Coming of Age in the Imaginal – the pilgrim turns 21

Twenty-one years ago I walked from the sea to the source of Birrarung. Twenty-one years to the day of arriving at the source of my river, I spent the anniversary in Kabi Kabi Country, Sunshine Coast, in exquisite rainforest, following a gorgeous stream, and memories and understandings flowed all through my body.

So now, having just passed twenty-one years as apprentice, something, I sense, has come of age in me. My apprenticeship was not purely to the river, but also to the mystery I sensed within the river, and the strange enchantment that accompanied the act of pilgrimage. And then there was the intensity of arriving at the source, an event so powerful that I have spent all my days since seeking to learn from it.

Why did the experience seem so ancient, so vast, so ongoing? Why was I so thoroughly broken open? Yes, I walked a Songline, but that way of knowing was not my culture, and my understanding of place and belonging minuscule compared to the old ways. What I have slowly come to understand is the deep kindredness of all peoples, because all peoples are bodies, and bodies are wild, profoundly ancient beings that we barely comprehend. Bodies are patterns, patterns changing very slowly over vast spans of time, and shaped, literally and metaphorically, by ongoing interactions with all things of the world. River and sea made swim, plains made limb, made run, trees made climb, and all these made mind.

We are profoundly patterned by these great wild teachers. The pilgrimage opened me to my strongest experience of the patterned world. These ancient repeating patterns that sometimes we can perceive belong to the realm that seekers have called many things. This realm is known sometimes as the archetypal, or the imaginal, the non-dual, or the forms. Visiting that realm is the sweetest thing I know. It is the greatest comfort.

And it sits close to this:

My experience of pilgrimage took place on stolen land, shadowed with psychic ghosts. This is core. Because there was no way to avoid going to truly uncomfortable places, and practicing tolerating discomfort. The grief at the loss suffered by the first peoples, sitting with the shame of my cultural complicity with this, being humbled by the integrity and irrevocability of ancient ways of knowing, and allowing space and time for these feelings to work their way through me, these were steps into depth. And depth, the hollowing out of the soul, is necessary, becoming a space within where mystery can dwell.

As Lao Tzu said, the Way that can be spoken is not the true Way. The mystery stays safe inside the silence. Not a dead or cold silence, but the warm, deep, flowing and generative silence of a body listening with every cell.

So what’s with all these words? Words are needed to gather the intention and concentration to abide in silence. Words, well spoken, can beautifully frame silence, so that we might behold it.

That’s what we seek in the work of co-becoming. True words, beautifully spoken, to deepen our listening. To experience our evolution and exquisite entanglement with all of life. And to be made grateful and humble.

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