Monday, January 26, 2009

Dreamtime in Portland

Time races on... I have crossed another continent, delayed by a day by snow in Philadelphia, so that I was in the air as Obama swore his oath and gave his speech and gave GW Bush a big hug before waving him off in his helicopter. After watching it all on CNN I could transfer my attention to the snow-covered view of the Rocky Mountains, then, as we descended to Portland (Oregon), three white conical volcanic peaks near the city. And now, snow in Portland. It's beautiful. I walk up and down the hills and get my circulation racing. Another western edge of a continent, like Ireland, and I expected the milder winter weather I've gotten used to, but no, it's frigid here as well.

Not in the Process Work Institute, though, where 32 people from almost as many different countries have gathered for a five week intensive course in Arnold Mindell's techniques and approach to Innerwork, and Group work, and Worldwork: ways of delving into conflicts, symptoms, the unknown, the unconscious, the dreamtime... to find the ways forward, the hidden gifts buried in the parts of our experience that most of the time we'd rather ignore or get rid of!

The central learning for me, or the central challenge: I love coming into the present moment, the delicious aliveness of all the sensations of right now; and this always energises me to such an extent, with waves of inspiration, and thrilling ambitious visions of what is possible, that I am quickly whisked out of the moment and a long way into dazzling future dreams, hijacked out of the moment again and into plans and schemes. How can this process become a continuously nourishing feedback loop, rather than a recipe for frustration, impatience, disappointment, exhaustion? Sometimes I think the answer, the integration, is only around the corner... And sometimes I realise it is right here now. I want to ride it! I want to share it! Come with me!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


In the beginning there was light everywhere, but one round hole full of darkness. The first creature to find his way out of a hole in the hole of darkness was Giraffe-- because of his long neck he found the hole to come out into a flat world of light. Second came Scorpion, with his eight legs like a spider and sting in the end of his tail, and quickly after Scorpion there was a human baby. There were no leaves for Giraffe to eat and no milk for the baby, so they journeyed for a long time over the flat world filled with light. There was one tree but it had no leaves on it, and near the tree was and old, old woman sitting by a fire. Scorpion asked the old woman about leaves for Giraffe, and food for the baby, and after some time she made a deep gash in the earth, so that darkness could come out into that never-ending brightness for the first time, and there was night.
After a time there came wind and rain in the night, and the rain was good. The one tree with no leaves began to grow leaves, so Giraffe could eat. And the baby turned its faceup to the rain and drank, and the woman put it on a rock near her fire so it could grow.
When day came again Giraffe and Scorpion conferred together, because they both felt something was still needed, and they decided to go separate ways. Giraffe went towards the mountains where a forest was beginning to grow, and with his long neck and his flexible lips and his strong teeth he found the berries that were growing high in the trees, and he brought them back for the baby to eat. Meanwhile Scorpion went in the opposite direction, into the bright, hot desert, where after a time he found an egg. The egg was large, large enough to fit many human babies inside, and its shell was luminous with rainbows of colour that encircled it from end to end. So Scorpion brought the egg back with him to where the old woman waited, and where the baby was eating berries and growing on a rock, and the rainbows on the egg glowed and sparkled and expanded and unfurled as the old woman prepared the egg for hatching. And when the egg hatched and opened what came out were words, all the words for all the things that yet existed, and for all the thoughts that had yet been thought.
And the baby laughed and began to play with all the words.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Shamanism has meant for me an entirely new feeling of being alive: really alive in a new way, I could say about fifty times more alive, in about ten times as many dimensions as before: if those numbers mean anything at all! I can remember after my first Darkness Visible retreat with The Sacred Trust (five full days in complete darkness; I've done this three times now), driving home and feeling aware of the aliveness of every tree and plant along the highway. The more I practice the shamanic journey, the more I become able to dream lucidly, the more I allow myself to trust that I am guided if only I can remain open to the spirit world-- the forces that are continually playing themselves out above and below the threshold of our ordinary consciousness-- the more this aliveness becomes something that I could never again be without, something that I will never lose.

Ten years ago I was drawn to live on the southwest coast of Ireland: I went there to visit, and the landscape called me so strongly that I ended up building a house and moving there. It took some time to find out why. I immediately loved the mixture of wildness and safety, of solitude without isolation. The open Atlantic is often tumultuous, often clear, the wind roams around the hills and the houses like a living and willfull creature, the land is rocky and boggy, full of quartz crystals; it is farmed with dairy herds and sheep and a good number of organic gardeners, bee-keepers, seed-savers, tree-planters; it is also inhabited by a mixture of folk who have been there for many generations, with newer arrivals from around the globe: artists, healers, hippies, buddhists, environmentalists, refugees from cities and towns in Ireland and beyond.... Not to mention land spirits, fairies, elementals.

So living in West Cork, growing some of my own food, gradually divesting myself of a career in Early Music, watching no television, learning to listen to what the plants and animals have to tell me... and this after having lived outside of the US since 1981... and then studying shamanism as intensively as I have been able: all this means that returning to the States with the intention of being here for some months, and possibly even longer in the next few years, has been more of a shock than I ever anticipated. It all sounds a bit obvious and cliched, and of course in many ways it is not that different, really, from Western Europe-- but still it's shocking how thick is are the layers of unreality that seem to separate normal Americans from that aliveness, that real reality I've grown to be aware of. The FOOD, for a start: it's next to impossible, here where I am, in the wintertime at least, to eat anything that hasn't traveled thousands of miles and been packaged in plastic and stacked and fluorescently lit etc. etc... let alone hybridised or otherwise genetically modified so that the apples are enormous and all exactly the same size and their skins waxed... and even the 'organic ones' don't seem very different. Help! Is the world one huge factory? of course we have agribusiness in Ireland too, but just the fact that it is a smaller country, that farming is a significant part of its economy, and that all the produce is labeled with its country of origin-- and you CAN find Irish grown veggies, whether organic or not-- feels so much more grounded and real.

Well, food is important! Not just because I'm a foodie and a lifelong food addict as well, it's also an indicator and a metaphor for how we're alive in our bodies on this earth. If shopping is the ultimate reality, and packaging and transport and profit is the 'value added' that keeps the economy on track... and gadgets and celebrities are everywhere, constantly, to keep our minds off what we're really feeling... well, I warned you this was going to be cliched, and I hope will help me just getting it off my chest!

Now let me just finish by acknowledging the things that do feed my soul here: the people I love, my family, my blood. And the trees: those enduring, ever-loving, dignified creatures, with soaring trunks linking and channeling between deep, earthbound roots and soaring, wind-dancing branches and sun-drinking leaves. Pennsylvania is a wonderful place for trees. And my dream life, continually surprising and absorbing. I know I am in the right place.