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Last night I couldn’t sleep, lay awake for an hour and then woke before dawn still crackling with energy. It’s as though I am carrying the collective healing of a whole group of people and I can barely contain it, barely open my heart to let it in, it is so joyful. Who would have thought such a reaction would come from talking about grief?

Yesterday I gave a sermon at The Weekly Service. It’s a group that’s been on my radar for over a year, a church for nonreligious people, an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with like-hearted community, something I’ve been dying to check out. So when co-founder, Cam Elliot saw me at The Moth in Melbourne last month and invited me to share my story at the Service I jumped at the chance.

The story I told was not about the more-than-human or my relationship with it and it was not about violence against women. It was about my mother and about grief, a deeply personal story about one of the most significant and precious moments of my life. I called it “We don’t do grief in our family: a healing tale” and a crowd of almost 50 people turned up to hear it.

Beforehand I was a bundle of nerves. Several audience members were mentors and heroes of mine, not one, not two, SEVERAL. Plus my family were there and my cousin. I had to go and stand in the lane way under the peppercorn tree just to keep myself from dissolving into a puddle of fear. When it came time to speak, the nerves faded into the background, I sang one of my songs about presence and surrender and following the ‘quiet whispers of joy’ and was very grateful that my quivering hands managed to keep forming the chords.

Then I took a deep breath and told the story. It’s one I’ve told a couple of times before but I badly wanted it to be alive for this group. The Weekly Service has gathered a precious community of seekers and truth speakers, the first time I sat among them I wept with the feeling of safety and welcome, all my petals unfurled. Now, sitting in front of them, I wanted to honour them by offering all of myself, my presence, my rawness, my truth.  I wanted to let myself be seen.

I have no idea what it was like for them, I can barely remember what I said or how it went. I remember the reactions though, remember my joy at hearing people’s reflections and connections, at having my story given back to me fresh and new from all these different perspectives. They saw things in it that I had no idea were there and took beautiful things beyond my imagining to apply to their lives. Wow.

A new culture is coalescing. A new way of being in the world. We are sick of complaining about late industrial capitalism and we are rolling up our sleeves and making something new. Long have I admired the people at the forefront of this creative task, yesterday I felt like I was taking my place among them. I couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds, communities like this make life worth living.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. Arundhati Roy

The echo of the shadow

The echo of the shadow

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There is a thread that runs through my heart, through the heart of the Earth and through the heart of the universe. I can’t say where it begins or ends, can’t say which part belongs to which, it is one, long, sinuous line.

This is not something I know with my mind. It is not something I can prove or measure but I feel it to be true. I feel it in the dance of creativity, I feel it in my silent dialogue with nature, I feel it in those overwhelming moments just after everything seems lost.

When I think about ‘nature connection’ I think about it in terms of this line. It’s not confined to making humans go out into the bush and realise the awesome beauty of the ‘natural world’ (as noble and wondrous as that is). It can be any activity that draws people to feel that numinous thread, in themselves, in the world, in the universe. Anything that draws us to realise we are intimately connected to a great mystery.

Late last year this realisation was brought home to me again by a multi-sensory theatre experience “The echo of the shadow” by Teatro de los Sentidos. The ‘performance’ was a labyrinth, taking up the whole basement exhibition space at ACMI. Participants entered the space one at a time, at five minute intervals and wandered through dark, curtained corridors, into various encounters with archetypal characters.

It was surreal.

I felt that I had fallen into Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie set that was still live, a dream made real and tangible.

The experience of being the lone audience member was slightly nerve wracking. As I entered the first room I was acutely aware of the audience’s responsibility, usually diffused among a crowd, now resting heavily on my shoulders. The anxiety left as I was received by the first inhabitant though, replaced with a humble delight – “all this? for me?” I threw myself into the gift they offered with characteristic gusto and was rewarded with one of the most profound experiences of my life.

The labyrinth led me to long repressed parts of myself. Half-way through, an encounter left me so deeply shaken that I cried all the way to the end. This is not to say the experience was harrowing, my tears are sacred and I welcomed the opportunity to release them. The descent was a gentle invitation, there was room to find one’s own meaning in the work and only go as far as one was ready to go. After the nadir were a series of lighter experiences and rituals that didn’t erase the emotion but held space to feel it safely.

It was beautiful. I would do the whole thing again in a heart beat and no doubt encounter whole other reaches of my internal landscape.

There is a kind of magic that I occasionally stumble upon in my creative work, that what is most personal is most universal. The moments when I am able to draw art from my most private, intimate self, generate the pieces that get the strongest response from my audience, touch that universal thread of connection. It seems to me that Teatro de los Sentidos has brought together a group of artists with that shared aim – to express their deepest selves through the creation of a physical metaphorical landscape and so draw out the inner landscape of the participant. The work breaks down the space between creator and audience, thereby troubling the concept of a discrete self and opening the participant to the great mystery.

A few weeks later I had the great fortune to find out a little about the inner workings of Teatro de los Sentidos through a day-long workshop. I was not disappointed at what I found behind the curtain…