Sunday, 28 February 2021

Wise Words: A Heroine’s Resurrection

I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness, but actually found I couldn’t put it down. While it is, at times, utterly harrowing, it is also full of hope and possibility. Despite severe illness, Sarah Ramey just does not give up, and she arrives at insights and conclusions, about the medical system, and society and culture, that make a lot of sense to me. She becomes ‘quietly expert at the art of fruitful despair’ (Sarah Ramey, The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness: A Memoir, Fleet: London, 2020, p. 237).

I noticed that there are some one-star reviews on Goodreads, people saying it is truly terrible. It’s not a perfect book—no book is!—but I don’t think the reviews are entirely justified. It will not appeal to everyone, but for me it was though-provoking and endarkening. I am sharing the quote below in the hope that it inspires (or reinforces the knowings of) others.


… A heroine’s resurrection is not a release from the wheel—not an ascension, an end of samsara, a rising out of the body, a final deliverance. It’s not a slaying of anything, of bad guys, of dragons, or Orcs, or ogres—not even a slaying of inner demons. A heroine’s resurrection is down, into the wheel of life—a rooting into the dark, turning earth. A claiming of the body, a realignment with the psyche, and a partnership with the dark, wormy dirt itself. She becomes literally grounded. Her whole job is to learn how to work with life—including the demons and the darkness—not against it, not transcending it, not denying it, not dominating it, not submerging the ugly parts, not striving forever to be better, lighter, brighter, perfect, perfect, best, champion.

Her job is to understand the shadow.

And when this initiate comes back to the upper world, instead of that being the end of the adventure, it’s actually the beginning.

That person now has the job of accompanying others, guiding others, strengthening others as they go through their own difficult, painful descents, disintegrations, and reconfigurations.

Like Persephone.

Goddess of the seasons.

Put another way:

It’s an ecological initiation.

It’s not about learning how to win or dominate something or someone else. It’s about learning how to grow strong roots, and to thrive in connection, cyclically, with everything else.

And this requires not being afraid of the dark.

It requires working with life as it is—worms and all.

(pp. 229–230) 

Friday, 26 February 2021

The Not-Quite-Summer

La Niña, with her cool temperatures and regular rainfall, has made this season a not-quite-summer. It has been lush and green, in contrast to the hot, dry, bushfire season of last year, and for that I am grateful. Yet it has passed by so quickly, it all seems a bit of a blur, and an age since I have posted here. 

Over the past few months I remember immersing myself in the art, spirituality and heartfelt politics of Monica Sjöö. Such an extraordinary woman!

And a close encounter with two bold butcherbirds.

It has, overall, been a summer of spiders, with webs appearing everywhere—perhaps they are holding the edges of the world together. (These photos were taken on the misty summer solstice). 

I’ve also read this influential and fascinating book by Heide Goettner-Abendroth, which has given me food for thought.

As usual, summer has played havoc with my health, so I’ve needed to slow down—a practice I am still working on—and I’m going to be stepping back from online engagements for a while. I hope I’ll have some new art to show you soon, but to make that possible requires a bit of quiet cocooning so I can come back to centre once more, renewed and reenergised. 

I’m expecting autumn to arrive early, though perhaps I will be wrong and some warm sunny weather will arrive before the cold does. Either way, I’m going to try to enjoy it. Even with all the uncertainty of these strange times, and my own illness to contend with, life is good.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Wise Words: The Presence of the Past

An irony of our technological advancement is that it has created a society that is in many ways scientifically more naïve than the preindustrial world, in which no citizen who learned physics through backbreaking work and understood climate through subsistence agriculture would have assumed that he or she was exempt from the laws of nature. The “modern” kind of magical thinking is characterized by the belief that repeating falsehoods like incantations can transform them into scientific truth. It is also yoked to a quasi-mystical faith in the free market, which, according to the prophets, will somehow allow us to live beyond our means indefinitely.

The problem, in essence, is that rates of technological progress far outstrip the rate at which human wisdom matures (in the same way that environmental changes outpace evolutionary adaptation in mass extinction events). Critic and author Leon Wieseltier contends that “every technology is used before it is completely understood. There is always a lag between an innovation and the apprehension of its consequences.” The rapid obsolescence of digital technologies and the cultural flotsam they deliver corrodes our respect for what lasts (“That was so five minutes ago”). And just as reliance on GPS navigation systems causes our capacity for spatial visualization to atrophy, the frictionless, atemporal instantaneity of digital communications weakens our grasp on the structure of time. Our “modern” idea that only Now is real is arguably delusional, while the medieval concept of “wyrd” [the power of the past upon the present] seems positively enlightened. And our blindness to the presence of the past in fact imperils our future.

(Marcia Bjornerud, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 2018, p. 164)
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