The Weekly Service

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Last night I couldn’t sleep, lay awake for an hour and then woke before dawn still crackling with energy. It’s as though I am carrying the collective healing of a whole group of people and I can barely contain it, barely open my heart to let it in, it is so joyful. Who would have thought such a reaction would come from talking about grief?

Yesterday I gave a sermon at The Weekly Service. It’s a group that’s been on my radar for over a year, a church for nonreligious people, an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with like-hearted community, something I’ve been dying to check out. So when co-founder, Cam Elliot saw me at The Moth in Melbourne last month and invited me to share my story at the Service I jumped at the chance.

The story I told was not about the more-than-human or my relationship with it and it was not about violence against women. It was about my mother and about grief, a deeply personal story about one of the most significant and precious moments of my life. I called it “We don’t do grief in our family: a healing tale” and a crowd of almost 50 people turned up to hear it.

Beforehand I was a bundle of nerves. Several audience members were mentors and heroes of mine, not one, not two, SEVERAL. Plus my family were there and my cousin. I had to go and stand in the lane way under the peppercorn tree just to keep myself from dissolving into a puddle of fear. When it came time to speak, the nerves faded into the background, I sang one of my songs about presence and surrender and following the ‘quiet whispers of joy’ and was very grateful that my quivering hands managed to keep forming the chords.

Then I took a deep breath and told the story. It’s one I’ve told a couple of times before but I badly wanted it to be alive for this group. The Weekly Service has gathered a precious community of seekers and truth speakers, the first time I sat among them I wept with the feeling of safety and welcome, all my petals unfurled. Now, sitting in front of them, I wanted to honour them by offering all of myself, my presence, my rawness, my truth.  I wanted to let myself be seen.

I have no idea what it was like for them, I can barely remember what I said or how it went. I remember the reactions though, remember my joy at hearing people’s reflections and connections, at having my story given back to me fresh and new from all these different perspectives. They saw things in it that I had no idea were there and took beautiful things beyond my imagining to apply to their lives. Wow.

A new culture is coalescing. A new way of being in the world. We are sick of complaining about late industrial capitalism and we are rolling up our sleeves and making something new. Long have I admired the people at the forefront of this creative task, yesterday I felt like I was taking my place among them. I couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds, communities like this make life worth living.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Arundhati Roy

A recipe for creativity

Surrender

In the middle of last year I was going through a creative slump. It was well after Poetrees had launched and toddled along and I was burnt out from the effort of trying to put the work out there and engage people in it. (Turns out that marketing is not my forte.) I was very fortunate to receive an invitation to do a process called ‘Renewal of Creative Path‘ with a friend, Margaret Hogg and a group of women in her community.

The process really helped me to identify and articulate what I need to be creative by reflecting on the times when I felt most alive and connected. What I realised was that it wasn’t just one thing that gave rise to creativity but an ecosystem of mutually reinforcing elements. This is a rough list that I came up with but I’m sure there’s more…

Financial stability: having work I enjoy that is super flexible gives me the space and freedom to be creative. Any kind of pressure or expectation is death to my creative spark so I have to know that food is on the table regardless of my creative output.

Supportive community: people who allow me to be me, who give me a sense of belonging, who hold me in my vulnerability. They give me the personal strength to allow the vulnerable experience of creativity and also enrich my thinking. Meaningful conversation is a major creative turn on for me and feeds into the next two elements…

Rich life experience: without getting out of the house and doing things I’d have nothing to write about. I need to feel engaged in life and in the world so I have to follow my curiousity, my sparks of joy and go have adventures. Examples include going out into nature, going on retreats, looking at other people’s art, learning new skills, meeting people, following the things that make my heart beat fast.

Deep reflection: for me this comes from solitude. Quiet moments where I can turn those rich experiences over in my mind and make sense of them. In practice it looks like having a chai with my journal at my favourite cafe, sitting in the garden and watching the world go by, going for long walks or meditating. I often get my best ideas first thing in the morning as I lie in bed and listen to the birds.

Unstructured playtime: the actual act of creation needs time, actually turning up to the page or the studio and making the thing. It needs a special kind of time though, the process must be focused but unhurried and, as I mentioned earlier, unburdened by the weight of expectation. It feels like total surrender to what ever mysterious thing wants to come forth.

Enthusiastic audience: this one is not essential but it is a fantastic motivator. Some artists talk about doing the work for themselves alone, for the simple joy of creation, and I can relate to that but it’s not always enough. Perhaps it feels self indulgent, though I strive to overcome that kind of thinking.

The thing that motivates me most is knowing that someone is ready and waiting to see what I’m working on. They have to feel like a safe person for me, someone who is purely curious and enthusiastic with no hint of criticism. I don’t need everyone to be that way, one person is enough. For example I started blogging again because my friend Sarah wrote me an email and asked me to. She mentioned several big experiences I had late last year and said she wanted to read about them and wanted to be able to share it with someone she’d met. Sarah’s always been an enthusiastic supporter of me in general so it was a no brainer, of course I’d write some stuff for her but without that invitation the blog would still be languishing.

I hope you read this and use it to improve your creative ecosystem, the world needs us all to flourish in our gifts! I also hope you take it as an invitation to encourage the artists in your life, you could be the enthusiastic supporter that gives someone else the courage to make a great work of art.

The echo of the shadow

The echo of the shadow

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There is a thread that runs through my heart, through the heart of the Earth and through the heart of the universe. I can’t say where it begins or ends, can’t say which part belongs to which, it is one, long, sinuous line.

This is not something I know with my mind. It is not something I can prove or measure but I feel it to be true. I feel it in the dance of creativity, I feel it in my silent dialogue with nature, I feel it in those overwhelming moments just after everything seems lost.

When I think about ‘nature connection’ I think about it in terms of this line. It’s not confined to making humans go out into the bush and realise the awesome beauty of the ‘natural world’ (as noble and wondrous as that is). It can be any activity that draws people to feel that numinous thread, in themselves, in the world, in the universe. Anything that draws us to realise we are intimately connected to a great mystery.

Late last year this realisation was brought home to me again by a multi-sensory theatre experience “The echo of the shadow” by Teatro de los Sentidos. The ‘performance’ was a labyrinth, taking up the whole basement exhibition space at ACMI. Participants entered the space one at a time, at five minute intervals and wandered through dark, curtained corridors, into various encounters with archetypal characters.

It was surreal.

I felt that I had fallen into Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie set that was still live, a dream made real and tangible.

The experience of being the lone audience member was slightly nerve wracking. As I entered the first room I was acutely aware of the audience’s responsibility, usually diffused among a crowd, now resting heavily on my shoulders. The anxiety left as I was received by the first inhabitant though, replaced with a humble delight – “all this? for me?” I threw myself into the gift they offered with characteristic gusto and was rewarded with one of the most profound experiences of my life.

The labyrinth led me to long repressed parts of myself. Half-way through, an encounter left me so deeply shaken that I cried all the way to the end. This is not to say the experience was harrowing, my tears are sacred and I welcomed the opportunity to release them. The descent was a gentle invitation, there was room to find one’s own meaning in the work and only go as far as one was ready to go. After the nadir were a series of lighter experiences and rituals that didn’t erase the emotion but held space to feel it safely.

It was beautiful. I would do the whole thing again in a heart beat and no doubt encounter whole other reaches of my internal landscape.

There is a kind of magic that I occasionally stumble upon in my creative work, that what is most personal is most universal. The moments when I am able to draw art from my most private, intimate self, generate the pieces that get the strongest response from my audience, touch that universal thread of connection. It seems to me that Teatro de los Sentidos has brought together a group of artists with that shared aim – to express their deepest selves through the creation of a physical metaphorical landscape and so draw out the inner landscape of the participant. The work breaks down the space between creator and audience, thereby troubling the concept of a discrete self and opening the participant to the great mystery.

A few weeks later I had the great fortune to find out a little about the inner workings of Teatro de los Sentidos through a day-long workshop. I was not disappointed at what I found behind the curtain…

Chrononaut

(inspired by Eddie Harran and first performed at Chronference: an experimental pop-up time travel symposium follow link to storify)

“I’m interested in time.” You said.
“Deep time, time literacy, wild time, modern time”
You had me at time
The nature of time
The construct of time
The experience of time
Slicing up our lives into years, days, hours, seconds
An assault on our being,
A straight jacket for our rhythms and pulses.

My time is measured differently
A deep breath, in and out
The space between heartbeats
The length of a warm embrace
The depth of a meaningful conversation
The quickening of a smile between strangers
The rhythm of my womb and the moon
The pause at the end of this line.

Someone once asked me how long it takes to write a poem
There are few things in my life more satisfying
Than gently coaxing poetry from my heart into the world
How long does it take?
5 minutes and 35 years
Everything I am, and have ever been
Culminating in a moment of stillness and careful attention
The thread of feeling must be wooed
Courted, encouraged,  delighted in
Allowed to reveal itself in words
It doesn’t take time, it takes a particular quality of being.

This is the sacrificial blood that coats the hands of our clocks
This quality of being cannot be measured or named
It only exists in surrender
Outside time’s controlling glare
A gateway to eternity
My soul is timeless.

Hello new economy

Judy Wick’s Good Morning Beautiful Business is an inspiring read. Judy speaks plainly about her journey of entrepreneurship from  the late 70s through to the present day. She describes the values of cooperation and community that shape her and later underpin a style of business that is genuinely life enhancing.

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This book has changed the way I think about business. I have always viewed entrepreneurship with a degree of skepticism, those who succeed seem to attract an almost religious following. Money for it’s own sake has never made sense to me and is certainly part of what is driving the Earth into crisis. Yet I’ve also grown disillusioned with the community and not for profit sector I have worked in for the last 15 years.

The largely thankless (by which I mean poorly paid) work of the community sector is so much at the whim of the politic of the day and rarely seems to generate the kind of radical, long term, sustainable change that I know is necessary. I’ve been looking for alternate ways to make a difference and Judy’s vision of the Local Living Economy is compelling.

In her book she describes money as just one strand in the commercial relationship. When business owners live in the communities they serve, they can see the results of their efforts, for better and worse. They become accountable to the community in a way giant corporations never can be.

I don’t have the skills to run out and start a business but, after seeing what Judy managed to create, I’m prepared to add it to my list of castles in the air.

On grief

Grief came in the night and curled up on my chest
I woke to it staring me in the face
Placid, implaccable but somehow menacing.

As I stared into those yellow, unblinking eyes, it’s tail began to lash.
I grabbed it with firm hands,
Craning my neck to avoid a counter attack
And sat up, slowly, expecting it to drop to the floor
instead I felt its claws.

Pin pricks became angry red lines raking downward hot and heavy.
It clung, ripping, tearing but never letting go
Pulling great wracking sobs out of me
Dragging at my heart through my ribcage
Sinking it’s teeth into delicate flesh.

I thought I would die.

Body tense, teeth clenched, hands fisting away tears.
I stretched beyond breaking,
torn asunder but somehow inescapably still here.
Every part of me pinned by claw or tooth
Laid out, throbbing
A dissection of human suffering.
Helpless.

I gave up.
Stopped pushing, stopped fighting, stopped trying to be free.

I laid each hand across my heart and wept.

Of their own volition, my hands found soft fur
Drew my fingers in long, languid strokes.

The pain ebbed,
The cat
purred.