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?

Surrender

Surrender

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.

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.

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.”

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.

On grief

Grief came in the night and curled up on my chest
I woke to it staring me in the face
Placid, implaccable but somehow menacing.

As I stared into those yellow, unblinking eyes, it’s tail began to lash.
I grabbed it with firm hands,
Craning my neck to avoid a counter attack
And sat up, slowly, expecting it to drop to the floor
instead I felt its claws.

Pin pricks became angry red lines raking downward hot and heavy.
It clung, ripping, tearing but never letting go
Pulling great wracking sobs out of me
Dragging at my heart through my ribcage
Sinking it’s teeth into delicate flesh.

I thought I would die.

Body tense, teeth clenched, hands fisting away tears.
I stretched beyond breaking,
torn asunder but somehow inescapably still here.
Every part of me pinned by claw or tooth
Laid out, throbbing
A dissection of human suffering.
Helpless.

I gave up.
Stopped pushing, stopped fighting, stopped trying to be free.

I laid each hand across my heart and wept.

Of their own volition, my hands found soft fur
Drew my fingers in long, languid strokes.

The pain ebbed,
The cat
purred.