"When I found out the patriarchy wasn't about horses,
I lost interest anyway."
- Ken, BARBIE
Here’s something I have never talked about publicly much…
Not because I have anything to hide, more because making my private life the centre of attention isn’t very appealing to me.
I don’t think anything I’m sharing is going to be particularly radical or fresh, but I’m writing it here catalysed by a conversation with a friend over the weekend who suggested sharing it publicly might help add nuance to a wider conversation.
I’m not sure about that.
Let’s see. You can make that call.
Today seems a good moment to do it.
It was Pride weekend here in the UK and i just took the family to watch the Barbie movie. So it stirred this territory up freshly.
Here it goes...
I don’t feel very gendered.
I never have
I feel non-binary. Non-dual. I feel multiply gendered.
I don’t even know if it is interesting, or relevant to say out loud. It isn’t something I’ve been keeping a secret or waiting for the right moment to come out of the closet about.
I guess another reason I don't talk about it much is the fear of disappearing too far up my own arsehole.
Yet here we are!
I experience myself as someone whom the masculine and feminine energies dance around in very dynamically and interchangeably. They change / exchange expression in me very comfortably. - though not perhaps in an extroverted way. It is something very private in me that has always known this.
It is not like a switch that goes on and off. It is not a polarity. It is a very fluid and shape shifting thing that doesn’t like being trapped or made to fit anyone’s gender definition.
It has little to do with what I wear or how I appear. In some cases it has felt at odds with how I appear - at odds with what other people see or assume from looking at me.
This has always been the case for me for as long as I can remember.
Whilst it isn’t something I feel any inclination to hide, it neither seems very interesting to talk about. I hope writing about it here adds value, rather than yet more din to the already big noise.
One of the times i felt most seen in this way was when a friend said they saw an interplay of masculine and feminine happening in me inter-chageably. He said - they morph in you, sometimes i see one, sometimes i see the other.
It felt really true and kind of shockingly exposing at the same time. To have something so private and potentially ‘invisible’ about me, identified so accurately from someone outside myself felt vulnerable. but it went in really deeply. It was a mirror.
Another person said ‘you go as far in as you go out’. And that felt true too.
Half in. Half out.
Half Yin. Half Yang.
I feel male and female at different times and in different ways. And i feel comfortable with that.
I am cis - in the sense that i feel mostly at home in the form I have been biologically allocated. I tick ‘F’ on my medical forms. I’m fine if you naturally want to call me ‘she’. It is how I look and how culture sees me. I am mostly at peace working with the materials I have to play with. I’m ok with it. It is more comfortable for people to call me ‘she’ and it makes things socially way more straight forwards.
It is the most externally obvious choice.
But I don’t feel identified with it and it doesn’t represent my experience of gender. So I feel some dissonance asking you to call me 'she'.
I used to hate the attention my ‘femaleness’ attracted when I was younger without my participation, or my ‘doing’ anything. Being less visible in this later phase of life is a blessing and something I have found enormous liberation in.
Writing ‘she’ after my name feels only partially true and - if i’m being honest - not illustrative of my experience and therefore mildly uncomfortable. But I happily do it for others.
It is maybe the least ‘wrong’ option. But it doesn’t feel right.
If you called me ‘he’, I would be surprised, because i don’t carry many of the visible cultural markers of masculinity, but i wouldn’t make you wrong for it.
I’m fine for you to call me ‘they’, but I don’t especially love it.
‘They’ feels ambiguous or ambivalent to me and I don’t feel ambiguous with in myself. I feel non-binary. I feel fluid. I feel very clear in my fluidity. Like fluidity is my home. Gender fluid is my base camp.
‘She’ feels like the least culturally inconvenient maybe.
I feel non-binary and I don’t really care what you call me as long as it doesn’t become something that gets in the way of us being able to get on with the stuff that brings us alive.
A non binary person who doesn’t prefer being called ‘they’ perhaps.
If i write ‘she/he’ it feels closest to the way I privately feel. But it confuses people and forces conversations I can’t really be bothered to have. I look female, so people don’t know what I mean. Fair enough.
Recently a student had ‘all pronouns’ after their name in a zoom call and it felt like a relief for me. It feels closer to the truth. So I tried that on for a few weeks.
This week I am choosing she/they. It’s ok.
I'm interested in it being about how I feel on the day. Which, I get is confusing for people, but it feels good to allow myself space to experiment.
Choosing pronouns to write at the end of my name feels privately complicated for me.
I feel like I want a different way of being called, but I don’t know what that is.
On the other hand, gender isn’t an interesting enough subject to me to have to explain it to you, or begin a very long conversation around it. It is perhaps one of the reason that the Barbie movie furore has been surprising to me.
For a film about girl dolls, boy dolls and gender non-specific dolls, none of whom have genitals, there was little heteronormative about it.
Whilst we are on the subject, I have never felt identified with the term ‘heterosexual’.
I’m definitely not gay. That’s clear.
I have mostly fallen in love with heterosexual cis men who have a lot of feminine in them. I have also fallen in love with women. But it doesn’t feel like it is because they are a man or a woman.
I tick the ‘bi-sexual’ box on the Arts Council form because it feels closer to my experience, but it doesn’t feel completely right. I’m not bisexual.
I fall in love with a person, not their gender. Most of those people have been male bodied people who like women. A handful of them have been different to that.
If they had a ‘pansexual’ box, i’d tick that.
No one has a flipping ‘pansexual’ box.
I find many predominantly heterosexually oriented social spaces oppressive. And some exclusively queer oriented ones too. I have always felt uncomfortable when spaces organise themselves around gender or sexuality in any exclusive or homogenous way. I find it difficult to settle and I don’t know where to put myself. I don’t feel at home in monocultures, human or otherwise. I feel most comfortable in a biodiversity of humanness and biodiversity generally.
I feel queer.
I have a suspicion that everyone is - in some way - queer, but maybe that is me projecting my queerness on the world...?
I have met people who are super identified with their gender or sexual orientation. Very clear, strong and specifically identified in that way and need it to be expressed. They prefer you to know it.
Some strongly identified people, have fought very hard to stand proudly and gloriously in their difference. To face up to the dominant, heteronormative gaze, often against fear, hatred, and violence (it still happens). Some folk find themselves having been gendered from birth in a way that simply doesn't feel like who they are in anyway. Feel into that for a moment - it must be a fucking nightmare. The pressure for gender to look certain ways in our culture is still alive and well. This takes phenomenal courage, to dare to stand / come out in this way. It still carries with it great risk and heavy discrimination.
To stand visibly in your difference in the face of the monolith of 'normal' is a brave act. I wish huge courage and kindness to you if this is your experience.
Being discriminated against on the basis of gender or your sexual orientation feels very unjust and I will defend equity and justice for all bodies, ferociously.
A different group of strongly identified people had very strong opinions about the Barbie movie.
I am 'fortunate' that my queerness, slips silently beneath the cultural heteronormative radar, which suits me well.
I'm not sure 'fortunate' is the right word... but let's let it sit there for now.
My queerness is not extroverted. It is half inwards, half outwards and always changing. Like I am in many aspects.
I prefer for part of me to remain a mystery to myself and the world. Not known. I always want to allow space for the unknowable to be a part of things.
My queerness is not something i need you to know or ‘get’ about me.
I don’t feel the need to change how I look to accommodate it, but respect that some people really do feel that need. And I don’t feel the need to make it more visible.
Looping back to the Barbie movie again for a moment -
So my experience of Pride this year was seeing the Barbie movie with my family.
It was the second time i saw it and i will probably go again. I love Greta Gerwig's work and Noah Baumbauch's too. They know what they are doing and were well aware this was an opportunity to craft an alternative mythology via a mass pop-culture context..
*spoilers ahead -
I loved that the whole first third of the film was from the perspective of the inner life of a little girl playing with dolls. I have never seen that perspective brought to life before with such joy, silliness and visionary excellence.
A big part of my childhood was spent living in, hanging out in and giving private expression to my inner life. It still is the main place I go for rest, enjoyment and entertainment.
As a kid, dolls and animals were a big part of that. They were a way I could make the world interactive and practice relationships from the safety and privacy of my bedroom. My universe was always a highly subjective and florid one and one in which gender didn’t play much of a part. Everyone was welcome including the Barbies, who usually got mashed up and gothy pretty quickly.
In terms of my identification - I have never been the one comparing hair, outfits or shoes. I have however, been the Ken enthusing about The Godfather when you say you haven’t seen it before. I have also probably been guilty of trying to fix your problem and singing at you from time to time. If I identify with any of the Barbies it is Kate McKinnon’s weird Barbie. I have never been interested in the regular cultural markers of the feminine and tend to be instantly bored by conversations about it.
I was curious how the movie was going to land in the members of my family whose bodies haven’t been gendered female… especially after all the reactive fragility being expressed in the right wing media about it. (Who knew a film about dolls could touch on such a raw wound! - the power of mythology, see?!)
My nearly 16 year old step son said out loud as we left the cinema ‘that was brilliant’.
My husband said ‘yeah! That was great!'
I asked him what his favourite bit was, he said the Kubrick sequence at the start with the little girls smashing the Victorian dolls. My step daughter particularly loved the bit where the barbies were pretend vomiting at the thought of having flat feet.
I just loved how much fun Ryan Gosling was having with Ken.
We all wondered how could anyone be offended by this movie?!
One of my gay pals said the Ken fighting sequence was 'one of the gayest things I've seen.'
We all agreed that the music was pretty rough. Though if you were a 9 year old girl, it was likely AWESOME.
So all this to say - this naming your pronouns thing - is a tricky thing for me and I suspect I am not alone. I’d rather you just experience me and choose for yourself. I don’t care enough to make it a thing. You are not wrong what ever you say.
I feel seen and loved by those whom I care about and who care about me. My favourite people don’t make me an object, they don't gender me much and are comfortable allowing some mystery. I am utterly grateful I get to be myself in all my glorious weirdness with people who let me be me.
If I had a wish for you & for all people it would be that you get to feel fully yourself around those who love you and whom you love. And that the atmosphere of love around you has enough air and space in it for you to grow, follow your curiosity and change.
Maybe that is loving someone best.
Letting another be gloriously themselves and allowing some space for the emergent and the unfolding mystery.
Happy Pride Everyone.
Post script -
Last night, me and the guys went up to watch the new Tim Minchin musical at the Old Vic. There was a train strike, so we decided to drive. We parked our car in a space in Kennington and got the tube the rest of the way. The show was pretty good.
On the way home Akash (soon to be 16 yo) started spontaneously singing one of the songs from the Barbie film.
'Is that the Ken theme tune?' I asked.
'Yeah' he said - 'It's coz we are parked in Kennington.'
Sometimes writing comes fast, other times, it comes slow...
This was one where I started, thinking i could knock it out in 15 minutes and a week later, I am still tinkering... and it is only a 5 minute read!
Pieces have been arriving in my dreams and at other inconvenient times.
And the trick has been capturing the flow.
Then whittling it down is an art sometimes... especially challenging with subjects that struggle to become spoken language. And English is a clunky form for capturing the numinous.
Anyway, here goes...
Is my theme du jour.
My new course begins on Monday and I'm finding this theme is woven deeply through all of it and so it is kind of obsessing me.
Anyone who has worked with me, will likely not find this surprising, I imagine.
As I've been preparing the lessons, I've been thinking about how imagination relates with being in a body. Also the impact of the industrial / capitalist / colonial projects on this profound gift we all have..
Somewhere along the line, we seem to have become convinced that imagination is only useful if it is productive.
Also, the myth that imagination is something that happens 'in our heads'.
Both these definitions reduce and castrate one of our most fertile species gifts.
And the second isn't even biologically accurate!
We know that when we imagine doing a movement, a similar neural pathway lights up in the body mind as if we were really doing the movement.
We know that when I say, for example - 'imagine eating a spoonful of maggots'* it has an almost instant physiological effect.
Compare this with say, the instruction - 'imagine eating a spoonful of your favourite ice cream!'.
These explorations provide clues for how potent and direct a translation into the physical realm, imagination really provides us with..
We know we can bring something into form that we have envisioned; we can shift shape or state at will; we can take on the life of a character and imagine into someone else's reality. We can relate to their circumstances. We can even imagine ourselves into ones without nervous systems or so called 'sentience' . We can imagine what it might be like to be clay. To be volcano.
All these maps live inside us via the imaginative system.
And that's just the entry level usages!
There is so much more! The symbolic, the mythical, the metaphoric, the poetic. The Sacred. The Spiritual.
It is one of those themes that is fractal like in it's nuance and ever increasing in it's complexity. The most I explore it, the more it opens up to be explored..
One of the things that can stop us experimenting and exploring is the fear that we might be 'making it all up'.
But experiment, creativity and not knowing - also to a certain extent, making it up - is part of it.
Making it up is a portal to growing more confidence in navigating realities that are less concrete, maybe more metaphoric, metaphysical, mythic or differently bodied.
Making it up is a step in the direction of settling into a different quality of noticing and offering of our awareness.
The nature of the invitation of Life itself is emergent, improvisational, co-creative, and participatory and these are all qualities that imagination LOVES and knows well.
There is something here about remembering how to soften the boundary between different kinds of knowing. There is a level of truth that can only be perceived through myth, story and metaphor. Through defolcalising the analytic, executive function obsessed western gaze. These kinds of big complex truths have very little to do with facts, but are no less real.
It is ok to make it up a little whilst you re-member / re-learn this other way of knowing, AND stay connected with the earth and the here and now.
What about if both were possible. Can we make that a practice?
Imagination is our main gateway between the etheric and the material and back again, it is our primary organ of connection across species, time, experience and relationality.
Am i over egging it here?
I suspect not...
Bear with me.
This multivalent, neuroplastic, highly specialised GIFT of our species is DEEPLY exciting, much under appreciated and she is KEEN to be returned to Her right full place at the centre of our experience of life.
Where ever i turn, there is another layer of it revealing itself.
There seems to be a lot of resonance and magic around the timing of it all too. In the midst of all this a book landed on my lap - (Thanks for this beauty, dear Rob Grundel!)
In Songlines: The Power The Promise co-written by Indigenous Elder Margo Neale, from the brilliant First Knowledges Series, . we are given clues to this gift's vastness and its ancient roots in our species.
We are shown shared envisioning as the core species mapping and knowledge system, connecting people to Country and all living things including each other. And that this is a knowledge system that is traditionally passed down through song, ceremony, dance and story. And that the enacting of the song, ceremony, dance and story literally keeps Country vibrating with life.
✨ Imagination as a process for bestowing aliveness ✨
This is less something to believe (or not) and more of a devotional, reciprocal practice of cultivating aliveness.
In what is now Australia, it had functioned as an ever adaptive, unbroken system of knowing and living for more than 65,000 years before the colonisers came.
It is something that the colonisers had forgotten how to do, so they didn't recognise it when they encountered it and weren't able to see it's value.
So how might we re-member the full potency of our imagination as a somatic - whole body portal to all sorts of wonders...?
Here's a few places I see it coming into it's own:
internal maps of: desire, disgust, grief, delight etc.
thinking about doing anything
a bridging device between worlds, space and time,
envisaging the yet to be realised,
the known, but yet to be seen!
our inner life,
trans-lingual, interpersonal, metaphysical, interspecies & intra-species communication.
What else would you like to add to that list?
More to be discovered and shared on all this soon, I suspect...
Yarrkalpa (Hunting Ground), 2013, Kumpaya Girgirba, Yikartu Bumba, Kanu Nancy Taylor, Ngamaru Bidu, Yuwali Janice Nixon, Reena Rogers, Thelma Judson and Ngalangka Nola Taylor, Martumili Artists, acrylic on linen, 300 x 500 cm. National Museum of Australia. © the artists, Martumili Artists.
From the National Museum of Australia Song Lines Exhibition.
About ten years ago, I went to a healing session with a sound therapist and mentioned I was curious to see if I had any guides who wanted to turn up to work with me. I asked the question lightly, knowing she had some awareness of working with such things.
At the time I thought I probably had a basic awareness of such things myself. I had already been working with a Samurai who turned up around 2003 and never left. He would stand to the left hand side of me and slightly to the front and felt like a very protective, earthing presence. He had a kind of sub-bass frequency that I could tune into when I needed it. Especially when I was feeling ungrounded. He helped move my bodywork into a new level of depth, presence and clarity. I could ask for his advice and he’d show me things.
I thought I knew Kung Fu...
Anyway, about 2 days after that sound therapy session, I had what I suspect the medical world might describe as a psychosis. Or maybe a ‘nervous breakdown’.
Something suddenly cracked open in me and I had no tools for closing it or putting myself back together again.
One afternoon, my bedroom was suddenly PACKED with spirit activity - all sorts. Crawling and shrieking with beings of all imaginable dimensions and not all benevolent.
It turns out the session had been kind of wildly 'effective' in terms of my request, but it had not been grounded or protective of my nervous system in any way. At the time I knew nothing of nervous system regulation or what titration meant. I had a contemplative practice and lots of somatic tools, which were brilliant, but no lineages to hold me in these radically different kinds of conscious states. I had no reference for what what happening. I was lost.
For about three days, I couldn’t work out anything - when it was dark or light, when it was time to sleep, or eat, or even how to dress myself. It was frightening to go to sleep and when I did sleep, it didn’t feel safe. I didn’t know who I was or how to make it stop. It was so bad, that several times, I thought I might need to get myself sectioned. The whole world was suddenly upside down and it was UTTERLY TERRIFYING.
Interestingly, though I have never had anything similar happen before or since, a little voice in me somewhere was telling me that it was something I needed to learn how to work with, rather than something I had to make go away.
Thank god for that little voice. .
So, far from 'knowing Kung Fu', It turns out, I was profoundly naive and had almost no tools to navigate such a thing.
So in a state of desperation, I set about finding some tools - even though I had no clue where to look.
A witchy friend of mine provided the first anchor. To my face she said ‘Rachel, you are the keeper of this realm!! You need to STAND YOUR GROUND! Tell everyone to get out of your bedroom!!’. Mean while, behind the scenes, she confessed to me later, that she had been very concerned about my mental health.
So, that night, I went into my bedroom and I said out loud “OK NOW EVERYONE - BEAT IT!!’
I said to my Samurai, “You can stay, but everyone else, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM... N O W !!!” I know I sounded like a crazy person - well - let's face it, I WAS a crazy person. But at the time, it felt like I was saving my own life.
It instantly got A LOT quieter. and more bearable.
I couldn’t believe how powerful it was to simply stand my ground.
That night sleep was a lot easier, but still floundering, I asked my sleep to show me some more teachers who could help me with this.
The next day, I woke up with 2 names. Both unexpected. One - a good friend, Francis Briers with shamanic training. The second - an ex-therapist who I trusted. Both it turns out knew exactly how to support me, in equally relevant but very different ways.
I was shown how to work with journeying and how to ground guides in physical objects. How to discern non - benevolent presences and how to choose where to place my focus. I learnt how prepare to enter and return safely. I also grew language to begin to speak about it.
As I began to work with my new tools. sanity and peace of mind quickly returned and I began to be able to work with what was happening.
Ever since that time, I have sought out tools, teachers and trainings that can teach me some new aspect of how to ground this work in practical, healthy and safe ways. I’ve been exploring how to do this work in ways that honour somatic sovereignty and from a place of a well resourced nervous system. Comprehensive Resource Model is one of the best tools I have encountered for this. And I have enormous respect for the work of Daniel Foor at Ancestral Medicine, who's work in ritual safety i experience as second to none.
As I grew literacy with this and learned about nervous system health and trauma education, I became more and more able to see that it was possible to work with this stuff in a much more resourced and simple way - that took the drama and the danger out of it entirely.
These days it has become an ordinary and very precious part of my daily life and integrated into all I do. It isn’t over-whelming at all - more of a casual ongoing part of the conversational nature of reality. And these days I feel comfortable and confident to hold others in their own explorations too.
The main things I’ve learnt that I wish I knew 10 years ago are:
You don't have to go through what I went through to begin to grow a relationship with Spirit. This kind of work, I believe is in our species nature, many of us have simply forgotten how to go there and work in this way. Everyone can do it and we can learn to do it safely, kindly and respectfully.
The next Monthly Medicine Circle (Thursday 23rd February) deals in exactly this territory and supports you to meet a healthy, benevolent guide in a supported, safe and nervous system friendly way.
To find out more, click here.
Photo Cyrus by Geran De Klerk
In less that 2 weeks time, we hit the darkest day of the year.
It is a time when all of the creatures of the world (except most of the human ones) quieten down and go in.
The sparkling dark expands into all the crannies, cracks and corners.
Light gathers inwards; it heads indoors; buries itself away.
I find the will to continue working naturally departs from my body at about 3.30pm when the sun also gives up its quest for the day.
And I want to be done with work.
But reality and getting bread on the table prevents it.
The way we habitually work isn't built to support this inclination, so I push through and continue - sometimes late into the night.
I feel slower in the morning for it.
Late night workings - although in some ways seductive - feel like the opposite of what this time is asking of my biology.
One thing I have started to practice to attempt to redress this de-naturing pattern of ours, is to block out three weeks in my diary from the winter solstice to the second week of January.
To quieten everything down.
This is not with the idea of stopping work entirely.
It isn't a holiday. I am not doing nothing.
But I go inwards for a bit.
See very few friends.
Make space in myself for the family Christmas thing, (which always takes a bit...) and clear a lot of space around it.
Then let myself go fully inwards, back and down - even underneath - to do the work that needs to be done there.
Dreaming, Sleeping, Reparing. Composting. Envisioning. Writing. Reading. Researching,
Identifying the need for this circuit breaker in the year, was an incremental thing.
I have England to thank for it.
I used to suffer S.A.D for my first 10 years in this country - a seasonal depression that only seemed to be alleviated by getting out of here.
It didn't need to be far.
It wasn't about warmth or sunshine, but rather, seemed to be about getting - literally - a bit more light bouncing off the retina and a bit of space between the top of my head and the sky.
For example one year I went to Iceland, which was bitterly cold and even darker than here. But there was light bouncing around off the snow for the few quiet hours of delicate day light and on most days there were high skies. It was vertiginously expensive and I spent the rest of the year paying back the bank for it, but I loved it. It did wonders for my mental health.
But clearly doing such an expensive 'adjustment' wasn't always practical. So how could i cultivate a sustainable way of being with the British Winter with out lapsing into seasonal depression?
So i began to experiment with winter solstice rituals, and cultivating a kind of hibernation phase, like my body was asking of me.
It has taken many years to get here - to the place where I am really insisting on taking the time for it. Financially, it has always been challenging, not earning for that time... and as a self employed person, that can be hair raising! But i find when I am very inwards, I don't spend much money anyway. I don't need much. I rarely go out. I need less food. I stay in. Way in.
Within within within.
And it is part why I'm working crazy hours now and for the next few weeks: literally earning myself the luxury of being able to 'down worldly tools' for these precious three weeks in the darkest time.
I appreciate not everyone gets the luxury of choosing this. We live in a reality that is dominated by capitalism and Industry - which is what it is. Some of us have jobs that really limit our choiceful-ness with how we use our time. (Don't get me started on this one - It's a whole other blog!)
So, if this describes your situation, but you find your self chiming with some of what I'm expressing here, then a useful question to ask might be something like: What might be a few small things you could do to turn things down a notch or two and create some space for yourself in the winter time?
Might you fancy for example,
If winter was as an undoing practice or even a death rehearsal,
what might you do to create some space inside yourself for it?
How might you quieten things down a bit; just a little bit?
And let go?
How might you surrender, even a little bit, to the invitation of the Great Big Planetary Yin?
Fire Image by Wren Meinberg
It has been a strange month so far, working in the early mornings and night times from a desk on the other side of the world. I'm visiting family in Australia and tending to some important family relationships.
I love my work, so the work itself always feels like nourishment, however the hours are lonely. I miss my UK family and I'm feeling pretty exhausted.
The beautiful opportunity in these awkward timings of course is, I get to spend precious real time with my people during the daylight hours.
A vanishingly rare treat and one it is impossible to put a price on.
England is feeling more strange to me than ever at the moment: politically especially, but also culturally, so it also nice to take a breather from that.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting on lineages, ancestry and how colonialism impacts us and it has lead me to be increasingly drawn to applying the learnings to the country of my birth.
There is a lot of repair work to be done here and still a lot of toxic shame and overwhelm swilling around the place.
The huge damage that has been perpetrated upon the indigenous stewards of these lands and waterways is a deep and multi-layered trauma.
The 'discovery' of this place by Europeans some 240 years ago when it's inhabitants had existed successfully and uninterrupted for some 60,000 years previously, has yet to be metabolised - and upon the death of the Queen, it raises yet more questions.
To me this repair work feels like Soul Retrieval. And it is also - as my work with Amber McZeal is revealing - about lineage repair.
How much do you know about your own ancestral lineages? How far back might you need to go before you can connect with an intact ritual practice and mythological foundation for a healthy Earth honouring and Life honouring approach to things?
This seems to me to be one of the most urgent needs of our times.
In light of this, before I get on to my offerings, I thought I'd share a a few recent encounters.
Below is a photo of me with my maternal grandmother Joyce Voysey. She is 94 and a huge inspiration for me. Sitting beside her and hearing her stories is a deep well of inspiration.
We thought we'd never see each other again.
Her own lineages go back via Scotland and then to Vikings. And the name Voysey (my Grandfather's name) is a Norman name and originates from Vassy in Normandy, which was originally, a Viking colony. So through my mother line there is a lot of Viking going on.
I've always been much more drawn to the Norse Myths than the Saxon ones.
Perhaps this is why.
Anyway, here we are eating fish and chips by the ocean near her place.
And then I met Gadija.
I was passing through Sydney a few weeks ago, via Circular Quay.
Uncle Gadija was singing a Ceremonial song which stopped me in my tracks - literally. Just his voice and clapping sticks. I had to be still for a moment to be present to it - let it come in. I felt a physical rush of energy as I listened to it and found myself suddenly inside an experience that felt like a combination of recognition, longing and grief.
I got him some money then we sat and chatted.
He shared stories about his life and the old ways.
It was a Creation Song he was singing, from his people up north.
He has an eye condition which means his eyelids can't open. To see, he needs to hold the lids open manually with his fingers. It is really rare apparently and he says the doctors don't really know what to do with it.
Before his eyes started playing up, he travelled all around the world bringing the old ways to people through Ceremonial song.
His wife's people are Eora, from the Walamadagal (what is now around North Sydney). He speaks 5 languages: two indigenous: his mother tongue and his wife's language, then he was forced to learn German and then English.
He said most of his people speak at least 4 languages.
This place, he says, Circular Quay, was a men's ceremonial place and around the corner at Barangaroo, was a women's place.
He also said that around the corner, where the Opera House now stands was a fishing place. 'like a market, but not how you white fellas do markets' he said there was a something like a menu that told you what fish was in season and which fish wasn't.. which ones you could take and which ones you needed to leave.
When the Europeans came, the first thing they did was put cattle on the place, so it quickly destroyed the ecology of the fishing, from all the methane in the soil and water.
I said - 'how have white folks got it so wrong?'
He said, 'your traditions are broken maybe.'
I feel the truth of that.
He said one of the things that he feels sad about is that the young ones don't do their learning from stories any more, they do it from books and movies, 'which shuts down their vision... you can't connect to the old ways through books.'
I said 'my name is Rachel' and I thanked him for his stories.
He said, 'My English name is Les, but my skin name is Gadija'
I said my family name was Blackman and he laughed so hard he nearly fell off his stool.
I asked him how he would feel about having a photo together. He said people take photos of him all the time and I said, 'yeah, but if you could choose, would you really want to have a photo taken? or would you rather not?'
He said 'well its probably ok, because I'm not wearing my ceremonial makeup at the moment'
I said, 'ok, how about I take a photo of us and if you don't like it, I'll delete it. How does this sound?'
'Sounds good', he said.
So I took a photo and showed it to him.
'Good photo!' He said immediately. ' That's a good photo!!' he said.
And he laughed.
I reckon it is a good photo too.
I made a request to the universe last year to attract more collaborations.
As a self employed person, doing everything solo all the time, or, as an artist, having to lead on projects, I found was getting tiring and, if I'm honest, a little dull.
Perhaps this is not the case for everyone.
turns out it was for me.
I recall something artist Wendy Houstoun said once about making solo work - how, when you work alone, eventually you become a victim of your own control.
This is a screen shot of me and Mairtin McNamara working together yesterday. We are running an in person workshop together on Re-Awakening Care & Touch soon and we're tending to the last details of the content before he visits from Belgium in a few weeks time.
There are still a few places left if you are interested.
It will be like it looks in this picture:
Easeful. Spacious. Fun.
The whole process has felt genuinely collaborative, evenly pitched, naturally forward moving and easily focussed on the participant's best experience.
I'm fortunate enough to be good at a lot of different things. I am good at things some people find difficult - and - as if by divine justice - I'm also severely rubbish at things many people find easy. The world doesn't feel built in a way that suits my odd kind of consciousness a lot of the time.
I'm eccentrically wired and I wonder if that's partially why i've historically gone it alone so often. It has often felt like the quickest way round.
Easier than having to explain myself.
But I'm pretty sure we're not all meant to be great at everything.I believe the world needs all the different colours and flavours of us all.
I've been thinking about the difference between being good at something and loving it. Also the difference between loving something and wanting to own it v/s loving something and wanting to keep it alive.
Capitalism sell us the lie that if we're good at something we owe it to ourselves and the needs of the market to contribute it. Which is nonsense.
If what I'm doing is leaving my nervous system shattered and depleted, then that is - surely - a dead economy.
For example - I'm an excellent massage therapist.
A lot of people wish I would continue with it.
I could (and have) made a lot of money out of it.
It is a good, healing influence in the world.
Yet - I am 100% done.
And the capitalist mind trick of the debt economy, tricks us into thinking if I am not outputting and achieving to the very edge of my capacity, then I am - at best - not pulling my weight, not trying hard enough - or at worst, barely justifying my right to exist. This is a frame work that has haunted me in the past.
What a monumental sack of nonsense.
The idea that hard work IN IT'S OWN RIGHT is somehow virtuous is one of the greatest tricks the devil ever played. It keeps us tethered to work we feel ambivalent about (or hate) way beyond its use by date. It keeps us tethered to systems and networks who's values are often horribly misaligned with our own.
Most of us have been steeped in this belief system from very early on and come from a long line of people for whom the idea of hard work is conflated with notions of goodness. That a self might be able to operate as some kind of 'happy' machine, untethered from prioritising a well nourished nervous system is a false economy.
Surely with out a well nourished nervous system, there is no sustainable anything.
Only extraction, exploitation and injury?
So along with all this holding and supporting I'm doing for others, where am I allowing myself to be held in return and how am I sharing the load? How do I create an ecology where I am not simply outputting all the time, but am also sharing my weight, being with and alongside and participating in the being-ness of things? How can I do it in a way that feels sustainable?
Related to all this - about 5 years ago I made a promise to myself to stop working with arseholes.
Turns out it wasn't that easy.
A bit of back story -
A therapist had once said to me - 'you know Rachel, how might it be to accept that some people are just arseholes?'.
I couldn'tt conceive of such a thing.
I just did not want to accept it:
People are inherently good and we need to believe in that, don't we?
It was a world view I was very invested in.
Well this one statement took me nearly 10 years to sift through - to identify the good medicine in it, specifically for me.
I had been so determined to see the good in people, I was letting myself be exploited.
I was refusing to see what was in plain sight.
I was not dealing with reality.
Everyone might have goodness at their core, yes - but it doesn't mean that everyone is capable of operating from that place in their daily life. (Likely because underneath it all we feel unsafe, of course), What ever the reason, arseholery in another is not mine to fix, heal or even necessarily stay next to if i don't want to.
That was a slow learning.
So not working with arseholes was a good intention, but it took me years to work out how to do it - or what that even meant exactly.
Many were hiding in plain sight. Some even making the same noises and gestures that kind people make. Hehe.
It took a while.
The coast is mostly clear of them now.
Learning to collaborate has been a slow learning for me and it continues. But it is an indication of how far I've come that I can identify what is working now.
I'm inviting in people now with whom it feels -
Generous and playful in spirit. It's fun.
There is trust and we have each other's backs.
There are shared values.
We can bring challenges and the system is evolved by it.
There is no dominating, colonising or extracting.
There is space for both (all) our needs to be met.
We aren't trying to be the same as each other.
The work feels like a living thing.
Part of the discipline is about self care and tending to our lives around the work.
Working like this with people I love and trust has taught me a deeper cut of how to hold people I'm supporting, hold myself and be in deep service simultaneously... when to let go, how to trust what is emergent, when what I'm feeling is a YES. Then to honour my 'maybe' with some space and curiosity until I have got really clear on it. To be relaxed in the discomfort of not knowing.
How about you?
- - -
I've been doing a brilliant BRILLIANT online workshop series with writer, vocalist, sacred scholar and activist, Amber McZeal called De-Colonial Somatic Approaches. It means staying awake between midnight and 3am UK time. My eyes are always closing by the end, but EVERY TIME i am so nourished by the encounter, it is totally TOTALLY worth it. Amber is such a penetrating intelligence, draws on so many levels of sacred wisdom and has such a vast, seeing heart that i need to re-listen to the sessions several times to metabolise it all. I am changed from every session. *
In the most recent workshop - Biophilia and Value Formation, we were exploring what brings us big joy (EROS) and where that meets a deep need in the world (PSYCHE) and how that might orient us in life.
This is the enquiry that is sitting behind my desire to explore this topic today.
What if - as we begin to allow ourselves to follow big joy (aliveness) in ourselves, we get intimate enough with it to identify it?
Let's call that step one.
Then in coming to meet the needs of the world, if we encounter another who is burning with the same kind of joy and yearning to meet a similar need in the world, we might recognise it because we have first recognised it in ourselves.
Perhaps right there might be the hint of what a good collaboration might look like.
Trust yourself to know it when you feel it.
- - -
*if you feel drawn to work with Amber, the final workshop in her most recent series: Decolonial Somatic Approaches: Futurity & Radical Imaginings is happening on the 4th May 4pm - 7pm PDT (midnight - 3am BST). You can sign up for that here.
Maybe see you there.
We're having some rare weather here in the UK at the moment. It is warm and peaceful. I'm swimming everyday. The evenings seem to be stretching on for ever and the outside keeps calling me into her. I'm enjoying throwing open all the windows and the feeling of air against my skin - choosing no shoes...
These are feelings I associate with the warmer climates of my birth land.
I've never experienced the sun as medicine so potently as i do in this country. He is a welcome antidote to the pervading dampness here; he brings a clarity to the usual indirectness and obfuscation in the British character.
I find I grieve the brevity of the summer here before it has even gotten going.
And still people complain. 'oooh it is every so close!' 'oh i'm not getting along AT ALL with this heat!' etc etc.
But complaining is woven deeply into the national identity here. It is an important part of how people find connection and belonging. It is social currency - secular sacred bread and butter.
When i first moved here, i found it extremely confusing to relate to - like an anti-relationship.
Then i went through a phase of feeling compelled to change it.
That didn't go so well.
Now i've learnt to let it play lightly in the back ground and focus where i want.
Now Covid has eclipsed The Weather (and narrowly, Brexit) as the preferred topic of generic British wingeing. And with surging Delta Variants and Systems Chaos providing juicy and some may say, perfectly legitimate fodder for such perspectives, i do get it.
And it is tempting to jump in and add my 2 cents worth .. have a bit of a winge, because when in Rome...
But I'm experimenting with letting it all settle more quietly into the back ground. Still doing my bit as a responsible citizen - I'm vaccinated. I'm mask wearing. I'm respectful. I'm seeking reliable data etc etc etc. but am actively tuning out of all the hyper arousal and high drama.
It is making things a lot more peaceful in me and around me.
There are thousands of years worth of hungry ghosts and beleaguered ancestors deeply committed to battling on with this particular dynamic here in England.
I suspect it has been these people's secular sacrament since way before witches were being burnt at stakes in town squares...
So who am I to take all that on?
I'm choosing a similar approach with domineering or colonising personalities. I'll just quietly take my attention somewhere else and get on with things over there ... and wow - what a difference it makes.
As a great person once said - 'Not my circus, not my monkeys'.
Our attention is a precious generous and highly generative resource. Where we offer our attention, so we invest and create.
So if you could place your attention (with open, gentle curiousity) anywhere you'd like today - right now in this moment - even for a little bit - where might that be?
image by Jarvadh on Unsplash
I used to feel exhausted and low in the winter months in the UK and not understand why. I felt frustrated I wasn’t being more productive and wondered why I felt so resentful, pushing through long work days when it was dark and cold and miserable outside.
Why wasn’t I feeling better?
I had an idea that it was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) so did a load of research into infra red saunas, supplements and UV lamps. I went to workshops on resilience and if i'd had any spare cash, would have dropped a few hundred quid on some SAD glasses. I also considered asking my GP for some low level anti-depressants, even though i was aware i wasn't clinically depressed, I dreaded winter in this country so much.
At the same time - around 15 years ago - I started more actively honouring significant planetary rhythms via various earth rituals and ceremonies. I also started to listen to my own bodily cycles more. Still, i wasn't joining the dots, but looking back now, this time was providing early clues to my future healing.
Eventually, via various plant teachers and human teachers and recovering from a few of my very own, bespoke mini-'system collapses' (which were perhaps the greatest teachers of all), I was able to feel how intrinsically we are in and of the seasons and that a huge part of my struggle had been that I simply wasn't giving myself a proper winter.
I wasn’t allowing myself a hibernation.
Everything in my body and spirit was desperate for a withdrawal from doing... yearning for it... All the signs were there. I needed to draw myself inward back and down... to empty out and be simple and slow, but I was fighting against it.
Fighting with that need was making me ill and on top of that I was perfectly willing to pathologise my symptoms and medicalise my totally healthy desire to rest.
We do that a lot in western culture. Fight on when we're exhausted. Keep turning up, even when we are dying inside. And we attach it to some notion of being heroic or tough... maybe good and kind, or even worthy. We are very quick to celebrate an alert, problem solving form of consciousness* and productivity above all things. When we are not being that, we are failing somehow or letting the species down by being lazy, or not focusing hard enough.
What a huge swag of self defeating bullshit.
This strange cultural LIE goes against all of our natural biological intelligence and straight to the heart of a lot of what is making us ill with stress and exhaustion.
This work is foundational to how I have structured my year long mentoring program as I see it as fundamental to how we build sustainable relationships with what we are creating and with ourselves as creators.
It also forms the philosophical back-bone of what i teach in the Somatic Meditations for Soothing and Softening course which offers 6 different ways into a more settled sense of self. To prepare you for napping, sleeping, or even just feeling more at ease in your own skin.
I don't feel wary of the winter anymore.
In fact the Winter Solstice has become the most potent date of the year for me.
I look forward to this quiet, inward, still time.
I crave the emptying out.
I relish making space.
I nap a lot, do jigsaws, read and take my wonder for a wander... mostly, i just don't expect too much of myself.
It goes against all my upbringing, the formal education and dominant cultural, capitalist noise.
But it feels right.
Now, if you are reading this from the Northern Hemisphere, we are soon to emerge into Imbolc, (1st & 2nd Feb) where the first hint of Spring suggests itself. The first glimmer of the returning light.
Life begins to quietly stir under the surface of the soil.
If January was in the darkness, and alive with the metaphor of conception, then this emergent Imbolc part of the year is still more inward than outwards. Delicate and unformed. think snowdrops. think babies in first and second trimester. wriggling, coming to life, but still needing to be in. not ready to be birthed yet (that's all to come in Oestara / Easter / Vernal equinox but that's a while off yet) .
These seasonal markers and metaphors don't imply how you should be feeling, or how you should be acting. Rather they are reference points against which we can experience our living processes... conditions of living against which we can enquire into what is most resonant for us in this moment. If we can learn to be more awake to these shifts, and listen to ourselves, we can make more informed choices.
What is this part of the year suggesting to you now? How is it calling to you?
Not on a work level (of course we need to earn money to pay the rent), but on a more deep, body level - On an animal level... What does your soft animal want at this time?
I find simple rituals can be very effective ways of marking my moments in time. The symbolism of this time can be anything that represents life coming gently awake under the surface of things as the light begins to return.
The most elegant symbolism for this time could be, quite simply, planting a seed.
Below is a suggestion for how to ritualise it:
I wish you happy emergence from the darkest time.
Darkness by Rosie Fraser
Baby by Kelly Sikkema
Cat sleeping by Priscilla Du Preez
Late winter buds by Thomas Willmott
All from Unsplash.
Text adapted from several posts i created for my mentoring group.
The Mentoring Group recruits once a year in October / November and this year is sold out.
The next 6 week course of Somatic Meditations for Soothing & Softening begins on the 23rd Feb - 30th March 2021
Last night Cucumber Spirit came and spoke to me in my dreams. Not in language, but in dynamic expression.
She showed me how yin and delicate she is. How light and bright. What she loves and needs. She danced. It was like ballet but with none of the painful bits. All air and water and light. All elegant a-loftiness, adaptive, elastic and gymnastic. Graceful. Joyful. Refreshing. Like cucumber. It was the most beautiful thing. To discover I had known her all along, but not been listening.
When I awoke, I knew Cucumber. And now we are speaking where ever I go in the house. She is queening away inside me. Quite chatty and bright. Light and crisp. Like she is...of course.
Plants are like they are when they speak. Working with plants. Eating drinking growing them, teaches me about plants. They show me about each other. Not like a book does, or heaven forbid, a you tube video, but the plant itself. If I am awake in a particular way, they show me about the plant-ness of things.
That how they are in fruit is how they are in all other things.
What surprises me is how much there is to learn about listening... 🥒🌼
I am intensity junkie in recovery.
I used to be dependent on intensity. It was my narcotic of choice. It was how i recognised myself. It was what i thought was the same as 'deep'. if I couldn't have an intense conversation with someone, then i didn't know how to relate to them. Or rather - i judged them as being uninteresting, lacking complexity, emotional intelligence, or just intelligence. I confused ease and simplicity with ignorance or laziness.
Recently i am emerging from a work relationship that was characterised by a kind of systemic hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance. This sense that everything was potentially an emergency. And everything that wasn't in accordance with the prevailing culture represented a hostile threat. A potential threat that we had to arm ourselves against.
For ages, i couldn't work out why i found it so challenging to come to quiet in this work environment, or why i wasn't doing my best work. I kept trying to re-shape myself into a closer approximation of what I imagined was needed. re-shape, re-shape, re-shape. And then i got sick. My body put me down. I'm not saying it was directly because of this situation, but i am convinced it was part of it. I'm convinced that my inability to regulate around it is what tipped me over the edge. I had been ignoring the warning signs for too long.
It was a red flag moment... like many that have come before... A clear indicator that i could not continue in that dynamic and be healthy.
This work relationship has come to represent the last vestige of a way of being that used to be my ordinary operating system. Following over a decade of similar dynamics in work and intimate relationships.
This most recent one, is the last shackle of it falling away.
Scales falling from my eyes.
The whole de-conditioning process has taken nearly 15 years.
And out of the fertile compost of all this, an emergent discovery of how i really want to do things. Following ease. Following creative possibility. Following curiosity.
The first few years of exploring following ease, rather than difficulty, i found i needed to sleep a lot. For my system to counterbalance all the free floating anxiety and hyper vigilance it needed some pretty deep wipe-out time. I had a recurring image of a restless black dog trying to find a place to settle in the corner of my consciousness and eventually i found a way to release him. I spoke about an encounter with this imagined dog in an excellent open conversation about creative courage last week with Dave Rock and Brooke McNamara. You can listen & watch it if you sign up to the Embodiment Conference (its free... click on 'Webinars' in the Resources section.)
Now, I don't know if it is just me getting older, doing all this Feldenkrais, or if it is just some deep systemic change and healing... certainly if feels like a falling away of a massive shackle of limiting cultural ENTRAINMENT. So probably some synthesis of all three.
These days I am tired, bone tired, BORED of intensity and unnecessary struggle. I see it as a dysfunction of a culture addicted to adrenaline; a system that rewards continual growth and goal setting and can't live with decay and being with uncertainty. A system that is propped up by the dangerous delusion, that an alert problem solving form of consciousness is the only valid kind.
Obviously these mindsets permeate our workplaces, corporations and education systems, but incredibly, I see vestiges of this mindset leaking into climate action groups and activism generally. Also, therapeutic workshops, self development courses, yoga retreats. Not to mention ‘resilience’ workshops! It’s bloody everywhere! The meta - project of 'is how i am being sustainable?' is neglected.
It isn't healthy biological functioning and it is making us sick. Nature is shouting loudly that this is a way of being that cannot continue with out great cost. And it is costing us.
This is not to say that there aren't situations that require appropriate urgency, hard work, focus and vigilance.
Not at all.
But now, the proportions feel more sustainable in my life.
There is more balance and perspective.
I am elastic and capable, so when there is a genuine emergency, I am better resourced to wrangle with it.
And this brings me to simplicity.
I was chatting to a friend and colleague Mairtin McNamara yesterday about what is essentially required of us as to be good facilitators and it lead us towards a conversation about complexity and simplicity and to what extent it is the responsibility of the facilitator / coach to be holding a more complex circle of attention than the client. I wasn't so sure.
These days i am so grateful for - and deeply appreciative of - the experience of simplicity. It has taken hacking through an incredibly complicated forest to get there, but it seems these days i can recognise it when i am there and seem to be able to find my way there at will. A lot of my relationships have changed tone. Or just changed. Some have fallen away. Some i no longer feel the need to make myself into the shape required to be in them any more... a quality i now recognise as a kind of high functioning dis-function.
In my theatre work, i recognise that when simplicity and ease arrive, then i am landing on something good. Sometimes it takes ploughing through some gnarly complexity to get there, but the journey is always worth it when it starts to feel simple. I know, then that something is landing. An altogether different feeling to listlessness, laziness or procrastination. It has a restful vibrancy about it.
I am learning this also when i hold space for others, in a therapeutic container, coaching container or an educational one, that if, what i pay attention to, is being a well resourced, nervous system, then the work we are doing together can have its greatest impact.
This isn't about 'controlling myself' or forcing anything, it feels more like guiding a stream of energy in a direction of my conscious choosing. And as much about a kind of bubbling brook of ventral vagal interconnection as it is about being being 'relaxed'. Something about being elastic, adaptable and alive to what is. To be able to feel what is happening on lots of levels: in me, in them, between us, in the field beyond us.... whether this is through talking, touch or holding some other kind of space.... even an online space, (which i am doing increasingly). I may only draw on one or two 'tools' for the whole session, but the focus is on tracking the ever emergent present, being a loving, well resourced, presence to support what wants to emerge, guided by both of us. Sometimes this requires invisibility. Sometimes visibility. Sometimes a tool or two. Sometimes a shift of gear. Sometimes almost nothing at all.
My theory at the moment is that the nature of consciousness is like an infinite unfolding of ever increasing fractal-like organic complexity that changes depending where attention is placed. Attention being a creative, generative principle. If i assume it is much larger, more profound and unknowable than any system, method, technique or person; much larger and more complex than any one of us can know, then i can feel I am on the right track.
Yet it is also profoundly OF me. Of us. It is the gossamer which animates the fabric of all organic life.
Profundity and complexity are woven into our biological identities, so perhaps the most extraordinary gift i can offer as a facilitator is a kind of learned simplicity. If - as some studies claim - 90% of the therapeutic effect is relational presence and trust, not technique... Ninety percent!! Then perhaps the more simple i can be in my holding of space, the more vivid, unexpected and profound can be the discoveries.
Blue Zoanthids - Image by Ka78 on Deviant Art
writings on states of being, being in a body and being human.