Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Wise Words: The Body is in the Soul

For [French mystical philosopher, Henry] Corbin, the Otherworld is a pre-condition of our own world, meaning that our world would not exist without it. The Otherworld thus encompasses our reality rather than being situated by it. He explains this difficult concept by using the following analogy. Although we commonly consider our spirit to be situated within our body or brain during its incarnation, an assumption forced upon us by Descartes’ separation of the mind from the body (and the natural world), the converse is actually true. The body is encompassed by the spirit. Furthermore, imagination, which has the ability to connect with and move between the two worlds, encompasses our psychological and cognitive functions. We are therefore embraced and held by a world of magic which appears to us in visions, dreams and symbols yet it is a world to which we have become increasingly blind and mute. 

(Sinead Spearing, Wiccecræft: Shamanic Magic from The Dark Ages, Green Magic: Stathe, Somerset, 2011, p. 4)

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Wings are a Constraint: The Gift of Limitations

We live in a world in which it has come to be generally believed that we can be, do and have whatever we want—if we put our minds to it, try hard enough, and/or buy all the right products. Yet in this hyper-individualistic culture we have become so self-obsessed that we no longer see the bigger picture, the wider view of the earth community that we are situated within, and the destructive effects our unhealthily self-absorbed perspective is wreaking.

The truth is that there are limitations on who we can be, what we can do, and what we can have. Nature places limits on how we can (and should) live, which we are meant to (though typically do not) defer to. Our bodies, and the circumstances we are born into and that form our lives are also natural and necessary constraints. This doesn’t mean that we don’t contain great potentials and possibilities within us; nor does it mean we should ignore the injustices and oppressions that form unnatural constraints on our lives and the lives of others (those limits should certainly be destroyed). 

But what it does mean, I think, is that we find who we are, and our place and purpose in the world, in the fertile space between our potential and our limitations. As poet, typographer and translator Robert Bringhurst has said:

Wings are a constraint that makes it possible to fly. (1)

Brown falcon
We cannot be who we want to be—only who we are. Or in other words, who we are is constrained—though not wholly defined—by what we are. Or in yet another way, what we are precedes and affects who we are. 

Nonhumans don’t seem to have much trouble with this: a banksia tree cannot be anything other than itself, a being of banksia-ness; a magpie cannot help but sing as magpies do (though perhaps this is changing, because of all the damage humans have, and are, doing to the natural world.) Yet, for us human beings, being ourselves—when we have lost so many of the cultural tools which taught us how to achieve this—is often the hardest thing.

Un-centring our thoughts, becoming less self-focused, and accepting the constraints we have been gifted with (yes, gifted!), are, I believe, crucial to this process. We are not atomised individuals, but exist within a web of interrelations and dynamic processes. We are all constrained and full of potential, all of us navigating the path of our particular lives, which intertwines and intersects with the lives of others. Thus, we must tread gently, considerately, in the life-dance with the humans and nonhumans around us, and with the land we live on.

Flowering Old Man Banksia, Banksia serrata
We cannot have everything that we want, though we will probably receive what we need; nor can we do whatever we want, though most of us are able to do what is enough. Likewise, who we are is far more important and full of meaning than who we might like to be.

I am aware that this is not a popular idea. Most people want to overcome limitations, to smash through them, to boldly declare that there are no limits at all to what humans can achieve or what we can become (take, for instance, the recent talk of creating colonies on Mars or the moon—ridiculous and arrogant proposals that are not grounded in respect for the earth, or even physical possibility). But I am not interested in popularity, only in the truth, the Real, the beautiful constraints of what is

The fact that we are in danger of destroying the biosphere that creates and sustains all life, is proof that we have been arrogantly disregarding nature’s limitations, as well as our own—focusing on wants, rather than needs; on having, rather than being or experiencing; and on trying to create false selves, rather than finding out who we really are. It is time we were more humble, more thoughtful about how we conduct ourselves as humans. There are limits, and they must be respected. 

In his poem ‘Finch’, Bringhurst writes of the many birds who visit the bowl of birdseed in his garden:

They speak of what they are, not who 
they do or do not wish to be. 
That is a form of moral beauty … (2)

This is true. To become fully ourselves, and to live in connection and relationship with the earth, is what we are here to do, and it is both a form of moral beauty and a moral imperative. Yet, the existence of limitations should not discourage us, for between constraint and possibility, is where we can fly.

1. Robert Bringhurst, ‘Prosodies of Meaning: Literary Form in Native North America’, in The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology, Counterpoint: Berkeley, 2006, 2008, p. 208
2. Robert Bringhurst, Selected Poems, Jonathan Cape: London, 2010, p. 135

King parrot

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Wise Words: Defenders of Reality

We have the kind of economy we have, and we do the kind of science that we do, for all kinds of reasons, including those of history. But the main reason in the end is that we just don’t care enough. We do not get angry enough when we see animals, or indeed people, treated badly, or when forest is swept aside. Those who do protest are commonly derided as ‘greenies’. They are perceived to be in the way of economic progress, and so to be ‘unrealistic’. Yet they are the defenders of reality: the real realities of landscapes and of living creatures. It’s the present economy, that recognizes no limits to financial growth that is unrealistic. 

(Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Birds: Who They Are and What They Do. Penguin: London, 2008, pp. 449–450)


Our economic models are projections and arrows when they should be circles. To define perpetual growth on a finite planet as the sole measure of economic well-being is to engage in a form of slow collective suicide. To deny or exclude from the calculus of governance and economy the costs of violating the biological support systems of life is the logic of delusion.

(Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, UWA Publishing: Crawley, Western Australia, 2009, p. 217)

Friday, 5 January 2018

Wise Words: A Precious Gem

I am an avid collector of quotes—any gems of wisdom I find in my literary travels that inspire, inform, and assist me to make sense of my own thoughts.

So many books and writers have influenced me in profound ways over the last several years, challenging me, and leading me forward into a better understanding of myself and the world. I would love to be able to write about their wise words, to elucidate what they have written in my own way (and sometimes I will), yet I lack the energy to be able to do that most of the time. 

Thus, as I still want to be able to share their wisdom with you, and to spread it far and wide, I thought I would make it a goal for this year to post a quote each week that I think is particularly important. Some will be about creativity, some about spirituality or feminism, and many will be related to nature, ecology and so forth. They will, I hope, be radical and beautiful and full of love, joy and resistance.

In a roundabout way, these quotes will tell you more about who I am and what I believe. I hope they will also challenge and inspire you.
Since I have been reading the poetry of Robert Bringhurst recently, I thought that this little poem, a particularly precious gem, would be a good place to start. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Radical Beginnings: In Nature, at the Roots

I have to begin where everything begins, in the blindness and in the shadows. I have to begin the story of women’s development where all things begin: in nature, at the roots. It is necessary to return to the origin of confusion, which is woman’s struggle to understand her own nature.
—from the prologue to the first edition of Ladders to Fire, by Anaïs Nin

I’ve long had an interest in the roots of things, so this quote from Anaïs Nin speaks to me. 

In nature, at the roots, where darkness dwells, fecund with seeds of possibility, is, I think, the best place for new, and radical, beginnings.

Radical: origin: late Middle English (in the senses ‘forming the root’ and ‘inherent’): from late Latin radicalis, from Latin radix, radic- ‘root’

I am so looking forward to the possibilities of this year. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

Elsewisdom: A New Knowing to Close the Circle

What a strange year it has been, full of journeys through dark and low places, punctuated by occasional bright, high peaks. I’ve written poetry, and stopped writing altogether for a time. I’ve made some art, and wished I could make much more (and let’s not forget my knitting). And confusion and unease have been near constant companions, forcing me to re-evaluate and reconfigure my perspective and way of being, but I think I am finally finding my way to the creation of a new amalgam, a new understanding. 

In June I wrote of the winter solstice, my feelings of unwisdom, and my movement between opposing poles: 

I have been both still and in constant motion over the past year. I’ve been myself, and changed. I’ve been high and low, light and dark, wise and unwise. I’ve come full circle, and will again, and again. (Stillness, Unwisdom & the Solstice)

And so it seems appropriate that I am coming to the end of another cycle, to some kind of conclusion with which to end this calendar year, and then to begin again, renewed.

Dualities and paradoxes have been at the forefront of my mind for some time—the dance of opposing forces. And these opposites—light/dark, body/mind, spirit/matter, nature/culture—do indeed dance. While they are distinct things, they are not wholly seperate, for they work together; and, sometimes, in the space between grows a third thing—a merging, a oneness, an equilibrium. It’s not an easy thing to find, balance, but I know it is there, in that calm space between the whirls.  

An illustration from Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home
Rereading Susan Griffin’s seminal germinal book Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (1978), a classic ecofeminist text, was a necessary part of my search for answers. In it she argues against the philosophical separations and dualisms that have been part of the thinking of many civilised humans since the time of Plato. In Griffin’s poetic prose, what is separated is rejoined, the mind comes to re-inhabit the body, the heart to work once more with the mind. (I think it was Clarissa Pinkola Estés who wrote that it is better to work from a position of and/and than one of either/or.) As someone who struggles with being too much in my head and not enough in my body, Griffin’s work is both inspiring and instructive. Thus, my aim for the year ahead (if all goes well) is going to be an exploration of embodiment—in writing, in art, in food and nourishment, and in forms of somatic meditation and other spiritual practices. (This need for embodiment is something I have known about for several years, and is thus long overdue.)

I also read an anthology of Griffin’s writing earlier this year, in which I came across many things that resonated with me. It is a wondrous thing when someone’s writing speaks very directly to you as reader, as if made just for you—even things written decades ago, as in this case. So I will leave you, and the tumultuous year that was 2017, with this quote, which I think sums up much of what I have been thinking and feeling:    

But fearful as I am, there is joy in me. While one eye sees disaster and the causes of destruction more clearly, the other eye awakens to beauty. I am beginning to put the shattered being, myself and the world, back together. We are all connected. I know this. Dark and light. Male and female. We are a tribe whose fate on this earth is shared. I do not know the outcome. I have moments of despair. But I have learned that when I see out of my own experience, and chart it as precisely and clearly as I can, I see what I have not seen before: I am surprised.

This earth holds a vast wisdom and a capacity to heal that we are only beginning to comprehend. We are made from this earth. This is my hope. 

(Susan Griffin, Made from this Earth: An Anthology of Writings by Susan Griffin, Harper & Row: New York, 1982, p. 20)
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