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.

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