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  • Writer's pictureAlex Toogood

Walking Generatively

"Loving the world is not enough. We must learn to heal it." - Franz Dolp

I have been thinking, in a Winnie-the-Pooh sort of a way, about Things To Do Whilst Walking. The first Thing (although it occurred to me last, which is pleasing) is to Go Somewhere. The importance of this is to get There, and if we can do it quicker, or more efficiently, all the better. No doubt we are all very familiar with this way of walking. I spent most of my early twenties practicing this, only to find that There wasn't all that good.

Realising this, we could slow ourselves down, and instead of trying to Go Somewhere, we might allow ourselves to Have A Nice Time. This is, probably, what being a Bear is all about: opening ourselves to the here-ness of our world and allowing its' presence to touch us. There is a lot that could be, and has been, said about walking for the joy of it, for the peace, or appreciation.

Perhaps that would be enough, if we were Winnie-the-Pooh, but we're not, so it isn't. Our world asks different questions of us than those of the 100-Acre Wood. And so I have, in the last couple of years, been augmenting some of my walking with Improving The World. As a life philosophy or as an identity this can be highly problematic and has led humans into all sorts of dark corners. But for me Improving The World consists of the tangible simplicity of picking up rubbish as I walk. On a good day I call the rubbish 'treasure' and have a lovely time embodying the new paradigm. On a bad day, that treasure becomes a Sad Indictment Of The State Of The World, and I suffer. But whatever I call it, the picking-up of it helps the world, and me, be slightly better versions of themselves. It is striking, when we start to embody Improving The World, how little this is reflected back to us in modern-western culture. It almost feels taboo. I can think of various ways I might live this more fully, but it takes a kind of self confidence (that I only occasionally have) to act on these ideas, outside of fairly limited social bubbles.

Whilst I fully encourage (actually, I require) us all to sanctify ourselves in many small and significant acts of Improving The World, it too doesn't feel quite enough. It is too linear, too human a thing, to tidy up after each other; to try to make the world right. Someone will always come along and wrong it again, as soon as your back is turned. This frustrating realisation is also a realisation that we must find ways of Walking that do not revert, or become forgotten, behind our turned backs. What can we do that grows as we turn away, that blossoms and fruits in our wake as it launches into it's own becoming? This autumn, the season has allowed me to spread seeds as I walk - I gather and release a handful of Yarrow, some Vetch, Meadowsweet. It is done consciously, but without control. It is important to understand what grows where, and more importantly to understand what, like Ragwort and Himalayan Balsam, shouldn't. As we embark on this walking, we sensitise ourselves to what is appropriate as we come to know the landscape and its' inhabitants, and then let this knowledge be claimed by the ridiculous abundance of life. This is Walking Generatively.

Earth Mandala (not at the Bubble) by friend-of-the-Bubble Keith Beaney.

If Improving The World is taboo, then Walking Generatively is something murkier - it is almost unthinkable. I find myself lost for other examples, except perhaps some kinds of human interaction that can ripple out through our social ecosystems. As I unpick my thoughts around this subject, and let different aspects of this article become metaphor, I find myself standing in the shallows of an unknown ocean of possibility. I see, again, how limiting the modern-western culture of thought and safety and control is to us. I have a feeling that there are technologies* of abundance, carried by cultures which managed to live in equilibrium before Western Progress attempted to make them obsolete. And I realise that I may not be particularly good at recognising those technologies, because recognition is a learnt, and therefore conditioned, process.

Part 2

Because this is a blog about the Bubble it feels appropriate to relate these thoughts to what we do here. So, remembering to appropriately blur boundaries, we have four ways of walking:

  1. to Go Somewhere

  2. to Have A Nice Time

  3. to Improve The World

  4. Walking Generatively

Two things occur immediately; firstly, most people arrive and exist here with intentions that blend the 2nd and 3rd ways of walking. Secondly, the majority of my effort here seems to fall firmly within the first category. Plenty of my time is within category #2 also, but in a way that is invested in a work/rest dichotomy. Which can turn into a for-the-community/for-me tension.

It is tempting, and normal, to gloss over these recognitions by focusing instead on our ideals, and pretending that our actions flow directly from those ideals. But that does not seem to be how it happens. Take, for example, the rhetoric around the combined cataclysm of climate change, ecosystem collapse, and social fracture. On being reminded of these problems, do our hearts open into the myriad possibilities of how we may weave more beauty and wellbeing into the world? In all probability, the answer is no. It is more likely to be some combination of fear, guilt and anger, mediated through our socially-endorsed sensemaking, that moves us to act in the token gestures that we can fit in between earning money and sleeping.

Perhaps I'm being cynical. What I want to do, by thinking out loud like this, is invite us to see this aspect of the truth so that we can clamber on top of it and ask "how, then, do we act generatively?" How can I strip back the assumptions I've already made about who I am and what I want to do today, and instead create space for something fresh to emerge?

That happens, I think, in community. For that kind of community to exist, we need to be geared towards emergence and risk, rather than safety and familiarity. To many people arriving from the Urban into our woodland, the Bubble is that emergent space - it fractures their familiar open and offers possibility. And yet living here turns this world into 'normal' and closes our possibilities back down around us as we amass responsibilities and jobs and habits. It requires a concerted and sustained effort to undo this familiarity, and remember our holy work of acting generatively. Then the threads of emergence are woven from our lives here, and braid themselves into something bigger.


postscript: This post has remained a draft for months now. It still feels incomplete to me, but perhaps that is a necessary part of this process - perhaps it's incompleteness is the feeling of possibility that it opens in me, and the quality of invitation in it. I hope so, and so I publish it.


* I use the term 'technologies' here in a very broad sense, in the way we might say that developing speech is a social technology.

Encountering the Real

Life is constantly offering itself to us in moments of vividenss; moments that ask more of us as we engage with the world.



Thanks for writing&sharing how its written&the ideas&thoughts&challenges shared.really interesting as I've had similar musings about how our culture conditions us to conquer life&"be efficient&productive " in turn shutting down the space for being human beings&letting life unfold&emerge (not that that has to be a passive experience).

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