The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Wednesday, 2 July 2014
if at first you don't succeed... try the tao of imagination
What’s more, I had the most wonderful and generous feedback at the end of the evening, and afterwards. People I hadn’t seen for 10 or 20 years turned up, and I felt moved and humbled.
I'd thought about the talk for weeks in advance, as some quite big-name international speakers are associated with the event. I needed, I felt, to speak in an authoritative and academic way about my great passions: interconnectedness, creativity, self-knowledge and eco-awareness, and about the essential role of the imagination in bringing about a re-visioning of our relationship with and place in the natural world.
All of these ideas feed into the work I do as a writer and workshop facilitator, and I’ve committed my life, really, to finding ways to enable others to reconnect with the lost parts of themselves, with human others, and with the other-than-human.
I write (at, some would say, some length) about these things on both of my websites (one is dedicated to creative and reflective writing; the other to ecopsychology. Both incorporate psychospiritual practice.)
So as the event approached, I’d built up about 18 pages of notes on what I wanted to speak of. I was trying to find a way in that wasn’t either ‘fluffy’ or too all-encompassing; that was tight and cogent but inclusive; that was philosophically rigorous and engaging at the same time; and that did justice to my notional title: ONLY CONNECT: ecosoul and the ecological imagination.
Only thing was, I felt that, whichever way I looked at it, the whole thing felt too ‘baggy’ and too detached for my natural approach, which is very much hands-on. I’m quite good at inspiring people, and getting people to write; I’m quite good at taking people outdoors and having them experience the land and its beings through their body and senses, their hearts, and their imagination; I’m quite good at writing about what I do and the philosophy behind it. I’m terrible at standing up and delivering a pre-memorised lecture. This one was promising to be as stodgy as an uncooked doughnut.
When I have doubts, I run a pattern of ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’ – which I realise is an introjected message from childhood, as is the notion that there is no such concept as ‘I can’t’. I know that the I Ching also counsels ‘Perseverance furthers’ – but this is not an absolute truth; instead it’s contextual. My trouble is that I strive and strive and strive to ‘get it right’ in every area of my life. For decades I’ve been aware that I’m like a salmon, struggling against the current upstream, getting ‘home’ against all the odds.
That’s at variance with my Zen practice, which suggests that sniffing out the direction of the current and learning to float with it is at times far wiser: the Tao (from which Zen partly arises) also of course counsels that. Why push against the river? (OK, sometimes you might need to; but mostly it might be wiser to use the current, and steer.) And – well, we have to make ‘home’ out of every moment and every place in which we find ourselves.
But, forgetting Zen and Taoism, I worked harder at my notes. The closer the day came, the more panicky I felt and the more notes I made.
Then one morning, a couple of days before the talk, I was walking the dog. Something happened that reminded me of a line from a Yeats poem. It had great resonance for me. I shan’t talk about the detail here as I’m partway through an essay in relation to it for my new book.
What’s relevant is that it shot me straight back into exactly where I needed to be – the river spat me out, so I had to find another course.
And I knew, instantly, that I could bin all my notes, as in fact the Yeats’ poem was my way in; and what I had been trying to do was to find an angle that was rational and intellectual rather than imaginative and intuitive – bit crazy, given the subject and my natural inclinations.
Through this poem I could talk of all the things I wanted to speak of, and feel so urgently about in relation to the future of our species, other species and this beautiful planet: the symbolic language of poetry, story and myth, and the wisdom-teachings they carry through generations; the search for soul, the lost feminine principle and its connection with the heart and the feeling nature in our Western twenty-first-century culture; and a different kind of consciousness we need to encourage and cultivate in relation to other beings which I am calling liminal or shamanic consciousness (the ability to slip the confines of both ego and rational mind, and share, enter and/or exchange consciousness with another being).
For a little while, right now, I’m swimming downstream, and holing up in the odd little backwater pool. Mmmm.
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