Subjugation

Subjugation

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

Questing

Questing

There were a bunch of things that came out of my last vision quest but I’m wary of trying to capture them. Some seem like elegant nuggets, they can be named and shared, there is a temptation and a danger in reducing the experience to these.

Other things happened that have a felt impact on me but their meaning is elusive, they have an archetypal resonance that ripples out into my life. Every time I see a skink I think of the skinks on my quest and wonder about the relationship between then and now. I don’t want to reduce the magnificent being of the skink to some kind of lame ‘message’ for me but when I see them it makes me pause, drops me into the deep listening place, shifts the way I am reading my context in that moment.

There is a third category of happening that seemed insignificant at the time but later became intensely meaningful. I wove a crown of lomandra on the first day that represented my relationship with personal power. I initially hung it on a hollowed tree that served as an impromptu altar space but when it started to rain I placed it within the hollow around some banksia cones I had been playing with. Several days later I was describing to my girlfriend how the banksia cones represented the people in my family and how I had tried and failed to find one that represented me. As I was telling her this I suddenly realised that the crown represented me and that placing the crown around the banksia cones was symbolic of my family being cradled by my empowered self. An impulse driven by practicality upon further reflection turned into a symbolic act.

The fourth category is the great mystery itself, things that happened that may well have some kind of meaning that will never be unpacked, never be recognised or known with the conscious mind. Much of the time I was out in the bush I felt bored or sleepy or frustrated, much of the time it felt like nothing was happening, I often hear others describe their quests as largely uneventful. When I walked out of my quest site I cried, when I left the property I cried again, I can’t say why. My body had its own experience, its own mysterious journey, the experience shifted me on a fundamental level and I cannot begin to explain it.

Each of my quests has been a powerful ritual of surrender, to my Self, to the Earth, to the great mystery of which we are all a part. Each quest has seemed to send ripples of experience out in both directions, the things that happen before and after are as important as the time spent in the quest itself.

This last quest was very much about creativity, I suppose it’s obvious from my recent posts that I am quite preoccupied by this at the moment. The Echo of the Shadow was the week before my quest and the Teatro delos Sentidos workshop was the week after. I had powerful dreams of making music, sharing the stage with musical/spiritual heroes of mine. That’s not all it was about but I guess that’s the bit that I’m most interested in. Tonight I take a small step in that direction, I’m playing a gig at my house for a small group of friends to share, for the first time, some songs I’ve written.

Poetrees

The Poetrees seed has been lurking in the dark for over three months. We’ve been gently watering it with encouraging words, fertilizing it with our creative insights and learning from our mistakes. Over the past week a small tendril has been reaching for the sun as we test the prototype and make sure it’s all ready for your poetic words of tree love.

For those who are new to the project, Poetrees is a playful community arts offering that explores our connection with trees. Users will be able to submit a poem and a tree to the interactive map on our website so that others can visit the tree and read the poem.

I’m excited to let you know that after hours and hours of hard work from the team, the Poetrees website is almost ready to burst into the daylight!

We’ve done everything we can to make a joyful container for your tree-loving words. Next week it will be your turn to step out of the shade and share your poetree with the world.

We’re not leaving you out on a limb though! The important task of composing poems needn’t be carried out alone. We have prepared a series of poem seeding workshops throughout the Sustainable Living Festival to help you tend to your creative garden.

The one hour workshops will comprise a tree meditation and some simple writing exercises to help the creative sap rise through your limbs, onto the page and up to the electronic mycelial network (aka the internet).

Come to one or come to all three! Commune with trees and write poetry! Invite your friends and family, spread the tree love across our city. #inmelbcity #SLFAus #poetrees

Birrarung Mar, 13 Feb, 2pm
Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

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.

The magic of empathy

Last week I posted about tears so it seems fitting that this week the theme for me is empathy. I came across the above video last year some time when I was completely obsessed with Brene Brown (note: I am still in love with her ideas but I tend to mention them weekly now instead of every hour). The way people respond to our grief, vulnerability and emotions in general can have a profound effect on us.

For me there is a very clear link between numbing our emotions and a host of environmental issues from problematic consumption to our inability to respond appropriately to extinction. There is also a positive aspect, that when we are connected with our hearts we are more able to come up with creative solutions and cooperate with our fellow beings (human and otherwise).

The first step in becoming empathetic with people around you is learning to sit with the discomfort of vulnerability/strong emotions. Being able to genuinely support someone else through tough times requires an ability to be uncertain and avoid slipping into the trap of ‘fixing’ what is going on for them. This is something I have been guilty of many, many times throughout my life, I have written poems about my addiction to ‘fixing’ people. Who doesn’t love the ego trip of knowing that you’ve sorted out someone else’s life for them and the hook of knowing you are needed?

This week I have had the privilege of witnessing a number of precious humans in varying states of vulnerability and it has brought home to me again and again the power of being present, of witnessing and reflecting their words from the heart. In practice these things don’t feel like much, I often feel quite helpless as I reflect someone’s difficulties a response like “Wow, it sounds like you are feeling really vulnerable.” or  “Oh it must be so scary that your mother could die any day now.” seem kind of lame. Even as I write those words I am feeling a little teary at the enormity of what some of my friends are going through and as I listen to them I am regularly speechless. Instead of rushing to avoid my anxiety I have learned to sit with it, to name it (as the video suggests), to be comfortable with my own silence or to name my deeper feelings.

What I also see in my friends though, as well as their pain, is an opportunity for love and openness. “You are feeling this grief right now because you love your mother, that’s a beautiful thing.” “You are feeling uncertain right now because you are daring to take a different path in your life.” Being able to reflect that larger context is an important way of holding them in the discomfort of the present. I am aware of being very delicate with this though because it is a short step from here to ‘silver lining.’ It’s important not to use the larger context to negate their feelings or rush them through it.

The final thing I offer, and this is taken straight from Brene, is ‘me too.’ Advice is terrible but stories are brilliant. Advice says “I know better than you.” Stories say “I have been there and this is what happened.” Stories allow space for other people to take what they need from your experience, sometimes you will know what they are going to take but sometimes it will be something completely unexpected. You have to be open enough and humble enough to share your experience and let the other person make meaning from it. You can tell them what it meant for you and what you feel you learned (the deeper and more honest you can be the better) but you can’t tell them what they should learn.

The act of empathy feels sacred to me, it is holding space for others to unfold. All humans are empathic, if they don’t demonstrate it it’s because they have learned to shut it down. The only way to open them up again is to create safe spaces for them to step into. Everyone has the means within themselves to overcome what ever they are facing. All this week I have witnessed people coming to a place of calm and finding that they already have the answers they seek. To me it feels like magic because what is required of me is actually very little, as though I’m just standing next to them while they fumble with their keys and open the door. They just need to feel safe enough to trust what they already know.

Sherbrooke Yatra

Sunday was a big day of protests against our government’s woeful response to climate change. They are actually planning to dismantle measures put in place by the previous government. The loss of the carbon price seems inevitable and yet 60,000 people across the country turned out to protest their intention to repeal it.

I showed my support by participating in a Yatra in Sherbrooke forest above Belgrave. We walked about 7km (the Grants picnic ground loop if you know the area) in silence interspersed with readings and deep ecology exercises from Joanna Macy.
Photographer by a tree

It was a lovely way to do deep ecology, dwarfed by the mountain ash forest and held by it as we walked in silent solidarity.  I was so quickly embraced by the little group although I’d only just met most of them.  I guess you don’t show up for something like that unless you have a particular spiritual bent and it’s a pretty deep place to start from.

It’s reassuring to see the diversity of people who are engaged with deep ecology.  I look forward to the day when Yatras become like 5rhythms and you can be sure there’s one happening somewhere every weekend. We’re building what we need to sustain ourselves not just in environmental activism but in life.

The trouble with Australian seasons

The following excerpt is taken from my Master’s thesis on seasonal celebrations:

In Australia seasonal variability has been the norm for many thousands of years. From a European point of view it is “a continent characterised by extremes of variation and unpredictability.” (Rose, 2005: 38) The cultural practices of Indigenous Australians, however, have evolved alongside Australia’s changeable weather so that “conditions labelled by whitefellas as ‘very changeable’ [are] in fact ‘entirely natural’” (Rose, 2005: 37). Debbie Bird Rose describes an Indigenous system of understanding and interpreting the seasons according to a range of interrelated events.

Rather than being based on a projection of an annual cycle, seasonal changes are forecast through awareness of changes in flora and fauna and responded to as they occur. “The system is widespread, the content is local. All of it – system and content – is built from extremely longterm observations that have accommodated variability and patchiness and identified precise concurrences.” (2005: 40) Such a system, Rose argues, is impossible to correlate with the European calendar without losing the dynamism that makes it so suited to Australian seasonal conditions. It holds the seeds of a world-view that challenges the European seasonal mind-set and represents a way forward for spiritual ecologists. Rose holds the Indigenous system up as an example to us all of how we can live “in this vulnerable continent.” We can seek to build a relationship with what is happening in the natural world around us by allowing observation to be the basis of ritual.

So as I alluded in my response to some questions on my previous post the notion of ‘indigenous seasons’ is problematic. The familiar 4 season calendar introduced from the north was shaped by an agrarian relationship to the land. There’s a sense in which the whole concept of seasons don’t apply to Australia because of nonannual cycles like El Nino/ La Nina. However the idea of basing rituals on observation presents a great opportunity, particularly as climate change begins to show its teeth.

How this might work in practice I don’t know, I’d love to explore. I imagine a semi-structured ritual that provides space for call and response, litanies of experiences or free flowing physical expression, there’s no limit to the ways you could gather observations. A system of continuously adapting and responding to changes in seasonal patterns is really the only way to maintain a genuine relationship with the land. It also has to be more than human somehow though, we have to allow space for the Earth to speak to us, to feel our small selves within that larger self.