been the theme perhaps of this year from where we started at the beginning of 2020, where it’s left us now? And moving towards the end, we could have a little bit of looking ahead to what we think 2021 could bring. I have this idea that certainly in the UK and I think possibly in the U.S. at this time of year, the radio programmes and the television are full of pundits making their predictions for 2021. And they’re always wrong. But that’s fine. And I suspect this year they’ll be even more wrong than they have ever been at any point before. But I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t jump on that bandwagon. And having had a look at what this year has brought, give us a sense of what the next year might bring on. This time next year, we can compare notes and see how we were doing. So does anybody want to go first? Stick your hand up in a way that I can see. No hands are going up. OK, I’m going to flip an internal coin… and it comes up tails. Della.
Della: So looking back at this year of the Upstream podcast, I did a series of interviews and then have been working on two documentaries. One is the Homo Economicus, one that I spoke about, and the other one is Feminist Economics, which won’t actually come out till next year. But just to say those two have been themes for me. But in terms of the conversations, I spoke with folks like Richard Wolfe, who’s a Marxist economist at the New School, who has his own podcast called Economic Update, spoke with Doug Henwood, a journalist, Jason Hickel, who we’ve already mentioned, Julius Salazar, the New York state senator who is part of the democratic socialist movement in the US, and Dr Abdul El-Sayed, a doctor and politician.
And I would say all of those folks really revealed in the interviews that it’s actually the title of Richard Wolfe’s latest book, The Sickness is in the System, how there is Covid-19 as an epidemic, as a phenomenon, and then there’s the exacerbation of at least I have to say, particularly in the United States and other neoliberal capitalist countries, but that the system has exacerbated the suffering, has exacerbated the death, the desperation, the economic insecurity. There was one quote from the London School of Economics that I read. It said, Covid-19 is an inequality ratchet, and it’s been ratcheting inequality. And so I really sense that, and really heard that from folks, that the systems are being revealed to be not supportive of public health, and not supportive of human and planetary well-being, even more intensely this year.
And again, I speak from a US perspective, of course, so that was definitely a theme. And then the second theme, though, was the opportunity, the opportunity for systems change. That is also possible when we’ve had this break of our normal existences. And so I also spoke with Mark Lakeman, for example, who really talks about how do we reclaim our public spaces, how do we reclaim our sense of belonging, to placemaking and our connexion and cohesiveness with community? So that was inspiring. And so what Covid-19 could offer in terms of placemaking, slowing down, reconnecting with ritual as you said, Nathalie, and also getting to know community. The other thing that’s happened to me this year was I was unfortunately affected by the wildfires of California. I’m in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and was evacuated. Certainly from that experience. I saw so much disaster, collectivism, the sense of people supporting one another, gift giving to one another, rebuilding together, and coming out of that even more interconnected and kind and compassionate and helpful. And now there’s so many more systems. Disaster preparedness, not just for individuals, but for communities. So that’s been inspiring, so seeing the opportunity with what’s all happened in 2020. And also, you know, the last piece, actually the last interview that I did, which will be a part of Feminist Economics episode, was with a woman named Khara Jabola-Carolus, and she is a Filipino woman who lives in Hawaii. She’s the Executive Director of the Hawaiian Commission for the Status of Women. And she co-wrote a paper called Building Bridges, Not Walking on Our Backs: A Feminist Economics Recovery to Covid-19. And it’s really powerful, and it’s getting a lot of great attention and inspiring many other folks around the world. And I think that just also speaks to this possibility and new opportunity. And again, it also speaks to the inequality. There’s been so many women who have dropped out of the labour force to take care of children. I don’t have children of my own, but I work with so many women who are doing their Zoom calls for work with infants or toddlers on their laps, or having to manage home schooling, or the calls of their children, or just children who’ve been inside all day, on Zoom. So I would say that that’s one inequity that’s been experienced and felt during Covid-19, and a potential for a feminist economic recovery is inspiring to me, and definitely part of that potential for the systems change that we’re working for and hoping for. So, yeah, those would those would be some of my themes from this year of the podcast. Nathalie, what about you? What’s happened on The Hive? I know you are working on a book this year, so you took a little change in the podcast, but I’d love to hear.
Nathalie: Well, I have indeed been writing a book, which meant that the season which was meant to come out in the summer got shelved until December because it was… yeah, writing a book is a very cave-like endeavour to engage in. So the last season that I did, we looked at a lot of the themes that are coming up around the time that people were going into lockdown in April and May. And one of the things I wanted to do with that particular season was to provide companionship or space to people who wanted to dive in some of these difficult questions that Covid was creating. So one of the conversations I really enjoyed was which was talking about reorienting consciousness in times of crisis was one of my dear friends, Dr. Aaron Balick, who is a wonderful, thoughtful, wise, irreverent, brilliant psychotherapist, fantastic person.
And we kind of unpicked some of the issues around what happens when we face uncertainty, how can we form greater resilience? And some of the other conversations that flowed from that looked at things like the blurring of public and private life. So Joshua Macht, who is the executive VP of Harvard Business Review, we talked about some of the ways in which our more intimate selves come into relationship with our business lives, with the kids in the background or the dogs or what have you, and how we’ve had to enlarge our idea about what is acceptable to bring into our work life. So this sense of having a greater sense of self when you are with your colleagues, having a greater sense of compassion, a greater sense of understanding. So that was another theme that came up for me.
Another one. One of my favourite episodes was with a beloved friend of mine. Her name is Blanche Ellis, and we talked about attention and transformation and the power of everyday creativity. And I think creativity is one of these things that we tend to assume that very few people have. We kind of reserve it for the elite artist or the famous singer or whatever it might be. And we forget that actually small acts of attention-giving and observation and creation can transform our experience of the everyday and the mundane, and they can create a space in which we get to relate more deeply and more intimately, especially when we’re kind of lacking that stimulation or depth in kind of restricted lives with all the restrictions. I also had the chance to speak with Manda, which was another wonderful conversation. You should go listen to it! And then there were two other themes. So one of the things that I found really interesting was ways in which we can live better. So this idea about redesigning systems around compassion and courage and cooperation, which is a conversation I had with Jennifer Morgan, a fascinating woman who’s also the international executive director of Greenpeace, and then looking most recently with a new season at what we conceive of as power and transformation and how we can live almost full and genuine and authentic lives. And I was a bit nervous about having that conversation to kick off the new season because my professional self, the other aspects of me, looks at psychology and behaviour and business and values and, you know, online persuasion. And the aspect of me which enjoys talking about ritual and depth and mysticism and the mythic imagination kind of doesn’t get to play in that field. And so this is kind of a way to build a bridge between the two. So, yeah, those are just some of the highlights that I wanted to share. So Manda, over to you. What were the highlights for your podcast this year?
Manda: Thank you. Well, speaking on your podcast was quite high on the list. So this was my first year of podcasting. I feel very much like the baby in the room because you guys have been running for a while, and and this was our first year. And this episode is our anniversary, birthday, whatever we like to call it, episode. So the whole year has been one of discovery. A very, very long time ago in my writing past, I did one of those residential workshops with Terry Pratchett, the late, very great Terry Pratchett. I am, in fact, the only person in the world who has played Dungeons and Dragons with Terry Pratchett and Fay Weldon. Different years, different times… but that was part of my past. I was the geek who had the entire set of D&D dice in my bag wherever I went. However, and he said once that writing was the most fun anybody could have with their clothes on, and now he’s completely wrong because podcasting is so much more fun.
So what I really discovered is that it feels as if this brings together everything I’ve always wanted to do. I get to read things by extraordinary people, and then I get to write them an email and go, would you like to be on the podcast? And about eight times out of ten they go, Yeah OK, which is just amazing. So I’ve got to talk to people that I really, really respect and ask the questions that I always wanted somebody to ask them that nobody else ever seems to get round to, except you guys, obviously, because I do steal people occasionally, particularly from Della – Mark Lakeman did come. And in that case, it’s been really interesting to be able to go, OK, you said this on the Upstream podcast. Where would you go after that?
And then people can go back and listen and recreate then an ecosystem of podcasts, that I think is useful, because that too has been one of my big realisations of the year. I used to live when I lived on my own with Radio 4. So effectively, UK sensible talk radio in the background just all day. And there were bits that I didn’t really want to listen to, but it was on because I lived on my own and I just left it on. And I came to really dislike the BBC over the last few years and discovered that I could curate my own listening by listening to podcasts. And it’s been transformative. I don’t have the same amount of time and they’re definitely not on all the time. And being in Covid and not driving anymore, which was my main podcast listening time, has cut it a lot. But that also has been revelatory.
But really in brief, the themes through the year has been that one that both of you have mentioned of the disconnection, the fact that the sickness is in the system, being able to examine that in various ways, kind of put the laser in on activism. We talked to Gail Bradbrook and then Gill Coombs about Extinction Rebellion, and the nature of activism. There was a point when this my podcast, the Accidental Gods podcast, was going to be called The Spirit of Activism. And my beloved wife said that might narrow it down too much, and people might not want to listen. But still, for me, that’s been a lot of what it is. So we really have looked at that. What is it where spirituality and activism meet? What is it when they meet on the Land? Mary Reynaud and Abel Pearson, two very different people, one in Ireland, one in Wales, but really bringing life back to the Land in a way that feeds people but also feeds everything and sucks Covid in from there, which is magical. Miki Kashtan gave one of the quotes that has underlain everything else I’ve ever done. She said that the the wounding of our system is of separation, scarcity and powerlessness, and that really sunk in first. Gail Bradbrook said it to me, and then I interviewed Miki, and understanding that I’m getting a sense that if we could heal those bits of wounding, this is a little bit upstream, then we would be on the way to healing that which is broken.
I spoke to Rob Shorter, who works with Kate Raworth, who is one of my all-time economics heroes, and they had just launched the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. And Amsterdam had just committed to being a doughnut city, which was – just even three years ago when Della was one of my teachers on the Masters in Economics at Schumacher. If someone had said that one of the foremost cities in the world would have committed to being a doughnut city within a couple of years, I would have thought you were crazy. For the world is changing really fast and there are people who really get it. And one of my class members is now working for the government in the Netherlands on a circular economy, and and how we can make the economics different. And then towards the end, we moved a bit into Nathalie’s area and began to look at business.
We spoke to Mike Raven of AQai, and then Alex Parker of How to be more Pirate. And each of them is coming from the world of business. But then moving that out, we need to change the system. Right at the start of How to be More Pirate, the person who wrote Be More Pirate, Sam Conniff, wrote the foreword. And he said the thing is that the problems will not be fixed by fixing the problems, because what we need to do is go to what’s causing the problems, which is the system. And he called that the business model. But what we call it doesn’t matter. I think what’s clear from all three of us is that we are all immersed in the space where we know that problems will not be fixed by fixing the problems that we have to go upstream, that we have to expand our sense of who we are and where we’re going, in order to begin to give people the agency to make the changes that need to happen. So that I think that that last one has been the big theme of my years. How do we give on a podcast by podcast basis a sense that we do have agency, and then of what we can actually do and go out the front door now, and do it to make a difference? So it’s early days and small steps, but I think all of us are doing that in our way, which is why I think the ecosystem of podcasts that we are part of is so inspiring. And five years ago, this wasn’t happening. Change is happening very, very fast now.
So thank you, all of you. So with that to move us on, I had a question which I have been asking of myself and of the Accidental Gods students and would like now to put out into the world, which is my core question really that’s animating me, which is: what are we here for, we individually, as a single people and we as a species, humanity, and we as the much, much bigger scope of the web of life? And I often don’t get to answer this, and partly I don’t get to answer it because it is much easier to ask questions than it is done, and I don’t have an absolutely clear answer except the felt sense of what has animated Accidental Gods from the beginning, which is I feel that we’re right on the edge of a phase shift so huge that it will be similar to the shift from being forward to hunters, to being an agricultural species, or the shift from being prokaryotic to eukaryotic, so single celled cells to cells with a nucleus, things that are so profound that the world of consciousness, the whole of the space that we live in will never be the same again. And that the only thing that I can see, the only way that our evolutionary path makes sense if we are in the right place at the right time, is that we have reached a space where we can consciously choose. To be other than we are, we can make that next evolutionary step, one of consciousness consciously chosen. So I think that’s what we’re here for. I don’t know yet how we do it, but I think that the sense of connectedness that we need and that we know is missing is an inherent part of what we’re doing, and that every time we reach out online or in person, whether we’re creating communities of purpose at a distance or communities of place in the villages, the towns, the cities that we live in, then we’re building the connectedness that we need to be able to reach out to the rest of the web of life. So. It’s an incomplete answer, but it’s the best that I have at the moment. So, Della, you are next on the list because I can see you. So have you any concept of what are we here for, either individually or collectively or both?
Della: I would say we, and I mean us three, definitely myself, humanity and all the beings in the web of life. I would say we’re here for harmony and ease, I would say we’re here for those moments. I’m imagining a lion who’s hungry, and eats the antelope, and then is no longer hungry and walks past of a flock of birds or antelope or gazelles. That sense of ease and contentment, moments of lack of greed. And for us humans, the same thing. I’m here for those moments where the decisions, the choices, the actions, the behaviours that I make are in alignment, that I feel a sense of deep integrity, that I’m making choices that are turning towards life, that are life’s life thriving and life supportive, and those moments even where we’re in conflict or disagreement. And yet we turn towards one another, we call each other and we find common ground. So I’m here for those moments where things feel, may not be a pleasure or happiness, or all is peachy, but just a sense where things feel in a deeper sense, well and good and harmonious and useful. And I’m here for those moments.
Manda: Magic, thank you. That’s – I love it. And that turning towards life, I remember you saying that so often. And it’s one of those things that I need daily to remember. Thank you. So, Natalie, have you ideas of what we are here for?
Nathalie: Well, I don’t know what we’re here for. I’ve thought many years about this question, and the best answer I can come up with is what we choose to do with why we’re here. So what meaning can we make with the life that we’ve been given? And I think that’s perhaps in some ways an easier question to answer, in some ways harder, because then it puts the agency right back in your hands. And so I think the question then becomes, what is it that each of us can offer one another and ourselves that enables us to live the richest lives possible? How can we be in service? How can we live in a way that feels abundant and wholehearted, and in a way that gives other people permission to unlock themselves, to unlock the access within themselves? And I think that’s one of the things that this year in particular has made me really question is what is it that I’m here for? How can I apply these questions and enquiries to unlock that question in myself, to then offer something that’s actually going to be meaningful and valuable to other people? And the difficult thing is that when you ask that question and you unlock the door and you’re faced with a landscape that maybe you didn’t expect, how then do you take the tentative steps out onto that territory without a map? So for me, it might be well, you know, I’ve been spending my life writing books, synthesising, research information. That’s interesting, but it’s not so nourishing, at least not to the level that I would like. And then confronted with the question, well, if that’s not what the territory looks like for you, whether meaning is held, how can you turn into this unknown space, and what does that look like? And for me, I think it connects more with holding the space like this, like you both with our voices, and enquiry, and creating a home for these kinds of conversations to unfold, and for people to feel able to enquire without being humiliated, without being afraid, without being shamed out of asking difficult questions. I think that’s really important to hold a safe space in which we can have deeper discussion. And also maybe further down the line, maybe that’s my fear speaking, how I could use my voice, my music, my art, my physical body to gather people together, to do work that reconnects. And I don’t know what that looks like yet, but that’s how I would begin to answer that question.
Manda: That feels so alive and so magical. Thank you. Well, I look forward… I really look forward to reading your new book, but also that sense of holding a safe space for deeper discussion and that aliveness coming out of that. Beautiful. Thank you. Della, did you want to say something there? You looked as if you wanted to…
I just wanted to uplift ‘soul nourishing’. You know, soul nourishing, I guess. Yeah. If I were to have a gift for you, Nathalie, too, you know just that I love that you said that this new season is a bridge for you. So just wishing for you that all of your work is soul nourishing for yourself, and for your listeners and readers and those that you work with. I think that’s a beautiful invitation for us all.
Nathalie: Thanks. I really appreciate that, Della.
Manda: And we were heading to our next part, we were going to offer our gift to 2021, either to the listeners or to the year ahead, and also our vision for 2021. And what came to me there, completely out of the blue and not what I planned at all was that for all of us, for all three of us, and I think for the people listening: our sense of flourishing, our sense of freedom, our sense of safety, would be considerably enhanced with a Universal Basic Income. It has its problems, and it would need to be attached to Universal Basic Services, and Universal Rent Controls. And this is not the time and the place really to go into that. But I am just going to step in and offer first that my gift to 2021, where I able to do it would be an absolute global Universal Basic Income, so that people are free to be what makes their souls sing, and to bring all of themselves to the world, without the havoc of being part of a system that is predicated on scarcity. And my vision for 2021 that arises out of that is of a world where abundance is the baseline. Where we know that, where we’re not afraid, where we’re not trying to grab stuff because we’re afraid there isn’t enough, where we’re not all playing an endless game of musical chairs, where somebody is grabbing the last chair and we’re having to fight over it, where the reality of the world is that there is enough, and that then we can be who we really want to be. So I kind of jumped the gun a little bit, but now I’m going to hand over to whoever would like to go next to share their gift and vision for 2021.
Nathalie: So one thing I really miss this year is being able to take walks on Hampstead Heath. Even though I live in Barcelona now and not in London, one of my favourite places to be is Hampstead Heath, especially when the crows come at dusk and it fills with this amazing cawing sound. It’s just magical. So my gift for 2021 would be that everyone gets the chance to weave nature into their daily lives, to be able to go and take a walk, to grow a plant, even if it’s a little cheeky succulent on the balcony or the windowsill or like me, I grew a bunch of chillies and accidentally they all worked. And my little galeria ended up being completely full, so I still have chillies coming out of my ears. But yeah, to be able to have some contact with life that is other than human in the coming year. And then my vision: my vision is that enough of us hold hope and space and direction and practical ideas and visionary ideas and creative ideas to weave a map that allows us to take the steps we need to take to move forward and build new systems. And I’m not sure exactly what that looks like yet. But in my mind, when I think of the vision for the New Year, I think of like a nodal web in which our voice is a part of the ecosystem, in which books become part of the ecosystem, in which people who are making legislation to give bodies of water personhood, are part of the legislation that all of these different nodes connected together. And I see it as this kind of golden web that encircles the Earth with these points of light, these kind of fire hearths that attract other like minds so that we can all lend our efforts in whatever way is possible to much greater movement that will tip us into something which is much more resilient, and much more fair, and much more generative. Della, how about you?
Della: Beautiful. I echo and uplift both of your visions. I would say my my gift for 2021 would be seeds. I had the beautiful experience this year of taking a permaculture design course. I had never taken one. I had taken social permaculture, but never the full permaculture design course. And so I had that beautiful experience of earth care, people care, fair share, and the learning of all the permaculture principles and practices. Grey water, wetlands, and all of that. So beautiful. Yeah. So I would say one of the gifts to me from this year was learning about seeds. So I would carry that to 2021, and give the gift of seeds. And for example, I had the opportunity in that to design a native edible community garden and it addressed both, you know, the restoration of ecosystem, also honouring of the native peoples who use those plants for food or medicine, and also the ecological colonisation that has taken place. So the gift of seeds for people to connect with ancestral seeds. I’m thinking of people who have come from other places to the United States who brought seeds with them from their families or ancestry. So connecting with that ancestral lineage, those seeds, but connecting also with native plants, seeds of place, and also just connecting with the abundance that both of you mentioned of nature, the inherent gift giving nature. The apple tree does not ask for anything in return for its bounty of apples that it gives us every year. So just that sense of seeds, and the abundance that comes with seeds, and also the resilience that seeds carry with them. So seeds, both in a metaphorical sense of folks planting new intentions, projects and connexions, and also the physical gift of a seed to plant and reforest and rebuild and connect with the more than human world in that way.
And in terms of a vision for 2021, I’m reminded of one of the folks in the permaculture design course that I was just in. She’s an amazing activist, feminist post-capitalist activist, and she would fight and fight and fight, and had a very feisty attitude, and told me recently that this year she came to realise that she wanted to take a more gentle and positivist approach, meaning to get folks to join her efforts through conversation and through invitation. And it reminded me of this quote by Buckminster Fuller: You never change things by fighting the existing reality to change something. Build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. So my vision for 2021 is that we continue to build the models, the communities, the relationships that are life, supportive, life nourishing, life thriving, and that folks feel so invited, so inspired by how much fun we’re having, how much beauty there is, how much connexion, how much health we feel that they want to join us, and that those new systems or systems based on ancient wisdom are truly inclusive and invitational, and that global capitalist sea or that sea of extraction exploitation just simply falls away to give rise to these islands of alternatives that we uplift. So it’s a real.. Not a fighting but a building and inviting and inclusiveness that gives rise to these changes that we’ve been speaking about. So that would be my vision for 2021.
Manda: Thank you. That feels like a really good place to end. We were going to do predictions for 2021, but I think our hopes for 2021 are probably a lot safer and we’re not going to come back in two years time to bite us, and that just as a feeling, as a way to head into the New Year. That’s beautiful. So as we’re heading towards the end, thank you to Nathalie and to Della, and to you for listening. We’re releasing this at the Solstice, the dark night of the year. The time when the year turns, the time when we can turn, the time when we can sit with all the lights off, and maybe just a candle flame, and really reflect on where we’ve been, and where we want to go; where we can ask the question of the years still to come, what do you want of me? And sit with whatever comes under the dark sky. With the world alive outside and all the potential of the New Year ready to stretch out in front of us. So thank you all for being there. Thank you, Della. Thank you, Nathalie. Thank you, everyone who is part of our podcasting ecosystem. And if you’ve enjoyed this and if it sits well with you, share it -because community is everything, and that’s what we’re trying to build.
Jen, Carrie and Sarah: “We shall be known by the company we keep; by the ones who circle round to tend these fires. We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change in life and deep within the earth. It is time now. It is time now that we thrive. It is time we lead ourselves into the well. It is time now, and what a time to be alive in this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love. In this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love.”
Manda: So that’s it for our first anniversary edition. Huge thanks to Natalie and Della for creating a new tradition, for sharing ideas and books and visions of how the world could. We will put links in the show notes of all the things that we mentioned, and we’ll be back shortly, possibly sooner than a week if we get round to what I had planned. But I want to take this time to thank Caro C for epic sound production, and for writing and recording the signature theme at the head and foot of the podcast. I also want to thank Gill Coombs and Eloise Guillot for stepping up and helping with the transcripts, which has absolutely transformed my Mondays. Thank you both. And thanks to Faith, as ever, for being all that you are, for a year of redesigning the website, of updating it endlessly. Whenever I ask for listening to ideas and telling me which ones were going to work and which ones were really not, and for being right most of the time. And thanks to you for listening, it has been an extraordinary, but in the world of podcasts, it has been entirely inspired and we would not be here without you. So thank you for being there. And if you know of anybody else who would really like to be part of this ecosystem of ecosystems, that is, create the more flourishing world that our hearts know is possible, then do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next time. Thank you and goodbye.
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