Deep adaptation: a personal response


James Soane, director of Project Orange, shares his experience of ‘Kissing theVoid’, a retreat focusing on Jem Bendell’s predictions of impending societal collapse.

Climate change is not simply a pollution issue; it is a sign of how humanity and culture have disconnected from our natural habitat. This can also be understood as the end point in the project of Modernism, as defined by the mastery of man over the planet. Deep adaptation (see previous pages) is about how we prepare for societal and ecological collapse.

Timothy Morton, in his book talks about the paradox of knowing we have to do something, but failing to act. He suggests this is because the scale and nature of climate change is a ‘hyperobject’; something so large it is impossible to comprehend. In trying to figure out how to approach this in practice and within my teaching at the London School of Architecture, where I am director of research, I further investigated the deep adaptation network, discovering an event that planned to, ‘differentiate between doing more, better and faster sustainability work in order to turn around the troubles and stop collapse versus fundamentally shifting our orientations to life, death, the future and the present moment’. It was a retreat held in October 2019 entitled ‘Kissing the Void’ and asking how we might approach these times well. I applied and what happened next was a revelation.

Nineteen people gathered at a farmhouse in Devon for six days of meditation, creative play, writing, drawing, sharing and despairing. We acted out the four stages of deep adaptation: resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation. We stared into the void. We were invited to say what our heart feels. We encountered suffering, grief and uncertainty. We sat around a fire and sang. If you listen very closely, you can hear the sounds of roots spreading deep below. In these times we paused before speaking up.

The following thoughts were generated during short silent writing workshops where we were asked to react to the prompts (in bold) in a direct, visceral and emotional way. We were asked to connect to the Earth.

The Void Is
A gap, a space, a loss
Frightening and frightful
Lost and found
I am lost
I am love
A second, a minute, a year, a century, a millennium – a time
Time to say, to think, to process, to rename, to learn to
     relearn to unlearn, to leave behind
This void is not your void
It is everyone’s void
The id of void
The mind, to lose your mind, to hunt it down, to miss it
To find it, in pieces and in fragments, blasted by the void
Infinity and forever, ending in darkness

This black hole, almost invisible now, is a force sucking us in
Not knowing what is on the other side
But there just might be – another side
We hope
A kiss away

To bear witness in these times is
A mistake, an error, a blip, a catastrophe
An un-making of all that has been made
It is a breaking
A huge tear
A tear
An ending of a story
We are being asked to leave now

The lights are going out and it is very dark outside
Where to go?
Where to shelter?
Who shall I talk to?
When my love and I were separated it should have
been the end
And yet I am still here
Alone with others
I am paused

When the body leads
A stretch, a move turning into moves
An ache, a new pain, an old heart, a dance
Tentatively thought
A sense of longing hoping to be more free
To move away, in the dance
More fluid and more powerful and more
delicate than ever before
The flow of your life is here in every tiny moment
But did you ever know that?
Did you not see that your body faithfully records
Every single thing you have ever done
Ever thought and ever will do?
Until it has done enough
More than enough, and
Is called by time

Your movements will stop, like everybody’s always will
To make way for stillness
No movement
Another is just waking

And now…
Resting and realising
I find new dimensions unknown
Strange spaces
With a different taste

Running is not possible
I dance with myself, not seeing the ground on
which my feet stand
Here the light is dimmer
Cantilevered off the abyss
Seeking out crevices, holes and voids
No stars, just sparks from the beginning
Now embers, glowing
Throwing their ancient warmth
Slowly, almost imperceptibly so, turning ashen
Dimming into darkness
Becoming dimensionless

Out of the ashes
Maybe my ashes
Somewhere to place
A ceremony
To make an order from the chaos
To have a final act of creativity with and for myself
Out of the ashes a temporary home
A place
Look into the dust and the grey blackness
There is still a pattern, a memory of beauty
A piece of something next to something
The remains have not entirely vanished
They remain in this
For a moment more

As temperatures rise
The warmth that so nourished
Is punishing
One day at a time
Life evaporates, wilting at first
Lilting, tilting, collapsing
Everywhere dust, ash, smoke
Dark stains where once the tangled substance thrived
Only now I see

The fragile Earth
The Going
I leave my sword outside, with the others in the dark,
and step inside
Here, alongside, a learning, a leaning, an altogether:
Facing up, facing in, face to face, faceless
In meditation and makings I am undone, redone, remade:
Woven into a bright golden precious stitch
Visible as the stars in the tapestry of time
Never again can this moment be caught
To be remembered with care, with love

I step outside into hot sun and pick up my shield

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