Saving the planet. The move before the move 

The game of chess involves making moves that prepare for ‘the winning move’. The preparation moves give the possibility for the final move, which can lead to success. 

So, thinking about the big problems of our time, if ‘the winning move’, involves sequestering carbon, creating equality, stopping war, taking out the plastic from the oceans, disarming all nuclear weapons, and the achievement of sustainable lifestyles. etc…. those are all concerned with ‘the winning move’. They are the final actions. They can only have any sense and hope of being realized if we prepare the 'move before the move’.

So, what is the ‘move before the move’? Brain Time. Please stay with me, I’m going to discuss a topic that might seem unrelated but stick with me and I hope you'll see that it is profoundly important. I will now crudely summarize the groundbreaking and immensely inspiring work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist which focuses on the importance of the different hemispheres of the brain. 

All animals have evolved asymmetrical brains, and there’s an adaptive advantage to that. In the recent past people incorrectly thought that the left brain only dealt with logical things and the right only with creative abstract things, but now it is known that both sides of the brain deal with all aspects of brain functioning, only in different ways. The left hemisphere is concerned with the ‘parts’ and the right with the ‘whole’. Being able to distinguish something to eat or use is because of the attention capacity of our left hemisphere, whereas, being able to have ambient attention that can be aware of potential threats is thanks to our right hemisphere. We can not only find things to eat but also do our best to not be eaten. This is the evolutionary game.

Using tools is left, awareness of our environment is right, separating and labeling objects is left, relating and feeling is right, and so on. In this way, the brain has a huge scope to operate, manage, control, and experience life. But we need a balance between these two forms of attention, and like the brain it is asymmetrical. Maybe surprisingly, it is not an equal balance that is ideal. Each situation in life requires different needs, different focuses of attention, and different activities of the hemispheres respectively. But, overall, one side needs to be dominant, and it needs to be the right hemisphere. 

Let’s consider relationships. I think we can agree that it is not limited to describing attributes. My relationship with my cat is not simply how old she is, how much she weighs, how much money I would get if I tried to sell her, how much money she costs me in cat food a month etc. There are other essential elements relating to my cat and me that are really really important but cannot be reduced to descriptive labels and usually sound quite abstract and subjective like “it's so heartwarming to come home and be greeted by her and have a cuddle” but the danger is that that can't be measured, and therefore invisible to the left-brain perspective and easily dismissed as irrelevant. However! I think we can agree that the subjective and difficult-to-describe aspects of relationships are far from irrelevant, but are central to well-being and meaning in life. Yet, we live in a specific moment of human culture when there is a steady withdrawal of our care and concern for relationships because we are focused on other values. We consider (and therefore value) utility, comfort, status, and growth. Measurably achievable goals. Is it not true that from generation to generation there’s diminishing concern for our communities, and our neighbors, less and less for our friends and family, and less even to ourselves, well…how much attention and care do we give to our planet?

If we can accept the diagnosis of McGilchrist, who says we have become a left-brain-hemisphere dominated society, and the elements of our current poly-crisis can be seen to directly stem from the limits and concerns of being left-brain-hemisphere orientated, then the ‘move before the move’ must be to engage our right-brain-hemisphere functioning. Ok, that sounds logical, maybe, but that sounds a bit extreme, surely we can't put the responsibility of our enormous global problems on to which side of the brain we're looking at things from? If I look at an apple from the left side or the right side it's still just an apple.

The left hemisphere can see the problem. It can do ever increasingly detailed analyses of how bad the problems are and how bad they could get. It can even make up potential sustainable pathways to fix the problems. But, so long as we are dominated in this form of attending to the world, we fail to see the most important thing. It is not the plastic in the ocean, nuclear threats, or global warming that are the problem, they are the consequences. The truth is we (humans) are the problem! To respond to that, we need to be able to see that, and to see that we need to be able to appreciate the big picture and see that we are in the picture not just looking at it.

So long as we remain a left-brain-dominated culture, we can’t change because we can’t see the big picture. We have become upside down as a society, the cart is before the horse, so to speak. We let the kids make the rules, where are the adults in politics? We put an abstracted measurement of value called ‘money’, and play a make-believe game pretending that it is more important than what is real and actually sustains life. It’s absurd. We know it. How can the sky or land or an apple or water or the future of our kids or the cleanliness of a river be reduced to virtualized currency to then be traded with against something else? And yet we do it and agree to it every day. Life’s meaning and the value of future generations, of being part of the web of life, of sacrifice, these can’t be measured so they are invisible and irrelevant, like my cat. But no! Of course that’s not right. Our right hemispheres can appreciate, recognize, and value these qualities, and that’s why we need to balance our activities of attention and the values that they give rise to. This is the move before ‘the move’.

Our perspective needs to be re-calibrated and re-enriched with a right-hemispheric-brain focus. How? Remember the whole. Recognize your place in it. You're not just a part in a machine. This is a living cosmos and you are an expression of that. As embedded in this world and solar system as a wave is in the ocean. Play, music, dance, sharing, acts of random kindness, charity, sacrifice, not just hearing people but listening, not just looking at the world around us but seeing it, what is it to simply feel deeply whatever it is that you are feeling, without needing to ‘fix’ or ‘react’ to it? We are human ‘beings’, not human ‘doings’. What is it to ‘be’ a human? You are the successor of around 650'000 generations of humans who survived. As any philosopher, psychologist or physicist can confirm, how we look at something changes what we see, and therefore changes what it means to us. How we attend to people, activities, and the world around us, fundamentally influences those experiences. I believe this is the move before ‘the move’. 

What do you think?

Wise advise from a leaf 

Recently I was invited to share my Voice Ecology work as part of an inclusive dance festival in Krzyżowa. It was the 6th edition of this festival and it is a wonderful event for young people of all different abilities from different countries to meet and explore their creativity together. It's important to mention that there were also many young participants who were refugees as a result of the Ukraine conflict.

One of the exercises I often invite people to explore in the workshop (inspired by the work of Joanna Macy) is to complete open sentences with a tree. The first is to say out loud and then finish "Something I'm grateful for in my life right now is ...", and the second is "Something that breaks my heart in my life right now is...".

One girl from Belarus, who was doing this exercise a little way off from me started crying quite strongly. I had a strong realization of just how her experiences were something completely beyond my understanding.

As she was doing this exercise, I was also doing it, with a leaf that was growing in the grass next to me. I asked if the leaf could give me some advice and what came to me was: 


"The rock doesn't need to understand the water in order that it can help the river's flow".

I think that is some of the best advice I've ever had, and I'm happy to share it with you.

IPCC and Voice Ecology 

The most recent IPCC report released over the summer, clearly gives a sobering if not grim picture of our futures. Even with dramatic de-carbonisation of our societies, we will have a significant rising of temperature in our climate and will need to be prepared for adaptation

The world's climate that has been stable for the last 10'000 years has now changed, we don't feel it completely yet, and now the question is not 'can we stop global warming', but 'how much can we limit the effects that our now already locked in'. 

Many scientists and public leaders describe this time as the 'decisive decade'. What we do or don't do now, will have consequences that will continue far beyond our own individual lives. 

What the hell has self-expression got to do with any of this?

There are many ways in which climate change will effect us, and many ways in which we can respond. voice ecology is in part a place for us to explore our voice, to discover and connect with our enormous innate power of self-expression, but there is one more aspect to the work. Voice ecology seeks to respond to what has been called in the Deep Ecology movement, "environmental consciousness". To experientially connect self expression with the self-awareness that we are in every way deeply interconnected with the environment and all of it's miraculous processes. Including our voice. 

It is my hope that through our work we come to realise the creative power of our voices and to become a voice not only for ourselves but also for our nature and environment, and to realise that they are intimately one and the same thing.

Wisdom and Creativity: part 1 

I don’t consider myself a wise person, actually quite the opposite much of the time! But, I do think that wisdom comes through me from time to time. This is what happens when we create and open to that mysterious flow, where music / songs / poetry / art etc, comes from. It comes through me, but at the same time it’s something that’s not mine, and I don’t have a comfortable ownership of it. More like a parent, we don’t own our children, but at the same time we own our children, at least for a while…when they need us, we are the responsible ones, but when we’re not needed we need to be out of the way.

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You ran off with the Circus ?!?! 

Yes. It’s true 

I was cycling in London when I had the phone call. An that time I was cycling a lot in London, on average spending about 2 hours a day on my bike. Rushing between rehearsals and giving guitar lessons mostly. It was winter. and I remember that it was very cold and I didn’t have gloves. It was so cold that I was cycling and alternating with one hand in my pocket and the other on the steering, but after awhile even that was too much and the cold was too painful, and I had the idea to take off my socks and put them on my hands to use as gloves, which I did, and it worked, happy discovery. That’s when I had the phone call. 

FAITH: Sam, how are you? 

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Why would anyone want to be a songwriter? 

So You’re a songwriter. Tell me about it, what’s it all about for you, what’s your attraction to songwriting? 

Well it’s a good question, it’s not something I think about too much. I started off because my dad is a guitar player and songwriter, and as a kid I wanted to be like him… and for sure he helped me to found my own way with it. I was OK at playing other peoples songs, but i found it easy and more fun to make up my own. It’s a very intimate thing to write songs, and to be in a creative process with something. Each song has a story from where it comes from, I think we’re all growing through out life, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually, and probably other ways as well. Art gives us that space of spiritual development. Through songs we can communicate with that part of ourself which is connected with dreams and what is not quite conscious. Often I write a song, and it’s not till later on that I come to really understand what it was about. It’s like a sign for what’s going on next in life. 

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Recording Yat-Kha!!! 

After planning and fund-raising, and tours and many emails, finally I got Yat Kha into the studio! The tour bus was late, the band were sick, we had 4 hours booked at JM Records in Wroclaw (great studio, I recommend it), and in the end only Sholban Mongush had the power to come and record and we only had 90mins!!!

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