Monday, 20 April 2009

"You know how it is - work, work, work"

As with my last blog, this is one that’s been a long while coming. I thought that it would be written a few months ago, but, once again, I’ve somehow not managed to get down to actually putting it on paper. Until now - away on holiday, and feeling that my day is full of hours of freedom that I can use completely as I will.

The title is part of a comment I heard the other week on a bus: “You know how it is - work, work, work, and there’s never any time to do anything else”. When I wrote my last blog, that was very much how I felt. I was considering the possibility of reducing my hours at work, and looking at taking up some of the things I didn’t have to do but wanted to, in terms of studying and learning new skills.

4 months on, then…

Well, in relation to my last blog, my biggest achievement is probably that, after years of dreaming about it, I’ve finally gone part time at work. Since January, I’ve gone down to three days a week, a change that was achieved by the simple method of, erm, asking. Up until the moment I got the ‘yes’ back from my manager, I seriously thought that my application would just be laughed off, and I’d be told to come back when I had a few kids to justify my request. Nothing of the sort - the reaction went a long way to prove one of the adages I’ve always gone by - ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’. Colleagues were actually really positive when I told them about my change. Most were also slightly wistful - of the ‘I wish I could afford to do that’ type. When I asked them why they thought they couldn’t, the responses tended to involve mortgage, price of living, affording bringing up kids.

Whilst I must admit, initially I did worry about the cut in my salary, even without all off the issues mentioned to contend with, I soon shrugged that off as I realised I could still quite comfortably afford all the things that I needed, and really only needed to make a few restrictions in the things I wanted. It’s made me a bit more selective in the things that I do spend money on - so I find rather than just getting something I sort of want, I’m spending on things I really value - time out with friends over DVDs that I probably won’t get round to watching - and finding alternatives for other things - trips to the local library rather than buying books I probably won’t read more than once; free comedy TV and radio recordings; very cheap theatre tickets through a local initiative at the Young Vic (I saw King Lear for £2.50!); and time spent browsing Freecycle before looking to other sources for all sorts of things.

Funnily enough, the one colleague I spoke to the most about my cut in hours, and who expressed a similar desire to go part time is our receptionist - a young mum living with her baby son and husband in rented accommodation, probably on a salary not too different from mine (i.e., not very much). Each time she talked about wanting to go part time, she said she felt torn between worrying about getting on the ‘property ladder’ and spending more time with her little boy. With some totally unbiased and balanced input from myself (“why do you need a mortgage? - look at the state of the market - all those homeowners are probably wishing they stuck to renting” and “Surely spending quality time with your son is worth more than whatever anyone can pay you, as long as you’ve got food on the table and a roof over your head” - like I said, totally unbiased arguments), she actually went from just wishing about it to taking steps to making it happen. She’s now down to three days a week as well, and tells me she wishes she’d never come back full time in the first place.

Back to my own experiences, though. As soon as I knew I was going part time, I signed up for two courses - one in Arabic, one in Counselling Skills. What I didn’t know, at this time, was that I was about to become one of our roving trainers at work - being sent around the country to help run remote training of the courses we offer. In the first seven weeks of the year, I travelled up North five times, for either one or two nights away a week. Suddenly I found that, rather than the calm and relaxing time I’d been expecting, I was plunged into even more stress than any time I’d worked five days a week. I was missing classes, and spending free time catching up with these, and also coming back to the office with work that piled up while I was away, and needed to be tackled, all the time with the knowledge that I’d soon be off again. We actually started joking at work that I was away so often, they’d need a picture to recognise me when I was actually in. Joking aside, I spent the first two months of the year almost constantly stressed, working longer hours and wondering whether the whole part-time thing had been such a great idea after all.

Then a lot of things seemed to fall into my place. My manager re-evaluated my work-load, so that it actually reflected the hours I was in, taking into account all the time I was away training. I gradually started learning to say ‘no’ as well, if I was asked to do something that I really couldn’t fit into my schedule, both inside and out of work. I got into the groove of studying again, and was supported by friends made on both courses. And suddenly, all the benefits that I’d hoped would flow from working fewer hours started to flood in.

Over the past few months, I’ve reconnected with a lot of friends who, over the past few years, there’s simply not been time to see that often. Studying at the university I used to work at, I’ve had a number of lunches and after class/work meetings with old colleagues who remain friends. I’ve started volunteering regularly at a Forest Garden in North London, just once a month, but great for getting out, meeting others, and doing a bit of work with my hands. And did I mention the holidays?

The other day, I worked out all the time I’ve had or am planning to have off work this year, made possible by a combination of my newly-reduced annual leave, buffered by my two non-working days, weekends and time off in lieu:
  • 5 days in Greece in March - a visit, to see two close friends, that I’ve been planning and putting off for the past 5 years, either because of lack of time or money. Although I wasn’t keen to fly, taking the train and ferry just wasn’t feasible (3 days!), and so I’ve put this down as my flights for the year;
  • a day trip to Portsmouth to see a friend I’d not seen since I left there;
  • 11 days down in Dorset: 9 days in Weymouth at the flat of a friend’s parents - 4 with relatives and 5 alone; and then 3 days at the Hilfield Project;
  • 10 days in Edinburgh, staying with a friend or two, enjoying the Free Fringe;
  • the last 10 days of Ramadan off
  • ten days in Cumbria (two working).

That’s immense - apart from Ramadan, then, 35 days that I’ll have spent away, doing with them whatever I please, seeing friends and generally just enjoying not working. And that’s not even counting the other weekends, and the rest of my two non-working days. Compared to two weeks away last year, that’s got to be something worth going part time for.

Now I’m off to take my evening constitutional along the sea-front, maybe take a few dozen pictures in the local nature reserve, and possibly grab some fish and chips on the way home. I might even put on a film, or call a friend, then have myself an early night. I’ll probably spend the day on the beach tomorrow, catching up on my correspondence, or reading the Oliver Sacks’ book that I’ve just started since I bought it last year. So much free time, so many things I could do - and all only if I want to.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

'Forms of Activism'

Thank you to Julia Khadija for kindly, and efficiently writing up the following notes:


A transcript summary of Derek Wall's talk

Derek Wall’s inspirational talk, at the 2nd Main Fast for the Planet event, was most thought-provoking in that it was full of original ideas and in a short time dealt with many issues in an innovative way.

He began by mentioning the Zen approach which would be to ‘say nothing for 10 minutes’, echoing one theme of his talk, that we often rush in with solutions that don’t work. He stressed another theme by mentioning the verse in the Qur’an: ‘"But waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters." (Qur 'an: 7:31)

Dogmatic solutions are often not the answer to environmental problems and we need a variety of approaches. One typical approach is that as the situation is so urgent, we should not waste time thinking about solutions, but this usually leads to unworkable ‘solutions’. Two examples he cited here were carbon trading, which only passes on the carbon to somewhere else, and bio diesel, which has led to huge damage to indigenous peoples and environmental destruction.

What is needed is a strategy that leads to transformation of the basic economic system, which is based on growth and expansion unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. Capitalism has led to so much consumerism that we end up destroying ourselves. For example if acid rain kills off plankton, the whole eco-system of the ocean will die. We need structural changes which would help us to be greener.

Derek cited the examples of three prominent activists who had successfully achieved change. The first, Jerry Hicks, is a Trades Union activist, who has worked for the creation of ‘green jobs’. Secondly, Hugo Blanco, a Peruvian revolutionary has helped indigenous communities in Peru to stop the takeover of their rain forests, so that they may continue to live in and benefit from them in a sustainable way. One of the best types of activism is to support grass roots action where people see themselves as part of the solution.

The third activist is Roberto Perez in Cuba, who with Castro’s support, developed renewable energy systems, city farms, making Cuba a model of sustainable development.

Derek pointed out that instead of trying to imagine a ‘utopia’, we need to struggle with the situation we are in. Everyone needs to decide which form of activism they are best suited to and work on that.

The above is a summary transcript of a talk by Derek Wall (22nd March 2009)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Full Dream - A Revolution of Values

For me, this past week has felt like watching the production of a film or tv show because until now, minority presidents only existed in the realm of imagination. But as reality began to set in about a refreshing new leader in America, I was inspired to read more about the man invoked most often along the path toward the election of our first African American president. I wondered what his spirit would say to President Obama-or more importantly what it would guide we as a people to do to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. So I decided to read more of Dr. King's other speeches, to go beyond the soundbytes. What I discovered was that we do a tremendous disservice to his legacy and ourselves by reducing his dream to a few statements from the end of one of his speeches-as powerful as they are. We need to understand his full dream so that we can work toward actualizing it.

King's activism shifted dramatically during the last years of his life and subsequently suffered vilification from the national media, President Johnson, and even other civil rights leaders for changing direction. The media and much of the population had come to laud his civil rights quest, so what was this vision that caused his descent from grace? Martin Luther King Jr. did not stop with his quest for integration, because he realized that integration into a broken system would not bring equality and justice. In 1967, a year before his tragic death, he delivered a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" at Riverside Church in New York. In it he said:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies....A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.'

The speech is worth reading in its entirety, and although written about American imperialism and militarism at that time, sadly, it remains astonishingly relevant today, as Gaza lies in rubble. Interestingly, this is the same speech from which Obama drew the phrase, "the fierce urgency of now".

A few months later, King delivered the speech “Where do we go from here?” where he asked:

“Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" These are words that must be said…..What I'm saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis.

Now, with the planet's future at risk and social inequalities increasing at an alarming pace, but also a massive infusion of hope pulsing throughout the world, the time is ripe for a revolution of values. That was his dying dream. I have made an intention to learn more about his full dream and share it with others this year, for that is how we can begin to answer the question-What would Martin Luther King Jr. want us- citizens of the world- to do now?....and then work on making it a reality.

You can read the full text of these speeches here:

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Pen and the Keyboard: Letter to a Friend

Christmas is the time when my life slows down. The cry of "Discounts" and "Sales" is like a momentary wind - If I am not taking cover, I can usually let it blow over me, feeling it but letting it pass. It is during this period that I often have space to focus a little more on my inner life, close friends, and family.

It was during the Christmas period just gone that I was affected by a telephone conversation I had with a friend. I was affected in a quiet way, as though a seed had been planted in consciousness. My friend told me that she had been spending this period writing to friends, in particular those with whom the friendship had got stuck - and she was writing, not to explain that she was right and they were wrong, but to bring more awareness into her relationships. What I found so refreshing was firstly her sincerity in supporting her relationships to grow, and secondly, that rather than sitting in front of a screen tapping an email on a keyboard, she was instead largely writing letters, using a paper and pen.

As she spoke, I was swept into distant memories of what it had felt like to receive a handwritten letter from a close friend - the appreciation of the effort it had taken to write it, the (usually!) more thoughtful content and deeper levels of expression, the pull of aspects of the handwriting and illegible bits that took time to decipher - and although writing emails is 'efficient', the ease and speed with which they are sent means the attention we give to each has lessened. A quality of experience has been eroded - and my friend was demonstrating how it could so easily be revived.

It was about three weeks later, just a few days ago in fact, when I finally took the plunge and wrote a letter to a friend of mine. I wrote to someone I hadn't spoken to for a year, and had not written a letter to for at least ten, but a friend with whom I had spent quite alot of time throughout my teens. We had met at a martial arts club in Coventry and spent many a time sparring and working out together. We also knew one another's families. We were now travelling along quite different paths in life, but shared a bond of common experience.

Just putting pen to paper was an experience, that felt noticeably more expansive than what I usually feel in front of the screen a couple of clicks away from any one of thousands of emails. I felt able to have my friend in consciousness more clearly, and my writing flowed. I said things that I might not have said on email, and knew that he would give more time to take it in. A couple of days later, he called me. He was so pleased to have gotten the letter, that he called as soon as he had read it, and thanked me for writing.

So, here I am, having just had an experience of something that is so out of fashion that it feels like a novelty. I hope to carry on writing the occasional letter - and as an environmentalist whilst I appreciate that writing letters uses paper, and email doesn't, I'm simultaneously aware of a deeper experience, one of wholeness and stillness that I got out of writing a letter and that I found nurturing to the soul - something that is another world to the conveyor belt mode of contemporary life which pulls us to our next material fix.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Time is money - busy producing, or busy consuming?

I have written this particular blog countless times over the past month or so. I’ve done any number of drafts; turned random phrases into coherent sentences; taken a jumbled mass of thoughts and transformed them, with the most awesome of eloquence, into words that have almost overflowed the page.

But only in my head.

See, the thing is, I haven’t had the time to actually sit down, and put that all down on paper. Each day, I would have the best intentions in the world, but somehow the hours all seemed to be swallowed up, mostly by work, with household chores and arbitrary errands coming in second. Oh, there’ve been little pockets of free-time, there always are, to squeeze in a quick chat on the phone, a couple of hastily composed e-mails, or a few hurriedly-made moves on Scrabble. But never really enough time to actually get my mind in gear (believe me, that takes a while) enough to make anything sensible appear on my computer screen.

I have an uncle who nearly always greets us with the question:
“Are you busy producing or busy consuming? If you’re not producing, then you must be consuming!”.
I guess that pretty much sums up what my days seem to have become since I’ve left uni – a non-stop conveyor belt of producing, 5 days out of 7, and the rest of the time, consuming as though my life depended on it.

And that is the way it’s seen, isn’t it, as this complete given – you leave school, you start work, end of. The 9-5 (or in my case, 5.30), investing in the economy, spending, and working hard, to save up, and spend some more – that’s the way of the world, right? Because where would I be without all the money I earn? I need to work all the hours God sends, because, other than the necessities, there are just so many things I need to spend money on – new books, holidays, eating out with my friends, live music and comedy. How do I even manage on the rate of pay I’m on now? Working for a charity’s all well and good, but I’m never going to be earning enough to get myself on the property ladder. I really should be striking out for a better-paid job, get myself back in the NHS or maybe go private – sure, it’s not what I want to do, but at least that way I’d have more chance of a rise, maybe work my way up to manager, start earning enough to live the life I’ve always dreamed of…

Or maybe not. I remember once, my mum bemoaning this fact:
“You children nowadays, you don’t seem to understand the importance of money”.
I’ve tried, I really have, to understand the great press that money gets in comparison to free time. And also to understand why people seem to consider free time such an indulgence, a luxury that we don’t really have that much time for, compared to the necessity of earning a living.
I know I need enough money to pay bills, to pay a rent, to put clothes on my back and food in my belly. But beyond that, do I really need that much more? I do like to go out with friends, expand my library, add to my music collection. But, to do this, do I really need to be working as hard and spending as much as I do? For a long time (probably as long as I’ve been working full-time…) I’ve felt that the answer to this really should be no. Surely it’s just a matter of looking for alternatives?

This summer, I went to visit a friend on the
Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. I travelled by train and ferry – it took me nearly 24 hours, and was the prefect way to reach the island, with a gradual introduction to the stunning beauty of the place. On the ferry, I had conversations with friendly strangers, and during the few hours I spent waiting for my transfer bus, I had a few more. The week on Lewis was spent roaming the beaches, hiking, and visiting a few of the towns. We ate out most days – picnics of cheese and tomato sandwiches and squash – and evenings were full too – cooking together, playing music, and talking – lots of talking.

And during that week, I had a vision of how life could be if people really were to move away from ‘working’ as the ideal, and towards ‘free time’ as the alternative. I know it was only a holiday, and almost like taking a step out of the real world, but what a beautiful step, and surely not so far removed from how things could possibly be. I found that I interacted with people more – shop-keepers and café owners didn’t treat me as just more money in the till, they seemed genuinely interested in our little chats as they served me. Being such a remote and scarcely-populated place, I expected people to be strangers to one another. Instead, there was a close-knit community feel that I very rarely find in London - I don’t really know the people who live in my block of flats, talk less in the community around me.

So it was that my little trip outside of the real world set me even further along the path away from the idea that money is the be-all and end-all. It supported all my ideas that living that little bit simpler could be a possibility, and a happy one at that. It set my resolve to actually start working my way towards that new ideal, instead of just dreaming about it. Free time, here I come.

To be continued…

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fasting: The Personal, the Political and the Privilege

Growing up I had a limited understanding of why one should fast and little experience of it as something meaningful. As a child, I bought sweets with my pocket money. I remember being told at a certain time, I should stop eating sweets, and save them up until after the fast period. This took place within a religious convent and children’s home, where faith was practiced in a cold and routine fashion. This had very little positive impact on me.

The notion of fasting as a deeply valuable practice came much later as result of reading books such as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to oppression. When Gandhi witnessed structural inequality both in Apartheid South Africa and in India under colonial rule, he used fasting as a self-sacrificing ‘action’. Fasting was inflicting pain on himself rather than his adversary. The purpose to jolt the colonial consciences, wake them up to the effects of their actions and seek to influence a change in hearts and practice. It came from his values of social justice, purifying the heart and mind, simplicity and community. I’m remembering for the first time as I write this my Nigerian father who lived these values of simplicity, sharing and compassion.

Nurtured by a deeper inner reflection, I felt the urge to fast given the suffering of those dying of famine and hunger. I began to see how I contributed to a world where those with the economic and monetary wealth over consume and pollute. I underwent a process of realisation of the privilege I had to look away, to eat too much or be wasteful of resources, while our sisters and brothers elsewhere, withered and died. Fasting help me empty enough to deeply contemplate this process to cultivate awareness of the need to practice the nobility of my own and others humanness, to care for our environment and wholeness as global community. For me, ‘Fast for the Planet’ embraces these entire elements.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Workshops at first Fast for the Planet Main Event

I thought I'd share the three workshops that will be held at the main Fast for the Planet event in a weeks time, Sun 19th Oct 2008 to be precise! All workshops will take place at the same time, so it's only possible to do one! I have to say it feels exciting to be a part of this project, and i'd like to thank all those who have been soooo supportive :) Please spread the word and hope you can make it!

Workshop 1: A very brief introduction to Permaculture

with Nicole Freris (Naturewise)

This much is becoming clear - the industrial growth society ain't working for us and the planet. The symptoms of distress are manifest and multiplying. With so much undoing, it can be difficult to know where and how to begin to find a way through into a more sane and gentle way of being. Permaculture is one way among many that helps us start to reconnect with self and the world. Evolving from an understanding of how natural systems function, it provides deep but very practical insights into how we can design truly sustainable systems, that provide for our needs and recreate our place on the earth. In this workshop, we will have a very brief introduction to some of the basics of Permaculture and look at the practical ways in which it can re-engage and re-connect us.

About the facilitator: Nicole Freris is a part of Naturewise, (, a network of people in London seeking to practice and promote Permaculture. In her spare time she is a GP and is currently studying medical herbalism.

Workshop 2: Debt-free Home Finance
with Tarek El Diwany (Author, 'The Problem with Interest')

How does a debt-free product work? What are the consequences of interest-based lending? What universal values are relevant to this issue?

About the facilitator: Tarek El Diwany worked as a city financier and later in the "Islamic banking" sector for many years. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Problem with Interest, and runs the website, ( Tarek is a partner at Zest Advisory LLP, a London-based firm providing consulting services in Islamic banking and finance.

Workshop 3: Sharing Stories & Poetry: 'New Perspectives Emerging as Story'
with Peter Challen (Christian Council for Monetary Justice).

Telling, hearing, sensing communicable accounts of how we have grown in vision and maturity.... when entering the open space of fasting. We can use such space to re-envision, reflect and commit. Using poetry, pithy quotations, catch phrases, mantras, pictures and other modes that you enjoy. Stories about: our development, the earth, mutual awareness [Ubunto = 'I am because you are'], public awareness, my/our vocation, auditing effects of our behaviour, serving the source of our being A trigger to story telling - "Beauty is in the second glance.... when you have dealt with the predjudice aroused by the first glance."
If participating in this workshop, you are welcome to bring a short piece to read (optional), that resonates with the Fast for the Planet concept, or you can simply listen to stories/poetry being read.

About the facilitator: Canon Peter Challen chairs the Christian Council for Monetary Justice and moderates the London Global Table on inclusive Monetary Justice. He was formerly Senior Chaplain of the ecumenical South London Industrial Mission (SLIM) for 29 years; He chaired the Southwark Credit Union Development Association and works with the LETSlink London group to find synergy between Credit Unions and Local Exchange Trading Systems.

More about the concept and the main event is is of course on our website

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Brought up as a Muslim in Egypt, fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan was a prescribed part of life from an early age. At first the perception of this practise was a sort of celebration. A celebration of solidarity, compassion and good will between people on various levels, which included the Muslim world at large, the nation, the society, right down to our community and family.

The ethos seemed to encompass a spiritually refined way of living, which manifested in outward displays of self-restraint, patience, kindness and generosity towards other people, a particular type of good behaviour or adab.

Later in life, the observance of this adab began to forge links with a deeper spiritual heritage. The extension of hospitality, the sharing of meals and other socially binding actions reflected inner opportunities to embody a remembrance of God within traditions shared through the generations.

This significantly transformed my attitude towards fasting, realising that although it was evidently possible for people to achieve a heightened mode of mindful existence, outside the context of Ramadan we tended to slip back into old habits. So it became clear that nurturing this remembrance of God was a key to an increasingly consistent adab towards life and our world.

The Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said, "Fast so that perchance your hearts may seek God in this world."

So it appeared that the essence of fasting was to move towards the illumination of the heart and purification of the soul, a way of leading the spirit closer to the presence of God. Perhaps this cultivating of spiritual nature would ultimately lead us to devote ourselves entirely to God. And what this actually meant for me was a sort of tuning in to our innermost sacredness and to the sanctity of all of Creation, each in our own way and in our own time.

By slowly being drawn towards this tuning one could begin to behave more responsibly and with increasing care for others and for this Earth, our home and refuge. Becoming more conscious of the bigger picture, the cause and effects of our thoughts, words and actions would take on new light. There seems to be no limit to how finely we chose to tune ourselves. Fasting seems to nurture the will to do so.

"O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God" Holy Qur’an (2:183) Asad

So, perhaps, whatever we chose to fast from, however and whenever we chose to do it, this non-action and detachment from the worldly realm and subsequent deepening into the Sacred, bestows us with inner gifts of peace, stillness and reflection, which in turn can transform us towards deeper levels of personal freedom, awareness and interconnectedness.

For me, this poem by Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (R.A) beautifully encapsulates this essence of the fast.


There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears,
and new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you're full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast,good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring.
Don't give it to some illusion and lose your power,but even if you have,
if you've lost all will and control,they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,Jesus' table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this table spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Not Hasty to Assume - But Fast - Take Time to See for Real

As I contemplate the call to Fast for the Planet I pen this


I was nurtured and continued in the Christian tradition of making Lent and Advent periods of voluntary abstention from habits and patterns that I took for granted. These not unhappy extended periods of discipline fed the weekly practices associated with preparing for worship and for the application of the same in daily disciplines of sustaining and practising the wholistic faith in which I had been gently nurtured.

These great seasons led me to value the stimulus of a weekly discipline of standing aside from the pace of life, that seemed always to be building up, and to value regular reflection on the wisdom of ancient traditions that still served well over time and translated into pertinent commitments in my own times. I was slowly learning the value of contemplation in a world of action and making the practice my own.

It was in such times that I opened my narrow mind to wider ranges of reality, read and listened to writings that stretched my conditioned ways to include the perspective of others living in different cultures and countries than my own.

It was in such times that I renewed and expanded my understanding so neatly expressed in that delightful quip, 'I have a point of view, but God has a view of points'.

It was in such times that I read 'Only One Earth, the Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet' and discovered the cosmic perspective embedded in the 'Gaia Atlas of Planet Management - for Today's Caretakers of Tomorrow's World'. On every one of its 258 pages of that atlas an aspect of life on earth is depicted with pictures or symbols of a person, of corporate structure, and of the world itself, leading me to my now indelible understanding that real life is endless gift events and consists in an unceasing oscillation between the intimate, the corporate and the global perspectives on its integrity. It taught me also that all life on earth shares the common ground of 'earth identity'

Over time the practice of fasting, contemplation, standing outside my ordinary patterns, confirmed and increased my ecumenical and ecological sensibilities and readied me to adopt such guiding mantras as 'inclusive justice', as 'an economy that works for everyone and protects the earth', and as 'holistic theology and earth system science'.

Fasting in its various manifestations keeps me committed to developing the will and the way to check and change my behaviour so that I work from 'a psyche the size of God's awesome creation', to find again my own meaning in that context, lessening the tendency to dwell in 'a psyche the size only of my self' and my conditioned, encultured and vested narrow interests.

Out of standing aside in these ways from time to time with the discipline of regularity I make thrilling sense of the words of Thomas Berry - 'We will go into the future as a single sacred community or we shall perish in the desert.' .

Peter Challen

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Activists Invite People to 'Fast for the Planet'

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To encourage deeper action towards caring for the environment, two organsiations based in London are taking a novel approach by asking people to fast. By drawing attention to the way that fasting from food has been used by key figures in human history to facilitate large-scale social change, the London Islamic Network for the Environment (LINE) and St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace launched their Fast for the Planet website today, which sets out the details of their message. In addition they are organising a participatory event scheduled for Sunday October 19th 2008 in the City of London.

By encouraging people to voluntarily fast from something essential, albeit temporarily, the organisers consider this to be a form of direct action that will nurture our collective ability to let go of patterns that are not only not essential to our survival, but in fact are rapidly destroying the planet. Using this approach, the organisers believe that people can better strengthen their intention to move away from consumerism and other unhealthy patterns, and instead move towards life-styles and community relationships, that are nurturing to people as well as to the earth.

In the build-up to the day of fasting, their website invites people to take part in a choice of actions, including mending any damaged clothing they may have, purchasing only if they really need something, and letting go of using a credit card. The main event will end with the sharing of food and personal experiences, and people who are unable to attend are invited to fast at home or organise an event of their own.

Muzammal Hussain, initiator of Fast for the Planet, and Chair of LINE said:

"There is no doubt that we need a radical approach like this, because although intellectually most of us know what needs to be done, old patterns of living continue to dominate, and green-house gas emissions continue to rise. Now, here's a way to really get our bodies and hearts directly involved in a process that will help break us out of outdated destructive patterns and lead to a better world".

Helen Gilbert, co-organiser of Fast for the Planet, and events coordinator at St Ethelburgas said:

"We are pleased to be hosting this event at St Ethelburga's because it challenges us at a deep level to consider what reconciliation means in the context of humanity's troubled relationship with the earth. As a practice that has deep roots in many spiritual and faith traditions, fasting is a powerful and unifying resource we can draw on in challenging, both the personal and societal, status quo."