Ancestral Movement and the Animal Body

V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl

One of the workshops held at the Wild Minds gathering was on Ancestral Movement, as presented by Simon Thakur. Simon’s position on ancestors is the same as mine so I’ll start with why that is so. For both of us, the ancestors are those that went before us, that obeyed their survival instincts and passed on their genes, who carried their way of life along the path of history, who passed on and left us as their descendants. During the workshop, Simon also pointed out that, for people of the land, the actual places where ancestors were buried or burnt would bear traces of their physical bodies. Therefore, it is no metaphor to say that the ancestors are in the land, in the soil, in the vegetation – because they literally are, as compost and recycled nutrients! But like me he goes further to say that the ancestors are not just our own human forebears in the cultural sense, of passing on life lessons and survival skills, and in the physical sense, as they passed on genes and then helped to fertilise the land.

 

 Lizardaustalian

 

The ancestors are also in the other creatures; and not just because the other creatures eat the grass that grows out of our ancestors’ dead bodies. The other creatures are our ancestors because we have evolved out of the same physical matrix they have; our sun, and our planet earth and moon, all come from the same outrageously explosive conflagration of light that is the starburst behind the entire universe. Amoebic life then emerges out of the melting pot that is the saline solution of the oceans. Unicellular organisms evolve into little creatures with segmented bodies or primitive legs – anything that can move them to better sources of energy, like light or protoplankton. Competition soon emerges amongst predator and prey, even at this basic level. Fish-eyed creatures slop through the mud out of which begin to grow plants. Reptiles grow along their spines and move in waves, like fish but on land. Primates swing from trees and pass fruit from hand to mouth. We modern humans integrate every aspect of this development; growing out of it but retaining it somewhere in our genetic code. And therefore, retaining it in our bodies; and therefore, in our psyches.

 

 L0033034 Plate from Haeckel, AnthropogenieHaeckel wanted to prove black skinned people evolved from the apes – i reckon we should all be allowed to play in the trees!

 

Moving like each of these creatures reminds us of our ancient kinship with them. And as Simon reminds us, the firing of mirror neurons in our brains means that we sense that kinship in an embodied sense, in the way our thought patterns and bodily movements follow those of other creatures, mostly without us being aware of it. The other day I saw a child struggling to stand from an awkward position on the ground. I felt my whole body feel the child’s struggle – take notice of it in a motivated way – and noticed that my hands had already started to move in a way that could help out. My brain was firing signals of empathy and my body immediately obeyed and sent me to act. Extend this to the other creatures of the earth: moving like a lizard reminds my whole somatic system that those kinds of serpentine waves are part of my own evolutionary biology. Do I then find my empathy for other creatures increases when I remember they are my kin? Do I feel I should help protect their environment as well as mine? Certainly, the least we can say is that forgetting this makes it easier to ignore them and their plight.

 

mqdefaultSimon doing some animal moves. I’ve been practising them during my rides and walks.

 

That is the idea behind Ancestral Movement – the rest is in the play! Learning to shimmy across the land like a lizard is a very welcome activity for this embodied ecophilosopher – and is also really hard work! I was exhausted after only an hour of clambering about, watching Simon execute some of the moves I wasn’t ready for, following his explanations of the way each of us as babies experimented with many animal maneuvers as we shifted from supine, to crawling, and then walking human beings. Watching Totem the other night – the latest Cirque du Soleil show – also reminded me of how much fun it can be to explore moving like an animal, as expertly costumed frogs and other amphibians leapt from one bar to another of the turtle shell-shaped frame on stage. Out joints stay open to a wider range in these kinds of movement exercises and that can’t be a bad thing; the lumbar region of my spine slowly soldering together out of misuse is not an attractive option as I get less young. Finally, all of this fun reminds me of a post I once made here, on the importance of walking on uneven ground, instead of always assuming the way we have flattened off the surface of the earth – in the streets and footpaths, inside buildings, almost everywhere we walk in the cities.

 

Gorbeia_park

*NB: Check out Simon’s YouTube channel if you want to see more of this deadly serious monkeying around (although he admitted he hasn’t loaded up a lot of the animal movement exercises yet, it’s a good start and worth following).

 

Images: 1. V0022088 Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line bl
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images. images@wellcome.ac.uk. http://wellcomeimages.org. Three Queen trigger fish swimming in the sea. Colour line block after a painting by H. Murayama. By: Hashime MurayamaPublished:  – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. 2. “Lizardaustalian” by Adam.J.W.C. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG#/media/File:Lizardaustalian.JPG. 3. “Plate from Haeckel, Anthropogenie Wellcome L0033034” by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/2a/59/1ff9b621deff1c87a02c1379f59a.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0033034.html. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg#/media/File:Plate_from_Haeckel,_Anthropogenie_Wellcome_L0033034.jpg. 4. “Gorbeia park” by Gorkaazk – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg#/media/File:Gorbeia_park.jpg

 

 

Practicing Embodied Spirituality

After introducing the idea of Embodied Spirituality recently, i promised to begin to ground it in some actual ideas about how such a thing could be practiced and experienced. When it comes to actually finding a way to experience transcendence while still firmly in the body, I have previously mentioned breath meditation. You can find my introduction to Zen here, if you are interested; it isn’t limited to that particular practice, although that is what I wrote it for (as a member of the Melbourne Zen Group). It’s just a set of simple instructions to help get you sitting right for a meditation practice in general (the stuff on posture and the point of meditation will probably seem most helpful).

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Part of what I think is important about any experiential awareness exercise – this includes mindfulness, which I may discuss in more detail some other time – is what I call ‘synching in.’ I like the play on words, because using this term reminds me that I am both sinking in to the body and to its intuitive awareness of the world around me right now, and I am getting in synch with that world. When I get this flow right – breathing just so, nothing forced, allowing myself to become more deeply aware of being here and all the subtle sensations that often go unnoticed during everyday life – I can also pick up on other dimensions of my experience.

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In this way I can experience immanence, which as I wrote earlier is a more ecospiritually attuned form of transcendence. I’m not looking up or out to some external agency that I hope may help or even save me. I’m looking in, for resources that may enable my abilities to dissolve challenging circumstances – and this means I am often looking through myself, to the more-than-human forces that are active behind the façade of persona or the toolbox of ego. To get to this place means I have to get to know my mental patterns and habits fairly well, so that I can catch the little games I play that maintain my identification with more ordinary states of consciousness, and move on from them when they limit my awareness of deeper levels of self.

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Because I need to attend to such habits, this practice is not always pleasant or easy; and it does not always lead to a feeling of freedom, overcoming or transcendence of worldly limit at all (in fact far from it). Sometimes I may end up crying myself to sleep and needing to let myself be sad (aka depressed) for a while. Telling someone that cares about me often helps at this point, although I am usually more inclined to simply wait it out; not because of some over-imagined sense of independence or fear of burdening others, but because I find such times so close to who I am that I sometimes find I can even cherish them once they have passed. And at other times, this kind of subtle attention to the endless realms accessible through going within leads to the discovery, reconnection and/or building of relationships with guides, guardians and allies that I meet in dreams or these kind of meditation experiences. Such relationships can be ritualised so that these powers can be called upon – silently, not always consciously – as we go about everyday life. Either way, I get to deepen my relationship to other dimensions of the self, whether that seems personal or more-than-personal/transpersonal/archetypal/ sacred or other.

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Part of what can help at these times is the memory that in many traditions, especially native wisdoms of those who live in close relationship with the rest of nature, all life sings. As such, even when parts of the self are in conflict, each part belongs, or finds a home, within the extended psyche. Myth relates powerful stories about such relationships, through conflict and diversity and harmony and transcendence, as a set of models we can use to experiment with transformation. The kind of transformation I am most interested in developing on behalf of White Fella Dreaming is from the limited story of self we are conditioned to accept by modern consumer society to the deeper sense of self we can discover and support that works in alignment with Earth Wisdom and Celestial Intelligence.

Images 1, 3 and 4 purchased from Shutterstock. Image 2 is my photo of the passageway leading in to the central chamber deep in the heart of the magnificent mounded dome at Knowth in Ireland, certainly one of the most impressive megalithic sites in the world.

The Old Ones

100_7829Stone circle, Loughcrew, Ireland

 

Deep within our own codes – soul shapes and DNA – lie the memories of the Old Ones; the Ancestors who got us here, who survived the hard times, who inform our own behaviours and predispositions. At our best we recall them, give thanks, even revere the memory of these beings, who can be human but are also other kinds of inner guide, including the wisdom of cellular memories, which are informed by interactions between waters and salts and earth matter, by the evolution of animate life, by the historical play of light and darkness, by the creative spirits that lay down the paths across the land upon which we walk and breathe.

 

100_7845Petroglyphic carvings, Loughcrew.

We have our parents, theirs, and so on back to the ancients; European ancestry, Chinese, African, Native. These people got you here, so it seems only fair to respect their fighting spirit for life – it wasn’t always easy. But deeper behind this, who or what gave rise to them? Primates that came down out of the trees in the Rift Valley, evolved the opposable thumb, began to use symbols to communicate strategies to overcome their relative physical weakness in the face of the other giant predators; or who awakened as if overnight having been gene-spliced by another, more evolved race; who grew out of the swirling mud of the earth or fell from the sky, or both; and anyway, what about all the other animals and beings along the way? Didn’t the amoeba that began to divide and become more complicated give rise to more life from the oceanic abodes of earth’s earliest history? Ancestors arise from the cosmic soup, the swirling chaos out of which life emerged, in the newts and frogs and toads and salamanders closest to life between land and liquid; in the other mammals that teach us how to watch and listen carefully … the timid deer and painstaking owl, the insouciant yet speedy kangaroo or emu, the burrowing wombat or the roaring lion or the bull or cow or horse whose powers join ours in the flux of life.

 

100_8180Section of Sargon’s Gates, ancient Mesopotamia

 

All life gives life to all other life, in a co-creative dance of mutual support and, if we are open to it, lifelong learning. Trees emanate oxygen and we breathe it in; trees die and parrots nest in them; rodents eat acorns and butterflies feast on the bugs that live on the leaves; and as for fresh water … we are nothing without it. Even light, radiating out from the stars, the original life force, is part of the life and breath of our ancestry, as is the darkness that is its relief. The Old Ones, our ancestors, are everywhere, still, and they are also buried deep in the past. If we listen to the power of the stars, the wisdom of the animals and plants, the silence of the stones and the burbling of the waters, we can still hear new ways of thinking about current ecosystems. These stories are myths, in the best possible way – powerful narratives and symbols that are capable of tying us back to the great magnificence, reminding us of where we come from, what we rely upon, how much we love what we seem to be losing, how sad we need to be at the destruction of the earth, how much we need to then let go of that sadness and remember again our fortune, forever in a cycle of giving thanks and fighting for what is right and what supports more life …

 

shutterstock_69675613-sunOur local star, flaring with the stuff of life, light and warmth (if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time).

 

 

I give thanks to my ancestors, the Normans and Celts who lived across western Europe, who eventually joined with the Anglo Saxons and other moderns to emigrate to Australia; to the ancestors of this land, who cared for it and lived on it and kept their ancient ways as strong as possible, while also remaining open to new ways when that became the most intelligent and sustainable option, who still work with creativity and tradition in dealing with the colonizing force of the modern west, just as native people all over the world deal with invasive forces from larger, more technologically developed societies; to the ancestors of the human race and to the other animals and plants who helped give rise to us, who give rise to themselves, who work in co-creation to support life even as they consume it, to earth creatures of all stripes and to the stars, the furnaces of life, the great, deep, celestial intelligence of light that fires our planet every day and drives cellular growth and wires motor neurons together so that we can comprehend and compute and cry and be awake and love and feel and think. I give thanks to the ancestors.

All of them.

 

dugong-hunters-150x150This image is from an Australian Aboriginal “Dreaming”, or songline, or country line (story to come soon).