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.

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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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Rainbow Serpent Dreaming – it comes to heal

The Enchanted Path

Dedicated to the Lightning-Tongued Rainbow Serpent of the Deep Fresh Water in the Yarra Yarra River, who appeared to me on this day and brought its healing powers for all to share

I set off on my bike for an afternoon ride, in the fresh air and down by the river. First i pass some neighbours but don’t stop to say hi, recalling that my loyalty is to country. The reason i keep coming back to the people is to tell them the stories (although i know too that i need to make a home in society, that it’s a necessary crucible for my experiences as a conscious human being).

The it’s off down a bushy track, following the path of  enchantment. At one stage i get off my mountain bike to walk through tall grass (over 2.5m high). This overgrown track may reveal a snake if i am lucky and quiet enough. But what i find instead is an irresistible challenge – a fallen tree, across the creek. Crossing it, i remember my place in the world – walking the fine line, always honing my skills to make sure i can cross between the worlds and return with the gifts of healing and power for my people. On the other side, i see that the return trip starts out narrow, so i make extra sure i am centred, balanced, fluid enough to walk with the confidence of knowing. Just knowing; the truth, my place in it, the endless beauty of the world.

Fallen Tree across River

Returning through the tall grass, i figure out that if i want to see the snake i must become the snake. So basic, the elementary lesson of tracking. It must be, i laugh to myself; because I know nothing. Then, back on the river bank to pick up my bike, i bow in silent gratitude to the river. Thank you, master, for the challenge.

Tall Grass Riverside

Following my intuition (and recent discoveries on similar rides and walks), i soon head right towards Westerfolds Park, riding alongside the Yarra River. Again i head off onto a rough track as soon as possible, this time one that leads towards direct access to the river. Not asking for anything, i just open to listen to what nature has to teach. Breath rises from around the bend downstream, blowing gently upstream and eventually caressing my face and body gently. Then, after I thank the fresh water and air spirits for their presence – and for mine – the next voice literally blows my mind, as it reveals to me healing power from the otherworld, the place within this dimension that nourishes all worlds and brings us closer to the higher, deeper truths within them.

A lightning tongue comes flashing along through the water, from the same direction downstream and directly towards me, before rising up and out of the water and into my body, at the abdomen. It speaks to me as the Rainbow Serpent and it brings me healing, as I see glorious colours rippling in the late afternoon light on the river. It shimmers through the water; in silver, in red gold, in iridescent purples, taking form sometimes in a clearly visible serpent shape; snaking towards me in diamantine patterns, while at others dispersing to snake across the river in scattered lights and colours at their own pleasure. As I raise my arms in exultation, to better receive the glowing power of the spirit, I am given to chant: Lightning-tongued Rainbow Serpent of the deep fresh water of the Yarra Yarra river, I accept your healing power. And as I accept it, and am healed by it, I promise to offer it to others; so that they may be inspired to do the same, and your honour is re-lit for the current times. We know the ‘gods,’ the archetypes, live through this kind of ‘belief’; worship, attention, re-creation giving them breath and keeping them alive. But the dreaming spirits of this country … the black fellas tell us they exist independently of human society; that they speak directly from the earth, water, air and other material manifestations of spirit for any who will quieten themselves and listen.

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Time to turn this experience to ritual, so that i can recall it for healing, share it with others, keep it alive for the people. I had been praying that Pegasus would show me how he handles lightning, the thunder bolts he wielded for Zeus. I knew i had to be very well grounded to handle that kind of power; but i had it the wrong way around. Surprised, i realise now that I needed to figure out how to draw the lightning power up from within the earth, where i was already grounded, through ritual. The Rainbow Serpent Lightning Spirit of the Deep Fresh Water of the Yarra Yarra  comes up from where the river cuts through the land. This is where water rests, at the lowest point. With the Tao – and with the wound. This is where the healing power enters the body – at the deepest point, where our wound opens us out to the rest of the world, and to the otherworlds. It is perfectly safe, once the rites are performed, and the Spirit transports us into another dimension of our own experience. One that showers honour upon the earth, accepts blessings in return, and strengthens relations between. Gain blessings without end, by listening, and speaking that truth. Rainbow Serpent comes to heal.

All photos by author.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Christmas Tree

It’s not just about the birth of Christ and recognising that spiritual generosity, compassion and irrational, beautiful love should guide the way we live. It’s also about the solstice. Like churches built on old pagan sites, most seasonal festivals we know today originally replaced events on the annual calendar that celebrated the turning of the natural cycles. Around December 21 every year in the northern hemisphere, the sun hits the lowest point on the horizon and this means the shortest day of the year. Downunder, here in Australia, this is reversed; but the same cycles operate (obviously life at the equator presents a whole different scenario! Generally, i will take any opportunity to reflect upon inner riches, even if it is summer here!). But think back to the early Europeans, who are my generic and cultural forebears. Winter is closing in, the leaves have fallen from the trees, we’ve eaten all the berries, many animals are hunkered down in dens and lairs to hibernate … life is retreating.

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There is less to eat, less sun to draw us out into the day, more reason to rug up ourselves and hope to survive the coming of a cold, dark period. What I would like, under these conditions, is to remember that everything comes back; that life returns after this symbolic death; that the sun awakens from its slumber, shakes the hoary frost from its shoulders, and beyond its all back to life. And now that I am reminded that we are all in this together, that in order to survive we need people to gather and store, some top stitch up rugs and cloaks, some to nurture little children, some to keep the fire going, some to sing and tell stories … I want to be reminded life goes on in company. I want the tribe to come together, to celebrate this important moment in the year with my kin, to forgive the ones that have annoyed me and to have them get over my own dumb transgressions. Not only because we need each other – which we do, and may do again soon, as the ecological crisis decreases the capacity for industrial society to cater for our every need – but because I need to be able to draw on everything within me to come through this physical challenge.

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And just as importantly, because I can now take this opportunity to do as nature does – to go within, to purify my heart and soul and therefore to breathe more fully again when spring finally arrives, to stretch my arms and legs and move in the world in the fulness of my strength as soon as i get the chance again, to feel liberated in my body and mind, to be free of spirit. When there is so much death and withdrawal in the outside world, it is time to follow suit. Let yourself lose the external sun, for a while, and remember to draw on the powers within. The winter solstice presents us with real challenges and metaphorical possibilities at the same time. And when we give ourselves over to the full story of the inner world, the parallel life we lead in our heats and minds and bodies and souls, we come to know it as just as real as the physical world. These are the kinds of lessons we have too often put aside with the modern world; forgetting to learn from nature, we forget also our deepest inner worlds, our greatest spiritual treasures. Ironically, getting back in touch with the natural world can also lead us directly back to our souls, our depths, the greater realities of the more than human world, the archetypal realms, the gods within and without.
This Christmas, dive in to the ancient truth of your body. Let the solstice remind you of your beautiful spiritual greatness and give freely of this wealth. Blessings be upon all those who align with earth wisdom and celestial intelligence.

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Images: 1. “Weihnachtsbaum Römerberg” by Thomas Wolf (Der Wolf im Wald) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weihnachtsbaum_R%C3%B6merberg.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Weihnachtsbaum_R%C3%B6merberg.jpg 2. By Goldmann Jo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 3. Russian Bear coming out of winter den. By Photochrom Print Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 4. By Emilio del Prado from Valladolid, Spain, España (Acebo – European Holly) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons