Stepping into the space between

Australian magpie in flight.

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!

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.

image

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.

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
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.

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?

Your tears are sacred

image

Some things are so big you can’t possibly write about them.

Three months ago I flew to Colorado to spend a week in the wilderness on a vision fast with a group of magnificent women. All the way there I wondered why I was flying halfway around the world to connect with the Earth when I feel so connected to the Australian landscape. The whole journey was about surrender, about feeling called and acting on impulse, about letting myself be helped and carried by the people around me.

When I arrived in Colorado my heart broke open with the beauty of it. Those mountains!! Those delicious, incredible, magnificent mountains. “No wonder” I said to my generous host “American’s like big cars and big houses, anyone would feel insignificant next to that!” I enjoyed feeling dwarfed, having a real sense of my humble place in the scheme of things.

Somehow the long journey, the altitude and the jetlag conspired to leave me vulnerable and weepy but rather than fight it, I saw this as a blessing. It stripped layers of reserve off me, here on the other side of the world, far from family and broken relationships, I could lay down the burden of grief I’d been carrying. I spent much of the first two days in tears, I was beginning to feel self-conscious about it when one of our guides, a woman of few words and an impressive herstory of wild Earth love, looked me in the eye and said “your tears are sacred.”

I cannot tell you the relief those words inspired in me. “Here you are safe,” they said, “Here you are enough. Just be.”  I have had the great honour of offering those four simple words to a number of people in my life. Each time I have witnessed the gentle sag of shoulders as they relax into their grief. Recently as I cried in the arms of my new love, she offered them back to me. What a beautiful place the world would be if we were all able to hold this understanding in our hearts and minds – your tears are sacred.

People seem to fear tears, fear the discomfort of grief but I have found it is only repressed emotion that is truly discomfiting. After and between and through my tears, up there in the mountains, was a boundless joy. The remote valley where we stayed was alive with new creatures and I was in a perpetual state of wonder. Thrilling to the sound of chipmunk chirps, delighting in their feathery tails and observing their movements with rapt attention.  Every bird and butterfly was a visitation, the whole valley seemed to rise to my attention, almost showing off.

Around the circle I laughed at myself, bashfully admitting that I felt like Snow White, surrounded by birds and small mammals. Our guide looked me in the eye once more and said “You have come here, across the world, and offered your loving attention, why would the land not respond to that?”

Last Friday I had the great priviledge of watching Tanderrum, the ceremonial coming together of the five language groups of the Kulin nation, the local Aboriginal people and custodians of the land where I live. It was beautiful and moving, only the second time the ceremony has been carried out since colonisation.  I cried most of the way through for reasons that are difficult to articulate. I kept wondering if it was wrong to cry, disrespectful or embarrassing,  but our guide’s words rang in my head and my heart “your tears are sacred, your tears are sacred, your tears are sacred.”

Rewilding the urban soul

wpid-imag0718.jpg

Last Saturday I had the great privilege of listening to authors, Maya Ward (The Comfort of Water) and Claire Dunn (My year without matches) in conversation with Sean O’Caroll (founder of Wild Mind) at CERES. It was held on the Village Green, right by Merri Creek, the perfect location for a discussion of rewilding in urban contexts.

Sean took a moment at the start to invite us all to listen to the more than human world around us and bring that richness into our awareness. Throughout the evening Maya and Claire’s reflections were punctuated by the call of ducks, wattlebirds and crows. It was delicious to open my senses to all of these things and include them in my experience of the conversation.

What struck me most about the conversation was the way that it traversed personal, spiritual and political worlds. So many levels of the human story are highlighted by the journey of these women. Their choices have made them different from other people but the fears and personal confrontations they describe are universal. By choosing to engage with the world in new ways, they challenge the status quo and open space for all of us to privilege new/old forms of knowing and ways of being that are based in direct experience of the more than human.

To close they taught us wide angle vision and fox walking. I have been using wide angled vision throughout the week – on the train, in crowded city streets, on my walk to work through the park. It’s a difficult experience to describe but there’s definitely something to it, a kind of clarity and presence outside my usual perception.

Over all the evening was very enjoyable but it barely scratched the surface of what it might take to rewild ourselves in urban environments. Hopefully this will be the first of many such conversations. There were over 250 RSVPs on Facebook (about 60 showed up on the day and it was a chilly evening). It demonstrates to me that there is a great hunger for conversation about living closer to wildness in our cities. I’m excited that so many share my passion.

Wild at heart

I love this article from the Huffington Post UK. It’s an elegant articulation of a number of complex ideas that seem to be coming together in the human psyche at the moment. I have noticed though, that there tends to be an othering of nature that happens as part of this narrative of reconnection. 

wpid-imag0718.jpg
I agree that it’s easier to see ourselves as part of a greater whole when we are overwhelmed by the more than human. Going to places that haven’t been obviously rearranged by human hands can be a humbling experience and that humility is crucial to the shift in consciousness that is needed. But unless we can bring that humility and that recognition of our place in the larger whole into our cities and human communities, our work will be fruitless.
 
This is a critique borne of my own frustration. The conditions of my life require me to live in the city and give me very few opportunities to ‘escape’ into the wilderness. I need to be nourished and nurtured by the more than human world as much as anyone but I can’t do it in the traditional way of ‘going bush.’ I am slowly developing practices for myself that help me ground my sense of connection in the places where I live, work and play. Perhaps the judge sits in my own heart but I feel these practices are overlooked or undervalued by my deep ecology friends and by the broader narrative of ‘nature connection.’ As though they are merely stop gap measures until I can get out into the ‘real’ wildness again.
 
If we are truly to see ourselves as part of nature rather than dominating it we need to radically rethink the dichotomy that says ‘nature’ is in our national parks and not in our cities. We need to take our hearts, awakened to wildness and use them to see the land where we live. Our great teachers in this could well be our children, the young ones haven’t yet learned to pay more attention to ‘human’ objects over non-human ones. Those of us who don’t have children may have memories of the way we used to play, the trees and flowers that drew our attention. The things that fired our imaginations and filled our hearts with joy. As Mary Oliver so eloquently put it we need to “Let the soft animal of [our] body love what it loves” and we need to do it wherever we are. 
 
The day after my walk along Back Creek, a gathering entitled “Rewilding the Urban Heart” was advertised on Facebook – to say that I am excited would be a massive understatement.