Ancestral pilgrimage: Beginning

I am a fifth generation Australian settler and I am in the UK, in the lands of my ancestors, on a quest of healing.

It is a quest in the sense that the outcome is unknown to me. I do not know what, if anything, I will discover while I am here.

It is about healing because my whole life has been about healing. Specifically healing within myself the false divide between me and the Earth.

As a settler Australian, connection with the Earth entails reconciliation. When my ancestors came to Australia they dispossessed many ancient peoples, the longest continuing cultures on Earth. Those cultures continue to thrive, though the process of colonisation continues to this day. I can not come into relationship with the land of my birth without acknowledging this reality.

As I open myself to my larger self – the whole Earth community – the legacy of colonisation presents itself to me. My longing for rituals that respond to and honour the Earth has led me to appropriate the cultural practices of first nations people. I have become aware, on my travels, that much as I love the country of my birth (the lands of the Wurundjeri people) there is a hesitancy, a legacy of guilt that weighs on my subconscious and prevents me from fully surrendering to it.

Then of course there is the question of how my people came to see themselves as ‘separate’ in the first place. It is clear to me that the violence of colonisation was perpetrated against my ancestors many times over before they came to serve the project of colonising ‘Australia.’ I do not say this to claim victim hood for my people but to give myself the chance to rigorously search out the roots of this malpractice in hope that it will give me insight into how to live differently.

In order for me to be born 32 different people left their ancestral homes across England, Scotland and Ireland between 1832 and 1860. Only one was a convict, the rest were economic migrants, squeezed off the land by over population and the enclosure of the commons, refugees fleeing famine, boat people.

Here I am, in the homeland of my ancestors. Seeking to be present to a land that does not carry a burden of guilt, seeking knowledge and understanding of the life ways of my people prior to colonisation and seeking to experience, to feel into, the land my ancestors came from.

My quest is made possible by my travelling companions, my Mum and Dad.

I have the honour of being daughter to a rigorous and knowledgeable family historian who considers my interest in her life’s work a tremendous gift. I can not believe it has taken me this long to realise the vital importance of her work and the privilege of my access to it (just before when I was writing about the time span of my ancestor’s migration all I had to do was turn to my right and ask Mum). She does not only collect names and dates but stories too as we shall see as we go on.

Jill Bear taking a selfie in front of the Trafalgar Square lions, Kiri Bear stands under a lion in the background.

Dad thinks he is just ‘tagging along’ on this expedition but without his lifelong dedication to the financial stability of my family, this trip would be out of my reach. He is also good at getting enthusiastic about things, providing philosophical musings and making suggestions like “Let’s go to the local pub and ask if they know anything about Bears.” that are anathema to my highly introverted mother (I mean no offence by this description, she gave her approval for it).

Kiri Bear opens the tardis of family history, Noel Bear joins in the fun.

I am aware that few of my people (by which I mean settler colonials the world over) have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage such as this. I am extremely grateful for the confluence of conditions that make it possible for me to be here and so I dedicate this journey to the healing of my people, to the healing of all peoples, to the healing of the Earth.

Struggles with creativity

Over the past year part my of journey has involved trying to reconnect with my inner artist. Part of that has involved writing poetry which has been very satisfying but I long to express myself visually. In the past (I’m talking about 10-15 years ago) painting helped me uncover truths that would never have occurred to my conscious mind. At times the process of creation has felt liberating and joyous, who doesn’t want more of that?

So when my troubles hit crisis point last year, I made time to paint. It kind of worked but it wasn’t as cathartic as I remembered. It was peaceful enough while I was engaged in it but it didn’t yield any insight or lasting solace. I know I’m asking a lot of a few hours but family life is crowded, I need to get bang for the time I invest. If something like 5rhythms is more effective then I’m going to go dancing for two hours instead of stay at home and paint.
 painting experiments
Over the year I have continued to fight myself and the tide of life to create space for the unstructured playtime I find crucial to creativity. It felt like a lot of my attempts failed. My inner dialogue was driving me to succeed, to push myself in new directions, to stick with it until I developed the skill to be brilliant. All of which effectively stifled anything I might have to offer.
girl holds origami butterflies on strings
Then a couple of weeks ago, after the Brene Brown course on the Gifts of Imperfection, I started thinking about working with myself, working with the skills I have instead of pushing myself to do things I can’t. Later that night I remembered a little piece of drawing and origami I did one evening, the only creative project over the year that was genuinely satisfying (and turned out beautifully, picture above). I decided to keep experimenting with drawing that same figure and the results have been astounding. I never knew I could draw!
This journey reminds me of Mary Oliver’s advice to “let the soft animal of your body love, what it loves.” It strikes me that we all have gifts but we undervalue and undermine them in a stunning variety of ways. We think it has to be hard, it has to be a struggle, we have to earn the right to express ourselves. Charles Eisenstein would say that this is the Story of Separation, urging us to conquer and dominate ourselves. Life thrives on diversity, the Earth needs us to express what is most unique and heartfelt and natural within us. This is the birthplace of innovation, this is how we will change the world.