Welcome to the Co-becoming Plunge
Collected here in the Table of Contents is all the course information.
Pages for the Nine Layers of Being will be updated as we go, so check back here as we introduce each new theme.
What is it that we Explore in Co-becoming?
There is something specific that we are aiming for in this course – and that is the experience of collective state change via creative participation with the animate world. What we’re exploring can’t really ever be known, but it can be practised. The knowledge of the imaginal realm is very slippery. It’s an experience, not a fact. It’s real, but cannot be pinned down.
Therefore it feels important to state that this is not a personal development course. It is, rather, a spiritual, somatic, co-creative and community development course – in service to the alive world. It actively seeks to reimagine our cultural inheritance of the concepts of individuality and separateness by consciously experiencing our participation in life’s process.
We’re investigating life – life process from the inside – in deep participation. Our role, in co-becoming, is to actively play the passive part – getting out of the way so we can bear witness to the intelligence, complexity and holding given by life. When we do that, specific and powerful experiences of the animate world can be shared. We will be making space for them, making culture with them. This is a relatively unusual thing to do in this age, but there are many precedents for this work throughout history and around the world.
My research has explored the rich cross-cultural similarity in how this is done. There are particular and precise instructions; there are ways of being in the body, the heart, the mind. There is an etiquette required – our deportment is important. There will be a Way of Being we’ll follow when listening to and speaking to a listening world.
Our Way of Being
The qualities of love, devotion, receptivity, generosity, humility, truthfulness, beauty, compassion, patience, responsibility and reciprocity will be revealed as essential. The alive world will help us understand that these qualities are not negotiable. More than that, they are not even human qualities – they are the qualities of life’s process. The work will make this clear.
We will be creatively participating with the world. We will experience how it expresses through each of us via deep listening, writing, and bearing witness as a group. You will be invited to read aloud what comes through stream-of-consciousness writing. There will be specific instructions on how to read and listen that are important in order to create a receptive environment for the more than human world to come into presence with us.
Creating a Shared Culture
I acknowledge the wisdom, skill and experience each of you will bring to the group – your practices, lineages and learnings will be honoured and will benefit us all. I know that there will be terms that we understand differently, so there’ll be time devoted to develop common understandings.
I’ll be concentrating on the language of ecology and the body because many of the ways of speaking about this kind of ‘spiritual’ awareness have tended towards removing the body and the alive context. That’s partly because of the felt sense of it – it can feel as if we’re ‘somewhere else’ – ‘another’ world, rather than deeper into this one. Developing a shared somatic basis is, for me, absolutely essential, so that we can ground our awareness into this world.
I will also be introducing some essential philosophical terms to help us describe the realms we enter. These realms have been visited and mapped by people over thousands of years. As multi-racial post-modern people in a multicultural world, we don’t generally know one way in depth, but we can be moved by, and learn something from, the breadth and complexity of thought undertaken by humans everywhere. We live in a global culture on stolen lands – our learning will be responsive to this intense, delicate and soulful legacy.
We are so lucky there’s been many writers, thinkers, artists, activists who have shared their journeys in this kind of work. There are countless texts that have informed me and grown my understanding, but there’s a couple of stand-out book that we’ll be learning from that might be useful for you to purchase. If you have a chance to read them over summer, all the better!
Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception Into the Dreaming of Earth by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines by the Gay’wu Group of Women
There will be pages on my website with further texts, including some of my writing about co-becoming. We’re also planning a page devoted to each circle of belonging that we will visit, with further information and inspiration; texts, talks, etc.
We will be checking in with you all to see if a Facebook group might be of interest as a way to continue the conversations between sessions, and to share our inspirations. We will also record the zoom sessions for the group members to rewatch, unless there are strong objections.
This work and your involvement with it means a great deal to me because, after decades of activism, this feels to be the truest way for me to make a difference. We all know these are tricky times. The future looks to be trickier, and it’s clear we have to learn different ways of being in the world. For many, me included, it feels that the stakes are high, and the grief percolates just below the surface. This work, and its structure, aim to support us all on a profound level, by strengthening our relationships with that which gives the truest support – the alive, intelligent, compassionate world.
On the other side of the pendulum, this work can bring great joy, pleasure and sensual delight. It can also fill one with a sense of power and specialness. Sometimes, perhaps, too much! The group and process are designed to guard against some of the dangers of deep work, such as spiritual inflation, over-reach or instability. We will check in with our bodies to sense if personal or cultural trauma might be triggered by doing work that has long been culturally repressed or marginalised. We will learn to normalise and soothe, and the group will be there to support and affirm.
This is spiritual work, yet I am not a spiritual teacher. This is also psychological work, and while I have done some psychological training, I am not a psychologist. I have my years of experience, the mentors who support me, and my trust in the goodwill of the more-than-human presences. And we have the group – the collective intelligence and compassion of the concentric circles of presences, human, and more-than-human.
We have been inspired by Bayo Akomolafe’s words describing his course – “This is not a safe space, but we aspire to support one another and co-create a container where we can all take risks together.”
Spiritual work like this also isn’t safe – it is deep, wild, bigger than the comfort-seeking human often desires. That’s why it’s so important to do this in community. Thus how we behave when we are together matters.
These are the agreements we ask that you adhere to:
- Commit to embodying, as well as we are able, the qualities outlined in our Way of Being
- Be perfectly on time, or let us know if you will be late or not attending.
- Hold as utterly confidential anything of a personal or delicate matter that arises in the sessions.
- Please honour us with any feedback that you feel might improve the experience of the course for you. Please hold in mind that while not all requests or suggestions may be able to be accommodated, we will do our best to be responsive. We ask that you share feedback with us directly, to me, or to Julie if you prefer.
While we value the support of the group, ultimately we must self-caretake. Luckily there are fabulous resources available – including the appendix ‘Sensory Overload and Self-Caretaking’ in the recommended text by Stephen Buhner. But please reach out to Julie or myself if you feel overwhelmed for any reason.
In case any of this sounds too heavy, I would like to add that no one who has done this work with me so far has been overwhelmed as far as I know. We just want to spell out any possible complexities right at the beginning. Mostly this work is full of laughter, playfulness, and wonders, and sincere and deep connections. We are delighted to be taking this journey with you and look forward to growing in our capacity to feel into the animate world. Wishing you all a very beautiful summer and we will be in connection with you shortly.
ZOOM – Wednesday evenings 7-9pm, February 8 – June 14 (fully booked – contact me to be added to the waiting list/future course list)
WARBURTON – Friday afternoons 1-3pm, February 10 – June 16
To enrol there’s a $100 deposit to secure your place, refundable before the end of December.
This half-year course is for those wishing to deepen both their nature connection and creative practices within a nourishing and supportive community. Using an embodied process of stream-of-consciousness writing, we will enter into presence with the more-than-human world and bring back other – and ancient – ways of knowing. We call this co-becoming: a transformative/altered state learning that comes when we open ourselves, with humility, care and wonder, to the animate world.
Through the Co-becoming Plunge we will
- Encounter the depth and complexity of ecological systems through tangible embodied practices
- Experience, through creative participation, the beauty, resilience and flow innate to life
- Represent this learning in poetic and visual forms, and
- Grow our capacity to share our imaginal and spiritual unfurling with the world.
These times are asking us to step into more life-affirming, somatically aware and interconnected knowing. In trusting the wisdom and holding of the alive world, combined with the support of a community of practitioners, this course will strengthen our capacity to make positive change.
The course will include aspects of a sangha (the Buddhist term for a spiritual community) and a writers group/creative support community. But the core of it will be body practices, meditations and writing as a way to meet the more-than-human world. It will run from February to June and have a maximum of eleven participants in two streams – one in person in Warburton and another on zoom. There will be a two-hour gathering once a week, plus optional readings and projects.
This work is based on the Co-becoming Practice Community courses I’ve been running since 2020. It will include members of those groups but will also be welcoming and accessible for newbies. Here’s a testimonial from a current participant:
The co-becoming practice community has been a highlight of 2022! With wisdom, skill, playfulness and humility, Maya has guided us into a deep, ever-evolving and often surprising relationship with the more-than-human. I feel an increased capacity to listen deeply and remain present with what is within and outside of me. Never have I felt so accepted and at home with a group of people as I have in this community. – Julie
Working with Co-Becoming practices has been an immersive and deeply transformational experience for both myself personally and in my creative work as a writer, musician and artist. Being in a state of reciprocal conversation with the living world, weaving these practices into my daily life and creative processes, is opening a well of inspiration and new-yet-profoundly-and-innately-known experiences. This vivid living-with, and presencing-with life and the animate world are rich and fecund landscapes to inhabit. Thank you Maya for the space of flourishing and edge-expansion you are offering us all in sharing this work. – Phoebe
If this work calls to you, email me to register your interest on email@example.com
In more detail…
Diving deep, and riding the ripples out from our centre, we will come into presence with the concentric circles of being. Through various creative and embodiment processes we will experience this universe, from the tiny bacterial lives inside us all the way out to distant galaxies, with increased intimacy, animacy and attunement.
We will do this in a way that is psychologically supportive, artistically and intellectually extending, spiritually expansive and somatically grounding and integrating. The process will also include acts of service, giving back to that which nourishes us so generously.
Underpinned by values of generosity, humility, truthfulness, beauty, compassion and self-compassion, patience, and reciprocity, this course is also designed to be a fundraiser for some of our First Nations elders, the Gay’wu group of women, whose book, Songspirals, has been core to the development of the Co-becoming work. $100 from each place will go direct to them.
We will work with nine themes, one every two weeks, in circles radiating from the body.
- Body – cellular, breath, energy
- Body participants – food, water, bacteria, excrementals
- Our intimates – close family or friends, pets and totem animals, vestments and adornments
- Home – the structure we sleep within
- Garden – the rooted, legged, feathered wild ones close by
- Community – people and animals, close ecosystems, waters, mountains
- Elementals – weather
- Gaia – Earth
- Cosmos – Universe
Each fortnightly theme has these components:
1.In the first week a 2-hour co-becoming practice session where we work with each circle in turn – the substance of our work together
2.In the second week a 2-hour check-in conversation and creative/emotional support session where we talk more broadly about the work
3.A page on my website with optional readings, listenings, further practice suggestions, and possibilities for service
4.Artistic/physical expression – A creative practice that embeds the work in some kind of tangible form. This will give expression to each circle or layer – such as making a series of ever-bigger bowls, or an expanding painting, photo collage, weaving, mandala or garden, or visual depiction of your co-becoming stories/song-cycle/poem. The outcomes of this can then be part of an altar/special place for ongoing contemplation and ritual engagement. This is a way to bring this work into the heart of our lives, to nourish and support both us and our communities of care. The second week’s conversation will engage with this part of the project.
Of course, life can be busy. The minimum commitment is the fortnightly co-becoming practice session. Everything else is designed to nourish that.
There will be two groups of maximum 11, one on zoom, one for those who could travel to Warburton every two weeks. The Warburton group fortnightly co-becoming practice sessions will be in person at my place – all other sessions are on zoom.
The course will include an optional 2.5 day beach retreat at the end (priced separately)
The Background to the Co-becoming Plunge
Core to this work is cultivating body awareness; energies, sensuality, pleasure and liveliness, and how we may presence within the bodies of the more-than-human world. There is rich paradox in this endeavour: through body awareness we also become more attuned to that which has non-physical body – whether we call this the imaginal, the spirit world, the animist presence of all things.
Incorporating lessons from many modalities, this work is informed by body-mind practices including hatha yoga, chi gung, contact improvisation and ecstatic dance, Zen meditation, Body-Mind Centring.
Focussing, process psychology, various Jungian-inspired practices, the role of trauma in culture and how this impacts our somatic experience – these are lenses to support this deep individual and community work.
The Co-becoming Plunge will accessibly present some of the wealth of our intellectual and spiritual history and demystify fuzzy mysticism, while deeply honouring the mystery. The course will include content influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, Tantric Hinduism, Deep Ecology, Neoplatonism, Romanticism, Feminism and Indigenous metaphysics, as well as exciting developments in neuroscience, biology and botany. We will dive deep into the experience of the Imaginal – the co-creative edge between matter and spirit, the place where all is alive and all words matter, the beautiful, powerful realm humans have long visited, the place hidden inside the old European term “faerie”, (a word derived from the ancient term fari – to speak), a place that is correlate with Aboriginal Dreaming.
The co-becoming work was consolidated during teaching the course ‘Acknowledging Country’. By bringing a spiritual, somatic and intellectual understanding of the ethical dilemma of living on stolen lands, that course sought to deepen into the challenge First Nations people have set us – to properly respect Country, and allow ourselves to be transformed by an authentic relationship with this alive and listening Earth. Indigenous philosophers and teachers who have inspired this work include Bill Neidje, Mowaljarlai, the Gay’wu group of women, Tyson Yunkaporta, Max Harrison, MK Turner, and Ian Hunter from Australia, and Martin Prechtel from Guatemala/New Mexico.
The course also draws from European mystical and Neoplatonic philosophers including Goethe, Heidegger, Jung, Hillman and Stephen Buhner. The Plunge integrates what I’ve learned from my studies with philosophers and meditation and somatic practitioners including Josh Schrei, David Abram, Bill Plotkin, Freya Mathews, Jon Young, Tom Cheetham and Zen Buddhists Susan Murphy Roshi, Junpo Denis Kelly, and Corey Hess.
Creating and participating with the beautiful is a core human experience, one that can transform poverties of all kinds into dignity and richness. Beauty is often marginalised within the techno-capitalist worldview, yet it is an essential part of a human and nature-centred activism. Humble yet archetypal, storyful, unfashionable and soulful – these are ways to work with, speak with and shape with the alive world. Honouring beauty herself, beauty as an alive, animate force, will be part of this work. Creating form will be a powerful and somatic act to ground our learning.
So while developing skills and mastery in words or other artforms may be an outcome and be personally satisfying, this will be understood as a natural outcome arising from our honouring of life, and experienced as a gift to all of us, and to the whole.
From care for our bodies, nourishing others, tending the green ones, living lightly, random acts of kindness – this is the natural inclination of the connected soul. We will share ways in which we strengthen community bonds and feed the reciprocal flows.
Starting at the beginning of February to the end of June, the course is of 20 weeks duration.
Concession $600 + $100
Part-time income $800 + $100
Full-time income. $1000 + $100
The plus $100 will go to the Gay’wu group of women
About the facilitator
Maya has many years of experience as a writing teacher, facilitator, public speaker and retreat and festival organiser. Her focus for over 30 years has been to deepen ecological awareness, belonging and connection to place through diverse creative practices. Her PhD in Creative Writing explored the embodied experience of the alive world, otherwise known as the archetypal or imaginal realm. Her research ranged across neuroscience, somatics, psychology and shamanistic metaphysics. She has a Masters in Education (Social Ecology) with undergraduate studies in Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
Her memoir The Comfort of Water: A River Pilgrimage, published by Transit Lounge, is an account of her 21-day journey from the sea to the source of the Yarra River, following the length of a Wurundjeri Songline. This book has been on the curriculum in universities around Australia, and was shortlisted by the State Library for the 2012 Year of Reading Award. Her writing and poetry has also been featured in a variety of publications, including a chapter in the book series Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, edited by Robin Wall Kimmerer and others.
Currently she lives on the banks of the Yarra in the mountain village of Warburton, in the beautiful Country of the Wurundjeri people. In this place she continues her learning as a pilgrim, walking the forest and river paths, and negotiates with the birds for a share of the food forest she plants and tends.
The Experience of Co-becoming: Testimonials
This is deep and profound work of joy and connection, healing and offering much meaning. …It deepens authentic living in surprising and beautiful ways. I love the community, and the intimacy of the small groups in breakout rooms. I feel supported both personally and professionally. Thanks Maya for your bravery and vulnerability, I think this is the leadership we need in such times. – Kerryn
I see the work you are inviting us to do as very significant, hugely important, and an integral step on the path to deep relationships in community and co-becoming. – Bronwen
You create a safe container and encourage and listen without judgement. It is a lovely process to allow the more-than-human world to have a voice, to be witnessed and to have agency, and this further enables a sense of belonging. Co-becoming means to loosen fixed concepts and to be with the other in a different more expansive way. There is an entering into a new pattern of relationship that is entangled, embodied and alive. It allows a new way of perceiving to emerge; pattern-thinking. The discussion, the witnessing others, and the embodied exploration all enabled a new way of being with this more expansive world. – Jackie
Please note 1 week off for Easter – so there’s 19 sessions over a 20 week period, including the retreat.
- Feb Friday 10th Warburton
- Feb Friday 17th Warburton
- Feb Friday 24th Zoom
- March Friday 3rd Warburton
- March Friday 10th Zoom
- March Friday 17th Warburton
- March Friday 24th Zoom
- March Friday 31st Warburton (Good Friday week April 7th off)
- April Friday 14th Zoom
- April Friday 21st Warburton
- April Friday 28th Zoom
- May Friday 5th Warburton
- May Friday 12th Zoom
- May Friday 19th Warburton
- May Friday 26th Zoom
- June Friday 2nd Warburton
- June Friday 9th Zoom
- June Friday 16th Warburton
Retreat: Friday 30th June to Sunday 2nd July
- Week 1. Feb Wednesday 8th
- Feb Wednesday 15th
- Feb Wednesday 22nd
- March Wednesday 1st
- March Wednesday 10th
- March Wednesday 17th
- March Wednesday 22nd
- March Wednesday 29st
- April Wednesday 5th(Easter week April 12th off)
- April Wednesday 19th
- April Wednesday 26th
- May Wednesday 3rd
- May Wednesday 10th
- May Wednesday 17th
- May Wednesday 24th
- May Wednesday 31st
- June Wednesday 7th
- June Wednesday 14th
Retreat: June Friday 16th to Sunday 18th
Acknowledging Country, Acknowledging Animacy
First, some thoughts on this ritual, and at the end of the page you’ll find the calendar of dates with your names attached.
This work we are doing is done ‘on Country’ – an Aboriginal English word meaning the alive, animate systems of ecological interconnection and kinship. Co-becoming seeks to do with work ‘in’, ‘with’ Country — acknowledging, respecting, tending, courting this animacy, this intelligence. But we cannot expect to be able to easily, innocently access such knowledge.
We know that the venerable history of deep kinship and communication between peoples and the places we live includes the legacy of violence, colonisation and trauma. There is no level on which this can be ignored. I will quote again the resonant words of Rudolf Steiner – each step in spiritual development requires three steps in moral development. Our ability to allow space for the painful, complex, conflicting emotions of being here on stolen land is a doorway into more deeply knowing it, and loving it. And, perhaps, being trusted by it, by Country.
When we engage in the work of co-becoming, all of this is here in the room — as ghosts or spirits perhaps, or perhaps as bodies that unconsciously store and accumulate experience from many many generations. The point is not to try to make all of this conscious, but rather allowing space in our bodies to be present with the immensity, complexity and intelligence of feeling. With compassion and deep listening we seek to be present to the legacy — the the cultural achievement of Aboriginal Australia, the vast loss and pain, this confusing time of reckoning and re-membering.
To Acknowledge Country is, in its very nature, acknowledging animacy. And as a ritual, spoken aloud, it is addressing directly the more-than-human world. It is stating aloud to all that might be listening that we are seeking to come back into an ancient way of relating — talking with, rather than about, the world.
Some might think that to talk about animacy is a distraction from feeling the impact of the human story, the shattering and ongoing results of colonisation. This is a fair concern, given how in denial and anti-feeling our culture has been. But the intention is to pay the utmost respect to Aboriginal culture by taking seriously the importance, in their culture, of Country — of animate earth. The challenge is to speak in a way, with the appropriate depth, breadth and spaciousness, to allow room for all of this.
I had the experience the other day of a five hour road trip with Tyson Yunkaporta. I learned a lot. Mostly about the impossibility of getting any of this work ‘right’ all the time in the face of ongoing trauma and injustice. The paradox I feel that we’re working with is allowing ourselves to be with this discomfort and, at the same time, relaxed enough to feel the grace of the more than human world. Which, in my way of understanding, is the only thing big and wise enough to guide us into different ways of knowing.
Therefore, I hope this work might skill us for making cultural change that supports and resources Aboriginal people to access and lead from this space. Trauma and injustice create barriers for Aboriginal people that we all seek to dismantle. May this work increase our resilience and moral capacity in this space. Steiner’s quote again – every step in spiritual development requires three steps in moral development.
If all of this feels daunting, I want to say that some of the most beautiful Acknowledgements I’ve heard have come from a space of vulnerability, not-knowing and confusion — people being true to how all of this feels in them. It’s not about perfection, it’s about honesty, and cultivating the capacity to be present with the full range of emotions this ritual brings forth. There is no way to do it ‘wrong’ with such an intention.
Week 4. March Wednesday 1 — Stacia
Week 5. March Wednesday 8 — Kazzie
Week 6. March Wednesday 15 — Amie
Week 7. March Wednesday 22 — Kairava
Week 8. March Wednesday 29 — Rosie
Week 9. April Wednesday 5 — Kelly (Easter week April 12th off)
Week 10. April Wednesday 19 — Leesa
Week 11. April Wednesday 26 — Lisa
Week 12. May Wednesday 3 — Sarah Hardgrove
Week 13. May Wednesday 10 — Sarah Roseth
Week 14. May Wednesday 17 — Yonke
Week 15. May Wednesday 24 — Julie
Week 16. May Wednesday 31 — Kairava
Week 17. June Wednesday 7 — Amie
Week 18. June Wednesday 14 — Stacia
Week 4. March Friday 3 — Cat
Week 5. March Friday 10 — Rahme
Week 6. March Friday 17 — Kate
Week 7. March Friday 22 — Phoebe
Week 8. March Friday 31 — Sage (Easter week April 7th off)
Week 9. April Friday 14 — Maia
Week 10. April Friday 21 — Gabby
Week 11. April Friday 28 — Jess
Week 12. May Friday 5 — Julie
Week 13. May Friday 12 — Maya
Week 14. May Friday 19 — Jess
Week 15. May Friday 26 — Rahme
Week 16. June Friday 2 — Kate
Week 17. June Friday 9 — Phoebe
Week 18. June Friday 16 — Maia
First Week – Introduction
This is not predominantly a writing course – rather we will celebrate and take nourishment in writing as an act of participation with creativity. And by creativity I mean the big thing – the great energy that has us all within it, the force of life itself.
Our writing is an act of being creativity – being the aliveness. It is not about it, it is it.
The ritual container of our sessions seeks to welcome the aliveness of the concentric layers of our being into the space, and to take, perhaps, dictation. The writing, therefore, is something, it’s not about something. And because it’s alive in an alive world, the writing interacts with the world of its own accord – it’s a wild thing, beautiful to witness.
I’m going to share a tiny snippet I once wrote that is personally meaningful, and precious to me in its multilayered imagery, none of which is unnecessary, or arbitrary: it’s called –
To Bridle a Seahorse
I am drawn to the mystery. The mystery is compelling and confusing and beautiful. The mystery is alive, fish-slippery, seeking always to return to the sea.
This writing seeks a likeness to the mystery. Which is unfortunate for me: I hanker for the clear. This writing insists on going its own way, and is the stronger of us, so I’m tagging along behind, sweeping the droppings into piles. Now that’s rude, I know, but I’m tired of it, and I wish I could’ve ridden.
It can be hard for us to understand just how abstractly, conceptually and vicariously our culture’s orientation is. So when we’re participants, truly involved with life, taken up by and lived by life, it can come as a bit of a shock, and it can be hard, and tiring, to integrate. Especially when you’re someone like me who craves understanding.
This course hopes that, by the end, we can go forth on our journeys with humility, gentleness, care and temperance, and feeling the depth of the support and love given by the cosmos, so that we can continue opening. We will have each other, this human community. And we will have our creative project, our way of integrating the learning gleaned through the writing into a beautiful form. I’ll say more about this part of the course later.
In our writing, we will explore, and seek to become familiar with, the difference between talking about and talking with, or perhaps, as. I feel nervous now, just saying that. Which is appropriate.
Spellcasting – The problems with preambles, or, how not to break the spell:
Every second week is ritual space, a place for spell casting. It will be in the weeks between where we can talk about the work.
“The root “spellam originally meant story, saying, tale, history, narrative, fable and then the term ‘spell’ started to take on the meaning of a charm or magical incantation in the Middle Ages.” “In the Indo-European tradition, words were always viewed as having magical abilities, or possessing a dangerous magic,”
So there will be some protocols here. I will ask that you try as hard as you can to never say sorry. If you can’t read words or you read them wrongly – just stop, slo down, and read it out corrected, or miss a bit. Don’t tell us that you’re missing bits. I ask that you trust that what can be read is the bit that is meant to be read.
So therefore, seek to write clearly, but if you absolutely cannot, consider writing on a computer.
This is a writing course that is not about writing. Sometimes the deeper we are in our experience, the less articulate or complete the words on the page. Rather, through the meditations and contemplations, we might enter the vastness, the unsayable, and we might come back mute, deeply internal, still carrying the mysterious aliveness we have encountered. Perhaps our once beautiful writing falls away, to be replaced with a string of verbs, or odd, dark nouns.
And sometimes people will write something so beautiful or true that we will all swoon. I ask that you absorb these words as a gift to all of us, a gift to the moment, and, most especially perhaps, a gift to the beings with whom we write. They’ve come to us, within the writing ritual, and on a very important level these words and their wisdom belong to all of us, and to none of us, rather than just the one who brought them to the page. So while we will honour the words, let’s try not to make too much of the author. It’s so easy to fall back into our cult of individualism, of solo artist. And the spirits might get annoyed. Because it might seem like we’re claiming that which isn’t ours, and we are making separations. I’m not asking for you to believe me, but just to see if we can practice lightness and care in this regard. It’s important, and in this I’m asking if you can trust me, because I can’t say anything more.
Something about Fear
I sometimes experience fear of this work, and of sharing it. My feeling of inadequacy in regards to the work is not some self-esteem issue, it’s good, it’s appropriate. It’s not something I need to be jollied out of. It’s so important to be radically humble in the face of this work. Because if I think I know what’s going on then I’m really lost. Not knowing is, in itself, a way of knowing – as long as it’s not accompanied by too much anxiety. I’ll bring in here the famous quote of poet Keats’ on what he called Negative Capability – a writer’s ability to accept “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason,”
This sense of inadequacy sits alongside the strong intuitions I have about the rightness of the way I have put together these ideas. I’m delighted and thrilled to share this with you, and so grateful for your interest. Because it seems clear that every age must make this work anew. This is ancient knowledge, but the work of every generation is to frame it in a way that it can be deeply felt. Our context is constantly shifting, so for this work to be truly alive, it must be nested in this very moment.
This moment includes this Country, its venerable history of profound kinship and communication between peoples and their places. And it includes the cultural legacy of violence, colonisation and trauma to Indigeous peoples. And it includes the trauma specific to women doing this work. All of this is here in the room – as ghosts or spirits perhaps, if you resonate with that language, or as bodies that unconsciously store and accumulate experience from many many generations, which is the frame I happen to prefer, because of how I have made meaning around this work within the frame of ecological and epigenetic sciences. But it’s a preference, no more, no less.
This moment includes also the long and complex esoteric traditions of the West, which I have sought to learn from over the past two decades. Esoteric means communicated to, or intelligible by, the initiated only. This is secret knowledge, but not because humans are keeping it secret. Secret is the very nature of the work. There’s nothing you or I can do to spoil the secret, or to break the secret – it will always stay secret. Theoretically I could tell you the secret now, but outside of experience, it wouldn’t be it.
This is impossible to explain, so the aim is for the work to make it clear. It took me a long time to understand this, and so I lived with fear that I might do something wrong. That’s not to say that there isn’t something to that intuition. Fear is appropriate.
This is where our Way of Being comes in. Seeking to take on the qualities of love, devotion, receptivity, generosity, truthfulness, beauty, compassion, patience, responsibility, reciprocity and, most crucially, humility, will be adornments that will protect us against danger – and if you doubt this, remember the faerie tales, and what the young women had to do to survive the trials – our surviving remnants of animist wisdom sneaking in under the cover of childhood.
If you’re afraid to write, that’s a good sign. Go delicately. But go, enter the forest, nevertheless. Ask the belly for help. Adorn yourself with your virtue.
Humility has a very clear felt sense to it that guards against over-inflation, that guards against saying too much about that which is, mostly, impossible to talk about.
But it can be talked with. And that’s what we are here to do. Talking with is very different to talking about.
And to circle back to the virtues, let’s not get too precious. Because we’re working with secret things, it can be tempting to think we’re special – rather than that we are part of a special, precious, sacred world. And just because I talk about virtues doesn’t mean I’m virtuous – just that I’ve made lots of painful mistakes, and I’d rather that, to advance this work, you make different mistakes rather than rehash mine, and so together, in this place, we can grow.
The mystical context
Like perhaps some of you, I had my first mystical nature experiences as a young teenager, experiences so powerful that they set the course of my life. And while such experiences are not the norm, there’s evidence they are becoming far more common.
Some cultures are more mystically inclined because there is survival value in this type of sensitivity and attunement. There’s more than enough evidence to say that statement is broadly true for indigenous cultures (podcaster/mythologist Josh Schrei’s works pulls together much of this). This continent has experienced tens of thousands of years of this type of awareness as an honoured and essential mode of awareness, and it’s been just the briefest of moments that this hasn’t been the norm. I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to honour this legacy through committed, respectful listening and learning. That’s why Songspirals is one of our essential texts, and why we are raising funds through this course to pay the rent to them, our teachers and guides.
In it they write: “We bring this book to you: we cannot let this knowledge fade away. It has been here so long and it is still here. That is why this book is so important, to pass knowledge down, to continue the spirals. It needs to happen now and we want you to walk with us on this journey.”
They also write: “Country has awareness, it is not just backdrop. It knows and is part of us. It is home and land, but it is more than that. Country is the way humans and non-humans co-become, the way we emerge together and will always emerge together.”
That term, to co-become, was suggested by the participants of my Acknowledging Country course as a perfect descriptor for the experience of our writing exercises. I’d been using many similar phrases – co-creative unfurling, the making and the made, matter and the pattern, mutual co-arising, inside the aliveness, becoming-with, becoming-as. Co-becoming is elegant, accurate, and in using it there is a desire to be responsible – it contains a pledge to learn from, and walk with, Indigenous teachers. And to read Songspirals well might help us sense the meaning, power and importance of singing up land, as we and our descendants go forward, alongside First Nations people.
There can be such a complex array of emotions attached to how we interact with Aboriginal knowledge that I created a whole course to explore it – I’m running my next one in March. We won’t be unpacking it further in the course content, but it may accompany our discussions as a community in the spaces we share together.
But back to the point of the survival value of mystical experiences. Many thinkers are suggesting that they are becoming more common because the Earth needs us to step up into a more complex, participatory mode of awareness. Broadly, I feel this to be true.
Are these difficult times in themselves a great initiation that, if we hone the skills, we might survive? We all know we’re in a precarious age, with very uncertain outcomes. Learning to trust the systems of life, not to keep us safe, but to be vast, complex, beautiful, terrible, ancient, unknowable, unbreakable because ever-renewing, and eternal. We’re here to experience ourselves as part of this, a wondrous thing, regardless of what happens. Learning to observe our human anxieties within a greater, richer context may make us more capable, curious and compassionate in difficult times. Perhaps that seems too humble an ambition when the fate of much of what we love seems desperate. I acknowledge this, but stand for the humble. There’s strange magic in it, there’s a reversal of the will to power of modern man, and so I trust it for this. Apart from that, I can’t say more. But there’s plenty of feeling right here.
We have all grown up inside patriarchal, extractive, individualising educational systems. Probably all of us have sought out other ways of learning – this work is another step on that journey of unlearning and re-patterning. We aim here to co-create a very different educational experience, one that centres love, care and intimacy, not for vague or fluffy or feel-good reasons, but because it’s within these qualities that deep, strange and transformative learning lies. That’s why there are so many protocols..
We will be taking the time to feel our love for something as a portal into powerful learning. I’m someone who has always disliked the New Age, the fluffy, the instruction to just love. I’ve come to recognise my resistance as, in part, fear of feeling, fear of vulnerability – but not just that. Wariness is healthy – we have to be able to trust our guide. If you find yourself finding it difficult to trust at any stage, don’t override that. There’s information there to explore. Wariness is showing you the edge. We’re going to practice walking to that edge, and cultivating the courage to dive, to take the plunge. That’s something only a body can do. And listening to your body is the doorway to listening to the world.
We will practice listening for what we are particularly drawn to, to what draws us to it. We will particularly explore this reversal of agency. Our body will be our guide. So there’s a few points on how to be with our bodies that I will emphasize.
Move slowly: find the sensual, an internal sense of intimacy and alignment
Become aware of your back body: lean back, take your attention to the skin and muscles of the neck, the back, the back of the arms, legs, and feet.
Notice any anxiety you might be carrying in your breath or posture and soften, with kindness
Experience the sensuality of the writing act itself – the pen in the hand, the swirl of ink
This quote I’ll now share speaks to the centrality of intimacy and love in this work:
Zen enlightenment, realization, or awakening—all these words seem to imply some special state of mind or spirit, some kind of transformative mystical knowledge or experience that somehow will bring us beyond life’s day-to-day problems to a more spiritual plane. The word intimacy is better. It sounds like we are getting closer, deeper, more loving with our experience rather than somehow beyond it. Intimacy better expresses what enlightenment really feels like I think.
– “Not Knowing is Most Intimate”, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, May 21, 2006 – Headlands Institute Koan Studies.
I’m not very far down this endless and winding and beautiful path. I acknowledge the wisdom and experience of each of you. Therefore I hope we create here a research community, a group where we are all contributing to the growth of a practice that has been known by many names throughout the millennia, a practice that we are, in this place and time, calling co-becoming.
My intuition is that having a way to honour and memorialise our learning is important for it to stay with us and support us and our circles of care, and to help grow the culture of the practice.
Thus the creative component. In what form will you develop your own personal mnemonic, your memory aid? We can discuss this a bit in the rest of this session.
Another thing is that I will be offering everyone a chance to give the Acknowledgement to Country, and I hope you say yes. Unless you write to me to request not to, I’ll put out a list of dates with your name beside one – if for some reason you need to change the date I’ve allocated for you, just let me know.
Nine Layers of Being
- Body – cellular, breath, energy
- Body participants – food, water, bacteria, excrementals
- Our intimates – close family or friends, pets and totem animals, vestments and adornments
- Home – the structure we sleep within
- Garden – the rooted, legged, feathered wild ones close by
- Community – people and animals, close ecosystems, waters, mountains
- Elementals – weather
- Gaia – Earth
- Cosmos – Universe
Co-becoming Art Projects
This part of the Plunge is a creative practice that embeds the co-becoming work in some kind of tangible form. This will give expression to each layer of being that we work with, and could be as simple as writing out some of your work in a beautiful, accessible way.
However, you may wish to explore another media to give expression to the expanding layers – such as making a series of ever-bigger bowls, or an expanding painting, photo collage, weaving, mandala or garden, or visual depiction of your co-becoming stories/song-cycle/poem.
The outcomes of this can then be part of an altar/special place for ongoing contemplation and ritual engagement. This is a way to bring this work into the heart of our lives, to nourish and support both us and our communities of care.
ON ASPECTS OF BEAUTY IN C.G. JUNG’S RED BOOK By Paul Brutsche https://aras.org/sites/default/files/docs/00034Brutsche.pdf
The Red Book functioned for Jung as a container, a sort of womb in which the original experiences in their overpowering force could be “caught,” contained and absorbed. The careful aesthetic presentation helped tame, form and order the powerful, fascinating and unfamiliar experiences Jung had submitted himself to. The overwhelming and the unlimited were brought into the “cosmos” of the refined writing and the beautiful images. The ineffable was transformed into the limited, individual and concrete shape of a symbolic reality.
It is easy to imagine how much effort and discipline were needed in order not to be carried away by the power of the inner experiences but on the contrary to submit them to the law of the beautiful form; how much patience and humility such a process required! The physical effort that was demanded to achieve a satisfactory representation of the images and to transcribe the texts into calligraphy was an extremely efficient way to practice “presence” and to anchor the real person in the here and now. This probably was what saved Jung from falling into a psychosis and resulted in the beautiful elaboration of The Red Book that we now see.
“I always knew that these experiences contained something precious, and therefore I knew of nothing better than to write them down in a precious, that is to say, costly book and to paint the images that emerged through reliving it all-as well as I could” (p. 360). Through aesthetic embellishment, Jung honored the value of his insights by giving them a substantial container. The uniqueness of the content is mirrored by the costliness of the form and the medium, which are treated like sacramental reality where the numinous is contained by golden receptacles like a chalice, monstrance or tabernacle.
This conveys a third meaning of the pictorial shape he gave to his Red Book: to make the intrinsic and numinous value of the experience become manifest. It corresponded to a religious and feeling-related attitude by acknowledging a sublime presence in these experiences.
With this way of honoring his inner experiences Jung was also instinctively having recourse to an adequate means of protecting himself against a dangerous identification with these contents. The profoundly meaningful and sacred value he bestowed on these experiences endowed them with the status of “given” and not “self-made” thoughts; they were not of ego, they were “other.” This was the only adequate and psychologically beneficial way of dealing with such powerful contents. It conferred the inner experiences a general and lasting significance beyond the present moment.
References and Resources
Paying respect to the lineage and the teachers
I’m a nerd. Much of my learning has come through reading, and in this way falling in love with the depth and antiquity of the wisdom traditions of both my ancestors and other lineage lines. But the idea of this course is to synthesise what I’ve come to treasure into practices, with just a small amount of theory. I adore studying philosophy, so that’s going to be a challenge for me – I’d love to rave about the history of ideas with anyone who’ll join me, but I know it’s not really my skill set, and there’s something that, to me, feel far deeper that we’re aiming for in this course.
Despite recommending you read, or at least browse, the two books Plant Intelligence and Songspirals, there’s no required reading. I know reading isn’t for everybody. But if it is for you, then there’s many books and authors that I am delighted to introduce you to, if you don’t already know them.
I will be recommending some podcasts and audios. I’m grateful that there’s so much amazing material generously shared at this time – brilliant teachers speaking directly to what we’ll be exploring.
My favourite podcast, one that’s had a significant influence on my life, is Josh Schrei’s The Emerald. He’s inspired by many of the same sources and themes as me, and has a deep practice and experience in the mythic terrain. I reached out to him three years ago to suggest he might be interested in researching the Imaginal – next podcast episode, he was all over it! Ever since then we’ve conversed and collaborated. I consider him my main teacher, someone following the same currents, but further along in the stream. Each episode that comes out seems relevant to what’s happening in my life – the latest is on the theme of Adornment, something I had scheduled into our program, but the degree to which he uncovers the depths of adornment is astonishing, and deeply moving to me. I hope you listen to it:
This episode, Animism is Normative Consciousness, is a particularly good overview of the terrain we’ll be exploring.
Weird Studies is my second favourite podcast. It explores art and philosophy through the lens of the ‘weird’ – that which defies rational understanding. This episode on Jean Gebser also touches on many of the thinkers who have helped shape my understanding of co-becoming, including Rainer Maria Rilke, Goethe, Steiner, Jung, Ken Wilber and Teilhard de Chardin. And this episode On Beauty is just stunning.
SHWEP – The Secret History of Western Esotericism is my latest podcast to binge. It’s dense, he talks fast, but it’s blowing my mind. This episode with a professor of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff is very dense, very nerdy, and giving me much to think about. There’s some extracts from an article of his at the very end of this page that are fascinating.
There are many books that have meant much to me on this learning journey – here’s just a selection of particularly inspiring works – I hope you enjoy exploring this list. Some are theory, others are shamanic practitioners, most are interesting cross-overs between the two.
Green Man, Earth Angel – Tom Cheetham
Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta
A Story About Feeling – Bill Neidje
Tao Te Ching – Ursula le Guin translation
Long Life, Honey in the Heart – Martin Prechtel
Of Water and the Spirits – Malidoma Some
News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness – Robert Bly
The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World – Iain McGilchrist
The Spell of the Sensuous – David Abram
The Passion of the Western Mind – Richard Tarnas
A Blue Fire – James Hillman
The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology – Robert Bringhurst
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy – Barbara Ehrenreich
The Red Book – Carl Jung
I have also made my unpublished PhD A Secret History of Listening available to you, with its extensive reference list, and it’s bumpy journey through this terrain. I’ve sought in that text to convey the experience of co-becoming – to write with, not about. While also musing on this time and place and how that requires us to adapt ancient methods to our contemporary context.
New works are always coming out – just released, I browsed this book the other day, and it’s completely on topic: The Creative Act: A Way of Being
And here is some extracts of the work of an exciting scholar of Western Esotericism. He makes some vital and fascinating points here below:
Our very sense of a Western cultural identity has been built, over many centuries, on systematic patterns of critique and polemical rejection directed at a whole range of worldviews, intellectual traditions, or spiritual practices that were perceived and promoted as incompatible with the fundamental values and assumptions of Western civilization.
…you cannot understand “esotericism” without placing it in a much wider context – that of the history of Western culture itself. At the most basic level, the box that we have labeled with that name contains more or less everything that you (and all of us) have been taught to perceive as “different,” “weird,” “problematic,” “questionable,” and even “dangerous” because it does not fit the dominant, mainstream intellectual paradigms on which our very society is built. Another way of saying this is that our perception of “esotericism” is the outcome of a long process of polemical exclusion in which “we” have been defining and defending “our” “Western” identity against everything that “we” reject as incompatible with who we are, or aspire to be.
you cannot understand “esotericism” at a deep level without questioning those hidden or explicit ideologies of Western superiority that have defined the very project of modernity as such, including its imperialist expansion and efforts to colonize the rest of the world. If you doubt this, then just think of the popular idea that “we over here” have science, but “they over there” have nothing but primitive magic.22
All the “weird stuff” that we used to put in the “esotericism” box, to keep it safely apart from what we thought “Western culture” should be really all about, will have to be taken out of that box again and brought back to the table. It must be studied seriously and without prejudice, like any other manifestation of Western culture, and must be restored to its legitimate place in our narratives about the complex history that has been unfolding in our parts of the world over the past two and a half thousand years. Essentially, that is what we are doing in the academic study of esotericism.
Once we take such a project seriously, we cannot keep thinking about “Western culture” the way we used to think about it. Our traditional stories or grand narratives about “the West” must be exposed for the ideological fictions that they really are and have always been. The well-known triumphalist storylines of Western superiority will have to be replaced by extremely different but, hopefully, more fair and accurate historical narratives of “Western culture.”
If we would recover the imaginal we must first recover its organ, the heart, and its kind of philosophy. — James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart
The Imaginal is, for me, a wonderful explanation of something I’d sensed for many years but had no idea how to express or explain. Stephen Buhner’s work does a great job of making this odd and complex material accessible and relevant. I had long been a fan of Jungian psychologist James Hillman, who writes of the imaginal, but it wasn’t until I found Buhner that I could properly comprehend how important is this way of knowing.
The Imaginal is the alive and evolving space between the human and the more-than-human other. It is another place, a place within this world — not visible, but real. It is deep on the inside of things. It can only be perceived by the sense organ that is the heart. It is a powerful and strange place for those of us unused to this kind of perception, but in many times and places it is far far better understood.
The following quotes are tastes. Read Buhner, and Hillman, and Cheetham, if this whets your appetite. See the references page for details.
This between-two takes place in the opening of the difference between the one and the other, but it is in no way proper to the one or to the other—it arises from the two. Perhaps it is the sole place where existence becomes a substance of another kind… Luce Irigaray
Himma is a term from Sufism meaning intense spiritual resolve. Himma creates as ‘real’ the figures of the imagination… Himma is that mode by which the images, which we believe we make up, are actually presented to us as not of our making, as genuinely created, as authentic creatures.
I do not know what this kind of loving is, but it is not reducible to other more familiar forms… Let us call it imaginal love, a love based wholly on relationship with images and through images, a love showing in the imaginative response to the imagination in the dreams… This love does not reach only toward unifying, as we have all been so tediously taught. When we love, we want to explore, to discriminate more and more widely, to extend the intricacy that intensifies intimacy. — Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld, 196-7.
Philosophy…must arise in the heart in order to mediate the world truly, since… it is that subtle organ which perceives the correspondences between the subtleties of consciousness and the levels of being. This intelligence takes place by means of images which are a third possibility between mind and world. Each image coordinates within itself qualities of consciousness and qualities of world, speaking in one and the same image of the interpenetration of consciousness and world. This imaginal intelligence resides in the heart: “intelligence of the heart” connotes a simultaneous knowing and loving by means of imagining. — Hillman, The Thought of the Heart
The above essay by Hillman is available online here. It’s dense, but fascinating.
A Story From the Dust
by Julie Dawson
I shook his hand, the man with a price on my head. He twisted my wrist but I held firm. He was dripping with ornament. I was dripping with cold sweat. It turned the dust on my skin into slip. Somehow, I found the strength to give him my truth. And that’s when everything changed.
I was riding on the back of Kasaaini’s piki piki. We were speeding along a narrow track through the vast lands of Tsavo. Rust-coloured dust billowed out from underneath our tires. It was 2011, about six months into my first job in Kenya. I worked with small community groups of the most generous people I have ever known. People who live in the semi-arid lands squeezed between the southern edge of Tsavo West National Park and the border of Kenya and Tanzania. No roads led to them. No electricity, no water, no doctor, no shops, all these things were over an hour’s walk away in different directions. They were the forgotten people of a forgotten place. Their lands were borderlands, wild lands where the tracking and poaching of wildlife was big business, and we were in the business of tracking poachers.
The man with a price on my head wanted me dead because I was working with his tribesman, Kasaaini. Kasaaini was a Masaai man who had been tracking the story of this land for lifetimes. He was attuned to every mark in the dust, every broken branch, every change in the air and every voice. As you walked with him, he became animated by the stories he detected. With a few words of broken Swahili and English, he would have you in stitches and tears while he played out the antics and struggles of invisible creatures.
The ability to track is not uncommon among the Masaai, but Kasaani’s devotion to the well-being of wildlife promoted his skill to an extraordinary level. It was his love for the land and his charisma that fuelled a group of his neighbours and friends to go out into the bush for days on end, picking out snares and tracking the movements of poachers and injured animals.
I was supposed to help them do their job more effectively. To measure and improve their impact through “organisational capacity building” and “sustainable alternative livelihood creation”. In other words, my job was to attempt to mould their work into something more palatable for the wildlife authorities and NGOs, so that these agencies could get more funding for the work of the community, while the community themselves were made to do double the work and make their own money.
As I recall this day, its memory is in flux. Though these lands of Tsavo and I are physically separate now, I am returning there to learn, once more, from my teacher. My body is still made of its deep red dust. My teacher is a place where animism and ancestor worship has been practised for millennia. Magic was still an everyday occurrence. This landscape had retained the power to reach out and take hold of a numb, ego-centric, environmental activist like me and shake me awake. Even here in 2023, its energy jolts my core behind closed eyes, urging me to see its truth.
Tsavo is calling me back to feel the cool air on my dust-coated skin as we rode. Most of Mt Kilimanjaro’s body was shrouded with clouds, and still, the Mountain’s presence presided over the landscape, dramatically swooping up from the horizon and disappearing under clouds. The Mountain’s influence on us was much more than aesthetic. It was our source of water and fertility, nutrition and weather, wonder and fear. It’s evaporating ice caps were a daily reminder of the urgency of climate change and our work. Water and fertile soils were rare in this semi-arid region. When the glaciers are gone, the face of life here will be forever changed.
The rumble of the motorbike made my tailbone vibrate. My body was alert and focused, making micro-adjustments to my balance, ensuring I didn’t fall off as the bike bounced, dipped and twisted over the eroded and rocky path. I was in flow with the movements of Kasaaini’s body as he steered the motorbike. Together we flowed with the landscape rushing towards us. Our speed added to the feeling of exhilaration.
We had just come from a meeting with the Rombo Group Ranch Committee. A week before, my friend from the community, Simon, warned me not to travel with people I didn’t know. The Rombo Committee Chairman, Sambu, had placed a contract on my head. Initially, I was bewildered, I thought I was doing something good for this community, and now they want to kill me. I tried to act tough and unfazed, but I was wired. If a motorbike misfired, I would drop down to the earth, taking it for a gunshot. I found myself feeling resentful towards the people I worked with and loved.
Simon suggested I go and see Sambu. He said that if I showed him I was strong and honest that he would leave me alone. My boss, an eight-hour bus ride away in Mombassa, agreed with Simon. I had no way to protect myself other than to muster up the courage to go before Sambu’s committee and lay my intentions, and my heart, bare. So I reached out to the Man who wanted me dead and set a meeting for Kasaani and I to see him. I was assured of our safety for the day, but my guts were churning.
We met the committee of men in Rombo town, at the office of the local chief. It was a dark and sweaty tin shed. After a long round of introductions and a prayer, I apologised for my predecessor beginning to work with Kasaaini’s group without consulting the committee first. Sambu wanted me to work in one of the communities of his choice instead of Kasaaini’s group. I politely explained that I could not have moved our work to another community even if I wanted to, as they were outside of my organisation’s jurisdiction, both geographically and ideologically.
For the next few hours, I listened to everyone’s concerns and answered their questions about how the organisation I worked for operated and our project with Kasaani. Sambu was particularly interested in the budget of the project. Once he realised that there was no fat to skim off the top, he gave us his blessing to continue.
We closed our meeting with more prayers. The hairs on my arms were raised, and I felt an inrush of love and gratitude towards the notion of God where previously a tight and muffled feeling of tolerance would rise. I have been given permission to be alive.
As we rode home to Kasaani’s place, exonerated, the grey clouds which had been muting the colours of the day began to part. They rolled off the Great White Mountain like blankets rolling off the shoulders of a sleeping giant. As the skies cleared, the moment awakened around us. Kilimanjaro was looking directly at us. The wildflowers opened and turned towards us as we zipped past.
“Waaaa!” Kaasaini exclaimed, the wonder in his voice told me he felt this too. We laughed. We were without shared language, but in this moment, we could communicate fluently through our hearts. Because my heart was expanding, I could feel that his was too.
We had fallen through a pothole on the path, into a realm where we were alive within The Alive. The Alive turned its gaze towards us and recognised us. We saw the aliveness of the flowers and we felt them in our hearts because we were them in our hearts. The moment stretched forever and nothing.
For the first time in my adult life, the world was alive and turning to meet my gaze. I became the mountain in its vast stillness. I became the wildflowers opening. I became the dust billowing out from behind our back wheel.
We didn’t speak about the experience afterwards. We just got back to work. But I was changed. I began to experience a new feeling of reverence and accountability toward the landscape. I became open to other, more ancient ways of knowing alongside the science I leaned so heavily on. I came to have many extraordinary moments like this, including encounters with darker, more specific energies within the landscape. But those are stories for another time.
So much remains unsaid here. I don’t know that I can finish telling this ever-changing story of my origins in the work of co-becoming. There are so many layers, and each one opens to another like an ever-diminishing, ever-expanding spiral. The moment I try to pin down one beginning, another will emerge. Perhaps you know this feeling…
I would like to say more about Kasaani and all he taught me about the animals he would track, more about all of the incredible and inspiring places, people and wild beings I had the privilege to work with in the dusty, forgotten corners of Kenya. I would like to say more about how my heart aches and my eyes fill with tears when I remember them. But first, I must make friends with this heartache so that I might be able to remember them anew.
Info coming soon