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.