Ignorance Is Not Bliss

From darkness to light

Bliss is not easily described. It’s necessary to experience it completely to understand what it means. But it is possible to outline the sensation it brings and the positive traits it creates.   

By another name, bliss is Grace, after which all of us consciously or unconsciously strive, through religious devotion, spiritual practice, or a yearning to be happy or better.   

Bliss is heaven, with an awareness of hell; understanding that both are within.    

Bliss is the destruction of ego, a loss of self, yet complete in itself and its truth. Not defined by a label, a status or job role, all limitations dissolve.   

Bliss is surrender to nature and kindness to all living things. It’s a state in which senses are heightened, bird song has meaning and the breeze speaks through trees. The flow of water and sea feels alive. Clouds are an expression of pure life in motion, and sunlight can stream from your eyes.   

Bliss is wonder, humility and learning; a yearning to grow and evolve.   

Bliss is energy that is ecstatic in nature, which can surge through your body and mind.   

Bliss is no fear and a sense of adventure, but in calmness and at ease with your path. It’s an appreciation of beauty, of which the world is abundant, seeing life as a creation of art.    

Bliss is an opening of the pineal gland, a portal to wisdom, intuition and truth.   

Bliss is also forgiveness, seeing cause and effect, as a stream of events. It understands that humans may not know what they do, and goes forth with compassion and presence.   

Bliss is an influence, a role model for change, with gravitational pull, like a magnet.   

Bliss is enjoying just breathing and existing, or immersed in a pastime you love.   

Bliss is living with purpose, helping others and taking the responsibility to act.    

Bliss means not caring, but to also care deeply, while not being bogged down by judgement. It sees empathy as kindness, directed where needed, and to care for one’s body with love.   

Bliss is order in a geometric sense of the word. Not obsession with neatness, but balance. It is oneness with all things, a closeness and pattern that brings peace to the chaos around us.    

Bliss is expanded awareness, an openness of mind that has pure conscious form. It’s an unblocking of forces that misconstrue and deny, and a questioning of all social norms.   

Ignorance is none of these things. It is darkness; closed to the world and a real sense of purpose.   

Whereas bliss is to be filled up with light.  


Free your flow.  

Comfort Zones Are Not Comfortable

Bringing meaning to life

It’s commonly acknowledged that pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones is a good thing, because new experiences engender growth, learning and change. In a comfort zone, there might be status quo, familiarity and a perceived sense of security, but it’s not necessarily true that we’re laid back and coping, in some snug, personal space of our own. We may be struggling with fear or low confidence, in a difficult relationship, or conditioned to believe that this is all that life holds. It’s the same when lethargy or fatigue prevents action, because these are symptoms of a wellbeing imbalance. In this state of mind, doubt resides, and no energy is expended on growth. But, they’re called comfort zones for a reason, because it can be easier to do nothing, to hide, or ignore rather than face a challenge, dilemma or change. Reframing how we see life and how we value our own is a step away from the limited habits of old. But, we first need to want change, recognising that there’s something better out there, even if we can’t yet visualise what that is.  

It should be noted that there’s a difference between being ‘in the zone’ – referring to a Zen-like focus with an ability to accept things and move on – and being trapped within the invisible walls of a limited state of mind. 

Whether sitting on a couch, the fence or your laurels, there are pros and cons to moving out of your comfort zone. Perhaps the future seems daunting, or starting something new or starting again is beyond your means or how you see your abilities. It can take an appropriate role model, an unexpected occurrence, a wake-up call or rock-bottom feeling that things can’t go on, with an urge one day when you wake up that now is a good time for change. Take your time, take a walk, mull things over, and reframe the old mindset to apply to the present. Trust your intuition as much as you can, remembering that negative thoughts are your ego, so a symptom of an unrealised self. Also use your creative imagination to come up with ideas, thinking outside the box of your comfort zone and the limited scope of its boundaries. Remember also that if early humans hadn’t thought ‘outside the cave’, we may never have progressed and evolved. But we easily forget what incredible beings we are, what we’ve accomplished and the positive things we can do. So, don’t say “One day” to your dreams any longer or to that nagging discontentment inside. Nurture the life that your true self demands and do it for you, not for anyone else.

However, asserting yourself… to your Self… can be hard, especially if you’ve spent years pleasing others or putting yourself last. Wanting to belong and keep in with the ‘pack’ is part and parcel of how we’re socially conditioned, but awareness of where our traits, beliefs and feelings originate can help us move on from the ones holding us back. Ask simple questions of yourself each time a block or trigger comes up, such as “Did my caregivers instil that belief?” or “Is this really me or to please someone else?”. In other words, can the perspective you’ve been holding onto be changed? Did someone else plant the seed that grew into a tree with gnarly branches and no flowers or fruit? Did they cut into your roots, so you felt unsupported, and stopped supporting and nurturing yourself? Rather than allowing the past to continually influence the present, you might start to recognise that life is a test. Willing to learn and then sit the exams, you are free until the next one presents.

Dr Dain Heer’s “How can it get better than this?” is  another great question to ask when a challenge comes up. A new life may be out there, which is more purposeful and rewarding, although not necessarily the one we’ve been conditioned to seek. But life is determined by choices and one simple change can reap huge rewards. Like in the film ‘Sliding Doors’, chance encounters and choices lead to awareness, opportunities, even love. And in ‘The Truman Show’, also, all the world is a stage: inauthentic, until the true self breaks out of the mold. 

Breaking the ties of fear and conditioning

It was never in my own nature to speak up, despite having ideas and questions to ask. Coming to my own defence was additionally hard. But, upon reaching the understanding that my beliefs were conditioned, the veil of uncertainty fell. How we label ourselves, as shy, incapable, less good, etc., and how we prefer to be seen, as modest, easy-going, a victim… reflects poor experiences in past relationships. Being prevented from expressing ourselves or put down as children, for example, can lead to a lack of trust and the suppression of our true selves for years or even for the rest of our lives. What we then think is our nature, may actually have been nurtured (socially conditioned), so isn’t the real us at all. Not to blame parents, siblings, peers, teachers, partners, colleagues… however, because we’re all involved in the unconscious passing on of what was given to us. Philip Larkin, the poet, had it right when he said that our parents screw us up without realising, and that “man’s inhumanity to man” runs wide and deep. For this reason, if we self-question, we might be surprised to discover that we’ve been playing a part, and our own part in things. 

Know why you would want to break free

What’s the key motivation (yours alone) for a change, weighed up against the factors against leaving your comfort zone? Visualise what life could look like, trying to be as positive as possible, to encourage a greater chance of success. But also have more than one option (being ready for different eventualities reduces stress). Then think of ways of getting there, the driving force to transport you from A to the B of your dreams. Next, make a decision, starting with one tiny step to commence the momentum, when you feel time is right. If other people are involved, then things are more complex, of course, (having to manage their fears with your own). Be clear, fair and open, unless making ready to have something positive to show, or you’re in fear for your life or wellbeing. All of us are capable of adapting to change, particularly to outcomes that are good in the long run, so, under normal circumstances, refrain from using others as an excuse, if you know in your heart that things must change. Be confident and believe in your choices, because you only have one shot at this life. Courage, humour, imagination and enthusiasm are helpful, but also go easy on yourself and others in the process, building up gently to change.

If you don’t know where to go or feel frightened or trapped, then it could be time to seek help. Confide in someone you trust, who won’t judge: a good listener, with ample experience in life. If you’re alone, there are support lines to try: 

Samaritans: phone: 116123, email: jo@samaritans.org
Mind: 0300 123 3393info@mind.org.uk
Shelter: www.shelter.org.uk
Spiritual Crisis Network: https://spiritualcrisisnetwork.uk/

Or contact your local Council or Citizens Advice for services, assistance or advice. 

A conversation with the right person could change your whole life.

Tools: Be okay with making time for self-love and self-care, recognising that it’s not selfish or vain to want to be the best you that you can; practise speaking your truth (in words and behaviour), working on one small thing at a time (e.g. speak up in a group, raise your hand, read from notes, take a stand for the things you believe in); join a club or a course at your level, to feel supported by like-minded peers; force yourself to confront a fear on a regular basis (not a danger, but a personal challenge), then shake off setbacks, learn and retry.

The more we do things, the more we program the brain, which works in both negative and positive contexts. The brain is hardwired by repeated behaviours, such as when we learn a language, or continually say “Tomorrow” or “I can’t”. Our actions are also part of a great matrix of influence, of unconscious cause and effect. Awareness is key, here, to see the bigger picture at work, and see that things we once feared can turn out differently, with a different set of ’cause and effects’.

In the end, what is meant for you will keep calling and nagging until you step out from your comfort zone into a more purposeful space, embarking upon your next life adventure, as though from darkness, as the real you takes back the controls. 


Free your flow.

Live in the Now, Not the “Now!”

Being present

It’s not necessarily obvious, the way time creeps up on us, replays, drags or speeds by, but only the present moment exists. The past has been lived and is either consigned to recent memory or archived somewhere in the unconscious. The future has not yet materialised, so is subject to change, no matter how robust the plans we’ve put in place (look at how Covid-19 altered the course of billions of lives). Everything is in a state of continual motion: of transformation, renewal or decay. In Nature and astronomically this is defined in seasons and cycles. In human terms, mechanical time helps us keep track, maintaining a semblance of order. But, in effect, we can’t harness time, as if it were some great bull in the chaos of a cosmic china shop. It has no shape, limitations or boundaries. It’s intrinsic to Space and the moving parts there within: the light waves and elements, for example, which are essential to the flow of life here on Earth. However, it’s possible to reframe how we consider our own time, making a start in the ‘here and the now’. 

To live in the Now is a spiritual practice, far removed from the immediacy of today’s modern lifestyles. It means to be wholly present, neither worrying about the future nor dwelling on the past. This entails living for each moment, taking things as they come and being mindful, with greater clarity and focus. In his book about spiritual awakening, ‘ The Power of Now’, Eckhart Tolle sums it up, “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be”. Striving always for what might be in the next moment or allowing the past to infringe on our present thoughts, keeps us in a state of limbo, without living, but being present leads to freedom and peace.

Easier said than done?

We regularly set ourselves up for failure, with impossible ‘To Do’ lists, goals and desires, and we readily accept actions imposed on us by others (striving annually to meet KPIs, for example). We demand everything “Right now!”, unconsciously entitled, immersed in deep states of mindlessness, of anxious thoughts and impatience, and the insanity of a material world. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is as much about what we aren’t doing: what we decline to give space to (the phone, that email, those worries, the News) in favour of something more important, such as health, self-care or giving time to others.

Simple steps towards change

I walked barefoot on the grass today. In parts, it was soft or bristly, deep or compacted, warm in the sunshine and cool beneath trees. Crossing a path, the concrete was painful, which made me realise how unnatural it is in comparison to earth… Earth, from which everything comes and to which everything truly belongs. It is said that negative ions from the ground have a positive impact on wellbeing. Much like rubbing a balloon against a jumper before raising your hair with the charge, energy is exchanged when we come into direct contact with Nature. Tree huggers are in touch with this concept, so too animal lovers and people supported by therapy pets. Energetically, we’re imbalanced and when we recognise this, taking small steps can help us broach change with less fear. 

Remaining grounded is part of the process, essentially “earthing” ourselves in reality to stay balanced. We earth appliances to avoid burnout, so why not ourselves? Being grounded also means not to fly. Humans who practise spirituality will appreciate the need to stay grounded, to avoid off-kilter energy and egoic behaviour, as well as a disconnect from the rest of the world. To be grounded also conjures images of punishment, although restrictions can help us to take a step back and assess, rather than rushing headlong into the wrong kind of things. 


Grounding tools: random acts of kindness without telling anyone; mucking in with menial tasks no matter your ‘status’; becoming more self-aware by questioning your part in things; listening, making an effort to be less competitive when interacting with others; taking responsibility to act, dispensing with pride; recognising when you need help and seeking it out; allowing others to do things for you… sometimes. 

And just try being present, giving yourself over to the moment, to what you’re doing or who’s with you, without checking your phone. Be less concerned with tomorrow and what you must buy or sort out; doing less, but doing it wholly and well. 

As much a mindful experience as it was thought provoking and cathartic, my walk on the grass was a joy. It encouraged a small spurt of creativity, which led to this article… plus the one I’m about to write next… 


Free your flow.

A Handle on Procrastination

Because not doing is a habit too

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

All forms of procrastination fall into the category of “not doing”. Also things like not giving up smoking, not doing homework, not remembering a birthday, not replying to messages (i.e. not following the rules of polite communication), and not having hope. We decide not to do things and then we don’t do them, often by filling the space with something more fun or less taxing. Whereas, if we set time aside and created healthy challenges, there might be more opportunities to accomplish objectives. Success is one positive outcome to actions, which means that not doing could be considered a failure. However, failing as we try is often a learning experience, so attempting something is better than not trying at all. If we repeatedly don’t do something, it becomes our norm, which is a programmed behaviour embedded by further inaction, and the longer we ‘don’t do’, the harder we may find it to change.

However, we can stop the perpetual ‘not doing’ with some straightforward steps:

  • Action takes energy, of which thoughts and ideas are the earliest form. Nurture that imagination by reading or researching, which might include wandering through an art gallery or watching a documentary. Passive activity is an easy first step, but the amount that the mind can absorb during what is basically a phase of observation and information gathering, can reap huge rewards, as well as boosting our motivation.
  • Next may come talking about a project and/or drafting an outline. Seeing what works cannot always be known straight away, unless we have the benefit of other people’s experience, so thrashing out some ideas is a good preparatory exercise. 
  • The whole time, the mind may be considering a timeline for the job, perhaps with milestones and an end date, or something as simple as a ring on a wall calendar. Deadlines can create pressure, but also set scope and boundaries, which help form structure. It is realistic goals to work towards that are the best kind for your health.
  • Sleeping on something is another good way to mull things over. Chances are that new ideas will form in the night, as well as solutions to problems that have been holding you back.
  • Building up to something may be a way to ease yourself into a routine, although psyching yourself up might actually increase pressure, which can cause mental blocks, clumsiness and even dread. It depends on the task and how much you accept your own limitations and follow what your intuition is suggesting whether or not you ‘just do it’ spontaneously or begin tentatively with lots of thinking in the build-up.
  • Normally, getting started is the hardest part of any task being put off. Open those textbooks, set up a workstation, charge up your tools, set up a document or a gym kit ready for the next day. Ensure that you have adequate knowledge or access to learning (YouTube, books, workshops, video training, mentors, etc.). And avoid boredom, which often causes things to be left unfinished, by introducing novelty and/or including your friends.

The energy in the environment can also prevent you moving forward. Is someone pressuring you or reinforcing the idea that “you can’t”? In this case, change the location or circumstances in which you work and who with (find like minded colleagues… your tribe!). And make sure there’s the right level of comfort. Change aspects of the task into a reward too or, in fact, treat yourself once you’ve finished (with nice food, a good book, social activity, etc. – have this lined up!).

Further tips:

  • Begin with 30 second jobs, clearing as many tasks as possible before starting on something longer or requiring a lot of concentration. By the same token, see how much you can achieve in the next ten, fifteen, thirty minutes… Go!
  • As soon as an idea pops into your head to do something (which often comes from intuition), don’t put it off. Do it now, wherever possible. This way, you won’t end up with exceptionally long To Do lists!
  • Move between different tasks when you are in the frame of mind for each one. Again, keeping things novel can prevent boredom and task abandonment. The times of day when you work best or need more sedate activities, might influence your schedule. 
  • Keep your work area clean and clear. This reflects the state of mind that you’re in (order versus disorder) and can signal messages to the subconscious, such as “you are disorganised, with no attention to detail”, “you don’t really want to do this or take it seriously”, as opposed to “you’re ready”, “you can focus without distractions”.
  • The same with yourself: start fresh, clean and in the right clothing! This will tune the mind to the particular role and required behaviours. The essence of this might be ‘fake it till you make it’, but this can very much inspire confidence and right-action.
  • Try working with or without different types of music. Mozart, for instance, can be relaxing, and is even said to increase brainpower due to its harmonious frequency. You may find lyrics or radio chatter distracting, although some people experience the opposite effect. The same can be said for all of your senses. Again, the environment you work in is and how it affects you is a key part of the work you’ll get done there.

Writing this article, I had an idea come to mind. I drafted some notes on my phone, writing what automatically streamed in my mind. I then set up a document and copied over my notes, and from this simple draft, I got a sense of a framework from which to build on over a couple of days. The idea soon developed. It was a topic of interest and a brief enough task to keep me motivated, as I saw it through to the end.

On a final note, it’s said that changing what we’re doing can release the pressure on the mind that causes it to seize up. We also need adequate space and time to get into our flow and do things right. Essentially, this means that ‘not doing’ sometimes can be just as important as getting things done!

Free your flow.

Spotlight on Palo Santo

Cleanse your vibration

In my Hypnotherapy practice, I see an interest in energy healing, how the mind and body relate to one another and how the conscious and unconscious work together, as well as separately, to influence our personal state of wellbeing. In preparation for a session and after, it’s also useful to calm and protect my own energy, so as to be of most benefit to others. As people’s awareness of their personal health increases across the planet, which goes hand-in-hand with the collective rebalancing of the World’s environmental and political health, there’s been increased interest in spirituality, ancient wisdom and the traditional customs and practices of indigenous peoples. Turning tentatively away from prescription medicines towards more natural and holistic remedies, the comfort of having some form of physical product to engage with, makes things like crystals, divination cards, incense and massage/tapping devices, appealing to Westerners. Whether beautiful to look at, relaxing or aromatic, if the senses are stimulated or soothed in some way, the product could be said to be working, alongside the accompanying personal rituals. 

Popular in the Western wellness industry are smudging and incense burning, for example, with the burning of Palo Santo particularly popular. Palo Santo (Latin name, Bursera Graveolens) is a tree indigenous to South America, whose name translates to ‘holy wood’. It was an Incan ritual to burn the wood (after the tree had naturally matured, died and laid to rest), wherein the smoke cleansed the environment and the energy within it, including that of the occupants. Like the natural elements, Palo Santo is believed to purify a space of the negative energies that can seep in as a result of daily life. In a mini exorcism of the lingering fallout from unhealthy interactions, illness or experiences, balance can be restored by the properties of the smoke (antimicrobial and antiseptic, for example). It is also said that stress and inflammation are targeted in the healing process, due to the medicinal properties of the plant. 

But, undoubtedly, the commercialisation of such a sacred plant negates any spiritual or remedial characteristics, since it’s difficult to consider energy being purified by products resulting from deforestation or brand name factories. In the West, we’re also used to quick fixes, looking externally to buy something that will solve all our problems, whereas the path to true peace and enlightenment takes hard work, looking inwards, and under the guidance of those properly versed in spiritual healing. A soul-searching journey to South America aside, however, it’s still possible to benefit from healing techniques, in our own way, without being inauthentic or irreverent.

Buying products ethically from sustainable and ethical sources (e.g. sacredwoodessence.com; theholisticshop.co.uk) is a start. Palo Santo is a tree, after all, so do what you can to check the Green / Fair Trade certification of the supplier. And if you care about the environment at large, not just your own, the burning will feel lighter, unburdened and more sacred.

Smudge after a difficult time or a disagreement in the house, but also periodically, opening the windows and removing pets before you begin. Set an intention to cleanse the space you inhabit, at the same time asking forgiveness for the historical mistreatment of indigenous cultures. Recognise with humility that you are trying to learn from them and the ancient wisdom of their practices. Make it an occasional ritual, allowing the sticks, resin, chips, oil or incense time to burn (incense can last the best part of an hour, so set time aside to meditate, listen to soft music, craft, read poetry or simply just be). If smudging, light the end and rest the bundle in a bowl. Waft the smoke into all corners of your rooms and cupboards using a fan or a feather (you may have to relight the bundle a few times as you go). End by smudging yourself, raising the bundle from your heart, over your head, down the back of your body and back up to your heart. Extinguish the bundle against the side of your bowl, so that you can reuse it another time. 

For the safe burning of incense, smudge sticks, candles, resins or oils, remember not to leave them unattended. Use a suitable receptacle, and run ends or debris under water before discarding. All things in moderation, also, because excessive exposure, through inhalation for example, is counterproductive and not recommended for anything.

Regardless of whether you believe in the healing properties of Palo Santo, you may find its fragrance appealing, with the added bonus that it’s insect repellent! 


Free your flow.

Spotlight on Hypnotherapy

Explore your mind

Hypnosis is an altered state of perception; a conscious dreaming on a journey through the landscapes of a huge inner world. Guided to the realms of the unconscious, you become an explorer seeking out truth: perhaps why you’re here, where you came from and where you’ll go next. Just as ‘Tron’ and ‘The Matrix’ are stories from inside a program, your unconscious holds the clues to the conditions that shaped you, from social programming to traits, and beliefs from the past, passed through centuries of ancestral DNA. You will face your fears as you face yourself in an underworld of thought and experience, as you delve into suppressed emotions and repressed parts of the self; parts that you were unaware of lingering below the surface, or far deeper, in the core of your existence itself. Then, as gently as unveiling an artwork beneath grime, or brushing the earth from an archaeological find, the real you will be slowly revealed through awareness, like a light that is shone in the dark. Shadows are shapes that mirror an object, following it closely, forever attached. In the same way, the past that shaped you will tail you, forever present, though outside your grasp. In hypnosis, suggestions are made: requests to reform the beliefs that your unconscious holds dear. Because not everything that we believe in is true, wholesome or helpful, or serves a purpose in the greater good of humankind. On the contrary, due to social conditioning, we may be further removed from our true selves than we would ever have thought possible or believed. But the symptoms are there, as a testament to trauma, to the unkind remarks we experienced in youth, to the physical pain, grief, fear and uncertainties, and the inherent lack of trust that we carry with us each day. 

*

Being a Hypnotherapist is an accepted profession these days, and it’s common to hear of people who’ve experienced relief through hypnosis for the issues they’ve faced. Particularly with the rise in poor mental health, more and more people are intuitively drawn to alternative and more holistic approaches. Training as a Clinical Hypnotherapist on an accredited course takes a number of months, followed by two years of supervision and ongoing training. There is also a Hypnotherapy Register and Council to maintain standards, so it is a recognised, professional practice.

Treatment typically begins with a look at medical history and asking the client what they would like to change (note that the therapist may not work with someone with serious addiction, epilepsy, etc., because of the risk factors involved). The Hypnotherapist may then delve deeper, to get to the heart of a problem and uncover any secondary benefits that the issue might hold (gaining attention, for example), which make a mindset more difficult to change. So, clients can expect to explore their issues with the therapist before being guided into hypnosis where deeper work can take place. Then, at the same time as the therapist makes positive suggestions for change, the client may experience thoughts, colours or visualisations, as though in another time or place, although precisely where the mind needed to go. As the unconscious is ‘opened up’, beliefs, habits, worries, etc., can then be explored, from the safety of the therapy chair. Often, this is done by dissociating the client from an experience, as they sit back and observe a memory from a place of objectivity, or it is played out in a less difficult way (for phobias, for example). In the mind’s eye, intuition will take over, so that greater awareness is accompanied by solutions or acceptance, which allows the client to heal and move on.

In this way, Hypnotherapy can treat the symptoms and various forms of fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, tension, pain and addiction, as well as energy imbalances, childbirth and relationship issues. It can also be used in complement to other remedial techniques, including anchoring, tapping and meditation.

Because the part of the mind that is responsible for automatic functions, such as breathing and digestion, as well as the storage of memory, is around 20 times bigger than the logical, conscious mind, it works away in the background like a computer program, without our even thinking at all. To reprogram the unconscious entails planting new sets of ideas, but also that the client then acts upon them in their own time. If, however, after an hour with the therapist, the client spends 23 in the same behaviours or environment, then the work will undoubtedly wear off.

It’s important to note that a Hypnotherapist is not a magician nor a mystic, but a guide to help people get back on track within a clinical framework. In the trance state, the visualisation of an improved situation can be invoked and/or the hidden reasons for a problem brought up for clearing. The process is gentle, but can feel a bit strange, although in a thought-provoking and interesting way. Through this guided state of relaxation, the client stays completely aware and in control (unless sleep is induced, which is rare). So, at no time are they led to do something against their wishes, unlike stage hypnosis, which isn’t therapy, but organised fun. In the days, weeks and months following the session, the suggestions may continue to embed, with emotional release as they do so. And as the mind comes to realisations, leading to changes or transformation, it may feel so spontaneous and natural that they will think it was all down to them… which it was.

In the end, as long as the client is guided to a new level of understanding, which helps them to restructure their unwanted thoughts or behaviours, then the objective for the hypnosis can be said to have been achieved.


Free your flow.

Blazing a trail(er)

A review of environmental documentary, ‘Voices on the Road’ (2019)

by Frances McGonigle, 15 October 2019

This is a review about a documentary filmed on both sides of a road: Voices on the Road, an inspiring collaboration in filmmaking from Bethan John and Eilidh Munro.

From a first look at the film’s website (www.voicesontheroadfilm.com), it’s been calling, beckoning me into the trees of the Peruvian Amazon, to the heart of the rainforest and the Lungs of the Earth. But as I stumble over a thousand burnt stumps on the road to Manu, there’s a voice in my head like a mantra repeating, “The cost of this road; what’s the cost of this road?”, because the lungs of our planet are black and inflamed and our voices are choking as EXTINCTION draws close.

On first sight, the film’s cover image awakened the startling memory of a vulgar slash through silk, of a cigarette ad in the Eighties, in the days when smoking ads were banned from TV to protect the UK’s lungs – over 30 years ago, when climate change first made the News, yet nothing’s changed and the world’s dirtiest habit of destroying the rainforest is still not sanctioned. The Silk Cut ad was a violation, selling sex through a subliminal manipulation ‘by mouth’ and an allusion to the female form – between the legs. In contrast, John and Munro’s choice is enlightened, promoting their sex undeliberately and differently, as evolved humans in a modern world. The slash of road through yellow fields is fresh; a speaking part in a happy face. Like a rip torn assertively through the old, it becomes a vector directing us towards a new way, and to a real world in danger far beyond our televisual realities.

The Frontier we’ve reached is clearly ethical; human… and it’s signposted on a local’s T-shirt!

In the trailer for Voices on the Road, a salvo of butterflies across the screen awakens us to the vivid and beautiful environment of Manu. These tiny winged metaphors bring the hope of change, just as a controlled explosion in another shot forebodes the same. No longer a remote problem, but of concern to us all, deforestation spells death: of species endangerment and an irreversible decrease in biodiversity. As the road slices its way polemically through the rainforest, the promise of growth for the indigenous folk needs debating. Gaining a road, but with the loss of something far richer. The people of Manu wish to emerge from the dark; to evolve socially and progress economically. But Creation or Apocalypse? For some, the road is the fire that Prometheus gave to mankind: a gift from the god-like to end their life struggles. But is the promise an oxymoron, a gift instead from Pandora’s box, just as a fire gone wild can easily destroy?

As I stumble onwards through the trees, now a shadow of their former selves, I’m saddened by the dilemma ahead. As in many good road movies, there’s a crossroads. We are up a junction with climate change, cruising stupidly towards The End. On this diverse and beautiful planet, we’ve reached Paradise, but unconscious to this truth, we annihilate all that doesn’t serve our egos. So now, like children playing in the road for too long, it’s dark outside and Mother Earth is calling us back in.

The female voice and hitherto missing feminine in (particularly documentary) filmmaking is trying to tell us something. Like two rays of sunlight through the uppermost branches of the Tree of Knowledge, John and Munro offer to show us both the good and evil of the road in equanimity. An omniscient view from the documentary storyteller imparting knowledge like a kiss of life. Of course, the knowledge seeker embarks upon a spiritual quest also, which is clear from the lessons outlined as learned on the film’s website. Like Pirsig on his motorcycle odyssey weaving landscape with thought, John and Munro’s expedition by bicycle was undoubtedly zen, introspective: a journey to the Final Frontier – to the Self – where realisations lead to intellectual freedom, and self-awareness to liberation from the shadows of fear and self-doubt.

If Prometheus were a woman, she’d be someone like John and Munro, supporting humanity while making inroads in the advancement of womankind. These are new voices in filmmaking: female, trailblazing and inspiring voices, representing a repressed historical collective. Yet Voices on the Road was a team effort also, a Crowdfunded project of male and female philanthropists showing us the way, creating a butterfly effect through rows of trees toppling endlessly like dominoes. This road we’re on will cost us our lives, and it will take working in partnership on the grandest scale to end climate disaster before humanity’s rendered speechless forever.

Voices on the Road is right up my stratosphere, where ozone and oxygen meet the light of the Sun. I hope to see it succeed in the film festival space, as the fires of REBELLION burn.