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.

Advertisements

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

 

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

10-years-of-earth-weather-from-space-in-3-minutes

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.

 

images

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.

images-1

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.

Unconscious-and-the-Universe

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.

images-3

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.

images-2

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

 

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

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

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.

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.

London-from-above.jpg
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.

Geoff-Berry-nature.jpg
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!

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

CLNC light thumbnail

 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.

 geoff Berry insitu

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!

 

 

Mythtelling around the Campfire

After facilitating the first Belonging workshop last weekend, i want to reflect upon one of the themes that arose there: how do we find embrace technology and express our innate love of nature in the same life of body and soul? And how can we do both in an ecologically sustainable way? This is a core issue for modern people to come to terms with and it runs right through my work, including the documentary film City Living, Nature Calling (more details soon) and my mythtelling story session around the campfire in Castlemaine this Friday evening. (If you’re anywhere near there, or are coming to the Local Lives, Global Matters event, see details below)

 

shutterstock_59945146-campfire

 

Let’s start with Prometheus, the mythic character who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. He was a Titan, which generally puts him on the side of humanity against the haughty Olympian gods (Titans descend directly from mother earth, or Gaia, and father sky, or Uranus). Sometimes he is even credited with creating humanity, but mostly he is known as the same culture hero who was responsible for granting us the powers of technology. There’s the irony, because even though modern technology has become so powerful that it is now seen as a major driving force behind the destruction of the environment, it was originally created out of loyalty to the earth and its people. Obviously, the problem is not technology per se, but the ways it is used. Prometheus, in another myth, is also responsible for lifting up our chins towards the heavens, in what sounds like an evolutionary shift from primate to free standing homo sapiens. From then on, we are looking at the stars, employing some of my favourite of all human qualities: imagination and wonder, dreaming of future and further possibilities, looking beyond immediate experiences with hope and maybe even love for the universe.

Prometheus

This is the force that expands us beyond our bodies, hopefully in a way that increases our appreciation for this physical life, this embodiment of consciousness and self-aware intelligence that we are so lucky to have. There is no reason we can’t have all of this dreaming and be good ecological citizens of the earth at the same time. But in order to do so we might have to recall the Greeks’ great warning against hubris, or over-exaggerated pride. If the philosophical attitude of this culture may be summed in the oracle to Know Thyself, then obviously this ‘self’ must also be restrained by the ecological limits of its home. While the ancient Greeks were no doubt just as often warning against the excessive domination of tyrants in the polis – a social ill, rather than an environmental one – there are precedents for my intuition that there is a notion of ‘care for country’ in this mythic cycle. King Oedipus becomes aware of pollution in his land, for instance, when it is laid waste by plague.

 

Oedipus & the plague

Across the seas in ancient Britain, a similar set of circumstances besets the land as the Knights of the Round Table set off in search for the Holy Grail. There, the ill health of the king is directly associated with the suffering of the land. Metaphorically speaking, when cultural authority is weak (the king is wounded or defiled), so nature becomes barren, the land laid waste, the fruits of the forest left to rot or the desert sands dotted with corpses and crows. There is a direct association, in the Grail and Theban cycles of Kings Arthur and Oedipus, between vigorous rule and the fertility of the land. And again in both sets of stories there is a concern with just rule, with the good king, who serves his people with honour and in accord with a higher calling, a greater law, something more than mere political convention. There is a myth, or metaphysic, of interconnectedness between the way we live and the flourishing of our bioregion. Calling this the law of the land might make a nice counterpoint to the unsatisfying way Darwinian evolution has too often been reduced to a ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology that suits capitalist aggression a lot better than it suits an empathic collective of caring souls who like to cooperate towards a better world.

 

Grail wasteland

Also, this myth of culture and nature being strengthened by the same commitment to a just society also links mind and matter in a way not dissimilar to the identification with nature we recognize as a core feature of so many indigenous traditions. Where Psyche and Gaia are seen as codependent, the warning against hubris can be seen extended to become the magical formula of Hermes Trismegistus, “As Above, So Below.” This is another way of saying that what is within is without, or that our individual minds can ultimately be identified with the world, that what we see is what we are, only with a particularly human kind of reflection added. I find this way of thinking obeys the laws of both myth and reason, once the unlimited inter-relating qualities of metaphor are taken into account. And while we can imagine better worlds beyond this one, it is now our duty and pleasure to imagine a better way of living right here on this earth, amongst a community of inter-related beings dedicated to the flourishing of all. According to this logic, it makes perfect sense to act as if we are born out of the earth and must remain loyal to it, because it is mother and matrix, the ultimate ground of being; technology and all.

 

images

Geoff presents mythtelling around the campfire at Murrnong Co-Housing Community, Castlemaine, from 8pm this Friday 16th October. Bus leaves Market Building Steps, Mostyn St. Booking essential! See locallivesglobalmatters.org

Belonging to the Earth – Deepening that Feeling

Geoff headshot Belonging

While we are working on feeling more at home in our skin and strengthening our sense of community, we are already deepening the sense in which we belong to the earth community. But we can go way further than this, by opening our minds (or soul, or psyche) to the intelligence of the earth itself. You know the saying, that indigenous peoples believe that the earth doesn’t belong to them, but they belong to the earth? Let’s drop into that one, as modern people, together. This can be done with a change of consciousness, the kind you may have felt listening to great music, while dancing, or during any exercise where you felt transported to another place. This is the spirit of Dionysus, who guides us to dissolve the ‘iron cage of reason’ (as sociologist Max Weber called it) so that we can enjoy the sense of freedom traditionally available to all members of society in ritual or other celebrations. Sure, we know how to celebrate modern life – and yes, sex & drugs & rock ‘n roll count as valid expressions of the Dionysian too – but we don’t get enough opportunity to do so within the context of the sacred, where deep meaning dances with intoxicating experience.

To do this, we need to balance the rational with the irrational, the ‘logos’ of everyday consciousness with the ‘mythos’ of the more-than-human world, the calculations of the ego with the archetypal (and humbling) realm of spiritual intelligence. This is where both sides of the mind converse, because there is a logic to myth (once its symbolism can be interpreted), just as there is a mythic aspect to our ‘reasonable,’ everyday lives. In the metaphor used by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Apollo was the god of form, who guided the ‘reasonable’ side of our minds, while Dionysus was the god of frenzy, of unreasonable pleasure such as we might experience while lost to the dance. Both lend us great qualities, but too much measure and logic leads to a frozen heart, while too much partying leads to … well, you know about hangovers and addiction and failing to realize our potential because we got lost in too much intoxication. The trick is to let each inform the other, until we no longer need to differentiate between them: the ‘rational’ is energized by the ‘mythic,’ while the irrational, uncontrollable realm of the dreaming has some measure and meaning brought to it by our human concerns.

dreaming collage

For example, consider this:
My experience of the rainbow serpent rising out of the Yarra River, teaching me how to get more grounded in my work so that I can withstand the pressures of everyday society better, has a certain logic to it. The fresh water of the river cuts through the earth as it travels along the clay pans near my home, just as aspects of our emotional life cut through our bodies. There is an elemental parallel that makes sense: water is a metaphor for feeling and the earth is like our body, the ground of experience. Symbolically, the river brings healing; it refreshes me in mind and heart and body for new growth, just as rivers always do in reality. The logic of this ‘ecomythic’ vision (yeah, I’ve just coined a new thing) can bring another dimension to our everyday lives, where suffering is suffused with meaning and painful wounds open us to more-than-human possibilities, like being visited by archetypal or ancestral spirits with powerful medicinal properties.

Participants in a Belonging Workshop are led in experiential exercises that work with this kind of ecomythic material, to heal wounds, to evoke warrior spirit, to stand tall in our human selves and in our sense of the eternal flow of life that nourishes all things without limit.

If you can’t make it along, try this simple practice at home:

Meditate on your inner wound, while invoking it as an opportunity to open you to more-than-human powers, archetypal wisdom and the ancestral spirits of the land. Finding the logic of mythos draws the deep healing and energizing power of the more-than-human into your body, your mind, your heart and your soul. In Zen we call this opening a dharma gate and I will sign off as does my favourite old master, Yun Men: Take care.

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.

latest

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?

 dryad_by_sketcheth-d6v4uay

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).

images

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).

 

SNN0645A---_1865713a

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.’

images-1

 

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.

 

18lq622cf8qr9jpg

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.

 

Tree hugs post

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.

 

 

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.

 

shutterstock_59987536-goldencosmos

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.

 

images

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.

 

images-3

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.

 

images-11

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.

images-7

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

 

ALL_HALLOWS_EVE_prismacolor_MMVI