Writing with the Earth: Kinship, Embodiment, Belonging

Co-becoming notes and resources for workshop participants

The co-becoming process is a contemporary iteration of a timeless spiritual practice. Through guided meditation or trance we drop into a state of deep listening, accessing a way of being where boundaries between self and the more-than-human world transform into a lively co-creative communing.

In the co-becoming process, we give ourselves over for aspects of nature to write through us. By allowing a free flow of creativity through the pen, and letting go of a need to control, it seemed that my creativity and that of the world could meet.  We discover that they are delighted to be met, they are delighted to give voice. Everything is alive and intelligent – it can be a powerful and profoundly intimate experience.

We witness each other in this intimacy when we read aloud the words of nature, and are humbled by the trust and deep listening of the group. Practicing co-becoming as a community rather than individually is so important, because it grounds the spiritual experience of nature connection and delivers it as a gift, to both the human and the more-than-human worlds. We are seeing and we are being seen. We accept the gift of the wisdom given and work it into our worlds, bolstered by human and spiritual support. We are making culture together, guided by nature’s voices.

The world of co-becoming is hidden, deep, safe, precious and wild, inside everyone. For me, I can’t get there unless I open the door inside myself – but when I do, I realise that the way in is also the way out, out into the wholeness, where in and out are one, and everything is intimate.

Most of my daily life I live inside forgetfulness – what door? I’ve discovered I need structure and support to visit the world of co-becoming. For years I fell messily through that magic door after scrabbling at the handle with slippery hands. It’s been a slow journey to find more intentional methods – to wash those slippery hands – clean up my act, make preparations to meet the exquisite participative process, always unfurling all around us. 

I am so grateful for the countless who have travelled this path before me, and who have shared their wisdom, to guide those who follow. What follows is a summary of ideas and resources that have supported my journey. The work we have done together may be quite new to you, or you may be deeply familiar with many of the methods and philosophical structures. Regardless of where you are on the endless path, I hope the following can support your ongoing explorations, and that reading or listening to these resources assists your ongoing experience and practice of co-becoming.

Origins of the term Co-becoming

This process evolved as I sought to find culturally respectful ways of acknowledging and integrating ancient Australian practices. I refer to it as co-becoming, after the definition given by the Gay’wu group of women from Arnhem Land: “Country is the way humans and non-humans co-become, the way we emerge together and will always emerge together.” 

Before I knew of this term, I had used many different phrases to describe my spontaneous experiences of profound intimacy and communication with nature, a state I discovered I could create at will through writing. I called it co-creative unfurling, or writing-with, or mutual co-arising, or reciprocal creation, some terms mine, some from other writers, some from spiritual or philosophical traditions. To then discover a term used by First Nations people that spoke to such a similar felt sense was exciting. It feels so important to acknowledge the profound lineage of depth practice in this land. All spiritual practice in Australia is done on stolen land. Therefore, all spiritual practice, I feel, must engage somehow with our complex history, and do what it can to repair wounds , and to honour the Old Ways. Hence my usage of the term co-becoming, used with permission from the Gay’wu women.

There is so much for settler people to learn to become responsive and responsible dwellers in this land, and precious few traditional knowledge keepers. Which is why non-traditional ways of sharing have become so important.

One of the books that we look at as part of the Acknowledging Country course I run is the text by the Gay’wu group of women: Songspirals. This incredible book is the result of many years of close collaboration between women anthropologists and the women of a Yolngu family – hence there are multiple authors.

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, co-becoming, inspired many of us on the course. There was a group who were keen to keep working together after Acknowledging Country, and to practice some of what we’d learned from these different texts – to engage our subtle feeling senses, to listen to Country, and to learn responsiveness. To see if we could walk with the Gay’wu women, as they asked – beginner steps. So we started the Co-becoming Practice Community.

Together we seek to listen to the more-than-human world with delicate care, and to write a little of what we hear. It’s surprising, strange, and often overwhelmingly beautiful.

There’s something about the vulnerable sharing of our words, the love that pours forth when we feel we have a true and honouring way to speak with the animate earth. For me, this is deeply linked to the ritual of Acknowledging Country – sitting with discomfort, learning of the wisdom of ancient Indigenous wisdom, learning too of the lost and broken European Indigenous wisdom, and seeking to come into careful, respectful relationship with this brokenness, this complexity, this beauty.

All courses I run are fundraisers for the Gay’wu women. I have been invited to visit them and learn from them later in 2024, which I’m grateful for.

Kinship, Embodiment, Belonging

Co-becoming cannot be understood conceptually. It is an embodied experience; it is felt, then this knowing is integrated and stabilised by the body. From this, deep experiences of kinship and belonging naturally flow.

Hence embodied meditative experience is essential. The deeper and more subtle our embodiment, the richer and more nuanced our co-becoming experiences can be. Practicing heart opening stretches, smiles and meditations daily are a wonderful support for this work – part of ‘recovering the organ of the imaginal’ – see below. Mindful attention to breath and heartbeat, and bringing awareness to how the elements of air, earth, water and fire are present in our body; all of these keep the connections alive.

Trance Writing

(Also called automatic, stream of consciousness, shamanic or flow writing, or channelling)

I’ve been very inspired by contemporary neuroscience research, where brain scans of trance mediums have been taken showing how they enter a very deep state, equivalent to that achieved after an hour of meditation, but within the first minute. These scans also show that the areas of the brain that usually fire during writing, do not during these trances. This backs up the felt sense we can have of ‘I’m not writing!’

We have a culture where we continually attribute the qualities of life to the human. Could we instead say that language, or conscious self awareness, are qualities of life, or of earth. How might that change things? How does that enable us to expand ourselves. You could call trance writing as a mere poetic tool – but poetry is an ancient, important and powerful tool of breaking down presumptions and returning us, imaginatively and somatically, to a larger context.

The Imaginal

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

Discovering the term The Imaginal has helped explain something I’d sensed for many years but had no idea how to express or contextualise. In my take on it, it seems very close to the way Aboriginal people speak of the Dreaming, or the experience of co-becoming. This similarity became something I explored in my PhD research.

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 strange and powerful place for those of us unused to this kind of perception.

The following quotes are tastes. Read Buhner, and Hillman, and Cheetham, if this whets your appetite. See the references below 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. — James Hillman. 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. — James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart

This is not thinking as “having thoughts,” but actual non-dual being, beyond subject and object, inside and outside, concept and percept. It is not the conceptual husk by which we habitually know the world, but the living tip, or outer fringe, of the universal flow itself. To experience this is to experience the impossible: that we are co-creators, resurrectors, of the world. — Rudolf Steiner

The Esoteric

The esoteric (intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest) is a label I have resisted. It wasn’t until I encountered the research of contemporary Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff did I grasp the deeper cultural and political implications of the word, and now I feel ready to accept that co-becoming is, in many ways, an esoteric practice.

Co-becoming attracts people who seek to dwell in the mystery, who are unafraid of the strange, the subtle, the paradoxical. These qualities are not mainstream, and often our desire to explore them has come through some type of initiatory experience that has opened us to that which is, particularly in modern culture, kept hidden. The following extracts by Hanegraaff may help explain why:

‘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 you’re interested, you can read the full paper on his website.

References and Resources

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. This episode, Animism is Normative Consciousness, is a particularly good overview of our shared terrain of exploration.

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.

Other Books

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.

Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth – Stephen Buhner

Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta

Story About Feeling – Bill Neidje

Tao Te Ching – Ursula le Guin translation

Always Coming Home – Ursula le Guin

The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation – Pattiann Rogers

Long Life, Honey in the Heart – Martin Prechtel

Of Water and the Spirit – 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

Green Man, Earth Angel – Tom Cheetham

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

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