Winter Solstice, Australia 2016

Winter Solstice Dawn 2016

Happy Winter Solstice everyone. Here in Narooma, on the east coast of Australia, i watched the sun rise over the beautiful Pacific Ocean and sent out my thanks for life to the sun. The traditional owners of the country here, the Yuin people, address our local star as Grandfather, so i was happy to take that on as a sign of respect for their ways of being here over thousands of years.

The Youtube video embedded here is of this dawn, Tuesday June 21st 2016.

The words are inspired by the evolutionary interaction of the elements, as well as by what i have learnt from Yuin elders, especially the Harrison clan (more to come on this in the City Living, Nature Calling ecomythic documentary film series). I’ve been spending as much time as possible around these parts watching and listening to the sun, the ocean, the sand and the land, the birds and animals around here, the stars at night, the wind and the trees and that deep inner voice that reminds us about what is important.

The sun gives birth to life, which rises out of the ocean. We, along with all creatures, give it body. Every day we are fired back into life by the power of the sun. We rely on the salt water to maintain the basis for life and the fresh water to keep us hydrated. We are elemental beings, with conscious minds, who are sometimes confused into thinking that the sideshow is the main attraction.

The earth, the sun, the ocean, the stars and the other creatures. This is home. This is what matters. When we get our minds and bodies together and remember this we are better for it.

Let the light return and draw you up.

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Integrative Psychology – inclusive, open-ended, and working in consort with nature

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Modern psychology begins with a medical model, so it comes as no great surprise that the current regime of diagnosis and prescription follows a mode that defines most mental health issues according to symptoms and cures. But in the 21st century, we are learning more about the extent – and the limits – of our knowledge of the mind. Sure enough, the human mind works within a physiological system – it’s part of our bodies and our environment – but it cannot be reduced to a merely causal mode. Like nature, the mind has self-healing capacities. And, mirroring the world, our mind – or psyche – sometimes operates according to patterns that are too large or too small to appreciate in the moment. The recent documentary Earth From Space provides some metaphors that are useful for a discussion about the parallel (and interconnected) worlds of mind and nature.

Sometimes when we are sick, we only find out later that this was a symptom of the body attempting to heal itself. The common cold can often be seen to work in this way, especially when we work too hard for too long; sickness stops us in our tracks and allows the body to force us to rest. Who knows how often a minor illness has given our bodies time for white blood cells to eradicate some intrusive threat? Similarly, a severe tropical storm is damaging in its immediate effects, but (according to the meteorologists behind Earth From Space) it is also a way for the atmosphere to release energy that has built up from the combination of heat and water vapor over the oceans. And our minds can be understood in a similar vein; pent up anger can rise to the surface unexpectedly, due to external or internal pressures we may not always recognise. The difference between this and a weather pattern is that we can choose how such energy is expressed and we can create safe release valves so that it does not become dangerous, like a perfect storm or debilitating physiological illness.

 

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Such understanding can help us to reframe the way we think about psychology – including the self-healing possibilities of the mind – today. Consider a reframing of the three great movements in 20th century thought, which saw them in conversation, integrated in a more inclusive way of understanding the human mind as an interconnected part of the even wider spheres of ‘the meaning of life’ on our planetary home, the earth. Far from reducing our understanding of the psyche to a merely medical model, the conversation between existential, phenomenological and depth psychologies can extend the way we think about what it means to be human in the Anthropocene.*

All three of these great movements, in different ways, deal with the ‘meaning of experience,’ and they all work as a creative response to the reductionism of a merely bio-medical model of the psyche. An existential psychology asks how we can create meaning in the face of the meaninglessness of the physical universe, especially knowing what we do about the enormity of the endless galaxies (and the even more vast abyss of empty space beyond) and the brutal injustice of the natural world of animal life. But existentialism responds not only to the cold hard facts of science; it also asks questions of meaning in the face of what some people are prepared to do to each other. The paradigmatic example was the concentration camps and Victor Frankl’s way through this horror, although Sartre’s recognition of our more everyday angsts such as the fear of freedom, alienation, death and others is also an important set of considerations.

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Phenomenological psychology, on the other hand, sought a framework for understanding the way we experience things, which counters or complements the classical philosophical standard of truth (the abstract or ‘pure’ reason revered by Plato and Kant and integrated into the scientific method of empirical observation and theoretical extension). Can we trust our personal observations, of our inner lives and of the way we experience embodied life in a social context? How do we make sure such considerations matter, in the face of scientific reductionism and the logic of the markets, for instance? Such questions lead to some incredibly rich discussions about the poetics of the human condition and what we find meaningful and worthwhile in terms of fact and value.

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Responding to both these schools of thought, not in terms of chronology but as another way of considering human consciousness and our cares, depth psychology wonders aloud what deep historical, sociocultural and biological patterns lie behind (or give rise to) the unique value of each of our individual lives. Such patterns were seen by Jung as ‘archetypes’; ancient templates according to which even our most spontaneous experiences could be seen as endless repetitions of certain master codes of biology and psyche. In dreams and hopes, we spontaneously reinvent the same kinds of outcomes as our ancient forebears, even though we live such different kinds of lives. Little wonder that links to animal wisdom and strange intimations of spiritual beings inhabit the deepest recesses of our minds, if the body itself gives rise to such codes. We dream in a timeless realm, where human socialization only has a certain amount of impact on the whole self we are in mind, body and the depths of the soul.

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When combined, these explorations into the human mind could all be seen as mirrors of nature’s attempts to heal itself. Just as our bodies, like the earth itself, express symptoms of imbalance in minor colds and violent storms, so the mind pushes itself into difficult realms of challenge, times where it must create healing powers such as white blood cells to consume the poisons that have accumulated within. Out of the relative darkness of these mysterious explorations we seem to be able to become more aware of healing powers within.

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A truly integrative psychology must therefore work to be inclusive of all our concerns for a meaningful life, which takes into account these three great schools of thought while also embracing and transcending the potentially reductive realms of scientific reason and empirical observation. Such an integrative psychology must also be greater than the sum of its parts, by pointing towards the unfathomable depths of the human soul, the endless nature of psyche, the open-ended way we can consistently strive beyond our limits and find possibilities – for love and adventure, growth and embrace – no matter how hopeless circumstances sometimes seem. And for this integrative psychology may find its ultimate home in the way it mirrors nature, where life always finds a way to keep seeking growth in the face of any and all challenges.

 

*The Anthropocene – a new geological era that recognises human responsibility for our world-changing effects on the global climate and on the environment everywhere.

Can the Earth Survive the ‘Reason’ of Modern Myth?

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Joseph Campbell believed that if your way of life and thinking did not link you to the sacred, then it is not myth but ideology. He meant myth in the positive sense of the word, as the worldview within which your way of life and thinking is embedded, or as the belief behind your worldview. Myth as the thing that makes things make sense, puts them in order, keeps us believing in life.

 

Modern society is mythic in the way that it rationalizes endless economic growth – making a goal out of something we know cannot possibly ‘come true,’ a model that cannot be an abiding truth for life. We know from the cycle of civilizations that they grow and die, like everything else that lives. In this sense modern life believes – against reason – in its own form of endlessness, or immortality, or the eternal. I call this modern mythic vision the eternal feast, as it is premised on the abolition of want, the end of the seemingly endless cycle of famine and feast, by a power greater than the natural cycle of things. At the culmination of my PhD thesis on this, I suggested that the eternal feast takes place in the cities of light, which are symbolic of this quest. Modern light – electricity, which is so often supplied with the burning of fossil fuels – thereby represents a symbolic victory over death, which in turn is associated with the darkness of night. This light-filled vision relies too much on ‘daylight’ reason, which it places as the most reliable bringer and checker of truth. We have art to remind us that this can only ever be a partial reality, because it puts to one side the emotional aspect of being human; the intangibles, the experiential, the feelings that we know are every bit as meaningful as belief or reason. Art at least recognizes the shadows to its light.

London from above

So the way we use reason, on behalf of the modern myth of the eternal feast in the cities of light, is ideological. It does not link us to the sacred – which can most simply be defined as whatever is most meaningful to us, what we hold most dear, what we would not see defiled, what we would act to protect. If anything, the type of reason employed on behalf of the eternal feast in the cities of light works against our loyalty to such a realm. All well and good if you are considering a scientific hypothesis or analyzing empirically verified data. But what does this mean when we consider the earth, as our home, as a place we hold dear – and by extension, when the feelings urge us to protect it, as a place that is sacred?

 

What it means is that we must either accept that the earth is simply a place we live, that it is a set of resources at our disposal; or, that there is a conflict between the myth of endless economic growth and our sense that the earth is sacred. Remember this the next time you witness a stock market report. It is an innocuous act of propaganda on behalf of the myth that is killing life on earth. We know we have to stop consuming so many of the ‘resources’ of the earth, stop destroying it and its carrying capacity with our technologies. But as a race, we continue to plunge headlong in this direction.

 

Until we take a stand against continual growth, we will struggle to be aligned with an idea of the earth as sacred. And until we live as if our home is a place that deserves our loving attention – that requires protection from harm – we allow that myth of the eternal feast to continue defiling what we know we love. This will eventually, ironically, lead to great famine and ‘the waste land.’ The cycle of life cannot be overwhelmed by human ingenuity. We can create abundance for some time, in some places, but even then it is at the cost of some other place, which provided the excess consumables.

 

So what to do about this conflict in our hearts and minds? Face the music. Economic privilege has too long been bought with the destruction of the earth. The cycles of nature demand a cease to growth. We must seek ways to live within the limits of the earth and its carrying capacity. If we cannot do this voluntarily, the earth will remind us. And the longer it takes to listen, the more powerful the lesson must become. The sound of us waking up to the life of the world around us is whatever you hear right now. That’s a living system, which lives and dies. Let’s remember that and transform our myth accordingly. To a sacred earth, of more-than-human proportions and dimensions, to which we owe our loyalty and our attention, at least. And our devotion and love, at last.

Are people part of the flora and fauna?

What makes human people special? In this context, what makes us stand out from the rest of nature? Why don’t we see ourselves as part of the rest of life on earth? This came up for me recently, as i listened to an Australian Aboriginal lady explain that her people should be thought of that way; that they were part of the flora and fauna of the land, in terms familiar to deep ecology. What was kind of shocking here was the fact that such an argument was once used by early colonists of this country to justify dispossession and settlement. It was allied with the idea of Terra Nullius; there is no real society here, recognisable to European standards, so we can simply take the land. Those black fellas are part of the land – so, no barrier to our possession of it. They literally branded Aboriginal societies as part of the flora and fauna, but meant something very different, and much more horrible, by the same sentiment.

  GB at PinnaclesThe author at The Pinnacles, Western Australia. Standing amongst the rocks, not independent of them.

A similar conundrum faces us when we align the feminine with nature; or with the darkness, or the deep waters of emotion. It’s not that the analogy is wrong – it’s the negative associations commonly held with the imagery that leads to problems. It’s easy to see why the feminine and nature are so easily aligned – we are birthed out of both, the womb of our mother and the matrix of the universe, physical matter itself. Likewise with the easy metaphorical association between the feminine and darkness; the mysterious ways of the world, the intuitive mind that women seem so often more comfortable with, compared to the ‘daylight’ or rational consciousness that has just as often been associated with the masculine spirit, and men in general.

 

Shark Bay beachThe sea, here at a beach in Shark Bay, WA. That sense of oceanic awareness, which Freud resisted and Jung identified with …  the great eternal feminine, the Tao of universal flow

If we were more comfortable with the darkness, with mystery, with the earth as our greater body, we could embrace these associations. We are suspicious of them because they are so often used to denigrate – to assume mastery over them, to remove ourselves from identification with them, to be independent and to feel powerful. It’s an illusion, just as the intuitive sense of them probably is too. Ultimately, matter and intuition could be thought of as masculine, abstract thought and logic as feminine, in a different social order. The moon has been considered masculine in Aboriginal and Mesopotamian cultures, which throws the whole European system out of order; in ancient Sumer, Nanna was the Moon God, a great bull looking over the herds of feminine stars. Symbols are flexible, no matter how true they seem to us. They are part of our consciousness, part of our mythology, so we accept them, just as we accept scientific thinking and the mundane materialism of commercial life in the 21st century.

 

Karijini GorgesThe spectacular gorges of Karijini NP, Pilbara region of WA. A sense of timeless pervades the landscape here, where rocks have been weathered for millions of years

I’d love to be thought of as part of the flora and fauna. I don’t want to assume mastery over the world and differentiate myself from it as part of some patriarchal fantasy of ‘civilisation.’ I’m just as comfortable with the feminine, nature, mystery and darkness as with the masculine, mind, a sense of certainty or logic and light – and i know that these systems of thought are all fluid, as sure as my sense of self and society and just as contingent upon history and environment as any other way of thinking. But i don’t want that to be an invitation to be defined as passive, as part of the land to be used and abused, as a walkover for free market assumptions that reduce everything to what they are worth at the current exchange rate, either. I stand with that Aboriginal lady – and support the positive connotations of her stance, just as i resist the way it can be turned upon her – and upon us. People of the earth, unite.

 

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

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Easter is a ceremonial celebration of life. The Resurrection of Jesus signals the soul’s victory over death; we rise to the heavens once we depart this world, the myth tells us, so long as we align our earthly lives with that divine realm while we are here. This is a religious model built on an ancient pattern; in nature, we see life burst forth from death all the time. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a concrete signal of this. Out of the depths of winter, finally the new sun hits the world, warming up the frosty ground, shaking buds to life on what looked last week like withered branches, even calling cute lambs from the wombs of woolly ewes in the fields. The seasonal cycles continue, from birth to growth to death and back again, drawing new life out of the great mystery, the darkness is the womb or matrix of the universe, the life behind life out of which all is born and to which all returns.

You can see why reincarnation is such a popular idea; it is just another version of the same universal paradigm, applied to the human soul. And when we pay attention to who we are within, we do find we are part of a wider nature without, the physical world of all beings, to whom we are related and to whom we owe our loyalty. Deepening our attention to this cycle and to our place in it can help us to get more in touch with our own innate sense of an ecological spirituality; a sense of the sacred in nature and in ourselves.

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The idea of Jesus and/or the Easter Bunny is a way of trying to link these mortal lives of ours to that Sacred Mystery, in one way or the other. For Christians, the religious model works to bring the divine into life, using the myth of Jesus to help us see the glory of God, in our hearts and in the world. In the secular world, the Easter Bunny brings magical gifts of abundance from an invisible realm, beyond the rational world. And this brings us to the problem of the sacred in the consumer capitalist world of commercialism. Commercialism consolidates the commitment to materialism that is part of a capitalist society, so that our intuitions of a better world, with higher values and more widespread compassion, are too easily consigned to the shelf of dusty ideas, past their use-by date or too ‘unrealistic’ to take seriously.

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Ecological spirituality is not against materialism; in fact it is a new kind of materialism; but one that takes our bodies and the physical aspect of life on earth far too seriously to side with the slide into lazy consumption, which is promoted as the good life by the propaganda machine of global corporate marketeers. Ecological spirituality requires taking seriously what goes into our bodies, what ‘resources’ – aka other forms of life – are used to fuel our lifestyles; in other words, how we work with the earth rather than assume a false order of mastery over it and its other peoples and creatures. Without this dimension of care, spirituality is merely another version of escapism. We need to underscore this at times of seasonal celebrations such as Easter because as White Fellas – or those who were not born out of the ancestry of their land, such as in Australia or North America – we have a duty to try and better understand our ‘country’ and its original peoples. In any case, now that ecological crisis is finally becoming apparent to all but the most hardened ideologues, loyalty to the earth must be paramount in our relationship with what we hold sacred. And to hold the earth itself sacred is not only a real aspect of most religious perspectives, it is a vital and living part of the Australian Aboriginal way of life. And this is something we can learn, both from wisdom traditions and from attention to our own inner knowing.

One of the ways to deal with our current set of dilemmas is to be even more inventive with technology; in fact, we already know how to scale fossil fuels out of the equation with renewable energy sources, we just lack the political will and vision. But another way is to recalibrate our relationship with the rest of nature; to reconsider the way we think about the earth, so that it is not merely a resource but a place we hold sacred. One of the keys to making this shift real is to recall our own deep affinity with nature – and one of the best ways to see that this can be a real source of deep satisfaction; of a materialism beyond consumption; of an ecological spirituality – is to consider the Aboriginal inhabitants of this ‘country.’

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

Aboriginal Australians consider their ‘country’ to be not only the place with which they identify; it is an enlivened spiritual cosmos, filled with other parts of nature that have just as much right to live and flourish as humanity does. The way to live right with this kind of natural environment is to build relations with it. To consider the river as a really alive, flowing source of replenishment, for people and for life itself; to consider the eagle as brother, the kangaroo as kin, the sky as part of the web of life. And to be responsible for part of this, via a totemic system, so that I may need to protect the Bilby Dreaming of our particular ‘country’ while you may be responsible for the Native Grass Dreaming. The system works by organising everything and everyone into a nested series of cares, where we all share empathy and compassion for all of life, together as parts of the pattern.

So; what can we rediscover about the hope held out by an Easter festival in contemporary terms, when we stand outside of conventional Christianity, on an ancient land, with secular freedoms? We can consider Easter’s iconic imagery of the Resurrection, which is in turn a version of a much more ancient idea; that we can transform who we are in real terms, in the body, with a kind of rebirth out of ritual. When we think of the mythic story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we can’t help but recall the Mystery Schools of the Greeks, who likewise spent time in dim caverns, spending their symbolic dark days and nights of the soul being inspired by personal experience that went beyond the limits of the personal, so that they could be transformed in their everyday lives in alignment with a greater vision of what is possible.

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Eleusis, a site of the Greek Mysteries, dedicated to the goddess Demeter; the grains on the left of the carving represent new life out of the earth, a physical and spiritual symbol at the same time.

If ever there was a time we needed to tap back into this deep stream of European and Levantine wisdom, this was it. We can re-find inner riches in ecological spirituality, which also link us to the rest of nature, to the other creatures and even to the landscape itself, all of which now requires protection from the worst ravages of the human race. White Fella Dreaming subscribes to all of this, as a counter-culture to the dominant paradigm and its damages, in the hopes of transforming modern society to a more sustainable set of practices; and we need to do this within ourselves, at the same time as we activate it in everyday life and in the wider community of the planet. And we have inner resources, our own links to early practices like this, and existing wisdom traditions of this land to learn from.

Thanks for reading. And have a regenerating and transformative Easter.

*This is a short version of my Easter Sunday service given at the Unitarian Church in East Melbourne, Australia, April 5th.

Images: 1. “Lubok of Resurrection” by Anonymous – Музей народной графики. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg#/media/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg. 2. “Easter Bunny” by Littlerockphoto – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG#/media/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG. 3. “Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details” by User:Franconia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg#/media/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg. 4. By Arapaima [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Sketch trying to illustrate the Arnhem Land North Coast Indigenous Australians cosmogony, as described by David Gulpilil in the australian movie “Ten canoes” made by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr (sketch derived from a painting by Johnny Bulunbulun, a Ganallingu artist working in Maningrida). 5. By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany (Eleusis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Moon in Australian Aboriginal and White Fella Dreaming

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In many indigenous myths, the moon waxes and wanes because of the greed or selfishness of an ancestor spirit. Whether lusting after an unavailable romantic partner or feeding endlessly on a special foodstuff, often sweet, this character ends up displaced into the night sky, forever to repeat the pattern of unrestrained appetite, to fullness, to the wasting away that is its cosmic recompense. Ultimately, the moon/character is reborn, but this act of seeming divine forgiveness is once again sharpened by the karmic lesson it must teach us mere mortals; endlessly, the greedy one must repeat their transgressions and pay the price. It won’t learn, which should be enough of a reminder to us that we must – unless we also want to repeat destructive patterns forever.

 

We all know traditional cultures, including our own, looked to the night sky and told stories about what was seen there. Can we, as moderns with scientific knowledge, still learn from these stories? Part of what White Fella Dreaming seeks to do is to draw those threads together; to be true to what we know of the world and ourselves, today (as Campbell exhorted), but also to learn from wisdom traditions at the same time. We know the moon waxes and wanes according to its orbits around the earth and the earth’s cycles around the sun. But the old stories mean a great deal, if we are prepared to listen. They can put us back in touch with the laws of nature, both inner, in the human psychic world, and outer, in the environment. How? Check it out.

 
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The greedy character acts against others in order to fulfill their desires. The endless loop of their gratification and demise in the sky teaches us to take care of others when we act upon our appetites. This applies whether our tastes run to sweet nectar from the trees or that gorgeous young lady who is already promised to another, or who loves another, or who has the wrong skin name. (Interestingly, in Australian Aboriginal mythologies, the moon is often male.) The moon’s constant demise in the second half of its cycle, from fullness to death, teaches us to curb our desires, to let it go, to recognize that our appetites won’t always be sated. Same goes with the fruits of the land; in the hunter/gatherer world of feast and famine, it doesn’t do to long for more of a crop that is going to be lean this season, or to let others go hungry, or to force them to work for your greedy desires … others must be considered, if we are to act in a civilized, sociable manner. Tighten the belt, accept a measure of suffering, give up on something you thought you had to have, allow your desires to be ‘educated’ (as suggested by utopian theorists Miguel Abensour and Ruth Levitas).

 

We don’t only have something to learn in regards to our inner lives here. We also need to relearn the lessons provided by the long days feast and famine that are coded into our cultural codes; to curb our material appetites, in order to align our human ways with the laws of nature and be true to the earth again. The oil bubble, combined with the industrial revolution, working on top of large-scale agricultural civilizations, has led us to an era of unprecedented plenty. It’s hard to exaggerate how much this means: in the privileged centres of western (and any technologically advanced) societies today, we are gorged on an eternal feast in cities of light. This is an entirely new level of abundance and one that we cannot deny for its power. We are drawn to it like primate moths to a flame. And I am not merely suggesting a move away from abundance, technology, modern life or our highest hopes for al humanity here. But what I am suggesting, as I listen to the moon – exactly at mid-point in its phase tonight over Eltham, a perfect semi-circle lit against the night sky and the ringtail possum walking the tightrope of an electric wire past my front verandah – is that we need to remind ourselves of the cost of this feast. We are the ravenous man now. Modern global civilization is acting as if it can have everything and will not have to ay for its greed and selfishness. And we know, in our hearts, that this is true. I’m just reporting that the wisdom traditions still speak that truth. Go outside at night and listen to the moon. It will tell you; restrain your desires and think of the earth’s others. Or accept the same destiny as befell all of those that have come before you, who were placed in the sky to remind you of the danger. Before it’s too late.

 

 

Images: purchased from one of those megacorporation places. Sometimes i do it.

The Modern Goddess

I’ve been waiting for a powerful dream to contact you with next. Finally, she came last night. I didn’t call her in, or pray for her help, or undertake any of that kind of begging. (Not that I couldn’t be accused of resorting to these tactics at other times, mind you.) She just slipped in, quietly, mysteriously, to watch the human drama unfold. Was she touched? I couldn’t tell. If our sets of agonizing, playful, colourful actions had any effect on her at all, she didn’t show it. But now that I have made contact – or rather, she with me, or better still She with my Dreaming – I’ll be sure to go back and ask. After doing ritual, natch. She deserves respect. I’ll call her the Modern Goddess and ask her what she thinks. What we should be doing. To intervene. In the drama – helping, where we can, like Kwan Yin or Avalokiteshvara, or Sweet Blessed Mother Mary, or any other dispenser of compassion beyond understanding. But also to maintain balance within ourselves, to play our part in being intelligent animals in touch with the sacred, informed by it, trying to walk in it.

 

Red Velvet chair2

 

We were in a large, open auditorium. It was regally plush, with rich, deep green velour wallpaper, accentuated by golden trim. There’s a stage nearby and as there is about to be a performance of some sort, I look for a good seat. Behind the stage is a set of ornate chairs and benches, which seem to face the action. So I head over there and, being first to arrive, choose a fine seat with crimson velvet upholstery. Very nice, I think, until I see another man pass me and head up to much better seats above. He asks me what I am doing down here as he takes up the second best seat in the house; it is a high-backed chair, right next to a magnificent throne, of dark materials so rich they are obviously meant for royalty and no less, which is placed top and centre of the dais upon which we will sit. I am emboldened by the other man and take up the equally regal chair on the other side of the throne.

 

Velvet throne2

The rest of the seats fill up as the lights go down in preparation for the action. Just at this moment a woman enters silently from behind us and takes her place in the throne. It feels exactly right, although there is nothing to indicate what she looks like or why she seems so comfortable in this place of honour. The play begins in small scenes enacted in different places around the auditorium. It’s a piece of theatre with ‘shifting’ sets, a postmodern piece that decentres the point from which the audience views the action, including them in the drama.

 

V0042383 A young woman wearing a veil and black clothing mourning at

 

When my consciousness shifts from the reality of this otherworld to the everyday, waking one, I wonder why she was so silent and so unannounced. Is She humble? Perhaps She is so powerful that She requires no introduction, as they say. Does She care? While I see no evidence of this, I ask myself why She would come at all if she had no interest in our human drama, which also has such a profound effect, now, on the state of the rest of the planet. I hold gently the awareness that I am her left hand man; a subtle contrast to the right hand man of the patriarchal Father, the warrior who carries out His orders regardless of feelings like compassion or pity. From here, I get to feel everything, and serve Her with conscience, finding balance between the God and Goddess powers within and without. She asks not for my unthinking devotion; quite the opposite. I am forced to think for myself, to make decisions based on whatever information I have at hand, to feel for the Earth and to remain loyal to its people, to choose to fight for them. She does not need to see the pendulum swing against the Sacred Masculine, for she is already awaiting us, at the centre, holding His hand, married to the light from her sacred abode in the darkness. She is the silent, unnamed Tao, which does not require defense. And She calls us on to the good fight, which is carried out in our own hearts and minds and souls and bodies first, and then in the world; paradoxically, at the same time. It’s a matter of intent and clarity of action. Blessings Be and welcome to the tribe, She says, and I follow her.

 

 

Images: 1. By Munna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Jebulon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 3. See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. 

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.

The New Year in Symbolic Context

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In ancient Mesopotamia, the new year was celebrated in style. It took a few days to complete the rites and a main feature was the Sacred Marriage, wherein the gods and goddesses were joined together in a way that ensured the ongoing fertility of the earth. Naturally, the earth meant the land most important to the people, who lived in city-states with now-exotic and evocative names such as Ur. Now while the tutelary deity (or city god) of Ur was Nanna, the moon-god, bull of the sky, provider of plenty, guard against perfidy, naturally the local king would stand in his place and be married to the goddess, most likely Innana. Typical men, huh? Never losing an opportunity to aggrandize the self. Anyway, the point was that the party was taken seriously, there was something sacred occurring, and even if it was used as a way to cement patriarchal and military authority, it was also a way of ensuring that people’s lives stayed linked to the stories that explained to them the deepest meanings of life, the human place in the universe, and our ties to the mysteries out of which we arise and to which we return upon death.

 

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Navajo ritual often ends with the phrase “Beauty is returned.” This is a lovely comment upon the successful ritual, which should leave us feeling refreshed in vision, mind and body. It’s the same result we want out of the telling of myth, which can re-place us in the heart of the world, a unique and lucky incarnation as a conscious, self-aware being in an incredible cosmos, capable of learning and teaching our fellow creatures, finding solace in our souls so that we can be at one, or at least comfortable in our skins, enough to be spiritually generous, or at least emotionally stable enough to not be a drain on others. This is what successful myth and ritual offers us, every day, but especially at signal moments in the annual calendar.

 

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Having recently passed the solstice/Christmas season, we now stand at the horizon of another opportunity for a new start. Once we have settled in to sense the promise of the return of the light, through the dark night of the soul, which we pass through collectively each year and which we experience individually every now and then as passing phases of melancholy, or in catastrophic bursts of mental unease or collapse, or in evenings of emotional turmoil followed by sleepless nights, or in horror at the callous turn of events that sees innocent children suffering horribly or men dying pointlessly, or women harrowed by another gut wrenching chain of events over which they have no influence … the dark soul of the night, whatever version we know, that ends finally, either in a fresh dawning of hope in our hearts or in the birth of a new generation, has been and gone and now we can reset the clock. This chronological metaphor is not unwitting – we set the year by some kind of calculation, even if we don’t see the universe as a clockwork mechanism anymore – and this avails us of the opportunity to consider the end of one cycle and beginning of a new one.

 

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This isn’t always a very comfortable reflection. I’ve been revisiting my hyper-sensitive early teenage years of late, as I recognize a new era in my personal standing ticking over through another cycle of social anxiety and emerging self-assuredness. But we have to just sit with this kind of material and keep on working on ourselves, day-by-day, allowing ourselves into the pit to the extent that we need to be dipped in it if we are to emerge truly refreshed, yet not letting ourselves be fully lost to the night, which will swallow us up and leave us crushed if we are not careful to maintain our sense of self as we go. It’s a matter of balance. Being real to the transformative potential of evernew, reliable myth and ritual, while maintaining a stable sense of self without which we cannot function helpfully on behalf of ourselves of others. I’m going to stay true to my life metaphor, my totemic animal power, my symbolic analogy from within, the Butterfly, this new year, and make sure I am true enough to my time in the cocoon of darkness to emerge completely refreshed, with new and colourful wings, on the other side. Happy New Year from White Fella Dreaming.

 

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Image: 1. By アリオト (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. American painter Joseph Henry Sharp documented Indian tribal life and ritual. This is an idealized portrait of a seventeen-year-old Indian boy who later became Chief of the Taos Pueblo. The boy is shown drying a bird’s brain to create a talisman that will guarantee his future success. 3. Image title: Dark nightImage from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/dusk-dawn-public-domain-images-pictures/dark-night.jpg.html 4. “Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Milkweed Cropped 2800px” by Derek Ramsey – Derek Ramsey. Via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg

The Real Meaning of Christmas

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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