Storms, Sea Monsters and Climate Change

In ancient mythology, there are stories about great sea monsters that roam the deep, far from the eyes and lives of mere mortals on the surface of the earth. Until times change, something goes wrong with the planet, and they resurface. Humans might not be guilty of any particular crime against life at the time; but often the old stories make it clear that we are to blame for the upsurge of the sea monsters. When the forces of good and evil go out of balance, they return from the deep, not to exact revenge but to even things back up a bit. The Kraken wakes, the giant squid come after boats instead of whales for a while, the seas roar and we are swept up in the tide. The shores are cleansed and humility is returned to the world; seeing this power, the human race remember that they can be swallowed up whole by the all-consuming power of the ocean, if they are not lucky.

 

Kraken

Here we go again.

But this time it is not gigantic, scary looking creatures we have to worry about; it is the spirit of the sea itself. Perhaps it was always this way and the monsters were just a symbolic representation of the power in the oceans. Regardless; watching the hugely impressive storms over the last few days on the south coast of NSW has been a humbling exercise and one that reminds me of something i thought following the Boxing Day tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of people just a few years ago. The sea itself is the monster now. And it is rising.

Sydney storm

 

Have we really even begun to accept what anthropogenic climate change is about to do to our coastlines? I live on one – the most beautiful place i have ever found, a place i have fallen in love with – and i am beginning to think about where to settle so that my kids can live there too. With 2m of sea level rise – something climate scientists have been telling us is inevitable, given the lack of change we have seen since we realised the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ had been given the stamp of consensus at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (that’s right folks, we have known this was coming for around 25 years now) – not only will millions of hectares of fertile land go underwater, but heavily populated cities across the world will become emergency zones.

So, i will be thinking about that when I choose where to settle along this coast. More importantly, meanwhile, i’ll be supporting the community to change, to create bioregional networks of exchange and support, and to think in terms of resilience and loving kindness while we build renewable energy grids and figure out what grows best here.

And i will keep listening to the ocean, which on halcyon days like the ones we’ve been enjoying lately tells me life is beautiful, and on stormy days like these reminds me it is also deadly. How we respond to both extremes tells us a lot about who we are. Let’s remain mindful of these co-creative forces in the world all around us. And not become monsters ourselves …

 

Sou Brou beach

 

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How White Fella Dreaming awakened to Belonging

Have you ever hit one of those points where you knew the next move you made was vitally important to the rest of your life and you weren’t quite sure which direction to take? This year the White Fella Dreaming project took me way outside of my comfort zone and forced me to rethink the reason behind it: how ‘new’ or non-indigenous Australians feel more at home on the land, so that we treat it better, and achieve a more satisfying and respectful reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the process.

Two Humpbacks underewater

The story begins on the remote desert-fringed beaches of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, where I spent most of June and July this year. I was a long, long way from electricity, let alone mobile phone or internet networks. I snorkeled, fished, cooked over a fire with my lovely little family, and dreamed of what the sands and salt water would say to me if I could be awake enough to listen to them. I meditated in the sand dunes and heard the rustling of the ocean breeze in the desert grasses. I watched bands of olive-coloured budgies flock overhead, chirping a sussuration across the sky as they headed one day south, a few days later back north, on some mini-migration that remained a mystery to me. As I so often do, I wondered what knowledge the original inhabitants of this land would have had to share, if they still lived here on the land. I saw the occasional ’roo at sunset or dawn and eagles seeking roadkill along the endless highways; but there are not many animals out here, where the land is so sparse and the rain so rare.

budgies

In the water, it is different. I snorkeled alongside a manta ray while it fed in spiraling circles, before tipping upside down and swimming away with its under flank exposed, looking down at the sand and reef below. I flipped around with turtles, avoided a sea snake, kept my distance from the bronze whaler sharks, and marveled at the wild variety of other creatures that shared this ocean paradise: colourful fish, of course, but also sting rays, squid (which look almost celestially radiant underwater), cuttlefish, octopus, giant gropers and cod, flashy mackerel and tuna, harmless and beautiful reef sharks … the list goes on. But one amazing experience will stay with me for life. Around 2km out to sea, while free-diving from a boat, two humpback whales approached me, banked around to keep me in full view, and allowed me to swim by them for a couple of minutes. Those brief moments were some of the most special times that I have enjoyed in the company of other animals. I could hardly believe such magnificent creatures would come to me out there in the middle of the ocean. I wished that time would slow down to a stop, at least just for a while … but of course nature keeps moving, and they soon continued their migration towards the Kimberley, where they would calve some 1000km to the north of here.

manta ray

And it was up in the Kimberley – or at least that most exotic of Australian towns, Broome, which serves as the western gateway to this incredible landscape – that my calling became refined by fire. For here, in consecutive meeting with researchers into indigenous knowledge, I came to realize that I needed another way to teach alongside White Fella Dreaming; a way that did not put anyone off side, as I was told that my usage of the term “Dreaming” would, in terms of Aboriginal feelings about traditional and surviving culture. The Dreaming, for me, is a kind of mythology – or powerful story that links the physical world with a sense of the sacred – that listens to the song of the land and identifies people with the rest of nature, so they we are compelled to protect it as well as enter into conversation with it.

But this didn’t cut it on “country” (the “enlivened spiritual cosmos” of the land, as Deborah Bird Rose puts it). It didn’t matter how well I could defend my understanding or aims; the whole idea of White Fella Dreaming was just too close to cultural appropriation. I acquiesced to this and suggested I talk about “comparative mythologies” – which is technically my area, combined with the ecological humanities – but no go. The Kimberley Aboriginal peoples didn’t want their culture talked about in terms of myth, because this could also lead to misunderstandings. Once again, nothing I could do to help ease such confusions was going to be enough to get over that barrier.

So, I had to quit on the idea of working with this research centre and their people and move on. This didn’t mean the end of White Fella Dreaming, because I had seen this controversy coming, in one form or another, and knew I would have to weather such storms. And I had another set of allies who had also helped me to overcome this kind of challenge from a different angle – beautiful friends who had been advising me to find a ‘universal’ value, something in the human heart and soul that any and all could appreciate. While sensed they were right, the problem was that I still hadn’t found that theme. But now I was frustrated and that kind of energy, like anger, can be very productive when it is chanelled right. I was also lucky enough to be in Broome with another of these friends, my colleague Paul Pulé, who was interested in researching with the same group in his own field of ‘ecomasculinities‘. Together we workshopped my dilemma, using some of the phrases I had been advised to throw around: What is it that I do, everyday, that is behind all my efforts in the world? What is my highest, or deepest, calling? Put another way, what vision do I wish to serve, which will lead to ‘generative’ outcomes no matter what? And what word or phrase best describes this value in a way that does not lead towards possible misunderstandings or political disputes, conflicts or arguments (all that stuff we desperately need to resolve!). Finally, Paul helped me to name it. Regardless of who I am talking to or what the topic is – whether it is an intellectual conversation or an emotional support session, about spirit or football, at work or in the park, there is always one thing I wish to leave people with if I can – and that is a feeling of belonging.

Belonging-02c_1800p

When people feel they truly belong, they are comfortable in their skin. They are at ease with their community. They feel loyal to the earth. They are more likely to do good work, to try and resolve conflict rather than inflame it, to protect what is worthy – including fresh air, clean water, healthy soil and other animals as well as all people (especially the defenseless or oppressed) and other manifestations of life (beautiful buildings, art, the scientific mind as well as the spiritual life, creativity as well as critical thinking – the list could go on forever, to include anything you stand for and love and wish to protect). In belonging I find what is most meaningful to me and to my work – something that underscores and takes priority over the intellectual labour of university life, something coded into the DNA of great stories and humble truths, a feeling that can emerge out of any compassionate interaction between myself and others. When I feel I belong and I share that feeling, all levels of possible conflict can be dissolved. The sense that we don’t totally belong in our bodies? Melted into a tangible sense of at-one-ness. Our experiences of conflict with others in our community, close or far afield? These can lead to a more robust order, a higher level of communications, better ways that allow for opposing perspectives. Our alienation from the rest of nature? Even this dissipates in the face of belonging, like a bad dream that fades as we awaken to a new life, transformed back into what we once and always were – at home, here in our bodies, with each other, born to this incredible fortune on our beautiful jewel of a planet.

For those keen to work with these ideas in a supportive environment, Geoff’s inaugural workshop on Belonging will be held on Saturday 10th October at CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick East. For more information and booking details please go to belonging.org.a

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

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.

Edge_of_forest_in_winter_scenic

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.

A_bear_coming_out_of_his_den,_Russia-LCCN2001697542

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.

European_Holly

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