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.
Spring Vision Quest (Victoria)
“You know after any truly initiating experience that you are part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you henceforward, but you are about life.”
― Richard Rohr
Vision quest is a powerful way to surrender to the greater whole. An opportunity to step into the wilderness, letting go of the expectations and roles that hold us in place Continue reading
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!
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.
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.
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.
My first thought upon finishing The Comfort of Water – A River Pilgrimage was “Thank you.”
Grief and gratitude
I seem to be pulled toward grief and gratitude at the moment. On the face of it, according to common understanding, it seems incongruous like being pulled in different directions. From the inside though the connection is seamless, grief and gratitude entwine each other, the latter is a balm for the former.
Earlier this year my 4 year old moved up to the kinder room and was quite sad about the loss of his beloved child care room. I mentioned this to a colleague at work who responded with enthusiasm. “That’s great, he must have felt really loved where he was.” Her response shifted my thinking and inspired me to tell Mr A “I know you feel sad and that’s okay. That sadness tells us that we loved something so what we can do is be grateful and say thank you. Thank you child care room, thank you toys, thank you carers.”
Some weeks later I cradled Archie, my beloved dog of ten years, as he lay on the threshold of death. I was moved in that moment of letting go to give thanks for the life we had shared and wrote the below poem in his honour.
At the Wild Mind Gathering I offered a ritual of grief and later a song of gratitude. The song was inspired by the joy of finding community but the grief of separation was just around the corner. I knew everyone would share my pain at leaving such a beautiful space of connection and sharing, so I offered my thanks for what we had created together.
Joanna Macy says that gratitude is a revolutionary act. Gratitude says “I am enough. I have enough.” The danger in grief is that the pain will lead us down the path of fear and scarcity, closing us off to love. Gratitude stops the descent and holds us in grief as a pure expression of love.
Grief is becoming a friend to me. It shows me that I’m alive, that I am capable of love and that I am engaged in the world. I am learning to be grateful for the pain of grief and finding that the more I embrace it, the more it sets me free and the more open I am to embracing the love that comes my way. I am grateful for all the people, things and moments that I have loved and lost for helping me learn this lesson.