Ancestral Movement and the Animal Body

V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl

One of the workshops held at the Wild Minds gathering was on Ancestral Movement, as presented by Simon Thakur. Simon’s position on ancestors is the same as mine so I’ll start with why that is so. For both of us, the ancestors are those that went before us, that obeyed their survival instincts and passed on their genes, who carried their way of life along the path of history, who passed on and left us as their descendants. During the workshop, Simon also pointed out that, for people of the land, the actual places where ancestors were buried or burnt would bear traces of their physical bodies. Therefore, it is no metaphor to say that the ancestors are in the land, in the soil, in the vegetation – because they literally are, as compost and recycled nutrients! But like me he goes further to say that the ancestors are not just our own human forebears in the cultural sense, of passing on life lessons and survival skills, and in the physical sense, as they passed on genes and then helped to fertilise the land.

 

 Lizardaustalian

 

The ancestors are also in the other creatures; and not just because the other creatures eat the grass that grows out of our ancestors’ dead bodies. The other creatures are our ancestors because we have evolved out of the same physical matrix they have; our sun, and our planet earth and moon, all come from the same outrageously explosive conflagration of light that is the starburst behind the entire universe. Amoebic life then emerges out of the melting pot that is the saline solution of the oceans. Unicellular organisms evolve into little creatures with segmented bodies or primitive legs – anything that can move them to better sources of energy, like light or protoplankton. Competition soon emerges amongst predator and prey, even at this basic level. Fish-eyed creatures slop through the mud out of which begin to grow plants. Reptiles grow along their spines and move in waves, like fish but on land. Primates swing from trees and pass fruit from hand to mouth. We modern humans integrate every aspect of this development; growing out of it but retaining it somewhere in our genetic code. And therefore, retaining it in our bodies; and therefore, in our psyches.

 

 L0033034 Plate from Haeckel, AnthropogenieHaeckel wanted to prove black skinned people evolved from the apes – i reckon we should all be allowed to play in the trees!

 

Moving like each of these creatures reminds us of our ancient kinship with them. And as Simon reminds us, the firing of mirror neurons in our brains means that we sense that kinship in an embodied sense, in the way our thought patterns and bodily movements follow those of other creatures, mostly without us being aware of it. The other day I saw a child struggling to stand from an awkward position on the ground. I felt my whole body feel the child’s struggle – take notice of it in a motivated way – and noticed that my hands had already started to move in a way that could help out. My brain was firing signals of empathy and my body immediately obeyed and sent me to act. Extend this to the other creatures of the earth: moving like a lizard reminds my whole somatic system that those kinds of serpentine waves are part of my own evolutionary biology. Do I then find my empathy for other creatures increases when I remember they are my kin? Do I feel I should help protect their environment as well as mine? Certainly, the least we can say is that forgetting this makes it easier to ignore them and their plight.

 

mqdefaultSimon doing some animal moves. I’ve been practising them during my rides and walks.

 

That is the idea behind Ancestral Movement – the rest is in the play! Learning to shimmy across the land like a lizard is a very welcome activity for this embodied ecophilosopher – and is also really hard work! I was exhausted after only an hour of clambering about, watching Simon execute some of the moves I wasn’t ready for, following his explanations of the way each of us as babies experimented with many animal maneuvers as we shifted from supine, to crawling, and then walking human beings. Watching Totem the other night – the latest Cirque du Soleil show – also reminded me of how much fun it can be to explore moving like an animal, as expertly costumed frogs and other amphibians leapt from one bar to another of the turtle shell-shaped frame on stage. Out joints stay open to a wider range in these kinds of movement exercises and that can’t be a bad thing; the lumbar region of my spine slowly soldering together out of misuse is not an attractive option as I get less young. Finally, all of this fun reminds me of a post I once made here, on the importance of walking on uneven ground, instead of always assuming the way we have flattened off the surface of the earth – in the streets and footpaths, inside buildings, almost everywhere we walk in the cities.

 

Gorbeia_park

*NB: Check out Simon’s YouTube channel if you want to see more of this deadly serious monkeying around (although he admitted he hasn’t loaded up a lot of the animal movement exercises yet, it’s a good start and worth following).

 

Images: 1. V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images. images@wellcome.ac.uk. http://wellcomeimages.org. Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line block after a painting by H. Murayama. By: Hashime MurayamaPublished:  – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. 2. “Lizardaustalian” by Adam.J.W.C. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG#/media/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG. 3. “Plate from Haeckel, Anthropogenie Wellcome L0033034” by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/2a/59/1ff9b621deff1c87a02c1379f59a.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0033034.html. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg#/media/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg. 4. “Gorbeia park” by Gorkaazk – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg#/media/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg

 

 

Wild Minds; healing, dance, storytelling, wisdom and community

shutterstock_59945146-campfire

I just spent the weekend at the second annual Wild Mind gathering. This event is filled with workshops and presentations that engage participants around themes very familiar to this site: the interconnectedness of human and natural worlds, the empowerment of the individual in a setting of wisdom traditions, and conversations amongst this wondrous more-than-human world.  I was very happy with my offering, as i got to tell White Fella Dreaming stories around the campfire on Sunday night. I think i have discovered the perfect setting for my work; the same one utilised for the building of culture since the dawn of human consciousness. With no script or even much of an agenda other than to share the spirit of this work, i drew on Joseph Campbell’s ideas of what makes a successful mythology and leaped into how we could find this innate within each of our souls, as well as learning respectfully from indigenous traditions such as (and especially!)  those of the Australian land.

What a rich ride it turned out to be. An appreciative crowd, with an appetite for stories that embed us more deeply in the sacred nature of the earth, in the majestic spread of the cosmos, in our humble, wonderful hearts. Thoughtful questions and comments allowed us also to explore a couple of areas in particular the prevalence of a sense of shame amongst modern westerners. This is not an area i have worked very thoroughly, so the excursion was welcome, especially as it was raised by my great mate Nic Morrey, an experienced integral psychotherapist. My initial response came from both my own personal experience and my understanding of the history of civilization. For me, the context of the agricultural revolution behind all large-scale societies introduces the depersonalisation of nature, as it sets human industry up as the master of the environment. We channel the waters with irrigation to increase crops and increase the mating habits of domesticated animals in order to profit from thee activities. In turn we build cities with the surplus energy, which also must be stored, creating a need first for walls and then for armies. The goods must be protected.

The_walls_of_Babylon_and_the_temple_of_Bel

Humans being intelligent and perceptive creatures, we sense the unevenness of all this force, the danger of stepping out of our former place as hunter-gatherers living in balance with the rest of nature (or at least in much closer contact and with mush more respect for its limits!). Early agricultural societies even performed guilt rituals in light of this recognition. Like many members of a colonising force – a new Australian who profits, whether i want to or not, from the subjugation of the misunderstood indigenous inhabitants of the land – i have felt it necessary to examine my feeling of guilt about this violent appropriation. But that was some time ago and i have healed that wound. Today, i love my own soul, as a person born on this land, seeking more and better ways to live in touch with it and to spread respect for the First Nations peoples who still live here, as well as for their ancestors and for mine.* But Nic pointed out that while this history of depersonalisation could be healed, the prevalence of a sense of shame in modern individuals requires a systematic, or at least well thought through, response. For him, there is an archetypal pattern being worked through in each of us, from original connectedness, through a necessary rupture, and back to a consciously negotiated peace settlement. This would equate to an evolutionary path, which works much like Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, through an antithetical force to a higher synthesis of complexity – which is my favoured definition of evolution. (Nic used a Vedic metaphor, from originally blissful Brahman through Shiva the Destroyer to the Shakti power of Divine Love. I’ll leave it to him to correct me if i got him wrong on this!)

As another friend James O’Brien pointed out, this is another way the myth of Genesis can be read; as a “Fall” into consciousness, out of the original Garden of Paradise, which forces us to work our way back to the Divine though hard work. I can’t help but always remind us of the very agricultural nature of this metaphor, though, which returns me to my original thesis about cultural and historical context …  and around and around and around we go. Wherever we find ourselves on this spectrum of possibility, we have to deal with it somehow. And my sense is that healing is always contingent; that we must revisit these wounds, within ourselves and our world, whenever we are faced with them, so as not to turn a blind eye to the ongoing suffering they cause when unattended.

Bush_in_fog

There was so much more going on in this fireside session of story-telling and across the whole weekend. (For more see here) What a rich way to spend some time, in the company of so many inspiring people, all working towards the same sense of community, supportive in times of need, evolutionary in focus, awake to the riches within the self and the earth, dancing freedom and holding space for the way we work with limits and love in sometimes trying times. Here’s to many more Wild Minds!

*There was also a fantastic workshop by Simon Thakur on Ancestral Movement. Simon’s position on ancestors is the same as mine as outlined here. I’m going to have to write soon on the ideas he is working with: that we embody all other creatures, and in fact aspects of the entire evolutionary process, in our own bodies. The obvious result of tapping in to these ways of moving is that we discover new levels of empathy with all life. Exciting work! Another highlight i want to write up that includes very similar ideas and experiences: the Cosmic Walk. Coming soon.

Images: 1. Purchased. 2. “The walls of Babylon and the temple of Bel” by Drawing by Mr. William Simpson R. I., and published by Prof. Charles F. Horne – Scanned from Sacred Books of the East *Babylonia & Assyria* editorship by Prof. Charles F. Horne (copyright 1907). Drawing by Mr. William Simpson R. I.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_walls_of_Babylon_and_the_temple_of_Bel.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_walls_of_Babylon_and_the_temple_of_Bel.jpg. 3. “Bush in fog”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bush_in_fog.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bush_in_fog.jpg