Being with

Maja Kuzmanović & Nik Gaffney

To care, to cure, to comfort, without intervening; helping cope, regardless of the situation.

A distillation of our thoughts on care in uncertain times. An initial version of this text was written late in the summer of 2018, after months of caring for dying family members while composing soundscapes with, and for, the Earth. The resonance and dissonance of caring for dying humans and a wounded planet surfaced knotty questions and vital conundrums – things that have continued to guide our work with FoAM into the 2020s.

Versions of this text have been performed online and across three continents, at Terrafiction, Handle with Care, Re-enchanting the Present, A Thorny Question, The Overlooked and The Unheard. In March 2020, it was edited into a Pandemic Remix, dedicated to all who care – on the frontline, and elsewhere.

Care is more than a topic of conversation, or a sector to engage with. Care is an attitude, a lens through which to view the world, moment by moment. In each moment, the instinctive reaction of fight-or-flight can be transformed into an attentive response. Any activity has the potential to become a re-animating force, an act of caring.

Allow yourself to be touched by the joys and sorrows of another. To be touched by external circumstance. Thrown off course by the rawness of the moment, by your inability to make things better, by fragility, by impermanence. Making Dis-ease Matter

We learn to be with when looking after a sick child, tending a garden, or caring for the dying. Being with a person or a process you can’t quite understand can be frightening, uncomfortable, yet it can also become an instrument of discernment, a compass for navigating ambivalence. Care first, do later.

To care, with care, for care

Do you care?

How do you care?

Where do you learn how to care?

How do you care for something that could consume you completely?

The world of care exists in parallel to the world of problems and solutions. Beyond litanies of blame and judgement; below economic models and ecosystems, worldviews and opinions. Deep, deep down, in a place where words and worlds intertwine. Where myth and metaphor grow from direct experience of entangled relationships. Transferred through a touch, a broken bone, a bedtime story. Rituales para mi Corazón

The work of care in the Anthropocene is a struggle with scale, scope, and sentience. What is it like to care for a burning forest? For an economy in crisis? For the migration of humans and other animals? For the microbiome of an unbalanced gut? How do we respond to climate change, mass extinction, or speciation? Even if we are not directly responsible for the causes, each of us is responsible for how we live with the consequences. Responsible to and for each other. Ties, bonds, grips

Patterns of care solidify through repetition. From thoughts to words, from words to actions, from actions to habits, and from habits to character. They amplify and reverberate; from a person to a clan to a culture. From an instant in geological time to generations in human time. Repair

Maybe to care across spatial and temporal scales – to care for a loved one as much as for melting permafrost, a fractured economy, or the livelihoods of distant others – we need something beyond our current cultural imaginaries. Stories written otherwise, drawn from ever more diverse mythologies. New stories to live by that are as old as the world. Beyond the Spoken

We need ways to cultivate our internal landscapes, and activate the unknown. Transforming reactions into responses, rewiring neural pathways, embodying other mindstates. Entangling our grey matter with mycelium and machines, we learn to see otherwise. Death and Gardening

Conscious Closure

Until we stop taking ourselves so seriously (or not seriously enough). Until our individual identities are shattered and smeared and recongealed innumerable times. Until we understand that we exist because and despite relating to everything else. Until we understand that we are hydrogen ripped from its context, mixed with the dust of dead stars. That we are recycled water and crystallized cyclones. That we are teeming civilizational hosts. Until we again summon our capacity to care, no matter what. Care as an antidote to nihilism, greed, indifference. Care as the potion to reawaken our inseparability from all animate matter. Final Grumblings

Keep still. Wait. Something in the lone survivor knows that even the ironclad law of Now can be outlasted. There’s work to do. Star-work, but earthbound all the same.

Richard Powers, The Overstory


Further reading & references