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IF WE STOP (8) // Zahra Dallilah & Julie Tomlin

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.


The words that we don’t hear.

Did we come close to hearing some of them when we were locked in, locked out of all the things that distract us, keep the movement of our lives at constant, entertain and stop that feeling so many seem to dread, being bored?

Bill McKibben’s book The Age of Missing Information impacted me a great deal when I read it, it’s a book I still remember reading now. It contrasts how little we really know or understand when it comes to the world around us and contrasts the information overload of 24-hour news with 24 hours in nature and the slow knowledge and understanding that develops from the ground up, from walking, from paying attention to the natural world around us.

We still have that nature around us, but in so many ways we have reduced to an ‘it’ all that personhood, knowledge and agency that is settled within the earth.

And yet, this it, is becoming something different, a different kind of ‘it’ no longer patiently enduring our abuses, it is developing its own monstrosity, or its complexity is becoming something new to us, something intrinsically shaped by us, something changed by what we have dumped, spilled and emitted into the atmosphere and the waters. And now we begin to learn that those forces are not subject to our ordering, that the sense of imperial dominance that has shaped us for years is now becoming more and more ludicrous, as at the same time the aggression and violence that was always there becomes more deadly, more concentrated, more outraged.

How do we tune in, and what are we tuning into? If we tune in, begin to mend the torn web of our relation to the earth, can we begin to heal - both ourselves and the earth? How can these relationships be restored? How do we begin to hear, to listen, to reconnect our beings to the world around it, to lose the lie, embodied in us under capitalism that we are separate, distinct, disembodied?

The plants outside my door keep drawing my attention, and I see in their stillness, their settledness, a patterning in their entanglement that is mutually beneficial, that allows for all, trusting in the contribution of each to form the whole. It is life that is happening out there, while so much of the activity that we engage in is not.

I remember thinking early days, when it wasn't quite clear how I was going to spend the coming months – thinking: I am ready to be changed by this moment.

She is coming, and the work of becoming begins.

And I won't run on a treadmill blocking it all out covering my ears with hands, letting out an overexaggerated childlike wail as I block out the truth.

We are not blank pages when pandemics come.

I am ready to surrender and I am ready to receive.

And while in lockdown I dared to hope that people were tuning into a different sound, that, their nervous systems rested, they would emerge changed, focused on things that matter. I poured all my disappointment into the camp site I walked through recently, the man kneeling by a blow-up canoe, blowing it up with an electric pump, the kids lying on sun loungers with earphones.

And yet if you sit under a tree you can feel vibrations, sounds, sometimes thoughts drift in the mind or even occasionally more urgently, that seem undeniably tree, and a deer that came to me in a half awake and half asleep state and seemed to be there to lead me on, was the source of a download without words of understanding about the land, the creatures on it, how all things hold together and we’re the ones who, having broken that contract, should be the ones to repair it.

With the chord that ties you to a toxic habit cut, you see into a place of diamonds that can offer a light on those colours which appear identical to the eye on first and second glance.

Those colours that even on third glance sometimes can't be distinguished: need and want. I wanted to want. I needed too and will always need many of the things that I want but so infrequently can I hear my body vibrate to the colour of want. And with the chord cut and the world living in ‘without’, in quiet hums and clear skies – no fog. No smog, no fogginess.

The colour of want brings me back to the soil, to hands in the dirt as I repot another plant. It takes me wandering down to my mother's house just to stand on the doorstep and wave. More often than not it doesn't take me out of the house. It takes me onto a yoga mat, to a one-woman dance party from my shower to the living room. It takes me to the voice of friends my heart aches for – suddenly we have so much time for each other, as we become aware of how critical our connections are.

This reconnection requires many of us in the West to carefully dismantle so much of the mindset that has taken shape over the centuries, based on the superiority of elite white men, of patriarchy, of notions of racial superiority. The dismantling, carefully done, can enable us to hold on to some of those things that the Enlightenment opened up, but now they sit in a new landscape. In many ways a ruinous one, one that is beginning to show up in the cracks of the world that we have created.

The end of the world as we know it seems an inevitability now, not the earth, which we seem prepared to sacrifice for our own gains, but the systems that we have built up, given shape to that reflect a view of the world built on domination, on control, on extraction.

Image: Andrew Wilson


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