Episode #34 Growing into Relationship with the Earth: Mac Macartney, visionary, leader and teacher offers transformation
“When a human embryo is in the mother’s womb, creation whispers into their being ‘I am placing a piece of my genius inside you’. Our task then is to find it, discover it, and share it. If that gift becomes the center of our work – we will shine and be seen and i’s unearthing will bring a deep happiness and a sense of fulfilment and purpose.”
Mac Macartney is a writer, visionary, teacher, thought leader, TED talker, founder of Embercombe and leader of The Journey. A role model for the best of inspiring masculinity, guided by his visions for a healed earth and healed humanity, Mac talks with deep, abiding compassion and authenticity of the ways we can find our way back into context with the earth.
Manda: [00:00:12.24] So Mac Macartney, you’re down in Devon, are you in your beautiful cabin, at Embercombe? It looks out over a pond and looks up to Wooded Valley, and it’s one of the most tranquil, peaceful, grounded places I have ever been. So I will be imagining you there.
You founded Embercombe which is really how I got to know you. And before we move into how the world could be, I think it would be really interesting for people listening to have a sense of where you came from and your vision then, because you are one of the exemplars, I think, of the sense that human intention is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. And if you have a grand vision, it can come about. So can you give us a kind of potted history of where how you got to where you are?
Mac: [00:04:17.15] Yes, sure. There are so many twists and turns in this story. Let me just say I have been fortunate in many ways fortunate in this. I was born into a family that was very loving and unusually physically and emotionally demonstrative, given the years when I was born in 1949.
And also my parents loving nature and – they didn’t need to encourage us outside as much as we possibly could – their willingness to sit on beaches in the pouring rain, huddled together while we played and swam in for hours. And so I am fortunate in that way. Then there have been many challenges and not least was a sort of undiagnosed dyslexia of a particular kind called dyscalculia, which resulted in me being twenty fifth of twenty-five in the ‘D’ stream pretty much all my school life.
And growing up with an absolute belief that I was stupid and born into a very brilliant family. And that I realized it was just a while ago when a jigsaw puzzle arrived to my little boy and the the sort of sudden physical sensations I felt when I remembered the horror and fear I had of those things when I was little and the games we used to play around Christmas and I would always be the worst performing person in the family.
So in one way it doesn’t sound like much, but it did mean that I grew up with a very low self esteem, except in part, thank goodness, if you like, from my physical ability, which was considerable. So, I sort of lived with that for a while. But a whole series of experiences changed my life. For instance, a car accident in which the other person lost their life. And in the inquest, it came out that she had left the pub shouting at her lover that she was going to kill herself on the first person she met. And she came straight at me. And it killed her, and it nearly killed me. A whole multitude of other experiences which were very harsh and very difficult and always mixed in with the beautiful, of course. And nature was really my god and goddess. And in the end this brought me to a point when I just thought that I couldn’t really participate in this life unless I could find a way in which I could bring all the things which I felt to be sacred and loved so much to the forefront of my life and live for those things and speak for them and act for them. And that led me to the real feeling. I knew that I needed another education, aside from the one I received. And so I began to search for the indigenous people who could who could teach me?
Manda: [00:07:56.98] What sort of era was this. Because I’m thinking this was long before shamanic stuff became fashionable in the West 70s.
Mac: [00:08:03.73] Mid to late 70s.
Manda: [00:08:07.30] Right. So that was before even Joan Halifax and Michael Harner were beginning to hit the world.
Mac: [00:08:12.05] Yes. I can’t remember when I first saw their names. But when you talk about indigenous people, there were, to my knowledge, only two options. One was Aboriginal Australians, which were the other side of the world and the Native Americans. So, there was nothing about South America, nothing about plant medicines. Nothing about the Sami or the Mongolians. And books-wise, there was nothing until Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee came out. And then a book about Rolling Thunder death and Lame Deer. So, I wrote to those people asking them to teach me and I did get a letter back from Rolling Thunder’s camp.
But anyway, meanwhile, I had after many, many false turns and some incredible adventures, I found my way to being taught by a group of native American medicine people. And that lasted for 20 years. I think one of the greatest gifts they gave me – and they didn’t just give me gifts, I have to say, it was mixed, it was a wonderful experience and in all kinds of different and surprising ways. But the greatest gift was when they said to me,’Mac, it doesn’t matter how many Kiva ceremonies, bower ceremonies, Inipe ceremonies, Sundance ceremonies, whatever that you do. In the end, these are not your ceremonies and you are not of us. You have your own mountains, forests, streams, your own trees, your own sacred places. So, in the end, all we can do is help you unlock the door to your own indigenous past, your own relationship with our Mother Earth, and then you’ll be on your own.’ And so in that sense, not alone at all.
And that’s really what brought me to this place. It’s it was their invitation as Native Americans that I should start speaking, which I frankly was terrified to undertake – nothing frightened me more. It was their invitation that got me writing during which I had to battle so hard with this feeling that, you know, every book I opened it always on the first page somewhere says, ‘Fellow of some distinguished university’. And I’m thinking to myself that, because my education was as it is, I don’t even know the parts of speech: adverb, preposition, whatever. My work is entirely intuitive and it comes from reading a lot. So. So anyway, I became a writer and a speaker, and also a facilitator of learning about ourselves, about life, about Earth and an Inquirer and explorer into things spiritual.
And of how to grow into relationship wiht the arth, but in a softer, gentler, more compassionate way than the manner in which I was taught.
Manda: [00:11:50.14] It’s probably not for this podcast, but I do remember listening to you and thinking how very harsh some of it was. And I’m prepared to believe that there’s a mindset that says that’s necessary, but I’m not certain that it’s necessary or useful now. But, to move beyond that, you became quite involved in working with quite large companies for a while and then you found the valley at which Embercombe is now situated. Can you say a little bit about that, about the company and how I got into the companies to begin with?
It’s useful. I think it’s interesting because you were and still are speaking to some of the people who are at the highest levels of making decisions that most of us don’t reach and whose decisions could make material differences to how the world works.
Mac: [00:12:45.46] Yes. Yes, that’s true. And, you know, nobody’s more surprised than me that it still seems to be the case. But how it happened, well, I escaped out of London, you know, because I was keeping bad company and I really need to get as far away as I could. I trained as a gardener because I thought, well, at least I’ll be outside with plants and I know I’ll love doing that. I became the gardener as Leadership Development Centre and specialising in outdoor leadership development, which was very big in the early 80s, and intervening in a fight between two supermarket executives when was younger and and then managing to get them to sit down and reconcile and find the learning. I overnight became a management consultant.
Manda: [00:13:35.70] It must have been that some of your training with the group in the States gave you the skills to do that.
Mac: [00:13:41.08] Well, it’s interesting that this was pretty much exactly at the same time I began that training with. So, I don’t really know where it came from, but I had had a lot of life experience and I did know already quite a lot about people, not least because I’d had to learn a lot about people. That’s how I survived. Really? Yeah. So then, yes. So three years later, I was the head of consultancy and then started my own business in the UK and then later in Russia and then in Poland and I loved working with people, but it was a mystery to me as to how really this had happened, except that I liked that it helped me feel really comfortable or discover my confidence, if you like, in working with people.
And I also thought, I think justifiably, that via this way I might one day be able to sell my business and raise the money to buy land in which to create. Embody a vision I had in my early 20s of a valley where we would ask the question, what does it really mean to be human? How much how might we live in this on this earth in a different way? And I never did sell it, but one of my clients brought me on board and said, we think we’re going to make a commercial fortune and we’d like you to work with us so that when the day comes that we sell the business and realize that fortune, we’d be able to put our hand on our hearts and say we did it with integrity in good faith..
So I did that. And five years later, they sold it to Warren Buffet. And then he said, Do you have a dream? I said, yes, it’s this valley. And I described the valley. And he said, What do you need? I said, I need the valley. And so, he wrote the check, the bought 50 acres of Devonshire valley.
Manda: [00:15:48.38] Do you think that they had been able to work with integrity? Is it possible to, of course, within the current system?
Mac: [00:16:00.69] Well, I would just say I mean, I don’t I couldn’t say that I live my life with total integrity. Maybe there are one or two people that can. I do my best and I think it’s I do OK. So was this business wrought with integrity? All I can say was he was he was scrupulously honest. And open and in any measure of how most NGOs of public sector or private companies are run, then yes, absolutely, he was a person of integrity. And I do really respect him for that.
Manda: [00:16:43.83] And he wrote you the check and you were able to found Embercombe
Mac: [00:16:49.50] Yes, he wrote me a check and said, if the land I find cost a bit more then he’d top it up. And the place I found was twice as much. And he had some resistance, but he doubled it and we had our valley. And then, of course, the real work began.
Manda: [00:17:11.88] How long ago was that?
Mac: [00:17:13.17] We bought the land was made in 1999.
Manda: [00:17:18.60] So twenty years effectively. And it’s such a beautiful place. I’m imagining that the winters particularly were very hard in the early days before there were long term relatively long-term structures. Because now there’s a beautiful hall to work in and I particularly remember you made a stone circle which now has oak trees around it, just as a a small insight into the way the world works. Can you tell us about the oak trees around the circle?
Mac: [00:17:49.98] Well, it you know, first of all, the stone circle. I mean, how did I find those people that taught me in the very early 80s was because we heard there’s a group of Native Americans moving across Britain visiting our sacred sites.
Mac: [00:18:03.72] We didn’t know why. For three years, we tried to find them. Every year, they left in the autumn and returned in the spring. Eventually we found them. And that’s how I connected with the group that taught me. With that same group, something like fifteen years later, I discovered why they’d been walking, visiting our land in that way. And it was to find an ancient sacred site where they could perform a ceremony to ask permission to build a new stone circle in Britain. They received that from a stone circle in Ireland. And they said to me, we believe the place this social circle should be constructed is Embercombe.
Manda: [00:18:47.91] And just before we go on with that, why did they want to do this? Because they’re from North America. What had drawn them to the UK? Had they dreamt this?
Mac: [00:18:56.19] Yes, they had. And it was in recognition of Britain as this colonial power that had swept around the world rolling out the story that we now live within. And yet amazingly, really, they said. But you but your nation has never been only that. It has also been the land of the freedom fighters of people like William Blake and Mary Wollstonecraft and countless others who have fought for a different kind of world. So we feel that and our dreaming tells us, that from this same land -and that’s not to say only this land, of course, Europe and various others – but here we wish to set a prayer. And that prayer is a call to the people of these islands that they wake and remember the Earth Mother and remember that they were once on Earth Loving people and that now is the time to stand and rediscover sacredness and to take action for the world we’d like to live in.
Manda: [00:20:18.23] And so you have a stone circle at Embercombe?
Mac: [00:20:23.36] Yes, and then you ask about the oak trees. So then the stone circle was constructed and suddenly a year later, the first tiny appearance. We just can’t understand how it got there because we are supervising the tree planting. None of it is anywhere near the stone circle.
The following year, there’s 30 trees. The next year that it’s 50 odd trees. And so it goes. And eventually we discover it’s the jays, the birds, the trees, planting acorns.
Manda: [00:20:55.73] It’s extraordinary.
Mac: [00:20:57.62] And why round the stone? So why not in the middle? Well, it’s very practical, really. We used to cut the grass in the middle and on the outside, the cattle grazed, but in the tussoky grass around around our stone circle, the oak grove came. And sometimes I sense people are disappointed that it was, as it were, a rational or practical, pragmatic reason. But for me, that’s not what magic is. There’s such a beautiful unity, the mystery of how life somehow gave us the grove of oak trees planted by the birds, just like our ancient sacred sites to 3000 years ago.
Manda: [00:21:47.79] Yes. And it’s just as possible that two or three thousand years ago that the fate of people within a stone circle would have had the same effect of making the grass shorter. And that oak groves would have arisen for exactly the same reason. It’s glorious. Listeners would have to be in the UK and of a certain age to remember this, but when I was probably teenage, the BBC in the days when it still did amazing and remarkable things, did a series of people living as if in the Iron Age.
And they discovered they had there were things that had been found in the doorway of iron age roundhouses were right at the threshold was a scoop. And they thought maybe it was a place you’d put a cauldron. But it’s a kind of weird place to put a cauldron because it’s half in and half out of the house. And maybe it was for votive offerings. And all the archaeologists had their own ideas of what this scooped up bit of earth. But in every doorway, it was always there. And it wasn’t until they ran the re-enactment, that they discovered it was the chickens. And for reasons only known to Chicken-kind, they really wanted to make their dust baths right in the center of the threshold of the Roundhouse. And they made the same scoop every time. And I thought archaeologists for however long had been writing papers about what this obviously was. And it was the chickens. And I thought I was just so glorious. And it’s the same. This is the Jays are planting the what will be an oak grove for as long as humanity is there with that circle.
So let’s just stay with the Oak Circle because I know that you’ve held many really quite profound ceremonies there. And the intent is of the native peoples that you first met who were asking in the ways that they knew how with the heritage that they had back to a living tradition, whether it was appropriate and possible to build a new stone circle here. They found that it was, and they did. And the aim was to set a call to the people of these islands to wake and remember their Earth mother and to stand and take action in her name. And now that the circle exists. Have you seen that essence and that energy arising?
Mac: [00:24:15.05] Yes, I have. And of course, it’s a deeply moving and I see how many people longed for this. And if I can also add, that when we do ceremonies within the stone circle, when the ceremonies that we do at Embercombe, they are not ceremonies predicated on belief. You do not have to subscribe to some belief system. You only have to open your eyes to the beauty of the sound of children playing, of people being people in community, doing things, sharing things, cooperating, collaborating with each other, to the extraordinary phenomenon of spring or to the wind that is breath, to sunshine that is light in our eyes, if you like, to the earth under our feet.
It’s so ordinary in many ways and if we can really rediscover reverence for the privilege of a life on this earth, I think everything is transformed in that in that way. Then we begin to move and think and operate from an entirely different place.
Manda: [00:25:39.70] Yeah. And this is how we change the world, is to find that reverence for the privilege of life and to live that in every moment, then we can’t help but live differently. And so moving to now and the world is changing faster than it was when you and I first met. How has lockdown been for you? We in Britain, we’re coming to what seems to be the slightly tattered end of a lockdown that may or may not be over. Have you seen in whatever bubble existed for you in lockdown where you were, in the slowing down of the way people have lived, have you noticed people beginning to find again that reverence of the privilege of a life on this earth? That’s a bit of a loaded question, but let’s go with it.
Mac: [00:26:35.38] My lock-down was spent at my home, and my home is not at Embercombe. It’s about three miles away. And so my primary experience of how things change was was located in that village and there I would say it’s been very similar to the occasion a couple of winters ago when it snowed quite heavily for a few days and our village looked like an Alpine village. And there was a couple of people skiing down the main street. Everybody talked to each other. People would hail each other, good morning each other, inquire as to how things were from each other. There was a warmth and openness and the hospitality. And that has been the case during lockdown in our village, albeit from a kind of two meter, rather embarrassingly strange distanced way.
This is multigenerational, and they are what one might call just ordinary folk. And some are wealthy, and some are not. And some are young. Some are old. So, it’s not the same as an image taken from deep inside one of our cities, but it is what it is. And in that basis, it was it was really lovely.
Manda: [00:28:28.58] And has that continued as lockdown has lifted?
Mac: [00:28:32.93] My experience of it is that it has that it is still the same, because relationships were formed and people started speaking and I think once speaking, the inclination is to continue. And I think because most dog owners know that people automatically gravitate to the dog.
Well, my dog is my small son and he hails everybody with a very hearty good morning. And how are you? Where are you going? And what’s that you’re carrying? And all these kinds of things. So even the more reticent, even sometimes rather dour folk often find themselves bewitched and beguiled by his openhearted acknowledgment of them.
Manda: [00:29:23.00] And so. Have you also found your reach around the world has extended during lockdown because I think you and I were on an event at Embercombe relatively early on. And it seemed to me that the necessity of where we were and what we were doing – and the availability of technology that probably didn’t exist in the same way even two years ago – we were able to begin to talk to people further afield. Have you found increasing interest beyond these lands, or is it the case that most of the people who want to listen to you are still of this particular land mass?
Mac: [00:30:11.56] No, there’s no doubt about it, that during this period lockdown period, both my and Embercombe’s reach has dramatically increased internationally and in our own land. In some ways, mine was already doing so within those countries where either English is like the Netherlands, where, as you know, many speak, and then across New Zealand, Australia, the States and other countries, I’m sure, much less so in other countries where that’s not the case. But yes, it has extended and sometimes really amazingly, you know, like emails coming to me from someone in China and various other places and surprising little moments when you realize there’s a whole little network of people who are tuned into and for whom these online talks and various other communications are like a glass of water to a very thirsty person.
And that really for me, just brings home the responsibility and the wonder of how technology has enabled this and the responsibility that people like me, and many others carry in what we always say it.
Manda: [00:31:38.20] And you’ve done it at least two TED talks, which I will link to in the show notes, which are both very inspiring. And I don’t want to reprise them, particularly because people can go off and listen to them. And I highly recommend that they do. But particularly there was one where you said that there are three questions that anyone can ask themselves that struck me as one of those things that everybody should just have on a Post-it note on their desk to check in with the nature of what they’re doing and without repeating the whole talk. I wondered if you could just lead us through those three.
Mac: [00:32:11.95] Yes. So, the first one is, what is it that you most deeply and profoundly love?
And just to say on this, so this is not this is not a two to three-hour workshop sort of question. It’s not a question for this month. It’s a revisited question forever through throughout her life. Because things to shift and change and deepen. And the and the emphasis is on the words Deeply and Profoundly. And in many ways, our culture, our society is so averse to anything that is deep and profound. And so we have at this point to even begin to explore, What does that mean, ‘Deeply and Profoundly’?. And then love. Not, just be interested in or be curious about – but Love.
And when we probe that question, my experience for many people, when they really go there and they’re willing to share the answer is I never have Deeply and profoundly loved.
And there’s a shocking chasm of loneliness. And I read an awful silence really. But, at the same time, for those that can bring themselves to this place, then one could imagine the person shaking themselves off, standing up and saying, well, I’m not willing to live without experience.
I had such a person who came to Embercombe with three months left to live, 30 years old. And that was the grief that she faced. The wonderful side of that story is that in at the point that she left Embercombe after shedding gallons of tears into our lake, she set her face to how she would live this last three months, that this last three months would be her resurrection. That she would live those last three months in a way she had never lived the previous 30 years.
And when we asked that question, what I think it leads us to a lot of covers is we answer the question, what is sacred to us? And then I would say that is the banner, that is the flag under which we then stand. And pledge loyalty to. So that’s the first question.
The second one is, ‘What are your Deepest and most Profound gifts?’
And it’s not qualifications, it’s nothing except gifts. It is predicated upon the little piece that was given to me by the indigenous people who taught me, who said, that when a human embryo is still in their mother’s womb prior to being born, if you like, Creation whispers into their Being, ‘I am placing a tiny little piece of my genius deep inside you. When you are born, your journey is to discover this gift, grow this gift and ultimately share this gift.’ And I love that, because I don’t have to bother with the question of whether I believe it or not. What about I just simply work on that hypothesis, that I have a gift.
Manda: [00:36:26.08] It doesn’t have to become a belief system. It just has to be a lived reality, which is a different thing.
Mac: [00:36:31.18] Yes. And I think if we work from that position, some law somewhere says we will discover it. And then and then that gift, whatever it is, should, of course, become the center of our work because we will shine in that when we work from that place. We will be seen; we will be most likely rewarded in different ways. And so it’ll it brings with it deep happiness and a lovely sense of fulfilment and purpose. But that again, the shadow of that is that when you work with people that question, you realize that the vast majority of people have a very low opinion of themselves and that they might have a mask or something which they wear and they may even pretend to themselves. But many, many people actually discount themselves as being of importance in the bringing about of this world we’d love to live in.
Manda: [00:37:40.94] You work with a lot of people who come seeking the answers to these questions, and we’ve discussed on this podcast before that that our culture particularly trains us from a very young age into the fact that we need to judge ourselves because we are worthy of judgment and that we are actually very bad at everything that we do and failure is ingrained in us in ways that I think in other cultures is not necessarily the case. But we are where we are. And my understanding, particularly of the work that you do, is that you can help people to learn to live in a way where that doesn’t feel like a bedrock reality.
Because the problem can be we can we can do I am in every way in every day better and better, but we don’t believe it. We have to come to a point where it’s not just words that we’ve read in the self-help book, it’s an actual part of the way that we live – and then the change happens. We discussed this on a podcast very recently and I’ve had a number of emails in the space since that went live two days ago saying, ‘I am that person. I live with a sense of failure’, and I would really like to offer your listeners a way to begin to live, not with that sense of failure.
Mac: [00:39:06.06] We all speak from our own well of ignorance. I only know what I know. What I do know and what served me most wonderfully was when I first met those Native Americans, they said, ‘Mac, you seem to be a man filled with sadness. You are so full up with sadness, we are not even sure you wish to live. They said they said, do, you want to die? If you want to die, we have ceremonies that will help you die. We can even get the drums now. We can begin the ceremony very soon. You know, you want to die then we can help you. And really, we’d like you to arrive at that decision fairly quickly because we’ve got other stuff we need to do. So, if you want to live, you want to live, then you have to commit to the journey.’
‘You have to commit to this journey, this journey of healing, this journey of becoming, this journey of becoming whole. You have to face your fears, your demons. You have to enter, walk towards all those things. And you have to also open your eyes to the beauty, the ocean of beauty that is all around you and the privileges that have been heaped upon you, including the challenges that you’ve received because they’ve actually given you the chance to bring you here. You would never have come to us if you hadn’t had those challenges.’
So they used a lot of analogies really to do with battle at that time.’They said you are always forever trying to run away off the field of battle. You have to turn and walk towards and actually deep in your being, this is the person that you really are.\
You know, and when they said I felt thrilled. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise. Because I have and almost savage love for this Land. And for this Earth and it’s People and the whole business of life. And I am almost bored with being this very saddened, rather bruised person. And it’s really fed up. And that’s a challenge.
Manda: [00:41:46.36] And that sense of the noble warrior, I think is a very profound and deep metaphor in our culture. I get a bit stuck on the myth of redemptive violence, but even so, that framing of it as a challenge – you’re running away, you’re running away. Turn and face those things and be the best that you can be in the moment, because, we all know that some people in war find the best of themselves. And that doesn’t mean war is necessarily a wonderful thing. But finding the best of yourself in the moment.
Mac: [00:42:22.27] Yes. And it began there. Now, I’m not filled with the same images as it were. I’m a much more gentled and peaceful Mac now.
Manda: [00:42:39.30] That might still be the first step. It feels a it’s an interesting metaphor to explore. If you feel that you are filled with sadness and not certain that you want to live, then that’s an avenue to look at.
Mac: [00:42:50.79] It is that commitment to the journey and the realisation that there is whether we experienced – like today has been everything down here in Devon. It’s been hot and sunny. It poured with rain. There’s been thunder.
Manda: [00:43:06.66] It’s just classic. It’s Devon. You get everything every day.
Mac: [00:43:10.02] And of course, we have the same in our lives that we have we have we have the years when t’s just cold and wet. We have the years went on, the table is heaped with food and the days, years when there’s hardly anything there. And we have to understand it’s simply weather.
Manda: [00:43:26.49] Yes. Nobody promised us a Rose Garden, but that doesn’t stop it being beautiful. I remember the first Vision Quest I ever did long time ago with Leo Rutherford. And it was it was the summer solstice and it rained, and it hailed, and it snowed in the space of four or five days. But then the sun came out and it was such an extraordinary metaphor for life. So, what is the third of the questions?
Mac: [00:43:55.74] What are your Deepest and most Profound responsibilities? So, love, gifts, responsibilities.
I like to feel this once like a stone dropped into a large expanse of perfectly still water. Because of course people fairly immediately go to their close circle of most loved and intimate relationships. But it continues, of course, to go out and all the time it is throwing invitations back to us. How wide does this go? Are somebody else’s children included? Is it only human or does it extend to both of whom does it? Do the screams coming out of the Lebanon, have anything to do with me? Do I do I give that account? It goes on and on. And I think in the end, it can feel overwhelming. It is overwhelming.
But if it brings us to our knees with this realization that, like the old dialect Lakota, when there’s no word for ‘Animal’. No word because there no other. We are family and the joy of our difference and whether it’s between people or to water, plants, trees, birds, sky, that the whole thing. We are responsible, we are sons and daughters of this extraordinary thing, and we are invited to to behave to the rest of our family as if we were a family.
So when I think when the responsibility question it really helps to remain mindful and it is probably the more sobering question of love and gifts.
Manda: [00:46:17.23] But also, one of the things that struck me in lockdown is that if we asked the average person on the street before lockdown what their responsibilities were, it would have been to pay the mortgage, to probably pay off the car. It would have been functional things that existed within the constructed economy that rules their lives. And the thing about lockdown was those responsibilities went away for 12 weeks. Because there was no way to pay the mortgage or pay off the car and to a greater or lesser extent, the government filled that gap – or didn’t – but either way, it wasn’t possible for that to be at the forefront of our minds.
And one of the biggest changes, I think one of the reasons that our various governments are desperately trying to get us back to ‘business as usual’ is that it is essential for the system to function that we believe these to be our primary responsibilities. But as soon as they’re not, people began to realize that there was a different life to be lived. And I think if we can help people to build the networks that allow that different life to be lived, then the old system begins to become redundant, however hard the people who profit from it endeavour to keep it going.
Mac: [00:48:04.51] Yes, because it’s only our willingness to participate, isn’t it? If we actually make a different choice, it’s a little bit like when we as a tribe of children in our classroom realized that, you know, the powers that the teacher had was really quite illusionary, we just didn’t we only had to make a decision not to cooperate.
Manda: [00:48:32.77] There was a very interesting tale from ancient Rome that I found when I was doing the research for the Boudica books of an obviously not terribly bright Senator at one point decided it would be a jolly good idea if all the slaves were made to wear an armband of a particular colour. And his slightly brighter colleagues managed to pin him to the floor and said, ‘You realize that there is 600 of them to every one of us, don’t you? And that helping them realize this is probably not a terribly good idea because, that way Spartacus lies. And they’ll probably not and up be crucified in the road to Rome this time.’.
And I sat on roads in October last year for Extension Rebellion. And there was a particular chant which was ‘Whose Police? Our Police! Whose democracy? Our democracy? Whose parliament? Our parliament!’ And the one that said, ‘Police, we love you. We’re doing this for your children, too.’ And we could go into the problems of that if we wanted. But let’s not bother. But I noticed if one watched the police – first of all, they were massively outnumbered. And second, that sank home in ways other things really didn’t. And we have policing by consent, we have government by consent. And yet what they do are things to which none of us would rationally consent. And so I do have a vision at the moment of a log in a forest and n the outside, it looks big and thick.
It’s an oak log in many, many feet thick and it looks solid. And the mycelium growth within it, the fungi within it are growing and growing, growing, connecting and growing. And it’s amazing and vibrant. And at some point, an elk comes along and I do not know why. It’s always an elk in the vision and it just hits this log which turns to dust. And inside is this extraordinary, vibrant growth. And I have a feeling that the frantic efforts of our various governments are the shell of the log. And if we can build the vibrant growth inside, we can render it redundant, whatever it does.
And so I’m wondering if if you were to look forward, let’s say, 10 years and we have built the Mycelial Network and by wonder the log has crumbled without actually collapsing the whole of our society into somewhere where we end up being kebabbed on piles of burning tires by our bigger and stronger neighbours – we all know that vision. It has been built many, many times. We don’t need to revisit it. And we know you and I, and I hope by now the listeners, that human intent shapes the way energies go. And if we give our intention to that kind of vision, we could shape it. Or we could choose to shape something much more generative. So wonder if you could build a word picture just envision on the spot, how would a more generative future feel like to you?
Mac: [00:51:42.88] The picture that comes into my mind is the picture that I saw when I had the vision of this valley that later became the valley of Embercombe in my early twenties when I was in Charnwood Forest outside Loughborough in the Midlands. And I saw this valley in my imagination and all the things that fill human lives were contained within that valley.
There were people who were experiencing that first intoxicating rush of love. When you look into someone else’s eyes and suddenly there’s this knowing. There as a young man who is angry, and is kicking a log down the track: everybody’s his enemy. And it’s wonderful. He’s just going through his stuff. But he’s held in that. That’s right. He’s held. There is this incredible holding.
There is the acknowledgement of everything that is around. There is a profound sense of the fecundity of the whole valley. Everything is growing and moving and then in the seasons, dying back. But there is this living, breathing, pulsing feeling of the vitality of life like a great drum beat or a heartbeat moving through the whole thing. So there is emotion, there are tears, there’s laughter, there’s play, there is a willingness of people to come together, not to be communities of like-minded people, but to be communities of people who often do not have like minds, but have found it in themselves to sit together and to listen to each other in ways, listen with their hearts, with their heads.
But it is not anti-technology or anti-science. It’s the understanding that all these things can come together. So it’s not just some kind of utopian picture of us sort of going backwards. It’s saying, ‘No, we are traveling onward and forwards, but that we place beauty at the centre in the way we understand.’ I think it comes from an understanding of the first principles of why we are here at all and that the purpose of a human life is to learn to learn and grow. As my teachers, the indigenous people said, to change Essence. Through our choices, to refine and deepen.
Manda: [00:54:42.82] And that’s what changing essence means?
Mac: [00:54:46.57] Yes, they had this lovely picture. It began with they saying that they didn’t understand this thing of escaping the will of incarnations, because their dreamers tell them that the spirits are just queuing up for the chance of a life on Earth. Because it’s here that we become embodied and we are given this profound gift, which is the gift of choice.
And then the multiplicity of all the choices we make in our lives have the capacity to change and shift our essence. And when we go back to spirit, we have perhaps changed that in some form or in whichever direction our choices have taken us. But I love that you know it and enjoy it. And again, it’s a sort of invitation to try and live in a more beautiful way.
Manda: [00:55:42.97] In a way where when we go back to Spirit, the Essence has changed in the way that we are proud of and can celebrate?
Mac: [00:55:50.32] Yes, yes, yes! And there’s fun and there’s silliness and there’s mischievousness. But we are young people are held. Really, we have entirely re-defined the purpose of education. All those moments of enormous shifts in our lives, like around puberty or whatever stage it is, held within ceremonies that allow us to move through and be seen and held.
Manda: [00:56:28.39] So we have rites of passage?
Mac: [00:56:31.24] Yes rites of passage. And death is seen for what it actually is and has always been. And so, we’re not frightened of death. We simply love and are in relationship with the thought that while we have life, we live. I think it’s a natural thing to live with.
Manda: [00:56:52.80] TO live and then to die, because that is the time to let go and move on.
Mac: [00:57:00.23] Yes. So my vision is we have not we have not discovered how to live eternally, as it were, because I believe that if we ever did that, the value of the life would will be so massively reduced.
Manda: [00:57:15.61] I am halfway through a film script that I’m writing called ‘It’s Only Hell of You Remember.’ Which is based exactly on that. Because dying is an integral part of living. It would be like waking and never sleeping. You would get to the point of really wanting to have a night’s sleep. That is really lovely.
So I’m already exploring the second podcast that we could do, which would be to design an education system for our young people that would leave them fully equipped to help us to build this. Because, as you say, the education system we have just now, which herds us into classrooms and then seems to be going backwards at the moment towards learning Latin and things that Michael Gove thought were useful and not helping us to be the humans that we can be. That would be fun.
Mac: [00:58:15.10] And if you imagine the staff room, with teachers sitting around and just restating one of the key things: no child will leave this school without feeling good. Without celebrating gifts and having value. And of course, the older people, we call them in from the periphery, we call them in.
Because we push them out. But not only do we push them out, but they colluded with it. So, we said, ‘No, you come back in!’ Like the Maori I met in New Zealand and they said they demand of their older people that they step up in profound service to the people until the day they drop. And I think that’s so helpful to an elderly person because it moves you away from this morbid sense of coming and coming to an end, to a funeral. No, this is this is a flowering. This is a real, real big.
Manda: [00:59:23.75] And the native peoples that I learned from said that the young people and the old people are the ones closest to spirit. The people in the middle are the ones who are having to do the work of maintaining. But the old people can tell us of the world of spirit because they can see it and the young people can show us because they have just come from it. And that way, the cycle makes sense. And I’m thinking in the school that we’re developing, if the questions every child is given every day, are the three that you said: ‘What is it that you most deeply and profoundly love? What are your deepest and most profound gifts? And what are your deepest and most profound responsibilities? If those were the questions of school, not can you do quadratic equations and have you worked out the parts of grammar? And do you remember the kings and queens of England? Then we would have different people.
Mac: [01:00:17.74] We would have different people and people, and many people would still learn those things because they want to.
Manda: [01:00:25.21] Yes. For some people, the most deepest and profound love would be for mathematics. And that’s fine. Or for English or history. Well, that would be fantastic. It would be such an inspiring place to live. And then as we get older, we keep asking ourselves what are our deepest and most profound responsibilities may well be to the young people of our communities to help them to ask those questions?
Mac: [01:00:49.42] Yes. Yes, exactly. And I imagine humour being a big part of how we would be. We need almost as a species to rediscover our sense of humour. We take so much inappropriately so seriously.
Manda: [01:01:09.58] Also, I think we take things seriously because we live in constant fear of the future and bitterness of the past. And as you say, we’ve lost the kind of regenerative joy in the present. And it’s hard to have a sense of humour if one is in constant fear.
So we’re coming to the end of our hour, we need to stop shortly, but one of the things that I believe you’re still doing and that has been transformative for so many people is that you lead The Journey at Embercombe. And you said ‘Committing to the Journey’ is really important. And I wonder for people listening who might want to come and study with you, can you without saying anything about the nature of it, give an outline of the intent of the journey?
Mac: [01:02:00.78] Well, the intent really was to try to take what I’d been given to the core the substance, of what I’ve been given and then find a way of creating a week’s experience that would move a hand, as it were, through the ribcage of defence that we have and squeeze heart. And allow people an experience, and it’s a series of really quite profound experiences, to glimpse how that life might be lived. More fully, more authentically, more truly.
And in many ways, the content of the program is very simple, yet somehow in the manner in which we hold it is profound. I think it’s because it somehow succeeds in speaking to the unconscious, occasionally conscious longing that sits inside people knowing that something that they long for is very close, but they can’t quite reach it. So during that, we intend that they reach it, even if it eludes them and they then commit to the journey. And basically, as I refer to one of those talks, begin to commit to the long journey home.
Manda: [01:03:57.75] A number of my students have gone through this journey with you and have come back afterwards transformed people. And it seems to me that you are weaving a magic that is very little known in this land and that gives people that opportunity to delve into the miracle at the heart of their own life. And immerse in it and step out again, having seen that. And that’s one of the most profound gifts anyone can offer, another human being. So anybody listening, I will put links in the show notes so that you can find Mac and find The Journey, so I think we need to draw to a close. Is there anything that you would like to say in closing?
Mac: [01:04:47.86] Only I think that I well, to reiterate what I said beginning, which I deeply appreciate you inviting me to contribute to this podcast. And I also deeply appreciate the people that are listening, because we are all simply trying to offer something. And that is where all these threads will meet and make something truly magnificent. Because it’s the thread of our combined gifts. It’s the thread of our combined love of this earth and willingness to engage the journey that will bring us to that. Yes, I think we can smile at this sunrise and say, ‘Wow, that didn’t look to possible to begin with but it’s beautiful now.’
Manda: [01:05:48.28] And I think also that one of the things that I think you and I both experience is how much help there is from the spirit world when we open our hearts and ask for help. And it does seem to me as if we were destined to crush ourselves into a brick wall. I’m not sure the kinds of help that we would we are being given would be quite so forthcoming. I like to think not. I like to think we are being offered to help in order to not crash into a brick wall, in which case we have to give ourselves absolutely wholeheartedly to whatever it is that we each can do to change the trajectory of the vehicle that we’re in. And you are one of those people who is who is so wholehearted and so committed and teaches with such beauty and heart. So, Mac, thank you very much. I hope that we will find time for you to come back again sometime and we can talk about other things on the journey.
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