Returning the Tree of Life to the Square Mile

Posted on October 12th, 2011

On a sunny Saturday morning in September, a small group of us participated in a dance and tree planting ritual in the centre of London’s financial district. Our intention was to energetically and symbolically return the Tree of Life – in this case a hardy little twisted willow – to its rightful place at the heart of our culture. We came together the evening before to dance, plan, give voice to our hopes and fears, and to talk through practicalities. This meant that next morning there was a strong sense of cohesion, connection and a clear plan of action. The weather was perfect, a brilliantly golden autumn day, and the ancient site we’d chosen felt welcoming and safe. We danced to a gentle, soaring soundtrack created for the day and downloaded onto individual mp3 players. It felt extraordinarily liberating and empowering to be out in the open, under a big blue sky, in the middle of the City of London, dancing for this earth, for our future. And it was great to know that Earthdreamers elsewhere, including a group of TreeSisters in Bristol, various individuals around the UK and a lone dancer in Iceland – were dancing with us (TreeSisters planted a tree, too). Several onlookers and curious tourists took delighted interest, with one white van man even calling, ‘Ecstasy rules!’ across the sound of the traffic as he roared away from the lights. After the dance, which lasted for 40 minutes or so, we walked in silence through the quiet streets of the City to a patch of ground where we carefully planted the little willow. Let’s hope it takes root…

Royal Earthdreaming – second gathering in London

Posted on May 13th, 2011

As I write this it is May 1st, both Beltane, the ancient pagan festival of divine union between the masculine and the feminine, acknowledgement of our total dependence upon the land and the day which the workers have chosen to mark out and celebrate their often unacknowledged contribution to the continuance of the wheel of life.  The media would have us believe that the royal wedding was watched by 2 Billion folk worldwide.  If anyone knows how they calculated their figures we’d like to know.  That’s just under a third of the world.  Is this representative of the extent of the entrancement with obscene conspicuous consumption?  Does that statement involvement judgement or discernment at a time when our government is slashing education and health but sanctions the extensive resources used to police the “big day”?  I’ve also got tunes playing in the background as I write.  Big Bass sounds with a different kind of spelling involved. “Keep repeating WE ARE FREE!  Hey, it is scary!”  Anyhow, choosing THAT day represented both our giveaway of the national holiday involved and our commitment to our refusal to be distracted by the powers that be from what we see as the main task in hand at this time of the great turning.  The task of acknowledging Earth Rites, whilst our mother groans under the weight of our greed!

Any of you who read the first article I wrote after the Oxford gathering may
remember the dream of the swans which followed our meeting there.  I dreamt of two dead swans and was cautioned to waste nothing, even in death.  This had seemed to be the ancestor’s first response to my question of how I might dream into an activism based on something other than protest.  Thanks to gorilla, you know who you are.

The flat I spent the night in before the second meeting was quite literally full of swan feathers and in the morning we walked out early to make sure that Luna the four-legged had a good walk before she was left with friends for the day.  We also met the owners of the feathers in one of the Royal parks.  What to make of the themes developing hey?  Jamie Sams Medicine work suggested that swans were bringing us  surrender to the divine feminine into the pot of our activity.

Swan flies into the Dreamtime looking for the future.  As it is her first visit there she is as you can understand, both nervous and confused.  Dragonfly tells her she must be willing to travel through the void of the black vortex in order to find vision.  Her willingness to pay the price involved in entering the unknown of great mystery bequeaths her the ultimate gift of grace. We do not yet know what the future holds.  We are willing though to search for a vision which serves the mother and her children.  Surrender however does not mean passivity but commitment to listen to the dream as it emerges without knowing where it will take us and to have faith in the power of the heart.  Without it we seem to me to be lost in the vortex of negative enchantments.  I am reminded of the bardo states which the Tibetans believe we must pass through with consciousness intact if we are not to be consumed by our demons.

And so to the business of the day. Earth Dreaming.  A different constellation of the collective have gathered today, far fewer but better prepared in some ways.  People help with setting sound equipment up. Two of our number have volunteered to create installations.  Some of them are scattered around the whole space, each one an exquisite jewel of awareness, reminding us to BE PRESENT. They are presented with mascara and empty tubs of ice cream, divine blends of the scared and the profane, though I make no division between which was which.  The big one is one of the most beautiful I have ever worked with.  A dream catcher woven with paper birds and swan feathers, with a container full of salt and chestnut flowers in the middle. It will hold our prayers.

People begin to arrive.  We have borrowed a tradition from the Burning Man community which my husband belongs to.  In an intention to welcome people home when they arrive, we offer them a hug.  So many people in the world are deprived of physical contact and sense of welcome and belonging.  Even just hugging others can be an active gift of offering.  As a good friend of ours who has made it his mission to spread the Hug Nation suggests, most people would rather hug you than hurt you.  Love more, fear less.  It feels like a good start.

We begin with the ground of this mesa.  Dancing is the love and wisdom which has drawn this particular collective together and the conscious intent to employ movement as a tool for transformation.  We dance to transform our fears, we dance to pray, we dance to come together as community, we plan to dance as an act of service to the dream of the earth.  We ended this phase by inviting people to shape feelings into sculpture – fear, hope, the unknown, ecstasy, despair.  After the Oxford gathering we received the criticism that the movement practice and rituals we organized for the day we too individually oriented and left some people without the sense of community which they had come in search of.  We wanted today to respond to this input.  We came together in circle to use the ancient tools of the American Indian Nations, which democracy in America was originally derived from (see Marx on the Iroquois) of the Council Circle and the talking stick.  We want to generate genuine democracy which enables all voices and views to be both spoken and heard from the heart.  The talking stick provides a beautiful, effective and simple tool to encourage this.  We asked people to share their earth dreams.  We lunched on food to share around a table which would have done justice to the Last Supper.

Although we took an intention into the Oxford gathering to be open and flexible, we had it seemed to me struggled with getting the right balance between structure and flexibility and ended up pretty much sticking to the plan we had evolved in advance.  Today would be different.  Two of the initial collective have departed since Oxford.  The previous evening we had lamented the loss of the musician who had swung everyone into harmony after the post lunch graveyard slot at the last gathering.  During lunch someone volunteered to lead us into chanting.  We expanded the plan and a new facilitator stepped into the circle. Breathe in. Breathe out. Gather. Disperse. Hold on. Let go.  Ah the beauty of the dolphin way where whomever is in front leads.  This makes my heart sing.  Pod rock.

We return to voicing.  One of the collective leads us into a discussion about the word activism.  Feeling, strong feeling, arises and swells.  We are able to return to the talking stick, the power of its containment calls, although in the face of such big issues even it is not enough.  We return to the need to embody and move unplanned into a big live process about feelings.  Our sculptural work from the morning serves us well. We find ourselves embodying the polarised conflicted we have named as a  fear. Judgement. Defensiveness.  Conflict.  The war inside.  As the shadows are owned they are dissolved by the light of consciousness.  Vulnerability and shame lie just below the surface and as we embrace them we come back into unity.  Ecstasy.

The room is alive with passion, proposals and plans.  The proposed charter to give the earth back her rights which has grown from the soil of the newly appointed indigenous government in Bolivia will be celebrated on this land come the autumn.  Someone else mentions a virtual collective they are working with.  We have lawyers here working for Wild Rights, people from the WWF,  women making films about the witch hunts in Africa, mothers who needed to rescue 15 year olds from recent kettling experiences with the police in this country, someone whose practice is to dance where she pleases.  Suggestions for sunrise dances, concerns to work with our young people and our local communities, public ceremony and ritual and dance, dances of grief and lamentation, strategic political action, comments upon banking.  Having been on the runway warming the engines of flight, I feel like I am witnessing take off, although perhaps of a swan rather than a plane.

We move back to ceremony.  Having focused on bringing the whole day from the ground of the yin before engaging with a more yang approach we return to the dream  We are invited to imagine ourselves as the earth dreaming herself, safe in the knowledge that as we listen for the whispers of her voice on the wind, we know what needs to be done.  We move the dream from the heart into the body, back into the dance before offering it all back to the earth as prayer.

Having had this vision 20 years ago, long before I or others were ready to stand in this place with me, I spend most of the ceremony being washed by the rain of gentle tears of deep gratitude as they flow down my face.  The waters of chaos bringing new life. I offer up many, many gratitudes to the Great Mystery and to the Earth Mother for the gift of life at this crazy, challenging time on our home planet.  I offer my heart to all my brother and sisters.  May we do no harm to the children. Aho!

That night the swans come to me again in the dreamtime.  There are four swans underwater.  The males are holding the females underwater as they fertilize them.  It is a deeply visceral dream. I am both male and female swans, both pairs.  I am water and swan semen.  From dead swans, strangled by the pollution of our waste the dream is reborn. The eggs are incubating!


First gathering of the Earthdreamers…

Posted on March 26th, 2011

From the first instant I heard about the vision of the Earth Dreamers I knew that I had an appointment to keep. A description borrowed from one of my shamanic teachers I refer to one of those times when the web reverberates, shimmering truth and you just know, deep in your bones, that there is nowhere else for you to be that particular day, week or year. Resonance which draws you to precisely the spot where you need to stand at that time. Earth grid calling. You know what I mean dreamers!

And so in this first phase, nine of us felt similarly called to the midwifing task, the baby formed and checked at regular intervals in the virtual worlds of e-mail and skype, with the occasional phone call thrown in for good measure. In time a call-out was sounded to those other rhythm radicals, dancing anarchists and trance ecologists to join us for a day of dance, discussion and ceremony focused upon what we might do in service of our mother at this time in our relationship. Most of us know it’s a troubled relationship, but my goodness there is so much trans-generational baggage it can be hard for us to know how to contribute to the transformation process, never mind believe that we might succeed in making a difference. We feel how overwhelming the task is and yet somehow we need to muster the courage and the strength, the grace and the humor to allow ourselves to dream. If we don’t then we really will be in trouble.

Involved in an impossible to win struggle with Asda a few years ago we dreamt of a local nature reserve without a 300,000 foot square shopping centre on it. Having been burnt out by my own ego driven desire to make a difference before, I was careful that time to build a foundation built from the wisdom of the ancestors. This is what they said at that time. Forget the outcome. Concentrate upon your actions in the present. It was a perspective very clearly brought to our table by Stephen who spoke to the whole Earthdreamers gathering in the afternoon about the Ploughshare vision of turning swords into ploughs. We change things by being different and as Stephen so gently reminded us the means become the ends. It was a topic which had been strongly present at the dinner table the evening before we met with the whole group, when we found ourselves discussing those we might be tempted to identify as the opposition. As Stephen also reminded us life is inaccurately represented by the dualistic, digital view of on/ off, right/wrong, good/bad, dreamer/despoiler. Rather we exist upon a continuum which we dance along in constant motion. In the analogue version of reality we are both problem and solution. Really though I see the call to dream for the earth as answering a call sent out by the earth and all her non-human inhabitants, as well as from those children who will come after us. How will we be accountable to the question what did you do when you knew the dream may be dying?

And so seven of us found ourselves arriving outside The Old Book Binders in Oxford. Although the venue was only around the corner from the dreamer to whom the original vision was sent, we arrived there via a London connection as part of a festival called Conversations with the Earth. Some of us hadn’t met before other than on-line and now we were arriving an hour before those who had answered the call out, into a space which in some places still had beer on it from the festivities the night before. Two of the big pluses were that someone from the wider festival had made the most beautiful mud and straw sculpture of Mother Earth, whilst opposite it, to my great delight, was the awesome shamanic art of Stuart Turner. We set to work, setting up a second
altar, DJ desk, smudging, moving chairs. Fidget vibes channelled into furniture removal.

People began to arrive. We had a plan but also wanted to be open to emergence. The four directions were called in, confidently led by Zoe, we danced and then later took partners in order to intuit the contribution they were already making. It felt good to experience how well we see each other as a matter of course and to be seen. We made sculptures of all the feelings evoked by the current state of the world. It was feared that Japan may well be on the brink of a nuclear meltdown and people had clearly brought this concern with them this morning. We witnessed as anger, righteousness, optimism, fear, faith, hope, frustration and a few others stepped forward. It deeply concerned me that initially despair stood alone. Not only for the individual left with the task of holding this for the whole collective but also because I wondered how it was that it was being so little felt. Even here amongst the radically engaged is the pain being denied somehow? What might that mean? Maybe we were so glad to be together it was marginal that day. It was so good though to see how collective an experience feeling is, how it moves around and needs expression by someone. I’d felt pretty nervous too about owning righteousness and worried I’d be left alone holding such ugliness, but selfishly I was relieved that it was quite well represented. Maybe not that surprising amongst a group of activists. Then again important to remember the pain of being or feeling judged, as well as the dangerous head rush of blame. Most important was the sense of collective shared feelings in response, as the opportunity to witness took us beyond isolation into tribe.

We’d wanted to have acres of space for lunch but with a packed programme we didn’t quite fulfill that ambition, though as is the norm with shared lunches we all partook of a veritable banquet. Talk was of Japan at our table. After lunch we began with Mark offering a chance to give voice, which we did both in structured and more improvisational ways. He shared an infectious enthusiasm for the use of song as a medium for making heart communications heard. Next we headed into an Open Space Format, preceded by Stephen offering us the inspiration and encouragement to consider a “Beyond Protest” model. Groups which converged included Action/Action at a Bank and Beyond Protest. Listening to the discussion afterwards I suspected that many of the same issues had arisen in each of the groups. Questions about how to generate change through modeling something qualitatively different, how to incorporate a range of authentic emotion to give voice to that which may not always be heard in protest models, how to employ ritual, prayer, faith and ancestral wisdom and support, visibility and invisibility, responsibility, ethics, us/ them and so on….I’m sure there was much more…and as time and tide wait for no activists, certainly not in this Hemisphere, we moved back into dance to ground our feelings and make prayers, before a quick change over for the next phase of the day.

As people drifted off home or to cups of tea and chat, those of us holding the space needed to maintain focus for the three hour Long Dance Ritual which was up next for those either staying or newly arrived. We hurriedly set up lighting ready for ceremony. Looking around in the luminous space I was amazed to see the way in which the cold, concrete surrounds had morphed into a temporary temple holding our collective love and concerns. Indeed it felt magical, as sound wove with light and presence and we moved into the dance together as Earth Dreamers, seeking to see what there was to see and to give what we could. In the two evenings after we gathered I dreamt very deeply. One was a very personal dream of two swans, dead because they were entangled in the detritus of our neglect. My mother told me I must harvest the medicine from the body of death. Even in death waste nothing. The second relates the current census taking going on in our country at the hands of Lockheed Martin , the world’s second largest arms manufacturer. Lockheed Martin have had more misconduct suits filed against them than hot dinners, they make land mines banned in 154 countries and have been involved in both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. I have been wrestling with my rage, fear and pain since this information came to my attention last week. What most bothers me is the children who have been murdered and maimed, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza. I so want to communicate my deep, deep grief. I dreamt of an altar for the dead….for the children rather than the warriors. I dreamt of a dance. Not an upright, military sort of celebration of victory, but a hair tearing, keening, ash splattering wail of deepest lamentation for all the suffering children. If this dream could be brought to ground, perhaps people wouldn’t want Lockheed Martin conducting our 2011 census.
Dream anyone?