We are on the ferry to Rathlin in Northern Ireland. The locals say it quickly and enunciate the ‘L’ so it sounds like rattlin’. Mum is telling me a story of my ancestors – Catherine McCaig was born on the island in 1821, she married Harry Begley and moved to Port Stuart, they had a daughter, Annie (my Grandma Bear’s grandmother) and several other children.
Since I left the workforce three weeks ago and returned from our sojourn in Daylesford, I have been taking time each day to sit in a park near my home and watch the birds.
I was inspired to start doing this by my girlfriend, Mel, who has been saying for months that she wants to find a sit spot and start a daily practice. Leaving work has allowed me sink into a different way of being where things like rising early to sit in a park seem like a perfectly sensible way to start the day.
Even in these short weeks I am astounded at how much I have learned just by looking and being aware. I love birds, I am in the habit of paying attention to them, I know the names of most of the common birds in my neighbourhood but there is so much I was missing.
One of my early ‘discoveries’ was a particular bird song that I admired. I initially thought this song belonged to the noisy mynah. I was hearing the call all over the place so I figured it must be a very common bird. I caught a glimpse of a grey bird flying out of the place where I’d heard the sound a moment earlier. I was pretty certain but I kept my eyes open for confirmation.
The next day I had an encounter with a butcher bird, I was pleased to see it because I had thought butcher birds were rare in the suburbs outside large regeneration areas. It sat in a small tree just near my sit spot. As I watched it lifted its beak and song rang out, the same song I had erroneously attributed to the noisy mynah.
This encounter shocked me. Not only did I discover that butcher birds possess a beautiful, melodic call but that far from being rare they are all over the place. There are a pair of butcher birds nesting near my sit spot so I have had the pleasure of observing them almost daily.
It worries me that I have failed to notice their entire species all this time. I suspect it is because there are a handful of birds that are known to me such as rosellas, magpies, magpie larks, mynahs, wattyl birds, ravens, or lorikeets. Viewed from below the butcher bird’s grey breast resembles a mynah, from above its black and white back resembles a magpie lark. I can only assume that I have been seeing what I expected to see rather than noticing the specifics of what is there.
What a wonderful lesson in humility.
In October Mel and I are travelling to northern NSW to learn from nature awareness mentor, Jon Young. One of the workshops is about bird language, understanding the pattern of bird interactions and calls as a gateway into understanding what’s going on in the more-than-human world around us. I can’t wait to learn some frameworks to deepen my understanding of what my local birds are saying to each other.
We are running a crowdfunding campaign to help us get up there and share what we learn afterwards, we’d love to have you join us – http://startsomegood.com/urbannatureawareness
Artist as Family
We made some new friends! The week after I finished up at work we travelled to Daylesford to ‘SWAP’ (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturalists) with Artist as Family. I can’t think of a better way to begin this new phase of my life. It was divine, too many thoughts and ideas and inspirations to share but this little poem captures some of the spirit. Continue reading
Stepping into the space between
It’s been a number of months since I completed the Space Between Stories online course with Charles Eisenstein. At the time I was mildly disappointed, I wanted to change direction and I thought the course would do that or at least point the way. Instead it pretty much confirmed the holding pattern I was already in. The various speakers seemed to suggest that the right moment would present itself without my control.
At the time this was frustrating, I went to a three day retreat in the middle and was bouyed up by the beautiful community of deep ecologists and spiritual Earth seekers, which only compounded my dissatisfaction with my ‘ordinary’ life and with the artifice of the Space Between Stories online community. Now though I have to acknowledge those speakers were right.
Three weeks ago I resigned from my very secure, reasonably well-paid bureaucratic position in a government institution. The work I did there was good work, the people I worked with were lovely and all had their hearts in the right place. There were opportunities for me to learn and grow and make a difference in the world but it was prey to the usual frustrations of working in strict hierarchies. I’ve known for some time that I needed to leave but I wasn’t sure of my next step and then, after a particularly difficult week, the answer was startlingly clear. I just had to quit.
I did it with grace, ruffling as few feathers as possible but it got to the point where I just knew I couldn’t work there anymore and so I resigned without knowing what the ‘next step’ would be.
Over the past three weeks a number of ‘next steps’ have presented themselves to me. Things that I never even thought possible have been offered. What is even more surprising is that each week my ideas about what I want to do in life and my vision for the future have changed and deepened. Things that I thought I wanted have been rejected in favour of more radical paths, paths that I hadn’t even been aware of until I gave myself permission to dream larger, until I chose to step out of the structures that were keeping me secure.
I am taking this opportunity to experiment with following my heart. I don’t know what the future will look like but I know that the Earth will be at the centre of my life. I want to prioritise my relationship with the more-than-human and see where it leads. I look forward to sharing the journey with you!
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.
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.
The power of presence
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.
Earlier this year at the Wild Mind festival I attended an embodied writing workshop with Maya Ward. As a poet I expected to write poetry. Much to my chagrin what came to me were some cheerful words and a snippet of melody. A week later it was still running around in my head so, even though I didn’t really like the melody, I took the time to sing it out and write some more lyrics.
The resulting song has been a prayer, an affirmation and a blessing. I have sung it to myself and to other people in my life whenever the reminder to surrender was needed. It has brought numerous people to tears (which I count as a good thing) and brought me enormous peace. Now I finally have the courage to share it:
Serenity, wonder and peace are yours
The infinite mystery of life
Wholeness, connection and balance are yours
If you surrender to strife.
Let go and let come
The earth will keep turning
The work will get done
Let go and let come
The universe is waiting for you.
Kindness, compassion and love are yours
Softness of a warm embrace
Happiness, humour and joy are yours
The laughter of children at play.
Let go and let come…
Silence and stillness and solace are yours
Because sometimes you must go within
Nurturing, comfort and weeping are yours
If you can learn to give in.
Let go and let come…
Envy and anger and greed are yours
Because they too have something to teach
Community, family and friendship are yours
If in your heart you make peace.
Let go and let come…
The universe is waiting
Your own heart is waiting
And we’re all here waiting for you.
Dancing with shame
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.
(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.
It was over two weeks ago but the memory still rings with warmth, softness and love. I stood and read a story at Mother Tongue about my mother and about grief. Mum was in the audience at my invitation and when I started to cry she came and stood with me. I clearly remember the gentle clicking of support from the audience that bore me up as I stood, too overcome with emotion to speak.
I was terrified before hand. Sitting in the audience while other women bared their souls, I told the persistent nag in the back of my brain that we weren’t going through with it. When my turn came I calmly rose and took the stage. My mother, the family historian, proudly introduced me with six generations of matrilineal ancestors, all the way back to Brigid who got on a boat in Ireland. I was and am so pleased at her joy in that moment, sharing a knowledge that is seldom appreciated.
The story I read was about me and mum and grief and a hug that was 45 years late but no less meaningful for all that. It’s a precious moment and the sharing of it has only extended and expanded the gift. The next day Mum said “Your story has deepened the experience for me. I had told myself that it was mostly about you, that hug. Reading your story I realised how important it was for me.”
All night people approached us to thank us for sharing it and to share their own stories. “You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.” they said, each in their own way. I’m so glad Mum was there to receive that with me, to know that her experience has echoes in other people’s livess. It felt so right to be sharing the story together, even though I wrote it, it belongs to us both.