Inquiry over a Cafe Latte

I make a daily yatra (pilgrimage) to the Barrel coffee shop in Totnes High Street, five minutes walk from my home here in south Devon I sit there and reflect, write, read, meet with friends, people watch as well as have a café latte. Last week, I gave a dharma talk with question and answers in the coffee shop on the theme of “What does it mean to wake up?” at the monthly evening meeting of Consciousness Café, chaired by Prof Max Velmans, author of Understanding Consciousness. The evening meeting provides a forum for discussion of issues central to our contemporary understanding of what it is to be human, embedded in a social and physical world – a format of a 25 minute talk followed by round table and open discussions and breaks for refreshments.

I endeavoured to explain to Barrel customers that to wake up includes equally both inner and outer realisations about conditions we find ourselves in as individuals, as a society and as a species. Waking up is a total event, not restricted to the condition of the personal, to the self, to the condition of I, me and mine. The questions and concerns were as thoughtful as any I encounter on a retreat or dharma gathering.

Totnes continues to be in the forefront of progressive ideas and their application in Britain. Take a look at the initiative of transition town Totnes (TTT) project to deal with oil consumption and sustainability. Clare Short, a former government minister, came to the Schumacher College recently to speak. Inspired by TTT, she wants to see Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city, become a transition town.

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I was asked at the Barrel whether I perceived any shadows in the transition towns initiatives. I responded that it is vital that those who hold the vision do not water it down in order to gain wider acceptance. There is a danger that powerful business and political institutions highjack this bold project to transform the daily values and lives of citizens so that TTT doesn’t challenge the business-as-usual orthodoxy.

With more than 60 cities and towns officially designated transition towns, and more than 600 cities and towns worldwide exploring the possibility (see list on website), it means the founding parents in Totnes will need to be mindful and vigilant. Official transition towns include Boulder, Colorado, USA, Sunshine Coast, Australia and Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

A small footnote on our local road signs. Despite massive local protest, the board of directors of Dartington College of Arts, decided to close the college, two miles from Totnes and shift its 600 students to Cornwall in the near future. In protest, creative students painted out ‘art” in all the road signs to


Elsewhere another road sign into Totnes says “Totnes – Twinned with Narnia.”

Nice one.

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