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.

Rough seas leave me stormwrecked

stormwreckedEvans used to say “Rough seas make for seasoned sailors” and give a little whistle when the new crew went that grey-green and ran for the head. He was forever telling others to look on the bright side of scurvy, no rum and being stormwrecked a long way out to sea. I almost wish he’d made it through just so I  could see how he’d whistle now.

But Evans is long gone, he went in the first days, back when our world became stillness. Those weeks of glazed water and silent sails that weakened us all. Nothing has gone right since we took on the new cargo. Clouds hang low on the horizon even now that we’re on our knees, clinging onto what’s left of the mast and muttering a prayer to anyone we think will listen.

Once we cheered when the first breeze returned. By the time we realised the breeze was a wind sent from the depths of never and would build into a storm beyond reckoning it was too late to attempt reason. My map was torn away in the very beginnings of that tempest two, was it three days ago? We’ve since drifted, flung, catapulted far from any course even an albatross might remember. The cargo moans. Low in the water we hang, and slosh in the heavy weather and low in bowels of each us we feel rough water coming, rough water churning.

Even my first mate, ever stalwart and steady, this week deserted his post and wouldn’t meet my eye. Dry rations, silence where there should be warmth and nothing but the cold cold comforts of frail hope in long dark.

Then came the depths of the storm and even our shadows fled.

All was elemental. Screams and silence merged. The promise of the sun was a myth to tortured, stormwrecked souls. Was it eternal, that storm? Are we in it, even now, as a feeble sunrise denies the horror? Is it death and we will live forever in the tides of destruction and despair visited upon us by the impersonal wrath of an unleashed ocean? The cargo is reclaimed.

The depths have their own harmony that cannot be gainsaid by any Queen or Emperor yet they insist on the hubristic attempts, leaving ants like soaking in rough seas stormwrecked, broken and lost. Remember me, if you can, I am lost at sea.

(image credit)

The moon follows you home

bloodmoonThe moon follows you home.

It is a dream and you know it is.

You walk with your beloved through a market and fall into a deep, warm pool of water.

Everything you’d been holding was dropped. All that money.

Everything you’d been wearing was washed away. All that jewellery.

Everything you thought dissolved. All those stories of right and wrong.

It is a dream and you know it is.

Someone pulls you out and they love you – even though you don’t recognise them.

It is your beloved. It is another you. The first and final you.

The moon followed you home.

You’re naked and proud, standing tall in shivering skin. Blazing your innocence in the crowded market place.

The you who waited while you were lost, who waited while you sank and then pulled you out, tenderly wraps your new body in a soft blanket.

It is a dream and you know it is.

But the moon had followed you home and you’re consecrated now.

Love always, you’ll never regret it.

The moon follows you home.

It is never just a dream.

Road rage reflection

It can happen to anybody, maybe even you. Road rage. That ugly beast we can become on the road, and the zombie partner that forms it; if you slip into one, you’ll flip into the other. Let’s take a minute for some road rage reflection.

Chariot pile upImagine if, on a weekday morning, you came out of the house to start your daily commute and found this note on your windscreen.

“To the driver of this vehicle,
You have cut me off twice now, both times I don’t think you saw me at all, even though you came so close and put us both in danger. If you cannot recall the incidents with absolute clarity, then any excuse you think you have is invalid.
Driving is a privilege not a right. Please take this opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the road rules and your understanding of courtesy, and take care to apply them both.
Please don’t make it a third time.”

If that note would give you reason to pause and mentally scroll through memories and evaluate your possible guilt or culpability then you could be someone with an opportunity to change your habits and values when behind the wheel.

Perhaps your opportunity is instead in your habits dealing with shop staff, workers from a different team at your job, the staff who operate the public transport you use, the other people buying groceries at the store, fellow pedestrians, it goes on and on. We have so many interactions every day with so many different people who all have their own story in which they are the central character. For each of us, these are habitual interactions because we live in a world brimming over with people. We have become functions to each other, not fellows, not real people. Functions, meatbots.

Do you ever criticise people who seem continually clenched around their gadget screen or asleep at the wheel or pushing others out of the way in queues? I know I have. It doesn’t feel like enough to try breaking the cycle when those other people then take advantage of you for being nice. We’re all afraid of someone taking advantage of us. I wish I had a moment of enlightenment for every time I’ve been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a thicker skin’.

Actually, when people tell me this I feel more hurt (even fundamentally neglected or undervalued). After all, why can’t other people just be nicer? Why am I the one who’s ‘wrong’? The same types of folk who have no compunction about telling others to ‘toughen up’ seem to never be willing to similarly command others to “be less of an arsehole”. Just sayin.

A wise teacher recently told me that every time I complain about others’ behaviours I am a in fact setting myself back significantly. “Oh great” I thought, “wrong again! Wrong for being too soft, wrong for wanting the world to be more pleasant and now wrong for complaining when others are rude or mean.” That little story I just told to myself there, that was the key to figuring out what he really meant by what he said.
Here are his words:

See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I did not want to hear that.

I tried to argue with it. The very first way was by making up that little story above – exaggerating how I am always being made to be wrong – a little melodrama with me as the swooning star. I thought about it every way you can. For weeks. But that’s the trouble with hearing something true, once you know it your life truly changes. So it has been for me as I digest this insight. All else is indeed madness. Leave or accept. Act where you can.

In trying to come to terms with this, I stumbled over this little twist on an old favourite “the grass is always greener where you water it”, fresh enough for me to reflect on my own habits of envy, and to remember the “which wolf you feed” story) and these both made a bridge for me into the key idea that through habit I was allowing a self-identification as a victim in all kinds of realms of daily life. Perhaps that’s another part of road rage – there is a desire to take action against an unfairness or wrong action – and yet violent response outside of building and understanding context and consequence is feeding the wrong wolf, watering the weeds.

In a moment of rage we can be lost to our stories and triggered into moving far from our center. It can feel like blacking out, like being possessed. Inside that unconsciousness we are simply reacting, not making choices. If you feel that you’re in a rut in trying to get positive patterns started in your life then look for places in which you’re complaining about something rather than acting to generate the change that you want. Look with honesty in how you’re describing the story of your situation to yourself and ask if you’re truly supporting the person you want to be or simply enduring the habits you used to water. Imagine forgetting what useless, impotent rage feels like. I think that sounds wonderful, let’s try together.

Image credit.

Inky Water

dolphins at night

Inky water gives no ripple as we enter,
no need to sink, it is all deep.
Here fears show their own faces
Breathe despite your worry you cannot drown.

This is you, stripped of illusions,
revealed in the shadow’s world.
This is your eternal womb, your own mystery.

Come, join me in the search.
Break the satin surface of this blood-hot reservoir.
There are no tourists here,
we are all seeking the fullness of union.

No light from the other side penetrate.
You must make friends with echoes,
be guided by reflections
Embrace private riddles, brambles and thorns.
Sway in generous currents of eternal grace and beauty.

This juicy place is the source.
We are molten and reformed to wake anew.

 

Image source.

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.

Enough water

There’s a wonderful song that goes “Will there be enough water when my ship comes in? And when I set sail will there be enough wind?” (by The Dead Weather if you’re interested) and that two-line koan slips in and out of focus often for me as the bigger questions of life pose themselves to us. It has come to reveal both an anxiety and a truth at the base of our modern worry.

CRUSOE SETS SAIL ON HIS EVENTFUL VOYAGE

We ebb and flow in life. There are tides to our lives, to our internal feelings, to dreams and to the energy we have for others. At least half of our bodies are water. More than half. You don’t need to try to connect to the energy and power of water – you’re a fish swimming in it already. You just carry it around inside you. Miraculous. Yet somehow, we aren’t sure that we’re making the right choices. As though there’s some answer somewhere we should know. It can be hard to try something new because we don’t know that we’ll be successful. We have slipped into the illusion that it is possible to know, to control, to be right. Life is more fluid than that.

Physics tells us we’re living in an ocean of motion. All our atoms are buzzing so fast we can ignore that they’re mostly gap. The same way we ignore that our solid bodies are mostly gappy water. Maybe you’re having a weird day because you’re all quantumly entangled in someone else’s bizniz. Couldn’t say.

What we can say is that your emotional and intuitive self is certainly there talking to your busy, conscious self. Mostly, that conscious chatterbox self is the one asking the questions and putting off adventures until it feel sure everything’s under control, meanwhile your sloppy water bits are vibing away trying to get the message across , ‘Of course there’s enough water, it’s the ocean! Get into it, get underway, you are the boat, you are the waves!’ and chatterbox drowns it all out with doubts, or shopping or and getting distracted by shiny things. That’s how it tends to go in our house.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It costs nothing but a little bit of effort to tune into your own currents. Your depths are there, inviting you to swim into them. There are some weirdarse creatures in there for sure, but you know, that’s part of what makes it an adventure, right? Overall, it is magnificent, it is glorious, it is another world, and it is already yours.

You can set sail. Listen to your waters. There is enough wind for you to follow.

Image credit.

Tears’ fragile path to freedom

There’s a common assumption that freedom equals happiness in a simplified “we all lived happily ever after” kindof way. Just in case you’re not sure, that is a fantasy. It is of very little use to any of us.

The Faithful Beasts Weep Around the Body of the Dead Prince by Henry Justice FordOur yearning for freedom has us seeking all of the elements that might contribute to the alchemy we know as contentment (often confused with the showy cousin “happiness”) but there’s a glitch in the mix and we need to address it.

If freedom did equal happiness, being sad or upset would exclude anyone from the possibility of freedom. We often try and cover over sadness quickly, move on from it, deny it. It is too awkward to dwell on and, of course, it is painful but it is part of being human, it is part of a full life. Lately we’ve lost track of that a little bit by venerating the heroic outsider.

Our culture has confused the idea of individualism with the physical reality of us as individuals. It is a sad and recent development. (This could quickly easily be perceived as a political argument as these terms are used in political contexts but that is not the intent here. If you look up the political elements, or want to follow these other tangents, please feel welcome to do so. We’ll still be here when you come back.)

Basically for most of us, this has lead to a fundamental loss of feeling that we belong. However there is something we’ve all experienced that can lead us back into connection and that is our tears.

Life is not all glowing unicorns pooping rainbow cupcakes of joy and cash. Bad shit happens.

People you love get horribly sick, people you don’t know drive into you, your body isn’t perfect, we age, we suffer. It is a lot to bear and sometimes we cry. It can feel like we cry a river of tears.
There’s nothing to say in the moment that will take that gut wrenching away. That pain is real. It is what it is. It really does hurt. And yes probably most of what caused it is unfair in some way, and our egos want to shout that out and shut down that pain.

Underneath that, after the rawness, there’s an opportunity for something else. Those hot tears and the salt of our body have forced themselves from our body to honour the depth and meaning of the connection with the people in the situation, that situation that you were so deeply part of that you felt that pain. If we were disengaged, we wouldn’t feel that pain. If we didn’t belong there, it would be so much harder to feel even empathy. The connection existed and so the pain that exploded within you is because of that connection.

It is such a valuable clue. We are so much more than just one-dimensional figures on spreadsheets. In the face of an onslaught of advertising working tirelessly to push us into purchasing things we don’t need to assuage fears we didn’t have, in the face of that and inside ourselves we know these truths. That love is real, that when you love you can be hurt.

Our sorrows are personal but lament connects us to the human condition, reminds us of the love and respect that we have for others and that they have for us. We belong in enmeshed relationships with responsibilities and expectations of trust and value.

It sounds unlikely, but tears make a fragile path to a powerful place. They signify our internal eternal freedom, they reflect our ability to hold true to our love and our values. It is inside of love and our own values that we find our own anchors to freedom.