Celebrating those that set you on fire
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”
Persian poet Rumi
How amazing it is for me that a teenage climate change activist has emerged as one of my most profound role models, fanning my inner flame with her uncompromising courage, integrity and laser-like clarity about what is right, wrong and what needs to happen. Urgently. Immediately.
I refer, of course, to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, who has addressed the United Nations, met with the Pope, mobilised millions of young people, and became Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019. You rock, Greta.
Predictably much of the establishment has not enjoyed her penetrating insights and ruthless accusations about their own shortcomings.
Heeding her words might mean having to embrace change, alter behaviours, abandon the obsolete ‘business as usual’ model and no longer worship at the altar of money and materialism.
In a 2018 TEDx talk in Stockholm, Greta observed: “When you think about the future today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then I will, in the best case, not even have lived half my life.
“What happens next? In the year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children or grandchildren, maybe they will spend the day with me… Maybe they will ask why didn’t you do anything while there still was time to act. What we do or don’t do right now, will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now, I and my generation can’t undo in the future.”
Describing Greta’s Time magazine nomination as ridiculous, former US president Donald Trump suggested: “Chill, Greta! Go and see a movie with a friend.” A journalist peer commented on my Facebook page: “What a joke – nasty little brat…”
No doubt he would have been horrified at my surprise and delight when I received a Facebook friend request from her a while before and perhaps appalled by my emotions this week when I watched the documentary, I am Greta. Tears blurred my vision more than once.
She reminds me how good it feels when we ignore discomfort and the opinion of others, encouraging that inner flame of alignment to burn brightly.
For some, that resonance with a higher calling cannot be ignored and so many shining examples abound: The Findhorn community founders immediately come to mind, along with the likes of English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, who is almost 70 years Greta’s senior.
I remembered how, more than a decade ago, my own flame was ignited with my decision to walk the world with a climate change message about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the earth.
At least one friend decided that I had lost the plot to abandon a glamorous high-carbon world of constant jet-set travel and rampant consumerism, although my daughters Bonnie and Tammy were totally supportive and understanding. “What you’re doing is amazing and a gift to Mother Earth, although, selfishly, we wish you were closer to home.”
A friend who often undertakes epic ocean journeys to deliver yachts to customers was in awe of Greta’s commitment in undertaking a trans-Atlantic traverse in a racing yacht, to address the UN in New York. “It must have been an incredibly uncomfortable and challenging voyage,” he mused.
I remember my own epic journey, some of which is described in my soon-to-be released memoir, PILGRIM – Taking a really long walk from the head to the heart.
“Dad, you don’t have to suffer,” my daughters insisted. And yet I did, initially walking up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. My body ached interminably, blisters in my heels became holes and still the obvious eluded me. If my message was about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the earth, why did my feet and back hurt so much?
In time I slowed my pace, grabbed rest and writing days and restored some balance to my life. The pain eased and wonderful insights ensued.
So often it was the passion of youth that inspired me. When I trekked through six countries and four mountain ranges as an ambassador for the World Wilderness Congress, 19-year-old Austrian, Lisa Klimek, undertook a no less challenging walk with her dog, Jala. And did it with less money and little fanfare. Our routes converged and we arrived in the mediaeval Spanish city of Salamanca together. In my eyes my pilgrimage paled beside hers as a young person walking solo without outside support.
Lately I’ve also discovered the amazing transformative power of seeing the world with new eyes.
When my manuscript was sent to the publishers in the US, I was initially irritated by their timidity and fear of litigation. They wanted chunks of the book deleted or sanitised of my harsher judgements.
At first, I didn’t recognise the gift in this and then had a minor epiphany. What if I released my judgements and only saw the best in everyone? I tried it out with a chapter about an ex-lover about whom I had two major judgments. We hadn’t spoken in years and yet, within weeks, we were in friendly and animated conversation again. Now I recognise the incredible blessing of everything that unfolded between us.
More recently I encountered an exercise known as Open Space that was developed by American spiritual teacher and mystic, David Spangler, which is outlined in his book Blessing – The Art and the Practice.
There are several steps to follow, although essentially it is about getting comfortable with closed eyes, relaxing into the centre and source of yourself and becoming peaceful but alert. Then imagining standing in a room that is comfortable to you, with a window through which you can see the world.
The invitation is to look out of this window and see something that brings you happiness. It could be a person, an animal, an object, a place, a situation. Something personal to you.
The Open Space exercise then guides you into an inner place where you feel the happiness collecting and overflowing in your heart, a joy that’s the presence of the sacred.
Then feel this joy expanding and creating an open space all around you. For me this is invariably built around pivotal moments of beauty and peace in nature. Then, connecting with this place and space, feel the power of this openness, the power of the presence of spaciousness.
Dave Spangler’s exercise then invites you to imagine a friend being enveloped in spaciousness. You are not doing anything to him or her. You are only seeing this person in a spaciousness in which they can relax, stretch and expand under the wisdom and guidance of their own inner intelligence and spirit.
Next up the invitation is to imagine someone you don’t like, your inner spaciousness being large enough, fearless enough, liberated enough to embrace that person as well. You’re not trying to heal, change or make that person different, or make him or her like you. You’re only seeing them embraced in a loving, hospitable open space that itself offers room to expand, transform, feel liberated and guided by their own inner intelligence and spirit.
Then imagine a specific situation in the world or in your community and embrace and surround that situation in spaciousness. Hold that situation without trying to change it. Allow all involved to relax, expand, transform, and unfold under the wisdom and guidance of their own inner intelligence and spirit.
Finally, embrace yourself in the spaciousness. Step fully into your own open space. Feel it’s impact on you. Feel the places where you begin to unwind, unstick, stretch, expand and flow again. Feel the pull to become this openness, to embody spaciousness more and more in your daily life.
When you’re finished, open your eyes and step out of this imaginal space. Return to the present time and space, feeling grounded, balanced, with a feeling of being refreshed, regenerated and in harmony.
I’ve been exploring this exercise, often outdoors and close to a tree or trees, feeling blessed and grateful.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Geoff invites all of the Odyssey readers to attend the online launch of his PILGRIM- Taking a really long walk from the head to the heart. It’ll happen with an in-person and online launch and slideshow in Findhorn’s Universal Hall on September 16.
Odyssey's 'Pilgrim at Large'
Geoff Dalglish is a writer and spiritual and ecological activist dedicated to raising consciousness. He has walked more than 30 000km with climate change messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth. He is an ambassador for the Findhorn spiritual community and ecovillage and is Odyssey’s ‘Pilgrim at Large’.