Living without fear
I wrote Barefoot In The City – Raising Happy, Strong Kids whilst living in the middle of a busy city, where the skyline had been replaced by skyscrapers and trees cut down to make way for developments – schools, shopping malls, towering condominium blocks. People who knew this place before ‘progress’ came often talked about the monkeys swinging on the trees and butterflies dancing in the still afternoon air. On weekends when we drove out of the city into the receding rainforest, we used to see families of monkeys migrating, sometimes walking single-file along the sides of the motorway, in search of a new home. Once, we witnessed something rather distressing – a baby monkey had been run over by the savage traffic and its mother was howling in despair whilst trying to retrieve her child’s corpse as juggernauts and cars thundered uncaringly by.
My children’s father stopped the car and risked his life to help the monkey. Many years on, I still berate him for dicing with death in front of his children.
“It’s precisely because my children were watching that I did what I did,” he said with his usual confidence.
He wanted to show them another way of being, namely one where we are all part of the same existence and are somehow connected to everyone and everything. And crucially, we cannot afford to lose that connection, because it is, quite simply, fundamental to life. Children know this wisdom instinctively – this is why they are fearless until we teach them fear from a misguided and skewed perspective. Behind our concrete walls, metallic cages and certificates of achievements, we live fearful of nature and fearful of our true nature, becoming more and more estranged each year.
Being connected again
When we moved to the city from a sleepy seaside town in southern England, my youngest daughter refused to wear shoes for months. She would insist on going barefooted everywhere (hence the title of my parenting book), to the chagrin of most people. Her father just laughed and rejoiced in his daughter’s fight to walk barefoot in a world peopled by folks wearing shoes. We couldn’t figure this out for the longest time, until a wise person told us that 4-year-old Georgina was struggling to stay connected to nature. He complimented us for not forcing her to go against her inner knowing, because after all, dirty feet can easily be washed clean.
In the light of this understanding, we set out to make our city home as close to nature as we possibly could, and it was the best thing we could do for Georgina. She grew strong and fearless, with compassion and a surprising soft spot for animals and vulnerable beings. Though she claims she can’t swim, she was happy enough as a child to swim for miles out in the Javanese sea without any buoyancy aid and she understood sea life as taught by the visionary Roderick des Tombes, the first of her many life teachers. We realised that indeed, she couldn’t swim in the school swimming pool, but she was fine in the open ocean. I think she has the ocean and the earth and the stars within her, even though she now lives in grey and concrete south London.
Last Sunday, at a convention held at the University of Greenwich, London, I listened to a Cree woman from Canada speak about her people. “My people are very sick,” were the words she began her lecture with. She talked about the sickness of her people that came from losing their connection to the land as they became a marginalised population, pushed out by ‘civilisation’. Jazmin Pirozek is an ethnobotanist and had studied phytochemistry, amongst her many deeply spiritual, mystical learnings. She travelled far, to the depths of South America, to find a cure for her people. There, she met her teacher, Juan Flores Salazaar, who taught her many things about healing.
This is Jazmin’s story:
The Legend of Miskwedo
Once upon a time, there were two brothers. Their parents were killed during the Great Migration and they only had each other. One day, because they were hungry, the younger brother ran with abandon into a field of amanita that people were fearful of. To the older brother’s horror, the younger brother began changing form – he was slowly changing into an amanita.
The older brother sought help from the villagers, who told him that to change his younger brother back into a boy again, he (the older brother) had to gather some special sand and put it in a deerskin pouch. And then he had to get three eagle feathers from the largest eagle (known as thunderbird, because it was so huge and fearsome). The thunderbird’s nest was perched on the branches of the highest tree, and the base of the tree was a minefield of vicious stinging nettles. But for the love of his younger brother, the older brother completed his herculean tasks and restored his younger brother back into his boy form.
One night, in the middle of the night, the older brother woke up and discovered that his younger brother was not in the wigwam. In panic, he rushed out and looked for his younger brother. He finally found his younger brother in the middle of a field covered with amanita. His younger brother had one hand on the amanita and slowly changing form again. And as he was changing form, he was speaking to a large gathering of people.
“I am happy,” he said.
(Note: this is a brief retelling of Jazmin’s magical tale. You can get the full version here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.1979.10472089?needAccess=true&journalCode=ujpd19).
The field of amanita
In The Legend of Miskwedo, the field of amanita was described so beautifully, “handsome wajashkwedeg they were – turning and revolving, buzzing and murmuring, singing a strange song of happiness under the brilliantly sunny sky”.
We dream of finding such a field as we carry on with our daily lives. “It does not exist,” we tell ourselves, not daring to believe in the improbable.
But let me share a secret with you – pieces of this field do exist in yourworld. You only have to open your eyes and rid the fear in your heart to see it, the true nature of the universe in every grain of sand.
Photo: The beauty of small things, Singapore 2016
Photo: Teaching the next generation about the world we live in – edible plants, London 2017
Photo of amanita mascara: public domain image Führer für Pilzfreunde : die am häufigsten vorkommenden essbaren, verdächtigen und giftigen Pilze / von Edmund Michael ; mit 68 Pilzgruppen, nach der Natur von A. Schmalfuss  https://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.3898–
Main photo: author’s copyright Phuket 2018