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

Four-seasons

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.

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City Living, Nature Calling: Biophilia as the new (old) story

NB: URGENT callout! Crowd funding campaign for CLNC film ends this Saturday 12 noon AEST. If we haven’t raised 20K by then, we don’t get funded at all! Please help this film be made!

City Living, Nature Calling: Biophilia as the new (old) story

When E. O. Wilson made the term ‘biophilia’ famous, he articulated something deeply rooted in human consciousness: an innate love of home, the places we live and the other forms of life we share this beautiful planet with. In our age of increasing environmental destruction, this sense of love for the earth must equate not only to local places but to the entire planet. Let’s tap into this deep ecological stream, which underscores even the most urbanized consciousness eventually, as a way of shifting more smoothly towards the climate change adaptation that we can now see is inevitable.

The love of life Wilson discussed sits well with the ‘new story’ being told by cosmologists like Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, ecological therapists and activists like Joanna Macy and John Seed, and many more. Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh also asks us to recognize our ultimate interdependence with the other beings of the earth. And even earth systems scientists now remind us that our survival as a species is imperilled without a healthy environment, filled with flourishing biodiversity, fresh air and water, good soils and renewable energy sources. So the big question for the 21st century is – how do we transform modern society in line with ecological limit; call upon our deep reserves of love; face and move through our grief at what we are doing to the earth; and dismantle the infrastructure of damaging industries all at the same time, without falling prey to becoming disheartened?

I want to deal with this seemingly enormous task by asking this question from a particular perspective, which may seem ironic at first: what would we think about the way we live if we looked down at our cities from space? On the one hand, this is the most disembodied and abstract way of looking at humanity imaginable; but on the other, it allows us to see the modern urban way of life as if from the outside. Perhaps by being removed from our everyday assumptions in this way, we may be able to learn something new and helpful about ourselves.

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What I learnt from trying this uniquely modern meditation was that our urban environments tell a story about humanity and its place on earth; a story about large-scale civilization and how it fits into the planet’s ecology. And one of the first things we notice about the city when we set ourselves outside of and above it is that it works in grids. Instantly we realize some things about the ways we are socialized – to accept grids of streets as a normal way of life, along with the tall squares of buildings lit at night, the traffic that lines the streets, the constant buzz of commerce … all of these things come to seem natural to us in the modern city. After only eight millennia or so since it began – a drop in the ocean of evolutionary time – the city now has its own sets of rules and in fact has become a new natural environment. We modern people have learnt those rules very well; we adapt well to living in grids, in buildings, with artificial lighting, using technologies driven by the fossil fuels of the machine age and taking for granted all the other seemingly natural aspects of modern urban life. And there is a name for the kind of story that tells you that the way you live is natural. That kind of story is called a myth.

As Roland Barthes pointed out in Mythologies, myth is a story so powerful it removes us from history. Joseph Campbell would agree that this is one of its unique qualities – that myth returns us to one of our other natural homes, in our sense of the timeless. As virtually all religious commentators and many philosophers have averred, we humans sense that the phenomenal world is underpinned by something more. This may be a dimension of eternal creative power out of which the universe arises and back to which it returns; it may be imagined as an eternal feminine matrix or womb of life; it may be a void or fount, beyond phenomena or within it. Reconnecting us to this unlimited source has always been a core aim of myth and finding new versions of this ancient and ongoing experience is central to the ‘new story’ of a flourishing earth for all life.

But Barthes also wanted to point out the negative aspect of this function; for him, myth could also be utilized, for example, to advertise consumer products and justify wars. Either way, as Campbell agrees, a myth is a powerful story that convinces us that it is true. Now I think it is time for us to look at our modern way of living and recognize its mythic aspect. For me this turn has a real urgency, because the stale myth of endless economic growth now imperils the very habitat of the planet. This old story needs to be transformed to a new myth – one informed by humanity’s inherent biophilia, considered in both local and global contexts.

The new myth of ecological identity is also, of course, the oldest myth around. Humanity spent most of its evolution absolutely at home in nature, living in very close contact with the elements, the other animals, the soil and rivers and trees and mountains. It makes sense that the deepest layers of our psyches identify with the natural world, with animal and other totemic powers and the like. It is only very recently, in evolutionary terms, that we have learned the new environment of the city, with its new sets of rules. And there’s the rub: because while we retain a deep-seated loyalty to the natural environment, we have transferred much of our everyday loyalties to the new natural environment of the city. This way of life exacerbates the environmental crisis, because the cities draw up energy from everywhere around them, and we have not noticed this enough.

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Extricating ourselves from everyday life for a while, to consider the cities from space, we may see things more clearly. We notice more immediately, for instance, that for our power we draw on fossil fuels from other places; that for our food, we rely upon huge agricultural tracts laid out in the same grids that we recognise from our towns; that in order to draw constant fresh water, rivers have been dammed. In fact, it is according to an urban logic that most non-urban land is designed today. The desires of urban society extend far beyond city limits, to order the world according to a seemingly unending appetite; and this is what brings us to the precipice of the ecological crisis today. Because this way of life not only pushes the planet beyond its carrying capacity; it concurrently disables our capacity for feeling at home in the natural, or non-human world.

The agricultural revolution resulted in large-scale urban developments based on a shift in the way people considered the world around them – what was once a set of subjects in communion, as Thomas Berry so eloquently put it, became a set of objects, or rather resources, for our use. With the inventions of the industrial revolution just centuries ago, magnified by the rise of fossil fuel use, technologically developed humanity quickly convinced itself it was independent of nature.

The ancient Greeks would have called this hubris, or unreasonable pride, and would have looked for a warning in close proximity with the signs of such arrogance. The ancient myths continue to speak truth. And now with the climate talks in Paris, we need the decision makers of the polis – the leaders of the major urban societies, which have been responsible for most of the ecological damage enacted upon the earth over recent centuries – to stand for real change. We need the old myth of perpetual economic growth to be transformed to a new myth of ecological being. To do this we need to trust our experiences as modern peoples and look to our great traditions; we need to combine climate science with indigenous wisdom and earthy farming inventions such as permaculture, which works with and not against the cycles of nature.

It is time for us to remember that we do know how to live at one with nature. We have always known how to do this. We might have forgotten for a while and allowed technology to convince us that we can be free of the limits of nature; but reality reminds us that we have to deal with limit – both as people, as individuals, and as a society, as a global civilization. Let’s continue to explore ways of rekindling the fires of culture; of transforming modern civilization and indeed human consciousness, in alignment with that deep ancestral knowing that we love our home. Then we can transform modern society and ourselves as people, as members of an ecological community and a better world.

My ‘ecomythic’ documentary film City Living, Nature Calling intends to do this and I hope you will enjoy the trailer and support the crowdfunding campaign here.

Dr. Geoff Berry, Researcher, Writer & Presenter
City Living, Nature Calling – an ecological documentary like no other!

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Minds; healing, dance, storytelling, wisdom and community

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I just spent the weekend at the second annual Wild Mind gathering. This event is filled with workshops and presentations that engage participants around themes very familiar to this site: the interconnectedness of human and natural worlds, the empowerment of the individual in a setting of wisdom traditions, and conversations amongst this wondrous more-than-human world.  I was very happy with my offering, as i got to tell White Fella Dreaming stories around the campfire on Sunday night. I think i have discovered the perfect setting for my work; the same one utilised for the building of culture since the dawn of human consciousness. With no script or even much of an agenda other than to share the spirit of this work, i drew on Joseph Campbell’s ideas of what makes a successful mythology and leaped into how we could find this innate within each of our souls, as well as learning respectfully from indigenous traditions such as (and especially!)  those of the Australian land.

What a rich ride it turned out to be. An appreciative crowd, with an appetite for stories that embed us more deeply in the sacred nature of the earth, in the majestic spread of the cosmos, in our humble, wonderful hearts. Thoughtful questions and comments allowed us also to explore a couple of areas in particular the prevalence of a sense of shame amongst modern westerners. This is not an area i have worked very thoroughly, so the excursion was welcome, especially as it was raised by my great mate Nic Morrey, an experienced integral psychotherapist. My initial response came from both my own personal experience and my understanding of the history of civilization. For me, the context of the agricultural revolution behind all large-scale societies introduces the depersonalisation of nature, as it sets human industry up as the master of the environment. We channel the waters with irrigation to increase crops and increase the mating habits of domesticated animals in order to profit from thee activities. In turn we build cities with the surplus energy, which also must be stored, creating a need first for walls and then for armies. The goods must be protected.

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Humans being intelligent and perceptive creatures, we sense the unevenness of all this force, the danger of stepping out of our former place as hunter-gatherers living in balance with the rest of nature (or at least in much closer contact and with mush more respect for its limits!). Early agricultural societies even performed guilt rituals in light of this recognition. Like many members of a colonising force – a new Australian who profits, whether i want to or not, from the subjugation of the misunderstood indigenous inhabitants of the land – i have felt it necessary to examine my feeling of guilt about this violent appropriation. But that was some time ago and i have healed that wound. Today, i love my own soul, as a person born on this land, seeking more and better ways to live in touch with it and to spread respect for the First Nations peoples who still live here, as well as for their ancestors and for mine.* But Nic pointed out that while this history of depersonalisation could be healed, the prevalence of a sense of shame in modern individuals requires a systematic, or at least well thought through, response. For him, there is an archetypal pattern being worked through in each of us, from original connectedness, through a necessary rupture, and back to a consciously negotiated peace settlement. This would equate to an evolutionary path, which works much like Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, through an antithetical force to a higher synthesis of complexity – which is my favoured definition of evolution. (Nic used a Vedic metaphor, from originally blissful Brahman through Shiva the Destroyer to the Shakti power of Divine Love. I’ll leave it to him to correct me if i got him wrong on this!)

As another friend James O’Brien pointed out, this is another way the myth of Genesis can be read; as a “Fall” into consciousness, out of the original Garden of Paradise, which forces us to work our way back to the Divine though hard work. I can’t help but always remind us of the very agricultural nature of this metaphor, though, which returns me to my original thesis about cultural and historical context …  and around and around and around we go. Wherever we find ourselves on this spectrum of possibility, we have to deal with it somehow. And my sense is that healing is always contingent; that we must revisit these wounds, within ourselves and our world, whenever we are faced with them, so as not to turn a blind eye to the ongoing suffering they cause when unattended.

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There was so much more going on in this fireside session of story-telling and across the whole weekend. (For more see here) What a rich way to spend some time, in the company of so many inspiring people, all working towards the same sense of community, supportive in times of need, evolutionary in focus, awake to the riches within the self and the earth, dancing freedom and holding space for the way we work with limits and love in sometimes trying times. Here’s to many more Wild Minds!

*There was also a fantastic workshop by Simon Thakur on Ancestral Movement. Simon’s position on ancestors is the same as mine as outlined here. I’m going to have to write soon on the ideas he is working with: that we embody all other creatures, and in fact aspects of the entire evolutionary process, in our own bodies. The obvious result of tapping in to these ways of moving is that we discover new levels of empathy with all life. Exciting work! Another highlight i want to write up that includes very similar ideas and experiences: the Cosmic Walk. Coming soon.

Images: 1. Purchased. 2. “The walls of Babylon and the temple of Bel” by Drawing by Mr. William Simpson R. I., and published by Prof. Charles F. Horne – Scanned from Sacred Books of the East *Babylonia & Assyria* editorship by Prof. Charles F. Horne (copyright 1907). Drawing by Mr. William Simpson R. I.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_walls_of_Babylon_and_the_temple_of_Bel.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_walls_of_Babylon_and_the_temple_of_Bel.jpg. 3. “Bush in fog”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bush_in_fog.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bush_in_fog.jpg

The Moon in Australian Aboriginal and White Fella Dreaming

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

So what’s it all about then?

 

Abstract SG

 

I guess i’d better define my terms and honour the inspirations behind this blog site, before i go much further.

‘White Fella’ is a a term used for ‘new Australians’ by Black Fellas, which is what many Australian Aboriginal people proudly call themselves. You’ll note there’s no gender distinction; it’s a bit like the old fashioned term ‘man’ as used for all humanity. As a matter of fact, great and influential Australian anthropologist WEH Stanner’s collection of essays was titled White Man Got no Dreaming, which was a wry comment on the comparative poverty of our connection to the land (or ‘country,’ which has a very definite connotation of a place filled with living resonance and relationships amongst kin, both human and more than human). The idea that we have no Dreaming applies in some way to all modern people who are removed from that kind of kinship identification with the earth that sustains them – and sadly this means even those living right where their ancient forebears lived, if they have lost that connection.

Therefore white fella doesn’t necessarily connote Caucasians, or those of British descent, or western Europeans on the continent or displaced … it just means those who are not living (or who are now beginning to live) in deep connection to the land upon which they live. But for me, as a white fella, it can also mean that, because we live in a westernized world, a Hindu or Chinese wearing jeans and t-shirt, any shopper anywhere out for a dose of retail therapy, all those speaking and reading English and using this kind of technology – the kind I’m composing on and we are using to communicate with – we are all implicated in white fella ways.

 

The train - it always seemed such a symbol of western technology, following inflexible straight lines to the next trading post.

The train – it seems such a symbol of western technology, following inflexible straight lines mechanically to the next trading post.

 

It could have been different, but the combustible steam engine was invented in England, where there also happened to be a steady supply of local coal and a competitive market … and bingo. Now us ‘new worlders’ are a long way from our ancestral lands and we have a lot to learn. But how many modern people anywhere today are really in touch with the traditions that link them to the sacred, to earth wisdom, to celestial intelligence? How many Europeans still living in the same ‘hood where their ancestors lived, breathed and worshipped still ceremonially link themselves to their indigenous soul, follow rites to embody an animistic conception of the sacred, regularly get in touch with the pulse of the land and rivers and seas and trees and birds and animals around them, as well as to the stars above? In my PhD i traced this loss to the rise of large scale settlement civilisations – basically, the same story being told by many ecocritics, that the agricultural revolution changed our relationship to ‘resources’ such that soil and fresh water were now thought of as the basis for farming, trees became known for timber, the discovery of metals leading to open cut mines and so on. While we need to re-know ourselves as nature, we also need to redefine what we are prepared to accept as culture; and enjoying mutually sustaining relationships with the land and its other creatures is part of the redefinition project that i like. White fella dreaming draws from ancient traditions, but in a way that is true to self. A black fella once said to me, you’ve got to get your own dreaming back. This is my report, my thanks, my path back to the earth and the stars.

 

A billabong amongst the Henty Dunes, Tasmania

A billabong amongst the Henty Dunes, Tasmania

 

‘Dreaming’ is a term to help cover all these possibilities. Thinking up new ways, having vision and making that real, creating, or divining, or perceiving other worlds, whether asleep or awake; experiencing otherwise hidden realms behind or within this one/these dimensions, bringing forth and holding true what we find sacred anywhere (in the mind, heart, body or world), getting in touch with the creative force of the universe and staying there (thanks to Joseph Campbell on that one), finding responsive ways to mediate conflict or to evolve towards a higher synthesis of complexity beyond seeming oppositions … recognizing the underworld journey we all take beneath the veneer of this ‘ordinary’ reality every day; becoming something fresh and new, emerging transformed from the night, waking up to new realities where utopian potential hasn’t been erased or edited yet, where cyber codes rain down from the stars, where breath rises up through us from deep within the earth and from the rivers and the salt water and the sand dunes, where we give thanks to the trees and welcome kinship with the other creatures and live more free of unworthy concerns.

 

Modernist Refraction

 

White Fella Dreaming is a lot like all the ancient stories from everywhere but in new forms. Respect for the ancestors (that story coming soon), experience of the immediate sensory aspect of timelessness, embodiment of the unlimited spark, grounding of all that is and was and ever will be in self-aware primate bodies … breathe it in and let go into the Dreaming. All the time.