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!).

 

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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

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Cacao Ritual – is chocolate sacred?

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

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The cacao ritual altar

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

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The chocolate being dispensed

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

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Asher and Lydia

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

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Getting down for chocolate!

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

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Meditating on & sharing the experience

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

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

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.

Dealing with Worldly Challenges – Ganesha & Pegasus

Most of us will recognise Ganesha, the Elephant-headed god of the Hindu pantheon. Millions of people in India and beyond pray to him every day, to help them overcome worldly challenges and to maintain peace of mind. As White Fella Dreaming is devoted to generating a spirituality for the 21st century world, especially from a western perspective, it seemed to me important to be able to provide some uniquely modern parallel for this commonly utilised mythic imagery. But first some background, to explain my relationship to the Hindu icon.

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On a trip to Varanasi I met a holy man, or guru, who gave me this mantra, which at the time I had never heard of: “Om Ga Ganapataye Namah.” It seemed a helpful ritual, to chant this once each morning and remind myself of my access to resources helpful in situations requiring conflict resolution, healing, overcoming and other responses to obstacles that arise in everyday life. (Resources that appear within my inner world, which have arisen from my Dreaming, from a place that includes but is also more than the sum of my personal history; from the sacred, transpersonal or archetypal realms beyond …) A good mantra eases access to this realm and its sacred qualities, developing our personal relationship to the more-than-human and keeping it as operational as possible; and it also hones the mind, concentrating energy for the tasks at hand. This is all good and I did not mind accepting a practice from the Indian tradition, not as a matter of simply choosing something exotic from the spiritual supermarket of the new age, but as a way of connecting to something that had come my way along the path of discovery, something relevant at the time of its appearance (synchronicity and serendipity and all that jazz), and anyway something not that distant from my own European traditions (given the ancient links between Indo-European languages and colonising forces – bit that’s another story).

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But one day in late 2013 I had a very powerful dream that superceded my relationship with Ganesha and provided me with a new way of meeting the same realm of worldly challenge and spiritual concentration. Standing at the edge of a forest, I saw Pegasus fly over [writing this sentence, lightning flashed across the sky and thunder struck in an unseasonal summer storm over Melbourne; the import of this synchronicity will become apparent by the end of this story]. His milky flanks were enormous, filling half the sky, as he galloped through the air towards the horizon ahead. Shortly after this, he reappeared, flying over our heads again, on the same direct path. However, this time he was higher in the sky and therefore slightly smaller. The third time he appeared, Pegasus was higher and smaller again (although still very large and dominating the scene). By now, he was mouthing bubbles, as if he’d hit the level of ether and was leaving the realm of oxygenated atmosphere behind (some mythic paradigms speak of a watery realm above, where the rain is kept until it is released). Now my friend, standing next to me, nudged me and said: “You believe in him, so why don’t you go to him?” So I did.

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I flew up and met Pegasus at a table, where he sat opposite me as if it were all perfectly natural. By now he was a life-sized horse, white as snow. He began making a series of movements with his hooves and I instinctively attempted to mimic them, but I knew even as I did it that I was destined to forget these ritual forms. Still, I clumsily followed until he stopped and then I noticed the doses of medicine that were spread across the table in rows. He indicated that I should chew on one and swallow it, so I did. It was horrible. The texture was of moist and sandy soil, the colour was a sickly greenish blue, and it tasted exactly how it looked – like wet earth that was hard to swallow. I guess if medicine is supposed to taste bad in order to help heal, then this stuff must be dynamite. Then he gave me his parting words: you will need to initiate through your woman [anima] for around the next 5 or 6 years. Then you will be ready to do it on your own.

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The deep wisdom and sacred nature of this dream has developed in some interesting directions for me in the year or so since then, so I will enter those into this log in a series to continue soon. But for now I just want to end by returning to the theme of this post: that Pegasus can be a portal for dealing with worldly challenge, in some very specific as well as quite general ways; and that he can help us to develop peace of mind under stressful or pressurized circumstances. And the link to the storm that burst open above my head as I wrote this? Pegasus became the bearer of lightning bolts for Zeus, in his aspect as storm god of the Greeks.

Images: 1. Ganesha by Nagaraju raveender (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 2. Pegasus line drawing by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 3. By User:Fsphil (File:Pegasus vector drawing.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. 4. “Lightnings sequence 2 animation” by original data: Sebastien D’ARCO, animate: Koba-chan – original source is Image:Lightnings sequence 2.jpg, animated by me.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lightnings_sequence_2_animation.gif#mediaviewer/File:Lightnings_sequence_2_animation.gif