Personal Growth is Natural (enjoy some today!)

Personal Growth, for healing or evolution, follows a similar pattern to  the one we find in nature.

One of the aims of Belonging is to help us to feel more at home in our bodies and in our individual selves. When we start with this, we can also get better at shifting our awareness to our inner lives, to our very own personal experiences, so that we know better how it feels to trust our own feelings about being part of the wider earth community. This can also enable our own personal myth – our story of belonging – to be a part of a greater myth, a powerful story of life, the universe and everything that not only makes sense to us but also feels right.

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Individualism – pros and cons

Western societies like ours have a strong emphasis on the individual, which is not always the case in eastern or indigenous cultures, where cooperation in alignment with the group is a more common guiding model. The benefits of western individualism are enormous, especially in the sense that we get to make our own personal decisions in many parts of our lives, like who we would like to be in a relationships with, what sort of work or art or sport we want to pursue, who we vote for as leaders, what we buy at the shops, etc. But the downside of individualism has become more obvious over time too and this includes the mental health issues that just kept increasing throughout the 20th century. One of the biggies was a common sense of increasing alienation, with many people reporting a distancing in their relationship with others as modern society became more ‘splintered.’ This increasing fragmentation also led to an inner sense of disconnectedness for many, who also felt like they were becoming more alienated from their own inner, true or authentic self. This could be considered as a side effect of the spiritual vacuum of modern society (in regards to the loss of a meaningful religion that a majority of people could align themselves with), as well as of the industrialisation that results in a depersonalizing machine age, amongst other factors.

But as far as we go within ourselves, the psychological difficulties of modern society generally revolve around a core issue – we are all complex individuals with many different facets and a range of possible responses to our circumstances, so how does all this fit together so that we can feel whole and complete in some way? To put it another way and ask the existential question, who are we anyway? And now do we cope with these psychological and emotional influences of alienation and fragmentation?

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Getting back to the Garden of Paradise – a common personal myth

Let’s take a concrete example that helps us to explore how this can occur in our own lives, how it can make us feel and what we can do about it. First of all, the natural state we have lost when we feel alienated from who we believe we are as a true self, is that someone who feels whole and complete. This is our authentic being, with personal integrity, who does not need external validation from other people or through their status, car or job. This is the ‘garden of paradise’ myth that lies deep in within. It is often encoded in myth as a Golden Age of peace and prosperity, which we lost when society went terribly wrong (think of Atlantis, or Eden, or the time when we could talk with the animals, etc).

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So, the first myth we often encounter as a person capable of reflecting upon ourselves revolves around this ‘natural state’ of peace and plenty. And by myth here I mean a powerful story that connects us to the more-than-human world of meaning (aka the sacred). Who remembers being in the womb? Plenty of people have reported this phenomenon, either spontaneously or through a rebirthing process. And what they report sounds a lot like some creation myths about how the universe begins, either of a peaceful garden or in a swirling kind of cosmic soup or flow, an indistinct fluid reality where nothing is separate. In the womb of life, everything is provided, including a feeling of being ultimately embraced by a higher being, process or order. However, while everything may belong here, there is also no individual ‘self.’ Nothing can really go ‘wrong’ but that is partly because we cannot know ourselves as someone for whom anything can actually go right either; there is no sense of an individual self yet, and we need to define ourselves as separated our from this state of non-distinction if we are to grow back towards a higher synthesis of complexity (which is one definition of evolution).

 

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In this very common kind of creation myth, everything is OK, and then we get born. (There is also the creation myth that sees the original state as chaos, which is thankfully overcome by a beneficent god of order, and we will come back to in another session.) Birth from the fluid garden of paradise means making our way through a dark tunnel, out into the air and light, and then boom! We land in a whole, shocking new reality. Then, up into the loving arms and the nurturing breasts of mamma, and we’re back in heaven (all going well). This everyday, miraculous scenario of birth can be used as a model for our whole psychological lives. We start with the feeling that everything is good, when something happens to upset the balance, until we find a way to get back to what we feel is right and normal. This is a mythic process, in that it links us to the higher or deeper truths of our very physical being, including the eternal law of growth, which could be considered the sacred or divine force behind all life. This is also the way life continues, in spite of every challenge, through or around any barrier. We are driven to become whole again after every ‘perturbation of the system’ so that we can continue growing. We will seek out and integrate whatever makes us feel complete, beyond the personal challenges of everyday life. This is why Ganesh is the most popular of all the Vedic gods in India; because he offers paths beyond worldly challenges, ways to find overcoming, to create good fortune and peace of mind. German philosopher Hegel built an entire system out of this, in his Phenomenology of Spirit – first there is the ‘thesis,’ then it is opposed by an ‘antithesis,’ then we find a way to create ‘synthesis.’

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Psychological Growth is Natural

So, one of the things myth does is to create a sense of completion, as if everything is just right and all questions have been answered. A successful myth does this so that we can believe in ourselves and in our world. When we feel like everything is just right, it’s because it is; because that we way we are thinking about and processing our experiences makes so much sense that it goes beyond reason. Finding a better way to do this psychologically makes us much sense as healing the body when we are ill or wounded. This is the biological parallel between story telling and nature. The body tries to heal itself automatically; it’s simply the logical thing to do for a biological system. When the body is wounded, white blood cells go to try and clean it up. When our minds or hearts are wounded, the psyche goes into action. We might not recognize this, but it is happening. The Belonging project seeks to make such tools more accessible to everyone possible.

 

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So we can grow around the wound, even if we can’t “get over it”. We can leave it in the past, or convince ourselves our difficult experiences were for the best, or whatever narrative works for us at the time. But there are also the cases where this process does not serve us in the long run, where we tell ourselves everything is OK in ways that can be counterproductive. We protect ourselves too much from the truth that challenges our self-conception, or we remain idealistic and open-hearted when we would be better served going into self-protection mode. If we want to keep growing and evolving as people, at some stage the personal myth that helps us to feel good must also be challenged. Then a new myth must grow in its place – a synthesis to overcome the antithesis. This is like choosing to take a little bit of poison as medicine, rather than letting ourselves remain sick. Once we have figured out everything is not OK, we need to act intelligently, or put up with mediocrity. Getting better at the cultural medicine of mythic story telling allows us to become more robust selves in a biodiverse, flourishing ecosystem – in the world and within our own complex psyches. This is especially the case when one story stops working; when the way we think is right and natural does not work in a new situation, such as a relationship, change of work, or just in terms of ongoing mental health.

 

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So how might this process work for us, right here and now? Let’s consider two ways experiences of pain and suffering can take root in our lives and what we can do about them to make sure we have greater access to feelings of belonging.

Example 1: Getting caught up in it – and changing the story

How do I get so caught up in different parts of myself, so that one aspect sometimes seems to take over at the cost of my overall sense of self? Examples include excessive anger, sadness, avoidance, etc.

We know we can interpret our experiences in many ways, but sometimes one interpretation that may not serve us very well takes hold and we suffer unnecessarily because of this. Changing this story and reminding ourselves of the deeper well of wisdom we have innate access to within can be a profound way to improve the way we live.

Exercise: if you are booked in for a Belonging workshop, bring along a belief or attitude you hold that you have come to realize no longer serves you. We will locate this idea in a bigger picture – of human evolution, culture and the laws of nature – and transform it to a new interpretation that overcomes the challenge of growth. This is finding the synthesis to the antithesis, so we can return to the thesis, the garden of paradise in our souls!

 

In the meantime, and for those who can’t make it to a Belonging workshop, here is another process that can be used at any time:

Example 2. Breathing in the freedom of a new body language

We all carry stress, fear and/or anxiety in different ways in our bodies. For me, if I get tired or frustrated, I stoop. Slumped shoulders are a sign I’m not getting by as well as I could.

Exercise: Locate where you hold onto negative emotional states in your own body. Breathe into this spot for 10 breaths. Imagine an inner glow rising from your core in the lower abdomen and melting the stress away. ‘Encode’ this process, so that every time you become aware of your breath during the day, it automatically does this melting process. Please see here for a more complete explanation of this process.

 

 

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Deep Breath Awareness

Deep Breath Awareness is an easy and enjoyable meditation exercise that enables inner peace to melt your stress away in moments.

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This version is adaptable to many further exercises and i’ll be using it in the first section of the Belonging workshop next Saturday 10th October (bookings here).

  1. First, get comfortable, so that you can breathe deeply down into the tummy (or lower abdomen). Sitting is best, but once you have learnt this technique, you can do it anywhere, even on crowded public transport or driving your car, walking down the street or at a boring class 🙂
  2. Once you have filled your lower abdomen with breathe, let it naturally fill up into the chest; once that is full, exhale from deep down in the tummy too, as if you were squeezing the air out from below. Imagine a golden glow throughout the lower abdomen area, which embraces and lets go of each breath.
  3. Already, you are connecting to your own inner power, the ‘bellows’ that control your breathing so that it is calmer and more connected to you at your best. This allows you to feel more grounded and more centered, more easily and more often.
  4. As you catch your mind flitting about, racing from one thing to the next, getting caught up in the day’s events or your residual feelings about things or people, gently bring it back to the breath. Do not judge your thoughts, all of which are natural. Just allow them to be melted back into this deep breath awareness, which is now emanating from your point of gravity (called the hara in Japanese traditions or the t’an tien in Taoist arts).
  5. Imagine the breath working in and out from this golden, glowing pump down in your belly. Now breathe into any place in your body where you experience stress, sharpness or any other kind of discomfort. Allow the golden glow of the breath to melt away the dis-ease until you feel the flow of your mind and body working in harmony once again.
  6. Count 10 breaths and give thanks to your body, mind and earth for the pleasure of this life.

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Your relationship with any aspects of your life, including the physical and the less tangible, the feelings that arise in your day and the energies you experience or encounter, can all be attended to in extended versions of this exercise. More to come!

*NB: Please keep in mind that if you find yourself shallow breathing at any time during the day or night, you can always come back to this deep breath awareness as a remedy for that sign of anxiety also.

Spirituality, Leadership and Management – hop on board!

How do we bring a sense of the spiritual – the integration of the worlds beyond this one into our everyday lives, the linking between physical reality and our higher, deeper, greater selves – into professional practice, business, negotiations, life?

 

The Yarra River

When conventional religions have let us down and so much of politics is bunk, a new era of leadership requires our creativity. Inspired by the world of ideas, the possibilities inherent in the human mind and body and heart and soul and spirit, and our innate sense of what’s right, combined with the traditional wisdom that continues to speak to us from the earth and the stars and the people who have kept listening, we can forge new meaning with depth and reliability.

Being part of this movement means walking the talk, accepting the challenges of a world that all too often defers to an orgy of meaningless consumption, and speaking out – both against this corporate desolation, and for the incredible, marvelous array of ground-breaking (and ground-nurturing!) actions taking pace across the planet right now. We are part of the critical mass, which is crystallising around an emergent understanding of the potential of the human race to evolve into a better species; one that takes care of its home, even after it has developed high technologies (which bring so much danger with so much promise!).

 

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I’m proud to be part of the team that is bringing this work to Australia, in the form of the SLaM (Spiritual Leadership and Management) conference to be held in Sydney, August 21-23. “Mind in the Matter; What is Mindfulness in Business and Professional Life” promises to hold all participants in a space that is generative and supportive; and that takes us all through the stages of deep inquiry and carries the gifts of such work back into the field of everyday life. It is with love and gratitude – and professionalism and expertise – that i will facilitate the “Programmed Strand” of workshops, alongside a gifted team of committed practitioners. To ensure the most profound spirit of transformation possible, it will take place as a 2 and 1/2 day retreat at Wiseman’s Ferry, where we will immerse ourselves in the work and find truer, clearer connection to ourselves, our community, and our planet in this time of need.

See the website here for more information; and below is a copy of the Newsletter outlining the theme and flavour of the conference. It is beautifully written by Susie Goff, current President of SLaM. It would be wonderful to see you there. Please feel free to explore this exciting field of endeavour.

And please share this opportunity with anyone, or any organisation, you think might be able to make it to the conference, or who might be able to let more people know about it.

Keeping it real, Geoff Berry (White Fella Dreaming).

SLaM-Newsletter-May-2015

Social Media Meditation

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 For when you instinctively reach for the social media communication platform of choice and realize you don’t really need to do this and that you would be better off meditating:

 

Put the phone down – but with reverence. This is your communication device – and it is magical. By sending and receiving wavelengths, which have been manipulated to tell a story (be it of commerce or romance, leisure or work), this device puts you instantly in touch with your peers across space, anywhere on the planet. Respect that, even love or revere it.

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I love the way this woman is hunched over the machine, in expectation – and the reflection of electric blue on her face. Possibly a bit close to the machine, then …

 

Now, remember that you must balance the time you communicate with silent time; the degree to which you stay in touch with others, with the degree to which you listen to yourself in quiet moments. Listen. To your breath. To your heartbeat. To the vibration your body makes, as a physical being. Listen to your thoughts. They are not getting in the way of the silence. They are the unlimited potential of the universe coming into being. They are the emanations of your unique self, expressing a unique vision, a way of being not replicated anywhere else, a complex refraction of light through an infinite variety of phases, times of life, eras of stability and change. You are a kaleidoscope responding to its environment and you are the driver of the way you compose yourself in this moment, given the circumstances available to you right now. Use this time to reflect.

 

If you maintain too much contact with others, you can be lost in the haze of wavelengths flying about. You can lose sight of the way your own sets of being, becoming, reflective powers and insight are working to re-place your self every day. Now is the time to check in with that process. What pressures are on? Where is the stress in your body, in your mind, in your life? Who do you care about? Check this one carefully. If you are wearing thin, you may be caring too much, heading for compassion fatigue or any other kind of burnout. Remember how often our loves, including our projects in the world, are designed to replenish the love we have either had and lost, thought we had, thought we should have had, wished we had, or other [fill in the gap]. None of these relationships or projects will ever completely succeed, because we cannot fill the inside of ourselves with love from the outside forever. Something always needs to be worked on, worked out, worked over, left behind or broken. We can only find deep, lasting satisfaction within. Social media is awesome and magical, but it can also be a cage, where the mental or emotional being within rattles the bars looking for more attention, more love, more affection, more validation. When it gets like this, it’s like a house-sized microwave, which has just has a car-sized metal plate inserted and turned on full power. It’s bad electricity, because it becomes an affliction. When we become addicted to social media, we are not wielding it to our own best benefit, or putting our efforts towards the good of the whole. We are making ourselves sick, thrusting our heads and hearts back into the microwave house with metal in it. Pull back. Turn the power off for a while. And reflect. Communication is good, but we need to have ourselves together if we are to be effective, for the good of ourselves and others. Take some time to check in and tune the wavelengths of our processing, moderate the way we are composing our responses to the world and to our own inner states, to pressures and joys and anger and sadness. Practice being with self in order to be better at being with self – and with others.

Give yourself at least 5 minutes for this. Half an hour is good. Get comfortable, feel your body, sense your mind, get in touch with your heart. And take it easy.

Definition of term: re-place – to put back, in better order, with emphasis on the act of placing (as in being here and now), with volition (similar to the more straight forward replace, meaning to put back or replenish).

 

Images: 1. “Cellphone X-ray” by Canadian Light Source Inc. – http://www.flickr.com/photos/clsresoff/6801463830/in/set-72157626582093415. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cellphone_X-ray.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cellphone_X-ray.jpg. 2. “Woman-typing-on-laptop” by Matthew Bowden http://www.digitallyrefreshing.comhttp://www.sxc.hu/photo/145972. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman-typing-on-laptop.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Woman-typing-on-laptop.jpg

A little guide to Pinakarri; an Aboriginal way to calm yourself and connect with your body

Pinakarri

  1. Sit peacefully and feel where your body connects with whatever is physically supporting you right now; whether that be ground, chair or cushion.
  2. Feel the weight of your body and notice how the earth supports it. No matter what you are sitting in, it is made of earth in one way or the other. The gravity that holds you there was created with the beginning of the universe. You are now sitting in universal power. This holds you unconditionally. This is also known as unconditional love, as it accepts every part of your body, mind, heart and soul.
  3. Become aware of your breath. Listen to the difference to the in breath and the out breath. This tone is completely unique to you. This is how the universe sounds when it plays and sings through your body. You are completely connected to all that is, was and will be in the universe. You are at one.
  4. Become aware of the slight difference in temperature between the in and out breaths. This difference is what you give to the universal and instinctive act of breathing. But the heat involved in that change comes straight from the sun. It is warming up life through your body and you are a channel for this process. You are now the energy of the sun and the changes in the air; completely unique and absolutely universal at exactly the same time. There is no fundamental distinction between you and nature, but you are also that unique differentiation of tone and temperature.
  5. Now listen to the drumbeat of your heart. This began when you were a foetus in the womb. It continued when you were born and stays with you until you die. It beats out a particular rhythm and sound. This is you.
  6. Find the first point of tension you become aware of. Breathe into that spot and consciously relax it with the power of the sun and the universal energy you are now aware of. Breathe out the tension.
  7. Feel free to experiment and improvise with this exercise.

 

*NB: This process was provided to me by John Croft, of Dragon Dreaming, a very successful collaborative tool for project realization, especially in small groups. See the whole E-Book at: http://www.dragondreaming.org/dragon-dreaming-international-e-book/

 

John tells me that Pinakarri was used by the Mardu people of the Mandjilidjara (language) in WA and that they were the last group of Aboriginal Australians to be contacted, in 1964, when about 20 of them were found in the Western Desert, when firing was going into this target zone from the Woomera region of SA. The people were relocated (undoubtedly this is a much nicer word than what we should be using here) to Jiggalong, a mission station in the Pilbara region of WA. John Croft met them there in 1968, about 4 years after they had been relocated there, but he was only 19 and they were very shy and didn’t speak English. He learned the process of Pinakarri later, upon returning, when he had friends who were working with the Mardu and translating between English and Mandjilidjara.

 

How Do We Relate to the Elements? In rock and ritual

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What White Fella Dreaming supports is a way of being that allows every facet of every potential there exists in the human framework to be made possible to us right here, in the body, while remaining true to the earth and to its inevitable limits also. This is sometimes known (erm, well at least by me and a handful of other brave or foolhardy souls) as ecospirituality, or embodied spirituality – allowing that we, as individuals, can enjoy our own relationship with what we deem sacred, within ourselves as nature and within the ecosystem of which we are but a small part. To use some religious language, we recognise ourselves as the holy, or the divine, as this force exists in and through us, as we experience it, as it is communicated to us and through us as human beings. To throw off the shackles of received conventions, in the sense that any priestly caste could speak for us, and to realize that relationship for ourselves, in alignment with our own conscience, with intellectual integrity and critical thinking coming along for the ride; as independent, mature thinkers with a full emotional life and deep respect for the body and its innate wisdom as well. And celebrating this in ritual, so that we don’t forget.

 

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Rituals of letting go of the old to make way for the new: burning down the house – and the man – at Burning Man

 

But dispensing with traditions we don’t need any longer does not mean turning away from ancient traditions altogether – in fact, far from it. If anything, we need the wisdom of the elders more than ever right now, to remind us how to be human without necessarily relying on technological or other crutches, without getting too caught up in the consumerist materialism of the global marketplace; to bring us back to earth and its inevitable cycles of feast and famine, or at least to the lengthening and diminishing of the light as it arrives here, the filling and emptying of the moon in its lunar cycles, the way that seasons come and ago with regularity but also with change, with multiple sets of co-respondent signals, with differing facets of symbols and meaning depending on our shifting circumstances, needs and relationships.

 

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The body of the earth, the clay out of which we arise

If we are going to enjoy a truly embodied spirituality we need to align ourselves with the things that make up our selves: the earth that is our bodies, the waters that flow through us, the air we breath in and out, the flame that ignites our warrior spirits. There are plenty of systems that deal with these kinds of relationships, but none better than the one that states it is your right to figure out your own way of weighing up how these elements are allocated to your personality – to the extent that your personality is a stable entity at all. This stuff shifts all the time, so listen to your soul! Wake up to your dreams and to your Dreaming, hear the spirits call your true name from the depths, within and without, and respond in the way you live: true to self, to earth, to fresh air and water, to the quickening of fire on fuel and to the emptiness that is exactly fullness in every moment of your life.

 

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The face of the deep

There are gateways of metaphor everywhere and these lead us beyond metaphor to a deeper experience of reality. Water is our feelings, your tears, the oceans of unforgettable memories; the flames of passion drive us to love and war; the body limits us to plod like clay and also allows us to dance like leaves on the breeze; air is thought, as free as a bird, filling us with life in a lungful of oxygen. This is all to be celebrated, in the danger of great, uncontrolled feelings as in the embrace of all that is, as it supports every part of our being; as it is in this song by punk industrial art rock band The Severins:

 

Oxygen

I wanna be kissed by your fire

I wanna be washed in your tears

Oxygen;

I need another hit.

Grounded;

I’ve gotta feel the clay

Find me, thrill me, lose me, kill me.

I wanna be appeased by the presence of your anarchy.

Repeal the need for torture in your sense of wiccan ecstasy.

I wanna be kissed by your fire;

By your flames, by your uncontrollable passions.

I wanna be washed in your tears;

In your oceans.

Oxygen

I need another hit.

Grounded

I’ve gotta feel the clay … I’ve gotta feel the clay

Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3btmXLQ3Rg

Words and singing by the author (Geoff Berry, albeit in a younger body); music by The Severins: Steve Bruce (drums and a substantial portion of arrangement), Richard Anderson (bass and good looks), John Wilson (guitars and atmosphere).

Images: The Severins, still shot from video, Central Club, Richmond, Melbourne, Australia, by Optus Pay TV. Water (sea): “Nordsee Wellen” by Muns – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nordsee_Wellen.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Nordsee_Wellen.JPG. Fire: “Burningman 0078”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burningman_0078.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Burningman_0078.jpg. Clay “Clay-ss-2005”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clay-ss-2005.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Clay-ss-2005.jpg

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.

Cacao Ritual – is chocolate sacred?

Chocolate. We all love it. But is this another case of modern society simply farming the land, ripping off the locals, spraying alarming amounts of pesticides around and reaping the profits? If chocolate is so great, is there some kind of super ingredient in it, a chemical that makes us feel love or power, a natural kind of magic that deserves a bit more respect than we grant when ripping off the wrapper to another bar of our favourite variety?

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The cacao ritual altar

I love the move towards more organic, raw, whole foods as well as fair trade. These shifts in consumer sentiment reveal a deepening awareness of and care about the source of our foods and this shows more respect for the earth – a shift that underpins a lot of what White Fella Dreaming is all about. But the next step – the thing that brings us back in line with the source at another level, that hums with the sacred and fills life with meaning – is to perform ritual.

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The chocolate being dispensed

Ritual can be very simple and brief, a silent giving of thanks or a bow, or it can be complex and lengthy, as in many initiation rites. It can help facilitate transformation, from one time of life to another, from everyday to sacred space, from one state of mind (such as so-called ‘ordinary consciousness’) to … something more. A type of awareness that appreciates more of the different levels or dimensions of a thing, or a time, or a feeling. So, yeah, I participated in a cacao ritual.

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Asher and Lydia

Facilitated by Asher Glass and Lydia Marolda, the group imbibed a batch of cacao imported from Guatemala specifically for this purpose. Inspired by his meeting with Keith Wilson, when travelling in Central America, Asher has begun bringing this same amount of respect for the active ingredient in chocolate – and for the place it is from, the people who farm it locally there, the process that goes into transforming it into an edible delicacy for us western consumers – to Melbourne. After discussing how we could allow the cacao, under these conditions of conscious intent, to help unfurl the body’s prayer, we danced. What’s the body’s prayer? Whatever it is for you. Mine, when offered to the group as we all did, was to more deeply embody the sacred mysteries. Yours could be whatever arises – yes, you can try this at home!

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Getting down for chocolate!

The dance session was facilitated in the same style as the Dancing Freedom events that Lydia runs. We dance as if we are earth, which we are; water, air, fire … we dance in the elements and celebrate life. The wind-down included some feedback from each participant following their experiences and their body’s response to the unfurling of its prayer through the ritual. For myself, I felt the usual reawakening of spirit I get from successful ritual; no surprises there, after the vehicle of ritual opened me up to a wild dance with conscious intent.

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Meditating on & sharing the experience

Finally, though, I just have to add: how easy would it be to dismiss this as a laughable new age fad, without some context. Chocolate shamanism, pfff. If I hadn’t shared so many of these kinds of experiences over the years, I might be part of that dismissive crowd. The intellectual field of academic thought and research, for sure, works hard to protect itself from seemingly irrational challenges much of the time. I know, I have spent years in that game. But what that perspective misses is what I had to go outside and look for – or rather, remind myself I always had – direct relationship with the sacred behind all things. To keep that alive, I’m prepared to consider rituals that resacralise any aspect of modern life; especially when such practices also align with the values of environmental justice I support as part of the ecospirituality movement. So enjoy your next taste of chocolate – in the best possible way!

All photos by author. Asher and Lydia are intending to hold this event monthly and the original invitation can be found here.

How Celestial Intelligence and Earth Wisdom work together

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When you look up at the stars at night, you can feel your soul called by something higher, something free of worldly desires and attachments (the things like wealth and fame, which so often draw us away from our hearts and the appreciation of the most valuable things in life, like love and the simple comforts of adequate food and water and shelter). The little things that beset our daily lives can fade away and be replaced by our birthright, the sense of wonder with which we entered the world, the childlike reverence for just being in such amazing company, in bodies, with stars in the night sky and trees and birds and hills and rivers to gaze upon and walk within during the day. The wisdom of the stars – the great story they retell every night, encapsulated in countless systems of astrological lore, the constellations of timeless tales reminding us of how to live right in temporal and physical circumstances, how we can modify our destructive tendencies according to the better potentials of our personal tendencies, how to find accord with the songlines of the universe – this is what I am calling celestial intelligence. Reminding us of who we are and can be and come from – the great explosion of life in the universe, the fire lit in immeasurable, countless, unimaginably vast galaxies and stars and planets; and us, so lucky to have arisen here in human form, like the Mud People of the Hopi* emerging from the soil of life and looking about and breathing in and giving thanks.

 

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Then comes Earth Wisdom. Where the stars at night teach us openness and vastness, freedom and expansiveness, the earth asks us to be true to this place and its limits. I don’t use the word limits here in a pejorative sense. I mean the realities of life, which comes with death written into its original agreement, as we lease these bodies from the biosphere; which requires for survival clean water, fertile soil and fresh air; which punishes anything that destroys its own habitat, whether that be elephants eating out all the grass in a good year to find none left for its expanded herd in the following season, or humans overexpanding in their own technologically developed ways. Earth Wisdom is absolutely unforgiving and therefore utterly clear (although we can erect barriers to it so effective that we can momentarily convince ourselves that it is not so, that we can enjoy an eternal feast in the halls of immortality – a falsely optimistic tale now becoming undone after a blindingly brief amount of time, mere centuries, a moment in the oceans of eternity). Earth Wisdom asks that we engage in and develop relations with all our kin, the other life forms on earth as well as immediate family, out to the other tribes in a planetary network of fair trade, the other animals and plants and rocks and rivers, all of whom are known as people in so many beautiful, traditional cosmologies. Earth Wisdom asks us to look at the small things, the grains of sand on the beach or in the soil outside the home, the little daisies poking their heads up out of the grass, the grass itself, perennial as love, the terrestrial teachers such as lizards (so patient in the patch of sun on the rock, awaiting the fly), the fish who take advantage of currents to roam the oceans and seas, sometimes returning to their place of spawning as if magnetized by life, the sea turtles doing the same, the way clouds form and drench us with life giving rains, the way this turns to storm and rends our cities with death and destruction under certain climatic circumstances.

 

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When we instill our acceptance of a life of earthly limits with a sense of endless awe we can live in harmony with the greatness of the universe. This is what the combination of Celestial Intelligence and Earth Wisdom offers.

 

*Mud People of the Hopi – yup, that’s another story …

Images: 1. Milky Way over desert. 2. Mud Head Kachina from the Airzonan Hopi, Honolulu Museum of Art; photo by Hiart (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. 3. Lichen and fungi on a wet rock, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania; photo by author.

Practicing Embodied Spirituality

After introducing the idea of Embodied Spirituality recently, i promised to begin to ground it in some actual ideas about how such a thing could be practiced and experienced. When it comes to actually finding a way to experience transcendence while still firmly in the body, I have previously mentioned breath meditation. You can find my introduction to Zen here, if you are interested; it isn’t limited to that particular practice, although that is what I wrote it for (as a member of the Melbourne Zen Group). It’s just a set of simple instructions to help get you sitting right for a meditation practice in general (the stuff on posture and the point of meditation will probably seem most helpful).

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Part of what I think is important about any experiential awareness exercise – this includes mindfulness, which I may discuss in more detail some other time – is what I call ‘synching in.’ I like the play on words, because using this term reminds me that I am both sinking in to the body and to its intuitive awareness of the world around me right now, and I am getting in synch with that world. When I get this flow right – breathing just so, nothing forced, allowing myself to become more deeply aware of being here and all the subtle sensations that often go unnoticed during everyday life – I can also pick up on other dimensions of my experience.

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In this way I can experience immanence, which as I wrote earlier is a more ecospiritually attuned form of transcendence. I’m not looking up or out to some external agency that I hope may help or even save me. I’m looking in, for resources that may enable my abilities to dissolve challenging circumstances – and this means I am often looking through myself, to the more-than-human forces that are active behind the façade of persona or the toolbox of ego. To get to this place means I have to get to know my mental patterns and habits fairly well, so that I can catch the little games I play that maintain my identification with more ordinary states of consciousness, and move on from them when they limit my awareness of deeper levels of self.

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Because I need to attend to such habits, this practice is not always pleasant or easy; and it does not always lead to a feeling of freedom, overcoming or transcendence of worldly limit at all (in fact far from it). Sometimes I may end up crying myself to sleep and needing to let myself be sad (aka depressed) for a while. Telling someone that cares about me often helps at this point, although I am usually more inclined to simply wait it out; not because of some over-imagined sense of independence or fear of burdening others, but because I find such times so close to who I am that I sometimes find I can even cherish them once they have passed. And at other times, this kind of subtle attention to the endless realms accessible through going within leads to the discovery, reconnection and/or building of relationships with guides, guardians and allies that I meet in dreams or these kind of meditation experiences. Such relationships can be ritualised so that these powers can be called upon – silently, not always consciously – as we go about everyday life. Either way, I get to deepen my relationship to other dimensions of the self, whether that seems personal or more-than-personal/transpersonal/archetypal/ sacred or other.

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Part of what can help at these times is the memory that in many traditions, especially native wisdoms of those who live in close relationship with the rest of nature, all life sings. As such, even when parts of the self are in conflict, each part belongs, or finds a home, within the extended psyche. Myth relates powerful stories about such relationships, through conflict and diversity and harmony and transcendence, as a set of models we can use to experiment with transformation. The kind of transformation I am most interested in developing on behalf of White Fella Dreaming is from the limited story of self we are conditioned to accept by modern consumer society to the deeper sense of self we can discover and support that works in alignment with Earth Wisdom and Celestial Intelligence.

Images 1, 3 and 4 purchased from Shutterstock. Image 2 is my photo of the passageway leading in to the central chamber deep in the heart of the magnificent mounded dome at Knowth in Ireland, certainly one of the most impressive megalithic sites in the world.