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

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Modern psychology begins with a medical model, so it comes as no great surprise that the current regime of diagnosis and prescription follows a mode that defines most mental health issues according to symptoms and cures. But in the 21st century, we are learning more about the extent – and the limits – of our knowledge of the mind. Sure enough, the human mind works within a physiological system – it’s part of our bodies and our environment – but it cannot be reduced to a merely causal mode. Like nature, the mind has self-healing capacities. And, mirroring the world, our mind – or psyche – sometimes operates according to patterns that are too large or too small to appreciate in the moment. The recent documentary Earth From Space provides some metaphors that are useful for a discussion about the parallel (and interconnected) worlds of mind and nature.

Sometimes when we are sick, we only find out later that this was a symptom of the body attempting to heal itself. The common cold can often be seen to work in this way, especially when we work too hard for too long; sickness stops us in our tracks and allows the body to force us to rest. Who knows how often a minor illness has given our bodies time for white blood cells to eradicate some intrusive threat? Similarly, a severe tropical storm is damaging in its immediate effects, but (according to the meteorologists behind Earth From Space) it is also a way for the atmosphere to release energy that has built up from the combination of heat and water vapor over the oceans. And our minds can be understood in a similar vein; pent up anger can rise to the surface unexpectedly, due to external or internal pressures we may not always recognise. The difference between this and a weather pattern is that we can choose how such energy is expressed and we can create safe release valves so that it does not become dangerous, like a perfect storm or debilitating physiological illness.

 

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Such understanding can help us to reframe the way we think about psychology – including the self-healing possibilities of the mind – today. Consider a reframing of the three great movements in 20th century thought, which saw them in conversation, integrated in a more inclusive way of understanding the human mind as an interconnected part of the even wider spheres of ‘the meaning of life’ on our planetary home, the earth. Far from reducing our understanding of the psyche to a merely medical model, the conversation between existential, phenomenological and depth psychologies can extend the way we think about what it means to be human in the Anthropocene.*

All three of these great movements, in different ways, deal with the ‘meaning of experience,’ and they all work as a creative response to the reductionism of a merely bio-medical model of the psyche. An existential psychology asks how we can create meaning in the face of the meaninglessness of the physical universe, especially knowing what we do about the enormity of the endless galaxies (and the even more vast abyss of empty space beyond) and the brutal injustice of the natural world of animal life. But existentialism responds not only to the cold hard facts of science; it also asks questions of meaning in the face of what some people are prepared to do to each other. The paradigmatic example was the concentration camps and Victor Frankl’s way through this horror, although Sartre’s recognition of our more everyday angsts such as the fear of freedom, alienation, death and others is also an important set of considerations.

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Phenomenological psychology, on the other hand, sought a framework for understanding the way we experience things, which counters or complements the classical philosophical standard of truth (the abstract or ‘pure’ reason revered by Plato and Kant and integrated into the scientific method of empirical observation and theoretical extension). Can we trust our personal observations, of our inner lives and of the way we experience embodied life in a social context? How do we make sure such considerations matter, in the face of scientific reductionism and the logic of the markets, for instance? Such questions lead to some incredibly rich discussions about the poetics of the human condition and what we find meaningful and worthwhile in terms of fact and value.

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Responding to both these schools of thought, not in terms of chronology but as another way of considering human consciousness and our cares, depth psychology wonders aloud what deep historical, sociocultural and biological patterns lie behind (or give rise to) the unique value of each of our individual lives. Such patterns were seen by Jung as ‘archetypes’; ancient templates according to which even our most spontaneous experiences could be seen as endless repetitions of certain master codes of biology and psyche. In dreams and hopes, we spontaneously reinvent the same kinds of outcomes as our ancient forebears, even though we live such different kinds of lives. Little wonder that links to animal wisdom and strange intimations of spiritual beings inhabit the deepest recesses of our minds, if the body itself gives rise to such codes. We dream in a timeless realm, where human socialization only has a certain amount of impact on the whole self we are in mind, body and the depths of the soul.

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When combined, these explorations into the human mind could all be seen as mirrors of nature’s attempts to heal itself. Just as our bodies, like the earth itself, express symptoms of imbalance in minor colds and violent storms, so the mind pushes itself into difficult realms of challenge, times where it must create healing powers such as white blood cells to consume the poisons that have accumulated within. Out of the relative darkness of these mysterious explorations we seem to be able to become more aware of healing powers within.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

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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.

Unconditional Love and Regard – or Neutrally Focused Attention?

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Renowned psychotherapist Carl Rogers became known for a handful of interventions that continue to inspire those of us who believe in listening to people and their stories – really listening, not just waiting for an opportunity to apply our own opinions (or theoretical framework) to their data. His ‘person-centred’ approach offered ‘unconditional positive regard’ to the client, who may never have experienced such an opportunity before. Sure, if you had parents who treated you well, with lots of love and support, you would have been raised with an aura of this kind of regard. Someone who listened to you and let you really be yourself, no matter what. But many people didn’t have that opportunity; many had to compete for love and affection from the start; some never got much of this kind of attention at all and somehow, in spite of it all, raised themselves to become relatively stable adults. Even those raised with love and support had to be disciplined, had to learn about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, when they pushed their innate power games too far. These power games include being cute and adorable for rewards, of course, as well as being contrary and willful for the sake of it (aka self-assertion).

 

And here’s my point. Perhaps, as Rogers seems to have begun to think later in his career, it might not be the case that unconditional positive regard gives the best results in a therapeutic relationship. And what I want to add to this is: perhaps we might be better served, in everyday relationships as well as in therapeutic ones, offering unconditional neutral regard. Let me explain. The problem I see with unconditional positive regard is that it offers exactly what Rogers saw it would; an opportunity for someone (here, the client, but I want to extend this discussion to anyone we might consider could benefit from this set of ideas, including ourselves) to believe fully in themselves and the “OK-ness” of their thoughts, feelings, intuitions, dreams and desires. First of all, I think this is a wonderful idea and I do support it – for a while. The problem is, we don’t really or always actually know what is good for us. Sometimes, we need someone who cares about us to say no. Experienced guides in the arts of spiritual discipline can offer this; at least, they often have a better idea of when we are over-balancing in one direction and could do with a nudge to set us straight.

 

This could still be a case of unconditional positive regard, if you like. But rather than only supporting the inner life of the person in question, it also pushes it. Towards challenge, rather then indulgement. Towards constructive change, rather than just affirmation. Towards evolution and not just the warm fuzzies. This is partly why I am calling for unconditional neutral regard instead. Because that limit to desire, that external force saying “No,” can be just as edifying, just as helpful, just as loving in the long run as the “Yes” ever was. The wisdom of the earth teaches us that this world is a place of limits, as is this body in this life. Let’s learn to maneuver skillfully within this realm, responding to an even balance of positive and challenging feedback so that we evolve and adapt, in flow with the universe as it is, rather than as how we wish it was. As Rogers himself so aptly stated: The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination”

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media Meditation

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 For when you instinctively reach for the social media communication platform of choice and realize you don’t really need to do this and that you would be better off meditating:

 

Put the phone down – but with reverence. This is your communication device – and it is magical. By sending and receiving wavelengths, which have been manipulated to tell a story (be it of commerce or romance, leisure or work), this device puts you instantly in touch with your peers across space, anywhere on the planet. Respect that, even love or revere it.

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I love the way this woman is hunched over the machine, in expectation – and the reflection of electric blue on her face. Possibly a bit close to the machine, then …

 

Now, remember that you must balance the time you communicate with silent time; the degree to which you stay in touch with others, with the degree to which you listen to yourself in quiet moments. Listen. To your breath. To your heartbeat. To the vibration your body makes, as a physical being. Listen to your thoughts. They are not getting in the way of the silence. They are the unlimited potential of the universe coming into being. They are the emanations of your unique self, expressing a unique vision, a way of being not replicated anywhere else, a complex refraction of light through an infinite variety of phases, times of life, eras of stability and change. You are a kaleidoscope responding to its environment and you are the driver of the way you compose yourself in this moment, given the circumstances available to you right now. Use this time to reflect.

 

If you maintain too much contact with others, you can be lost in the haze of wavelengths flying about. You can lose sight of the way your own sets of being, becoming, reflective powers and insight are working to re-place your self every day. Now is the time to check in with that process. What pressures are on? Where is the stress in your body, in your mind, in your life? Who do you care about? Check this one carefully. If you are wearing thin, you may be caring too much, heading for compassion fatigue or any other kind of burnout. Remember how often our loves, including our projects in the world, are designed to replenish the love we have either had and lost, thought we had, thought we should have had, wished we had, or other [fill in the gap]. None of these relationships or projects will ever completely succeed, because we cannot fill the inside of ourselves with love from the outside forever. Something always needs to be worked on, worked out, worked over, left behind or broken. We can only find deep, lasting satisfaction within. Social media is awesome and magical, but it can also be a cage, where the mental or emotional being within rattles the bars looking for more attention, more love, more affection, more validation. When it gets like this, it’s like a house-sized microwave, which has just has a car-sized metal plate inserted and turned on full power. It’s bad electricity, because it becomes an affliction. When we become addicted to social media, we are not wielding it to our own best benefit, or putting our efforts towards the good of the whole. We are making ourselves sick, thrusting our heads and hearts back into the microwave house with metal in it. Pull back. Turn the power off for a while. And reflect. Communication is good, but we need to have ourselves together if we are to be effective, for the good of ourselves and others. Take some time to check in and tune the wavelengths of our processing, moderate the way we are composing our responses to the world and to our own inner states, to pressures and joys and anger and sadness. Practice being with self in order to be better at being with self – and with others.

Give yourself at least 5 minutes for this. Half an hour is good. Get comfortable, feel your body, sense your mind, get in touch with your heart. And take it easy.

Definition of term: re-place – to put back, in better order, with emphasis on the act of placing (as in being here and now), with volition (similar to the more straight forward replace, meaning to put back or replenish).

 

Images: 1. “Cellphone X-ray” by Canadian Light Source Inc. – http://www.flickr.com/photos/clsresoff/6801463830/in/set-72157626582093415. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cellphone_X-ray.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cellphone_X-ray.jpg. 2. “Woman-typing-on-laptop” by Matthew Bowden http://www.digitallyrefreshing.comhttp://www.sxc.hu/photo/145972. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman-typing-on-laptop.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Woman-typing-on-laptop.jpg

Becoming Deep Ecology

From Ecocrit to DEGeoff Berry presenting at the OASES Breakfast Seminar

This brief video explains a little about Deep Ecology; especially, what it does. In it, Geoff Berry, of White Fella Dreaming, describes the shift from being an ecocritic to becoming a deep ecologist. The key to this shift is around the lives we lead; being true to Deep Ecology means taking action, as well as accepting an idea, and hence using philosophy as the medicine with which we constantly remake ourselves as ‘sacred animals.’ While ecocriticism gives us great tools to deconstruct and decolonise our minds, it still leaves us outside our own stories according to Berry. As an example, an ecocritic analyses literature and film from ancient to modern, religious to scientific, to examine what it says about human relations with the rest of nature – while Deep Ecology asks us to take up the challenge of living as if we really were loyal to all aspects of nature.

Berry believes that by taking Deep Ecology seriously, we can regain access to wisdom traditions and experiences that enable us to live in accord with a higher, deeper, greater version of ourselves, which is always waiting to be birthed into life. This involves us in having our own practices as well as learning as much as we can from indigenous epistemologies and the ways of nature mysticism. This presentation was made at the famous OASES Breakfast Seminar series in Hawthorn (Melbourne, Australia) on Saturday 7th February 2015. There were some good questions and Geoff thanks the OASES community for keeping this tradition of public speaking alive and inspiring a very healthy crowd to engage with this ecospiritual material.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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The face of the deep

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

 

Oxygen

I wanna be kissed by your fire

I wanna be washed in your tears

Oxygen;

I need another hit.

Grounded;

I’ve gotta feel the clay

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

I wanna be appeased by the presence of your anarchy.

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

I wanna be kissed by your fire;

By your flames, by your uncontrollable passions.

I wanna be washed in your tears;

In your oceans.

Oxygen

I need another hit.

Grounded

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Serpent Dreaming – it comes to heal

The Enchanted Path

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

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

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

Fallen Tree across River

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

Tall Grass Riverside

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

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

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

All photos by author.

Sacred Words: Home

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

 

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

 

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