Not so very long ago, I spent four years living on and working the land in one of the wildest, harshest and most remote parts of the UK: on the farthest western shore of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The place where the road ran out, and there was nowhere left to hide. Those of you who’ve read If Women Rose Rooted will know that it was something of a baptism of fire. It broke me open; broke my life open. Four years with my hands in cold, wet, acidic peat which didn’t really want to grow what I wanted to grow there. Four years mucking out pigsties, close-shepherding sheep, cuddling milk cows, crying over dead lambs, burying dead dogs, screaming at ravens stealing away baby geese. Four years battered by the prevailing salt gales from two directions. Four years walking on Llewissian gneiss, some of the oldest and hardest rock on the planet. These are the experiences which tear open the veil for us – which not only show us the opening, but shove us the hell through.
‘A psyche the size of Earth.’ I love that image. It’s the title of an essay by James Hillman, the greatest of influences on my own psychological practice, which introduced the collection of articles Theodore Roszak, Allen Kanner and Mary Gomez collated for their book Ecopsychology back in 1995. Hillman, I think, did more than anyone to try to remind people that this world, these lives we live, aren’t all about us. It’s a message I passionately believe in. We think we make them up, the stories, the dreams. Well, maybe they make us up. For sure, they have an existence that’s independent of us. We think psyche is in us, Hillman said – but actually, we’re in psyche. The great, beautiful soul of this glowing, animate world.
A month ago, I embarked on my first trip to America in eleven years, for a series of teaching and lecturing engagements. Those of you who are readers of my books will know that I lived in the USA for over five years, leaving at the end of 2001. And it was a strange thing, to think of being back after so long in a country which I once thought of as home – but which, over the years since I’d left, had become utterly incomprehensible to me. 3135