Monday, 31 October 2016

The power of subtlety. The power of reflection.


We can learn a lot from the moon.

Two weeks ago, I was at Girraween National Park at the headwaters of the Murray Darling Basin, the Clarence, the Tweed. I was learning stories and songs of the land with the guidance of custodian Uncle Lewis Walker. I was among others who had gathered to learn.

It meant a lot to me as this was my first journey with Uncle Lewis and it was the country where I was born, a country which until that time had remained something of a mystery to me. I’d felt that place, but hadn’t been able to explain it. Uncle Lewis began to give me an understanding of how a human can explain it. And the place where I’d grown up took on a completely new life. I started to hear what the rocks meant, see what the ridges meant, feel what the waters meant. Even our shadows on the rocks held stories and meaning. I began to understand a new way to make sense of this natal place.

I held an excitement at the opportunity to be in a place unencumbered by city lights, where the super full moon in Aries could be experienced in all her power. As the cycle approached its zenith (it was the eve of full moon on my arrival), I took myself for a walk away from the campsite where we’d opened with ceremony around the sacred fire. I took myself through the trees to the water of what is known as Bald Rock Creek.

Walking under the pure guidance of the full moon in a place unilluminated by electricity is a phenomenon I have savoured more ever since one such experience in South Africa in 2013. I was at a nature reserve known as Towerland, a place of ancient human ritual and richly diverse fynbos and bird life. I was gathered with women from around the world, in retreat from their roles at the coalface of social and environmental change, a place where we could rest in time, and – as it transpired in my experience – learn about the intense power of subtlety.

For the first couple of days of the retreat, there was something in me that was jumpy: something was missing. I soon realised, it was men. So this was an opportunity for me to learn that an experience can be complete, safe, enough, more than enough, when co-created by none other than women. (There is no intention in this writing to exclude people of other genders. The retreat was attended only by people who identified as women.)

It was on the third day, as the sun was setting and the moon rising, that we were invited to enter the mountains together. We were then offered an invitation to “solo mission” as deep into the mountains as we wanted, for as long as we wanted, through the night.

It was a germinal experience of trusting myself and/or trusting Nature. I trusted the moon, the land, I trusted my human abilities to see deep, rich visions in unadulterated moonlight. I could see mountain ranges, flowers. I saw rocks that reflected the moonlight.

The silence atop the mountain was a silence I’d never known, and – conversely – the volume of frogs in a valley lake was some of the loudest sound to reach my ears. But perhaps the key ingredient was subtlety. The silence gave power to the frog sound.

Back to Girraween, October 2016: as I hopped over rocks lit by the moon, I was drawn to the intense contrast of shadows, which spoke to the power of the super full moonlight. I happened to have a camera in my pocket, so I took a photo. All that appeared on the screen was blackness. Cameras are not automatically attuned to moonlight; humans are.

As the night progressed, I returned to the campfire, where only men were gathered. One of these had shown a completely unexpected interest in me, and had shown an interest in the walk I had done. So I showed him the walk, I pointed out the shadows. We talked about shadows. We talked about many things.

It became an opportunity for us to meet at this place and offer each other something akin to unconditional love, to attempt to be in the love of the place, together, without expectations of each other, apart from tenderness, care and respect for the duration of our meeting. I was showered with what seemed like superlatives, speaking to the immense power that this man witnessed in me, through my ability to hold space, hold the space of the feminine, among the dynamics of men around the fire. He had witnessed the power of subtlety not only in the full moonlight, but in me.

Coming away from that weekend, the moon waned, and my heart threatened to close. I was sad to leave my home country, to leave Murri time, to leave the magic of walkabout. But the surprising thing is that all of those things keep coming back to me, keep staying with me, no matter how everyday working / living in the city make me aware of my well worn defences.

There was even a night that I walked the river with friends to sit at the base of Kangaroo Point Cliffs. I felt the serpentine nature of the ancient river bed, saw the living breathing body of the earth in the cliffs, sensed that the city was just a temporary fixture swaying on the banks of this ancient place. And I realised that much of my dreaming is held in this place; part of me rails relentlessly against that. She longs to rewild, sleep under the stars, all of those seductive things that the man at Girraween represented to me.

As the moon waned further, and the new moon approached, I decided to call on a few women to gather with me, to experience the dark evening of new moon, at that place on the river that I’d begun to witness anew. It was exciting and frightening, like many things this month. I held in my mind a memory of another moment in 2013, when I was invited into a new moon gathering with women at a community outside Mullumbimby; I entered a tepee with a fire in the middle, and a circle of dimly lit faces. A powerful woman held the space and facilitated us to meet the earth, meet each other, meet ourselves in an evening of witnessing, reflection and spaciousness. This is my idea of new moon ritual.

So this new moon, I sat with a kindred spirit, with the elemental forces of the river, the trees, the cliffs, the wind, the fire of a single candle. We sat across the river from the “razor blade” of a highrise as my friend saw it: the imposing new government office tower (it's been six years to the moon since I walked away from overpowering towers; my friend also has experienced their destructive potential). And in that place of relative darkness, we attempted to create a new ritual, a new honouring of cosmological phenomena, of feminine power, the power of subtlety.

And in this darkness, I discovered that despite what was happening, my shadows remained in the depths of my mind. Something about this wasn’t enough.

Where was the powerful woman to facilitate this circle? All this circle had was me. Where was the remote tepee, the sacred bush fire? All this circle had was distant city lights and a candle flame. Where were the men? All this circle had was women.

And with this new lunar cycle, I felt frustration at all of the learnings I seemed to have forgotten, learnings such as these. That women, even quiet women, make more than enough of a gathering. That every place is sacred and deserving of reverence and ritual. That I can be the conduit for subtle power.

That the lessons I’ve learned already, I have yet to learn again and again.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Seasonal ingredients

This isn't a recipe blog. It's a place where I put words when I need to express or process something about my deepening understanding of the body-mind, otherwise known as somatics, otherwise known as the process of experiencing life.

So, why the reference to seasonal ingredients? Well, my favourite way to cook is to pull together whatever is fresh and at hand, thus inspiring me to create some kind of alchemical flavour bomb that feeds and nourishes.

This evening, while making one such bomb, I listened to a talk that alerted me to some fresh ingredients which I will soon bring to my public practice.

The talk was a conversation with Hakomi teacher Manuela Mischke-Reeds on "How Kindness and Body Wisdom Unravel Trauma Stories". Hakomi is a method that keeps making itself known to me. It originated with Ron Kurtz, who - among many other things - studied with Moshe Feldenkrais. It seems to me Ron Kurtz gathered some very potent ingredients.

I had my first Hakomi session with a friend the other day. He's training in the method; we've agreed to do swaps. As far as words go in describing it, Hakomi is an experiential form of psychotherapy - a form of psychotherapy that has every intention of inviting one's entire, embodied experience into the picture. And the magic ingredient is kindness.

This looks like one of the next places for my learning to go.

There were several things that really struck me about Manuela Mischke-Reeds' approach to trauma. Firstly, she described trauma as complete overwhelm which could result from a major event AND something that could accumulate over time.

In her words: "too much, too fast and no metabolising. The experience is too much for me to handle, it’s coming too fast and I have no way of metabolising - literally - physically, somatically, emotionally, spiritually. I cannot digest the experience." It broadens the way we think about trauma.

Metabolising. What an interesting word. Metabolising emotion. Metabolising spiritual experiences. Metabolising shock. Yes, how does one do that when the pace of life won't allow a moment's reflection?

Manuela brought into the discussion the experience through the media of being alerted to tragedy over and over, how this can be one such accumulation. Work is stressful. Someone is mean etc etc.

I began to see some of the unlikely (but, on reflection, obvious) ingredients that have informed me, and will inform my practice.

I worked in the media. I operated at the pace of the daily news cycle. My brain trawled for throwaway stories. My bosses pushed me to get the stories that would disturb people - both the readers and the players in the stories - which I found both impossible and futile.

It wasn't until I was in the real ratrace - living alone, catching a train to the city every day, working on a computer, communicating with people soaked in stress, firing off cortisol, pushing myself to meet deadlines, creating content that often was - again - futile, useless, unused. Serving egos that had no vision of where they were going, except up the career ladder - that ...

I burnt out.

Just before I stopped working, I asked my boss for emergency time off. It felt as though something was gaining on me and I could no longer outrun it.

Manuela described trauma as a "perceived threat to survival". That's what I was experiencing in many ways (I haven't fully described all of the ways, and all of the experiences that had accumulated, some more shocking and life-threatening than others). But just that daily grind was life-threatening. The attitudes I faced daily and the attitude I felt compelled to perpetuate to be in that environment were life-threatening.

It was lifeless.

Gradually I have come back to life. And, as a wise and unconventional psychologist once said to me, the way to do that was through my body.

I spent four years training in a professional Feldenkrais program, going through intensive periods in which I would go deep inside my experience of myself, my body, my feelings, thoughts, images, ideas, stories, attitudes. I've come out feeling as though I've been through a tumble dryer, wondering, WTF is the Feldenkrais Method? How am I going to practise it?

Well, that's the thing. I don't have to practise "IT". I will practise with all of the ingredients.

Through some guidance from a knowledgeable coach of healers and the like, I realised that the Feldenkrais Method is an ingredient. Just as my experience of jumping from the corporate ladder and running for my life is an ingredient. Just as my keen consumption of that talk tonight is an ingredient.

These are just several of countless ingredients that will come together in any given combination at any given time in service of healing and wholing whomever happens to be in the mix. And whatever is at hand, whatever is fresh, will inspire me to create some kind of alchemical flavour bomb that feeds and nourishes.

Please stay tuned - my practice will have a home very soon.