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.’

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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.

The Cosmic Walk

The Cosmic Walk has amazing similarities with my work and the Ancestral Movements of my last post. While all three approaches embody the same philosophy, the Walk is a song, which relates the path and time scales of evolution, and then has each participant walk the spiral of time from the big bang to now.  As each participant walks the entire history of the cosmos, we all chant along the simple chorus:

     “I am as old as the universe, I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again;

      I am a child of the universe, a part of all women and a part of all men.”

Moon Court Brass Spiral

The beautiful brass spiral used for the Cosmic Walk at Moon Court, home to some of the events run by Pagaian Cosmology

The song “Child of the Universe” was written by British singer songwriter Theo Simon in the early 1990s.  It originally had four verses. At some stage John Seed, tireless activist in defence of the earth and developer of the Cosmic Walk concept, heard the song and requested Theo to write an additional two verses to complement the walk as an entire musical experience. The cosmic walk was originally devised by Sister Miriam Therese McGillis of Genesis Farm in New Jersey, a colleague of Thomas Berry (The Great Work) as a symbolic re-enactment that helps us enter personally into the story. Participants walk around a spiral that represents the entire story of the unfolding and gradual differentiation of the Universe and the Earth from the beginning to the present – and to us! 

John saw that with additional material, Theo’s song could extend to the epic it now is, ready to carry the whole story of the universe into a performance that can be enjoyed by groups anywhere. You can see John tell this story and sing the song here, at MoonCourt in the Blue Mountains of Australia, which has a brass spiral inlaid in the floor representing the Unfolding Cosmos for the telling of the Universe Story. John had been facilitating an Earth, Spirit, Action workshop during which that story – our Story – was told. 

The verses of the version sung at Wild Minds were sung by Helena Read, who herself has performed it on stage with Theo’s original band World Without Walls, unbeknownst by the Triple Ecology gang* who asked her to join them. Synchronicity abounds in this work.

The full lyrics can be heard in some renditions of the song, found here. Theo now performs it with his band Seize the Day along with this extensive repertoire of folk music in the British tradition of social and ecological activism. 

You can imagine how the Cosmic Walk is a similar experience to Ancestral Movement, although where that practice literally embodies the animal forms that have been integrated into our physical selves, this one is more in the style of the labyrinth walk. It is an occasion for meditation on the incredible journeys our bodies have undertaken from the bursting forth of the universe to this moment, pregnant with significance. Carried by the crystalline wave of the chant, we walk, sing, hum, and re-place ourselves exactly where we are. Try one as soon as you get, find, or make the chance!

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*The Triple Ecology gang (as I have just dubbed them) are holding an event in April (24-26) devoted to sharing the learnings of three frameworks: Sacred, Deep and Healing Ecology.

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.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Christmas Tree

It’s not just about the birth of Christ and recognising that spiritual generosity, compassion and irrational, beautiful love should guide the way we live. It’s also about the solstice. Like churches built on old pagan sites, most seasonal festivals we know today originally replaced events on the annual calendar that celebrated the turning of the natural cycles. Around December 21 every year in the northern hemisphere, the sun hits the lowest point on the horizon and this means the shortest day of the year. Downunder, here in Australia, this is reversed; but the same cycles operate (obviously life at the equator presents a whole different scenario! Generally, i will take any opportunity to reflect upon inner riches, even if it is summer here!). But think back to the early Europeans, who are my generic and cultural forebears. Winter is closing in, the leaves have fallen from the trees, we’ve eaten all the berries, many animals are hunkered down in dens and lairs to hibernate … life is retreating.

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There is less to eat, less sun to draw us out into the day, more reason to rug up ourselves and hope to survive the coming of a cold, dark period. What I would like, under these conditions, is to remember that everything comes back; that life returns after this symbolic death; that the sun awakens from its slumber, shakes the hoary frost from its shoulders, and beyond its all back to life. And now that I am reminded that we are all in this together, that in order to survive we need people to gather and store, some top stitch up rugs and cloaks, some to nurture little children, some to keep the fire going, some to sing and tell stories … I want to be reminded life goes on in company. I want the tribe to come together, to celebrate this important moment in the year with my kin, to forgive the ones that have annoyed me and to have them get over my own dumb transgressions. Not only because we need each other – which we do, and may do again soon, as the ecological crisis decreases the capacity for industrial society to cater for our every need – but because I need to be able to draw on everything within me to come through this physical challenge.

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And just as importantly, because I can now take this opportunity to do as nature does – to go within, to purify my heart and soul and therefore to breathe more fully again when spring finally arrives, to stretch my arms and legs and move in the world in the fulness of my strength as soon as i get the chance again, to feel liberated in my body and mind, to be free of spirit. When there is so much death and withdrawal in the outside world, it is time to follow suit. Let yourself lose the external sun, for a while, and remember to draw on the powers within. The winter solstice presents us with real challenges and metaphorical possibilities at the same time. And when we give ourselves over to the full story of the inner world, the parallel life we lead in our heats and minds and bodies and souls, we come to know it as just as real as the physical world. These are the kinds of lessons we have too often put aside with the modern world; forgetting to learn from nature, we forget also our deepest inner worlds, our greatest spiritual treasures. Ironically, getting back in touch with the natural world can also lead us directly back to our souls, our depths, the greater realities of the more than human world, the archetypal realms, the gods within and without.
This Christmas, dive in to the ancient truth of your body. Let the solstice remind you of your beautiful spiritual greatness and give freely of this wealth. Blessings be upon all those who align with earth wisdom and celestial intelligence.

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Images: 1. “Weihnachtsbaum Römerberg” by Thomas Wolf (Der Wolf im Wald) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weihnachtsbaum_R%C3%B6merberg.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Weihnachtsbaum_R%C3%B6merberg.jpg 2. By Goldmann Jo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 3. Russian Bear coming out of winter den. By Photochrom Print Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 4. By Emilio del Prado from Valladolid, Spain, España (Acebo – European Holly) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons