E is for equality in diversity. E is also for Ears which are really important for listening to others without jumping into EGO judgement or polarisation which helps the powerful manipulate us. ECO resonates with the power of connection to our human nature.

Equality, Eco and Ego

The battle about trees and turf in Ireland helps me face the Ego-system which dominates us with its Economic Imperative to consume. With Eco I make a cultural shift which resonates with ditches, mounds. wildlife and trees in the homeplace. In South Donegal our understanding of how diversity in people, plants and trees protects us, feeds us and keeps us safe is in danger. Since the formation of the Irish state, resistance to diversity in our human nature was long running scandal alongside our failure to treasure the riches of our earth. Equality in the Eco system means exploration of our human nature whether we are talking about gender transition, tree planting or bog basic conservation.  It is way too late to redress the abuse of our human nature and its place on the planet. It is not too late to honour the Eco-system and claim Equality in my local parish church named after St. Brigid.

Will reclaiming St. Brigid help us restore the wanton degradation of the life of our land, rivers, our sea? Ireland lost its oaks long ago as we cleared forests for farming. Some of the remainder may have gone to rebuild London after the great fire but our Irish antecedents lost respect for native trees long before British colonisation and have not regained it yet. The bulldozers of Donegal and beyond threaten my mind, body and spirit with depression and hopelessness but they can also create hope. Shauna Gilligan in Mantles speaks for many women who gather St. Brigid to ourselves to reclaim the connection of mind, body and spirit which the institutions of Church and State have abused.The metres of hedgerow and stream in the ditch where I now live in Donegal reminds me that sometimes a strategy of stepping back from the field of battle dominated by Egos can help us find solutions more compatible with local desires and dreams. St. Brigid can remind us of the links between our human nature and the natural world around us.

Along the road beside our home in Donegal, there’s a hedgerow where ash, sycamore, blackthorn, briar, wild rose grew through the once elegant stone ditch long before my dream of a refuge here. I had the opportunity to build a house behind this ditch on the land of my grandfather. The original plan for the house recommended bulldozing the hedgerow. Before the bulldozers went into action, I adjusted the plan. My aim was to keep the hedgerow and have an open water course rather than remove the trees and hedgerow and pipe the water running through the ditch.  I hired a digger to divert the ditch into the rough land on the inside of the hedgerow and left the water course open. This meant the one-track public road was wider and there was no need to remove the stone ditch. Donegal council repaired the network of pipes under the road when it was flooded by increased fluctuation of water in recent years.

There are consequences – our internal stream had to be kept clear but can now take the intermittent flow of water – sometimes it is several metres deep and flows fast sometimes it has very little flow. The brambles and other invaders on our side need to be cleared regularly to keep it flowing. It is no longer along the public road and we look after it ourselves with less work for the local council unblocking or repairing pipe systems. Between the ditch and the house on the hill above it, we added a small copse of oak, beech, rowan,, willow, ash, alder, hazel, walnut over the last 20years. Watching the trees grow creates a slow space for recognition of the diversity in and around me with space for grief and loss too. The death of an alder grown from a seed of a tree planted by brothers for my father in Strabane brought his loss spiralling through four decades. I found comfort in the knowledge alders can tolerate wet and can be short-lived pioneers. We planted thousands more in the native woodland in Durnesh to give it a start.

Connection with Seamus Heaney

In the frustrations of creating a native woodland, it was hard to let go of my ego You might ask why do I want to? Don’t we all need a core ego a ME, MYSELF. Maybe we do as we grow and develop protective layers to survive but my EGO-image twists and turns with self-aggrandisement or self-justification and gets in the way of my survival. Ego is too vulnerable to the opinions of others. Allowing someone else to make me feel  anything means I sacrifice my sense of self on the altar of some power greater than me. When anyone looks at my blog or the blurb on my novel, Bone and Blood, they almost always refer to the fact that I was taught by Seamus Heaney in Queen’s University Belfast between 1968 and 1972. I admit I use this connection to attract attention to my writing but it makes me smile because for me Seamus Heaney, a decade older than me, was more like my big brother, Seamus who would have passed him in the corridors of St. Columb’s College in Derry. As Seamus would say, “You can take the man out of the bog but not the bog out of the man”. Seamus Heaney the Icon didn’t forget the dunghills of his Homeplace:

As a student I was ready to bury  Death of a Naturalist and run away from the Seamuses of rural Ireland and from despair at sectarian conflict in Ulster. Louis Mc Neice who was both British and Irish and the glitter of city life in England resonated more with me than digging with my pen. In the 21st century, Decades later, when I stand in a club in Berlin listening to Lisa Hannigan sing Anahorish, I spiral to a Belfast basement in University Square, where the armchair familiarity of Seamus Heaney’s accent made me feel at home. I was so preoccupied with Civil Rights and People’s Democracy, I didn’t socialise much with other English Lit students but when some of them held a post-finals party in 1972, I went to a house just off Sandy Row. I was impressed that the Heaneys and Longleys turned up too. The gap between student and teacher was gone.

 Anahorish, connects us with those who have gone before  us centuries ago:

Those mound-dwellers

Go waist-deep in mist

To break the light ice

At wells and dunghills

I met Seamus Heaney again with discreet distance – once at the Flat Lake Festival where he read to a thousand people of all ages in a tent. After that reading we sat outside at adjoining tables and when he spotted my 1966 copy of Death of a Naturalist, he signed it for me – surreptitiously  as on this occasion there were no public signings. I was deeply moved at his last reading in 2013 at the Hawkswell in Sligo. In 2023, he will be 10 years dead and my ancient age will equal his.

In the decades since leaving Queen’s University, Belfast in 1972, Ego fought for domination of my sense of self. Until now my exploration of my sense of self has been a private affair shared in part with a few people and indirectly in my fiction. I don’t wish to defend the many crackpot ideas I have encountered in search of meaning and purpose but at times mindfulness, mantras and meditation have helped a sense of self emerge. For me a healthy scepticism is necessary protection from the prejudice of the one true path. I have a secret bookshelf with an esoteric collection of writers and thinkers who have fed my hidden self. This bookshelf will never be seen on Zoom and has been secret until now because so many of the ideas for self-improvement are tainted with zealous righteousness or flat-earth fundamentalism.

Reading helps me explore the connection between me and the “other” but image and sound can offer another way of reducing the sabotage of the selfie. Witnessing the progress of my friend, Sabine Antony through music therapy reinforced my sense that images, resonance  and vibration can link my body, mind and spirit when words fail me. Therapists and therapies have also helped me resurrect experiences from childhood, resolve pain and celebrate the curiosity and wisdom of childhood.. Access to my sense of self means creating space to allow me to focus on thinking, feeling, perceptions and how they interconnect mind, body, spirit. Schorse’s eclectic taste in music can also help reduce the sabotage of the my ego-selfie. When my ego drags me into the depths of despair, I revisit Dina Glouberman, Claire Nuer, John Shiers and Dr Tuschy and all come up with helpful signposts out of the slough of despond.

Living without my ego to prop me up means more uncertainty and insecurity. On the days when I can live with uncertainty and without attachment to my possessions or my actions, I am able to live without fear. The native woodland at Doirinis helps me connect my humanity to the breadth and depth of nature.  Trees and wise humans – alive and dead –  have taught me how to face fear and desire as I move into old age. They gave me perspective on the many small disappointments which preoccupy daily life. My “selfies” are now with oak saplings where I tramp down undergrowth and hop over the past pain of not being good enough.

collective.@coe @FoundationNuer


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