Monday, 10 December 2018

Wise Words: Trust Art

Trust it. Art is an act of faith; first for the artist herself and foremost for the audience. It is necessary to believe that there is something here worth having and to persevere into the other world of the artist which will reveal itself with a little work and a little patience. It is a love-affair and anyone who has fallen in love will know that outside of that moment of recognition, the beloved is only another face among faces. What changes is not the beloved but our perception of her.


I know of no better communicator than art. No better means of saying so precisely those things which need so urgently to be said. It has been a baton handed on to us across centuries and through difference. It is an act of courage. 

(Jeanette Winterson, from the essay ‘A Veil of Words’, in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage: London, 1996, pp. 96 and 99)

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Burying Of Things

The burying of things beneath layers of denial, avoidance, fear and pain. 

Elsewhere, things are dug up—the blood and bones of the earth, torn from her stony belly, turned into things unnatural, things desacralised and wounded. 

Our own wounds and the wounds of the earth are one and the same. We deny both, to our peril, and to our shame. 

It is only when we stop digging up the inner life of the earth, the memories of past ages; and only when we stop burying the blood and bones of our own wounds, that we will be able to put everything back where it belongs. 

Then, we will plant seeds in the good earth, the good rich soil, and our wounds will heal as a new world grows.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Wise Words: Deep Writing (And Art)

Deep writing comes from our bodies, from our breath and from our ability to remain solid in the places that scare us. It comes from merging with what we are writing - from dissolving our egos so that the real work can emerge through us, without our conditions for success attached to it.

(Laraine Herring, quoted in Jackee Holder, 49 Ways to Write Yourself Well: The Science and Wisdom of Writing and Journaling, Exisle Publishing: Wollombi, NSW, 2015, p. 132)

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Coming Home

On the last day of Writing the Wild Soul I sat under a tea tree archway, by a young Old Man Banksia, and creamy hakea blossoms with a delicate honey scent. A circle of trees; an enclosing, yet open, bower—sacred liminal space that held me within its circumference.

Birds called sweetly. A kookaburra chuckled briefly. Tiny yellow guinea flowers studded the ground where ants crawled.

This land is harsh, spiky, dry and difficult. I don’t always feel as if I belong. And yet, she holds me. She holds me.


I confess, I forget sometimes. I fall into the darkness of unawareness—that other darkness where nothing grows. But the fertile darkness, that fierce beauty that enlivens these mountains—and myself—from within, is where I remember.

I live on the side of a hill that descends into a small valley filled with scrubby bush, and spring-blooming swamp heath down by the creek. It’s a messy, overgrown place, filled with birds and tiny skinks. Up the valley, to the north, sits a mountain, crouched low like a great beast who crawled onto the land and decided to stay. That mother mountain has been haunting me—a solid, steady, earthed presence on the horizon of my life. She is being written into my story.


And I have felt how my little valley home has arms that embrace me, how I dwell within the belly of my place. I am being written into her story.

I may not always be comfortable here; but no relationship is perfect. And yet, I am held, always, unconditionally. All I need to do is go outside, sit, and wait for the feeling of withness to arrive; or to walk, tread my ways, and witness beauty as I find it.

This land speaks to me with different voices: soft and hard, loving and challenging, bushfire-dry and mist-kissed. What flows through me will reflect that. All I need to do is trust, for she will give me exactly what I need. And every time I hear a magpie sing, I will know, I am home.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Wise Words: What They Did Not Want Us To Know

I learned that this is the key: to trust our deepest feelings and to find the words to express them. Feeling is the origin of thinking. Our bodies are ourselves. This is what (so-called) great philosophers and scientists and theologians have denied. This is what they did not know and did not want us to know!

(Carol P. Christ, ‘Woman and Nature: Our Bodies Are Ourselves’, 26 June, 2017, Feminism and Religion, https://feminismandreligion.com/2017/06/26/woman-and-nature-our-bodies-are-ourselves-by-carol-p-christ/)

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Medicine Woman, by Lucy H. Pearce

We are not anomalies. We are not sick individuals in a healthy context. We are the litmus test. We are the indicators of systemic illness. What we are experiencing is an autoimmune response on a species-wide scale. We have become allergic to our culture. We are infected with patriarchal symptoms which are affecting us all, starting with the most sensitive – the life-creators and nurturers – women. (1)


In Lucy H. Pearce’s 2017 Nautilus Silver Award winning book, Burning Woman, she hinted that her next book would address ‘The message of inflammation, of adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disease — all of which are on the rise … especially amongst women …’ (2) Sister to Burning Woman, this new book would be called Medicine Woman, and I eagerly awaited its arrival. Hence, I was excited when I was given the opportunity, along with about thirty other women, to be part of a discussion group exploring the reality of living with chronic illness; and it is both an honour and a privilege to have made a very tiny contribution to the new book, which was birthed into the world in October.

Just as Burning Woman invoked the fiery archetype of women’s forgotten and suppressed power, Medicine Woman: Reclaiming the Soul of Healing invokes the potent archetype of the healer who is not bound by or to the system of patriarchal medicine that currently restricts our ability to heal or transform ourselves through the embodied wisdom of our illnesses.

Medicine Woman is a courageous articulation of Lucy’s personal experience of illness, both her own, and that of her family members; it is an exploration of the toxicity and dis-ease that permeates Western/techno-industrial culture, and the ‘unquestionable institution of patriarchal medicine’ (3) in particular; and it is a handbook to support and encourage the healing of others. Like Lucy, I believe that, while we may be sick as individuals, in our own unique ways, ultimately, it is the culture that surrounds us—or perhaps the lack of it—that is making us unwell. As she writes:

What if the sick women of the world, so often labelled hypochondriacs, neurotics or serial complainers, are picking up perfectly on the signs that something is wrong? What if we are registering the cultural and chemical imbalance of the modern world in our highly sensitive bodyminds, but mistaking the main issue as being only in our own bodies, rather than the body of the world beyond us? What if we are doing what women have always done – feeling the communal pain as though it were our own – and trying to make it better? (4)

While it is true that chronic health conditions are becoming more and more common generally, and that Western medicine does not (yet) have many answers or effective treatments, this is further complicated when it comes to women. For not only has the male body and experience of illness been considered the norm (both culturally and in medical research), thus ignoring the very different biology and experience of females, it is also woefully common for women to simply be disbelieved, for our suffering not to be taken seriously. We are seen, to use the title of one of the chapters, as being mad, bad or sad, our illnesses ‘all in our heads,’ and therefore not legitimate, not real. In addition, it is still women who do the majority of care of others ‘within a culture that encultures them not to assert or attend to their own needs.’ (5) Under such conditions, women are literally exhausted to the limit and made unwell. 

We have internalised the message that there’s something wrong with us, rather than there is something wrong. (6)

As Lucy makes clear, historically the Western medical system has been closely interwoven with the powers of the State, the penal system and the Church, as well as a male dominated Science. This system has typically denied other ways of knowing and healing, such as those found in indigenous, nature-based cultures, and especially the healing knowledge that was once held by women—the witches, herbalists, midwives and folk healers, who practiced a democratic ‘people’s medicine’. We have, therefore, lost much of our understanding of illness, and the methods of healing that can bridge body, mind and spirit.

More generally, illness itself is considered something of a taboo in our culture. To be sick is to be seen as weak, a victim—labels that are so very easily attached to women.

We are neither explicitly taught nor supported in our culture how to navigate illness, physical or mental decline or change as an integral part of moving through life, precisely because illness is seen as degenerate, sinister, a threatening other state of being to be avoided. We are not shown how to move through illness internally, how to assimilate its changes or how to engage spiritually with it. We are merely taught to avoid it, and to fight it: to resist change at all costs. (7)

When illness is seen in entirely negative terms as something to be avoided, denied, ignored, or suppressed; when we are made to feel ashamed for being ill, especially when our illness is ongoing and/or unexplainable; and when we believe ourselves to be victims, then it becomes impossible to see illness as a gift, a message from our sensitive bodies that something is wrong, that creates the opportunity for transformation, or greater understanding. Illness is, after all, an unavoidable part of life, an element of what it means to be human. It should be embraced as one of the ways in which we develop as people, and as a warning, an alarm that sounds when things are out of balance—in our bodies, communities, or ecosystems.

Our bodies are displaying the symptoms of the truths we cannot tell. If our voices cannot be heard, then our bodies will tell the truth their way. Our bodies are protesting: they are calling time on this way of living, for an end to busyness as usual. (8)

I have said myself that I eventually came to see my illness is a gift, an ally, an enabler, giving me the opportunity to spend time on my own development, to read and learn much, and to pursue my creative and spiritual work. Though it can indeed be a terrible thing, I am strangely grateful for it, for it has made me who I am. 

Sickness is a gift, wrapped up in the oddest, scariest, least obvious of wrappings: it brings us, if we will let it, back home to ourselves. (9)

One of the greatest gifts that illness gives to us is a return to the core reality of our bodies. The conceptual and philosophical split between mind and body which is endemic to Western/patriarchal culture (thanks, Descartes!), is, I believe, one of the foundational problems that afflicts us. The understanding of ourselves as ensouled bodies and embodied souls has been lost, and we’ve been cast adrift from our sacred materiality. Yet perhaps the tide is beginning to turn:

Woman Healing understands through her lived experience that her body has power and life of its own – and that it is her sacred duty to stay connected to this and honour it. She recognises that she cannot leave her body as a form of escape from her illness or the perceived dangers of the world for very long and remain healthy. Instead of trying to control life with her mind, the Woman Healing learns to feel into her body, come fully into her body and live from this place. This is where she can access and root her power. (10)

To me this is a key piece of wisdom. All of us, not just women, need to (re)learn to fully inhabit our bodies, and to work within the physical and energetic limitations that have been placed upon us. In a culture that bases so much of its worth on defying limitations and exerting control over nature (and people), this is a transgressive idea, but one that I think is crucial (I have written some thoughts about limitations here). 

Lucy writes, ‘So many of our health problems come from not just external stressors, but the inner stress of ignoring our biological and emotional cycles by forcing our bodyminds to fit prescribed modes of reality, rather than shaping our culture to fit our biological realities’ (11). Similarly, we change the natural ways and cycles of the earth to fit with our desired lifestyles, rather than fitting our lifestyles to the natural ways, cycles, and physical limitations of the earth. Neither of these approaches is sustainable.

When we heal within the Feminine we do not treat the body as an independent machine, but the human as one cell within a larger body: a family, a community, a shared history. Though each of our sicknesses is unique to us, and our healing must be initiated by us, it is not individual – it is a community practice. We heal together. (12)

The section of the book that affected me the most was the evocation of Medicine Woman herself as ‘a lost feminine archetype of healing’. It is she who holds space for us as we transform, as we move through our natural cycles, and learn how to accept and live in the moment. There is much we can learn from her.

There is also much we can learn from this book. In order to heal we need to be prepared to feel deeply, to accept the realities of our bodies in their fragility, and ultimately, their mortality. We need to learn from the natural world, and (re)connect with our biological cycles. We need to be prepared to face the darknesses in ourselves, the deep hurts and traumas that have trapped us in stories that do not allow us to claim our inner wisdom and power, or to see the meaning inherent in our illnesses, and in life itself.

In order to be able to fully heal we need two things. We have to be prepared to die. And we have to be fully prepared to live. To live more fully, differently, more vibrantly than we ever have before. To seize hold of life in one hand and death in the other and dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to both. To die to our old bodies, our previous conceptions of self. We know that we are uncomfortable with death. But we may find we are also uncomfortable with life. (13)

Reading Medicine Woman has certainly challenged me to once more take a more proactive role in my healing, to face some of the things that are still holding me back (including my discomfort with life in this profoundly life-denying culture), and to understand the importance of my own healing in a communal and global context. It may not provide all the answers, but it certainly asks the right questions. 

Indeed, throughout the book there are many questions and creative tasks which are designed to help readers engage with and integrate the material in their own personal way. I confess, I have not yet had the time to answer any of the questions; yet in simply reading through them I found myself feeling confronted and challenged—and while this is initially very uncomfortable, I know it is necessary to bring unresolved material to the surface, and to recommit myself to healing in my own way.

We are in the midst of a time of collapse and great change. Our culture is sick, and we are all suffering. What we need is a revolution, in more ways than one, but especially in the way we approach medicine and the treatment of illness. I applaud Lucy H. Pearce for the brave work she is doing in writing about this subject, not only with well-researched evidence, but also with poetry and feeling. In speaking the truth about the suffering of women, she is starting a conversation that creates the environment in which the work of transformation can begin.

If you have a chronic illness, or even if you don’t, I urge you to read this book. Medicine Woman can be purchased directly from Womancraft Publishing in Ireland, or from other online retailers such as the Book Depository.

I will end with these final words from Lucy:

To heal is to be a conscientious objector to the culture of war we have inhabited as normality. To heal is to risk moving closer to death and return bringing back more life-force to our planet and deepen our understanding of our interconnections. To heal requires that we inhabit the Feminine more fully and reject the divine right of toxic masculinity to dominate.

To focus on personal healing in our culture is an act of powerful, political rebellion. It is an act of spiritual revolution. It is also a profound act of service – one which will ripple up and down your family lineage, out into your community and the world beyond you. To insist on healing for all peoples in this time is scary. But it is needed. (14)


References
1. Lucy H. Pearce, Medicine Woman: Reclaiming the Soul of Healing, Womancraft Publishing, 2018, p. 115
2. Lucy H. Pearce, Burning Woman, Womancraft Publishing, 2016, p. 154
3. Medicine Woman, p. 12
4. Ibid, p. 114
5. Ibid, p. 38
6. Ibid, p. 21
7. Ibid, p. 133
8. Ibid, p. 41
9. Ibid, p. 153
10. Ibid, p. 201
11. Ibid, p. 211
12. Ibid, p. 241
13. Ibid, pp. 181–182
14, ibid, p. 262

Monday, 19 November 2018

Wise Words: The Gods Are Waiting

The path has always been clear to those who choose to see. We must shun civilisation and the things of civilisation. In our hearts if not in the wild world itself, we must go into the forest and never come out. We must reunite our souls with the souls of the trees, the rocks, the streams, the dirt. We must meditate on our place in the cosmos. In doing so, we will not change the fate of this world but we will be, at last, true to our nature once again. The world of the Paleolithic hunter gatherers is gone for good. We cannot return to the past. But the gods that we once knew are still waiting for us in the wild places of the world. If we go to them, they will embrace us.

(Ramon Elani, ‘It is Time to Kiss the Earth Again’, 10th October, 2016, The Dark Mountain Blog, http://dark-mountain.net/blog/it-is-time-to-kiss-the-earth-again/)

N.B. The only correction I would add to this quote is that we can, indeed must, change the fate of this world.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A New Language: A Poem

I am back from my writing adventures both exhausted and energised, and trying to find some balance between those two feelings … and, I’m sorry to say, not having much success. Exhaustion is beginning to defeat me, so I think I need to disappear for a while in order to recover fully. Hence, this week I am just stopping by to share something that was on my mind in the days before Writing the Wild Soul began. This is something I will try to elaborate on in future posts.

A New Language

Perhaps finding a new language is our 
only hope. Perhaps we should listen more 
than we speak, these words merely clumsy 
ciphers, trying to say what cannot fully be 
said. Can a word, spoken as an incantation 
provoke a feeling that cradles a meaning? 
Can feeling, sensation, bring us back to the 
Real so that we return to understanding, to 
humility? For we are beings of dirt, of earth 
and no other place. We’d best look down, at the 
ground, and down into the being of our bodies
just as the stars look down on us

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Wise Words: The Blinding Of The Stars

We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity. We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us – the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it. On almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world.
The blinding of the stars [due to light pollution] is only one aspect of this retreat from the real. In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlines. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation … And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world – its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits – as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination.

(Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places, Granta Publications: London, 2007, pp. 202–203)
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