How White Fella Dreaming awakened to Belonging

Have you ever hit one of those points where you knew the next move you made was vitally important to the rest of your life and you weren’t quite sure which direction to take? This year the White Fella Dreaming project took me way outside of my comfort zone and forced me to rethink the reason behind it: how ‘new’ or non-indigenous Australians feel more at home on the land, so that we treat it better, and achieve a more satisfying and respectful reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the process.

Two Humpbacks underewater

The story begins on the remote desert-fringed beaches of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, where I spent most of June and July this year. I was a long, long way from electricity, let alone mobile phone or internet networks. I snorkeled, fished, cooked over a fire with my lovely little family, and dreamed of what the sands and salt water would say to me if I could be awake enough to listen to them. I meditated in the sand dunes and heard the rustling of the ocean breeze in the desert grasses. I watched bands of olive-coloured budgies flock overhead, chirping a sussuration across the sky as they headed one day south, a few days later back north, on some mini-migration that remained a mystery to me. As I so often do, I wondered what knowledge the original inhabitants of this land would have had to share, if they still lived here on the land. I saw the occasional ’roo at sunset or dawn and eagles seeking roadkill along the endless highways; but there are not many animals out here, where the land is so sparse and the rain so rare.

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In the water, it is different. I snorkeled alongside a manta ray while it fed in spiraling circles, before tipping upside down and swimming away with its under flank exposed, looking down at the sand and reef below. I flipped around with turtles, avoided a sea snake, kept my distance from the bronze whaler sharks, and marveled at the wild variety of other creatures that shared this ocean paradise: colourful fish, of course, but also sting rays, squid (which look almost celestially radiant underwater), cuttlefish, octopus, giant gropers and cod, flashy mackerel and tuna, harmless and beautiful reef sharks … the list goes on. But one amazing experience will stay with me for life. Around 2km out to sea, while free-diving from a boat, two humpback whales approached me, banked around to keep me in full view, and allowed me to swim by them for a couple of minutes. Those brief moments were some of the most special times that I have enjoyed in the company of other animals. I could hardly believe such magnificent creatures would come to me out there in the middle of the ocean. I wished that time would slow down to a stop, at least just for a while … but of course nature keeps moving, and they soon continued their migration towards the Kimberley, where they would calve some 1000km to the north of here.

manta ray

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

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

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

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When people feel they truly belong, they are comfortable in their skin. They are at ease with their community. They feel loyal to the earth. They are more likely to do good work, to try and resolve conflict rather than inflame it, to protect what is worthy – including fresh air, clean water, healthy soil and other animals as well as all people (especially the defenseless or oppressed) and other manifestations of life (beautiful buildings, art, the scientific mind as well as the spiritual life, creativity as well as critical thinking – the list could go on forever, to include anything you stand for and love and wish to protect). In belonging I find what is most meaningful to me and to my work – something that underscores and takes priority over the intellectual labour of university life, something coded into the DNA of great stories and humble truths, a feeling that can emerge out of any compassionate interaction between myself and others. When I feel I belong and I share that feeling, all levels of possible conflict can be dissolved. The sense that we don’t totally belong in our bodies? Melted into a tangible sense of at-one-ness. Our experiences of conflict with others in our community, close or far afield? These can lead to a more robust order, a higher level of communications, better ways that allow for opposing perspectives. Our alienation from the rest of nature? Even this dissipates in the face of belonging, like a bad dream that fades as we awaken to a new life, transformed back into what we once and always were – at home, here in our bodies, with each other, born to this incredible fortune on our beautiful jewel of a planet.

For those keen to work with these ideas in a supportive environment, Geoff’s inaugural workshop on Belonging will be held on Saturday 10th October at CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick East. For more information and booking details please go to belonging.org.a

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Modern Goddess

I’ve been waiting for a powerful dream to contact you with next. Finally, she came last night. I didn’t call her in, or pray for her help, or undertake any of that kind of begging. (Not that I couldn’t be accused of resorting to these tactics at other times, mind you.) She just slipped in, quietly, mysteriously, to watch the human drama unfold. Was she touched? I couldn’t tell. If our sets of agonizing, playful, colourful actions had any effect on her at all, she didn’t show it. But now that I have made contact – or rather, she with me, or better still She with my Dreaming – I’ll be sure to go back and ask. After doing ritual, natch. She deserves respect. I’ll call her the Modern Goddess and ask her what she thinks. What we should be doing. To intervene. In the drama – helping, where we can, like Kwan Yin or Avalokiteshvara, or Sweet Blessed Mother Mary, or any other dispenser of compassion beyond understanding. But also to maintain balance within ourselves, to play our part in being intelligent animals in touch with the sacred, informed by it, trying to walk in it.

 

Red Velvet chair2

 

We were in a large, open auditorium. It was regally plush, with rich, deep green velour wallpaper, accentuated by golden trim. There’s a stage nearby and as there is about to be a performance of some sort, I look for a good seat. Behind the stage is a set of ornate chairs and benches, which seem to face the action. So I head over there and, being first to arrive, choose a fine seat with crimson velvet upholstery. Very nice, I think, until I see another man pass me and head up to much better seats above. He asks me what I am doing down here as he takes up the second best seat in the house; it is a high-backed chair, right next to a magnificent throne, of dark materials so rich they are obviously meant for royalty and no less, which is placed top and centre of the dais upon which we will sit. I am emboldened by the other man and take up the equally regal chair on the other side of the throne.

 

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The rest of the seats fill up as the lights go down in preparation for the action. Just at this moment a woman enters silently from behind us and takes her place in the throne. It feels exactly right, although there is nothing to indicate what she looks like or why she seems so comfortable in this place of honour. The play begins in small scenes enacted in different places around the auditorium. It’s a piece of theatre with ‘shifting’ sets, a postmodern piece that decentres the point from which the audience views the action, including them in the drama.

 

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When my consciousness shifts from the reality of this otherworld to the everyday, waking one, I wonder why she was so silent and so unannounced. Is She humble? Perhaps She is so powerful that She requires no introduction, as they say. Does She care? While I see no evidence of this, I ask myself why She would come at all if she had no interest in our human drama, which also has such a profound effect, now, on the state of the rest of the planet. I hold gently the awareness that I am her left hand man; a subtle contrast to the right hand man of the patriarchal Father, the warrior who carries out His orders regardless of feelings like compassion or pity. From here, I get to feel everything, and serve Her with conscience, finding balance between the God and Goddess powers within and without. She asks not for my unthinking devotion; quite the opposite. I am forced to think for myself, to make decisions based on whatever information I have at hand, to feel for the Earth and to remain loyal to its people, to choose to fight for them. She does not need to see the pendulum swing against the Sacred Masculine, for she is already awaiting us, at the centre, holding His hand, married to the light from her sacred abode in the darkness. She is the silent, unnamed Tao, which does not require defense. And She calls us on to the good fight, which is carried out in our own hearts and minds and souls and bodies first, and then in the world; paradoxically, at the same time. It’s a matter of intent and clarity of action. Blessings Be and welcome to the tribe, She says, and I follow her.

 

 

Images: 1. By Munna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Jebulon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 3. See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. 

How Do We Relate to the Elements? In rock and ritual

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What White Fella Dreaming supports is a way of being that allows every facet of every potential there exists in the human framework to be made possible to us right here, in the body, while remaining true to the earth and to its inevitable limits also. This is sometimes known (erm, well at least by me and a handful of other brave or foolhardy souls) as ecospirituality, or embodied spirituality – allowing that we, as individuals, can enjoy our own relationship with what we deem sacred, within ourselves as nature and within the ecosystem of which we are but a small part. To use some religious language, we recognise ourselves as the holy, or the divine, as this force exists in and through us, as we experience it, as it is communicated to us and through us as human beings. To throw off the shackles of received conventions, in the sense that any priestly caste could speak for us, and to realize that relationship for ourselves, in alignment with our own conscience, with intellectual integrity and critical thinking coming along for the ride; as independent, mature thinkers with a full emotional life and deep respect for the body and its innate wisdom as well. And celebrating this in ritual, so that we don’t forget.

 

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Rituals of letting go of the old to make way for the new: burning down the house – and the man – at Burning Man

 

But dispensing with traditions we don’t need any longer does not mean turning away from ancient traditions altogether – in fact, far from it. If anything, we need the wisdom of the elders more than ever right now, to remind us how to be human without necessarily relying on technological or other crutches, without getting too caught up in the consumerist materialism of the global marketplace; to bring us back to earth and its inevitable cycles of feast and famine, or at least to the lengthening and diminishing of the light as it arrives here, the filling and emptying of the moon in its lunar cycles, the way that seasons come and ago with regularity but also with change, with multiple sets of co-respondent signals, with differing facets of symbols and meaning depending on our shifting circumstances, needs and relationships.

 

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The body of the earth, the clay out of which we arise

If we are going to enjoy a truly embodied spirituality we need to align ourselves with the things that make up our selves: the earth that is our bodies, the waters that flow through us, the air we breath in and out, the flame that ignites our warrior spirits. There are plenty of systems that deal with these kinds of relationships, but none better than the one that states it is your right to figure out your own way of weighing up how these elements are allocated to your personality – to the extent that your personality is a stable entity at all. This stuff shifts all the time, so listen to your soul! Wake up to your dreams and to your Dreaming, hear the spirits call your true name from the depths, within and without, and respond in the way you live: true to self, to earth, to fresh air and water, to the quickening of fire on fuel and to the emptiness that is exactly fullness in every moment of your life.

 

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The face of the deep

There are gateways of metaphor everywhere and these lead us beyond metaphor to a deeper experience of reality. Water is our feelings, your tears, the oceans of unforgettable memories; the flames of passion drive us to love and war; the body limits us to plod like clay and also allows us to dance like leaves on the breeze; air is thought, as free as a bird, filling us with life in a lungful of oxygen. This is all to be celebrated, in the danger of great, uncontrolled feelings as in the embrace of all that is, as it supports every part of our being; as it is in this song by punk industrial art rock band The Severins:

 

Oxygen

I wanna be kissed by your fire

I wanna be washed in your tears

Oxygen;

I need another hit.

Grounded;

I’ve gotta feel the clay

Find me, thrill me, lose me, kill me.

I wanna be appeased by the presence of your anarchy.

Repeal the need for torture in your sense of wiccan ecstasy.

I wanna be kissed by your fire;

By your flames, by your uncontrollable passions.

I wanna be washed in your tears;

In your oceans.

Oxygen

I need another hit.

Grounded

I’ve gotta feel the clay … I’ve gotta feel the clay

Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3btmXLQ3Rg

Words and singing by the author (Geoff Berry, albeit in a younger body); music by The Severins: Steve Bruce (drums and a substantial portion of arrangement), Richard Anderson (bass and good looks), John Wilson (guitars and atmosphere).

Images: The Severins, still shot from video, Central Club, Richmond, Melbourne, Australia, by Optus Pay TV. Water (sea): “Nordsee Wellen” by Muns – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nordsee_Wellen.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Nordsee_Wellen.JPG. Fire: “Burningman 0078”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burningman_0078.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Burningman_0078.jpg. Clay “Clay-ss-2005”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clay-ss-2005.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Clay-ss-2005.jpg

Rainbow Serpent Dreaming – it comes to heal

The Enchanted Path

Dedicated to the Lightning-Tongued Rainbow Serpent of the Deep Fresh Water in the Yarra Yarra River, who appeared to me on this day and brought its healing powers for all to share

I set off on my bike for an afternoon ride, in the fresh air and down by the river. First i pass some neighbours but don’t stop to say hi, recalling that my loyalty is to country. The reason i keep coming back to the people is to tell them the stories (although i know too that i need to make a home in society, that it’s a necessary crucible for my experiences as a conscious human being).

The it’s off down a bushy track, following the path of  enchantment. At one stage i get off my mountain bike to walk through tall grass (over 2.5m high). This overgrown track may reveal a snake if i am lucky and quiet enough. But what i find instead is an irresistible challenge – a fallen tree, across the creek. Crossing it, i remember my place in the world – walking the fine line, always honing my skills to make sure i can cross between the worlds and return with the gifts of healing and power for my people. On the other side, i see that the return trip starts out narrow, so i make extra sure i am centred, balanced, fluid enough to walk with the confidence of knowing. Just knowing; the truth, my place in it, the endless beauty of the world.

Fallen Tree across River

Returning through the tall grass, i figure out that if i want to see the snake i must become the snake. So basic, the elementary lesson of tracking. It must be, i laugh to myself; because I know nothing. Then, back on the river bank to pick up my bike, i bow in silent gratitude to the river. Thank you, master, for the challenge.

Tall Grass Riverside

Following my intuition (and recent discoveries on similar rides and walks), i soon head right towards Westerfolds Park, riding alongside the Yarra River. Again i head off onto a rough track as soon as possible, this time one that leads towards direct access to the river. Not asking for anything, i just open to listen to what nature has to teach. Breath rises from around the bend downstream, blowing gently upstream and eventually caressing my face and body gently. Then, after I thank the fresh water and air spirits for their presence – and for mine – the next voice literally blows my mind, as it reveals to me healing power from the otherworld, the place within this dimension that nourishes all worlds and brings us closer to the higher, deeper truths within them.

A lightning tongue comes flashing along through the water, from the same direction downstream and directly towards me, before rising up and out of the water and into my body, at the abdomen. It speaks to me as the Rainbow Serpent and it brings me healing, as I see glorious colours rippling in the late afternoon light on the river. It shimmers through the water; in silver, in red gold, in iridescent purples, taking form sometimes in a clearly visible serpent shape; snaking towards me in diamantine patterns, while at others dispersing to snake across the river in scattered lights and colours at their own pleasure. As I raise my arms in exultation, to better receive the glowing power of the spirit, I am given to chant: Lightning-tongued Rainbow Serpent of the deep fresh water of the Yarra Yarra river, I accept your healing power. And as I accept it, and am healed by it, I promise to offer it to others; so that they may be inspired to do the same, and your honour is re-lit for the current times. We know the ‘gods,’ the archetypes, live through this kind of ‘belief’; worship, attention, re-creation giving them breath and keeping them alive. But the dreaming spirits of this country … the black fellas tell us they exist independently of human society; that they speak directly from the earth, water, air and other material manifestations of spirit for any who will quieten themselves and listen.

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Time to turn this experience to ritual, so that i can recall it for healing, share it with others, keep it alive for the people. I had been praying that Pegasus would show me how he handles lightning, the thunder bolts he wielded for Zeus. I knew i had to be very well grounded to handle that kind of power; but i had it the wrong way around. Surprised, i realise now that I needed to figure out how to draw the lightning power up from within the earth, where i was already grounded, through ritual. The Rainbow Serpent Lightning Spirit of the Deep Fresh Water of the Yarra Yarra  comes up from where the river cuts through the land. This is where water rests, at the lowest point. With the Tao – and with the wound. This is where the healing power enters the body – at the deepest point, where our wound opens us out to the rest of the world, and to the otherworlds. It is perfectly safe, once the rites are performed, and the Spirit transports us into another dimension of our own experience. One that showers honour upon the earth, accepts blessings in return, and strengthens relations between. Gain blessings without end, by listening, and speaking that truth. Rainbow Serpent comes to heal.

All photos by author.

Sacred Words: Home

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When we finish ritual, or prayer, or any other kind of shared meaning in a circle with others, we often find a closing word or phrase helpful to show we value what has been shared, we care for what has been said, consumed or enacted, we wish to hold it as sacred and embody some aspect of it in our everyday (read: magnificent and meaningful) lives. Having been burnt free of any alignment with Christianity by my childhood experiences, I cannot include the word “Amen” in my repertoire without gagging on it a bit. And as a person who experimented with a wild variety of New Age practices in the ’90s, but who then became educated into the abuses of other cultural practices by the modern western marketplace, I cannot in good conscience utter a Vedic “Om” (or “Aum” if you prefer that spelling) or a Lakota “Ho,” without knowing I am at the same time uttering evidence of my own culture’s spiritual poverty, as well as its voracious appetite to fill that emptiness with the gifts of others – often the others it has colonized, slaughtered, marginalised or otherwise processed into neat, inoffensive packages to be bought and sold. What to do in this postcolonial, secular (post-Christian, for me) void?

 

I have an answer. You may find it helpful also, if you are interested in having a daily practice that aligns you with the sacred in nature (the nature within the self, the body, the mind and heart, the land and sea and air and other creatures and night sky; the nature we are indistinguishable from). At these moments I say “Home.” This practice reminds me of what is most important – look after the place you live in, along with all else that lives in it. This Home is planetary, including all races and cultures, but the word for these purposes also relates directly to our own local conditions and loyalties. It sounds remarkably similar to the other traditional sacred words I have come across – almost combining them, including the Native American with the Vedic and Christian. And it is true to me, to being here, to loving and caring for and beyond the self. I see it as another little marker of what White Fella Dreaming can offer my people, I hope. Now to find out what the local Australian Aboriginal peoples, the Wurunjerri people of the Kulin nation, would have used for such a word! (Report to follow soon.) Home!

 

*NB: The ancient Greeks used the word oikos to mean something like home and this word became the root for both economy and ecology (as well as all our other usages of “eco”). Another pathway along which we might combine the ways we do things, dissolving another dualism along the path to a resacralised world: an economy that truly takes care of its home, the earth, and all of its ecological diversity.

Cacao Ritual – is chocolate sacred?

Chocolate. We all love it. But is this another case of modern society simply farming the land, ripping off the locals, spraying alarming amounts of pesticides around and reaping the profits? If chocolate is so great, is there some kind of super ingredient in it, a chemical that makes us feel love or power, a natural kind of magic that deserves a bit more respect than we grant when ripping off the wrapper to another bar of our favourite variety?

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The cacao ritual altar

I love the move towards more organic, raw, whole foods as well as fair trade. These shifts in consumer sentiment reveal a deepening awareness of and care about the source of our foods and this shows more respect for the earth – a shift that underpins a lot of what White Fella Dreaming is all about. But the next step – the thing that brings us back in line with the source at another level, that hums with the sacred and fills life with meaning – is to perform ritual.

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The chocolate being dispensed

Ritual can be very simple and brief, a silent giving of thanks or a bow, or it can be complex and lengthy, as in many initiation rites. It can help facilitate transformation, from one time of life to another, from everyday to sacred space, from one state of mind (such as so-called ‘ordinary consciousness’) to … something more. A type of awareness that appreciates more of the different levels or dimensions of a thing, or a time, or a feeling. So, yeah, I participated in a cacao ritual.

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Asher and Lydia

Facilitated by Asher Glass and Lydia Marolda, the group imbibed a batch of cacao imported from Guatemala specifically for this purpose. Inspired by his meeting with Keith Wilson, when travelling in Central America, Asher has begun bringing this same amount of respect for the active ingredient in chocolate – and for the place it is from, the people who farm it locally there, the process that goes into transforming it into an edible delicacy for us western consumers – to Melbourne. After discussing how we could allow the cacao, under these conditions of conscious intent, to help unfurl the body’s prayer, we danced. What’s the body’s prayer? Whatever it is for you. Mine, when offered to the group as we all did, was to more deeply embody the sacred mysteries. Yours could be whatever arises – yes, you can try this at home!

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Getting down for chocolate!

The dance session was facilitated in the same style as the Dancing Freedom events that Lydia runs. We dance as if we are earth, which we are; water, air, fire … we dance in the elements and celebrate life. The wind-down included some feedback from each participant following their experiences and their body’s response to the unfurling of its prayer through the ritual. For myself, I felt the usual reawakening of spirit I get from successful ritual; no surprises there, after the vehicle of ritual opened me up to a wild dance with conscious intent.

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Meditating on & sharing the experience

Finally, though, I just have to add: how easy would it be to dismiss this as a laughable new age fad, without some context. Chocolate shamanism, pfff. If I hadn’t shared so many of these kinds of experiences over the years, I might be part of that dismissive crowd. The intellectual field of academic thought and research, for sure, works hard to protect itself from seemingly irrational challenges much of the time. I know, I have spent years in that game. But what that perspective misses is what I had to go outside and look for – or rather, remind myself I always had – direct relationship with the sacred behind all things. To keep that alive, I’m prepared to consider rituals that resacralise any aspect of modern life; especially when such practices also align with the values of environmental justice I support as part of the ecospirituality movement. So enjoy your next taste of chocolate – in the best possible way!

All photos by author. Asher and Lydia are intending to hold this event monthly and the original invitation can be found here.