I love and hate a sunburnt country

Dorothea MacKellarI have been lucky enough to travel to the other side of the world and visit the ‘home country’ (as it was still being called when I was little). I’d always aspired to this cultural ‘homecoming’  in an unconscious way due to a steady childhood diet of English culture, books, stories, myths, music and television. Badges, foxes and the Queen imbued the world that was valued, but not the world that I inhabited. The world I lived in had bushfires, snakes and Christmas in summers so hot you could burst your skin if you got badly sunburnt. It was confusing.
So I went to England to see the Queen, her Tower, and the Thames. I went to Bath and Stonehenge too as well as Stratford on Avon. It was gorgeous and charming. Every day I was excited to see visit and touch another sacred idea of home. The more I saw, the more I wanted to consume. Tintagel, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Portsmouth, Sussex, Sherwood Forrest all the places and names and stories, I wanted to bring them all to life inside of me, and yet … I was homesick.

I didn’t understand the food, the humour, even the greetings. Oak trees were a revelation to me, but the colours all looked too bright and even soft. It was only in England that I began to truly understand what it is to be Australian, to yearn for a big sky. As is so often the case, a writer had been there before me, and put my feelings so well into their own words.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Those are the words of Dorothea Mackellar OBE, the opening stanza of her famous poem. Like me, she was a third generation Australian, grown up with stories of the “home countries” and indeed she wrote this poem while visiting England and feeling homesick (source).

I didn’t know this stanza at the time, but I have often reflected on it since. There are in fact six stunning stanzas to this beautiful poem, which it is not currently in vogue to love, as I unashamedly do. But I also hate it, as I sometimes hate the way our country is so very hard to live with. I’m watching the footage on the television of the State of Victoria burning, and I’m feeling terror flood my body. I can hear the popping of the oils in the gums and smell the heavy smoke rushing ahead of the roaring fire front. I feel for the people fleeing their houses, with pets and livestock if they have the time, treasured photos and documents, or just their lives if the wind makes an unexpected push. Next week it could be our neighbours, or Queensland. People wonder at our humour when the farmers of the west can say, “Not much here to burn since the four years of drought.”

I can’t laugh. Grief overtakes me. Floods may come soon after, or the rains may not come for years yet, as El Nino grows in strength here and sends La Nina to Argentina.

Sometimes I hear city people say “Why do they live there if they know it is a bushfire zone?” and it is a reasonable question for all those millions of Australians who’ve always lived in suburbs or the cities. But not for those who love those ‘far horizons’ that you get in the bush. If you’ve lived in the country, then the odds are that the country lives on in you. We’ve made these nests of humans along the coasts where cyclones and storms might be the seasonal threats and when they pass through the locals shrug and say “It is just part of life, part of living here.” They would never leave either. They love the ‘jewel-sea’. Why does this love hurt? It is love, we all chose to stay – far though we may roam.

Sunburnt and happy

Australians like to travel, we all have stories to flesh out and names to bring to life in the far distant lands. We are the long-haul hard-core travellers. It is long hours to even our nearest neighbours. Nearly all of us come back here, gratefully, to this place with the contradictions that form us and the skies we miss and the beaches for endless holidays. We boast of our sunburn and deadly animals, much as we work hard to avoid them all at any cost. Sometimes I think the bush ballads are too honest now for our desire to be sophisticated and urbane. I am torn between the unendurable summers and their suffering and the longing I have when I’m gone. I envy Dorothea the clarity of her vision, and the resilience of her spirit in facing a lifetime without air-conditioning!

I’m a long way from resolving my passionate confusion over this country and even my relationship with this poem. I will grieve for our brothers and sisters in Victoria who face such hardship this week, and support them when the times comes to rebuild as we all know and trust that we will do for each other here. Because one thing is always true in Australia, this is not a land tamed by humans, it is not domesticated. Slowly, every generation, it seeps into our souls ever further and we are trained to live with it, we are the ones who must learn her long and secret ways. We are stubborn, but she is eternal. I may well spend many years trying to hear that gum-soft whisperof her love. For now we shall leave the last words to Dorothea (listen to her recite the poem).

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Image source.

Winter solstice – waiting on a sign

waiting-for-a-signHave you been waiting for a sign about what is coming next? The solstice is around the corner and it is a great reminder that what you’re asking for is being answered. The earth has turned in a circle of the year and we spiral through the rhythms of our lives. Here in the south the sun is about to be reborn – it is a time of renewal. The sign you’re waiting for is already up and all you need to do now is see it.

Not as easy as it sounds

What we can get stuck in is a rut of things being literal. We expect the world to put up a billboard for us and to advertise directly in a way we can’t miss. After all we’re busy! We’ve got a lot of emails to read and stuff to do. It is not like we’re sitting around with time on our hands, no way, we’re multitasking our way to the end of every week trying to keep a dozen things on the go. As people say these days “Aint nobody got time for that!”.

But wait – there’s less

You have all the time there is – a lifetime – but how easy is it to get that confused with jobs and roles and the expectations of the world. House prices and debt repayments and whoa Christmas is on the way! It all rushes up and around us. Take a moment here. The sun comes up every day. Let it be your sign. Let the sun’s tides be a cue to do a little less, take a little time, wait a little longer. There’s a time later on for blazing away. Now is a time for looking around and taking in what is waiting for you.

Is there something you’re asking for? Look and listen now for the answers that are being suggested. This is it. Life is here now.

Ten years living with ulcerative colitis

Janine Prince March 2015This week marks ten years living with ulcerative colitis. Not an anniversary to celebrate. No. However a moment worth marking nonetheless and I’d like to bear witness to my experience. My intention is to do so as a recognition of all the other people who are living with a chronic illness or for those who might find these words when they are first diagnosed, and search (as I did at the time) for some hint that life goes on.
I haven’t learned enough in life yet, but I have learned that my burden is not the heaviest nor the only burden being carried. So many people suffer every day, and that’s the normal part of their day. Many of them are brave, they are courageous, generous, loving and all those things that people are and to me they seem to be saints because they do all of that without ever asking for pity or a special deal for their own personal situation.
I’ve never been like that. I grew up a self-centred, petulant and ego-driven individual who coasted through life enjoying good health and generally easy successes. If something didn’t go my way, I threw a tantrum. I was bad mannered and basically, if you’ll excuse the expression, a pain in the arse.

The fall

Like many people I was misdiagnosed in the early stages and also like many people, the arrival of this condition was extreme. I won’t bore you or try to shock you with the tedious and grotesque details, but if you are interested, by all means read about ulcerative colitis on Wikipedia and be warned, it isn’t pleasant and there are pictures. The first months were a traumatic roller-coaster of denial, endless specialist visits and a cocktail of anger, fatigue, loneliness and humiliation.
Anyone who has a chronic illness has probably had a similar experience in the broad sense. It is something that undermines your sense of identity, worth and optimism. I came to my knees and the landing was hard. Nothing was fair, and no amount of tantrums would change the physical facts. I kept fighting, and I kept not getting anywhere. Chronic illness does not have any obligation to get better or ease up or otherwise change itself just because your life is falling apart.

I can’t go on

For me, it got a bit worse psychologically even while my physical symptoms began to stabilise. Due to the large blood loss sustained on a daily basis, I had a lovey delicate pallor that was visually appealing. I didn’t have anything bandaged, or in a cast, or visible bruising – I looked pretty good. Inside I was in constant pain (no suggestion at that time from any specialist that I seek or simply be given some support for this, other than more drugs) and questioning if this might be a good time to make an informed decision to exist the great stage. Not only was I not confident that the daily regime of drugs would ever restore me to functional operation, but I felt that I had lost my place in the world. Who would ever want someone this broken?

I’ll go on

Thankfully, I didn’t have the energy or the requisite escape-velocity of self-loathing to finalise the exit at that time and urgent practical matters took my mind off the subject in the long, dark nights. If you’re in the first year or so of having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, please get support as soon as possible for managing your physical and emotional pain. Much as you may think it, you’re not currently in a position to make an “informed decision” about what to do with yourself. In hindsight, I can see it was my ego throwing a pretty big tantrum. A bluff I wouldn’t wish on anybody to call.
The sun rose in the east, arced through the sky and set again to the west. The tides of the moon and the wheel of the year swung around me while my bubble of self-protection and self-pity got cramped and ever lonelier. People have different experiences. I was slowly to learn that I was one of the lucky ones. For a long time I kept a list of illness I was grateful I didn’t have and it got longer as I began to listen to other people’s stories. The burdens I was unequal to carrying slowly lightened as I was able to return to work and also to listen with empathy to what others were carrying. It was still unfair, and so little in life was, that the bleakness never wavered. Days trudged by and the game became one of fighting boredom. I was still fighting, still not winning, still pushing people away as much as begging for closeness. It was a life, but it felt hollow. The fight had been to stop the illness from taking over, from changing things, from taking the freedom of choice away. Laugh if you like, it had done that from the moment it appeared, would I ever come to my senses and stop fighting something that had already won?

The serpent

The trouble was, chronic illness is so easy to see as an enemy. For years I thought of it as a great coiled serpent where my bowel should be. A serpent that in some nightmares ate me whole from the feet up. My powerful enemy could bring me to my knees at any time it cared to flex and coil, raise and strike. My feeble body was a warzone of drugs, fear and fatigue.

What if it is all ok?

Thankfully there are a lot of wise and giving people in the world, some of whom planted seeds of wisdom and compassion in my stony skull. I still had some long dark nights where I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, yet at the same time I slowly began to understand the incredible power of helping other people. I began to see a third way between the fantasies of freedom and total annihilation. The endless confrontations with nightmares opened my other eyes to the shadows I held within. Most importantly, I accepted that sometimes the pain was horrible and I stopped trying to anticipate that or wish it away. I held a rock and took it one breath at a time. I checked in every few breaths, maybe changed the rock to the other hand. Breathe. Right now. This is what is happening. Time helped the reality replace the fantasy. I could live in the cracks. Maybe I could bloom where I was planted too. What if I was ok enough?

It is what it is

There’s no snake now, no enemy, no answer either. I have a thing, like you might, or someone you know does. I manage it as best I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I forget I have it, other times, well, I still have that rock to hold. My road in the last ten years has been hard work, and followed a river of tears. Along the way I’ve changed and (hopefully) grown. I wish you all the best on your journey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Eclipse gravity

Today is a day of power.

Eclipse
1851 07 28 Berkowski” by Berkowski. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ok yes, most days are powerful days if you’re on your game and ready to embody your intentions with skill, but today is a different day, special in and of itself. There is a special gravity to this eclipse.
This day of total eclipse, a new moon at the omega of the zodiac, tipping right into the equinox is a rare conjunction of patterns. It creates an off inflection for extra agency in your personal choice about perspective.

Stick with this

Before we leap off a precipice of hand-waving, the reason it is valuable to share this is because you and I can both look at the facts of the natural world and see these patterns. That is objective. What we think about them and what meaning we might take from them is subjective and that means we can have an interesting conversation.
The equinox (the time where the night and the day are equal in length) happens twice each year, a moment of unity and convergences in the dualistic dance our tilted axis moves us through between light and dark. Eclipses form and pass as our Earth and the moon spin and dip to each other as together we weave our way in orbit around the sun. The zodiac represents a different view of our orbit, seeing the canopy of stars and planets from the overlay of an ancient pattern that each adjust as the days move along. The natural world is filled with countless such patterns and tides gracefully interacting with each other and forming the normal and significant events that are a backdrop to our human patterns – civilisations, generations, families, birthdays and so on. So many patterns, so many scales of activity and timeframes and perspectives of meaning.

Why that’s great news for you

Sometimes life is hard and unpleasant. Sometimes when that happens, nice people might say “this too shall pass” and they’re trying to be helpful, but it never helped me to feel any better.
That was until I was able to think about it in perspective of the Earth moving around the sun and the four points along that path that you can prove with nothing more sophisticated and complex than a stick in the ground – the solstices and equinoxes. These give the phrase “this too shall pass” some meaningful context.
The Wheel of the year is a bigger picture that I can connect to. I am part of an enormous organism “life” that on this Earth is so ubiquitous as to be taken for granted. Yet in the universe and indeed in the galaxy we know, we can still prove that it is unique to our planet. (No matter how many probes and expectations and hopes and movies we may make or have about the prospect of finding more planets, more somehow of ‘us’. Although I’m not confident that our collective ego would survive if we sadly turned out to not only ‘not-unique’ but actually something more like the shunned ‘hillbilly’ inbreeds of the galaxy that nobody wants to have to call the police on at a wedding but everyone expects that there’ll be a fistfight inevitably leading to blood and tears. But I digress.)

So. Equinox, eclipse – whatever?

Actually a total eclipse doesn’t happen as regularly or often as you may think – at the end of this month we have another, and then there won’t be one for ages. You may have a handful or two of chances to see one in your life (North Pole inhabitants are the lucky ones in this particular instance). This particular one is also a ‘supermoon’ the name for when the moon is particularly close to the Earth there will be king tides because of it. Those are both facts of the science of Astronomy.
Another element of interest to today is from the art of Astrology. This Eclipse happens while the moon is in the last degree of the 360 degrees of the zodiac. That is very unusual. I don’t know how often that pattern happens, but you’re unlikely to come across that one again in your life. You don’t need to believe in astrology or astronomy for both of these things to be happening. They’re going on without you. You can choose what, if any, of this information you take away to apply to understanding your own life and the events and tides you experience in it. Your quincunx is yours to dance within.

What’s your gravitational force?

To be human is to seek connection (or to judge /reject connection if you are rebellious and need something to push against) we move between sets of belonging. It is a force at work within us.
Oddly this is how it is for the stars and planets too. All matter in our galaxy, and in the universe, is bound to each other through subtle, powerful, complex forces and we call it gravity. You and I have no problem believing totally and implicitly in gravity when we play on a swing, catch a ball or drop our toast. Can you easily believe in the power of gravity across a galaxy? Be honest with yourself.

It’s a big question.

Challenge yourself and expand the edge of that belief to the limit of your comfort and look out from that vantage point. What on the horizon makes you uncomfortable? Breathe here for a while and contemplate the nature of things that are unknown or seem impossible. Can you comprehend the vastness of space and the invisible strength of gravity that leads to slow, graceful orbits that human minds can map and trace into the future? What forces pull on you in ways you do not understand but feel to be real? Relationships? The moon? The enormity of the earth below your feet, abstract concepts like money or the type of time that glaciers count?
You may well decide to ignore today other than as a functional section of the weekly calendar. What’s for dinner? Where are the house keys? Or you may drift into an awareness of the bigger patterns of your life that swing around less often than a week and sit underneath the life that is passing in a blur. We are interested in revealing more about life than is held in a spreadsheet. To do that we are on a path of expanding our awareness, our interest, our willingness to hold multiple ideas and possibility. Today, with our total eclipse in the closure of the zodiac on the cusp of the equinox we are in a powerful place of choice.

Open yourself to the idea that you’re part of this single world, we’re together in the gravity of the situation. Patterns are happening around us, within us, even as we shape the events of our lives. Our social and emotional connections to each other give us our relationship gravity, sometimes those orbits put us in the dark, wondering if “this too shall pass” and of course the answer is yes.

Yes, everything changes, and when it comes around again it will be both different in particulars and the same in pattern.

In the dark of this night that is united with day, know that you belong and are part of this mighty dance of the heavens.

Be happier

Why do we put off having a good time? Sure, technically, celebrating is normally reserved for a ‘significant event’ but that shouldn’t put the dampeners on enjoying our day-to-day living more.

That’s what we all want, right, to be happier?

shared mealDon’t wait to celebrate. It is a long way between birthdays and promotions through the year, those special events often slip by us anyway. Birthdays are particularly fraught with baggage in our culture where youth is venerated. What can we do to be happier in our lives? Time is ticking people, this is our life we’re talking about!

What stops us being happier?

We worry – but by definition worry is about things that haven’t happened yet. So we’re making ourselves less happy now to think about things that may not happen in the future.

We turn worry into anxiety. While worry is tiring, anxiety is crippling. It isolates us from support and undermines our confidence.

The world is noisy. There is an avalanche of data every day, we’re suffocating under information and opinions.

Lots of people are mean and selfish. Let’s not go into this one too deeply, but I bet you thought of an example immediately didn’t you? Probably from the last day or so. We live in a crowded and pushy world, where a lot of people are out to get what they can.

Never enough money to go around. Do you get to the end of your pay and still have some week left? Do you wonder where the last pay went to?

We don’t have time. So very busy all the time with doing things and buying things and planning things and worrying. Oh my. So much to do! Where does the time go!? Another month and still you haven’t gotten around to that important thing you wanted to start? Drive faster, work harder, try harder to squeeze it all in. ARGHHH!

We just don’t think of it. It is a bit of a rut, day to day, doing all the things you have to do. Plodding through work and chores and bills and buying groceries and getting that thing fixed and all the other details. Being happy just kindof slips out of the picture.

Seven things you can do this week to be happier

Live in the now. Take life a bit more ‘as it comes’, or as a wise friend used to say “one meal at a time”. Of course you have big-picture plans and a few things you really want to achieve, but let go of obsessing over the illusion of control. Roll a little as the waves of life come at you.

Count your blessings. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It is the best ever antidote for other people being nasty. Why? Because it brings you back into a core space that is ok, a space from which you can worry less about other people being grabby, because you realise you probably already have enough. Want a challenge, send a postcard or a letter to someone and thank them for being in your life or for something particularly that they did.

Buy less stuff. Being happy is an experience, evaluate how you spend your money in terms of what you value.

Turn off the worry switch. Anxiety is a horrible outcome from a quirk of our clever brains. The capacity to think through events that had not yet happened gave early humanoids a survival advantage. These days it keeps the wheels of our minds spinning when we need to be sleeping. Not so helpful. Learn about sleep hygiene and mindfulness practices that suit your variety of worry. If you can’t act on your concern, mentally count numbers. Or do maths. Really.

Be in a bubble. Cut out some (or all media) and detach from the ‘stay informed’ imperative. You need some of that intellectual energy to deal with your own life, to solve problems (see ‘worry’, above) or to create and heal. You won’t miss much. If you feel like a challenge, learn how to meditate and give that a go. You’ll get the secret bonus that meditators know all about (true quiet).

Time travel. Pretend you already lived today and then time travel back to the morning and tell yourself what the one important thing to do is. Just do that. No matter what other random, confusing, urgent and distracting things happen, hold onto the knowledge that future you needs current you to just do the one thing. You’ll change the nature of your time. Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

Share a meal. No need for a special occasion or fancy food. Just enjoy an ordinary meal in company. Chat about your hopes. Listen. Relax and enjoy the taste of the food, feel grateful for the earth that grew it and the people who worked to bring it to your plate. Tell jokes, daggy ones you remember from when you were a kid.

There you go.

None of this is too complex to grasp and you don’t need to hire a professional to do the paperwork to get started. Don’t like this list? No problem, here are 10 scientifically proven paths to be happier and Dr G will point you to any number of similar lists.

The real trick? Just make one of them happen. Now’s your moment, act on a whim so you don’t over-think it.

This week, don’t wait to celebrate. Make the call and put an idea into action. You’ll be happier for it.

Our water bodies

Let’s bridge over from the esoteric hand-wavy stuff we’ve been doing with the quincunx in the mind (here, here and here) to the body. Sorry, not “the” body but to our individual bodies. The ‘meat-suit’ we wander around in where our lives and emotions and accidents and sensations all happen. That mysterious and sometimes troublesome thing that each of us must deal with.

Christ surrounded by symbols of the four elementsSo thankfully today you can’t see the curry stain down the front of my new shirt or the shredded chocolate wrapper that I’ve hidden in the bin (as though by doing that I will be able to deny eating it) because that gives me the space to create the illusion that I don’t have any problems with my body and we can have this wonderfully pure and calm discussion about bodies without any emotional triggers.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAAA.

Oh man, I couldn’t even type that and keep a straight face.

<wipes eyes, loosens belt> Ok, where were we? Oh Yeah, pure mind. Hehehehee. Back on track now.

One of the fascinating and miraculous things about our home, the Earth, is that it sustains water in three distinct physical states – solid (ice), liquid and gas (water vapour is clouds and humidity). In case you’re used to taking that for granted, it is very awesome, and something that no other planet in our universe (or any other universe) is so far proven able to do. I don’t want to harp on it, but that makes the Earth VERY SPECIAL. If you like, take a minute to be grateful for that. If we’re going to use the Quincunx as a model for helping solve problems – how can we read it in the context of our real life?

The first step is to see how our bodies can relate to the model. So in the earth circle, visualise your largest organ – your skin – that connects you directly with the sensations of being here on the Earth. For Air, see and feel your amazing lungs (also large – enough to cover a tennis court if all stretched out). For Fire, feel and see your blood, that iron-rich, salty liquid so precious to every cell in your whole body. In the center, well the center is the heart isn’t it? Not just that pump that gives us our rhythm to live to but the other heart too, where we feel things so strongly, the curled ribbons of grey folds that make up our brain and our gut (they’re the same tissues at the beginning and echo each other as we grow. I didn’t even make that up, it is science ) but we’ve missed one. What would be Water in our bodies? Think about it.

It is Water.

No association at all – just a direct step – more than half of our bodies are water.

We think of ourselves as solid, but in a lot of ways we’re very fluid, jelly-like at best. Our skin and skeleton work hard to put boundaries around us and give us physical structure. Water helps us understand our bodies. We think of fire and earth as being almost enemies, but without a specific band of heat, humans can’t survive. Without the minerals and elements of the earth, our bodies can’t form properly. No traces of iodine or zinc? Stunted growth. No iron in your diet? Blood doesn’t work very well. Our bodies, no matter what shape or colour, are utterly miraculous and exist as a dance between so many parts.

A lot of reader questions last year were about dealing with physical difficulties and we’ll start to look at those over the next few weeks. Each discussion will refer to these ways of reading the quincunx. None of us are ‘perfect’ and yet all of us are individually unique and miracles in our own right. Our challenge is to value the divine more and learn how to disregard curry stains down the front of a shirt.

A spiritual tool for personal growth

Don't PanicWe’re on the third part of our exploration of the quincunx (here is part one and part two) as a spiritual tool for personal growth. Of course you will have noticed that there are some drawbacks to this model. For example, the lines can give an unrealistic sense of solidness (which we all know to be a tricksy illusion); we don’t easily see how these circles change size over time in response to the efforts of our will or our habits; and it might look like we’re all individually in little boxes – a perception with particularly negative connotations in our culture besides which we know ourselves to be interconnected. The purpose of the model is to give a framework for reference that can help us to grow. It gives us a new set of choices, not simply an answer.

Don’t panic

It might feel challenging at first, but imagine that you can see your own actions in each of these circles sometimes strong in one and less active in another, see how over time you’ve made a set of spirals and they reach from your past to where you are right now. This can be challenging and uncomfortable because life is often not how we wish it would be. From here you can see the whisper of their trajectory – the next steps you’re likely to take in each of those realms (potentially also an unpleasant vista as we see ourselves perpetuating unwelcome or unhelpful patterns despite our intentions. If you can hold on through this discomfort, it is more than possible for you to visualise these paths, because you’re already living it now, and you are, at least, unconsciously aware of them.

Sometimes to bring that picture to the conscious mind just takes finding the most comfortable image or story that will help you translate this idea into your life. The quincunx itself might have done the trick, or it might have just nudged a door ajar and you need something else to follow on. It is worth the effort because when you have a conscious connection to the patterns of your life you are in a position of choice rather than reaction.

What you’re looking for is a map or a guiding idea that contextualises the dynamic balance of holding the awareness of these five states at once. Possibly there’s one in the faith that you already prefer. Buddhists refer to the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. In Kabbalah this model would connect to the tree of life (which gives a more detailed breakdown of the archetypal actions likely within each of the realms). Christian’s can turn to a Christological reading of the crucifixion (theological significance)  and indeed the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful and globally recognised symbol. These examples are given in the spirit of sharing major, existing models not directing us into a theological comparison! There are lots that aren’t religious too. Surfers have their own language for dynamic balance in the moment, and that complete physical and mental commitment often creates a space or an experience in which the higher consciousness’s presence can be felt directly. Some American Shaman teachings refer to the ‘spiral dance’ and to me that idea made sense – hearing the music, feeling the rhythm, interacting with the ground, the sky, the other dancers.

How this is helpful in normal life

When we are stuck in a pattern of behaviour that seems solid, the story or map that we’ve chosen to use can help us to interrupt the habit.

By the way, you might not believe this, but you’ve already made the first step in getting help where you want it. By asking, you’ve found this concept. Just as importantly now is to accept what comes to you as help. (That’s just one of those obvious things that is worth saying out-loud now and then.)

A real example

Let’s say you’re worried about money. Specifically you’re worried that you’re not making enough savings or the right investments right now for when you’re older. I worry about how I will cope with my chronic illness, how I will survive in a hostile economy if I can’t work. In my version of the model, I understand money primarily as Earth (well-being in the physical world) and as Air (a shared concept in our culture). When I’m worrying, and maybe you do this too, I’m often taking a Water perspective (of emotional values) on the situation. That is to say the issue is that I feel weak and vulnerable rather than the rational odds of the likelihood of the situation that I fear or an evaluation of the other mitigating factors that I could use my intelligence to deal with. Notice there is no Fire in this example. Here’s where the model can point out a new perspective. What might the lack of a Fire perspective illustrate? It shows that I feel that I have no grasp of the mechanics of wealth, of how money as a technology functions.

Instead I look around at what I can see others have (Earth again) and measure myself against their possessions or investments. I read articles (Air) about what people in my demographic ‘should’ have or own. Sometimes I witness myself feeling (Water) that I deserve better or more. All of these behaviours perpetuate the habits I’m stuck in.

Even by trying to describe what a fire perspective might be, I had to interrupt my patterned reactions to the issue and go into a perspective that was new and in this case diametrically opposed to the main realm in which the worry holds power. That action of interruption marks a powerful choice. Actions that interrupt our thoughtless reaction mark a point of self-rearrangement. You may also have noticed the use of the word witness in there – that’s another healthy separation that allows us to put what’s going on back into the circle or corner it belongs in and remind ourselves that we’re more than just that reaction.

Even so, there’s one more angle we haven’t used yet to look at this worry. You can see it now can’t you? That’s right – from the centre. What might the soul perspective be on money, debt or poverty?

What does your soul tell you? Did you get a flash of feeling or a picture from your past come to mind?

What perspectives have opened up for you out of this discussion? Please feel welcome to share them in the comments or to think them over in the days ahead. It sounds so simple, but actually doing this can be confronting, can be a challenge, and it can leave you feeling woozy or even a bit lost. Drink some water and be forgiving. Ask for help, we’re all in this together.

We are all in this together

There is a team of people who help make these essays happen and it is probably the same for you too, that what you make is not done in a vaccum. Hmmm. Team sounds very sportsy doesn’t it? Maybe even with someone blowing a whistle and pointing and someone else keeping score. Imagine instead people choosing to collaborate and play together sometimes with one purpose and sometimes with another. Perhaps like a Sunday afternoon gathering of friends – you come if you can and contribute how you’re able. There’s always food and conversation that is delicious, filling, and unique.

That’s a nice image – all sitting around sharing good times, making art and memories. Those moments we can treasure. Days like today it is worth remembering how many more people there are in your world who contribute to everything you have and do. Most of them you’ll never have a chance to meet or know or thank in person but in our globalised and specialised world they are legion.

Who are these mystery fans and assistants? They are the people who grow your food, who can it, bake it, transport it, sell it. They are the people designing and making your clothes, your phones and computers, your books and movies. They are the people who sweep the streets, collect the garbage, unblock drains and watch over us through the dark hours. They do their jobs and allow us a place to do ours. Of course we expect that all those people paid to perform their jobs, and mostly they did, but should that stop us from being grateful that they did it with care or at the cost of being with their loved ones? Just because we use an economic system where money is the means of exchange it doesn’t make the people inside that economy invisible or unimportant. Or rather it doesn’t as long as we each remember them and honour them for their contributions to our lives, comfort and convienience.

The world is full of strangers who are on your team – in unexpected ways.

Thank you for reading and being on the team.
There are plenty more conversations and meals for us to share. Everyone is welcome because we’re all in this together.

With thanks to my Editor, Riley.
Riley drafting a new post

Celebrating Summer Solstice

This weekend is solstice time. For us in the southern hemisphere it is midsummer. The solstice is an astronomical fact, an outcome of the tilt of our planet as we circle our sun. It exists outside of every human culture and nearly all mark it in some way. The millennia of geological pattern that we evolved within doesn’t fade. This will happen for eons to come until the sun or the earth get tired of the dance and one of them retires. I find that deeply comforting. The wheel of the year is a graceful beat inside a larger tempo. I sometimes wonder what it sounds like or feels like to the planets as they swirl and swing and shift along, each feeling the echo of each other’s weight and subtly reflecting all those forces back to each other.

So very beautiful.
Our fleeting human lives can connect into that larger grace and feel that flow. Each season from slumber, to renewal, through completion to fall. Here, this weekend, we find ourselves contemplating completion, fullness, mature power. Count your many blessings my friends and celebrate the harmony of this time. From this point our sun wanes in our sky back towards slumber and the year will begin again next midwinter. But that is then. Now is now.
This time of celebration is for all of us. For everyone under the sun.
line drawing of the sun with a face

Good housekeeping

A woman empties a pail of bathwater and a baby into a stream

We’re caretakers here. We get to enjoy our time and we leave everything behind when it is time to go.

Every human child from today onward that will ever be born, will be born right here on this single planet, Earth. What they will have for their lives and their children, is partly up to us, from what we build, and partly from what we consume that can never be replenished.

What should they expect from us?

Do good housekeepers use everything until it breaks? Is it really ok that we allow our leaders to exist on a three-year re-election cycle that doesn’t respond well to polling on any issue where short term extravagance needed to be weighed against long term (generational).

You get to make a choice on how much you care about what kind of an ecosphere we’re bequeathing to future generations. It is one of the core aspects of what sustainability actually means (remember that the next time you hear a public figure using the word and you’ll immediately be able to fine-tune your bullshit meter) and also one of the basic skills (delaying gratification) needed in order to mature into adulthood.

So what’s in it for you?

Great question.

Answer: Nothing.

No gold star, no pat on the head, no special tax breaks. Nothing.

This is part of our duty if we want to be citizens of this world. The world, and our species, stretch in time both behind us and ahead of us. We are part of a bigger body of life. All the future of our species (and many others who live here too) are asking of those of us alive right now, is that we keep good house. Don’t trash the place, be considerate of the neighbours, enjoy what we can while leaving plenty for others to share. Any reasonable person would consider it common sense.

Our duty exists whether or not there is a brighter future in it for us personally. We may or may not accept it or like it, but that’s how it is. We can stay as children and wait for someone else to clean up for us, or put our shoulders into the task ourselves. Take a breath or two before you react to that idea. Human life isn’t all about progress and sharing doesn’t mean going without completely.

Later on we’ll get into more of what sustainability might mean day to day, but for right now, while we’re thinking about the values and meaningful lives we yearn for, it is timely to remember that liberty is always bonded to responsibility.

Someone who had a very concrete experience of freedom was Victor Frankl. If you’ve not yet read his famous book (Man’s search for meaning) please consider doing so (it is both short and non-academic). Despite the situation it discusses, I can almost guarantee that it will make you feel more positive and think about life’s challenges with a deeper sense of personal resilience. let’s give him the last word today.

Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Image credit.