Aspen

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My heart has melted into the humus
Become one with worms, beetles and flies
One with sticks, leaves and soil.

My blood is sap, rising in straight white trunks,
Opening into green, seekers of light,
Shimmering against the blue,
Shivering with the wind’s caress.

I feel my sisters, standing strong around me,
A sacred communion of souls
Many and one, united beneath the Earth.

And I, nestled in the chalice of their regard,
Throwing wide the doors of my heart
Am lost and found among their whispered sighs.

Wild Mind Gathering

I have just had the most incredible weekend. My heart feels full and open, my body is tingling with joy. I am back in the city now but I feel the ancient forest so strongly it’s as if the cicadas, birds and cars are conspiring in an impromptu jam session. How to capture the magnificence of the weekend?

Kiri and Joe singing up a storm of gratitude at the final lunch time queue.

Photo by Ivan Kramer

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Thy will be done

I am a spiritual being having a human experience.

The path ahead is in shadow, none of my plans work out and instead I am forced into the present. Yes, I’m aware that’s probably a good thing but, oooowhee it’s uncomfortable.

Preparing for the gathering.

Case in point: Thursday night, the gathering of deep ecology/ecospiritual folk. I think it’s fair to say recent life events have brought me to a place of grief and vulnerability. On Wednesday night I went looking for my copy of ‘Coming back to life‘ to refresh my memory of ‘the milling‘ as an ice breaker. I couldn’t find it anywhere. “Okay” I thought “that’s alright, I’ve run it before I can just make it up on the spot. This will teach me to speak from the heart and that’s a good thing, I need to trust in myself.”

Thursday morning was overcast and my small self was hoping for rain. I was still feeling vulnerable (in fact at 9am I was on the phone to my father in tears) and that same small self was desperately uncomfortable. My larger self was unperturbed and gently suggested that vulnerable was a good way to lead a gathering. I consoled myself with the thought that I wouldn’t be on my own, Geoff would be there too and after all it was his idea.

Thursday afternoon the weather turned glorious and my small self had some choice words for the universe. There were 15 people who said they’d come along so it was clear that it was going ahead. I resolved to be present and take it as it comes.

Then I get a text from Geoff saying that he had to go home sick. I could not believe it. He was disappointed so I couldn’t be annoyed with him. He sent me this lovely text about how it was going to be beautiful, “you made me feel better about going with whatever happens last time we spoke.” Uh, did I say that? Yep, I did. All of my deep ecology work has been in the hands of the universe, partly in my control and mostly not.  I had to assume that this was too.

So when I left work I went to Flagstaff Gardens and prepared for the gathering. Not in the usual way, by writing up a timeline and scheduling activities, but by sitting under a tree and inviting the Earth to hold me in my vulnerability. When people started to arrive I greeted them with open arms and an open heart, completely unwedded to the outcome of the evening.

As the gathering unfolded people warmed to the topic that is close to our hearts. I spontaneously spoke of Eisenstein and the story of separation versus the story of interbeing. At times I heard doubt and fear and frustration in people’s voices and idly wondered if another group is really what’s required now. By halfway through it was clear that there is a real hunger to continue connecting and sharing our sacred places with each other.

Near the end of our time together a scottish pipe band began rehearsing ten metres from where we were sitting. We all agreed that we’d be finished soon so rather than move on, we moved in close to one another to be heard over the droning of the pipes.  It was hilarious and joyful. Someone expressed gratitude for the noise in bringing us closer together.

We couldn’t agree on a name and that is quite okay, I’m sure it will emerge in its own time. I hope it reflects the joy of those final moments, huddling together, laughing as we struggled to be heard over the bag pipes.

I feel amazed and humbled and thrilled by how the evening ended up. I find myself shaking my head in wonder. I’ve been a facilitator for 15 years and I never work without a plan. I can’t fathom it, that being open and present is truly all that’s required of me. That I am somehow the right person, in the right place, at the right time, just the way I am. If that’s true for me, then it’s true for you too, welcome to the new world of interbeing.

Spontaneous new moon ritual

Tonight is a new moon, the second for January making it a black moon and a super moon meaning that the moon is very close to the Earth. A friend of mine decided she wanted to mark this auspiscious occasion with a spontaneous ritual.

A small group met at Abbottsford Convent this evening to do just that.

I was keen to let things go and the convent is near the Yarra River so I suggested we make little boats with leaves and sticks and release them in the river with our fears and shadows. My friend suggested we follow this with a moment of connection and gratitude for the moon. It all felt wonderfully easy and relaxed. We were delighted to be joined by the teenage son of one participant, a couple of his friends and another mother along the way.

As we wandered toward the river we collected sticks, bark, leaves and flowers to make our little offerings. We found ourselves taking a circuitous route as we were confronted with locked gates but somehow it all turned out fine.

We finally came to the river and found a flight of stairs that took us down to the water with a concrete landing that was just the right size for our little group. Then we took it in turns to make a statement (alloud or silently) and release our little boat to the river. The rushing of the water drowned out the city sounds and left me feeling soothed.

I came home relaxed and fresh and just a little lighter.

Yarra River from the train

I cross the Yarra River twice a day on my way to and from work. I always try to catch a glimpse as I go past, it never fails to move me.

 

Everyday rituals

Last weekend I went to the second half of an Ecopsychology two day workshop. The main presenters were Tigrilla from Damanhur and Geoff Berry (formerly Cities of Light and now The Play of Light). It was a lovely gathering of passionate individuals and the experimental activities have sparked all sorts of ideas about deepening our connection with nature and each other. One of the highlights was Geoff’s urban songlines activity, which has so much potential for re-inscribing human communities into the land.

Water rippling in the sun, Merri Creek

I particularly enjoyed hearing about the different things people do every day to connect with nature. Tigrilla mentioned that at Damanhur (an ecospiritual community in Northern Italy) every household has a greeting tree. There is a custom of presenting oneself to this tree by placing your forehead against it before you go into the house. Another woman shared a similar ritual where she spends time with a tree in front of her own home in order to leave behind the stress, worry or irritation of the day before greeting her housemates.

Someone else shared Min Mia‘s concept of carrying your ‘poopy pack’ around and collecting ‘shit’ from people, if you don’t give your ‘poopy pack’ to a tree then you are likely to throw it at someone you love. This sparked an interesting conversation about whether giving our cares and worries to the trees is akin to composting them, some felt that it necessary to finish with gratitude to avoid viewing trees as some kind of energetic dumping ground.  Ideally we wouldn’t view our ‘negative’ emotions as waste but compost, an opportunity to learn and grow. I wonder if the act of giving those energies to a tree actually involves acknowledging and embracing the feeling paralleling mindfulness exercises like DROPS (don’t resist or push, soften). Trees, like all nonhuman nature, are wonderfully free of judgement.

It was wonderfully affirming, like when I discovered the tree project, to find that so many people share my arboreal affinities.

Big shout out to Joe and Mira and the Melbourne Evolver Network for putting the weekend together!

The calling

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It has been a really difficult month but there have been some amazing highlights.  One of them was reading this poem at Mother Tongue. It has served as something of an affirmation or a mantra, these words remind me of who I want to be and who I already am. I offer them to you because the more I share these words, the more I strengthen my commitment to this vision and if I’m really lucky maybe you will find solace in them too.

I was called in the middle of dancing
In the pause between the first wave and the second
Between the inbreath and the outbreath

The voice of the earth pulled at my heart
I call you she said
Yes I answered, without hesitation
Take me, use me, let me serve You
An inward breath, a pause, a moment of clarity, of ecstasy

And then I crumbled
I am not enough! I am a poor instrument! I will Fuck it up! I’m lazy! I’m a terrible procrastinator!
I became small, shut down,
A woman reached out to offer comfort and I snarled, I almost bit her hand.

I was called but I don’t know what it means
These moments of insight seem so profound
But afterward the current of life pulls me onward like nothing has changed
Before enlightenment, get up, go to work, make dinner, do the bedtime routine.
After enlightenment, get up, go to work, make dinner, do the bedtime routine.

Is this all there is? Is this all I am?
Is my calling going to feed my family?
Is the Earth going to set me up with a sweet job?
Am I wrecking it by asking these questions?

I am a tree
I am rooted in the Earth
My limbs give shade, shelter and solace
Creatures call my ample boughs home
My generousity is limitless
Yet never diminishes me or those who receive my grace

Who would find fault in the beauty of these twisted branches?
Who would measure the performance of my striving shoots?
Who could doubt that I am enough?
Just as I am
Rooted in the Earth
Reaching for the sky

I am the voice of compassion
I am the voice of the earth
I am the voice of the universal life force
I transform the world by being me.

Grandmother gum

A friend recently drew my attention to the Radio National Project – Trees I’ve Loved. They asked listeners for stories about their relationships with trees and then selected 40 for production and broadcast. I highly recommend you go and listen, they are mostly only 2-5 minutes long and very moving.

It has inspired me to reflect on my own relationship to trees and particularly Grandmother Gum, the great old gum tree in the grounds of the local primary school. I’ve spoken before about how trees function as a mindfulness bell for me but I find my relationship with this particular tree is deeper than that.

Grandmother Gum

I went to primary school here and the grounds are steeped in memories of humiliation. That’s the bench where I was picked last for rounders, there’s where my ‘friends’ used to enjoy running off on me at random moments (taking advantage of my inability to keep up), and over the back was the library where I took refuge. The buildings are all different now (thankfully) but the ground and my heart hold the memories.

I don’t remember taking refuge in the tree back then but now I feel she was a silent witness to that time in my life. Her boughs sheltered me from the sun as I stood in the outfield lost in my own thoughts, oblivious to the game I was excluded from. It comforts me to know that if my son goes to school here, she will watch over him as she has watched over me.

I have introduced Mr A to the tree and encouraged him to speak with her. The idea has taken root, he refers to her as the Grandmother Tree, and also “your friend, Mama.” Yesterday we went to visit her but the gates were locked. Mr A said “she misses us” and then “I wish there were more Grandmother Trees, out here.” I sighed “Yeah, me too.”

I weep now as I write that, for the kind of world where Grandmother Trees are everywhere and duly respected. The kind of world where trees are actually allowed to grow that old. I am stunned by three and a half year old Mr A’s easy respect for this great being. It comes so naturally to him and yet so many people seem to miss the point, what happened?

I fear for the future of this precious tree. A family friend in the next street once said it’s a Corroboree Tree (a tree that predates colonisation where people would have gathered). I’ve looked for scars and found none so it can’t be verified. I find myself wanting to contact the Koorie Heritage Trust, to ask someone to come out and assess it. I want her to be protected. I also want other people to recognise that she’s special, perhaps to validate the depth of my own feeling. I feel lonely in my love for her, a weird hippie.

On the other side of the school there’s a mosaic that features local landmarks like the train-line and the creek. Along the top, holding it all in its generous embrace are the boughs of the Grandmother Gum. So perhaps I am not alone, other people honour her too. The school grounds are radically different than the days of my childhood but she is untouched.

The Radio National tree project is further evidence of the fact that people care about trees, find solace and joy in them, feel deeply for and about them, and grieve their loss. I wish this were more a part of our culture, that there were more places and spaces to speak of our connections, that trees were more deeply appreciated.

The trouble with Australian seasons

The following excerpt is taken from my Master’s thesis on seasonal celebrations:

In Australia seasonal variability has been the norm for many thousands of years. From a European point of view it is “a continent characterised by extremes of variation and unpredictability.” (Rose, 2005: 38) The cultural practices of Indigenous Australians, however, have evolved alongside Australia’s changeable weather so that “conditions labelled by whitefellas as ‘very changeable’ [are] in fact ‘entirely natural’” (Rose, 2005: 37). Debbie Bird Rose describes an Indigenous system of understanding and interpreting the seasons according to a range of interrelated events.

Rather than being based on a projection of an annual cycle, seasonal changes are forecast through awareness of changes in flora and fauna and responded to as they occur. “The system is widespread, the content is local. All of it – system and content – is built from extremely longterm observations that have accommodated variability and patchiness and identified precise concurrences.” (2005: 40) Such a system, Rose argues, is impossible to correlate with the European calendar without losing the dynamism that makes it so suited to Australian seasonal conditions. It holds the seeds of a world-view that challenges the European seasonal mind-set and represents a way forward for spiritual ecologists. Rose holds the Indigenous system up as an example to us all of how we can live “in this vulnerable continent.” We can seek to build a relationship with what is happening in the natural world around us by allowing observation to be the basis of ritual.

So as I alluded in my response to some questions on my previous post the notion of ‘indigenous seasons’ is problematic. The familiar 4 season calendar introduced from the north was shaped by an agrarian relationship to the land. There’s a sense in which the whole concept of seasons don’t apply to Australia because of nonannual cycles like El Nino/ La Nina. However the idea of basing rituals on observation presents a great opportunity, particularly as climate change begins to show its teeth.

How this might work in practice I don’t know, I’d love to explore. I imagine a semi-structured ritual that provides space for call and response, litanies of experiences or free flowing physical expression, there’s no limit to the ways you could gather observations. A system of continuously adapting and responding to changes in seasonal patterns is really the only way to maintain a genuine relationship with the land. It also has to be more than human somehow though, we have to allow space for the Earth to speak to us, to feel our small selves within that larger self.

Earth, spirit, community

Five years ago I completed a Master’s thesis called Seasonal Celebrations in the Melbourne Bioregion. It was an exploration of various groups who were attempting to create or adapt seasonal celebrations that are attentive to our local experience of the seasons.

This is particularly pertinent in Australia. As a former British colony a large portion of society here practice cultural traditions that were developed in harmony with a completely different landscape. In case that’s not enough we are in the southern hemisphere so our seasons are opposite to those of the dominant global cultures of US and Europe. The epitome of this is the hot sweaty santa claus in the red fur lined suit on a scorching 35 degree (celcius) day, sitting on a throne surrounded by fake snow and fir trees.

Santa claus at the beach

It makes no kind of sense and yet, what I found when I was discussing my thesis with people was that the pagan elements, the ones that typify an ancient relationship with the Earth (the fir tree, the roast lunch, the stockings by the chimney), are the ones that are closest to people’s hearts. One year, for our extended family Christmas, I subsituted a wattle branch from an overburdened tree that was about to fall over, for the traditional fir tree. All the kids asked where the Christmas tree was and insisted that the wattle was the wrong colour.

I wrote my thesis hoping to discover a spiritual practice that would honour my connection to this country. Not in a patriotic sense, but with a deeply grounded respect for the land that has brought me up, that has been a source of spiritual solace. I found great people doing great work but I did not find my spiritual home.

Return of the Sacred Kingfisher festival at CERES

I love my sense of belonging to Earth. I love feeling awed and humbled and held by something greater than myself. I love feeling that I am part of the richness of the whole Earth community. Thus far my spiritual journey with the Earth has been a solitary pursuit. Some would say that this is a necessity, that it’s not possible to share such a thing in community. I don’t know if that’s true or not but my heart longs to try.

I can’t help but feel that a spiritual community, like the Buddhist jewel of sangha, would help to keep that sense of connection alive and central to my life. Particularly when family, work and home responsibilities prevent me from immersing myself in wilderness.