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.

Storms, Sea Monsters and Climate Change

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

 

Kraken

Here we go again.

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

Sydney storm

 

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

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

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

 

Sou Brou beach

 

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.

City Living, Nature Calling – an ecomythic film for our times

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 What better way to support the new myth, the ‘big story’ that is growing within and around us in response to our need to treat the earth better, than to make a film. Film is the great myth-making machine of the modern era. And when impactful visuals are combined with convincing narration, documentary film can help change the world. This is what is intended for City Living, Nature Calling, an ecologically inspired documentary film that shows how modern societies can be adapted to meet the challenges of climate change and bring more balance to human/ecosystem relations.

City Living, Nature Calling is an ecomythic documentary, a story for our times that points out that the dominant myth of the modern world has been one that promised technological abundance for all. Nowadays we know that this is a convenient fiction and our hearts, minds, bodies and souls draw us on to the next grand vision of life in balance, of flourishing life for all on this beautiful planet. This doco draws upon our innate care for our home, wherever we live, even when our ‘natural environment’ has become a landscape of city grids, motorized traffic and credit cards, tall buildings lit at night and bustling pedestrians on mobile phones. City Living, Nature Calling offers answers to the ‘big story’ of modern society by looking first at how we got here and then at how technology can work hand-in-hand with respect for nature to heal our wounded world.

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City Living, Nature Calling opens with a story about how humanity evolved, over countless millennia, in close contact with wild nature, before so many of us moved into cities with the rise of civilization. The doco shows how the current ecological crisis is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the human race now live in urban environments, which now dominate the planet and its ecology, drawing energy and resources up from the planet around them. It points out we all love our home to some extent, but that transferring our loyalties from the countryside to the city leaves us alienated from our ancestral place in nature. The ‘big picture’ that this film presents is that we need to relearn how to fit in with the cycles and limits of nature rather than assuming that our advanced technologies will continue to provide us with abundance.

Author and narrator Dr Geoffrey Berry draws on his academic research into the mythic history of civilization from an ecologically-informed perspective. So rather than presenting a merely materialistic account about the benefits and dangers of technology, his work also investigates the timelessly shifting mysteries of symbolic stories and their relationship to human consciousness. Geoff asks questions like: how do we think and behave in terms of the kind of environment we grow up in? And what effect do our technologies have upon our attitudes and feelings (and vice versa)? These questions led him to uncover the mythic substrata of human consciousness and the way great symbolic narratives motivate human behavior according to certain historical and environmental contexts.

City Lights at Night - a Planetary Perspective

      How we love to light our cities at night …

Geoff’s ecomythic presentation in City Living, Nature Calling aims to motivate mainstream populations towards ecological adaptation by reminding us that the home we love includes city and country, in a wider sense of biodiversity. But just as importantly, the doco also discusses the modern myths that are holding us back from the rapid and systemic transformation required of us today. Geoff’s research into myth and symbol taught him that these powerful stories and images convince us that the way we live is natural and ‘true,’ as if they (and therefore we) are aligned with some greater reality beyond the material world. His work led him to the discovery that we still live by a dominant myth, a dangerous misconception that is now being dismantled by environmental science and our collective recognition that we cannot continue exploiting the world forever.

The ‘dominant myth’ that Geoff uncovers in modern society is that we can endlessly consume the earth’s resources as if they were unlimited; it is an ‘eternal feast’ in our modern cities of light. This vision implies that we have overcome the vagaries of seasonal cycles, which afflicted traditional societies with famine (as well as providing feast). We know such afflictions still threaten us, but somehow the imagery of modern consumption works to avert our eyes from this reality and draws us instead to constantly dream of the glowing treasure available at the end of the shopping aisle. For more on how this kind of dreaming can be adapted to the limits of nature, please see the film trailer and crowd funding campaign at www.startsomegood.com/clnc

Geoff headshot Belonging

Following a successful funding campaign, Geoff and film maker Darcy Gladwin will head out to ask experts in fields such as climate science, renewable power, permaculture design and urban development how we can adapt better to ecological limit, right now. Geoff also aims to interview other kinds of influential voices such as Aboriginal elders and politicians. This footage will then be interspersed with visually poetic reflections on the big questions of our times. Join the many of us already on board the City Living, Nature Calling movement!

 

 

Personal Growth is Natural (enjoy some today!)

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

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

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Individualism – pros and cons

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Psychological Growth is Natural

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Deep Breath Awareness

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

meditation in nature

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

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

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

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

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.

manta ray

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

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

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

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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

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.