Episode #60  The Subtle Shaman: Chris Taylor and the Tao of R-evolution

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How does it feel to know we’re really living our purpose? What’s the felt sense inside that tells us to keep going in a particular direction? Or to stop? Radical evolutionary, Chris Taylor explores the pathways to right being that will let us transform what it is to be human.

Chris, author of The Tao of Revolution is a Tai Chi teacher, regenerative farmer, musician, performance poet, facilitator-of-change and author – describes himself as a revolutionary mystic. Or mystical revolutionary. His book is described as ‘A field guide for Global Transformation’, – a book on climate and societal change that isn’t about the coming chaos, but about how we learn to live with the future. The system will not be over-thrown, it will be overgrown – here’s how.’

In this heart-warming, thought-provoking podcast we move through Immanuelle Wallerstein, Quaker philosophy and Melissa Etheridge to the Green New Deal, QAnon and Taoism, to how we can live deeply connected to the land that feeds us.

Ultimately, we explore the opportunities and gifts of our times and the ways that we can each find the margins of ourselves, find the things that make our hearts sing and find the ways to do them – so that together, we are building a world based on connection, coherence and empowerment.

In Conversation

Manda: My guest this week is really hard to categorise. He meets at the intersection of all of those points. He’s a writer, a musician, a regenerative farmer. An ecologist, a performance poet, a Tai Chi teacher and activist. He’s been described by others as a subtle Shaman, and he describes himself as a revolutionary mystic or perhaps a mystic revolutionary, one or the other. He’s author of the book The Tao of Revolution, a field guide for Global Transformation, and he devotes his work to helping others find ways forward in this time of total transformation. My conversation with Chris Taylor was one of the most profoundly encouraging and inspiring that I’ve had in the past year, and it’s a delight to share it with you. So people of the podcast, please welcome Chris Taylor.

Manda: So, Chris Taylor, welcome to Accidental Gods on this fine and sunny post-storm morning. And the storm was called Storm Cristoph. So I feel that’s obviously I’m lining us up for a good podcast. We are currently flooded in, because we might live on a hill, but the roads going out to the village, don’t. They all go down into the valley, which is flooded. How is it with you?

Chris: It’s fine right now. Yep, nice and sunny. Wind, and as you say, post-storm.

Manda: Post-storm. And also we are recording, we have to tell the listeners, the day after Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. And I know I shouldn’t get excited about the politics of other countries, but in the post Corbyn world of UK politics, where everything has gone either grey and bland or terrifyingly reactionary, it’s really nice to look across the pond, and not have to brace ourselves for more horror. So that to feel good. We have sun, Storm Cristoph, and a sane president. Yes! So welcome. So you feel like one of the people who is exploring the leading edges of the things that Accidental Gods most wants to see. You’ve written The Tao of Revolution, which is a field guide to global transformation, which is as good as it gets really, in terms of us exploring the edges of who we can be. And in a lot of your other work, you are helping other people to prepare for the transformation that is upon us. So let’s have a little bit of how Chris got to be the Chris that is doing all of this. Tell us a bit of who you are, and how you got to be there.

Chris: Hmm. Thank you. Well, first, I just want to say thank you for having me on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed listening back to the episodes, and all the great folk you’ve had on. So it’s a real privilege to be joining such esteemed company. Yeah. How did I get here? I was raised in a Quaker household, so both my parents were Quakers and they actually met on a work camp. And I think that gave me a kind of a set of values, something about kind of living simply, something about peace and pacifism, something about seeing the good in everyone, and something about social justice. So that was very strong. It’s very strong within Quakerism, very strong in my family about sticking up for the underdog, fighting social justice where it… everywhere that it exists. So I think that was the backdrop. Then I kind of, I quite often look at two kind of seemingly minor incidents in my life that that were part of the journey. One was when I was at college, I went to Sunderland Polytechnic, having grown up near Oxford, so born on the River Wye, just outside Chepstow, grown up in the south…

Manda: Not tempted to go to Oxford?

Chris: Well, interestingly, our primary school was just outside Oxford and I was invited to take the entrance exam for one of the kind of prep schools that fed into Oxford. But my mum persuaded me not to go, because she didn’t agree with private education.

Manda: Oh, interesting.

Chris: Yeah. So that would have been a completely different path for me. I could have had a scholarship if I passed the exam. So I went to Sunderland Polytechnic at the time. And I was just kind of browsing in the library, and I noticed a book with a golden spine, a paperback book with a golden spine. And I thought, oh, that’s interesting, gold! Was attracted by this shiny thing. And I read the book and it was by an American academic called Immanuel Wallerstein, who’d developed this theory, which is called World Systems Analysis, which basically just says what it does on the tin. It says the world is a system. It has been a system for 500 years since capitalism first appeared in Europe, and then spread across the globe. And so we are operating in a single, unified world system and that will sooner or later, come to its end, because it will reach the limits of, you know, its own internal driving forces and then, like every other system before, it will perish. And this was just like, when I read it, I felt like I’d always known that. You know, I’d always known that that was the truth. Just that this system, you know, had a shelf life. And I kind of… about five years ago when I was writing The Tao of Revolution, I got into an email exchange with Immanuel Wallerstein and I said, well, where’s this heading? And he said, oh, I’ve been saying for ages that this will come to its culmination sometime between 2040 and 2050. That’s the kind of  life time of the system. And that was just like, OK, that hit me like a bolt, really.

Manda: Did he have reasons for this other than systems live a certain specific time and that’s the end, the sell by date ends then. Does he have systemic reasons for this?

Chris: Yeah. So I think the systemic reasons as I see them, as they pertain to capitalism – and it would be great if we talked about systems within systems. But if we just talk about capitalism for a moment, I think the way he sees it, and the way I have seen it from learning from him, is that it started with the kind of trade systems in Europe and then the conquest of empire, bringing the rest of the world bit by bit into one capitalist, one global economy through conquest and war. Well, first, by the introduction of religion, I guess, to soften things up and then by the bullet in the gun. That process of incorporation is now almost complete. So there aren’t many places on the globe where you can’t buy Coca-Cola and and Colgate toothpaste and so on. So that’s a systemic limit. But then I think there’s also, we’re very definitely pushing up against the environmental limits. And I think that’s the second kind of small incident in my life that took me on this course. My eldest son was doing some homework one day, may even be 15 or 20 years ago, but he was sat at the computer doing his homework and he had music on, you know, while he was doing his homework, and I heard Melissa Etheridge. And I thought, that’s weird! Why is my son listening to Melissa Etheridge, who you may know?  Listeners may know?

Manda: I’m afraid music’s not my thing. Listeners probably do, but tell me anyway.

Chris: She’s a lesbian country rock singer from the States, which feels like a very brave journey, to be a lesbian country rock singer. And I’d known her in the 80s, and I hadn’t listened to her for years. And then he was playing this song and I was like, wow. I asked him about this song and he said, oh, it’s the theme tune to Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. And I was like, Al Gore’s made a film? What’s the film? What’s it about? And he said, Dad, you don’t know? You have to watch this film. So I watched An Inconvenient Truth. And I kind of realised that I had been kind of ignoring the environmental crisis that we were heading into, because I focussed almost exclusively on the economic injustices in the world, and the kind of the social injustices, and I had been kind of blinkered to the environmental stuff. So that was a real wake up for me. And I think I’ve been getting kind of deeper and deeper into the kind of ecological side of the crisis that we’re heading into ever since then.

Manda: I was expecting you to say then I read Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation. I mean, actually, Al Gore was a long time before Jem Bendell.

Chris: Yeah. And I have read Jem’s paper, and I know that that has been the trigger for a lot of people. So those I think those things kind of confirmed for me that we are heading into quite a difficult transition here. The economic system of global capitalism, you know, is really pushing, driving, economic and material progress at the cost of the planet, and at the cost of a lot of lives around the world, that we are in our lifetime, we will live through the transition, and we are already living through the transition and from that into something else.

Manda: Yes.

Chris: And once I’d come to that realisation, I just couldn’t let it drop. You know, it was like, so I’m here, I’ve been born into this time, and there must be a reason for that. And it must be associated with this transition. You know, the sense that I knew, when I first read those words, you know, made me believe that I have a role to play, you know, through my life in that transition.

Manda: So I would like to go back and talk about systems within systems. But just before we get there, I’m curious as to where your spiritual path has taken you, because your kind of epiphany when you read Wallerstein felt like a spiritual awakening, but you were brought up a Quaker. And so perhaps you didn’t need a spiritual awakening. You needed more of a kind of Marxist awakening, or or systemic awakening or something. And I’m, and then you get to the concept that we were born now for a reason, which is something that I would completely be on board with. But I find that the people who believe that are people who live within a spiritual frame. Spirituality is a core and foundational part of their lives, and I’m wondering if that’s the case for you and if so, where your spiritual path has taken you.

Chris: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I think it was one of the other things about being raised in a Quaker household was that sense of that there is something greater. You know, there is a spiritual realm. There is a spiritual aspect to human existence. My parents had a poster up in the house that said that: there is that of God in every man – or in every one. So that stayed with me almost – and then I rejected that. So I rejected religion in my teenage years and in my 20s, because I kind of looked around at that, at the history of empire, you know, and I saw Christianity, you know, as the leading edge of empire, and all the harm that had been done by organised religion across the ages. So I lost religion, and with it spirituality. I went to a kind of quite a rational place. And religion and spirituality didn’t feel like they were rational. So I left them for a long time. And then I came back into it through ecology. So through that, the deeper I got into looking at the crisis that we’re heading into, and that we’re in now around the ecology, the more it struck me that that was because we’ve separated ourselves from a sense of connexion and oneness and unity with the Land, with the planet, with each other, and then kind of outwards from there, you know, to the the divine in everything, you know, divinity or the sacredness that is everything that exists.

Manda: Yeah.

Chris: And so I came back. Yeah, I came back in through ecology, if you like.

Manda: And were you studying ecology?

Chris: No, not at all. It was just it was literally watching The Inconvenient Truth and then yeah, I did bags of reading, you know, around all of this, around kind of deep ecology, and, you know, Joanna Macy.

Manda: But you weren’t doing an MA, or…

Chris: No, no, no, self study.

Manda: Ok, where were you working at this point, just for my own interest?

Chris: 14 years ago, I left kind of quite a successful career in the public sector and went freelance. I guess I had my midlife crisis at that point, that I just felt like I wasn’t being true to my, you know, to who I was, and my purpose. And at that point, I didn’t quite know what my purpose was, but I just felt it wasn’t there. So I was working, ever since I have been working freelance, and I do a lot of work through the Oasis School of Human Relations, which is a Yorkshire-based collective of facilitators and coaches and so on. So I was doing that. And gradually over those years, that work has moved more towards consciously and deliberately addressing this transition that we’re in now.

Manda: How did you go about finding your purpose when you felt that you weren’t living it? Because I think for most, for a lot of people, our culture, our system pushes us into ways of being that are not authentic to who we really are. And the path back to authenticity is one of those things that tends to look like a shining road in retrospect, and at the time doesn’t feel like that at all. So I’m curious to know how you went about finding a purpose that felt authentic in all levels of your being.

Chris: Mmm. Well I think the answer to that is that I started running courses about this, so I started running courses and workshops for people to kind of, to work out how they could contribute to, originally to a more sustainable world, because sustainability felt like the right frame at the time. That was maybe 10 or 15 years ago. And so I started running courses, and borrowing and devising exercises to help people find their purpose or their contribution. I used to do the exercises, you know, with the groups that I was kind of…

Manda: You end up doing them lots, don’t you? That’s the great thing about leading groups is you do the same thing over and over.

Chris: Exactly. So I did it over and over and over. And each time, you know, something became a little bit clearer. And I’d always known that it was something to do with this, you know, to playing an active part in this transition, and each time I did an exercise that got a little bit clearer along the way. One thing that really made a difference very early on was I was with a group of students, and and they asked me this question about purpose because, of course, they were thinking about what they were going to do with their lives after they after they graduated, and how they could contribute to a more sustainable world after they graduated. And they asked me, it sounds like you believe that we’ve all got a purpose. And I said, yeah, I do. I do. I believe that we’ve all come into this world to achieve something, you know, or to be something. It’s not necessarily to do something, but to be something. And then I was talking to a colleague that evening and she said, well, what’s your purpose? And I said, well, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I can feel it in my body. You know, I can feel behind my breastbone. I can feel this kind of, it feels like a white or slightly golden glowing orb that sits behind my breastbone.

Manda: Roughly analogous to your heart, in fact.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. If I am aligned with that, if I am speaking from that place, if I’m acting from that place, then everything feels aligned. The dissonance that I otherwise feel when I say something, you know, for example, to impress somebody, or to be nice to somebody or, you know, there’s a slight dissonance if that isn’t true. But if I come from this place, this orb, then I feel like I’m aligned to my purpose. So all I need to do is just kind of follow that as my kind of guidance system, if you like.

Manda: And that’s so beautiful. Chris, I want to just dwell on that for a moment so that people listening really hear what you just said: that if they can access something, somewhere on a bodily sense, that has that sense of rightness, and then we don’t need our head minds going, OK, now you do this, and that leads to there. And then eventually you get to the top of the mountain, and you can show everybody how you got there. That’s not necessarily what purpose is. Purpose is learning to listen to that felt sense of rightness in each moment.

Chris: I guess the other thing just to mention about my spiritual path is that I’m a Tai Chi practitioner and a Tai Chi teacher. And that’s been very important in my development personally and spiritually. And I just love the the sense of connexion when I am running a Tai Chi class and people can feel their own energy, they can feel the lifeforce energy kind of in their hands or in their belly. And they can then recognise that that same lifeforce energy is also in everything that exists, you know, it’s in every living thing. It’s in the air, it’s in the rocks, it’s in the sky. You know, it courses through everything in the universe. And people through that embodiment of feeling that in themselves, that to me is the shortest path to a sense of connexion with the rest of existence. So that to me, I found for me personally, and it’s not necessarily the same for everybody, but for me personally, the use of Chi Gong or Tai Chi practices that are the most direct and most easily felt connexion to wholeness, to oneness.

Manda: Yes. That that absolute sense of embodiment in the moment, and paying real attention to the flow of energy within our bodies. Even learning that there is a flow of energy within our bodies that we can pay attention to, I think is a huge step. So we’re all going to come and learn Tai Chi from Chris, that would be lovely. If we’re all allowed to be in the same room at the same time. You said a little while ago that sustainability felt to you the right frame at the time, and that felt like a time limited thing. And I’m wondering what the right frame feels like now, or what feels like the right frame now.

Chris: I think sustainability, if we use the accepted definition of sustainable development, which is living now without undermining the ability of future generations to to also live, that feels, you know, at the time it felt a good, solid definition. And it still feels true at one level. But I think we’ve reached a point where it’s not enough. The damage that we’re doing to the global eco system through our current civilisation is too great now, just to do no harm. You know, to ‘do no harm’ is the driving force. So the frame that feels right now for me is the regenerative frame. So, thinking about how human lives, and how human society, and how human.. how the next iteration of human civilisation can be regenerative to the planet.

Manda: And can we unpick what regenerative means in this context?

Chris: Yeah. So this this actually comes back to purpose because there is a theory that not not only do we as individuals have a purpose, but that we as a species, humanity as a species, will have a purpose, just like every other element in the ecosystem has a purpose. You know, the stag beetle and the oak tree and the meadow grass. You know, we’re all here contributing to that dynamic equilibrium that sustains a system. So what is the purpose of humanity? And when I explored that, through kind of meditation and through discussion with other people, it became clear to me that humanity has the ability to consciously and deliberately improve ecosystems. We’re natural gardeners, and what’s happened is that we’ve gone into the shadow of that, so we’ve gone into a dysfunctional shadow state in the belief that we have dominion over nature, that we can conquer it, and it’s our job to conquer it, and to shape it, and to have control over it, and to rule over the natural world, whereas our purpose is more to observe and interact, and to look at the places where we can add life and support the thriving of life, and repair and bring parts of the system back into balance and so on. So that, to me, is regenerative. It’s valuing all life, and seeing how, with care, and with the minimum intervention, we can bring things back into health and into balance and into abundance.

Manda: Right. OK, so I would love to head down this rabbit hole. I don’t want to forget that we were going to talk about systems, because I think that’s also important. But this feels absolutely crucial to the next phase of humanity. If we are going to have a radical transformation of what it means to be human, then this ability to insert ourselves into the ecosystem in a way that isn’t the old frame. And I’m really curious – you’ve obviously thought about this very deeply. I get to a point where the only possible way that I can know my place in the dance of the ecosystem, whatever it is, let’s say the Land on the smallholding that I live on, is to listen very, very deeply to the Land, because otherwise I’m coming from a state of head mind thinking, where I think I believe what the Land needs and wants, and it’s the only thing I can say for certainty about that is that it’s going to be defective. There’s going to be huge gaps in my actual understanding of what’s going on. So that’s one.. that comes as a: how do we as a species, as individuals, as a culture, as a species, how do we learn what it is that we can do that only we can do, and that we can do usefully within the ecosystems? That, yeah, let’s go with that, because I have a supplementary question, but let’s go with that as a first question.

Chris: Yeah, so absolutely to listening. Yeah. And I’ve found the longer I’ve lived on this particular piece of land where I live, the more listening I’m doing. I don’t know whether listening is different from communing, but it feels like there’s a communing with the land as well. And as you were talking, the image that came up was that: how do you relate to a lover? Because you – yes, you listen, but there’s something more. There’s a kind of, there’s a dance and there’s an interaction, and there’s a – I can’t think of another word other than communing. And I think there’s something of that in our relationship to Land and Eco-Systems. So I had a moment about six months after I’d moved to this particular piece of land where I live now. And I was walking out to the garden, to the vegetable garden with a basket to get some, you know, some lunch or something for dinner, I can’t remember. And I just had this moment where I thought, oh, my goodness, my survival is now dependent on this Land. My food comes from this Land. I’d better get into a relationship with this Land, or actually I am already in a relationship with this Land. There’s a kind of a mutual dependence here, that I’m dependent for my food and in some way, I am doing something to care for this Land that is also, you know, the Land is therefore receiving. So there’s a mutual dependence here. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that that was a kind of love, you know, that there was a.. I had now been enjoined in a love relationship with this piece of land. So there’s something about that. What is communion with the Land?

Manda: Can we take a step in there? Because I look at a lot of the rewilding projects, which are basically let’s take the people off the land and leave it to do its own thing, or we look at Chernobyl, where fundamentally you can’t go there because you’re going to get fried. And the Land seems to do quite well without us. And yet we want to eat. My perennial question around this is: how do we create this reciprocity? How can we create something genuinely regenerative while we have an agrarian mindset that says people have ownership over bits of land? However, we frame that ownership. It’s a zero sum: I own it, therefore, a Russian oligarch doesn’t, or vice versa. I put boundaries around it, I put fences around it. If I work really hard understanding ecology, I will now open those fences to let the hedgehogs through and I’ll let the badgers in and I won’t let the hunt come across it. But even so, when I’m in the depths of my – probably despair, I get to, you know, this bit of land would be just so much better if there were no people on it. And yet I completely share with you the belief that we’re here for a reason, that human consciousness has reached the stage that it has for a reason, that our separation from, and desperate abuse of, the ecosystems must have happened for a reason, though I can’t see what that could be. And so I’m wondering, how do you find that reciprocity, and that sense that what we are doing with the Land while taking sustenance from it is useful for the rest of the more than human world?

Chris: Well, it’s a great question. I mean, there’s so much in what you’ve just said and I’m not sure where to begin. I think the Land can do fine without us, and it can do fine with us. You know, and it’s different. It’s different where we’re there, and it’s different when we’re not there. So not necessarily that one is better than the other. But there definitely is a way for humanity to live in harmony with an ecosystem, and for humanity’s impact to be regenerative, to help that Land to heal or to reach a balance sooner, or maybe deeper, or in a different way than if humanity wasn’t there. How exactly that works? I think that is the task of the next civilisation. So I don’t think we quite have all the answers to that yet. We’re learning. I think, you know, we’re learning through permaculture. We’re learning through regenerative agriculture, you know, a whole bunch of ways, and we’re learning through science. You know, science is telling us some really interesting things about soil health and so on. And so we’re learning some of that. And I think the task of the next civilisation is, you know, is how to make that a global civilisation, how to move from that being a marginal alternative activity to being the mainstream activity, the purpose of civilisation. And we will learn as we go.

Manda: And so how do we get there? That, yes. How do we make this? I’ve been reading some of the QAnon depths of.. the last couple of weeks and and I have a frame that says we need to find a language that reaches everybody, or we need to find a set of narratives that reach everybody, and we need to create a vision for a future which appeals to everybody, so that we can all get behind it. And I still hold that frame. But my goodness, I read some of the stuff coming out of the depths of wherever, and I don’t, I mean, they’re speaking English, but it’s not got a framing that has any intersect with any world that I inhabit. How do we do this, Chris?

Chris: Great question. I think one thing just to say about the QAnon and so on is the civilisation that we’re living in now is one that causes untold trauma across the planet. You know, it causes trauma through kind of structural inequalities, racism and patriarchy and so on. And it causes trauma, you know, in so many different ways, in people’s lives. And mainly from my perspective, because it is really hard to live your purpose within a civilisation that is structured on inequality and violence and separation and that causes trauma for people when they’re not able to live authentically as who they are, and not able to offer the gifts to the world, you know, that they are born with. So I think what we’re facing is a situation where there is a lot of trauma in the world, that causes pain and suffering for people, and I see that acting out, you know, in the storming of the the Capitol building in the US, for example. So that’s, you know, that’s part of the backdrop, I think. Moving to your question about how we do this. I don’t know whether I have a complete answer to this, but I have a kind of a maxim. So one of the processes that was part of my kind of gradual induction into this world was watching the Occupy situation unfold in the States back in 2011. And there was a guy who was part of the Occupy Oakland movement, a guy called Pancho Ramos Stierle. And Pancho was arrested in Oakland while meditating. So his contribution to the Occupy movement was to sit on the, I think it was on the steps outside a federal building of some sort, and to meditate in silence.

Manda: Obviously a deeply threatening move…

Chris: Yea, yeah. And so he tells the story about how he was arrested while doing this. But Pancho has this belief that for every 10 actions that you take in the world, one might be an action that is kind of protesting, or holding the line against some injustice. And the other nine should be building the world that you want to see.

Manda: Ok, so this is why you have the whole thing: action, systems and the envisioning.

Chris: Yes, exactly. And I kind of, I really… this kind of notion of nine to one. I don’t know exactly what the ratio for me would be, and maybe it’s different for different people. But predominantly, you know, and overwhelmingly, actions that prefigure the world that you want to see are the way to go. Because I think what that does, for one thing, for me, it avoids me feeling I’m in conflict with the system. It puts me in the system. Shifting the system by creating the new within the dying ruins of the old, and that just feels a healthier place for me to be. And it feels like that, and I can’t swear to this, but, you know, it feels like that’s what shifts systems. You know, they say ‘what you resist persists’, you know? So if I get into an antagonistic relationship with the system, then it hardens itself and becomes defensive. Whereas if I start to create a new system, or I’m part of a movement, or a movement of movements, that is creating a new civilisation, then that in time shifts the system to a new place.

Manda: So how is your life structured? Just give us an overview of the ways in which you are building the new system day by day, conversation by conversation. Because this is so inspiring, Chris, this is how we change the world, and you’re living it. So I promise we’ll get to systems within systems in a minute. But just give us a little view of of your actual practical application of that.

Chris: Yeah, thank you. I’m smiling because this makes me happy to talk about. And there’s a little story here, which I hope my partner, my life partner, won’t mind me telling. So we’ve been together since we were 12. We met at school when we were 12. And we’ve been together since we were 16. And we’ve had three children, and the children left home. And we were kind of, I came down one morning to an empty kitchen. And I said to Sheila, I said, “I feel it’s quite lonely,  this, without the kids. I quite fancy living with other people.” And to my surprise, she said, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking the same thing for a while. Why don’t we look at moving to a community” And I was like, this was a surprise to me. So we did that. We went on a permaculture design course which was staged in an eco village in Ireland. And the course was great. And the eco village had loads of stuff going for it, but was not the kind of place that we decided we wanted to live. So we gave ourselves a year to visit different places. And I looked with some friends and colleagues at whether we could start something. And in the end, we came to visit the community where I now live in Herefordshire. And just immediately knew that this was the place that we needed to be. And seven months later, we moved in. So we didn’t complete the year. We moved within seven months. And the reason why this was the place was because it’s based around a farm. So it is a working, organic, communal farm where we grow together, and that produce is shared amongst all of us.

Manda: And how big is the farm?

Chris: The farm’s 42 acres.

Manda: And how many people does that feed?

Chris: There are 20 households here, so 43 people, including children, at the moment. And we have some dairy cows, and two dairy cows who provide enough milk and cheese for the whole community. It’s just blows my mind, the abundance and generosity of nature. And we have a two acre vegetable garden where we grow vegetables on a rotation system, and we have an orchard where we grow apples and plums and pears.

Manda: So just let me get a break for a second. On two acres, you grow enough for 43 people,

Chris: Yeah, two acres grows enough vegetables for all of us. And soft fruits are also in the garden. And we have an abundance of apples. And so we juiced over a thousand litres of apple juice this year from a from a two acre orchard.

Manda: That’s a lot of juice.

Chris: A lot of juice. And the stored apples from which we’re still eating now in January.

Manda: Yeah. It was a good harvest last year. But my goodness, that’s a very good harvest. Okay. And do you grow cereals?

Chris: We grow a little bit of grain. That’s the area that probably we could look at developing. So we’re not growing a lot of grain at the moment, but we’re growing approximately half of all the food that we eat. And the other half is stuff that we choose to eat.

Manda: Okay. So if Brexit really cuts everything so that we can’t possibly import any more, you will be okay.

Chris: Yeah, we probably will be. So to come to your question, part of my life is about this farm, and I have, you know, certain roles that I’ve taken on. So I have a vegetable plot that I grow food for everyone on. I help look after the orchard, I help do the composting and so on. And Sheila does other things. She milks the goats and the cows and so on. And so we all, you know we all find our place within all of that. And for me, coming here was a deliberate experiment, So it was an experiment in, you know, the thinking was where could I go, where I could really learn first hand about regeneration? Well, a farm that is trying to farm organically and regeneratively, that would be a great place. And where can I go to learn about how people can live together, make communal decisions, find decision-making structures that work for everyone, work together in some sense of equality and communalism, you know, for the good of the the whole, the good of the collective, and for the good of the Land? And that’s, you know, that’s why I’m here, and that’s what I’m learning. So, you know, two and a half years in, I feel like I’ve learnt a whole load of stuff about all of that. And I’m still learning and hopefully I’m contributing in some way to all of that.

Manda: And you’re doing the work with Oasis, which presumably also contributes. So because I am reading a paper by Grace Blakely saying just after Joe Biden’s inauguration, obviously green capitalism is not enough. We need a complete change to the system. And I’m guessing you would agree with her on that, though you might not? You’re free to say so if you don’t. So let’s talk about the system, and how people can look at the system in ways that understand how it can change. Because I think so many of us, the system that we have is the sea in which we swim. And it’s almost impossible to imagine a system that’s different, that doesn’t involve us all ending up either being kebabed over piles of burning tires by our bigger, nastier neighbours or, you know, trying to relearn how to tan rabbit hides to survive, or we live in the caves, which clearly can’t happen because there aren’t enough caves. We cannot return to a forager hunter lifestyle, even if we wanted to, which we don’t. So finding ways where we can envisage a transformation of the system that isn’t a destruction of the system. I’m finding a lot of people can’t get their heads around that.

Chris: Yeah, well, the first thing I’d want to say, I think, is the thing about systems within systems. So I think, or my understanding is that we’re living probably within at least three systems at the moment, which have had different lifespans to them. So the one we’ve talked about already, the kind of global capitalist system which kind of, I guess has a lifespan of about, has had a lifespan of about 500 years and is the kind of, that economic system that’s based on growth, that’s based on extraction, you know, extracting the world’s resources for the pursuit of profit and to build material wealth and possessions. And I think that is intricately linked with empire. That is a system that was created, as we talked about, through the Bible and the gun across the world. And so it is also a system based on race and racism and on the rationalisation of people, peoples in the dehumanisation of some peoples in the world, so that we could conquer them. You know, if you like, system One. I think there’s then a system that we’re also living in which has a longer history than that, you know, maybe a history of two or three thousand years, which is kind of the system of patriarchy. So we’re also living in this system whereby that drive to empire was facilitated by a patriarchal system where men were in control, and as we talked about earlier, had this sense of dominion over the natural world and over the female half of humanity, in fact. So that is another layer to the system that we’re currently living in.

And then I think this maybe, kind of what happened when humanity settled and took on settled agriculture, and whether that was the trigger that in some ways separated us from our intricate connexion with the land and with nature, and with the  divinity of the natural world. And I think that there was something in that transition from, you know, hunter gatherers to settled agriculture, where we took on this mantle of civilisation. So it was around that time, and I guess historians differ exactly about this, but then we started to, you know, to really start building monuments, and to have hierarchies in our civilisation, and to have castes that grew rich off other people, and organised religion came, and organised cities, and so on. So it feels like we’re also in that system of kind of civilisation somehow. And what occurs to me is that we’re now in the transition of all three of those systems simultaneously. So we’re not just in the transition from capitalism into something else. We’re in the transition of capitalism as an economic system, the system of empire and racism, the system of patriarchy, and the system of hierarchy, the hierarchical organisation of peoples, you know, and the sense of there being differentiation between groups of people that somehow are more worthy or wealthy than others. And so it’s almost like everything about the way we know life, the way we live, the way we see ourselves as human beings, the way we see the world, is being brought into question, and is shifting, as those three kind of systems are all disintegrating and composting at the same time. And I think that’s really tricky. I think that’s, you know, that throws up so much uncertainty for people. And as I said earlier, there is so much trauma around already that it is a very delicate time for us as humanity to navigate. And at the same time, like all transitions, you know, it holds in it the potential for massive, massive opportunities.

You know, can you imagine, you know, just to look on it as the time at which we get to recreate ourselves as a species? You know, what a gift! What a gift, to be able to kind of reinvent ourselves, and to come back into kind of some balance with the rest of existence through finding our purpose again, you know, through finding that purpose as custodians or stewards of the natural world. You know, that it feels like a real gift.

Manda: Yes, yes. All we have to do is walk that tightrope between chaos and extinction on one side and transformation on the other.

Chris: Yes. And you asked how we do that. I think it is holding to that sense of possibility. That’s one thing, you know, holding to: yes, this is going to be challenging. But, yes, it is also an opportunity. And I think you mentioned a vision, and I think that’s absolutely crucial. The more that we can envision what that world looks like, the more that we can draw people towards it. You know, we almost have to have that magnetic vision of the future to galvanise humanity, to get through this transition. And then there’s something for me, because when I’ve looked at my own purpose in this transition, there’s something about how do you help as much as you can to create a sense of calm, or a sense of… and this is tricky. So it’s you know, it’s the kind of panic with everybody running for the lifeboats, you know, that’s the – how do you avoid that? How do you avoid the panic as everybody runs for the lifeboats? And I think I’m still trying to work that out. You know, I think Covid has been a real eye-opener in terms of that for me. I’ve been watching within this community, and within the country, you know, what – are there lessons that we can learn from this about how to avoid fear, and to avoid panic? And I’m not sure you can entirely, you know, for everybody. I think you definitely can for some people, you know, that there are things, again, embodied, things, you know, Tai Chi practices and other embodied practices are really good at releasing your fear and tension. But I feel like I’m still in the process of learning about that, about what are the things that we can do that will help us navigate the transition as peacefully and calmly as we can.

Manda: Yeah. And it seems to me, I have a kind of felt sense at the stretched edges of my being, that seeking that is part of who we need to be, and what we are. We don’t need the answers, but we need to keep looking. And in a way that is heart open. In part of the teaching that I have, there’s four qualities of heart: strong hearted, open hearted, clear hearted, full hearted.

Chris: Nice.

Manda: I’ve really been working with those since the solstice, trying to feel in myself, what does it feel to embody those? Because I think we as humans, we have this idea that we have to have all the answers. I don’t think we do. I think we have to be holding the questions. But we do, as you said, we have to not get hooked into what Alnoor Ladha was talking about when he talked about the Wetiko. And it’s so tempting, that sense of kind of being sucked into the outrage and the combat and the ‘Yes, but’ you know, and “Don’t you understand? You’re wrong. you’re all wrong!” sense that is so easy, and that social media completely amplifies. And I am so bad at that, anyone who follows my Twitter feed… just don’t follow my Twitter feed, please! But if we can embody that sense of agency, and connectedness, and of possibility, each of them equally. We have to have the connectedness to the Land to give us the agency and the possibility. Or when I say Land, I mean the more-than-human world. And it feels as if you are embodying that. I can hear it in your voice, I can feel it, in whatever energetic connexion occurs over the airwaves when we speak. And it’s so beautiful and it’s such an inspiration. So I really, again, want to thank you for being who you are and what you are, because it seems to me that it’s that beingness, that essence of being the person who would be meditating on the steps of wherever it was in Oakland, because if there’s enough of us doing that. Then the change will happen simply by the being. Does that sound reasonable?

Chris: That sounds absolutely spot on to me. Yeah, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think it’s in the being.

Manda: Yeah. On that felt sense of rightness that tells you when you are living your purpose. Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Thank you. We might well revisit this conversation. Thank you very, very much for coming on to the podcast. Chris Taylor.

Chris: Thank you, Manda. It’s been a real pleasure.

Manda: So that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Chris for laying out with such heart and humanity and clarity, the ways we can each find our purpose, our agency, our direction in this time of total transformation. As he said, we’re at the end of so many eras, and change is coming in our lifetimes, so each of us can choose to give way to the chaos, or we can surf the wave, find the best of ourselves, discover what it is that only we can be such that we are the right person, in the right place, at the right time in any given moment, completely connected to the web of life. This is what life is for now, and Chris is leading the way with such extraordinary generosity of spirit. So thank you again, Chris.

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