A BNOC (Big Name on Campus) at Greenbelt this year was Satish Kumar, speaking on the main stage on Saturday morning. Of all the mornings of the festival, but far the best one to speak at, before too many nights under canvas rendered us less intellectually available!
Satish has a history in campaigning for peace, but with an increasing focus on ecological issues. His take on spirituality is literally earthy, as soil is the most prominent within a new trinity he offered in his talk. (The others being soul and society). It’s in the dirt that we find the matter we come from and that which gives us life.
Satish’s deep concern in the message on Saturday was that nature has been commodified. The soil – and the food that comes from it – give us life, so we must redirect ourselves toward agriculture – rather than agri-business – and put ourselves amongst it in order to save our world, each other and ourselves.
Deeply embedded in Satish Kumar is a deep otherworldliness, he is a delightful anomaly. Even at Greenbelt, you’d think that his message of soil, soul and society would make him oh-so-very Greenbelt, and though in many ways he is, there is something frustratingly naive and impractical, compared to the army of militant pacifists and ecologists we’re used to. It would be easy to dismiss Satish as childlike and over idealistic, but then I think we’d miss the point. Satish seems to operate on a different plane of thought, and while he talks about practical solutions for loving the soil, our world, and thus ourselves better, these are generally in broad terms.
His 25-minute talk (leaving a generous 30 minutes for dialogue) covered in broad terms a message about reconnecting with soil and in doing so finding ourselves connected spirituality to one another and becoming whole. No science or facts or strategy. It might have just been me, but it seemed the tent full of English Christians were simply vibrating with the need for the ‘hows’, ‘whats’ and ‘whens’. Far too much ambiguity for the British. Of course my suspicions were confirmed over the Q&A, where audience members spoke on behalf of the room about how we go about putting these loose ideas into actual practice, bandying terms of ecology, science, economy, and that highly dangerous one at a place such as Greenbelt… Genesis.
One of his answers sounded a lot like advocating for pluralism. All religions are different, but the same water of love and compassion flow through. Tricky ground at a Christian festival. Alternative answers seemed just as problematic to the audience, where Satish unashamedly refused over and over to answer in specifics, categories and solutions.
I ask him about this in our interview. Why is Satish so adverse to being pinned down?
“The thing is that pinning down is empty nature. Nature is not pinned down. Nature is fluid, nature is always changing, nature is always moving… dynamic.”
Like I said, it would be easy to dismiss Satish Kumar. I almost did. But then, I think it would be doing quite a remarkable man a disservice. Didn’t Jesus say: “Come to me as little children”? In Satish there is a simplicity of conviction that is so striking it’s almost laughable. Not almost even, I giggled to myself throughout his talk. He’s so audacious and sassy.
However, while I think Satish’s take might be critiqued as lacking sophistication, the deep wisdom of the man might be lost. Or actually, the whole point might be this. He explained it to me like this;
“You have to find a meaning that is much more deep, and beyond words. God words or, whatever, reincarnation words. All the words… You have to find a meaning that is much more deep and beyond words. And that meaning has to come from your heart, from within.”
Satish at Greenbelt, in the midst of Guardian reader Christianity, delivered a message that if you listen closely enough, suggests that we might need to give our worldviews and paradigms some reconsideration. Or, if we were to use more Christian language, that we might need a renewing of our minds. For me, it wasn’t that Satish gave new information in his talk, but offered a chance to see the spiritual value of nature. And that takes a change of heart. A beautiful challenge to our info-hungry culture: “Our minds are full of too much information, and very little wisdom. So if we unclutter our minds, elegant simplicity comes in your thought and then expresses in your life.”
If Satish’s promptings for soil-based soul searching is still too far removed from a step-by-step fix-it guide to the planet, he eventually pushed me toward one of his great heroes, E.M. Schumacher. “Small is beautiful,” they both echo, advocating for local living and small scale organisation. Which sounds cute, but when you think about it, is another paradigm shifting message to our capitalist world.
In short, I found Satish Kumar to be a tonic and a prophet. My head got my frustrated with his un-specifics and inconsistencies, but my heart felt an affinity with his love-soaked words. Look up Satish if you want to be inspired to love the earth more, tend to your own green fingers with purpose, or maybe even more so, if you think you’re jaded minds and hearts might be in need of an alternative way of seeing things?
threads are reporting on Greenbelt for the whole week! Have a read of our other Greenbelt 2016 articles right here.