By Rev Shelley Beech
AKA Pastor Shells
The Eden Movement began one night a few years ago when I couldn’t sleep. My squishy autistic brain was so filled by ideas of how we should be living (instead of how we are living) that they bounced around inside my skull until I could bear it no longer. Driven by love and rage that the world wasn’t a kinder place, I wrote the manifesto as an emblem of hope.
It’s a philosophy and not a religion but I am fully braced to be accused of starting some weird vegan cult. If we weren’t hurtling towards mass extinction perhaps I would play on that but instead I am seeing it like a calling out to fellow eco warriors and the lighting of a beacon to find others who feel the same pull to quit arguing about what to do and just get on with doing it.
Just before creating this ‘Eden-on-Paper’, I had found myself sitting on the floor in Starbucks with the XR choir singing ‘this is an emergency’, trying to avoid being manhandled by security guards as it would most likely trigger an embarrassing meltdown. I guess that was when I realised I am not cut out for the frontline in this war against the sleepwalking. I was trying to do something, anything to wake people up but I was also battling with the constant division, despair and manipulation from an ‘elite’ that were so lacking in empathy and common sense that I had started to worry that the world had been taken over by sociopaths and idiots. In short, I could no longer continue living in the ‘rat race’, fighting for our cause and stay mentally well. Perhaps the standard 'intolerance to bullsh*t' that comes with menopause or a growing contempt for people who say they love animals but then eat them also motivated me, but I stepped back, immersed myself in nature and found some viable solutions that are actually quite easy to implement. Nature is a powerful healer and living in harmony with it is the only way forward. We have reached a point in our civilisation where if we don’t act now, we will destroy ourselves and the planet. It’s time to evolve or face mass extinction.
The ‘Evolve’ course (still to be launched) is a self-awareness course designed to not only empower people to make changes that will benefit both their own health and way of life but hopefully it will help make unhealthy, unkind and unsustainable habits culturally unacceptable. We need to stop ignoring the consequences of our actions and be held accountable for our choices. The course will prepare people to recognise and overcome the cognitive dissonance that often surrounds issues like carnism and the patriarchal, capitalist, consumerist culture that is no longer serving us well. As people wake up and discover what really makes them well and function better, the more they will connect with their environment as the two are inextricably linked. The deeper we meet ourselves, the more mindful and aware we become.
As a firm believer that if we want to see a change in the world, we have to be the change, I began to challenge the narrative, question why people do and say things (that often make no sense to me at all) and drop the autistic mask I have been wearing all my life. I lost a lot of people, but I gained a newfound self-respect and courage to stop pretending I was okay. I really wasn’t okay. And I could see that most other people were not okay. I could feel that most other people were not okay, so a sense of injustice that we shouldn’t be living this way took over. It became bigger than me and my childish needs and became a life mission to do whatever I can to leave this place a little better than I found it, not just for me for but others like me who have found the world to be too hostile and too full of nonsense to endure anymore.
There is something quite wonderful about reaching a place of total intolerance because it precipitates change. It’s the same energy that makes people leave abusive partners, cut ties with toxic biological family and reach a point of no return with jobs they have come to despise. When things are just mildly annoying or not ‘quite right’ we tend to tolerate it but hitting an all-time low to the point of becoming unable to carry on is actually rather liberating. And so it was, with the support of my wonderful husband, we stepped away from the ‘system’. We shared what we had with others. We networked and lit the beacons.
We founded a few social media platforms and in no time we had thousands of members joining our online communities. Like sending a yodel out into the mountains and waiting for the echo, we put it out there. And that’s when the magic began to happen.
Sometimes it’s been gruelling and lonely after attracting people unable to adapt to authentic living. Like moths to a flame only to find that the light burns too hot they would retreat, sometimes with a flounce or sometimes with unkind comments about the way I personally operate but then I would meet a beautiful soul who understood where my intentions lie and what we are trying to achieve and it would remind me why we were are doing this. Why we are selling everything we own and ploughing all of it into trying to make a difference. Should it matter than I can’t partake in small talk or am unable to tell when I am oversharing? My hyperlexia and articulation of the problems as I see it is not always welcome; this I understand. However the discomfort of a few people's triggered cognitive dissonance will not stop me asking people to make better choices.
We’ve not made it easy on ourselves; we’ve picked an area on the globe that isn’t hipster vegan; in fact we are plonked right in the middle of dairy and sheep farming land in rural Wales. People here can be set in their ways and I’m sure our philosophy will not resonate with everyone and could even possibly ruffle a few feathers. So to any of you sceptics out there that might be reading this and doubt we have something valuable to offer, let me please ask you not to punish us for choosing kindness. We can have differences of opinion and still remain kind. I will not try to bend you to my will or force my beliefs on you, but nor will I be quiet about what hurts me or the planet or animals. People do not have to listen to me. But if they do, I may well hold them accountable for their actions and assess how kind they are by how they treat me and how they treat animals. In my opinion, if you love animals, you do not eat them. If you care about the planet you stop contributing towards its destruction.
Despite the big Covid set back and dealing with gaslighting solicitors that took thirteen months to execute a contract of sale, we have finally managed to secure an entire valley that we will mindfully shape into our flagship ‘Vegan Valley’ with edible forest gardens, community permaculture farm, nature reserve and sanctuary where people can come and connect with nature, find respite and answers to the meaning of life. We hope that one day, the community that comes together to make this wonderful vision a reality will be able to live alongside each other while we all tend the land, but this is just one of many ways we have been exploring on how to provide affordable carbon zero homes and shorten the food supply chain while becoming self-sustaining. The farmstead ‘next door’ will come up for sale one day and could provide accommodation for a few families and individuals so we shall see if we can secure that for a housing co-operative if and when the opportunity presents. Before we consider feathering our own nests, there are more important things to consider like tree planting, increasing biodiversity and growing food. We aren’t doing any of this to ‘find a cheap way to live on land’ (as so many people who approach us seem to want) – this is our life mission regardless of where we put our head down and sleep at night. I’m more than happy to move between projects and keep a base where I will continue to tentatively place one foot in the matrix and offer others the opportunity to wake up.
In a world of addiction where just scrolling on your phone releases enough endorphins to keep the scroller zombie-fied and not paying attention to their futures being destroyed, people like us are needed. In a world where people have become so dependent on the system they would not function without it, we need to show people how easy it really is to grow your own food. To break the addictions and find real, deep and lasting connections with each other and nature, and find joy. It starts with facing your ugly; the parts of you that can’t be bothered to change or where cognitive dissonance has disabled you. Once you can forgive yourself for when you didn’t know better, and start doing better (to quote Maya Angelou), you start to wake up.
We have quite a few ‘grow’ projects on the go at the moment, so while we get seedlings into the ground and fill a self-watering 70” polytunnel loaned to EdenKind to grow veg to share, we will be mindfully watching Vegan Valley and agri-scaping it to create new woodlands and meadows with edibles everywhere. We’re blurring the lines between farming and foraging. There is no need for pesticides or herbicides because it’s perfectly possible to grow enough food to feed us all including the caterpillars and birds. The knowledge already exists – with traditional and indigenous wisdom being mixed with modern technology there has never been a better time to get planting. To live the ‘good life’, to share what we have with each other and to pull together like a wartime effort because it’s needed urgently.
For someone as socially awkward as me, growing veg and planting trees together is just the kind of task-focussed interaction I enjoy. I belong. To neurodiverse people, finding that sense of belonging is literally a life saver, but to also be free to be authentic, to have your needs met and to be believed when there are invisible challenges is just wonderful. Life should be wonderful. I hope that while I step back from leading the movement which has its own momentum now, I can focus on the joyful things I find in nature and our projects and share them with you. I rather burnt myself out getting to this point so I hope sharing my special interests in nature, ecology, psychology and sociology will make good reading as I plan to publish my articles and nature journaling here and invite fellow writers to contribute too. If you write something that resonates, we may well publish it here, so become part of the movement and have your say!
For those of you like me who can only interact with people in short bursts, writing is a powerful way to collaborate and make a difference. And far more suited to me than the soul-destroying frontline. I have learned that I am far better suited to being a behind-the-scenes pioneer as my honest disposition and impatience to make radical changes doesn’t win many friends in real life.
I tend introduce people to themselves and sometimes the reflection is beautiful and sometimes it’s not so pretty. I don’t shy away from ugly. You can’t deal with unhealthy ways or toxic narratives without facing yourself. So I say: own your ugly, as it’s all born of trauma trying to live in this sick world. It’s not your fault so please own it and heal from it and become a kinder person. You owe it to yourself and the world needs it.
To people who aren’t ready to be inspired to change, I guess I am patronising and preachy, but for those who have epiphanies after I introduce them to themselves, it’s so glorious I am going to keep doing what I am doing. Everyone has the ying and yang of good and bad in them. It’s up to us to recognise which energy is steering our ships and correct our courses. The Eden Movement offers a way. It’s not the only way, but it’s such a lovely way, I hope the nature blogs and articles I will post here will inspire and enthuse. I pray my articulations reach you where it’s meant to and that is to speak into your heart and soul to ask you to be better. To be more mindful. It all starts with self-awareness, but to evolve, it has to progress to an understanding of how your choices impact everything around you and not just what makes you well.
Thank you for reading. My gratitude fills oceans of love that spills into my rage and makes it powerful. We all have that power; we are all creators so let’s create a future that our grandchildren will thank us for, not blame us for.