Elegy for a row of poplars

Elegy for a row of poplars

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I understand the needs of civic offices
I know a dying tree can drop a branch
Or topple whole upon some hapless passer by
But my heart grieves for your passing.

You and your siblings were guardians of this street
Every morning you witnessed my passing
Along with so many other busy humans.

Tenderly you gave us shade
Releasing the breath of life
Even as you drank in ours
My heart is humbled by your generosity.

I hope in death you have the opportunity
To pass on your precious nutrients
That your spirit may live on through other beings.

I hope the one who cut you down
Opened their heart to your glory
And gave thanks for your magnificent life
As I do.

Back Creek yearning

There’s a creek, buried beneath
These houses and these asphalt streets.
There’s a spark within my heart
That waits and weeps for sweet release.

CHORUS
Oh mother, take me home again
Oh mother, where I belong
Oh mother, take me home again
Oh mother, where I belong

There are weeds, that meet our needs
Amongst these urban forest leaves.
There are trees of ancient lineage
That whisper truth to those who’ll hear.

CHORUS

There’s a soul within this land
That can’t be grasped by human hands.
I have eyes and heart to see
The nature round and within me.

CHORUS

Letters to trees

I recently discovered that you can write letters to trees within the City of Melbourne. I work near the CBD so I have a number of favourite trees that I pass by most days.

To a colonnade of Deodar:

Hello my darlings, the flower and garden show is on again and so for several weeks I have to walk around the park and miss my morning guard of honour. I miss you all terribly. When I walk under the vaulted ceiling of your mighty branches my inner voice is hushed, I feel grounded and centred by your deep presence. In a matter of moments I pass you by but it’s only when I am denied this ritual that I realise the importance of the way you bookend my day.

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To a Moreton Bay Fig (pictured):

I sat among your roots and played ukulele for you the other day. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Your roots make an excellent place to sit.

To the grandma tree (unsent as it’s not in the City of Melbourne):

I long to lay my spine against your wide trunk again.

Sadly none of the trees have written back to me but I remain hopeful. If anyone from the City of Melbourne happens to be reading this post, I would love to volunteer my services to respond on behalf of the trees near my work.

and so it begins…

A European wasp

A European wasp, or vespula germanica. Wikimedia Commons: Richard Bartz

Climate change is a kind of creeping death, so gradual that I almost don’t notice it. It’s there in the back of my head though, whispering to me on hot days or big weather events. Climate change, climate change, climate change.

I haven’t ever associated it with anything tangible though. I don’t live close enough to the Earth, don’t spend enough time observing the more than human to notice any incremental changes. I’ve noticed no plants or insects or animals growing in new places or behaving strangely. Until now.

I can’t remember who first mentioned the wasps. I think my ex-wife told me they had to move our son’s birthday party indoors to avoid them.

At a cafe a week later I noticed them swarming over someone’s bacon. The waiter told the customers that he’d complained to council but there’s nothing they can do. Wasps can smell food over a kilometre away and it is almost impossible to track them back to their nest.

On a bushwalk in Daylesford last weekend I was struck by their ever-present hum. There were so many hovering around the mainstreet I had to keep the windows closed when I drove past.

My son told me that his kinder friend’s mother had been bitten on the lip while eating bacon and his friend had been stung too. It is a fear that looms large in his small world and is no doubt shared by his friends and their parents.

Via these small moments the wasps entered my field of vision. Then I saw this article on my newsfeed. It turns out the whole of Melbourne has a wasp problem. My attention was captured by one line in particular from the entomologist:

we’ve had a mild summer and a mild winter before that

Climate change, climate change, climate change.

And so it begins.

The wasps are harbingers. Their presence fills me with dread but it’s not the sting that worries me, it’s the myriad unknown changes to come.

The power of presence

My son and my mother walking together.

On the face of it the Forum process is deceptively simple. A group of people sit in a circle and silently offer their presence to one another as they take it in turns to step into the middle and speak about what is going on for them. A facilitator sometimes asks questions of the person in the middle or offers various techniques to encourage them to go deeper into what they are feeling. When each person finishes their time in the centre, the silent witnesses are invited to become mirrors and offer reflections. They speak in third person about what the protagonist shared, what they noticed or what resonated with them.

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Wild Mind 2015 – shame is a gateway

Wow, what a weekend. Last year’s Wild Mind was a transformational experience for me so my expectations were running fairly high for this one. As the day drew closer, I began to get a sense of exactly who would be there and my excitement levels rose and rose. It was looking like an impressive bunch of folk, not just for their skill and talents but for their big hearts and courageous ideas.
Wild Mind 2015
Something about having all those conscious, open minded people in one place at one time, inspires your heart to open no matter how much you want to resist. The emotional core for me was a two hour conversation about shame. It was beautifully, courageously facilitated, blending individual stories of shame (led by the facilitator and drawn from the group) with a more intellectual conversation about the role of shame and how to handle it.

We started by talking about how we each define shame. “Shame is born of our relationships and can only be healed in relationship, even if it is through our relationship with our self.” is one that has stuck in my mind. My own definition was based on a recent experience of psychodrama where I discovered that my sense of shame obscured my vision and the object of shame turned out to be something of a gateway to transformation and wholeness.
There was good consensus in the group about the need to hold ourselves with compassion in the experience of shame. People used a variety of different words to describe a similar process of observing our feeling of shame with compassion. I use the words ‘large self’ and ‘small self’ (where the ‘small self’ is not inferior but inspires me to give myself the compassion I would give my son in the same situation). Others used the word ‘home’ to describe their large self and avoided giving a label to the self that experiences shame.
There was a profound insight for me in the observation by one group member that ‘shame’ and ‘vulnerability’ are adult words that most children don’t understand, including the child in us. Vulnerability is a wound that stands in the way of our self expression but to get past the wound we must express the feelings of the child we were when the wounding took place. That might require us to find a simpler language to describe our feelings of vulnerability. For example rather than saying “I feel vulnerable” saying “I feel scared of saying how I feel because I worry that you might not talk to me anymore.” This takes more courage but when I used it with my partner later that evening I found she was much more able to offer me the compassion I was craving and I was more able to identify my feelings.
Even the fact of talking about shame seemed to inspire feelings of shame within the group. At the end of the conversation there was some lengthy discussion about how to ‘end the session’ without ‘leaving people in shame.’ Some of the suggestions seemed to indicate a desire to make everyone feel better which really jarred with me (I being one of those who had opened up a raw experience). It’s quite hard for me to allow myself to feel so raw and I was wary of shutting myself down when I was surrounded by such a loving community. I knew that if we closed the circle I would be able to keep processing and possibly release something powerful. In the end we agreed to sing together, a song about light shining on us, not fixing or healing, just shining.
Fox walking with Maya Ward was another highlight

Fox walking with Maya Ward was another highlight.

I spent the evening further processing the experience with fellow Wild Minders, dancing to gentle music and participating in cuddle puddles. I am deeply grateful to all at Wild Mind for cocreating such a beautiful space for our mutual unfolding.
You can read another slice of Wild Mind on Geoff Berry’s blog White Fella Dreaming

Space between stories

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I found this beautiful circle in the gardens on my way to work.

Charles Eisenstein is running an online course. I am quivering with excitement. His book, The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible (which you can read online for nothing), is the most transformative thing I’ve read in the last year. Below is some writing that captures my initial response:

I talk to strangers now. Not out of any sense of duty or obligation but because I appreciate our shared humanity. The universe in me recognises the universe in you. I acknowledge our beauty.

It extends to the more than human also, to the trees, birds and other creatures that cross my path.

All these little interactions matter now. Having shared Eisenstein’s vision through his writing, I can see that each of these little moments, even if they never emerge from the cloud of ponderings within my own skull, are important. Each moment is contributing to the creation of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

I pass over the great Birrarung/ Yarra River, twice a day and the view never fails to move me. Since reading this book I’ve begun to pay attention to my fellow passengers in the moments after crossing the river. I have noticed that I am never alone. There is always someone else paying attention to the beauty of the river, just like me.

Charles’ online course is called the Space Between Stories and the invitation is open to anyone if:

  •  You are in some way stuck in an old story (work, relationship, bodily condition, etc.) but you can feel it is unsustainable, that a change is on the horizon, that it is starting to break down. Or…
  •  You are in the space between stories. The old world isn’t coming back, but the new one hasn’t arrived yet either. Or…
  •  You are living in a new story, and it feels maybe a little tender or fragile, and you want support and a frame of reference to help navigate its challenges.

I think I’m somewhere between the second and the third category, depending on the day and the people who are around me at any given moment. It’s been a long slow transition over a couple of years now, sometimes it feels incredibly fast and sometimes painfully slow. Mostly I am grateful for the pace, it has allowed me to slowly transform each part of my life in turn yet been overwhelming enough to force me to surrender!

Let me know if you’re interested in coming on the journey, perhaps if there’s a bunch of Melbourne folk who are doing the course we could all meet up at some point. I have discovered this week that there are people reading this blog that I had no prior awareness of, it’s kind of thrilling and makes me really curious to know who’s out there.

He left his glasses in the trunk

He left his glasses in the trunk

Martin didn’t always love plants but he’d always been awkward. A slightly withdrawn child, in his own world, “Off with the fairies” his dad used to say. The words made him shrink a little as he slunk off into the garden.

He would have liked to be surrounded by friends but somehow, couldn’t manage it. Other children looked sideways at his quirkiness, it interrupted the flow of the ordinary. They didn’t quite understand what he was saying but felt shown up by it anyway. They covered their confusion by giggling behind their hands at him. He, feeling hurt, retreated further into his flights of fancy.

The trees were what brought him out. At first they were merely a backdrop, characters invested with his imaginings. Then, as he began to whisper his secrets to them, they became his friends. Finally, as the self obsession of adolescence gave way to a mature interest in the world, he found that trees have secrets of their own.

He developed an eye for green and growing things, noticed them everywhere and delighted in their determination. Moss-lined gutters, weeds poking up through cracks in the footpath, an impromptu garden in a long forgotten laneway. He was inspired by things that grew in adverse conditions.

For a time he buried the quirky, imaginative child under the weight of scientific enquiry. He dressed in brown and beige, wore his glasses high on his wide nose and focused on his studies. He never stopped speaking to the trees, though if you asked him he would have said he was speaking to himself.

It became his habit to walk each day by the river at Burnley and it was there he attracted the attention of a particularly ancient tree.

The tree was fond of the way Martin addressed her and her colleagues as so few humans do. She could feel the respect and admiration Martin directed toward them, and the tree, very slowly in the way of old trees, made up her mind to reward him.

So it was that one day Martin, frustrated at a failed experiment wished aloud that he could make things grow. The tree sighed with delight and Martin turned to see who interrupted his solitude.

There was no one there but Martin found himself overcome with dizziness. He sat abruptly as the whirling passed from his head and his whole body began to shiver uncontrollably. When the seizure passed, Martin sat up, gazing blearily at the world. It was then he noticed his hands. Gasping in amazement he held them up to face. They were quite green.

He pulled up his jumper to find that it wasn’t just his hands, his whole body was green. He thought it must be some kind of sick joke. For several minutes he stared up at the sky wondering about dye falling from above. The sky was empty as was the park around him. Shaking his head in bewilderment, Martin headed home.

In his small bedsit he headed for the shower. The green wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard he scrubbed, the water ran clear and his skin remained resolutely green. Martin felt sick, drying himself off, he headed for the kitchen. He busied himself, making a cup of tea, still shaking his head with disbelief, too preoccupied to notice the tiny buds of green popping out of the floorboards.

It was the tea leaves that alerted him to his new power. As the teapot steeped he brushed stray leaves off the bench into his hand. He turned to the sink to let them go only to find a handful of green leaves in their place. Martin shook his head, seeing but unable, unwilling to comprehend. He stood at the sink transfixed, staring at his palm in disbelief.

The tea leaves continued to unfurl, gently tickling his palm as they came to life. A movment at the edge of his vision drew his attention to the floor. He could see, precisely the path he had taken from bathroom to kitchen bench. Each footprint was now neatly outlined in bark, small shoots sprang forth and were just beginning to bud into leaves.

Martin quickly turned back to the teapot, letting the handful of leaves drop to the floor. Carefully placing the strainer, he took refuge in the ordinary ritual of pouring. Time slowed as he narrowed his attention to sugar and spoon, losing himself in the whirl of brown as he stirred. He resolved to finish his tea and take himself to bed, hoping that sleep would erase the insanity his senses were delivering to him.

Sleep came quickly but provided little relief. He dreamed of vines that reached for him, chasing him through the bush. He hurled himself at last against the trunk of a tree, climbing upward only to find himself sinking into woody fleshy. He struggled to free himself, shaking his arms but as they swayed, rustling the leaves over his head, he realised it was too late. The only trace of the man he had been were the glasses embedded in his trunk.

He was woken by music. Instinctively rubbing his eyes, he was relieved to discover he could move. He rolled out of bed and went in search of the melody’s source. It was not a sound that was captured by his ears so much as his heart, awakening a curious longing within him.

As he entered the kitchen the music changed, brightened and he was arrested by the sight of the flower pot on the window sill. The flowers didn’t exactly turn to face him but with a warm thrill, he could feel their regard. The song of welcome and gratitude emanating from the plant was the most beautiful thing Martin had ever heard in his life. In that moment he forgot his troubles. He reached for the flower pot and, cradling it in his arms, he sat on the floor and wept.

The music opened doors in his heart. Every petty hurt, every moment of beauty and gratitude, every grief and every love were woven into the flowers’ song. The plant’s previous life under fluorescent lights in a shop were woven next to Martin’s lonely childhood. Martin could feel his care for the plant mirrored back to him, amplified along with his own life story. For the first time in his life he felt understood, in all his beauty and complexity. “I see you,” the plant seemed to say, “and I know how you feel.”

Martin felt overwhelmed by the pull of belonging. Looking around the kitchen he took note of saplings, rooted in the floorboards and now reaching toward the ceiling. He found he could feel them too, yearning for life, for sunlight and rain. He threw open the curtains and turned on the taps, filling an empty bowl he slowly, reverently began to water the small trees. Their response was swift and joyful, Martin’s face was wet with tears as he surrendered to the beauty of their music.

*This story was inspired by Gary Hirsch’s workshop ‘Making art and giving it away.’ Read about my initial experience here.

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.

A tale of three worshops

Spontaneously dancing with my scarf in the Toolangi forest.

Spontaneously dancing with my scarf in the Toolangi forest.

I was really thrilled over the last few months to have had two invitations to do the Work that Reconnects at festivals. The first one was the Waking up the Spirit Skillshare weekend (with the Barkindji people north of the Murray River), the second was for the Toolangi Forest Secrets Festival (in the mountains past Healesville).

Neither event turned out quite the way I expected. I didn’t end up running full ‘Despair and Empowerment’ workshops. Instead I just stayed present and connected with people individually. On both occasions I had planned a variety of processes to share but when I got to the festival it just didn’t feel like the right ‘vibe.’

In between those two events I ran a truth mandala at my home for friends. I had about 8 people come and it was lovely, so beautiful to see people go from strangers to connection in two hours. It was also deeply satisfying to find that I am actually capable of following through on a facilitation commitment!

It feels timely to pause and reflect on these experiences. What does it mean that things didn’t go according to my plan at the festivals?

I really want to criticise myself. The difficult thing is that each time I chose to be present and be guided by what my instincts were telling me. In the moment I was fine with it and happy to accept the other connections I was making but now, in retrospect, I’m disappointed and wondering what the next step is for me. I really want to experiment with larger groups of people but I just don’t seem to be able to make it happen.

I’m not sure if I am not ready to facilitate in those situations or if people are not ready to participate, maybe it’s both. Not everyone sees the value in grief and I am not confident enough to force it on them. I seem destined to enlarge my circle one person at a time. Should I be content with that or am I keeping myself small?