Have you heard of the old term, ‘kith and kin’? It refers to ‘friends and relatives’, but in his book titled, Kith, Jay Griffiths takes the word ‘kith’ back to its 15th century meaning;‘an intimate relationship with your native land.’
I grew up in the 1960’s, before screens and all the dazzle and speed of modern digital life. We lived on the edge of a small market town in the countryside. My relationship with my ‘kith’ was strong. I knew where the mice nested in the grass stalks, I saw the barn owl overhead and watched the fish in the river and lake. I knew the seasonal changes to the oak and ash and saw life and land flow and change.
I walked the hills in summer, autumn, winter and spring, watching icicles grow and melt, seeing the plover and kestrel and hearing the skylarks in their melodious spring flight and the curlew, with their warbling cry. Seasons came and seasons went in flushes of colour, thunder, lightning, rain and snow. This was my land.
Still when I go ‘home’, my heart rises in my chest as I come close and see the red brown curl of the hills and the green gashes of the valleys. This was my kith.
What is your kith, your intimate relationship with your native land?
People were moved off the land under the enclosure laws, scottish clearances and the taking of the common land as the aristocracy, and landed gentry took over sole ownership of the land.
“Between 1760 and 1870, about 7 million acres (about one sixth the area of England) were changed, by some 4,000 acts of parliament, from common land to enclosed land. However necessary this process might or might not have been for the improvement of the agricultural economy, it was downright theft”
By the way, the linked article is a worthy read!
The land was largely taken from common ownership and most people lost right of access or usage as time went on until today we have “in our “property-owning democracy”, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line”
Where did these common people go?
Many went to Australia, particularly if they had been found guilty of trying to feed their children with stolen bread, when their land and homes had themselves been stolen.
Many went to Canada and the Americas in search of a new hope and a new home. Many simply moved into the burgeoning industrial cities to work in the ‘dark satanic mills’ as William Blake described the diabolic sweat shops that the working people of Britain endured.
“And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”
And those who could not find employment, were disabled or in dire need as Charles Dickens so aptly described in his novels, went to live in the sinking hell holes of the inner city ghettos.
So it is that we have lost our kith.
The Native American nations such as the Arapahoe, the mighty Oglala Sioux, the Lakota and Dakota Sioux, the Cherokee and the Apache, and so many people had a direct relationship to their kith, so much so, that when they were destroyed as a people and a fighting force, humbled and brutalised by the blue forces of the canary with their gatling guns and blankets inoculated with smallpox, they were shipped miles from their homes into reservations. Here, many became alcoholic, destitute and lost their power and glory. They were shorn of their kith and the key relationship with the sacred land of their ancestors.
Nowadays we talk about nature deficit disorder, a term coined I believe by Richard Louv, a condition where not having access to wild nature, to green and open space has a damaging psychological effect. We become alienated, depressed, anxious and lose touch with our authentic sense of self and purpose.
Greta Ehrlich said “Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are”, whilst the founder of modern medicine, the Greek physician Hippocrates, famous for his hippocratic oath, which all doctors take, said “Nature itself is the best physician”.
Jay Griffiths in her book Wild states that there is no word she could find in any indigenous culture that equated with the term wilderness, as a kind of empty wasteland. Even the wildest of icy landscapes had a soul and depth to the Inuit, and the great deserts of Australia had song lines and character for the Aboriginals. There was no wasteland.
It is the mind of the observer, that alienated, starts to see wild nature as scary, hostile, and devoid of beauty and power. Given we are nature, have we become ‘wilderness’?
Tuan in 1974 said “Wilderness cannot be defined objectively: it is as much a state of the mind as a description of nature”.
An empty, barren, hostile mind that has no beauty is ill.
I used the term Wildmind to describe the ‘other than conscious’, the creative depth of what people usually call the unconscious. Nick Totton in his book Wild Therapy suggests Wildmind is co-creative, it is a relational mind, a mind open to the senses and sensory awareness.
David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous subverts the division between mind and nature and opens the relational dynamic of human nature as sensual and co-creative. We are nature, wild nature.
When we shrink back from the wilderness, we become increasingly sick in mind and body. Our immune systems fail as we spray all our surfaces with anti-bacterial sprays, forgetting that we are a symbiont, primordially of two different bacteria.
Read Nick Lane’s fabulous ‘creation’ story Oxygen if you don’t know this. At least this ‘creation’ story is evidence based.
The more we eat processed food, the less we move, the more we hide ourselves away in hermetic hard buildings and dull our minds with the digital hyper-real, the sicker it appears we get.
Our waste spills out into the rivers and oceans and the water of life is littered with plastic debris. This is now threatening the fertility of humanity, micro-particulate plastics acting as oestrogen mimics are reducing sperm counts to the degree that we may have no more babies soon.
“I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs
Einstein dreamt of riding a sunbeam and out of that dream came his theory of relativity.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
The colour green is the most beneficial colour for relaxing the human brain. Forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku to give its traditional Japanese name, is a way of boosting immune functioning mental wellbeing. It is now a thing in the ‘western’ world.
Green, growing, living landscapes help us feel better about ourselves.
“Nature can be beneficial for mental health. It reduces cognitive fatigue and stress and can be helpful with depression and anxiety.” – Irina Wen.
I’ve just moved back into the city after a year of lockdown living with some friends, where I could step outside directly from my caravan onto the moist wet grass, where the owls called overhead at night and the voles ran through the grass.
Now I’m in a concrete block of flats in the city, with no garden. It is a radical shift and I feel it in my body, in my fascia and in my head.
I fortunately have an allotment where I go as often as I can to get my hands in the earth and sit and watch the green. I even use my phone to tether too and use my allotment shed as my office. It gives me basic sanity in this as Bob Marley called it ‘the concrete jungle’. This Blog was mostly written in my allotment shed!
“Place your hands into soil to feel grounded. Wade in water to feel emotionally healed. Fill your lungs with fresh air to feel mentally clear. Raise your face to the heat of the sun and connect with that fire to feel your own immense power” – Victoria Erickson, Rebelle Society.
I was going there with my youngest two children and my young son said to me “Everyone up here is so friendly, they all say hello”.
I said ‘Yes, it’s the earth, getting your hands in the earth brings people back to their senses, to their basic kindness and gives us kith, a home, a sanctuary. Later that day he delighted in the soft tilth of compost as he helped me riddle the two year old crumb.
I talked with him about how to love the earth, that our bodies are made of it, that our ancient ancestors were bacteria and that to come out of snowball earth after 160 million years of ice, worm poo was crucial to oxygemise the oceans. That and the fact that we can eat anything, that soil exists is because of worm poo. No worm poo equals no food. No bees equals no food. Nature is mental and physical wellbeing.
I remember walking the spine of England, climbing every hill in the Lake District, walking from the West coast to the East and climbing the hills of North Wales. When I moved to London I would plan my routes through parks and green spaces like a migratory bird looking for watering holes.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” — Anne Frank
Henry David Thoreau the essayist, poet and pragmatic philosopher said…
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than than that sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields”
May we be so blessed. So get out as often as you can.
One of my practices is to go barefoot on the earth and stand and breathe.
The seven standing breaths I teach is a profound and simple practice.
The Nagas are also wonderful, practised under the trees in the early morning sunlight or the gentle drizzle of rain (it’s only water, and we are 70% water).
Practise your evolutionary breathwork outside as often as you can.
Remember that Evolutionary breathwork is what I call the Magic Key.
We can use it to bring awareness to what is happening, to how things actually are and land in this present moment.
Evolutionary breathwork, along with embodied movement and meditative depth brings us home to the basic sanity of our life and its preciousness – its basic goodness.
Evolutionary Breathwork brings us home to who we are, to our life as wild nature.