Belonging in Community – Workshop Experiential

Reflecting on what makes people feel they really belong to a place, so that they treat it well and care for the way it flourishes, a sense of belonging to their community comes high on the list. If alienation has negative effects on people’s inner, personal lives (as discussed here), it is even more damaging in terms of our relationships with each other. More people live in cities now than ever before; more people live alone now than ever before; and more people report suffering from mental health issues associated with feeling alone and being cast aside by an unfeeling society than ever before. The link is lack of community; someone to check in on you if they sense you feeling down; someone to lend a hand when you are struggling, as well as celebrate your victories; someone to talk to about whatever is happening. What has too often gone missing is a range of people who actually care. And this works, in an ecosystemic sense, because those people know that if something is wrong with one member of a community it will spread to others; and that all of us are involved with each other, in the end.

 Fixing thatched roof

 

American writer on the ecological spirituality of Mayan village life, Martin Prechtel, claimed once that communal life is over when people don’t have to get together to help mend each other’s roofs. With tin or cement tiles over our heads, we don’t have to care about the home next door; if we both relied upon thatch, which had to be renewed each season, we’d be forced to remain on better terms. And And Martin Shaw, resident myth teller at Schumacher College in Devon, England, and leader of wilderness retreats designed to get participants back in touch with the powers of nature, points out that community also includes ancestors past and elders present, those that touched our hearts and minds, whether they be ancient sages or rock stars, poets or cranky neighbours. Electronic social media today presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to tap into a ‘community of souls,’ no matter what we are into. Not only can we choose friends from a local group nowadays, but we can link up with those who share our interests anywhere in the world. And sharing tales around a campfire in suburban Thornbury the other night, I once again heard people tell of their ‘longing for belonging’ and an associated yearning to connect more deeply with others; in other words, to grow community.

shutterstock_59945146-campfire

 

This leads me to the next aspect of the Belonging workshop; grounding ourselves in each other’s company, in a way that consolidates the ecomythic aspect of our relationships as part of a sacred earth community. This experiential combines deep listening with ‘story stick’ telling, as each of us is given space to share with the group our most cherished hopes for community, so that – at least for those few hours and in the way we carry them onwards in our hearts – we do in fact form that community of deep listening and allow it to inform our souls. When it is consolidated with reflections from the mythic realm, this sharing of care can become a rich response to our yearning for a community that sustains soul. Ecomythic belonging nourishes us beyond our personal cares and even beyond human bias. It replaces us in a biodiverse ecosystem of physical and symbolic beings and more-than-human powers.

 

The author of White Fella Dreaming, Dr Geoffrey Berry, presents Belonging workshops that work across three levels; the personal, communal, and ecomythic aspects of feeling more deeply at home on earth. The first is to be held at CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick East on Saturday 10th October. For more information visit belonging.org.au/news and you can book here.

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Dealing with Worldly Challenges – Ganesha & Pegasus

Most of us will recognise Ganesha, the Elephant-headed god of the Hindu pantheon. Millions of people in India and beyond pray to him every day, to help them overcome worldly challenges and to maintain peace of mind. As White Fella Dreaming is devoted to generating a spirituality for the 21st century world, especially from a western perspective, it seemed to me important to be able to provide some uniquely modern parallel for this commonly utilised mythic imagery. But first some background, to explain my relationship to the Hindu icon.

Indian_God_Lord_Ganesh

On a trip to Varanasi I met a holy man, or guru, who gave me this mantra, which at the time I had never heard of: “Om Ga Ganapataye Namah.” It seemed a helpful ritual, to chant this once each morning and remind myself of my access to resources helpful in situations requiring conflict resolution, healing, overcoming and other responses to obstacles that arise in everyday life. (Resources that appear within my inner world, which have arisen from my Dreaming, from a place that includes but is also more than the sum of my personal history; from the sacred, transpersonal or archetypal realms beyond …) A good mantra eases access to this realm and its sacred qualities, developing our personal relationship to the more-than-human and keeping it as operational as possible; and it also hones the mind, concentrating energy for the tasks at hand. This is all good and I did not mind accepting a practice from the Indian tradition, not as a matter of simply choosing something exotic from the spiritual supermarket of the new age, but as a way of connecting to something that had come my way along the path of discovery, something relevant at the time of its appearance (synchronicity and serendipity and all that jazz), and anyway something not that distant from my own European traditions (given the ancient links between Indo-European languages and colonising forces – bit that’s another story).

Pegasus_(PSF)

But one day in late 2013 I had a very powerful dream that superceded my relationship with Ganesha and provided me with a new way of meeting the same realm of worldly challenge and spiritual concentration. Standing at the edge of a forest, I saw Pegasus fly over [writing this sentence, lightning flashed across the sky and thunder struck in an unseasonal summer storm over Melbourne; the import of this synchronicity will become apparent by the end of this story]. His milky flanks were enormous, filling half the sky, as he galloped through the air towards the horizon ahead. Shortly after this, he reappeared, flying over our heads again, on the same direct path. However, this time he was higher in the sky and therefore slightly smaller. The third time he appeared, Pegasus was higher and smaller again (although still very large and dominating the scene). By now, he was mouthing bubbles, as if he’d hit the level of ether and was leaving the realm of oxygenated atmosphere behind (some mythic paradigms speak of a watery realm above, where the rain is kept until it is released). Now my friend, standing next to me, nudged me and said: “You believe in him, so why don’t you go to him?” So I did.

Bellerophon_on_Pegasus_-_Tiepolo,_Giovanni_Battista-1746-47

I flew up and met Pegasus at a table, where he sat opposite me as if it were all perfectly natural. By now he was a life-sized horse, white as snow. He began making a series of movements with his hooves and I instinctively attempted to mimic them, but I knew even as I did it that I was destined to forget these ritual forms. Still, I clumsily followed until he stopped and then I noticed the doses of medicine that were spread across the table in rows. He indicated that I should chew on one and swallow it, so I did. It was horrible. The texture was of moist and sandy soil, the colour was a sickly greenish blue, and it tasted exactly how it looked – like wet earth that was hard to swallow. I guess if medicine is supposed to taste bad in order to help heal, then this stuff must be dynamite. Then he gave me his parting words: you will need to initiate through your woman [anima] for around the next 5 or 6 years. Then you will be ready to do it on your own.

 Lightnings_sequence_2_animation

The deep wisdom and sacred nature of this dream has developed in some interesting directions for me in the year or so since then, so I will enter those into this log in a series to continue soon. But for now I just want to end by returning to the theme of this post: that Pegasus can be a portal for dealing with worldly challenge, in some very specific as well as quite general ways; and that he can help us to develop peace of mind under stressful or pressurized circumstances. And the link to the storm that burst open above my head as I wrote this? Pegasus became the bearer of lightning bolts for Zeus, in his aspect as storm god of the Greeks.

Images: 1. Ganesha by Nagaraju raveender (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 2. Pegasus line drawing by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 3. By User:Fsphil (File:Pegasus vector drawing.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 4. “Lightnings sequence 2 animation” by original data: Sebastien D’ARCO, animate: Koba-chan – original source is Image:Lightnings sequence 2.jpg, animated by me.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lightnings_sequence_2_animation.gif#mediaviewer/File:Lightnings_sequence_2_animation.gif