Guest Blog by Stuart Taylor, Decolonisation Activist, Writer, Systemic Consultant and Radical Resilience programme pilot 2020 participant.

When the opportunity to participate in St Ethelburga’s Radical Resilience programme arose, I was excited. I was excited for several reasons. Firstly, I had an ‘arms length’ relationship with St Ethelburga’s already, as it was the venue where some of my professional training as a Systemic Constellations practitioner took place in 2017. I had enjoyed the space itself and felt a strong affinity with the ethos St Ethelburga’s advocates regarding peace, reconciliation and eco-spirituality. This fitted neatly with my own Buddhist practice and professional background in working as an activist in environmental campaigning and community development.

Secondly, ten years ago in 2010 I had initiated a creativity, resilience and wellbeing project called Kyoseido Holistic Learning. The purpose of the Kyoseido Holistic Learning project was to facilitate individuals that were concerned or curious, to find a non-clinical and non-prescriptive learning context in which they could explore their relationship to the land, place, their creativity and consciously focus on developing their personal wellbeing and resilience resources. I had created the project as a creative response to my own life-arresting experiences in the previous year of clinical depression and cancer. The Radical Resilience programme, itself inspired by Professor Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation model (2018), resonated with me at a deep level. Here was a model and programme that was taking seriously the gravity of our environmental crisis. 

Clearly, emblematic of our contemporary moment. A time of XR bringing London and other European cities to a standstill through non-violent direct actions. Imagine for a minute, though, how different the response to these eco-occupations would have been if c. 98% of the activist groups had been black? Do you think the media, the police, politicians and the public would have been so forgiving, so supportive? A time where Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg holds international political and business leaders to account over their responsibilities and failing responses to the very crisis they have contributed to causing. Simultaneously, huge scale bush fires rage in the Amazon, across swathes of Australia; and the so-called migrant crisis in mainland Europe continues to unfold. 

Thirdly, I love to learn, to place myself in intentional learning communities where I can meet new people, appreciate the diversity and range of their experiences and discover in the process where my learning edges are and how I can explore transcending them. As an activist, consultant, parent and writer, I consider it vital to always be striving to become more open, attuned, creative, resilient and responsive in the face of the now comprehensively documented, huge challenges facing humanity, from environmental degradation and social inequity perspectives. 

Then Covid-19 happened! The world was introduced to a real-life global pandemic. We as individual citizens have been subject to the unfolding drama of governments, international non-governmental agencies and the global media procrastinating, dodging, sensationalising and evading the grim reality of the substantial number of Covid-related deaths globally. Concurrently, we have seen the amazing bravery, courage and compassion shown daily by health workers and their colleagues in key infrastructure roles across society, alongside inspiring volunteering efforts on the part of communities nationally.

If there was ever a time when a learning programme such as Radical Resilience was called for it is now. In a little over two months of the programme starting, we were facing into the realities of potential societal collapse, or at least on this occasion, a radical revision of what constitutes normal life and normal social relations. In these newly emergent times, we have all been called upon to question what constitutes the good life, what is truly sustainable and how can we rediscover a more credible, significantly less resource-intense way to live together in meaningful and supportive communities. How do we identify, deepen and live by a sense of committed purpose?

The cohort of 15 colleagues that I have begun to get to know since January of this year, in the context of the Radical Resilience programme, have all shown themselves to be earnest in their diverse efforts to better understand and find more generative and sustainable ways to meet the challenges we are all facing in respect of the Deep Adaptation model. This is not to say that the model itself is perfect or without fault. Two of the most critical issues with the model from my perspective, are:

  • First, the lack of contextualisation of neoliberalism, by definition, a continuation of colonialism and the ‘hidden in plain sight’ face of contemporary coloniality. A fundamentally extractive, exploitative and destructive culture, paying little heed to the indigenous populations and regional habitats that are ruined by the greed-driven, obsessively consumption-based economies of the Global North
  • Second, representation and voice within the wider Climate justice movement. Where are the faces and voices of Black, Asian and Indigenous peoples? Invariably, it is people from former colonised lands, now often living within global diaspora communities, that bear the brunt of the negative impacts that industrialisation, post-coloniality and the so called Anthropocene bring so pointedly, to our collective awareness regarding environmental, cultural and social system (s) collapse or at best, severe and unrelenting stress

As a case in point, has it come to your attention that regarding Covid-19’s impact, there has been a significant and harrowingly disproportionate number of deaths amongst healthcare professionals from BAME communities? Why is this so? Are black people inherently more prone to the virus, or do these deaths highlight and bring into sharp focus, the pre-existing schisms within our society? The stark imbalance of privilege and disadvantage in relation to education, housing and employment – even for highly qualified, black professionals – is laid bare.

Did I mention earlier there has been a migration crisis into Europe since at least 2015? There have been substantial numbers of deaths of Arab, African and Asian families and individuals in their plight of flight to seek more stable, safe and secure futures for themselves and their children. What are they fleeing? How have the circumstances they flee from come about? Then, there is the overt movement to the political right across much of Europe, catalysed by the migrant crisis, which has further highlighted the (possibly) frayed edges of the post-Second World War democratic political settlement. This is notwithstanding the surreal craziness of Brexit! The global pandemic has also made more explicit the huge economic, environmental and social inequities between the Global North and the Global South. All these elements fit (sadly) too easily into the Deep Adaptation model.

From my personal perspective, I applaud the team at St Ethelburga’s, for their efforts to develop the Radical Resilience programme. I am grateful to their Christian-, Muslim- and non-faith-based philanthropic supporters, who have made these efforts possible and enabled a set of radical critical principles, to take form as a tangible community of committed learners and inquirers.

Now, it’s early May as I write this reflective piece and the Radical Resilience Programme has concluded. It’s been an interesting four-month long process. A combination of retreat-based, physical meetings and talks and for the last half of the programme a Covid-19 defined, virtual meeting, Zoom-based exploration. What happens next? For me, I am now in the early stages of preproduction for a documentary project called A Murmuration of Souls (AMOS). The purpose of AMOS is to give voice and a platform to the Black, Asian and Indigenous activists, campaigners, critic’s and theorists who are consistently marginalised in the framing and articulation of the climate, environmental and social justice movements. What are the stories they wish to tell? What is the range of wisdom they can draw upon from within their respective cultural traditions and histories? How might these stories and these wider bodies of cultural knowledge bring fresh perspective to bear on the problems that are invariably framed from within a Global North perspective? How could the arguments and critical positions that have been repeatedly advocated for by (typically) white campaigners be critically enhanced, deepened or invigorated in their authority and impact by the perspectives of Black and Indigenous activists? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I want to ask them, and I want to listen to the narratives and philosophical perspectives that are offered by the people I get to interview. My vision is that I’ll have the wherewithal to create a poetic yet incisive kaleidoscope of narratives and insights that are stirring and offer a clear and unambiguous call to action.

This is exactly why I am committed to developing and progressing the AMOS project; in order that the process itself creates a platform for the people I get to meet to share their dreams, insights, knowledge and practices. My hope is that we will all benefit from a deeper and more creolised set of approaches, to meeting the unprecedented challenges to human civilisation, and to our other than human, kith and kin at this pivotal point in history. It seems to me there really is no option for any of us but to engage and contribute as best we can in addressing these most significant issues of our time. Especially if we aspire – or intend to credibly claim to have been – good ancestors when our time on this uniquely magical planet is done.