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.

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.

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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.

Communion with Earth and Stars

Singing up the new mythic paradigm means reconnecting people with more-than-human nature, on earth and beyond. Living this means remembering that we are born of the earth and of the sky, our bodies built from stardust scattered throughout the cosmos by explosions so immeasurably violent that they can swallow up whole planetary systems with nary a burp.

 

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From the start we are sky and land creatures, flying through space at a million miles an hour* while walking on land that seems solid and stable but we know is just another coincidence of continental plates, sea levels, tectonic shifts, ice ages … we live in the sweet spot, just now. But we are creatures of uncontrollable fire, too, true to our first home in the stars – unimaginably immense bursts of light and heat, burning gas in the night, a conflagration of potential.

And then again, of course, our ancestors first evolved in salt water, evolving over millions of years out of that amniotic fluid, replicating cells before arising softly from the sea, gulping in air as oxygen became available, stepping out for the next adventure.

 

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To do this – to sing up the song of the earth and the stars, the fire dragons and water devas, the archetypal guides and wise advice and flighty air spirits and everyday ‘down to earth’ advice so that we can learn to live at peace with our earthly existence – we need to build relationships with place. Because we are limited; we have bodies, which are breathed through by life; and we have appetites, hunger and thirst and more, which we must satisfy. We live as part of an ecology of limit – not scarcity, but of a biodiversity that cannot be reduced to sets of resources that we are free to tap and extract as if life on earth could just keep on sustaining us forever. We live in places that offer certain amounts of warmth and nourishment, relying on stuff (material and intangible) that needs to be shared amongst the creatures.

 

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All that lives feeds off all else. Sometimes that cycle is cruel and seems inhumane. But we are capable of mobilising an ethic of life that allows the universal feeding to be tempered, ever so slightly, to reduce unnecessary suffering. When we get in touch with our bodies and inhabit them as intelligent primates with appetites and a realistic appraisal of our capacity for self-control, we can co-create at least the possibility of whole system flourishing. Sometimes the gods of nature will laugh this off, of course, shaking parts of the planet free of humanity with a particularly vicious storm or tsunami, with fire and flood and earthquake and pestilence. C’est la vie. This doesn’t stop us from co-creating a kind of ecologically-informed biodiversity of life on this planet, working with the extended kin all around us in the soil and sky, in the waters that sustain us and in our technologically brilliant cities.

My last post was about the difficulties of pursuing this theme of being in deep dialogue with the earth, in the context of being a relatively new ‘white fella’ on land inhabited by culturally complex ‘black fellas’ who had identified with their ‘country’* for tens of thousands of years. I felt I needed to expand upon White Fella Dreaming, to build something more inclusive of my own innate embodied wisdom, to help inspire my community to share the same. The theme of Belonging allows me to keep practicing deep listening to the land – that timeless flow that takes on specific shapes depending on the place and the psyches involved in the communiqué – and to share this regardless of the politics of colonisation and appropriation that mark this particular point in historical time.

 

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My friend Caresse wrote to me after this post, wanting to check in that White Fella Dreaming, as it became the blog for Belonging, would stay true to that bigger picture issue: the one about being human, regardless of cultural history or conditioning, and continuing the ‘deep communion’ between us as human psyches and the spirit of the land and the cosmos in an interconnected evolutionary process. What a great reminder, of my core theme and of how good it is to be involved in communities that keep us on track.

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The theme of White Fella Dreaming, as the blog for Belonging, remains focused on embodied spirituality and dialogue between the human and the more-than-human on earth and beyond. Belonging will feature more workshops, as well as online courses, retreats, tours and other ways of helping more people get more in touch with their inner nature, which is flowing on the infinite sands of reality. And the work will always return to our dreams and myths: the powerful stories that connect us to what we find sacred in life, which is simply what we hold most meaningful in our hearts and bodies, in the precious jewels of consciousness and material being that we have been so fortunate to be born with. Boundless potential for poise and spiritual generosity accompanies us as we ride the flow of life. In peace, Geoff.

*This may not be mathematically accurate. But you get the idea.

*‘Country’ = the ‘spiritually enlivened cosmos’ of place in Australian Aboriginal ways (Debbie Bird Rose)

 

Belonging workshop, Saturday 10th October, CERES Environmental Park in Melbourne: bookings

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Transformation Learning – Experience and Wisdom with Jonathan Dawson

Jonathan DawsonJonathan Dawson is Head of Economics at Schumacher College (UK) and appeared at the OASES Graduate School in Melbourne to talk about “What we are learning about transformative pedagogy: reflections on the edge” (Monday 24th August, 2015)

 

About two dozen of us sat in a wide circle to hear Jonathan speak on his experiences of 11 years at the Findhorn community and his last 4 years at legendary home of sustainability Schumacher College. Naturally this included not just listening to a lecture; in fact, we got up and enjoyed a multi-layered, space-changing exercise in the large hall as a group, as a way of shifting our minds out of that passive receptive mode so common to traditional education. This game introduced us to the way quantum fields operate in interpersonal exchanges, as each of us moved around the room in an attempt to maintain the same distance between ourselves and two other people we had chosen at random. With everyone moving to try and maintain this equidistance, we represented a room full of people in a kind of magnetic flow, of constellations that did not follow social norms of reason, kin or bonding, but which nevertheless reflected some of the ways change actually does happen amongst people (and atoms and stars). I was amongst those that felt something profound happen during this exercise; something beneath or beyond words, yet deeply meaningful.

 

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With this in mind, and in hindsight, it should not seem so surprising that Jonathan chose to begin his spoken presentation with an anecdote about the way that ‘closing circles’ inevitably bring about very strong feelings for participants in transformational learning, whether they’ve been together for a whole year or a weekend workshop. ‘Coz this is where people realise what they have gained through engaging in learning that seeks to expand our thought processes beyond what sociologist Max Weber called ‘the iron cage of reason.’ This is where learning is an experience, which opens up the heart, body and whatever we like to call our mostly intangible sense of soul or spirit. When learning experiences ask us to recalibrate the way we think, listen, communicate, reason, feel and be with others, the results can be profound. Perhaps this is the kind of educational paradigm required in an era where everything seems to be changing faster than ever even as we ‘postmodern individuals’ awaken to the fact that we are all connected, to those in our human communities as well as to the world itself.

 

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And just as global challenges require a systemic (or holistic) response, each of us are also effected at some personal level, within, in those places where we experience emotions that are too often marginalised in the ‘management’ discourse that dominates adult education today. This is why transformational pedagogies remain more relevant than ever. Because we need to feel what is happening in the world around us if we are to respond appropriately. We are intelligent, social primates who are capable of reflection upon – and most importantly behavioural change in response to – what is happening around us. Real change will not come from bringing the intellect to bear alone; realistic responses require emotional and embodied engagement, physical experiences of what is happening and what we can do about it. Sometimes this may be as seemingly impotent as allowing ourselves to weep at the realisation of how heavy the ecological footprint is of industrialised societies, an outcome Jonathan says he has witnessed countless times, even when working with corporate and other managerial workers. By circumventing the abstractions of statistics, for example, an exercise like forming groups of people on two sides of the room – one to represent the consumers of ‘resources’ and the other to represent the relatively voiceless numbers of less advantaged peoples (or the even more voiceless earth itself) – can undercut the avoidance of grief that is part of our consumer era.

 

JD at OASES bwJonathan sets us up as consumers and ‘resources’ (Photo courtesy Ben Wrigley)

 

Naturally there is a strong element of phenomenology involved in such exercises and Jonathan mentioned how applying such philosophies in experiential educational contexts can allow participants to revalue personal, lived senses of justice and to dissolve some of our often uncritically accepted loyalties to dominant paradigms of reductionist meaning. He discussed how language can reduce a living subject, such as a tree, to a category box. We look, we define it as ‘just a tree,’ and we move on. This process doesn’t allow for the living being to be appreciated and makes it easier for us to accept that it could be treated as simply a ‘resource’ – something we can use at will and not care about any further. Transformative education asks us to rethink this process; to slow down and appreciate the tree as a fellow subject, another living being, who has the same right to be exactly as it is, where it is, as we do.

 

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I took the opportunity in a personal conversation with Jonathan at a later date to point out that I think arguments like the one by David Abrams, which claim that the written language has a kind of soul-destroying nature, may actually be aimed at the wrong suspect. From what I learnt of the agricultural revolution, especially in and around the Mesopotamian region around 8-10 millennia ago, which so strongly influenced the Levantine and southern European civilizations that followed it, written codes followed physical practices a long time later. The written alphabet did not create or even pre-empt a way of thinking that treated the world around the Sumerians as a set of resources rather than as a system of inter-related kin. This transformation, which many ecologically-minded people today find so troubling, occurred in the mind of oral peoples. The agricultural habit of treating the world as a set of resources was invented, developed and carried out for thousands of years before it was ever written down. If we want to find fault, it is with the dangerous creativity of humanity, combined with the temptation of a more managed system that could ensure consistently higher yields. Here is the beginning of capitalism and today’s worship of profit: in the availability of domesticable crops and animals, put to the service of humanity, until the plants and creatures themselves are thought of as chattels, things we own and control, rather than beings with whom we share kinship relations, lives we care for. When we consider indigenous epistemologies and what they have to offer to a 21st century, ecological way of living in the world, this is one of the main facets we must appreciate. Many pre-industrial cultures retain important aspects of pre-agricultural respect for all life and this extends our understanding of kinship and intrinsic rights to those beings, including even the inanimate world beneath our feet, in the rivers and seas, in the air we breathe.

In the circle at OASES, Jonathan also introduced ways to engage with what he called our ‘digital commons’ in the shift towards cooperative, communal learning. On the one hand, electronic and digital media are a great way to gather people together; but on the other, we need to connect with each other beyond the simplified set of senses this mode too often engages. Staring at the backlit screen is entirely visual, with a little tactile manipulation thrown in as we type or swipe. As already discussed, we need to add embodied, spatial skills (as well as the aural practice of deep listening, the symbolic capacity engendered with reflection, the self-trust that comes with feelings of intuition, and more) if we are to reforge the commonalities that bind us together with each other and the earth. One of the ideas that emerged out of this conversation was to ask appropriate questions, to take people from the screen to the event by piquing their curiosity, and to remember to have fun doing so. A morbid movement is one destined to collapse under the weight of its own ponderous fragility and grief; while these things have their place, they do not inspire people to act unless they are counterbalanced with the promise also of pleasurable interaction, wonderful storytelling, and convivial atmospheres. (And yes, we all laughed together that day at OASES.)

 

Joanna Macy quoteA venerable ally, Joanna Macy – saying something i love reminding myself and anyone else about …

 

Finally, Jonathan reminded us to switch the default position of transformational learning back to how people would learn if given the opportunity to share openly in community and thereby to experience themselves as self-aware bodies in relationship with others and the earth. We are primate beings, who evolved in relatively small bands of kin and who are hard-wired for compassion and generosity, given the conditions for these qualities to flourish. Nowadays, conditions favour a different kind of person and this has been developing since the agricultural revolution. We inherit so many bad habits – of reducing other lives to objects of profit and of thinking of ourselves first – that it takes time to dissolve them in experiences of shared support and a community of souls. This is what transformational education can offer today: learning experiences that are fully alive in mind and body – and that remind us we are also, as well, more-than-human and not less.

Ecospirituality – The Hero’s Journey for the 21st Century

In the mid-20th century, Joseph Campbell showed that a Hero’s Journey was available to us all, as an exploration of our own minds and hearts and as a way of regaining our personal power and rightful place in the world. In those days, America still seemed like the land of the free and home of the brave. Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was published in 1949, just years after the US Army had helped the Allies rescue Europe from the clutches of the Nazis. It was an era of optimism, and Campbell’s later TV appearances in The Power of Myth cemented his fame. He inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars, especially in the lead character of Luke Skywalker and his mystical martial arts sect the Jedi, who could tap into ‘the force’ behind the physical world.

 Young-Luke-Skywalker-Flashback-Star-Wars-7Ah Luke. That was nuts about your dad. Talk about nasty Oedipal issues!

 

I love the potential in all of these ideas, but while they still retain a timeless quality to compel, they also need to be updated for the 21st century. The Hero’s Journey in Campbell’s era was still about the individual, who needed to find the power within to overcome their challenges, regardless of the expectations of society. This model remains an excellent guide to anyone’s inner life today. It involves a cycle, from the everyday world to a place of inner depth, after a ‘call to action’ compels us to look within and find the source of our strength.

 

This follows an ancient practice, for instance when Greeks over 2000 years ago went to ‘Mystery Schools’ to immerse themselves in such experiences, participating in rituals where they entered a metaphorical underworld and returned with great gifts of self-empowerment. It’s so inspiring, there is no wonder it has continued to influence writers and film makers such as the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix. As their archetypal modern hero, Neo, found out, the key to accepting the Hero’s Journey is to take the right pill! While the truth may challenge us, it is far more satisfying than accepting the comfort of mundane routines.

 66-6-the-matrixDude, take the red pill! The red one and wake up – it’s worth it, trust me!

 

While this remains a vitally important process for us all, we are now living in a new era, with a changing climate and other challenges that face us on a global scale. It doesn’t seem enough anymore to just evolve as separate individuals; we need to do it together, as a community, in touch with nature and its other beings. The question that has kept jumping out at me over the 20 years since I began working with these materials is: how do we forge links with the power of nature, so that we find healing within ourselves and become better ecological citizens at the same time? The answer came in evolving the Hero’s Journey to a new paradigm of ecospirituality. This is where quantum fields meet nature spirits and we discover that what Carl Jung called the archetypes are similar to what Aboriginal Australians call the ancestor spirits: figures from the otherworld, which lead us to a greater sense of personal power and connection to nature.

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Any idealised version of the hero becomes, or draws upon, the archetypal spirit of overcoming. Jake Sully from Avatar might have been another example of the white-boy-turns-native-and-rescues-poor-savages cliche, but at least he stood for indigenous rights and listened to their culture …

 

And we can do this right now, here in Melbourne – although maybe not in the comfort of our own homes! Because we do have to get outside our own comfort zones to really get the juices out of this kind of work. It’s exciting and mysterious, like a dream you’ve had that you know is deeply meaningful, but that leaves a tantalizing feeling in its wake as well, so that you want to follow it but you don’t know where it leads. What I want to do is to help people to see that where it leads is a place where Psyche – the soul of the mind – meets Gaia, the spirit of the earth.

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This new art brings together quantum physics, which reminds us that everything is connected, and ecology, which teaches us where we fit in the wider web of life and how to work with the laws of nature. The science of ecology teaches us that nature loves biodiversity and all its unique forms of life, but also that it works in cycles. No matter what ‘season’ our lives seem to be in at the moment – the letting go of Autumn or the new growth of spring, for example – it will inevitably come around full circle. The trick to ensuring that we always have a sense of abundance, no matter where we are in the cycle, is to recognize that the physical world is not here to supply our every need and want. Rather, as wisdom traditions constantly remind us (if we listen!), the way to make our dreams of enlightenment real is to carry them within, regardless of external circumstances. It’s kind of ironic, because we learn to love and protect nature better when we get to know our own inner selves better.

 

Four-seasons

Tapping into our inner riches, which is the aim of the Hero’s Journey, supplies more of what we really want – things like self-love and acceptance, spiritual generosity, peace of mind and an openness to true community. This means we rely less on the things that are so often ‘sold’ to us as the answers; like consumer products and the corporate interests that try to convince us we consistently need more of them. And this is where the Hero’s Journey can become an Ecospiritual path for us all. Because it goes beyond better relations with ourselves and others, and puts us back in touch with the healing power of nature!

Paradoxically, as we become more attuned to the song of the earth and to our allies, guides and guardians in nature, we become less focused on ourselves as individuals but we feel more complete. This is the same outcome of many mystical traditions, such as Sufism, Kabbalah, or Zen; in becoming less attached to our everyday experiences of fear, anger and worry, we become more full of a flowing energy, which lives and breathes through everything, including the planet, the trees, the birds and rivers and stars. This life force is beyond our individual self and links us to all the other lives on Gaia, our Mother Earth, and throughout the whole universe. This is the Ecospiritual hero within, speaking loud and clear of the journey we can choose as we evolve and adapt in the 21st century. Join me, and the members of the Hero’s Journey Collective, as we enter into this grand new realm with no fear and an abundance of love, a sense of self-empowerment, and a quest to be the best we can in a world that needs every hero it can find!

 

Geoff Berry, of White Fella Dreaming, will be appearing at The Hero’s Journey Collective event, held on Saturday 8th August at the Speakeasy Bar in South Yarra, Melbourne, Australia. This event raises funds to help the Art2Healing project end sex slavery.

Some tickets still available at: http://www.theherosjourneycollective.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

Unconditional Love and Regard – or Neutrally Focused Attention?

vRogers

 

Renowned psychotherapist Carl Rogers became known for a handful of interventions that continue to inspire those of us who believe in listening to people and their stories – really listening, not just waiting for an opportunity to apply our own opinions (or theoretical framework) to their data. His ‘person-centred’ approach offered ‘unconditional positive regard’ to the client, who may never have experienced such an opportunity before. Sure, if you had parents who treated you well, with lots of love and support, you would have been raised with an aura of this kind of regard. Someone who listened to you and let you really be yourself, no matter what. But many people didn’t have that opportunity; many had to compete for love and affection from the start; some never got much of this kind of attention at all and somehow, in spite of it all, raised themselves to become relatively stable adults. Even those raised with love and support had to be disciplined, had to learn about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, when they pushed their innate power games too far. These power games include being cute and adorable for rewards, of course, as well as being contrary and willful for the sake of it (aka self-assertion).

 

And here’s my point. Perhaps, as Rogers seems to have begun to think later in his career, it might not be the case that unconditional positive regard gives the best results in a therapeutic relationship. And what I want to add to this is: perhaps we might be better served, in everyday relationships as well as in therapeutic ones, offering unconditional neutral regard. Let me explain. The problem I see with unconditional positive regard is that it offers exactly what Rogers saw it would; an opportunity for someone (here, the client, but I want to extend this discussion to anyone we might consider could benefit from this set of ideas, including ourselves) to believe fully in themselves and the “OK-ness” of their thoughts, feelings, intuitions, dreams and desires. First of all, I think this is a wonderful idea and I do support it – for a while. The problem is, we don’t really or always actually know what is good for us. Sometimes, we need someone who cares about us to say no. Experienced guides in the arts of spiritual discipline can offer this; at least, they often have a better idea of when we are over-balancing in one direction and could do with a nudge to set us straight.

 

This could still be a case of unconditional positive regard, if you like. But rather than only supporting the inner life of the person in question, it also pushes it. Towards challenge, rather then indulgement. Towards constructive change, rather than just affirmation. Towards evolution and not just the warm fuzzies. This is partly why I am calling for unconditional neutral regard instead. Because that limit to desire, that external force saying “No,” can be just as edifying, just as helpful, just as loving in the long run as the “Yes” ever was. The wisdom of the earth teaches us that this world is a place of limits, as is this body in this life. Let’s learn to maneuver skillfully within this realm, responding to an even balance of positive and challenging feedback so that we evolve and adapt, in flow with the universe as it is, rather than as how we wish it was. As Rogers himself so aptly stated: The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination”