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IF WE STOP (4) // Zahra Dallilah & Julie Tomlin

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

In a series of numbered written dialogues Call Centre correspondents Zahra Dallilah and Julie Tomlin respond to their own prompt: If we stop: Flourishing. Nourishment. Lockdown.


We worked on adrenaline all our lives. There was seemingly no other way to be other than hustling, promoting, gigging. And then it stopped.

What happens to the nervous system when it is flooded with adrenaline for too long?

What happens to our bodies, our minds, our guts?

It’s funny, I never really blinked when people complimented my hustle by acknowledging how ‘hungry’ I appeared.

Hungry for results, success, ready to work for it.

The twisted logic that accessing your hunger and operating from that place is an optimum place to generate or produce from. When really, we all know that we should probably eat first, and burn off energy after.

I keep going back to the gut.

We talked about trust and trust is something we sometimes locate in our guts, our gut instinct, we feel in our guts if something is right or wrong, trustworthy or not. But we are in a fog of over stimulation, too many chemicals in our food, too many preservatives, not enough of the good, real stuff that food actually is.

When I was grieving my husband’s death, I couldn’t buy food in the supermarket because all I could see were words and images, plastic and packaging that I couldn’t make sense of. I had to go back to the basics of things, buy fresh food that simply nourished me. Having decided that I had to find a way to eat, even though I resented it, I decided I would feel my way back through this bodily gratitude that I felt when I ate something fresh and simply cooked, something my body quite simply needed to function and flourish.

And this spring and summer of lockdown I have learnt that it is not just food that is waiting to pass on its knowledge and usher us towards wellbeing; plants I have walked by and only seen under the general heading of ‘weeds’ a phrase that conjures up the tiny plants pushing through the gaps and cracks in the pavements outside and the concrete in the garden of my childhood, have gradually become known.

Still too many remain generic, unseen and unnamed, but I now nod to the wild chamomile, knowing that it’s there to ground us and calm us, help us to process, look after our guts. And there’s peppermint too to help us keep open and engaged and rose to hold our hearts and lavender to calm the mind and help us sleep.

I can walk past many others still as I walk past strangers in the street, but those that are now known to me I will always recognise, my heart will always leap when I see Red Clover and I feel dreamy when I think of Elderflower still and a quiet reverence for the St John’s Wort I found hidden away in a quiet garden.

Where I’m sitting there is a greenhouse beyond that is surrounded with sprawling weeds that I am sure one day soon someone will deem need to be cut back. Like the chickweed that was filling the beds that had to be cleared for onions this year, there are matters of negotiation when it comes to space, critical edges that need examining, questions to be asked about how much is good to weed, whether some can be moved elsewhere, harvested now, and put to use.

But in that sprawl outside I have found German Chamomile, Purple headed Vervain and Yarrow, there are no doubt others that I can’t yet name. Dealing with this growth is complicated - I’ve had to warn the guy who looks after the grounds where the St John’s Wort is. I had to make a mad dash to harvest a load of Red Clover before the lawnmower did its rounds.

The weeds, or the herbs, with all their complex, subtle and nuanced properties are part of the under commons that Catherine Keller writes about. And so how do we work for the common good? She refers to agonism, the struggle with and for. And I feel that begin to open up as something of the third nature, of a way of being, a way of knowing, of recovering something that was lost in terms of our relationship to the earth, to its plants, flowers, waters and creatures, to recovering a relationship to it that is about holding the complexity of all the competing needs and holding them in balance.

Plants, weeds, the lower parts of our bodies, our guts. These are all part of the under commons, the lives, the ways of being that have been subdued, crushed, marginalised in the creation of a world system that seeks to optimise extraction - both from our bodies and from the earth.

And yet it is all still there, the wisdom of the gut waiting to be awakened by the nourishment it needs.

Lockdown lifted the only barrier between me and seeing how a seedling became a fruit, how a plant was not a victim living in fear of neglect, abandonment or destruction but a comrade and co-conspirator if you met it well enough. Through those plants it revealed to me that I fear death, they don’t. I fear failure, they don’t. I fear neglect, abandonment and destruction.

They from earth, return there in their time with grace and surrender, whilst I flap around in panic and in anguish over not getting it quite right, not living up to my expectation of self, my identity as a Woman Who Can in jeopardy.

The wisdom and knowledge is all there and all it takes is seeds, soil, water and time. The first three I always had access to, the fourth a gift in lockdown.

Image: Andrew Wilson


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