Survival Day

Image of aboriginal flag with sorry in the background

My ancestors came by boat to this country
With arrogance and violence and ignorance
They made their home without regard for the spirit of this land
Without respect or care for her people
In 200 years very little has changed
Always was, always will be, aboriginal land.

My placenta is buried under a lemon scented gum in Mitcham
I spent my childhood holidays among granite mountains and wide beaches
Ormond point oversaw my first spiritual awakening
The great trees have guided and comforted me
When I have travelled I have yearned for these landscapes
This land has raised me, it is in my blood and bones, in the depths of my psyche.

The horror of our history is overwhelming
As much as I feel love and connection to this land
I am as a child playing by the ocean of indigenous understandings
All my life I’ve carried an ancestral guilt
The deeper I connect to this land
The more keenly I feel the damage done to the first peoples
The more I feel the personal loss of the knowledge they hold.

I love this land and I feel its claim on my heart
But it doesn’t belong to me
I can’t own the spirit of the land
I can only listen and serve and pay my respects
My spiritual connection gives me no rights
Only responsibilities.

And if I ever have the privilege of sitting with the elders
I would want them to know
As deeply as I love this place
I would give it up for our healing.

What I feel called to do is harder than that.

In giving my heart over to this country
I open myself to all the grief and love it has to offer
I feel the injustice of the ongoing process of colonisation
I see how my own spirit is dominated, controlled and subdued
Entwined with the land I love.

Dancing with shame

Back Creek heading into a tunnel

The other day I got to meet some awesome new people who are living close to the Earth, growing vegies in their backyard and building community. Lots of big ideas were thrown around about worker cooperatives, festivals and financial collapse. It was exciting but, if I’m honest, also a little intimidating. Why is it that instead of being happy about people embracing new ways of living/being I turn it into some kind of judgement on myself?

They had boxes and boxes of zines from Doing it Ourselves and were generously encouraging my friend and I to go through and take what we needed in exchange for a donation. My friend amassed quite a pile but when I looked at it I felt sick. I imagined reading all those ideas and strategies and comparing it to the life that I lead now and finding myself wanting. A pile of what could be a gateway to inspiration and creativity was looking to me like a big pile of shame – some kind of indictment on my way of being in the world.

I work full time in a public health organisation, I get paid to look at the big picture of what’s going on in society and develop strategies that will change the way people think and act so that we all have the opportunity to be healthier and more connected. I work with awesome people who are genuinely passionate about the work that we do and care very deeply about making the world a better place. And yet, yesterday, in a bid to garner the approval of these ‘cool new people’ I found myself dismissing my work and the way I feel about it by calling myself a ‘wage slave.’

I’m not writing this post to get sympathy for myself or to beat myself up, I just think the strength of my reaction is interesting and I’d like to unpack it. At the end of the day I was exhausted and fuzzy headed,upon reflection I wonder if this was the result of ‘performing’ for the ‘cool new people.’ One of the topics that came up in conversation was burn-out. Apparently there are a lot of people around suffering from burn-out and I wonder if there’s a connection. Burn-out is a product of doing too much, of feeling driven to perform, perhaps I’m not the only one who can feel berated by a stack of zines I haven’t even read yet.

Reflecting on the train this morning I wondered what would happen if I ran a workshop that deliberately created that sense of shame. Delivering to people a list of criteria for the ‘perfectly sustainable human’ and then inviting them to reflect on how this list makes them feel. When I think about shame in terms of the impact on our community rather than me personally I can see the insidious ways that shame operates to keep us small. Marketing is all about encouraging a sense of shame of ‘not enoughness’ that we must buy our way out of. When we are measuring ourselves against the standard of ‘perfectly sustainable human’ we are perpetuating a cycle that prevents us from opening up, connecting with others and creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Activists, radicals and other idealists have the courage to see what is wrong with the world and dare to hope for something better. They carry the shame of humanity on their backs, but if their action is borne of shame it will inevitably lead to burn-out and if they are judging themselves they are bound to judge others and create disconnection along the way. We need to name this shame collectively, to bring light to it, and support each other to operate from a place of love and care. As one of the ‘cool new people’ pointed out to me, in practice our actions may look very similar but when the feeling that drives us is love, our lives can be gentle, peaceful and nurturing as well as revolutionary.

Rewilding the urban soul

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Last Saturday I had the great privilege of listening to authors, Maya Ward (The Comfort of Water) and Claire Dunn (My year without matches) in conversation with Sean O’Caroll (founder of Wild Mind) at CERES. It was held on the Village Green, right by Merri Creek, the perfect location for a discussion of rewilding in urban contexts.

Sean took a moment at the start to invite us all to listen to the more than human world around us and bring that richness into our awareness. Throughout the evening Maya and Claire’s reflections were punctuated by the call of ducks, wattlebirds and crows. It was delicious to open my senses to all of these things and include them in my experience of the conversation.

What struck me most about the conversation was the way that it traversed personal, spiritual and political worlds. So many levels of the human story are highlighted by the journey of these women. Their choices have made them different from other people but the fears and personal confrontations they describe are universal. By choosing to engage with the world in new ways, they challenge the status quo and open space for all of us to privilege new/old forms of knowing and ways of being that are based in direct experience of the more than human.

To close they taught us wide angle vision and fox walking. I have been using wide angled vision throughout the week – on the train, in crowded city streets, on my walk to work through the park. It’s a difficult experience to describe but there’s definitely something to it, a kind of clarity and presence outside my usual perception.

Over all the evening was very enjoyable but it barely scratched the surface of what it might take to rewild ourselves in urban environments. Hopefully this will be the first of many such conversations. There were over 250 RSVPs on Facebook (about 60 showed up on the day and it was a chilly evening). It demonstrates to me that there is a great hunger for conversation about living closer to wildness in our cities. I’m excited that so many share my passion.

Wild at heart

I love this article from the Huffington Post UK. It’s an elegant articulation of a number of complex ideas that seem to be coming together in the human psyche at the moment. I have noticed though, that there tends to be an othering of nature that happens as part of this narrative of reconnection. 

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I agree that it’s easier to see ourselves as part of a greater whole when we are overwhelmed by the more than human. Going to places that haven’t been obviously rearranged by human hands can be a humbling experience and that humility is crucial to the shift in consciousness that is needed. But unless we can bring that humility and that recognition of our place in the larger whole into our cities and human communities, our work will be fruitless.
 
This is a critique borne of my own frustration. The conditions of my life require me to live in the city and give me very few opportunities to ‘escape’ into the wilderness. I need to be nourished and nurtured by the more than human world as much as anyone but I can’t do it in the traditional way of ‘going bush.’ I am slowly developing practices for myself that help me ground my sense of connection in the places where I live, work and play. Perhaps the judge sits in my own heart but I feel these practices are overlooked or undervalued by my deep ecology friends and by the broader narrative of ‘nature connection.’ As though they are merely stop gap measures until I can get out into the ‘real’ wildness again.
 
If we are truly to see ourselves as part of nature rather than dominating it we need to radically rethink the dichotomy that says ‘nature’ is in our national parks and not in our cities. We need to take our hearts, awakened to wildness and use them to see the land where we live. Our great teachers in this could well be our children, the young ones haven’t yet learned to pay more attention to ‘human’ objects over non-human ones. Those of us who don’t have children may have memories of the way we used to play, the trees and flowers that drew our attention. The things that fired our imaginations and filled our hearts with joy. As Mary Oliver so eloquently put it we need to “Let the soft animal of [our] body love what it loves” and we need to do it wherever we are. 
 
The day after my walk along Back Creek, a gathering entitled “Rewilding the Urban Heart” was advertised on Facebook – to say that I am excited would be a massive understatement.

Ode to rubbish

Rubbish bins or sacred crucibles?(Dedicated to The Order of the Rubbish)

Garbage men are magicians
They take our waste to the mythical realm ‘Away’
We take sacred matter and make it profane
We remove it from the cycle of life, death and rebirth
We call it ‘rubbish’ we call it ‘waste’
Then we give it to the garbage men
And they bury our shame.

This is how the archaeologists of the future will know us
By the buried remnants of our fear of death
A fear that may yet kill us.

The oceans are full of plastic
The ground is desecrated by our waste
Our obsession with immortality has broken the very thing we long for.

In my future, garbage men are shamans
Mystical midwives of matter
They speed it on it’s journey from one form to the next
Reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle
In nature the waste of one is nourishment to another
This is alchemy
This is eternity
Let go your fleeting form and become.

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!