Rebuilding with Soul
There’s a lot on TV about Coventry right now as its the City of Culture and I have a lot of connections to it. I was born in a council house there, my father came out the Navy and briefly became a worker in one of the car factory’s there. I had my first professional job working for the city council as a Chartered Surveyor and that’s where I met my ex-husband. I feel like the town my parents and my life seem all muddled up in a complex metaphor about how my life and life in general has changed. We are in the middle of a similar big change of which the pandemic is a part and it will require some rebuilding personally for many and in business. Sometimes chaos seems dark but we already know that we are learning much that is useful about what we genuinely value. My hope is that when we come to rebuild after what has been so devastating that we build well and with heart and not just think about money as the driver.
Coventry for those that don’t know was a nice town in the Midlands with half-timbered buildings and trams and some pleasant Victorian high street shops before Hitler bombed the centre out of it in one night in 1940. This one night essentially made the practical case for an experiment in town planning possible. The highlight was the building of a new Cathedral to replace the devastated beautiful high arch gothic building, the sort that’s full of Soul. The replacement was built alongside the skeleton of the old and the reasons it turned out as it did are fascinating and may be timely.
I personally don’t like anything much about what they built back then, its impersonal with lots of concrete lacks greenery and it only works in theory. It was built from a need to get people the basics – a place to shop work pray and live. Money and time was short. The people making the decisions were in the majority middle class middle age men. When cathedrals and these towns were built originally craft and organic beauty and development brought a charm we appreciated. The Cathedral initially was going to be rebuilt in the original style but the main church “guy” had a different idea. He wanted the cathedral like the town to be built focused on the architecture of what he perceived as the future. Modern in other words. For me the feeling that I associate with such buildings was intellectualised out of the design, the soul is feminine and the spirit masculine. So perhaps it’s no surprise that in an age where they built something deliberately called Brutalism in style- Soul was definitely left out along with feminine beauty.
To build something so aggressive – I mean really, come on what’s wrong with you? Possibly you have been brutalised and been persuaded that the world of curves and sensual expression and design are to be dismissed in favour of cold hard intellect and reason. The same thinking got us tower blocks to live in. You got a roof over your head- it may be a mile in the sky –what do you mean you feel alienated? Be grateful! They put people in impossible situations so far removed from our nature that of course we end up feeling separated and even hostile to each other and to nature itself. We end up wishing for the very terraced housing we bulldozed. Only now all the AB’s live in the ones that are left as they are so valued as being a sympathetic way to live!
To bring it down to the human level I know my parents would think me ungrateful. “You did alright” says Mother as we talk about my childhood. And what she means is – you got a ton of presents at Christmas, foreign holidays, money for clothes and Sunday dinner with plenty of meat! Stuff she could have only dreamed of as a child. They went HUNGRY! Their lives as children were blighted by fear of invasion. I would have shut my feelings off too! The feelings I was having growing up I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough- repression saved the day, but when you try getting your feelings back when the emergency is over it is quite a difficult matter. You don’t even know they are missing. So you stay in emotional lock down and rely on your head and make decisions without any heart. This allows us to do all sorts of things that actually harm us including paving over paradise. We are not in touch with who we are deep down- we are just a thinking machine. We are unaware until we start paying attention to those feelings.
My parents had so much less than me physically so why have I been so upset and spent a lifetime sorting out my brutalism childhood. I had all the advantages they did not and still I’m not happy. What was missing was exactly what’s missing in Coventry, feelings of connection to nature and each other – love by any other word might cover it. Nurturing, affection, time for each other rather than just work, kindness were exchanged for what boils down to money. They worked hard at their own business and earned enough but we never went out or had the kind of exchanges you can only have with children when you are not stressed out after working a 14 hour day at something you don’t love! That situation often begs for obedience and rule following rather than let’s talk it over now!
The lucky majority now are much better off than in the war. Now we have large numbers of extremely wealthy people. Things have really changed at the top end . For instance top footballers in the pre war could have been on the equivalent of minimum wage, now its £9m to get out of bed. People sing for an hour or two at some vast cavern of a building now for £100 a ticket and I find myself so lacking in emotional involvement at these huge venues I refuse to go any more. It feels we have ditched real connection to make money . Let’s make it big impersonal and suck up the money, its ugly and lacks heart. I would prefer seeing a pared down version of something that actually moves me rather than over produced spectacle that leaves me cold, its like watching tv for all that we can see of the performer. We seem to be living in a world lacking in the virtues and are spending all the extra money we have got on things we don’t need or that don’t make us happy.
When they rebuilt Coventry they had already built England’s first garden city – Letchworth. It was beautiful full of trees and gardens and flowers. I live a short way from the second one – Welwyn Garden city and having worked in town for over 10 years and in Coventry for 2 I know which one feels better to use and live in. Coventry is of course much bigger but none the less I do wonder why more attention wasn’t given to nature and gardens and outdoor spaces for people. Things of the heart. Its these things that make a place feel like you want to be there.
In Coventry they built a great big central precinct that like all those built without streets and traffic went dead at night with no real character to it. It felt scary and empty. Still not much was learned as they still built Stevenage and Hatfield and Milton Keynes. Maybe you think its twee but people respond to Poundbury and pay greatly for the privilege. I wonder if those that have the capacity to be able to study so hard to be an architect find that it necessarily screens out the feeling types! I couldn’t build a rabbit hutch but I could make one comfortable to live in and friendly looking!
I managed some of the Coventry City council property for a while as my first job as a surveyor. I have to admit that I was as divorced as those architects from my feelings back then. I cared very little for the people in the properties, I just did the minimum because I didn’t like the job that much. I did say one day on the phone to a chap “well that’s the way the cookie crumbles” as he asked for help when some part of his property crumbled the day after signing his Full repairing lease. The office were aghast but laughed at my insensitivity. In my career I went on to sell school playing field development sites to greedy housebuilders wo would have sold houses made of cardboard if it made them a profit. I generally responded to the demands to generate money as the measure of success- because there was no one that interested in anything else.
Being paid well is not about what you do- it’s who you are now! You can’t be a success really without earning a lot of money –that was the message I got growing up. I grew up a brutalised money seeking self-protecting lost little soul who in truth ,sought a position to get approval and earn love and used that insecurity to choose a profession that paid well and was respectable but did not make me happy. I chose money and protecting myself over beauty and soulful connection to something I might love but might cost a lot in sacrificed wages or lifestyle. It emerged from my home life – that said – you better look after yourself because you cannot expect anyone else to. Industrial strife class warfare Maggie Thatcher telling us there’s no society! That tone I and everyone else absorbed it. Yes we want the good things but we misunderstood what that was. The reason we are not and never will be satisfied is illustrated by my favourite psychology model the pyramid of needs by Abraham Maslow . His perhaps flawed but compelling model speaks to how we got here and why we are changing . We didn’t fail – we grew. We met some needs and now we have some new ones that are calling us to meet them.
The theory states that you climb up the Pyramid meeting each need as you go and then move onto the next. So when I think of where we are now I feel we met our physical needs and now we are stretching toward love and belonging . You could say that our very existence is threatened so safety and security on a global scale with nature in crisis is drawing attention too. So for me caring for nature meets so many of our needs that our belonging would be met if we sent more time in nature and love just tends to be absorbed when you spend time gardening or walking in woods. You can’t put people in no nature zone like a lot of places are now and not expect them to feel disconnected and upset that their fundamental needs are often ignored and they feel unloved. I know this from my own experience.
I grew up in a pub but was child minded from a baby in a haven of nature by a man who was a lot like the character in Goodnight Mr Tom and his wife Flo was like Ethel in Ethel & Earnest. She baked cakes and made jam and we delivered produce that Bill grew round the village. For a child like me it truly was ideal and I often think it saved my life. We lived a lot slower there. The bakers van came to us with fresh bread and we had coal delivered for the one fire in the living room . The garden had the outside toilet, roses and sweet peas and chickens and a tomato house. They had no money and Flo cried when the TV smoked its last but they seemed very content and lived very long healthy lives. Those smells and sensations live inside as templates of what feels good and can last a lifetime. I have been travelling and nothing is as precious to me as those times – I forget a lot about where I’ve been in Australia or Cost Rica etc. but those smells and sensations live as fresh as the day I experienced them. Its love really, a love of nature and what’s good about life. It was so nourishing at a time when not much else was. It’s so instrumental in forming who we are.
After a few years I was ripped from this Eden into what I would categorise as urban deprivation. We had an Arboretum nearby but at home we lived without gardens without trees or grass verges. After my initial experiences it was depressing and upsetting. I wouldn’t have known why I was upset- after all I got presents and holidays and clothes but I got little parental time and attention, no connection no nature no beauty. I think if you don’t have those things then the whirlwind of problems we see in society is as natural as bluebells in a wood. I remember going missing for several hours after school as a 8 year old as I went bluebell picking (different times!) with other kids and parents. I think I was punishing their neglect – I certainly had a bad attitude brewing because of all this! I was angry at their neglect of my needs and grew up feeling they were not important. I tried to adapt and win what I needed and that’s how I lost my authentic feelings and creativity. You can also get very angry and cold to keep it under wraps. You supress your feelings so you don’t spill this anger all over the family – who are already fed up with you and your sense of belonging is very low.
When I chose a career it had nothing to do with what I liked ( I didn’t know what I liked other than a fantasy of being a pop star) and everything to do with a) doing something that might impress my folks into loving me b) paid well so I could be independent c) was stable and reliable because I could not rely on anyone else to take care of me. I became a chartered surveyor as a default not a devotion and it showed at every level of what I did or didn’t do. There was no love in it. My heart was well and truly slammed shut to all the pain that lay somewhere waiting for me when I could get around to dealing with it.
I am an Aquarian and we are often accused of being like robots – all thought no feeling and yet it’s not true- we just don’t like feeling out of control that emotion brings. I think many of us are like that. We have a lot of sensitive feelings but we repress them so well even we don’t know what’s being hidden. We don’t want to be assaulted by sadness and upset and it certainly makes you look weak in our eyes if people see you upset. There are very big costs however involved and you probably can look in the mirror of your life to see them . Our health our relationships our children our work all get affected and in my case my creativity was non-existent before I did take the time to explore my true feelings and set them right You can’t pick and choose what you repress. So if all you have is thoughts – that’s where you will work from and that is not many peoples best side-it’s not mine I know that. I think we can see that things are not going well in the world and this is a fundamental reason why- we have lost our feelings as a guide to what to do-what to love what to pursue what to encourage what we should be doing with our lives. We know what we should like – what other people like but that’s not us.
We need to explore and uncover our feelings to know who we truly are and to give of our best- to truly be able to give of our Soul- that feminine essence of beauty and creativity and nature. Our spirit is all “do this do that” , Soul just sits and waits a while. It takes time and attention to contact that bit of ourselves it’s not like logging onto Windows- google me up what I need to know. Its takes time alone and in contemplation-something many of us work very hard to guard against.
As I have previously said I have been an insensitive unfeeling out of touch intellectually driven angry person in the wrong job/relationship/life. It did not however, even for one so cast adrift as myself take long to discover a whole different life was beneath the surface. Read a few books, do some meditation/ visualisations and bingo there’s a whole new interesting life that starts to open up. One where you are finding your own power not giving it to someone else , where you are finding love and acceptance and wisdom from your own inner self that beats anything that comes out of your limited ego mind. But it is up to you to seek it out to be willing to receive it. When I told all my friends about it they could not have been more offended or upset about my discovery than if I had crapped in their sink! They could not wait to deny my experience because it meant they had no excuse if it were true. So these new solutions we need- we have to be willing to receive them – if you want to rely of the mind alone then you’ll get Coventry Cathedral mark 2- functional it works but on a very deep level it misses the mark of connection and love that makes this not just a life but a life worth living!
You can start to understand how this can be achieved for yourself with a little experimentation. Begin by watching your thoughts when things happen in your world. See how your thoughts precede the event – as if they are creating them – which they are. You feelings determine how quickly they arrive. Second spend some time considering something you would really like that you could reasonably expect. Something simple like a convenient parking spaces or a bit of help you need at work. When you allow for the possibility that this could be true then your sub conscious will allow the confirmation to arrive- no belief –no confirmation. The sub conscious makes your reality conform and consistent with your beliefs . You can pretty quickly find confirmation that you are in a world much more aligned to our thoughts and feelings. Yes its disruptive to our world view and we definitely have to choose to leave our comfort zone but I don’t think it’s all that comfortable for many us at all right now so maybe that’s the prompt we need to take that first step into a new world. A world that despite what we may be currently experiencing could turn out to be exactly what we need and will love.