Under the eye of Nelson and the banner of Extinction Rebellion, Dr Emily Grossman comes to the stage in a white lab coat printed with the familiar hour glass logo. She packs a punch with a brief but clear presentation of current peer-reviewed climate science. Thousands of people – of all kinds including scientists – are taking to the streets to draw attention to the facts and predictions that people find it hard to hear, to really comprehend, and that governments fail to act on. Take the facts in, but hold them spaciously to allow room for the feelings they invoke. Let your feelings crack open your heart, but then reach out to connect through love.

A pod of grievers meet at low tide at the edge of the Thames in earshot of St Paul’s. We make a circle from mud-larked bones and oyster shells. We are here to mark the death of the humpback whale marooned by hunger or disorientation in the estuary. A whale vertibrae the size of a child’s skull is passed round the circle. It is porous, white and lighter than I imagined. One by one we sing to the spirit of this whale, sing it home on a river of tears and gratitude. Hump backed whales mourn each other with song. I don’t find the words to express my sense of loss. I am dismayed by this example of the dislocation from right-relationship between place, food and the hierarchy of species in the natural world. This is a profound breach of natural order, an out of place death. How big a sign will it take before we recognise the extent of our selfishness?

After a delicious lunch – sushi dipped in salty with pickled and sweet – we walk to the beach. I am usually averse to cold, to wet, to mud. Today I slip off my trainers to walk skin on grass. My feet enjoy the experience. I take them to the shore where foam rolls towards them unpredictably. It feels good to stand in the shallows. Salt water laps up my calves. Salty liquids – great healers for so many ills. Later I lie and feel small pools of tears gather in my ears. No tragedy, just the trickling moisture of my humanity.

‘Nelson’ stands in the corner. His lower teeth push forward with an under bite. His jaw is anchored with two metal pins. We map painful places in our bodies in our workbooks. Tapping and massaging with fingertips, I find bands of tension around my skull. I open my mouth wide to allow more oxygen in. I feel the pattern of holding in the small connective muscles all around my jaw. These are the tendons, which pay for insincere smiles and nervous ‘like me’ grins. This is the spot that holds back my reluctant truths. This is the place where my nocturnal fear bites down. I breathe, stretch, massage and sound into these tight places of resistance. All around my skeleton I feel painful nodes, hungry for the attention of my persistent hands.


Life feels complex, and I feel as though we are facing increasing uncertainty. I have my tool bag of inner resources – breath, mantras, meditations, buzzing hands. I am holding a piece of shungite. I find it reassuring in my palm, an ally, a talisman. Uuduu (a Mongolian Shaman) describes holding a stone from somewhere sacred as “having the telephone number to connect with the place”. The simple beauty and resonant feeling of small pieces of crystal or stone are calling to me. An initiation into their mystery has woken something up inside me that responds to their dense energetic signature.

Every day I meet rough sleepers. I try to give them the dignity of personhood – to say hello, to acknowledge them with a nod, to meet their eye. The most regular locals know me, and we exchange greetings and discuss the weather. Sometimes I will buy someone something to eat, more often I don’t. I often feel overwhelmed in response to the desperation in the voices of those who ask for help. This summer a kind and friendly man stationed himself near our front door step. Over the months his requests for our help dwindled. At first he wore white vests, ate only ‘plant-based foods’, bore his misfortunes with optimism. As the weeks passed I watched his skin become weathered, his hair dread, his appearance darken – both clothes and mood. We witnessed how a series of seemingly small events created a chain of increasingly difficult circumstances. He left our doorstep. Occasionally I glimpse his grizzled form shuffling in ill-fitting shoes, head bowed.

I have been wondering when it begins – the shutting down of grief in community? On trains recently I have been aware of parents shushing babies and toddlers. Is it because we have become intolerant of other people’s children crying? Parents feel embarrassment and shame at their child’s public bawling. Have we become judges of parental failings and tired babies (either real or projected)? Are we just so uncomfortable with our own sorrows that we want to banish others’ into private spaces? We are programmed to respond to these cries, but when does soothing and calming become silencing? Can we hold baby’s screaming and wailing more compassionately as a collective?

There’s a pleasing circularity in the things I am hearing in the meditation. It is led by Jarmbi Githabul of the Githabul and Ngarakwal tribes in Australia. Almost the same visualisation was taught to me by Eucalyptus who works in a Celtic tradition. I did a version of it in a ceremony lead by a South American medicine woman, and others before that. I am grounding through the earth, and connecting to the stars. It includes opening my heart. It is a practical way to connecting up both vertically and horizontally, which for me is the key to changing everything. I like his low key practical approach. To connect with who we are and our heritage, “feel your blood”, he simply says. I am finding my way back to the old ways, to those who were earthed, way back in my own lineage. Jarmbi’s bush lore circles through the words that loop round my head – disconnection, trauma, grief, honour, listen, ancestors, remember, ceremony, community, dance, love. The air ripples with the pulsing drone of the didgeridoo. One small gasp for air punctuates the sound of his circular breathing.

I love ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. Celebrities who I don’t always know delve into their family history. I relish the way that global themes narrow down to singular personal histories, which inevitably involve rags, riches and short life spans. The threads to forgotten tragedies are found or lost and tears come for those Blessed forbears who trod the earth before. Brian Blessed’s thundering voice trembles as he addresses his great great great grandfather, “I wanted to find guts and courage and imagination. This is what life’s about”. Some of our ancestors watch from the walls.

Speaking with passion, Daiara Tukano – indigenous artist and activist – shares something of her ‘cosmovision’. This perspective beyond the material, comes from the Tukano people’s oral tradition. She holds us to account, to honour our own words. One word, ‘Decolonize’ blazes on an 8m banner. “If we hide what happened in the past, we’ll be blind to what’s happening in the present.” I feel betrayed by my white-washed written down school history. Now in this ‘radical anthropology’ lecture, we have a place to hear the legacy of genocides and the violence of evangelism in Brazil. Indigenous people don’t have magical solutions, she warns, but she is returning the history we have obfuscated or lost through the telling of it now in her words, loud and clear.