Some thirty years ago I was someone very different to the person I am today; mind you, that probably applies to most of the population, so I’d better elaborate a little. I was in a pretty high-powered job in retail, working as the Retail Operations Director for a well known high street chain. It paid pretty well, gave me a rather snazzy company car, all my fuel paid for (both for business use and private use) and more than enough fringe benefits to allow me to think I was secure for life. What more could I possibly ask for?
The truth is I was stressed out virtually all the time, I was on constant call for all sorts of issues and problems – modern retail is a seven day a week business, and senior management is expected to be available at any time of day, any day of the week. Even at night the rumble of the fax machine (how quaint is that!) would wake me up as it spewed out reams of paper with the overnight sales results. A good night’s sleep was a real rarity. Even going on holiday meant bringing along the omnipresent pager – not much later to be replaced by the mobile phone.
I was unhappy and needed out, and I thought a change of job would do the trick; it didn’t. I simply swapped one bunch of stress for another identical set, the only difference being the name over the door of the business I worked for.
It took me ten years to escape to a certain degree, finding a less stressful job with less pay and benefits, but giving me a little more ‘spare time’. It was another 5 years before I finally found a place of contentment, free to explore what really gave my soul and spirit joy and fulfilment.
Why this trip down memory lane? Well, in Sharon Blackie’s latest book and follow up to her ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ all those old symptoms that I went through back then are talked about, explore, unravelled and exposed for what they are.
Now, I was never lucky enough – or should that be brave enough – to simply walk away from everything I had been working for and start completely afresh, but Sharon Blackie was. This makes her eminently qualified to set off on an exploration of enchantment, what it is, why it is so difficult to find in our modern stress-filled workaholic treadmill world and how, with some self-exploration and honesty, we can find that lost enchantment for ourselves once again. I say once again because, as pointed out in the book we are born with an innate sense of enchantment of life; as children we are filled with wonder and live a life filled with enchantment until society and well-meaning parents insist we conform to the rules of modern western society.
This is a book that gives us some tools to break free, to see through the illusions of today’s false rules and live our lives as if it matters – which, interestingly is the title of the penultimate chapter in the book. The tools offered though deceptively simply aren’t always easy; they will involve some deep soul searching and scrupulous honesty with ourselves if they are to be of use, but on this a little later.
The book itself is broken down in to four sections of varying length, beginning with a chapter on why enchantment matters; and of for this reviewer it matters a great deal. I imagine if you’ve read this far, it matters to you too. Blackie follows the opening with a review of how we reached this point in western society, offering insights of the philosophy that resulted in our current western world view, taking us right back to dear old Plato and his view that what we perceive with our own senses isn’t real but simply a product of our intellect. I’ll not bore you with the details and how they influenced later philosophical thought and religion, but as a starting point it is important to recognise that we as a species didn’t always see nature the way we do now – as a resource to be used remorselessly with no intrinsic value other than how much money it can make.
The second section of the book offers us some perspectives on what ‘enchantment’ is. It’s a complex idea and I’m sure there are many who have tied themselves up in knots attempting to pin it down. Blackie does an admirable job, and it was particularly gratifying for me to see my old friend, French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl crop up. I first came across him when undertaking a course on Magical Consciousness at the University of Sussex led by Dr Susan Greenwood, and his theory of ‘magical participation’ underpins my understanding of my belief in animism – that everything has a spirit and consciousness. If I’ve read the book correct, Sharon Blackie doesn’t go quite that far, and surmises that it may be the case, though she tells us of how she speaks to rocks and stones and places that hold a magic for her. Animism is a thorny and often controversial subject, so I’ll simply say that it is part of my own personal belief system and leave it at that.
There are some beautiful examples of how we can begin to re-enchant ourselves together with some wonderful stories to help us on our way. The questions asked of us and the suggestions offered at the end of each section are deep and practical in opening ourselves up to changing our perspectives about the world around us.
In the section entitled ‘The Magic of the Everyday’ we meet some people who have found their own way of living an enchanted life, offering inspiring examples of it *is* possible to break free. It also introduces us to working with the places we live, the stories that are connected to where we find ourselves, the land itself, the plants, the trees, and the wildlife we can find there; all of nature. Here too is where the book introduces us to the importance of ritual and ceremony in our everyday lives – a sadly neglected area for most of us in today’s helter-skelter busy world.
Of course, not all of us are able to find ourselves living in the far western reaches of the British Isles, as Sharon Blackie does; and nor would some us want to, so in this section we are also asked to find places in or own environment that can nourish us, no matter where that may be; finding the stories, listening to the land, recognising our own place in the landscape we find ourselves living are. My own experiences tell me that this isn’t necessarily easy – I have experienced living in places where I felt extremely uncomfortable, yet even then I was able to find places which gave me a sense of belonging and of sharing. Out on the wilds of Dartmoor, standing on the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, or on windswept Penwith, it’s easy (for me, at least) to find that connection; in the centre of a vast city, or in a town built on the foundations of military activity and conflict it’s not so easy; but my experiences tell me it can be done. Once again, the practical and useful examples and exercises Sharon Blackie offers us may well help in that process. I think it all comes down to relationship, and this book allows us to explore how to build that relationship with our environment.
By now the book has covered a vast amount of ground and my brief description hardly does it justice. To cover so much, so eloquently and accessibly is a wonderful achievement, so the short final section, ‘The Enchanted Life’, asks us questions about how us changing as individuals can effect change in society, and what that change would look like.
As someone who believes that myth and stories, the land and all of nature has so much to teach us; and as someone who believes that small steps and small changes can (and must) bring about changes to how we live and how society operates, this is a wonderful and important book. I don’t agree with everything that is written in the book, and some of the questions Sharon Blackie asks of us in the book may lead you to different conclusions to me and to Sharon – it would be a boring world if we agreed with everything. Nonetheless this is thought provoking, beautifully written, and well researched book (I love the fact there are references throughout the whole book – so many authors don’t bother or can’t back up hoer work in this way) and one I would highly recommend.
The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday Paperback – 27 Feb 2018
by Sharon Blackie
Publisher: September Publishing