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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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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).

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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).

 

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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.’

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Ecospirituality – The Hero’s Journey for the 21st Century

In the mid-20th century, Joseph Campbell showed that a Hero’s Journey was available to us all, as an exploration of our own minds and hearts and as a way of regaining our personal power and rightful place in the world. In those days, America still seemed like the land of the free and home of the brave. Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was published in 1949, just years after the US Army had helped the Allies rescue Europe from the clutches of the Nazis. It was an era of optimism, and Campbell’s later TV appearances in The Power of Myth cemented his fame. He inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars, especially in the lead character of Luke Skywalker and his mystical martial arts sect the Jedi, who could tap into ‘the force’ behind the physical world.

 Young-Luke-Skywalker-Flashback-Star-Wars-7Ah Luke. That was nuts about your dad. Talk about nasty Oedipal issues!

 

I love the potential in all of these ideas, but while they still retain a timeless quality to compel, they also need to be updated for the 21st century. The Hero’s Journey in Campbell’s era was still about the individual, who needed to find the power within to overcome their challenges, regardless of the expectations of society. This model remains an excellent guide to anyone’s inner life today. It involves a cycle, from the everyday world to a place of inner depth, after a ‘call to action’ compels us to look within and find the source of our strength.

 

This follows an ancient practice, for instance when Greeks over 2000 years ago went to ‘Mystery Schools’ to immerse themselves in such experiences, participating in rituals where they entered a metaphorical underworld and returned with great gifts of self-empowerment. It’s so inspiring, there is no wonder it has continued to influence writers and film makers such as the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix. As their archetypal modern hero, Neo, found out, the key to accepting the Hero’s Journey is to take the right pill! While the truth may challenge us, it is far more satisfying than accepting the comfort of mundane routines.

 66-6-the-matrixDude, take the red pill! The red one and wake up – it’s worth it, trust me!

 

While this remains a vitally important process for us all, we are now living in a new era, with a changing climate and other challenges that face us on a global scale. It doesn’t seem enough anymore to just evolve as separate individuals; we need to do it together, as a community, in touch with nature and its other beings. The question that has kept jumping out at me over the 20 years since I began working with these materials is: how do we forge links with the power of nature, so that we find healing within ourselves and become better ecological citizens at the same time? The answer came in evolving the Hero’s Journey to a new paradigm of ecospirituality. This is where quantum fields meet nature spirits and we discover that what Carl Jung called the archetypes are similar to what Aboriginal Australians call the ancestor spirits: figures from the otherworld, which lead us to a greater sense of personal power and connection to nature.

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Any idealised version of the hero becomes, or draws upon, the archetypal spirit of overcoming. Jake Sully from Avatar might have been another example of the white-boy-turns-native-and-rescues-poor-savages cliche, but at least he stood for indigenous rights and listened to their culture …

 

And we can do this right now, here in Melbourne – although maybe not in the comfort of our own homes! Because we do have to get outside our own comfort zones to really get the juices out of this kind of work. It’s exciting and mysterious, like a dream you’ve had that you know is deeply meaningful, but that leaves a tantalizing feeling in its wake as well, so that you want to follow it but you don’t know where it leads. What I want to do is to help people to see that where it leads is a place where Psyche – the soul of the mind – meets Gaia, the spirit of the earth.

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This new art brings together quantum physics, which reminds us that everything is connected, and ecology, which teaches us where we fit in the wider web of life and how to work with the laws of nature. The science of ecology teaches us that nature loves biodiversity and all its unique forms of life, but also that it works in cycles. No matter what ‘season’ our lives seem to be in at the moment – the letting go of Autumn or the new growth of spring, for example – it will inevitably come around full circle. The trick to ensuring that we always have a sense of abundance, no matter where we are in the cycle, is to recognize that the physical world is not here to supply our every need and want. Rather, as wisdom traditions constantly remind us (if we listen!), the way to make our dreams of enlightenment real is to carry them within, regardless of external circumstances. It’s kind of ironic, because we learn to love and protect nature better when we get to know our own inner selves better.

 

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are people part of the flora and fauna?

What makes human people special? In this context, what makes us stand out from the rest of nature? Why don’t we see ourselves as part of the rest of life on earth? This came up for me recently, as i listened to an Australian Aboriginal lady explain that her people should be thought of that way; that they were part of the flora and fauna of the land, in terms familiar to deep ecology. What was kind of shocking here was the fact that such an argument was once used by early colonists of this country to justify dispossession and settlement. It was allied with the idea of Terra Nullius; there is no real society here, recognisable to European standards, so we can simply take the land. Those black fellas are part of the land – so, no barrier to our possession of it. They literally branded Aboriginal societies as part of the flora and fauna, but meant something very different, and much more horrible, by the same sentiment.

  GB at PinnaclesThe author at The Pinnacles, Western Australia. Standing amongst the rocks, not independent of them.

A similar conundrum faces us when we align the feminine with nature; or with the darkness, or the deep waters of emotion. It’s not that the analogy is wrong – it’s the negative associations commonly held with the imagery that leads to problems. It’s easy to see why the feminine and nature are so easily aligned – we are birthed out of both, the womb of our mother and the matrix of the universe, physical matter itself. Likewise with the easy metaphorical association between the feminine and darkness; the mysterious ways of the world, the intuitive mind that women seem so often more comfortable with, compared to the ‘daylight’ or rational consciousness that has just as often been associated with the masculine spirit, and men in general.

 

Shark Bay beachThe sea, here at a beach in Shark Bay, WA. That sense of oceanic awareness, which Freud resisted and Jung identified with …  the great eternal feminine, the Tao of universal flow

If we were more comfortable with the darkness, with mystery, with the earth as our greater body, we could embrace these associations. We are suspicious of them because they are so often used to denigrate – to assume mastery over them, to remove ourselves from identification with them, to be independent and to feel powerful. It’s an illusion, just as the intuitive sense of them probably is too. Ultimately, matter and intuition could be thought of as masculine, abstract thought and logic as feminine, in a different social order. The moon has been considered masculine in Aboriginal and Mesopotamian cultures, which throws the whole European system out of order; in ancient Sumer, Nanna was the Moon God, a great bull looking over the herds of feminine stars. Symbols are flexible, no matter how true they seem to us. They are part of our consciousness, part of our mythology, so we accept them, just as we accept scientific thinking and the mundane materialism of commercial life in the 21st century.

 

Karijini GorgesThe spectacular gorges of Karijini NP, Pilbara region of WA. A sense of timeless pervades the landscape here, where rocks have been weathered for millions of years

I’d love to be thought of as part of the flora and fauna. I don’t want to assume mastery over the world and differentiate myself from it as part of some patriarchal fantasy of ‘civilisation.’ I’m just as comfortable with the feminine, nature, mystery and darkness as with the masculine, mind, a sense of certainty or logic and light – and i know that these systems of thought are all fluid, as sure as my sense of self and society and just as contingent upon history and environment as any other way of thinking. But i don’t want that to be an invitation to be defined as passive, as part of the land to be used and abused, as a walkover for free market assumptions that reduce everything to what they are worth at the current exchange rate, either. I stand with that Aboriginal lady – and support the positive connotations of her stance, just as i resist the way it can be turned upon her – and upon us. People of the earth, unite.

 

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

solar eclipse

 

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

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

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

 

boab and beach

 

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

It goes something like this:

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

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

Spirituality, Leadership and Management – hop on board!

How do we bring a sense of the spiritual – the integration of the worlds beyond this one into our everyday lives, the linking between physical reality and our higher, deeper, greater selves – into professional practice, business, negotiations, life?

 

The Yarra River

When conventional religions have let us down and so much of politics is bunk, a new era of leadership requires our creativity. Inspired by the world of ideas, the possibilities inherent in the human mind and body and heart and soul and spirit, and our innate sense of what’s right, combined with the traditional wisdom that continues to speak to us from the earth and the stars and the people who have kept listening, we can forge new meaning with depth and reliability.

Being part of this movement means walking the talk, accepting the challenges of a world that all too often defers to an orgy of meaningless consumption, and speaking out – both against this corporate desolation, and for the incredible, marvelous array of ground-breaking (and ground-nurturing!) actions taking pace across the planet right now. We are part of the critical mass, which is crystallising around an emergent understanding of the potential of the human race to evolve into a better species; one that takes care of its home, even after it has developed high technologies (which bring so much danger with so much promise!).

 

shutterstock_59945146-campfire

I’m proud to be part of the team that is bringing this work to Australia, in the form of the SLaM (Spiritual Leadership and Management) conference to be held in Sydney, August 21-23. “Mind in the Matter; What is Mindfulness in Business and Professional Life” promises to hold all participants in a space that is generative and supportive; and that takes us all through the stages of deep inquiry and carries the gifts of such work back into the field of everyday life. It is with love and gratitude – and professionalism and expertise – that i will facilitate the “Programmed Strand” of workshops, alongside a gifted team of committed practitioners. To ensure the most profound spirit of transformation possible, it will take place as a 2 and 1/2 day retreat at Wiseman’s Ferry, where we will immerse ourselves in the work and find truer, clearer connection to ourselves, our community, and our planet in this time of need.

See the website here for more information; and below is a copy of the Newsletter outlining the theme and flavour of the conference. It is beautifully written by Susie Goff, current President of SLaM. It would be wonderful to see you there. Please feel free to explore this exciting field of endeavour.

And please share this opportunity with anyone, or any organisation, you think might be able to make it to the conference, or who might be able to let more people know about it.

Keeping it real, Geoff Berry (White Fella Dreaming).

SLaM-Newsletter-May-2015

Stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities in Australia

Why is it so important that we stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities?

communities2

Australian Aboriginal people have given a new meaning to the word “country.” For them, it means a “spiritually enlivened” world, filled with different types of life, each of which has its own intrinsic rights to be there.* Aboriginal connection to country informs a culture with a proven record of sustainable habitation. By building relationships with country – the land, the other creatures, the sea and fresh water bodies, the ancestral spirits that formed these different varieties of life – Aboriginal peoples could remain in conversation with nature. Their place in the world was significant, meaningful; Aboriginal people had responsibilities to country and held it in an attitude of gratitude, for it had given birth to them, the people, just as it had birthed the landforms and other creatures. This is a loving relationship between subjects, or people, of different kinds, all of whom play their part in the biodiverse ecology of any place.

 Communities

This is the relationship we need to learn from, not break. We should not only be calling to stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities; we should be calling on increased funding, which would allow true self-determination, so that Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can continue to rebuild their timeless cultures, strengthen their connection with country, and teach us white fellas (or kardiya) the wisdom of their ways. We haven’t done a very good job of this since our own ancestors, the British of the late 18th century, landed here and declared the great southern land Terra Nullius, a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “nobody’s land.” This means they assumed that the new territory had never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign had relinquished sovereignty. It’s a pretty poor take on the complexity of the Aboriginal people that inhabited the land, the complexity of their political systems and processes, the ingenuity of their technologies and ways of being with country.

 Pilbara Language Families

But that’s the past. Let’s not repeat it. Further dispossession on the basis of poor economic figures is unfair and unjust. Let’s fix this situation, by asking how the people themselves would like to see it fixed, rather than acting paternalistic – or even worse, acting ruthless – from the governments in the cities. This situation reminds me of the doco shown recently on SBS, Contact. This was the film about how the Murtu people were found living in the area where the rockets from Woomera were going to land in the 60s. Most of the tribe, including all the men, had left the traditional lands (presumably to chase work, though this wasn’t mentioned). A group of around 20 women and children remained and the scientists realized this with little time to go. They raced against time to move the Murtu along, in their trucks, which the children thought were monsters. The group ran away, hiding in caves, asking Yimiri the great ancestral Serpent to protect his people. They asked for a storm to “drive away the devils” who were chasing them; and it worked. A huge storm rolled in, and the rain washed away all their tracks. Ironically, this victory made them impossible to find; and horribly, the British and Australian scientists fired anyway. The rocket failed, however, breaking up in the sky, and falling on some other “unoccupied” land. With a little more time, the white fellas were able to find the group and dispossess them to Jigalong, further south in Western Australia.

 Jigalong sign

This isn’t the time to mention how much such dispossessions have cost all Australians, especially the Aboriginal peoples, in terms of their health and welfare, and their ability to care for country and to pass that knowledge on down the generations. But it does seem a fair time to point out how many natural resources are under the ground in WA; just in case there’s a link between mining futures and clearing the land of its native people.

Mineral prospects in Oz

This has been going on since large-scale civilizations began. It’s time it stopped. There is hope. At the end of Contact, those children, now grandparents, are showing the old film to the new generations; to show the kids their old families, but also to show them the “waterholes, where the stories come from,” so they can help to “keep the law strong.” Let’s help them. See the site at http://www.sosblakaustralia.com/  and show your support on the page at https://www.facebook.com/sosblakaustralia

* See Deborah Bird Rose on this.

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

Lubok_of_Resurrection

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

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

Easter_Bunny

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

DCF 1.0

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

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

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

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

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

Eleusis_(15986825818)

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

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

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

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

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