Back to Life: A Back Story

With the coming of the dawn and a turning spiral / Hold on steady when the tide is rising/ People get ready in a changing climate / Falcon in the gyre cries wider wider/ When the road is long and the walls need climbing/ Living in a world of itself devouring / Watching a looming shadow rising/ Now is not a time for despair and hiding / Cos we were made for this, yes/ We’ve been waiting for this time/ In the roots we’re gathering/ In the deeps we find our tribe/ Oh it’s happening the people are a gathering/ For earth and all humanity/ We’re coming back to life/ Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/ Be the bridges where the love prevails/ Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/ Be the edges, where the hope sets sail/ Oh love is a radical way to walk/ And hope is a powerful choice of course/ Yes love is a radical way to walk/ and hope is a powerful choice, it’s yours/ Cos we were made for this, yes/ We’ve been waiting for this time/ In the roots we’re gathering/ In the deeps we find our tribe/ Oh it’s happening the people are a gathering/ For earth and all humanity/ We’re coming back to life/ Oh its happening, the people are a gathering/ We’re standing for each other / And we’re standing for our lives

It was Nov 8th, I was in Burlington, Vermont watching Ani DiFranco rock it on the night of the presidential election. There was hope it the air though it was dwindling as the results began to come through. Still, there was solidarity, and the music somehow bound us no matter what was to come, a moment of togetherness before the storm. In the next days I saw first hand the aftershock of the centring of this man into one of the most powerful positions in the world and the trauma it triggered. I resolved to live differently. I had a performance myself planned a few days later, and it soon became clear that it had to become something else. The ‘In the Roots we are Together’ gathering emerged, thanks to the vision and spirit of ALisa Starkweather and it was a special night of music, song, dance and being together in amongst it all.

A few days later I was back in the UK, reeling, after months of emergent living. I’d spent 3 months on a walking pilgrimage around the edge of Wales that took me on some unexpected detours, ended in a three day pilgrimage with Satish Kumar to celebrate his 80th birthday/50 years of Resurgence and led to the trip to the US where I found myself continuing the journey in a new way. When my feet trod some of the Appalachian Trail I felt the significance of these two countries, their land edges connected in the roots millennia before and I felt a deep responsibility to keep on my path.

As 2016 came to a close, despite the shadows in the world tangibly looming, mirrored in the shifts in the UK and US political system, I also sensed a deep resilience of the human spirit. I saw it in the people around me, and particularly in the artists and activists. I was inspired and humbled by the Indigenous Water Protectors at Standing Rock, I was encouraged by the people who came together for the worldwide Women’s Marches. I saw many taking a stand for themselves, each other and the earth. I saw the lenses of privilege cracking apart and people daring to both speak up and be quiet and listen. I saw many re-assess and walk their growing edges. For me this was  another level of Wake Up. The words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes kept ringing through my ears, as her “Letter to a Young Activist’ circulated again, saying ‘take heart, we were made for these times’. You can read it here. I was fired with a sense that on a collective level the shadow was coming more fully into view, the puss was coming out the wound and that maybe this is where we needed to go.

My 900 mile walk and the places it had taken me had been a threshold, and having crossed it, there was no way back. I knew how easy it was to bury my head in the sand, to dwell in despair, the comfort of privilege or the paralysis of overwhelm, so I kept it simple. I kept doing what I knew I could do for the moment and embarked on a crowdfunding campaign with the strong belief I had to keep finding ways to create and that art matters. I wanted to share the new songs and I wanted to make space for more creativity and collaboration. I also resolved to not just sing songs but also to speak and write about them too.

This new single ‘Back to Life’ was written in amongst all that, and was the last song to make it onto the album. It’s a simple folk tune that began with my inaugural banjo performance and took shape in the studio with the brilliant musicians improvising in the moment for it to become the song it has. Though it is light in spirit, the message is not all hearts and flowers. Likewise the walk I had just embarked on was not all sunshine and sea views. There were dark stormy days inside and out. I walked past nuclear power stations, military bases and oil refineries. I walked on the first coastal  path to traverse an entire country, (E.U. funded, by the way) through a time of disarray in the British political system and the Brexit vote, unearthing the polarities in the people. As I put my tent up every day for 3 months and looked out to sea I thought of the continuing refugee crisis, people risking their lives over land and sea to find sanctuary. Most pervasive was the thought of the rising sea level and the changing climate as I walked the edge coastline of this particular island. I could not escape that vision and though it may have seemed from the outside that I was stepping away from the world for a while, this pilgrimage actually submerged me fully into it.

As I walked a poem that had remained with me since my academic years repeated in my ears. W.B. Yeats’ falcon, ‘turning and turning in the widening gyre’, up and up in spirals and away from the falconer, ‘mere anarchy.. loosed upon the world’ and ‘the ceremony of innocence drowned’. Walking the edge and watching the tides I thought about the climate and I felt on a precipice. I’d often wondered whether humans have always felt on this sort of grand precipice of change. Yeats’ wisdom echoing decades before that ‘things fall apart’ and ‘the centre cannot hold’ and here we are again. The spiral still turns, the falcon flies farther away, the future is unknown and uncertain. These are changing times. They always have been. And whether down to planetary evolution or our imbalance with the earth’s resources, the world as we know it will continue to change and I believe we have choices to make around this. I’m priviledged to be involved with Climate Change and Consciousness. More of that soon. For now, there is simply no going back to sleep.

The thing about a spiral is that it keeps on turning and turning. Spiralling in and out of abundance and decay, the centre and the edge, time and seasons, light and dark. I have always written songs that speak of the need for this and the need to dwell in the paradox of it all. We know that trees are the greatest teachers of this, growing upwards and coming into bloom by rooting deep in the dark and travelling through all it’s cycles. Only by dwelling in the dark fecund soil, rooting together, acknowledging and facing the shadow that lies in us personally and collectively, can we grow, rise and bloom healthily. This process goes round and round, refining throughout a lifespan.

When the centre can no longer hold it is the edges that contain the hope of building bridges across to each other and across the cracks. The individuals, the communities, the grassroots movements, the people who believe in love as the most radical form or resistance, resilience and revolution. It is said that creativity and life thrives most in the edge places. It’s a permaculture thing; use edges and value the marginal.

I want to be part of the edges and bridges of hope, and I am learning and evolving continuously. A year on, I feel quite different. A lot more has happened in the world and in myself. Currently there are storms and floods and fires sweeping the globe. People are suffering inside and out, the ground is shaking, we are at a precipice. And right now as I type we are at the turning point of the Celtic year. In the ends and beginnings. The plants are shedding and closing in for the winter. We never have assurance over what will happen next, and yet we hope for the coming spring.

Recently I heard Rebecca Solnit speak about transformation in her book ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’. She said that if you crack open a chrysalis you are never going to find a butterfly and there will be no mystical half caterpillar/half butterfly creature. Ninety percent of its process is the caterpillar eating itself and if you look inside you will only find decay. Transformation then, is mostly in the dark. Transformation may look like a devouring of yourself. ‘Back to Life’ is about choosing this radical hope and perspective, in full awareness of the shadow and holding onto a multifaceted new vision that arrives on the wings of the transformed.

These are the roots of this song. It felt important to share. It’s really the roots of the whole album and, in fact, in writing this it has become an artist statement of sorts, that I made a commitment to vocalising a year ago. My art, my contribution, always informed and inspired by so many others and put out there to connect with a greater whole. I hope it Meets You There. I hope it Meets You Somewhere, whether in the music, the lyrics, Jasmin’s images or the wider intention. I would love you to share the video, this piece of writing and listen to the album which is out now.

This video was made by the heart, soul, dedication, talent and passion of Jasmin Hedger at Happenin Studio. It was funded by the CODA Cymru Arts Awards. CODA Cymru is a new festival, it means ‘Get Up, Rise Up’ in Welsh, coming 27-29th July 2018. Thank you both so much for supporting and bringing this song to life. 

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  1. So nice to hear what’s moving in your heart, Eleanor, and see you so fully on your path. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thankyou so much for your words Eleanor, to hear your inspiration, to become a part of the story by hearing it, and embodying it, is deep joy to me. Sending much love, and deep gratitude to you for believing in your art, in the knowledge that it does indeed make a difference.

  3. Today is known for veils being thin between the worlds and remembering our ancestors. One of my roots is Wales from my foremother. Eleanor, there are many conversations that I am having with people on the edge of not knowing how to navigate the powerful feelings that are within us as we face what this moment brings and because of that the doorway to exiting, feels all too close for vulnerable souls not able to withstand the inner storms in full gales. Your story, words, song, journey is both deeply personal as well as collective. This is a moment to come back to life, come away from the edge and come into the roots to be held. Thank you for reminding yourself and for reminding all of us of the choice at hand. Many blessings in this gift of both song and story. I love you deep.

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