Year of activism #2

With the words: It is not a drill Greta Thunberg opens the video message she and George Monbiot have prepared to highlight the need to protect, restore and enable our natural environment to tackle the climate crisis. The video is a must see for it’s direct and explicit messaging. The communicators are essential for mobilising. Their advice in this little video is to plant trees. Such a simple act. The stages are protect, restore, act.

I have just moved into a new home and the garden is a literal desert, save for a beautiful flowering gum that belongs next door and has found a way for some of its branches to fall over the fence. On my first Saturday here I went to find things to plant and support for the soil which has had no love in years it seems. Over the coming year this will be part of my own response to protect, restore and act.

These steps are steps for the activist too. We must protect ourselves from the loss and grief we are encountering lest it render us to a state of paralysis. This will mean going deep into our sense of regret, sadness, despair – that last bastion of hope. David Whyte writes Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessity a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us (from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words).

When we face facts, it is in not a drill, we look at what we have done to get us to this point. It is personal, it is political. We move to protect ourselves so we can own the despair, move through it a pace where it can be integrated and take us to the place where we can be restored to our best version of ourselves. To that place where we can find the good in us to lead us to action. Protecting ourselves invokes poetry, music, beauty in our surrounds and in our relationships. To be there for each other without judgement or blame. To be seen sobbing and to be heard cursing. To be in the shelter of each other as we each fumble and find our way to restoration.

Restoring our selves – bringing ourselves back to a former state – a state of childlike wonder, a state of union with all that is needed to sustain us, a state of appreciation for all that connects us. Inside the process of restoration lies forgiveness, appreciation of all that has gone before, a eye to potential and discovery of essence. The acts that follow are grounded in fundamental, although occasionally some inconvenient truths as well, but they are acts with integrity and ones evolved through a process of recovery and renewal.

I am reminded of the principles of any 12 step program – admitting we have a problem, seeking support and guidance from and with peers, recognising we are not alone and calling on a higher power to get us through, making amends and evangelising to bring others to the process. It starts with despair though and this is a step we can’t skip over as it is fuel for hope. When we get to rock bottom, and the sirens are sounding, our vulnerability arrives with all its fragility, complexity, tears and tantrums and we know we can’t do it alone, then we can begin to road back to Eden.

As I am making a new home I am wondering what has been before, that can be protected and restored and have begun a little research in these first few days. I have been lent a copy of RetroSuburbia, joined a couple of Facebook groups about butterflies and gardening, turned up at a local nursery and had some loam and compost delivered. I have been blessed by dear friends with John O’Donohue’s Elemental Blessing for a New Home. It is a beginning, in this year of activism.

Elemental Blessing for A New Home

Before a human voice was ever heard here,
This place has known the respect of stone,
The friendship of the wind, always returning
With news of elsewhere, whispered in seed and pollen,
The thin symphonies of birdsong softening the silence,
The litanies of rain rearranging the air,
Cascades of sunlight opening and closing days,
And the glow of the moon gazing through darkness.
May all that elemental enrichment
Bless the foundation and standing of your home.

Before you came here, this place has known
The wonder of children’s eyes,
The hope of mornings in troubled hearts,
The tranquility of twilight easing the night,
The drama of dreams under sleeping eyelids,
The generous disturbance of birth,
The anxieties of old age unclenching into grace
And the final elegance of calmly embraced death.
May the life of you new home enter
Into this inheritance of spirit.

May the rain fall kindly,
May daylight illuminate your hearts,
May the darkness never burden.

May those who dwell here in the unseen
Watch over your coming and going,
May your lives of love and promise
Refine and deepen the mind of the land.

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

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2020 Year of activism #1

The year has started for me in Mexico City and it is a fine place to get an apprenticeship in revolution. From bullet holes attributed to Pancho to the student protests of 68, to the countless acts of courage against state and organised crime violence, there is no doubting the human spirit is constantly seeking to be liberated from oppression of all kinds.

One of the lessons in revolution, is there is a cost. Sometimes that cost is in lives. And in my own country Australia, and so close to home, those who have lost their lives in the fires and may come to be known by future generations as climate change martyrs. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. If Mexico is going to provide me with another lesson on this front, I am worried that we don’t learn and in fact just keep repeating our mistakes and there is no real turn around in power, equity and justice.

Another lesson is the importance of sticking together and being family where-ever you can. Family comes in many forms, but the centrality of making decisions from the perspective of a child and what they will inherit is as good a compass as any. One of my lessons from my Aboriginal friends is the essential connection of being family and if it is not in the DNA then it comes by the relationship – through desgnations of aunty, uncle, sister, brother. If we think of everyone as family where will that take us? The centrality of Earth as our Mother can only help us take the steps we need to take to heal and build a future not so anthropocentric.

A third lesson is air quality – and not just the amount of toxins in the air – but how we share air space in conversaions and where the air stops us in our tracks to get down deep inside of us to ensure our body knows just what it means to have the life sucked out of us if we keep behaving like we do – polluting the air with words that don’t serve us and poisons to kill us. Mexico City is a place traditionally known for its poor air quality was not the worst place on the planet this past week, in fact my home town of Adelaide took that honour as the smoke and ash from Kangaroo Island blew into town. The pristine ecologically significant place now wrestling with some species at the point of extinction and with almost half of the land burnt, literally millions of creatures dead including two humans – a father and son – another example of what it means to be family.

The quality of conversations, sharing the air space, making room for the quiet voices, listening with a compassionate heart, finding ways for all the voices to be heard and coming to clarity that is greater than the sum of all the voices into one united voice is one of the great challenges of our time in the crowded spaces. High quality space and holding spaces where diversity can co-exist and anxieties can come to rest with compassion are skills for this time.

While I have been on the other side of the planet, and the irony of this experience is not lost on me, another lesson I have been gifted is the gift of distance. Being outside of your own context often gives you some time and space to see things a little more clearly. It doesn’t need to disconnect you from what is going on (thank you email, social media and internet). In spite of being here to be with some of my family, I have also been supporting the online community I founded to write a climate emergency statement, get organised and continue sharing their goals and aspirations. I have also been able to dip into actions of others and bring my values and experience to decision making for events and governance in organisations that I am involved with. Different time zones have their advantages and I have benefiited from that for decades now, this really helps me connect to the global citizenship experience. For me, it is the act local, think global adage, in practice.

The practice of staying connected, and being apart, feels like the heart of my reflection this week. Keeping space for both is the balancing act. I arrived when the moon was new and am leaving when it is full, having been at the steps of the Pyramid to the Moon in between.

A Blessing for Stability

May you have time to be still, when the world is a whirlwind.

May you have space to stand, when the Cathedral is choking with bodies.

May you have stairs to climb, when the ancients call you.

May you have tears to spare, when young ones seek you.

May you have internet access, when your signature is needed.

May you have funds to donate, when your House is on fire.

May you have a laugh in your belly, when the sobs stop falling.

May you have sun rays and moon light, when darkness descends.

May you have generous guides, when you don’t know what you are in for.

May you have the wisdom to know this is all an apprenticeship.

May you have seeds offered to you, when you have no idea of what they might yield.

And may you be blessed with a compass stable enough, to point you in the direction you need to revolve towards.

Seeds from Erythrina Americana a plant that is native to Mexico, attracts hummingbirds, provides colour and is used by children in play as little weapons because of its spiky flowers. These seeds were at the Teotihuacan Pryamids.

Sparks will fly #transit #52

My 2019 begun in NYC and ends in Mexico City. In between these two incredible locations I was fortunate to visit Portugal, Spain, Germany as well as Aussie cities, regional centres and a few country towns as wildly different as Coober Pedy and Katoomba. Being in transit has been a feature of my pilgrim life in 2019.

I have had spectacles with transition lens for more than a decade. The light hits my glasses, and with no effort on my part, makes the necessary adjustment to enable my eyes to have no trouble coping with glare and changing light conditions. This is one of my favourite daily pieces of technology.

Not all transitions are that easy, although there is light and shade in them all.This has been a year of living in transit. From one state to another – some soft and some hard landings. Many with the magic and drama of a Tolkein novel marked with elfen mischief to distract me from dark and dangerous encounters with history. There has been enough light to guide me out of burrows and to be a lamp unto my feet, as the psalmist would say.

Transition is the in-between time, like the thresholds in my Celtic dreaming marking the space between one world and another – the Wardrobe leading to Narnia. The fellowship of my travelling companions has been all gift and while I may not have been as faithful to them all as they have to me, I am glad of their witness, wise counsel and kindness. Com-panion, to be with bread, is exactly how it is for me, they have been sustenance whether a morsel or a loaf.

The bread has taken so many shapes and textures – gluten free to pumpineckel, French sticks to multigrain rolls. A cornucopia of delicious, warmth, straight out of the oven, offered up to be broken and shared. My kind of eucharist. It isn’t possible to be in transit without food for the journey, and I have been generously endowed.I have needed every crumb of sustenance to get me through this transition. In reality, there has been multiple transitions, not just one.

The year began with an Australian honour and I was humbled to have the recognition for my life and work. Quite something to be able to put letters after your name and wear a badge! The transition of going from one home to another with a season on the road and house hopping, being a swaggie of sorts. Finding a new place to live, in a new location and the promise this brings of new possibilities. Taking on a new role in one job and winding down my consulting business. Changing board roles and responsibilities in more than one set of governance arrangements. Establishing a new entity to take my efforts to contribute to closing the gender investment gap into a new direction. There is the metastory though of one over arching transition, the one that sees moving from the fog and paralysis of grief to the tentative and intentional lintel where a new door is ajar calling to be pushed. And with the push comes invitations to openness.

What lies beyond the door?

My discernment strategies are laid on ancient foundations and may require more bread to be broken. More sparks will fly as we all transit to a new year.

Blessing for Transit

May you be ready when the time comes

May you pack what you need

May you leave behind what no longer serves you

May you have a story to hold you

May you notice the door’s invitation

May you smell freshly baked bread

May you have companions waiting for you on the otherside

And may you be transformed through the alchemy of transit.

Sparks will fly #51 #Advent

A new decade is about to arrive, the birth pangs are real with groans, pants, waiting to take a deeper breath to do a deeper push and expel from the safety of the birth canal, whatever this is I have been carrying for what seems to be longer than any other pregnancy I have held. Unlike real pregnancy no one stops to rub my tummy, ask for a due date, if I have picked a name or how is my nesting going …. But there have been midwives and other medicine men and women, with a range of expertise and there have been angels and saints invoked. Like the first nativity, people are coming from far away places to see what is arriving. Others are looking to the stars for some explanations and others working out what to bring to the stable. The poetry of moving to my new home on this last week of Advent in this last week of the decade is so heartening and a cosmic coincidence that supports me in ways I could have only imagined a year ago. Last night I had a little person sleeping in my bed, he slept with ease and confidence, and the gift burst my heart. My own nativity. His cuddly toys, a range of real and imaginary creatures bearing witness, as authentic as any cow or sheep in a field.

I have always loved Advent. I love the idea of preparation, of waiting, the expectant nature that the best is yet to come …. And what we already have is pretty good! It is time that invites us to keep moving to return to our family home, to be accounted for, a time that brings creation, politics, travel and cosmology into one glorious piece of complexity made simple with the birth of a child. It’s the story to remind me of what it means to be vulnerable to lead, to means to have heralds announce your arrival, to have the wise outside of our culture to value what me might not yet understand, to have the stars align. It is a time for me when I reflect on what is being born in me, what is waiting to be celebrated and what might be emerging.

I end this decade so completely differently to how I started it. I am definitely older and wiser. I have experienced the absolute worst of times in this decade. I have been recognised and celebrated in surprising and compassionate ways. I have walked, jumped and ran. There have been numerous sprints which have served as bridges from one state to another.

I have learnt so much this year – it is has been about integration and using my past to inform my future. There is no tomorrow that today has not prepared me for in some way. There is no part of me that can’t be deployed, recycled or reinvented to meet the challenges ahead. I have everything I need and I just need to remember that truth.

Those faithful witnesses to my life are precious to me and have been as important as any king or shepherd. They are the ones who have detected the sparks when I didn’t know they could fly. I bow down as deeply as I can, with a full heart of gratitude, wonder and awe at the birthing process and remaining open and curious to what this next decade will hold.

Sparks will fly #50 #anticipation

Anticipation is built into this time of year. In the Christian tradition we wait for the birth of the child to model and lead us to liberation. The most vulnerable expression possible of leadership – a helpless little person completely dependent on others. Students wait for their end of year results and I still look to the purple rain of jacaranda trees as heralds of marks being posted. The calendar tells us it is time to review, pack up and plan ahead. Business plans get their mid-year check-up and revisions, tweaks are made. We reflect with gratitude on what has been and sometimes have a lump in our throats about missed opportunities or regrets vie for our attention. Lists are made for what to have on menus as friends and family gatherings, parties and seasonal activities of the summer now arrive in the calendar. It is time when we are on the move. And for me this is not academic as I will be moving into my new home by this time next week. Ending the year completely differently to how I started. I anticipated this would be a ‘getting over’ year. I anticipated I would build up some strength again in my heart and my head and maybe even find some room for imagination of possibilities.

What I didn’t anticipate was all the love and kindness I ran into along the way. I learned to receive more and understood the relationship between moving on and holding still better than I have before. I noticed around every corner there was someone who wanted to give me something – free advice, a glass of wine, a secret, an idea, an invitation. I noticed I was waking up from a fog and a malaise located deep and that could be surgically removed, it needed to be massaged out. Each act of kindness and act of kneading – pushing, pulling, stretching. The little beads of yeast being enabled to rise with each rub and fold. In waking up those beads, there has been ferment and heat, there have been releases and metabolic changes, there have been conversions. I have found myself going back to the liberation theologians and lessons I held so dear in the 80s and 90s and genuinely wondered why I let their influence on me become so dormant. I remember reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the mid 80s – more than two decades after it had been written and assuming the clever people on the planet would get it and fix things up – I truly never thought back then it would come to this. Toxic air in cities belonged to places like Mexico City and Beijing, not Sydney and Canberra. When I first studied about Palau as potentially the first climate change refugees in the 80s, I also thought surely that would be sorted too and lessons in the Pacific would be learnt and as neighbours we would take on responsibilities and support.

The idea of radical localism was embedded in the basic ecclesial communities endorsed by theologians like Leonardo Boff and economists like Manfred Max-Neff. I lived and worked with these frames throughout the 70s, 80s and into the 90s. I shifted my attention and got my hands on some bigger levers. I had roles with the word Chief in them. I also found myself focussed in almost a singular way on one person whose needs were immediate and literally all about breathing and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. His life often spoke to me of the metaphor of the canary in the coalmine. I even flirted with the idea his lung disease was a metaphor for what was happening to the planet and bigger systems.

We can influence, but we cannot control. We can bring hope and trust to any relationship with systems and with each other. We can hold still and move on at the same time. We can remind ourselves what got us here, when we woke up and if possible we can be compassionate to our selves and work feverishly to address and be accountable, and we can kindly and generously forgive ourselves for not seeing what was right in front of us to be seen. Despite mounting evidence, sometimes it is only by hauling over the coals do we find the reason the fire started in the first place. The forensic investigations are necessary to understand exactly what brought us here so we don’t do it again. So we come to understand how an accelerant works and how the smoke fills the air.

I am in that place now, as I anticipate and discern some next steps in my own story.

Like the phoenix not consumed by the fire, but rising up transformed from having flown in and deep to the ashes and rolling around in them discovering new colours. The colour purple created by the dye of crushed conch shells around Phoenicia in ancient Greece often depicted in the feathers of the mythical bird. Purple hues are the colours of this season and made from the equal intensity of red and blue it too holds meaning about coming together to create something more than the sum of the parts. This is where anticipation arrives when elements get put together and in that moment of making, there is anticipation. I am applying what I have learnt from the past, reflecting on what has been and putting in the new learnings of this year together and am wearing purple, waiting with anticipation to see what sparks will fly.

Sparks will fly #49 #safe

The twin experience of being held and holding on has been a theme of many posts over the years, and yet again this week I had those moments. Most poignantly through exquisite facilitation and being asked to recall a moment from childhood that had been a peak experience; I was shocked to find myself holding an imaginary child in my arms before realising it was the memory of holding my baby brother on his arrival home from hospital. A moment where I took my older sibling and big sister status to a new level. To be tumbled back through the more than 40 years since that day, was a deeply heartbreaking moment too as I then recalled moments when we had been alone together when he was dying just over a year ago. I held his hand, sang him songs from childhood and recalled memories from our shared experience of the hearth and heart. I have found it hard to get past the other griefs to get to mourn him and it was a real blessing to have the memory of holding come to me with clarity and direction. The experience opened a door.

There was much to be thankful for in coming to this moment of holding. I was in a sacred place when this memory arrived, a place that linked his love of teaching and learning in indigenous communities so there was another link to him there. As the Sydney skies darkened and ash floated in the air, the haze of the smoke and the sun silhouetted in orange, I mourned him. I gave thanks for the memory being delivered where I felt safe. Safety being the pre-condition for vulnerability.

Creating a safe space enables a container for bold and brave actions and words. The place where this memory arrived has, and continues to be, such a container for the last 60 years. Crossing the threshold that morning as I entered the property I honoured it as a sacred place of rest, refuge, reflection, learning and listening. As I move in a few weeks, I am being drawn into what makes a safe place, a container to hold me, my memories, future conversations to hold and be held. How place helps and hinders, creates nooks and crannies, where little and big new ideas can form, memories cherished and beginnings, endings and everything in between can be forged.

For many years the safe places where intimate and challenging conversations took place were in the car, on a red couch, around the kitchen table and in bed. Those conversations are dead. New red couches have been bought, a new kitchen table and new bed too they are in a waiting place getting to arrive, just as I am too. I am trusting they will hold this pilgrim and sojourners to midwife the emerging sparks creating a new fire. Crossing the threshold to this new home will be an act of trust, and opening the door will be accepting the invitation to walk through it as fully as I can.

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Sparks will fly #48 #decolonisation

I am going through a decolonisation of sorts. It started when I realised I had been colonised. Something like the Portuguese leaving Mozambique when they rolled out of the country, they poured concrete down the stairwells so people couldn’t use them anymore, blew up the roads and bridges behind them, left a path of destruction as they evacuated before the peace keepers came in to hold the space as the country re-organised itself, healed from trauma, held elections and tried to get back on track. Immediately after the destruction the country had the lowest GDP on the planet and land mines were everywhere. When I visited in 1994 when the results of the first elections were pending, it seemed every person in every village had lost a limb.

I have been a bit like Mozambique. A path of destruction was left by the one I loved, and there are still land mines going off when I least expect it, and while no limbs have been lost, there have been multiple wounds to the heart and head. But I have held my own election, and while the votes are being counted, I am making provisions for a declaration of independence. It has already started by reverting to my family name more than a year ago now, selling the site we lived in and divesting myself of personal possessions. De-colonisation requires cleaning up and noticing what has been taken, reclaiming and renaming. I had got to my own lowest GDP in the days and now am rebuilding my stocks. Colour and movement are on the horizon.

This experience of decolonisation at a personal level is giving me new understanding of what is required at a macro level. Everything from re-naming streets and buildings and places to reverting to language and building narratives of both resistance and resilience. Listening to griefologist Rosemary Kudnarto Wanganeen this week I learnt about her views on having to go into the pain of a patriarchal and coloniser mindset and understand the experience of victimhood first as a necessary prerequisite to healing. As she acknowledged, this is a tough but necessary step in the journey to liberation. It requires a dismantling, an unlearning, and moving to practices that support learning, understanding, personal psychological work and acts of solidarity. She takes an historical overview from the time of the Roman Empire and it resonates in both the private and public spheres. This is an orientation to trauma and liberation to enable the past, present and future to co-exist. The inner journey is the only way out.

As a nation we have plenty of work to do to go deep, as we try and right the wrongs of the past and that too is going to have to be a journey inward. To own our past and face our history is going to be painful and we will need to be held by the wise and the broken, the healers and the healed, by the ones who can sit in the fire and stand in solidarity. I am trying to tune into the voices of these leaders – as I firmly believe my inner journey to healing is in the mix too. Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson articulated what Aboriginal activists groups in the 70s were saying:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

My hunch is this statement works just as well for us as individuals as we look in the mirror and experience a shift in our inner work once internal co-existence settles into the synapses. We can’t erase what has been done, but perhaps we can reclaim it as a lever for liberation. Then maybe some new sparks will fly.