There is a force that has gripped the planet for hundreds of years. It is the force behind every marching army, every man who raises a hand against his wife, every school yard bully, every iron-fisted leader. It is the force behind slavery, behind colonisation, behind prejudice. Let’s call it… subjugation. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The art of meaningful conversation
Recently I’ve been making connections between a variety of different ideas but haven’t known how to articulate them. There is something about the human need for meaning, belonging and importance that connects to our environmental crisis.
On the one hand I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle and Brene Brown. I’ve found enormous personal insight in their work and it has helped me to push myself toward being a better and happier person. In the face of environmental crisis it might seem like this personal journey is self-indulgent but it’s not.
Consumption is driven by numbing behaviour, when we take the time to say “I am enough, I have enough, I am grateful” and do the work to believe it and feel it. Then we are freed from the need to consume mindlessly. That’s not even the half of it though, we have gifts to offer the world that we squander in our mindlessness. We are not fulfilling our potential as a species because our greatest creative gifts are burried beneath a flood of stuff.
The pursuit of money over meaning is killing us.
This week I attended three days of training on the Art of Hosting. On one level what we learned was a collection of tools and group processes for engaging people in generating creative solutions to social problems. What the hosts modeled though were ways to keep people present and engage in meaningful conversation. They drew the group to recognise our common humanity, to step out from behind our professional identities, engage with what matters to us and apply it to our work.
Meaningful conversation is fundamental to society’s transition from destruction to sustainability. When we make peace with the present moment we stop trying to impose our will on the world and come to appreciate what is given and what we have to give. As we realise our fundamental worth we stop needing to prove it with bigger, better, faster, more and we naturally make space for others to be present and call forth their better/higher/buddha nature. This creates the grounds for genuine dialogue, it’s the only way that change can happen and the only way we can come up with the kind of creative and innovative solutions we need.
Thank you trees
I’m coming up blank this week. There’s big stuff going on at work and it’s doing my head in. I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh‘s Love letter to the Earth which is helpful. I am taking refuge in the present every chance I get but the maelstrom of ego is pretty brutal right now. I’m particularly grateful for trees. They are so grounded and so effortlessly perfect. They are a mindfulness bell for me, reminding me of my true nature and my place in the cosmos. This too will pass.
Here are seven other reasons why trees deserve our gratitude.
Below is a picture of the great grandmother tree who is starting to become a regular character on this blog. I have grand ideas about writing about how I feel about her and how much of a presence she is in my life but perhaps as I weave mention of her through my posts you will come to see it for yourself.
Here and now
I’ve been engaging with the present lately. I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle (A new Earth) and realised that being present is as hard and as simple as choosing it, right here, right now. There’s nothing really new in the book but somehow it has just clicked for me.
I wasn’t sure about sharing this here because I didn’t feel like I could articulate the connection between being present and connecting with nature. Then I came across this beautiful post about wild time.
In old Europe, the word “time” derives from the word “tide”, while the word “current” means both “tide” and “time”. Time is the tides of the ocean, shifting and changing with the moon. It ebbs and flows. It waxes and wanes. Time is fluid. It has a beat. A rhythm of relationship, the in-breath and out-breath of the web of life.
The post discusses how the Western construct of time is arbitrary and problematic and offers some alternatives. Reading about these different ways of conceiving of time soothes my soul in the same way as Eckhart Tolle’s writing does. Being present and stilling the waters of the mind allows the Earth to speak within. It’s about paying attention, opening oneself up to what is offered, accepting what is instead of imposing our own idea of how things ‘should be.’ Deep listening.
This is one of the wonderful things about hanging out with kids, they have a different sense of time. If you let them they can draw you right into the present moment. Mudpie Mama has a list of tips for walking in nature with your toddler that includes:
Let them lead – Wherever possible let them take the lead and follow their interests.
I couldn’t agree more, to my mind though it’s not just about child centred parenting, it’s that they are probably closer to nature than you so really, they’re a better judge of how to engage. They are more present and they haven’t learned how to march to the beat of the time gods, what a gift! Plus they are little sponges, their eyes and ears are wide open taking in everything the world has to offer.
We are wildness
A bunch of people in North America have started a website called We are wildness and they are running a 30 day ‘rewild your life’ challenge. All you have to do is spend half an hour in nature each day in September sans technology except taking photos. Continue reading