#208 The Animate Earth Responds: Initiation in a time of Crisis with Alnoor Ladha and Lynn Murphy
How do we move ourselves – individually and collectively – from the broken Trauma Culture of our times, to the Initiation Culture that will allow us to step forward, healed and whole?
Alnoor Ladha is a friend of the podcast. We spoke to him way back in Episode #56 (Four Arrows Flying) and that podcast has remained one of my all-time favourites. So when I heard that he had co-written a book – PostCapitalist Philanthropy: Healing Wealth in the time of Collapse – with Lynn Murphy, it was the perfect opening to invite him – and Lynn – onto the podcast.
Because this groundbreaking, inspiring, insightful book is going to be one of those you’ll want to read over and over again. As you’ll hear in the podcast, it’s grounded in the understanding that we hold our realities in our bodies, that we have been born into a trauma culture, even as we yearn for the our birthright and our legacy as inheritors of initiation cultures, with all the connections to ourselves, each other and the web of life this implies.
At a deeper level, what Lynn and Alnoor offer is the understanding that we are spiritual beings – mystical beings – first and foremost, and that if we can find the humility and the willingness to change, if we can bring ourselves to the web of life full open, and asking for help, the Animate Earth responds.
On a surface level, it takes us on a journey from the history of wealth accumulation to the current logic of late-stage capitalism to the lived possibilities for other ways of knowing, sensing and being that can usher in life-centric models. These “ontological shifts” are at the heart of the text with their core message that, creating emerging realities is not simply about how we redistribute wealth or “fight power”, but rather, how we perceive and embody our actions in relationship to this dynamic, animate world.
Vandana Shiva says of the book, “Ladha and Murphy walk us through the deep logics of neoliberalism, the foundations of globalisation and the ideology of corporate free trade … the authors dissect philanthrocapitalism. And they indicate the possibilities of reclaiming the true economies of the gift, of solidarity, of caring and sharing. For now, I invite you to please read on as if Life depends on it.”
Lynn Murphy is a strategic advisor for foundations and NGOs working in the geopolitical South. She was a senior fellow and program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation where she focused on international education and global development. She resigned as a”‘conscientious objector” to neocolonial philanthropy. She holds an MA and PhD in international comparative education from Stanford University. She is also a certified Laban/Bartenieff movement analyst.
Alnoor Ladha is an activist, journalist, political strategist and community organiser. From 2012 to 2019 he was the co-founder and executive director of the global activist collective The Rules. He is currently the Council Chair for Culture Hack Labs. He holds an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics.
Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible, and if we all work together, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow explorer on this journey into possibility. And my guests this week are two of the furthest ranging, deepest diving scouts already on this journey. Alnoor is a friend of the podcast. We spoke to him way back in episode 56, called ‘Four Arrows Flying’, and that podcast has remained one of my all time favourites. I have put a link in the show notes. So when I heard that he had co-written a book with Lynn Murphy, it was the perfect opening to invite him and Lynn onto the podcast. And that meant I had to read the book. And what a book! Post Capitalist Philanthropy; Healing Wealth in the Time of Collapse is a remarkable work on so many levels. Not least because it’s published under a Creative Commons license, and you can download the PDF files free from the website. There’s a link to that in the show notes too, along with Alnoor and Lynn’s biographies. I bought the actual dead tree copy of the book, because I do still find something about the three dimensionality of a real book makes it easier to read and to remember where things are. And so I can tell you that this edition, and I assume the PDF also, is a work of art in itself. The written content is transformative on so many levels, but it’s also filled with colour images by a selection of really talented artists. And even beyond that, the arrangement of the words on the page is designed to help us think differently, and it succeeds.
Manda: Because this book did, as you’ll hear, grow out of the understanding that philanthrocapitalism is a thing and is an integral part of the collapsing edifice that is modernity. And on that alone this book is useful, but it goes so much deeper than this. It contains some of the sharpest critiques of our current system that I have ever read. They are useful for those of us who know that we are in the midst of collapse, because if we remember them it’s easier to explain to people why and how the system is ending, when everybody else seems quite happy with business as usual, and to think it can go on forever. But all of this is in the frame of understanding how we got here; a really compassionate look at how we all ended up in this time of crisis, and with a constant opening of doors to other ways of being.
Manda: As you’ll hear in the podcast, it’s grounded in the understanding that we hold our realities in our bodies; that we have been born into a trauma culture, even as we yearn for our birthright and our legacy as inheritors of an initiation culture. And this is what Lynn and Alnoor bring that is genuinely transformative: the intellectual capacity to explore the crisis of this moment, coupled with absolutely grounded experiential knowing that we are spiritual beings first, that we are mystical beings, and that if we can find the humility and the willingness to change, if we can bring ourselves to the web of life fully open and asking for help, the animate Earth does respond. They bring this as a personal knowing and they share it from their own experience.
Manda: And this is what Accidental Gods is for. This is where we are going. And I am so happy that there are other people who are so articulate and so much further and wider and broader and deeper than I can ever articulate. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Lynn Murphy and Alnoor Ladha, authors and mystics and co-revolutionaries.
Manda: Lynn and Alnoor, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you for turning out at whatever time in the morning it is in your time zone. How are you both and where are you both this morning? Lynn first, please.
Lynn: Thank you for the warm welcome. How am I? We’re almost in Samhain, so I can feel this time that we are almost between the worlds where the veil is thin. And in that I truly feel honoured and joyful to be here, with Life lifing us and Death deathing many on this planet right now. And where I am, is in a place in Costa Rica called Chirripo, which means place of eternal waters and traditionally tended by the Cabécar people, not so far away from where Alnoor is.
Manda: Beautiful. Thank you. And Alnoor, how are you? And where are you?
Alnoor: Yeah, I’m as good as one can be in the midst of bedlam and madness, and the situation that’s happening in Palestine is in all of our hearts. And sort of contemplating and grappling what it means to be in this age of empire, without consequence for some, seemingly at least in the material plane, and the impunity by which brutality is happening, and all the justifications and rationalisations that we’re seeing as we witness genocide. And I’m calling in from Tierra Valiente in Costa Rica near La Fortuna. And this land is the historical lands of the Maleku people who are still close by. And and it is not so early here. So I’m more worried about you because I know it’s quite late in the UK.
Manda: It’s fine, honestly. It meant I’ve had a day listening to you on YouTube and podcasts and things, so it’s been a really quite fun day and reading through your book again, Post Capitalist Philanthropy; Healing Wealth in the Time of Collapse. There are so many levels to this book. There have been other critiques of capitalism, but I have never yet met one that is as sharp, and which then takes us on to the expansive places that you do. So I really want to explore how you got there. Can you, whoever wants to go first, how did you meet and how did you come to write this? Because I write novels and it’s hard enough working with an editor who’s basically taking my work and telling me where the mistakes are. How do you write a book of this depth and breadth and and spiral workings, as two people. Just as a writer, I want to know that. Let’s start with Alnoor, because we started with Lynn last time. How did you meet? How did you write the book?
Alnoor: So I think Lynn and I shared many of the same enquiries for many years in parallel paths. I was an activist, organiser and still am and spent many years fundraising and having to interface with this strange entity called philanthropy, that both is an externality of capitalism itself. A few people have amassed so much wealth that they’re making the decisions for civil society. And there’s also the trickle down benefit and necessity of not for profit organisations and social movements that require philanthropic funding, especially as the state and social services have dwindled under neoliberal empire. And so I was in this enquiry of how do we do this differently? And how do we support those who are in this murky sector of philanthropy, and also activists and organisers in civil society, to to approach what is really sacred work. Service work. And also acknowledging the sacredness that can exist when exchange and reciprocity happens with good relations and goodwill. And we were just in the cycle of closing The Rules, which was an activist collective and alternative economics think tank that I was part of for eight years. And then this sort of opening happened. And I had met Lynn a few years before that, actually walking in a dusty road in an alternative community in Portugal. And she had at that time recently left, as she will tell you her story, as a conscientious objector from neocolonial philanthropy. And we immediately bonded and commiserated over, partly on being on both sides of this strange chasm of philanthropy, but also sharing values and interests in the more than human realms. In the role of soma and the body, in the role of trauma, and in the role of capital not just in its extractive sense, but also capital as deity and what it asks of us in this animistic sense.
Manda: Oh, wow.
Alnoor: And so that was the beginning of our relationship. And I think that was back in 2016 that Lynn and I met. And Lynn can corroborate or amalgamate.
Manda: Okay. And the book was published in 2022. So that’s quite a time to write it.
Alnoor: Yeah. We did our first gathering together for Transition Resource Circle, which is what we call a temporary organisational zone, because it’s not an institution and it’s not going to live in perpetuity. It’s an experiment. We did that at the end of 2019 and then set up TRC as this kind of temporary entity in 2020 and then started writing the book.
Manda: And then Covid hit.
Alnoor: Yeah, exactly. And then we started the book in mid 21 last year.
Manda: Yes, a year ago, pretty much from the time that we’re recording. So Lynn, tell us about being a conscientious objector within the philanthropy sector.
Lynn: So I can say I’m a former accidental philanthropoid. And I say former because I obviously worked for a large Philanthropy, and I wasn’t seeking to work in a foundation. I was finishing graduate school, doing service work and studying activism, especially across the geopolitical south and following some global campaigns. And on the heels of what many would know 20 years ago, the debt relief movement and many other movements that were happening. And Philanthropy found me, asked me to consult for them. And that consulting turned into please work for us, turned into here’s a whole lot of money, here’s a whole lot of more money to give away, so to speak, too. At that time, my task was to improve the quality of education for the poorest children in the world, which all sounds like a very laudable endeavour. And yet at every level, even before I walked through the door and said yes to that job, I had very deep reservations about working for a technical, rational institution. Being a white woman sitting in Menlo Park, California, making decisions about which countries, which communities, which types of things would get funded. Which wouldn’t. Deep questions about the whole paradigm of schooling and the colonisation of mind and body, and the continuation of a legacy of international development that I didn’t agree with. And here was this job that I didn’t apply for that was stalking me in a way. And so I said, okay, I will accept and take the seat and do what I can. And then there was also a beating of my heart that happened, probably about a year and a half before I walked out the door, that told me it’s time to start to get out. And so I resigned and purposely said to everybody, I’m going on pause. Not sabbatical, not I’m going off to reflect on this; more like I’m laying the whole thing down. And I thought I wasn’t going to have anything to do with philanthropy anymore, and went and studied everything from somatics to permaculture to various versions of what, in a Western tradition, we might call mystery school. Very other ways of being.
Manda: Oh, I want to know more about that.
Lynn: Other ways of being and knowing. And eventually that led me to being in this place in Portugal, where I’m walking along a dusty road after having just come back again from East Africa, where Alnoor’s family comes from. And we met and it was an unlikely and yet very likely, almost like cosmic sibling kind of entanglement, from the get go. And then starting to listen to what was ours to do together. And he was finishing what he was doing. I was still, if I could say it this way, wandering in the wilderness, trying to find my way through how to truly not just be of service with sourcing from a place of either the martyrdom or the white saviour complex or any other thing. But how to actually be of response and contextually relevant to this moment. And then what became clear was that he and I were to do this gathering together. And what became clear after that is that we were to go on this sojourn to listen to what is Post-capitalist philanthropy. And then it became clear that we were to somehow vision, conceptualise, write, or be written by what is now this book, this offering.
Manda: Right. There is so much in that. We could spend the rest of the hour just on picking that, actually. But I do want to stay with the book for a bit. At some point, one of you remind me, I want to come back to the embodiment of your knowing and your physical and I’m guessing spiritual heart space, that you had to move. And then I would like to talk a little bit about synchronicity and how the energy of the world enables that to flow. But before we get there, let’s stick with the book a bit, because quite early on in your critique of capitalism, you say capitalism is a self-terminating algorithm based on socialising costs to the many, while privatising gains for the few. Which for me is the most succinct takedown of capitalism I have ever heard. And if that was the masthead of one of the major newspapers in all of the Western countries around the world, I think we’d have a new system by the end of the year, maybe next year, because we’re near the end of 23. And it isn’t, obviously, because the media are part of the system. We go on to say Postcapitalism is a conceptual container for social pluralities, based on shared values that stem from an experience of the shortcomings of the existing system and the lived experience of life centric alternatives. And you focus some of the book on philanthrocapitalism. And I would like to look a little bit at that, because it’s clearly a monster in its own right, even though it intends not to be. But capitalism is the sea within which we swim. Capitalism is the sea that allows philanthropy to do the weird financial stuff that it does. Alnoor, can we talk a bit about your perceptions of capitalism? I’m interested in your concept of paramodel structure, and also the one, two, three, five baselines by which it works. Are those cues that mean something to you? And can we talk from there?
Alnoor: Sure. Yeah. So maybe I’ll say one thing first about philanthropy. Because it sounds like a word that is worthy and aspirational in some level, and useful. And it also feels like a word that’s very distant to many people. It’s like, why would I be interested in this obscure area where rich people and not for profits exchange funds to do ostensibly good things? And I’d say the book is more about post capitalism than it is about philanthropy. Philanthropy is just a lens by which we look at the systemic structure. And just like we’re in this situation now, where we have empire waging war without consequence, if one is to step back and ask why is that possible? Well, it’s the same answer to why a few people have amassed all of this wealth and are deciding the agenda for social change. And so that’s the lens. And then when we say, well, how does that system work? This kind of structural historical analysis we talk about is it’s not complex macroeconomics, right. It’s really observation. And the way the system works, we’re told that capitalism is just this market exchange system that has inherent fairness in it.
Alnoor: And there’s an invisible hand, that if everyone just pursues their own selfishness, that somehow a perfect equilibrium will be created. But that’s not at all how it works. Capitalism and democracy themselves are in conflict. Because democracy says one person, one vote, and capitalism says $1 one vote, and capitalism always wins. And then you have this historical lens, where white Western Europeans invented the notion of fiat currency and debt based capital, roughly at the same time that they started imperial expansion and colonising and genociding the majority world. And as they did that, they imposed these Western forms of capital. And when we say fiat or debt based, what it means is that money is created at interest through debt. And so your capital has to grow slightly bigger than the interest in order for that money to be valuable. So you mentioned this idea of self terminating logic, that’s where it stems from. And then you mentioned the 1,2,3,5. So I’ll just say that quickly.
Manda: Yes, please do because it’s elegant.
Alnoor: Money is printed at debt, around 1%. The major banks go to the Federal Reserve and they ask for more money. That’s how money is incepted. That money is then lent out to people like us, at Prime, which for the sake of simplicity, we’ll say is about 2%. It’s obviously not right now, but on average since World War one, that’s roughly what it’s been with fluctuations. Then your growth has to be 3%. That’s what economists and the world Bank and IMF and others say is required. And the logic is very simple, is the pie has to grow slightly larger than the debt. It’s like a house of cards or a Ponzi scheme. You know, you’ve got to expand the pie slightly more so people can pay that money back. And 3% doesn’t sound like a lot, but it requires the doubling of the global economy every 24 years. So twice as many Big Macs, twice as many iPhones, twice as many Toyota Priuses, twice as many single use plastics, short haul flights, etcetera.
Manda: Twice as many mines mining stuff.
Alnoor: Right. Twice as much extraction. And this is the first time ecologists and economists agree that there will not be another doubling of the global economy. We do not have the material resources. We have crossed six of the nine planetary bounds, and the way wealth is concentrated, that’s creating this mass inequality, which is purposely done, it’s created by a set of rules that benefit people who have acquired capital. And that is played out in this 5%, the one, two, three, five. And so the five comes from the work of Thomas Piketty, who wrote capital in the 21st century, and he looked at over 200 years of econometric data and shows that if you are a capital holder, on average, your return has been about 5% of this growing pie. And it’s exponential, just like the 3% is exponential. And so it grows year on year. And of course, if you’re invested in hedge funds and other extractive industries, fossil fuels, stock market. Et cetera. It can be 20%. And so inequality is just like philanthropy. It’s not an externality. It’s not just an accident, as economists like to say. That’s just a euphemism. It is the logical outcome of a set of rules that have been created by rich power elites to further their interests. And philanthropy is an extension of that.
Manda: Thank you. So moving to Lynn. You’ve worked in the philanthropic sector. If we take what Alnoor said as as our baseline. We have at the current moment a pulse of fossil fuels that has largely enabled this 1,2,3,5, I would say. It would have been much harder without the fossil fuel cheap energy, because in the end, fossil fuel consumption and GDP are pretty much coterminous. That’s coming to an end. However, we are at a point where the people who have been able to amass the money, and therefore the power to themselves, are now relatively richer than everybody else by considerably more than has ever happened in the history of humanity. In the system as it works just now, how do the philanthropic institutions organise their distribution of funds? There’s a quote in your book. There are so many quotes that are really good, but there was one particular one which says of philanthropic foundations, that they are mainly private wealth management firms for white people, with side marketing arms focussed on dressing up tax avoidance strategies in so-called public and community spiritedness. And it seems to me that’s clearly true.
Manda: There’s two sorts I would have thought of philanthropic foundations. There are those that are soft left, that are at least pretending to do good things for the world. And then I assume there are also the ones that are funding Trump or Netanyahu or Bolsonaro. They must also be right wing, they probably don’t call themselves philanthropic, but they will be money accumulators who then push the money on to people who will make a difference in the way they want the world to change. I’m guessing, and I’m absolutely certain, that you worked for the ones that are doing the ‘good stuff’. And yet they were also trying to decide how to educate kids in ways that presumably would have just domesticated them into capitalism. So how do the philanthropic foundations self-justify the way that they work? And how do they actually work? There are some really startling numbers in your book, so can you bring some of them out just so that we get a sense of the scale of this? Because, as Alnoor said, it’s a thing that we don’t come up against very often. Over to you.
Lynn: There’s so much in that question. And yeah, I definitely worked for one of the soft left. And you’re rightly pointing out that there’s a lot going through across the board. These days, I can’t say wealth holders without it coming out Wealth horders, not to my lovely dyslexia or some other entanglement there.
Manda: Yes,because they’re dragons holding their hoard and burning anyone who comes close.
Lynn: Exactly. That’s the image I often have is the dragon sitting on top of the pile of gold, protecting the gold, rather than seeing that actually, there’s wealth beyond the gold that is being sat upon. And there’s this other thing that you didn’t mention, which is also one of the growing pieces, which is the donor advised funds or the dafs. And this is in US foundations, these kind of parlance. But what it means is you have the wealthier getting wealthy and using the philanthropic, whether it’s a long standing institution like the one that I worked for, or one of these donor advise funds, or some other way. Kind of giving away money at the margins through tax shelters, tax benefits, all of these things. And there’s something that gets tapped into in the collective conscious or unconscious, which is kind of the way that there’s a hero worship of the wealthiest. Or even a hero worship of philanthropic institutions. And it means that even if people have a strong critique, you know, the old cliche goes, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. And so whether it’s a resentful hero worship or whether it’s an unconscious, there’s still a conference of power upon those who have money and therefore, as you said, power. The institutions that are hoarding those monies in the endowments and giving away, for the vast majority of philanthropy it’s adopted the US model; keeping most of the monies in the endowments and giving away a 5% of the endowment, giving away in grant funds.
Lynn: But if that endowment is growing, as Alnoor was pointing out through these, if the endowment is growing, it continues to grow through extractive capitalism, through means of domination and extractivism and the myriad ways that you mentioned. Mining and fossil fuels and all the ways to get the highest return on investment. Justification is then that then we give away this small, meagre amount in ways that are supporting social and environmental goods. And we, the collective we, get to determine what those are. We get to determine what the world’s biggest and most important problems are, while at the same time we have the business acumen to keep protecting these monies, because if we don’t exist, the non-profit sector won’t exist, any fundings outside of the nation state won’t exist. And so it becomes a a logic that reinforces itself to to obsess over legacy and to obsess on existence and perpetuity. There are different times during the pandemic that the president of the Ford Foundation and the president of the Hewlett Foundation were having an argument back and forth in Stanford Social Innovation Review, about bonds and things that are beyond me, because I’m not a financial analyst kind of a person. But underlying the logics were: we’re going to exist in perpetuity, and we have the right acumen to decide how those funds will be invested, whether through bonds or continue the status quo of endowments, and then given away.
Lynn: And then there’s the smaller or the medium sized foundations, that especially over the last few years, have been kind of doing a lot of, I would say, a little bit of inner navel gazing. That are trying to figure out how to navigate power, decolonising philanthropy, the world’s in crisis and collapse. And the reason I said a little bit of navel gazing is not just to be overly critical. It feels like there’s something endemic to the institution, to the memetics of an institution, of an organisation, of the way that narratives are lived within there in a culture, that don’t actually allow for getting out of the straitjacket of philanthropy. They they don’t allow for a real reckoning and a with power, whether conferred act upon. And yes, there’s things that are coming, like participatory grantmaking, flow funding, all of these things. But the conversation about whether this is a paradigm that is continuing to uphold capitalism itself, is still justified, is not one that is front and centre. And that’s telling. As well as there’s growing conversations about tax the rich, but there’s not a growing conversation about the endowments needing to be not just taxed, as in government goods, but getting out of that five Percent give away. And it’s just really obvious what isn’t being touched upon and addressed.
Manda: And either of you, is this because we have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and the technology of Gods, that we’re still basically Palaeolithic in our core. And when we are faced with somebody who is manifestly more powerful than ourselves, our amygdalas take over and we shut down. Unless we’ve done a huge amount of inner work, it’s really hard to step past that. And in our world, the people with the big money have the big powers. So I imagine that faced with Bill Gates, say, or any of the others who’ve got extraordinary amounts of money and then very technocratic views of how the world is going to pan out; that saying to their face, capitalism is over I’m sorry, this is not a viable model. Would be hard and also would be very unlikely to be heard. Alnoor, am I just projecting my own inner amygdaloid crises?
Alnoor: No, I think a huge part of it is like the culture itself and what it values, right? So if we think of capitalism as a complex, adaptive evolutionary system, right, it’s alive. And you and I have talked about this before, I believe, on our last podcast. That it’s not alive the way an ecology is alive, it’s alive the way an AI or Frankenstein is alive. Right? And it has a set of generative rules that replicate the system. And they’re not just policy rules, they’re norms, they’re mores, they’re habitual patterns, they’re cultural. And in this culture, we’re told there’s a merit system. That if you go to the right school and you get the right job and you work hard, that you will be elevated within the system. But actually…
Manda: Because we know this is not true. That was me doing the flying pig symbol, just because that’s not how it works.
Alnoor: Oh yes, yes. That’s not how it works. How it actually works is the system, because it’s an adaptive system, it wants to survive and perpetuate. And so it finds the people that best serve its logic and it pulls them to the top. And what is the logic of the system? Well, it’s quite easy, you just look around us, right? It’s extractive, short termist, rewards greed, extraction, manipulation, psychopathy, sociopathy. Et cetera. And so instead of looking at the cover of fortune magazine or New York Times or The Guardian or what have you, as these are somehow successful people within an equitable system, the more accurate way to see them is that they are the best servants of the logic of the system. And so then what happens is the people who are the best extractors and hoarders and the most willing to do the bidding of a psychotic system, accumulate and amass huge amounts of ‘power’. Now it’s a very particular type of power. But because we have all been socialised to believe that money is wealth or money equals success, which is part of the neoliberal doctrine, right? That if you have wealth, you’re somehow worthy and interesting and smart, as opposed to just, let’s say, lucky and greedy. What ends up happening is an entire Byzantine court is structured around these people, and everyone around them wants something from them, because they’re also acquisitive in that same way. And and then there’s no checks and balances, because now everyone around Bill Gates is an employee of the Gates Foundation, or one of the you know, what we would say the apparatchiks; the accountants, the lawyers, the hedge fund managers, the family office consultants, what have you.
Alnoor: And and so there is no confrontation of the reality of this thing. There is no saying we are not going to have another doubling of the global economy. This wealth that you have is only going to last at max another generation. And who are you going to be the day the dollar dies? Who are you going to be when there’s no guns and there’s no money? And what you do now matters. And this is not your wealth. This is the world’s collective wealth. And you just have a disproportionate amount of that wealth. And with it comes karmic and spiritual implications that nobody wants to talk about. And that is not happening, and you’re right, partly because of the culture itself that values and rewards this, but also because we have not done the deconditioning decolonisation work that is required to say: that is not what matters. What matters is the ecology itself. What matters is our relationality to our kin and other living beings. The more than human realms and all of the aspects of Gaia that allow us to have this experience. From oxygen, water, the entanglement of other beings, our identities as relational beings; those conversations are not being had. And part of our motivation for writing this book was to put that salvo in the centre and say, let’s have these discussions. Yeah. And some are more willing than others. Do I think Bill Gates is ever going to come to a transition resource circle gathering? Probably not.
Manda: Okay. But some of the slightly lower echelons might. And I’m reminded of Douglas Rushkoff’s book Survival of the Richest Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, where he was invited to this hotel in the middle of nowhere by some of the super rich guys who wanted to know what he would do after The Event. And The Event was when the dollar ceased to have any value. So I think they seem to live in a slightly different world where capitalism will still exist, it’s just that their chosen fiat currency will collapse. Getting people to the point of understanding that we are in the middle of the collapse of the capitalist system, it’s happening all around us, even on the podcast feels hard. I’m sure most of the people listening to this podcast are already halfway there, but we swim in that sea. We still go to the shops and buy most of our food, however much we try and grow it. I’m crap at growing our own food, but I’m trying. The system is still going on. So. Lynn. Alnoor is talking about the karmic and spiritual implications of being a dragon and hoarding all this stuff.
Manda: I quite like dragons. I’d like to think of a better metaphor. Something that’s just as stuck as we are in that worldview, they just happened to be the ones with with the hoard. But we also know that the ones with the hoard are the people who are ultimately pulling the strings of what’s happening in Palestine at the moment. They have real world implications and they absolutely don’t care. Whatever it is that they worship, whatever it is, the divine that they love, if they love anything, is not one that has the best and the highest interests of the whole of the web of life at heart, as far as I can tell. We could head in that metaphysical direction. But let’s stay with what you’ve done with the book, in terms of offering people ways to connect at a bodily level. This is one of the things that impressed me deeply, was that you haven’t just offered a critique of capitalism. You haven’t just offered ideas of how we could spiral into something different. You’ve given people actual sit down and do this exercises that could change their perspective on the world. Can you tell us a little bit about how those evolved? And have you met many people who sat down and worked through all of them?
Lynn: So I mentioned that when I left the foundation, I worked for kind of what we call this conscientious objector. One of the first things I did was went and studied human movement, and this was when I was doing my PhD I was studying social movements. Then at the foundation I found myself funding; when you’re funding a social movement, I don’t know if you’re actually funding a social movement or if you’re funding the organisational representation of those movements. That’s a whole side dialogue. But the reason I start with that, is because what I sat with really deeply was the consequences of at least 500 years of what we might think of as the Age of Enlightenment, which I would say is the age of disembodiment. That kind of started with many different starts. But, you know, the role of the printing press, the role of rationality, that became positivism, that became the rigour of the scientific method going into the social sciences, that started into what I saw in philanthropy, the funding of randomised controlled trials and the politics of knowledge claims, quite deeply. I sat really deeply with what has got us so lost that we’re trying to isolate more and more and more and extract and know with certainty, with fundamentalist zeal, of certainty. Through those who are the econometric, the economists or the most rigorous, which didn’t look rigorous to me at all. And that led me into a place of how is it that we live in these bodies, where I knew enough at that time about the amygdala hijack, to be suspicious of what was really going on most of the time in those room. That people were not necessarily functioning in their neocortex, not functioning in their mind, but were actually in the fight, flight freeze and all the other responses that we all know about.
Lynn: So I went and studied a system of human movement for a couple of years, and really tried to get myself rooted in what other ways of knowing and what is a way that I can actually bring the mind body complex along. And I had a hypothesis that until we understood the body as nature, not as nature outside, but that this is nature, this is speaking, that there is a wisdom to the mind body connection. That there’s something here that wants to be brought into this, the age of disembodiment that I saw playing out through schooling, through the passivity, through our sitting in chairs. That was at a root of getting us out of these systems of domination and exploitation. And so because of that, any gathering or any way when we’re writing, you can’t just be analytical. You have to actually work with it in these embodied ways. We have to not just, say embodied cognition or soma to be cool and move around. We actually have to work with, I said, memetics before. Alnoor will often talk about the the memetics that are living within our bodies, that this is a landscape that thought forms live within. So if this is a landscape that thought forms live within, how do we develop the literacy to be able to engage with them? From everything from can I feel where hoarding lives within my body? Can I feel where the constriction is? And can I also feel the part of my body that may be in contact with the earth right now, that can find a sense of expansion, that can actually honour the gift of gravity? And can those to be in tention enough for something else to come through?
Manda: Right. And when you say, do you mean is that in tension between each other, as in tense, not intension as in the focus of attention? I’m just clarifying that for myself.
Lynn: Yeah, yeah, I think I mean both. And when I heard myself say that in tension, I was thinking polarity. Like your attention is in multiple places simultaneously. And there may be dissonance in that and in the dissonance. This is where I feel now I have to reference the work of someone like Bayo Akomolafe; where the cosmological, the ontological and cosmological are rubbing together for something else to be cracking open. That’s not just in the realm of ideation. I think this is in the realm of our bodies as well. A lot of the work these days in somatics or resiliency or trauma tries to get us into a place of homeostasis, into a place almost of calm. And I feel like actual resiliency is being able to handle more and more dissonance with greater and greater ability. So this is what I mean by the tension or the polarity of riding the waves, and something else might come through.
Manda: Right. And that was one of the big takeaways for me from the book, was to let go of the idea that we have to know where we’re stepping. I was talking to Indi Johar of Dark Matter Labs a couple of weeks ago, and he talked about inter-becoming, which is a step beyond inter-being. And absolutely his thesis, and I’m also taking it as yours, is that we don’t know where we get to when we give ourselves over to that tension between the ontological and the cosmological. We just have to take ourselves to that place. I would think, and I’m thinking out loud now, that in my own spiritual work, this is when I go up the hill and ask, what do you want of me? And the preceding work to that is emptying of what I think the answers should be to that, because going up the hill with I would like you to want me to, I don’t know, write the next book, isn’t what it’s about. It’s about going up there and not knowing. It’s about embracing the not knowing. And then completely empty, asking what do you want of me? And your book, for me was one of the… Clearest is not the word. It’s because it’s grounded. It’s because you give it the physicality of sit down, do this.
Manda: There are embodied ways that aren’t just locking your head by watching black words on a bit of white paper, and you’ve got beautiful pictures that help to embrace everything. Ulnar can we look at the memetics of how do we embrace things in our body? Because you spoke at the top of the show about capitalism being potentially a deity in its own right, and I find that a really interesting idea, because if it is, is it the deity that’s triggering the violence that we’re seeing around the world? Is it the deity that’s pushing someone who, as far as I can tell, is completely batshit crazy to be the speaker of the US Congress and two heartbeats away from the presidency? And the guy is totally on a different realm of reality, as far as I can tell. And it seems to me that we’re in double exponents again, the exponent of people who get it and who really are trying, is one. And the other one is the exponent of the people who just basically want blood and thunder. This isn’t really a question. It’s an exploration of ideas. Can you take that exploration further? And if that doesn’t make sense, please feel free to say so.
Alnoor: We are definitely in the age of bifurcation, where there is this kind of extreme push to both new ways of being and a doubling down on those who are vested in the current system. And we feel that tension in of course our physical bodies, but also at culture and large. And you use this word ontology and memetics and maybe I’ll unpack both and just link them for a second. So memetics comes from the the idea of the meme, which Richard Dawkins coined in The Selfish Gene, which is the kind of the base unit of an idea. It’s like the cultural equivalent of a gene. And these memes are communicable, like diseases. We catch them. As Lynn referenced, they take up memetic real estate in the body. And then when we talk about the decolonisation work, part of it is to find the places these thought forms live within us. If we decode the, let’s say, the source code of neoliberalism and capitalist modernity more broadly, we often talk about separation, rationalism and materialism as this kind of unholy trinity. Separation the idea that humans are somehow special and separate and outside of the ecology, that nature is some ambient backdrop for human behaviour. And within that, there’s other separations.
Alnoor: During the time of Christendom, for example, in the Crusades and colonialism, the white male Christian was on top of that hierarchy. And that was the creation of dualism. And female bodies and indigenous bodies and black bodies and brown bodies were so called ‘other’. And nature is so called ‘other’. And our mind represents this God like being within us and our bodies are this brute, animalistic other that needs to be tamed. So that separation is core, as is materialism. The idea that the entire world can be reduced to its constitutive parts, right? The entire world can be reduced to the atom, the proton, neutron, electron. And now with quantum physics, you know, the photon or the quark or what have you. And then the rationalism aspect of this trinity is not only can we understand the world by reducing it through separation and materialism, human beings are entitled to understand the world. And the straight arrow of history is moving towards the unifying theory of everything, the grand unifying theory of science. And this level of hubris and arrogance, we can think of it as outside of us, but we’ve all been socialised and trained and conditioned to internalise these thought forms, and they live within us. And so then comes ontology, which is just, you know, it’s a fancy philosophical word to talk about the ‘is-ness’ of the world, what we believe to be real.
Alnoor: Onto is the Greek word for vision or seeing or being. And so what ontology points to is the way we see the world is the way we are relating to the world. And so part of what we’re calling for is a radical consideration of the existing ontology and how it lives within our bodies. How we are complicit in the ongoingness of capitalist modernity through our desire for attribution, acceptance, acquisition, and success within a dying system. Even though we’re living within the contradiction of knowing that every act we do is destroying the living world because we’re hardwired into a fossil fuel based, extractive, consumptive economy. And yet we all want our place on that hierarchy and that ladder. And the only thing that’s going to shift that; well, one of the only things I would say; is a radical break in ontology. Moving from a rational to a trans rational. From a materialist worldview to an animistic, relational, kinship based quantum queer worldview. And we can say that that’s mystical on one level, but it’s more than mystical. It’s also incorporating the constraints of reality in the material world itself.
Manda: Can you say more about that last bit? Because it sounds mystical in the best sense to me. How is it also working with the constraints of reality?
Alnoor: In the sense that we’re not denying rationality. We’re not denying materiality. That when we look at something like animism, that there is an acknowledgement of the material constituencies, as well as an understanding and a nod to the mystery of what we can’t understand. And the inclusion of the simultaneous humility of not knowing while accepting the scientific parameters as one lens. I often say science is not the ceiling of understanding. It’s not all that we know and will ever know. It’s the floor of understanding. It’s one way to have a consensus reality. When we agree on a circular method that we’ve agreed on, which is the scientific method, we can say: these are the constraints. We will repeat this experiment x amount of times and account for time and space. And we can also include quantum phenomena and the understanding of entanglement. But where they all point to is that we don’t really know. We don’t know how to square the micro phenomena of quanta with Newtonian laws of gravity. And the acknowledgement and the bringing of humility into the space is actually going to open vistas of possibility, not shut down our understanding of the world. But the way by which that happens is not so certain. And that’s part of the practice that’s required.
Alnoor: Lynn and I often say, our definition of ontology, when people say, what do you mean by ontology? We say the manner by which you approach is more important than the thing you think you’re approaching. Because what you think you’re approaching has been conditioned by a materialist separation, rationalist worldview.
Manda: Yes. Okay. That that makes complete sense. And so let me see if I’m understanding that what we’re doing always, for me we are energy beings and the energy that we bring to something is an integral part of how we interact with whatever that thing is. Whether it’s a material object or an idea or an emotion or the sun. It doesn’t matter. The energy that we bring to it is the single most important thing. I think you and I discussed this when we were talking about the the wetiko. And so I have a question for Lynn in a minute. But another question for Alnoor. Given we’re in the double exponent, given that we seem to be accelerating towards cliff edges quite fast, but also given that the energy that we bring to things means that the complex adaptive systems can hit tipping points and emerge into something completely unknown at any moment. How are we going to help the mimetics of the world to change from the see, want, take, extract, consume, destroy, despair that is so prevalent? Because certainly with the students that I work with, you have to want to do this. You have to want to understand. And we’re in a system that works so hard to keep people crushed into their amygdalas, into fear of how do I pay the mortgage? How am I going to feed my kids? How am I going to heat the house? That there is no bandwidth left for wanting to explore the mysteries of life, or even wanting to fall in love with the divine? How do you see us spreading the will for that? Did that make sense as a question?
Alnoor: Yeah, yeah. My sense is that this is not going to be a persuasion game. That we are not going to be able to rationally explain to people why this is important, that there has to be some inner calling. And what I would say is that our souls and our inner demons want that liberation anyway. And so part of the work to be done is to create post-capitalist realities that are so much more beautiful and interesting than the existing operating system. So much more interesting than the master narrative that people are gravitationally pulled to that. And what that is going to require of all of us is not just intention. Because we can have the purest intention and acknowledge that this is energy moving in space and what have you. And yet we will have our own internal traumas, our epigenetics, our ancestors working through us, our insecurities present. And we’re not going to be able to amputate these things, but we can integrate them. And one way to do that is to start by being good students of our culture. To to start really sitting with how does late stage capitalism work? What is it doing to me? What is it doing to my body? I often say that if we spent a third of the time in contemplation about the superstructures that are dominating our lives, right? Every aspect of our lives are mediated by capital; where we grow up, who our neighbours are, what we do for a living, if we have holiday time, what’s the ratio and socioeconomic and gender and sexual preference background of the people I’m friends with.
Alnoor: All of this is being determined and mediated to a certain extent by capital, and yet we don’t spend time in contemplation of that. And if we spent a third of time in contemplation of that, as we do doing self-help and self-development and human potential and whatever, whatever, we’d already have a revolution on our hands. And so the starting point is the willingness to be able to look at the master narrative and how it lives within us and the choices we’re making every single day. And then I think what follows from that, logically and naturally, is that we start to become conscientious objectors of this culture. We no longer have our identity and our desires placed within an external system that may reward us with capital and the fancy house and status. And as this shift happens from these extrinsic values to the intrinsic values of solidarity, cooperation, generosity, reciprocity, inter beingness and inter becoming ness, new vistas of possibility and new superpositions emerge. And we’re not going to know what to do. There’s not going to be a blueprint from how we get to late stage capitalism to post post-capitalist potentialities, but they will avail themselves once we reorganise our life force in service to something outside of this dominant culture.
Manda: Right. Okay. Yes. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. We’re running out of time, but we have a little bit. I really do want to come back a little bit more to trauma cultures and initiation cultures, if we can. But I also wanted to ask Lynn: you took the three horizon model and made it spiral, which struck me as absolute genius. I was very happy to see that. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Possibly people listening don’t even know what the three horizon model is in the first place. So you could maybe just pan that out a bit and then explain. It’s almost helical, I think in the way that you you bring it out. So can you talk to that a bit please.
Lynn: So a lot of this follows from everything Alnoor just said, as we were sitting with what is it that we’re actually speaking to with a call for justice that is kind of rooted in the material realm of form, the phenomenological and this work of ontological shifts. And we say it plural, this ongoing praxis, this way of being that we have to practice again and again, that allows other ways of seeing reality itself. So there’s a rather simple kind of framework that many use called Three horizons, that was developed by a man named Bill Sharpe. The way that we see it, horizon one would be continuation of kind of the status quo. And we see most of philanthropy, indeed most of kind of the social and ecological change sector, the Green New Deal, all the reform or reform of electoral politics, most things are still trying to maintain the polity; the nation state, citizen corporate relationship as we know it. The material world as we know it and see it. And so we were looking at, okay, that’s where most things are. And then when we started, it was like, if horizon two is what disrupts the status quo to move to somewhere. And then horizon three is some sort of, I would almost say parallel adjacent world or realm. Some might say future, but that locks us so into binary logic of old culture/new culture, and it’s not terribly helpful.
Lynn: So rather than just take that as horizon one, then push towards the just transition movement you could argue would be horizon two, then what would be horizon three? We really sat with it and said a couple of things. One is this framework holds for certain things and doesn’t for others, like any framework. But the deeper piece was what I just was speaking to. That we didn’t want to set up old culture bad/ new culture good, because we’re back into binary ways of being and knowing. We’re back into kind of a logic and we’re staying stuck in a realm that Alnoor was speaking to, the unholy trinity of separation, materialism, rationality. And including what Alnoor didn’t say, but I’ll add to, is we often get the question ‘but tell us what to do’. But what he said earlier about we’re not actually entitled to know. It also means that we don’t necessarily know. We’re pointing to some coordinates of possible. So if all of that is the case, and we moved into trying to get out of the pyramid logic and not just taking the notion that we have so deeply in our psyche, of progress as linear. Of moving from one horizon to the next to the next. It brought us into a way of seeing a philosophical and ontological way of seeing that is itself spiral in nature.
Lynn: Or it’s not just spiral, it’s kind of multidirectional. It’s discursive. You can enter these trans rational logics or these continuum of shifts from different places. So what we tried to do was recast philanthropy, not as a static institution and individuals as separate component parts, because it’s really hard to get out of a sense of there’s a me here that is separate from a you. But what if we start to to look at that as a web of relationality and really operate more with these principles? That are more kind of vectors in relationship with one another, where the seed of all of that, the core of it is understanding our worldview, understanding our cosmology, and that that’s in relationship with this. So then where that led us to is, as I said, a sense of a coordinates of possibility. And in the coordinates of possibility we offered something called the five element mandala, as a way that you could start to see what is what we often talk about as transition pathways. What are ways that will move us out of the dominant logics of late stage capitalism and the dominant practice of philanthropy, and indeed the entire NGO industrial complex towards other ways? And again, it’s not such a linear. It’s more of this spiral move around a medicine wheel, kind of a sense, because there’s not just a way.
Lynn: And so everything that we gesture towards around transition pathways, it may look like a how, like one of the pieces of the mandala speaks to solidarity with indigenous peoples. And so that sounds like a how. And what we’re trying to get at with that is that indigenous peoples are stewarding the vast majority of the biodiversity. They are often where the lifeblood of the planet is. Very small percentage. Those who have already you could argue, have endured post capitalist reality since first contact, for hundreds of years have been living these other ways. But the other piece about that is invoking solidarity is not something that I can assert, or that I can just write a check to do, or that I can just do. Solidarity is actually a lived praxis. So it suggests these ontological shifts have to be in practice. I can’t assert solidarity. Solidarity can co arise when I’m living in right relationship, when I’m in kinship, when I’m in a restorative reparative relationship that recognises that my healing is bound up with your healing and there is no separate so-called self.
Lynn: And there’s other pieces of that that we speak of in this, this mandala. Such as the element of air is at the top, like, how do we come up with other cultural narratives that are not just apocalyptic or hero worship, quite honestly, but that are invoking what kind of other post-capitalist realities might look like. The bottom of that, Alnoor often talks a lot about building Post-capitalist infrastructure, and here, just a nod back to philanthropy. It’s like, why not use capital to liberate capital? Before the dollar dies or whatever happens. To actually do land back bioregionalism, food, water, cultural health, other ways of sovereignty that would look like. And the piece that all of this comes with, this ongoing praxis of shift of our ontology, shifts of our way of being and knowing. So it’s not just, okay, now I’m going to go do the right thing because that itself will replicate the very same logics, the very same way of being.
Lynn: And so I’ll just say one last piece about the mandala, where there’s more elements that people can explore if they’re interested. Is the centre of it is around the element of ether. And here is where we’re speaking to a way of coming back into right relationship with life force itself. So what we’ve been speaking about, where capitalism or late stage capitalism has gotten so far out and so far in a continuum of extraction and domination, and everything is transactional. Everything is commodification that we actually have. And to your point about where we are within the trauma, it’s like we’re thwarting the current of life itself. We’re death phobic, we have historical amnesia, and we’re terrified of the present as well. So we run after the next innovation and the bright, shiny thing, and we reflect on and we worry about the future. We can’t just hang in this moment with how the pulse of life and death, I might add, is moving through us. And this is part of this gateway that we see of moving from cultures of trauma towards cultures of initiation, is coming back into right relationship with life force and coming back into understanding that it’s our occidental mind that has separated us out of the continuum of life and death. That ever has been and is and ever shall be, in the way that time moves forward and backwards, and is beyond what we can imagine in linear constructs. So this is where we are gesturing towards transition pathways with ontological shifts, is an ongoing praxis.
Manda: Thank you. So I’m still very curious about a trauma culture as compared to an initiation culture. I would trace our culture trauma, my cultural trauma back to the Romans. You know, they had fiat currency, they had slavery. Part of the reason that the Romans finally crushed tribal resistance in the UK, or in Britannia as it was, was that Seneca had lent 26 million sesterces to people who had no concept of what money was or what interest was. And he required not only the loan back, but he required interest on the loan. And not surprisingly, no one was really up for paying that. The reason they didn’t wipe out everybody when they finally destroyed the tribes was that somebody pointed out to Nero that you couldn’t tax dead people. So they kept enough alive so that they could tax them. So it goes back a very long way, the trauma in our culture. And yet the era of not trauma, seems to me to go back much, much, much longer. I recently read Civilised to Death by Christopher Ryan, which was mind blowing in many ways, but what I really took away, one of the big takeaways, was that our move to agriculture was a default option, because we were no longer able to act as the forager hunters that we had.
Manda: It’s a little bit more complex than that, but it wasn’t this linear progression from one way of being to a better way of being. We hated it. The concept of agriculture moved very, very, very slowly through the Fertile Crescent. There were parts in Britain where we tried agriculture for a couple of generations, and then we decided it was a really bad idea and went back to foraging hazelnuts as our main carbohydrate source over the winter. Agriculture is horrible. We don’t enjoy it. It’s not a lot of fun. It’s muddy and it’s cold and it’s wet. And if the crops fail, you starve. So we have hundreds of thousands of years where our birthright was fully connected in an initiation culture, and we were an integral part of the web of life. And yet we cannot go back to that. What I’m really curious, I think, is how we go forward to an initiation culture, given the world that we’re in? Does that make sense as a question?
Alnoor: No, it’s a beautiful question. This idea of initiation culture versus trauma culture comes from the work of Francis Weller, who is a psychotherapist and a mystic and a wonderful human being. And he sort of delineates these three aspects that happen in both initiation and trauma. The first is that there’s a severance from the world that you once knew, and then a radical alteration of identity. We don’t know who we are in the same way. And then the integration, the kind of profound realisation that you can never go back to the world the way it was. And his language around the difference between the two is that an initiation culture is a contained encounter with death. A contained encounter with death. And so what happens is that the initiation brings you into a wider, more participatory, sacred cosmos. And it’s held by a community, by elders, by the culture. And in a trauma culture, the same three steps: Severance, radical alteration and the integration is the messy process of feeling cut off and severed from the sense of this wider identity beyond the self. When we think about what does that mean for what we’re pointing to around post capitalism, and what you’ve pointed to with the the Roman genocide of Europe and the UK and the imposition of fiat currency and monotheism, is similar to what we went back to before. Which is we’re not saying here’s the way, but we’re saying a way is to be a student of the culture. If neoliberalism is based on historical amnesia, we have to reclaim our history. We have to understand the context in which we are and from whence we came.
Alnoor: That is critical. The idea that we are somehow going to amputate trauma, that we are going to somehow heal, is also part of the neoliberal myth. What we’re pointing to is more of like a palimpsest, you know, layer upon layer of scaffolding and integration. And the complexity of the moment. I often think about this line that’s attributed to Antonio Gramsci, where he says, ‘we are prisoners of context in the absence of meaning’. We’re prisoners of context in the absence of meaning. And so that was his kind of understanding and tagline for modernity and he wrote that in the 1920s. So the situation has got much, much worse in this age of consequence. And, you know, peak empire and peak patriarchy and peak white supremacy and peak capitalism and peak stupidity. But also peak possibility. Because the memory of our deep time ancestors and their ways exists within our DNA. We have access to knowledge from places in the world temporally, both now and historically, that we’ve never had before. We have seen the consequences of what the Western, occidental, consumerist way of living does; what it does to our soul, what it does to our ecology. And we are at a crossroads, civilisationally and at a community level and at an individual level, of what archetypal role do we want to play at the end of time? And in order to answer that question, we have to integrate history. We have to understand the structure of the system, and we have to understand or at least deepen our contemplation and our enquiry of what’s happening at a somatic level, an ecological level. And they’re all interconnected.
Manda: Thank you. All right. That makes a lot of sense. I would have so many more questions, but I am aware of the time. So maybe another time we’ll come back and go into that more deeply.
Lynn: And maybe one just last thing, to make it very explicit in what I’m saying. This contained encounter with death that’s required to move from trauma to initiation, we ourselves have to create in this context. We do not have a culture of initiation and elders, an intact culture that can hold that. And so we have to recontextualize and understand why we’re doing what we’re doing at this precipice, at this edge of history. We are creating the contained encounter with death by our recontextualization and our resacralization of meaning.
Manda: Okay. I need to go into that more deeply. Let me think about this. So my closest understanding of the contained encounter with death comes from Patrice Malidoma Somé and his Book of Water and the spirit. Endless others but his was very useful because he was kidnapped by the Jesuits very young. By the age of 12, he decided he never wanted to have sex with anyone, because he didn’t want to inflict that much pain on anybody else, which makes my head explode. But leaving that aside, he escaped, travelled huge distances, got back to his tribe, and went through the initiation late and with a Jesuit impacted mindset. And it was extremely hard, and I struggled to see how he could have done that without the holding of some very compassionate, very wise people, who were very connected to the other worlds, to the shamanic realities, to whatever we want to call it, that is outside of Western occidental consensus reality. Absent that help, how do you see people who are as locked in consensus reality, gaining the access to the other realities in a way that will allow them to experience the totality of possible human experience in a way that will become a fruitful initiation?
Lynn: I love that you bring Malidoma Somé in, because Francis Weller was a student of Malidoma, and so his ideas were definitely informed by his experience. What I’m pointing to is that this is the initiation. It is not going to look like Malidoma’s journey returning to the Dogon people. This is the initiation. What’s happening in Palestine right now is the initiation. Ecological collapse is the initiation. This approaching hyperobject of the end of time? That is the initiation. So our recontextualization is understanding history and context and structure to allow ourselves to become aware that this is the initiation and it’s not going to look like any initiation we thought we were going to do. So we ourselves have to create this contained encounter with death by deciding what we believe to be sacred again.
Manda: Okay. I watch people deciding what they want to be sacred. Is it not opening my heart to the divine and letting it speak to me? Because if I have a belief system, you know, this is back to how do I get to be empty enough to hear what the hill is saying? How in the Western world do people open enough?
Alnoor: I think if we allowed ourselves to be ensconced by the circle of this initiation, the magnitude of it, the complexity of it, we would fall to our knees in grief and sorrow and pain, and the idea that what we believe to be sacred is going to be some rational decision is not going to happen. It is only going to come from from accessing that grief and that memory. And it’s not a linear process, right? There’s a line that came to me from from a plant that is much smarter than me, that said: The seed of all ontology is ignorance. The seed of all ontology is ignorance. And what it means is that only when you can start to understand our ignorance, the consequences of our behaviour, what it requires to prop up one western body; 2000 calories a day, and your iPhone and your automobile and the fossil fuel supply chain and all of that. We would be in such deep grief.
Manda: Yes we are.
Alnoor: And that grief is an opening, right? It’s an opening as you go to that mountain. It’s the opening that says, how do I be useful to this moment and this context? How do I become worthy of the stewardship of my ancestral endowments that have been given to me and to be in dialogue with the ancestors and the more than human? When you come to that point of deep ignorance, the midwife of that ontology becomes humility. And from that humility the resacralization of meaning will come. It’s not a rational decision. It’s not another Western consumerist choice of what matters to me. The context determines it. The ecology determines it.
Manda: Okay. And then we can, with our humility, step into that contained encounter with death. I think this is going to be my new exploration for probably the rest of my life. Thank you. Lynn. Moving back to you, I am so aware of the time. There is so much else that I wanted to speak about, but you have, towards the end of the book, some vows that anybody could take. Creating post-capitalist vows. Would you like to read them to us or speak them to us? And if there’s anything that you would like to say in closing, now would be a good time. Thank you.
Lynn: In that beautiful dialogue about culture of initiation, I kept hearing a beloved sister and a Dine elder, Pat McCabe, say that often we do initiation ceremonies so we get to the end of our ‘personal resource’, so the door to mystery can blow open. And so, in that spirit, I wanted to offer these vows, which for us are a way of blending the spiritual and the political praxis in the way that generations before blended that with the movement of liberation theology. And we often take that as a cue of what are the liberation ontologies of our time? What is it for us to work at this nexus of the spiritual and the political? And this is what came, and these are vows that I will read, and they will have a first person in them. And they are provocations for all of us to find to what do we commit as an ongoing praxis, as the reminder, as the way that we can enter again and again this moment of an initiation of our, if I could say it this way, of our species, of our inter beingness, of our inter becoming ness. So I will just read them:.
Lynn: The root causes of our meta crisis are interconnected. I vow to understand them.
Lynn: The delusions of capitalist modernity are inexhaustible. I vow to transmute and transform them. The alternatives are boundless. I vow to perceive, create and amplify them.
Lynn: Post-capitalist realities are inevitable, yet delicate. I vow to practice, nurture and embody them.
Manda: I vow. Thank you.
Lynn: And I’ll say in closing, this piece that we were speaking to, of the spiral of moving, this five element mandala, this culture of initiation, where Alnoor and I felt to close this book, the offering to offer out, was with this place of our journey right now. We see as a very deep journey into the spirit and the praxis of surrender. To surrender to the consequences of late stage capitalism. There is an internal capitalist within all of our memetics, our mind body complexes and our relationality. There is a deep surrender into our addiction to comfort consumption, to the certainty of knowing, and to traverse this threshold of initiation and all that that means. So we can re-enter the continuum of life and death, and walk each other into the unknown.
Manda: Thank you. Thank you so much. That is so beautiful. And Alnoor, right at the end, you say, or one of you says; I still want to know how you both wrote this book together, but that’s another conversation: The harbinger of Post-capitalist realities may be as simple as laying one’s forehead upon the naked earth in contemplation of the liberation of all beings. Which just was one of the most beautiful lines I have ever come across, and also speaks to the simplicity of unknowing and humility that you’ve been talking about. So first of all, thank you. And second, as we’re closing, is there anything, any last words that you would like to say?
Alnoor: I think we’ve come full circle with the vows and this notion of liberation, ontology and initiation and trauma. And this line that you just read around the strategy is not going to be some linear march and domination of the will and imposition of rationality, but it is going to come from the humility of putting one’s head to the soil, to going to the mountain and saying, how do I be in service? To opening one’s heart to the divine and saying, How does my will become your will? How does one shed the layers of ego in order to be in service to divine emergence? When we shift our ontological perspective and our desires and our willingness to enact our idea of purpose on the world, and raise our sights to this broader, more participatory cosmos. The animate universe will respond.
Manda: Yes. That feels like a really good ending. The animate earth will respond. Feels to me such an important awareness, a mimetic concept, an ontology, whatever you want to call it, to take into our bodies. Because it’s so contrary to how we’re brought up, how we’re conditioned, how we’re socialised. We aren’t living in a world where the animate world responds, and yet we are. And the day we can make that shift to understanding that that’s what happens, then I think the world responds. And it would be amazing. Guys, you have written such an astonishing book on so many levels. I will put links in the show notes. If there are any other links that you want me to put in the show notes, please let me know. In the meantime, thank you Alnoor and Lynn for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Alnoor: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Manda: And there we go. I’m sorry we lost Lynn at the end. We were talking from the UK to Costa Rica and the lines were not grand, but they were there. And wasn’t that amazing? Truly, if we could do this every week, I would be so happy. This is where we are trying to go. This understanding that the animate earth responds. This understanding that we can bring about our own initiation and that we must. And that the web of life is there to support our doing so. And there are people like Alnoor and Lynn who are on this path, who are leading the way. Who are torchbearers in a time when what we need is to understand the light and the dark of who we are. The physicality of what we hold in our bodies. Please get this book. It’s free on the website as a PDF. I think the physical copy is also lovely, but either way, get it and go through the exercises. They are not fast. They’re not five minute things that you can just do and be done with, but they’re there to help you embody what it is to change.
Manda: So go for it people. That’s our homework for this week. And I apologise. I am definitely still in Covid and my voice is not doing what I want it to do. So thank you for coping with that all the way through. I think my brain is probably not doing quite what I want it to do either, but I’m only going to be fully aware of that in retrospect. So thank you for coping with that too.
Manda: As ever. We will be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, thanks to Caro C for the music at the Head and Foot. To Alan Lowells of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for the website, for the YouTube and the Instagram, for doing all of the amazing technical stuff. And for the conversations that keep us moving. And as ever, to you for being there, for sharing the journey and for sharing the podcast. If you know of anybody else who wants to understand our paths through trauma to initiation, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you. And goodbye.
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