Mad Farmer Sascha #84

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(written by Sascha Scatter and Ashley McNamara with help from the Icarus Project crew. This is the introduction to our new manual for build community based mental health support networks. For more info check out our website at or write me personally at:
    You can see it all from the highway: enormous monocrops of identical corn plants that reach for miles bordered by an endless sea of strip malls, parking lots, and tract housing. You can see it on our kitchen counters and in our classrooms: the same can of soda on the table in Cairo and Kentucky, the same definitions of ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’ in textbooks around the world. Monoculture -- the practice of replicating a single plant, product or idea over a huge area -- is about the most unstable, unsustainable, unimaginative form of organization that exists, but in the short term it keeps the system running smoothly and keeps the power in the hands of a small number of people. In the logic of our modern world, whether it’s in the farmer’s field or in the high school classroom, diversity is inefficient and hard to manage. Powerful people figured out awhile time ago that it’s a lot easier to control things if everyone’s eating the same foods, listening to the same music, reading the same books, watching the same TV shows, and speaking the same language. This is what we call the monocult, and while everyone is supposedly more and more connected by this new "global culture", we’re more and more isolated from each other. Things feel more and more empty, and so many of us end up lonely and rootless, wondering why everything feels so wrong.
    Out in the wild things are very different. In old forests everything is connected, from the moss and lichens to the ferns and brambles to the birds and beetles. In our human minds we separate all the parts of the forest into separate pieces when a lot of the time it can be more helpful to view the forest as one giant organism with separate parts all working together. The trees of a forest intertwine their roots and actually communicate with each other underground. You see it most visibly along ravines and creek beds where a cut-away hillside reveals totally asymmetrical tangle of roots that no scientist could ever have imagined or planned out with all his laws of physics. Something in that tangle explains how those trees can lean out at all kinds of gravity-defying angles and hang their necks into the strongest winds and still survive, bending but not breaking, adapting with unpredictable curves and angles to the way the world breathes and shines and rains and burns. Concrete can't do that. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the way life evolves and gets stronger in the wild. Something about the living architecture of chaos and time, multi-tiered forests and microscopic algae, outlasts any of the straight lines and square institutions we're told to believe in.
    We believe that, like trees, people do not belong in grids and boxes of rootless lonely monocultures. Humans are adaptable creatures, and while a lot of people learn to adapt, some of us can’t handle the modern world no matter how many psych drugs or years of school or behavior modification programs we’ve been put through. Any realistic model of mental health has to begin by accepting that there is no standard model for a mind and that none of us are single units designed for convenience and efficiency. No matter how alienated you are by the world around you, no matter how out of step or depressed and disconnected you might feel: you are not alone. Your life is supported by the lives of countless other beings, from the microbes in your eyelashes to the men who paved your street. The world is so much more complicated and beautiful than it appears on the surface.
    There are so many of us out here who feel the world with thin skin and heavy hearts, who get called crazy because we're too full of fire and pain, who know that other worlds exist and aren't comfortable in this version of reality. We've been busting up out of sidewalks and blooming all kind of misfit flowers for as long as people have been walking on this Earth. So many of us have access to secret layers of consciousness -- you could think of us like dandelion roots that gather minerals from hidden layers of the soil that other plants don't reach. It's our role to share them with everyone on the surface. Because we feel things stronger than the other people around us, a lot of us have visions about how things could be different, why they need to be different, and it's painful to keep them silent. Sometimes we get called sick and sometimes we get called sacred, but no matter how they name us we are a vital part of making this planet whole.
    It's time we connect our underground roots and tell our buried stories, grow up strong and scatter our visions all over the patches of scarred and damaged cultural soil in a society that is so desperately in need of change. 
    Language is a place to begin. Words can be powerful seeds. The medical authorities offer us all kinds of words to talk about ourselves and the troubles we have, words like "depression" and "psychosis."  Sometimes these words help us look back on our lives with a new way of understanding what the hell was going on, but too often these words end up putting us in sad, separate boxes where we feel like there's something wrong with us and we can't connect to anyone else.
    Language is powerful. It can open the world up like sunrise and it can block out the sky like prison walls.  Language is Magic.
    Back in the days before mass media, techno culture, and fluorescent light - when it got dark at night and people sat around fires and told stories or sat alone and wrote by candlelight ñ there was a respect for the spoken and written word, for the story, for myths passed down through generations and adapted through time.
    Whether we realize it or not we cast spells with our words.  These days we're supposed to believe science has explained away any need for supernatural powers, but spells are being cast around us constantly: spells are in the billboards whose messages eat their way into our minds; they're in the television's hypnotic glare making us forget our own dreams and replacing them with infomercials advertising convenience and apocalypse; they're in the books explaining one side of history at school and in the pop-up windows overtaking your computer screen.
    We have other people’s language in our heads and on our tongues. Words like "disorder" and "disease" offer us one set of metaphors for understanding the way it feels to experience our lives through our particularly volatile minds and souls, but it is such a limited view.  Metaphors are very powerful. We think in language, constantly filtering all our perceptions through the available structures of words and metaphors in our brain - in many senses the available metaphors create our reality.
    Looking around these days it’s pretty clear our society is experiencing a serious lack of imagination. It’s like we’re under the spell of the Monocult - a spell of numbed out distraction from the fact that things could be so much better and beautiful. The spell controls how we articulate our dreams and understand our bodies and minds. It controls how we feel about ourselves and whether we connect with other people. It leaves us with strange words in our mouths and on our tongues and horrible catchy commercial jingles and stereotypes about our neighbors implanted in our minds.
    Perhaps if we can change the metaphors that shape our minds, we can change the reality around us.
    We need to start talking and networking -  finding common ground and common language with the other people around us. We need to get together in groups and find language for our stories that make sense to us and leave us feeling good about ourselves. Unlearn social conditioning about what it means to be ‘sick’ and ‘healthy’.
    We need to reclaim our dreams and scheme up ways to make them happen. We need to share everything we've figured out about how to be a human being. We need to love ourselves as we are -- crooked and intense, powerful and frightening, unruly and prone to mess around in the dirt -- and understand that weeds are simply plants who refuse to be domesticated and displayed. We need to write new maps of the universes we share in common and find ways to heal together. We need to summon up everything we've got to create social webs and lasting support networks for ourselves and the people who will follow us.
    Think of this manual in your hands as a book of magic spells. It could help you conjure up the world you want to see. We’ve outlined a bunch of ideas gathered from all over the place, pulled up from the underground layers of our culture and consciousness. We hope they spark you to start talking, yelling, screaming, dancing, making art, and collaborating on changing the world around you. We hope you make it a little less gray and lonely and cold. We hope you teach people about all the plants in the garden, not just the ones that are in books. We hope you find words for all the pieces of you, even the jagged ones full of scars, and we hope you can put them together with the community around you and discover that you are not actually alone. There are so many of us out here and we’re waiting for you to join us in all your crooked beauty and madness.