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.

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.

stones in sand meditation

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.

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White People: Dealing with the guilt of colonisation – and responding with generosity

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Once upon a time, when I was in the desert of South Australia chasing (and catching) a full solar eclipse, I decided not to join the rave party nearby but instead enjoy a few cold beverages in town with the locals. Amongst these fine new friends was a large, hairy biker. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind me describing him thus. I can’t check and don’t even recall his name. It was just another half hour friendship, as that great folk singer Rodrigues sang about back in the 70s. But a funny thing happened that evening and I write about it now as the conversation has arisen again, this time in Broome, Western Australia.

At one point, I blurted out: “I just can’t get over the guilt of what my people have done to your people.” Did I mention my fleeting mate was Aboriginal? I wasn’t really sure how consciously I had thought about this before, but I was certain it had come up for good reason right then. Because somewhere, in the backs of our minds if not at the forefront, we all know we didn’t end up being modern Australians (or Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians, etc) by inheriting some just and fair deal over land rights. We are children of colonisation, with all that entails – the assumptions of entitlement to development, the religious colourings, the massacres and disease and benefits of more highly advanced technologies. Denying this won’t do us any good; the truth may be well hidden, behind vast reams of other stories, but once we know it exists we can never really shake its hold somewhere in our conscience. And if we want to be better people – happier, more comfortable in our bodies, feeling more at home where we live and work and travel, more consciously aware of our patterns and potentials – then lying to ourselves is definitely a barrier. So, out with it; I’m sorry about the way Australia was colonised, I’m not happy about the way I benefit from this with my mostly unspoken white privileges, and I wish it had been done differently, better, with more care, more sharing, more questions and compassion and understanding. For all concerned.

So there was my blurt and here was his deadpan response: “Get over it mate.” Um … OK. No further comment, from either of us. He didn’t feel the need to give more context – it’s the kind of comment that stands alone, that brooks no compromise, that sets the bar and then walks away, hardly even concerned whether I can jump it or not – and I didn’t see what I could add, subtract, hedge my bets against, conjure up or fluff along. I accepted it, in the spirit it was meant – the spirit of moving on, of harsh but real acceptance, of gruff forgiveness, of the recognition that we as individuals are not responsible for what went on decades and even centuries before, that we should be focusing on getting along right now, in the present moment, with its endless opportunities. Then he shared a piece of black glass with me, to watch the solar eclipse through. That’s a cool memory.

 

boab and beach

 

But I digress. Reconciliation. Between the people who lived here when our ancestors got here (the collective ones, the British and other western Europeans in this case) and us, the white fellas and other new Australians (and Americans etc). How do we deal with the painful history we know exists and move on, so that we are not shackled at the feet by guilt and remorse but not living in denial either? I’ve found a semblance of balance in this regard over the years and it’s time to share it. Because here in Broome, the other day, I met someone working in food sovereignty – helping locals in the community create wonderful vegetable gardens, promoting local produce, harvesting wild foods without compromising the carrying capacity of the land – who expressed her profound disquiet about exactly this issue. And it felt great to be able to help, if only in a small, seedlike way.

It goes something like this:

  1. Face it – the dark truths of colonisation, violent dispossession and all
  2. Sit with that for a while – if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, it’s being repressed (again)
  3. Admit you benefit from it
  4. Position yourself in this life – you did not choose to inherit unfair privilege
  5. Recognise your relative power in this social structure – and your choice as to how you respond
  6. Rebalance, holding the spirit of generosity out in front of you, in your open hands
  7. Forgive your ancestors, and all who have gone before us, so that they can know peace (even if it is only in the depths of our own minds)
  8. Know peace – and spread it.

What this all boils down to can best be described in a kind of martial arts move: maintain your balance, as best you can, while you accept the incoming movement of this energy or force, realising that the knowledge sits all around you, especially behind, while in front of you, in your hands, you retain the capacity to respond with generosity, to know yourself as free, to give compassion and to be … more. Get over your guilt, white people, by facing it and going through it and coming out the other side. Otherwise, we perpetuate the cycle of inequality, of repression, of colonisation and its shame.

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?

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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”

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

Lubok_of_Resurrection

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

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

Easter_Bunny

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

DCF 1.0

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

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

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

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

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

Eleusis_(15986825818)

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

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

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

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

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

Ancestral Movement and the Animal Body

V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl

One of the workshops held at the Wild Minds gathering was on Ancestral Movement, as presented by Simon Thakur. Simon’s position on ancestors is the same as mine so I’ll start with why that is so. For both of us, the ancestors are those that went before us, that obeyed their survival instincts and passed on their genes, who carried their way of life along the path of history, who passed on and left us as their descendants. During the workshop, Simon also pointed out that, for people of the land, the actual places where ancestors were buried or burnt would bear traces of their physical bodies. Therefore, it is no metaphor to say that the ancestors are in the land, in the soil, in the vegetation – because they literally are, as compost and recycled nutrients! But like me he goes further to say that the ancestors are not just our own human forebears in the cultural sense, of passing on life lessons and survival skills, and in the physical sense, as they passed on genes and then helped to fertilise the land.

 

 Lizardaustalian

 

The ancestors are also in the other creatures; and not just because the other creatures eat the grass that grows out of our ancestors’ dead bodies. The other creatures are our ancestors because we have evolved out of the same physical matrix they have; our sun, and our planet earth and moon, all come from the same outrageously explosive conflagration of light that is the starburst behind the entire universe. Amoebic life then emerges out of the melting pot that is the saline solution of the oceans. Unicellular organisms evolve into little creatures with segmented bodies or primitive legs – anything that can move them to better sources of energy, like light or protoplankton. Competition soon emerges amongst predator and prey, even at this basic level. Fish-eyed creatures slop through the mud out of which begin to grow plants. Reptiles grow along their spines and move in waves, like fish but on land. Primates swing from trees and pass fruit from hand to mouth. We modern humans integrate every aspect of this development; growing out of it but retaining it somewhere in our genetic code. And therefore, retaining it in our bodies; and therefore, in our psyches.

 

 L0033034 Plate from Haeckel, AnthropogenieHaeckel wanted to prove black skinned people evolved from the apes – i reckon we should all be allowed to play in the trees!

 

Moving like each of these creatures reminds us of our ancient kinship with them. And as Simon reminds us, the firing of mirror neurons in our brains means that we sense that kinship in an embodied sense, in the way our thought patterns and bodily movements follow those of other creatures, mostly without us being aware of it. The other day I saw a child struggling to stand from an awkward position on the ground. I felt my whole body feel the child’s struggle – take notice of it in a motivated way – and noticed that my hands had already started to move in a way that could help out. My brain was firing signals of empathy and my body immediately obeyed and sent me to act. Extend this to the other creatures of the earth: moving like a lizard reminds my whole somatic system that those kinds of serpentine waves are part of my own evolutionary biology. Do I then find my empathy for other creatures increases when I remember they are my kin? Do I feel I should help protect their environment as well as mine? Certainly, the least we can say is that forgetting this makes it easier to ignore them and their plight.

 

mqdefaultSimon doing some animal moves. I’ve been practising them during my rides and walks.

 

That is the idea behind Ancestral Movement – the rest is in the play! Learning to shimmy across the land like a lizard is a very welcome activity for this embodied ecophilosopher – and is also really hard work! I was exhausted after only an hour of clambering about, watching Simon execute some of the moves I wasn’t ready for, following his explanations of the way each of us as babies experimented with many animal maneuvers as we shifted from supine, to crawling, and then walking human beings. Watching Totem the other night – the latest Cirque du Soleil show – also reminded me of how much fun it can be to explore moving like an animal, as expertly costumed frogs and other amphibians leapt from one bar to another of the turtle shell-shaped frame on stage. Out joints stay open to a wider range in these kinds of movement exercises and that can’t be a bad thing; the lumbar region of my spine slowly soldering together out of misuse is not an attractive option as I get less young. Finally, all of this fun reminds me of a post I once made here, on the importance of walking on uneven ground, instead of always assuming the way we have flattened off the surface of the earth – in the streets and footpaths, inside buildings, almost everywhere we walk in the cities.

 

Gorbeia_park

*NB: Check out Simon’s YouTube channel if you want to see more of this deadly serious monkeying around (although he admitted he hasn’t loaded up a lot of the animal movement exercises yet, it’s a good start and worth following).

 

Images: 1. V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images. images@wellcome.ac.uk. http://wellcomeimages.org. Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line block after a painting by H. Murayama. By: Hashime MurayamaPublished:  – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. 2. “Lizardaustalian” by Adam.J.W.C. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG#/media/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG. 3. “Plate from Haeckel, Anthropogenie Wellcome L0033034” by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/2a/59/1ff9b621deff1c87a02c1379f59a.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0033034.html. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg#/media/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg. 4. “Gorbeia park” by Gorkaazk – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg#/media/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg