Beyond Windgrove

Two halves make a whole

September 13, 2010

In May of this year I left the warmth and security of my Windgrove home and began the 40 hour journey to England to co-teach a course with Fritjof Capra at Schumacher College where students from nine countries attended (Ireland, Canada, Slovenia, Brazil, Norway, England, Scotland, Thailand and Spain).

High above Asia on a tiny screen I viewed the movie Avatar. Although the violent solution to the problem of getting rid of the “invaders” seemed to undermine the possibility of a sustainable peaceful future (expect to see a return to the planet with bigger warships and thousands more soldiers), I found the overall message that, whether called Earth or Pandora, the land has a powerful, spiritual and potent voice. And her names are Eywa and Gaia.

Schumacher has it’s own “Hometree” in the form of a towering chestnut tree. How useful, then, to be able to teach at Schumacher and have this tree’s undeniable energy available to us all.

The course Fritjof and I taught revolved around Leonardo Da Vinci and how Leonardo’s sensibilities as both artist and scientist could give people today a model of how we might live our own lives in order to create societies on Earth wherein all beings are seen in an interactive and interconnected web of life.

For educational purposes only (and not because either of us lacked what the other possessed), Fritjof and I took on the symbolic roles of artist and scientist: I, the artist, represented intuition, vulnerability, passion, non-linear contextual, subjective behaviour, and emotive feelings. Fritjof, the scientist, represented raw facts, rationality, objectivity and factual linear thinking.

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“He who knows not both knows neither”
Robert Frost
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We didn’t argue the case of one side being superior over the other; rather, both sides were shown to be important to the debate. Like the two sides to our brain with the left and right hemispheres each having important functions (and moderated by the corpus callosum). Our present crisis of perception has more to do with the left brain becoming more dominant over the right brain rather than the two being in “dynamic” balance.

For my part, I delivered nine lectures that involved the showing of over 500 slides and the reading of 50 Roaring Beach stories and some 70 poems. Although all the lectures wove a web of interconnection, the one lecture that best summed up my intent was the one entitled “Becoming Earth, A Spiritual Journey”.

Beyond all the indoor, classroom “heady” stuff, what I found really important (in an Avatar sense) was the fire and tree guardian circle twenty of us created on the first day.


Eight blossoming fruit trees (four apple, two quince, two pear) were half buried in ceramic pots at the cardinal and sub-cardinal points of the compass. Within each pot, each of us partially buried a conically shaped hand made piece of paper that would become the repository of whatever we wanted “composted” during our two week course. Whether representing positive or negative emotional thoughts and feelings, flowers or leaves or twigs were put into the cone and the earth would bring its substantial energy to bear on transforming these elements back into the ground. This was our neural link to Ewya or Gaia. This kept us grounded.

While at Schumacher I gave one public lecture attended by around 100 local residents. I ended the presentation with a collection of prayers I have for those children who visit me at Windgrove. These are prayers for my “children”. Not in a biological sense, but in a relational way where I, Uncle “Peter Bear” and Windgrove can have a little influence in their physical, emotional and spiritual growth.

Children in any home are always a delight. Having children come to Windgrove for any time is a time to cherish.

These are my prayers for them while they are in my presence.

PRAYERS FOR “MY” CHILDREN

I pray that:

That they immerse themselves in fun so that when shadows arrive they can beat them back with fluffy pillows and plenty of giggles.

That they play “pick up sticks” and Monopoly and Scrabble and do jig saw puzzles; not to learn competitiveness, but to experience the joy of games and companionship and joint efforts to solve problems.

That they bang on the piano and my drum to feel how sound, any sound is music to the body; that they develop a taste for this particular joyful expression and yearn to be a member of a band or choir and to constantly, spontaneously, sing up the earth.

That they pick themselves up after falling out of a tree exclaiming how wonderful was the view despite the sobs.

That when climbing on the cliff rocks they learn to discern between being courageous and being foolish.

That when swimming in the bigger waves they learn respect rather than fear; that being tossed about by the surf might have an element of danger to it, but boy, is it fun.

That their sweet, innocent bodies and minds grow up understanding the privilege of being alive on this precious earth; of their role in the safeguarding of this earth.

That they are never shielded from the negatives of life, but rather shown how to continually embrace it in all its manifestations.

That their growth into a fully sensual/sacred person is never held back by social or religious dogma.

That the language they learn to speak in “school” is balanced by the other languages of the trees, birds, clouds, wind and worms.

That their love for their individual selves, their family, the greater human family and the outrageously large tribe of all living beings continually deepens throughout the whole of their lives.

These are my prayers for these children.

I also pray that I:

am seen by them to be an exemplary role model of how one can live in this precious world without ever abandoning — no matter how old — a child’s awe and imagination to call forth the fairies and pixies of wonderment;

am seen by them to be a person of trust;

and, hopefully, will always be worthy of a visit, every now and again, as they grow older.
Likewise, the fire would be the recipient of pine cones or pieces of paper and would transform these elements quickly into air and spirit.

Although not children in any sense of the word, Ekawee from Thailand and Ingrid from Brazil were the youngest people in my class. Along with all my students, I dedicate today’s blog to their ongoing happiness and continuing dedication to bringing peace to this world.

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Just a month ago I spent six quiet days at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in northern California — the oldest Japanese Buddhist Soto Zen monastery in the United States.

Meditating twice daily in the zendo with the monks and nuns while also quietly soaking in their hot spring tubs and gratefully dining on their world famous cuisine, it was relatively easy to drop one’s personal and global anxieties behind.

(Concerning the thoughtfully prepared vegetarian food, intriguingly, the traditional name, ‘Tassajara’, is from an indigenous word which means “place where meat is hung to dry”.)

I was surrounded by peace and rest.

My mind didn’t race.
My thoughts didn’t fly high.
My body slowed down.
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This Press of Time

We set the pace.
But this press of time —
take it as a little thing
next to what endures.

All this hurrying
soon will be over.
Only when we tarry
do we touch the holy.

Young ones, don’t waste your courage
racing so fast,
flying so high.

See how all things are at rest —
darkness and morning light,
blossom and book.

Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 22
(translation: Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows)

This poem comes from the newly published book “A Year with Rilke” and is the daily poem for today’s date: August 25. I find its message continually important; even more so despite not being a “young one”.

In the river below the Tassajara hot tubs, the three stacked rocks were done one contemplative morning and they suggest to me what Rilke was writing about. The stone figure has hands in pockets, silently enduring, eternally pondering the age old question of whether or not one can step into the same river twice.

Now that I’m not in such a conducive meditative “environment” as Tassajara, I have to look elsewhere for the quieting of my restless soul. And that elsewhere, for the moment at least, can only be Windgrove.

My grey haired webmaster Allan Moult, standing on The Point, could be doing Chi Gung as he quietly tarries — touching the invisible holy?

And my shadow? It seems up in arms — either in celebration or frustration. You choose. But to me, certainly the former. Or, I would hope so. If I need a confirmation that my life is on a decent path (and, yes, occasionally I do need a supporting loving hug), I can go to the inscription Joanna Macy wrote for me in ‘A Year with Rilke’:

“For Bear — in gladness for your life at Roaring Beach and around the world, kindling love and reverence for Earth!”

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Practicing what was learned

August 18, 2010

Last week I was swimming in the warm waters of Hawaii where palm patterns caught my attention. Today I am back in wintry, yet sunny, Tasmania trying to settle into a more “normal” daily routine than the coffee/Danish pastry/coffee one I “suffered” through for three months while whirling into and out of England and America.

Details will emerge over the next few blog entries, but for now, it seems worthwhile to juxtapose a few pics of the hands on gardening workshop I took at the Esalen Institute (along the Big Sur coastline in California) with photos of the tiny Windgrove garden taken just yesterday where I planted out seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, spring onions and corn lettuce in one of the two “dome enclosed” garden beds.

The Esalen veggie garden feeds over 300 people per day. My attempt at a garden feeds no one just yet, except, of course, if nourishing the weary traveler’s soul by digging dirt is considered food. Nothing like dirty fingernails to sooth the disquieted soul suffering from separation anxiety; my separation from the daily chatty encounters with the many inspired people I met along the global path.

And if I have learned anything, it is that a very physical connection to earth is a prerequisite for sanity.

Another comparison worth making is between Esalen’s and Windgrove’s bathing facilities. On the one hand, the Big Sur’s Pacific coastline makes a dramatic background for the excellent hot tubs one can immerse into at Esalen (along with 3 or 4 others in each of around 9 tubs of various sizes).

On the other hand, the smaller Windgrove tub might only hold two people, but privacy is guaranteed.

I’m back among the dancing trees I call home.

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I walked through a myrtle, sassafras and wattle rainforest last week and it was akin to swimming through green light. A rare clear day allowed the sun to penetrate the umbrella’d canopy and make translucent and reflective the many thousands of leaves it bounced off of on its way down to the forest floor. Such magic. Such a change from the wind blown and stunted trees found at Windgrove; trees, that although beautiful in their fiercely gnarled way, don’t posess the soft, moist green quality that emanates from within a rainforest.

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The path was along the shore line of Lake St. Clair (the last section of the famous Overland Track). After taking the ferry the full length of the lake, I returned a third way back and got off at Echo Point for a shorter 12 kilometer distance. The sign read that my portion of the walk would take three hours. It took me six. The knees were only a tiny part of my slowness as it was the green beauty I found myself immersed in that kept flooring me and to crawl along any faster was impossible.  I just didn’t want to leave this bearable lightness of green. Most certainly, I felt like the bee in the haiku:

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony
departs reluctantly

Basho

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To carry on from last week’s discussion on the need to unite science and religion, rather than each of them disparaging the other, here are two simple, yet clear poems that address this unification.

science_religion

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put
up a swing:
all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these
two trees,
and it never winds down.

Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the
wheeling sun and moon;
ages go by, and it goes on.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant
for life.

2

Inside this clay jar there are meadows and groves and the One
who made them.

Inside this jar there are seven oceans and innumerable stars, acid
to test gold, and a patient appraiser of jewels.

Inside this jar the music of eternity, and a spring flows from the
source of all waters.

Kabir says: Listen, friend! My beloved Master lives inside.

Kabir (1440–1518)

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We all want and need to walk towards the light. Moving into, through and beyond life’s mystery is innate. Discovering that the riddle has no answer should not stop us from engaging with this great unknown.

Both Richard Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great, seek to separate science from spirituality. I have no argument with their contention that religions, (especially Judaeo/Christian/Islamic) have poisoned the world, but they throw the baby out with the bath water when they argue that humans need not walk a spiritual path.

The sacred text I keep returning to is the one written over hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history and constantly proclaims awe, mystery and grandeur. Such a magnificent bible as this is enough to keep me in a constant state of grace and thankfulness.

Ann Druyan, CEO of Cosmos Studios and wife of the late Carl Sagan, gave a speech a few years ago where she questioned why science and religion couldn’t get along.

This makes no sense and it leads me to a question: Why do we separate the scientific, which is just a way of searching for truth, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe? Science is nothing more than a never-ending search for truth. What could be more profoundly sacred than that?

It’s a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and it’s preciousness on this tiny world.

Ann Druyan feels that the roots of this antagonism run very deep. They’re ancient, she says.

We see them in Genesis, this first story, this founding myth of ours, in which the first humans are doomed and cursed eternally for asking a question, for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s puzzling that Eden is synonymous with paradise when, if you think about it at all, it’s more like a maximum-security prison with twenty-four hour surveillance. It’s a horrible place.

So here are Adam and Eve, who have awakened full grown, without the tenderness and memory of childhood. They have no mother, nor did they ever have one. The idea of a mammal without a mother is, by definition, tragic. It’s the deepest kind of wound for our species; antithetical to our flourishing, to who we are.

Their father is a terrifying, disembodied voice who is furious with them from the moment they first awaken. He doesn’t say, “Welcome to the planet Earth, my beautiful children! Welcome to this paradise. Billions of years of evolution have shaped you to be happier here than anywhere else in the vast universe. This is your paradise.” No, instead God places Adam and Eve in a place where there can be no love; only fear, and fear-based behavior, obedience. God threatens to kill Adam and Eve if they disobey his wishes. God tells them that the worst crime, a capital offense, is to ask a question; to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What kind of father is this? As Diderot observed, the God of Genesis “loved his apples more than he did his children.

To me, the true nature of the void remains unknown. For the good of all humankind and all living beings, I would hope that the superstitions of both religion and science give way to a joined acceptance of a universal truth that simply says, “Wow”. In the end, we will all pass through this particular portal of time. Where we exit from and where we will re-enter, is anyone’s guess. My footprints, and yours, will soon enough fade away, but let the love we have expressed throughout this life flow along the currents of time a little while longer.

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