Reconciliation & the Land

Reconciliation & the Land

In Australia there has been a “debate” over recent decadess on the whole subject of reconciliation. Whilst this is ostensibly about healing the rifts between the white and aboriginal peoples, it has a wider implication with the land itself, and is a very long way from achieving its goal. This issue is hardly confined to Australia, it has and is being reckoned with in other colonised countries such as New Zealand and, notably, South Africa. Nor is it just a colonial issue, as events in Indonesia and East Timor have demonstrated. The United States white population has the problem on two fronts: with the indigenous Indians and the imported Africans and their transported culture and traditions.

Although a wide and complex topic my focus will be on the issue of healing and the relationship of reconciliation to the landscape itself: the Land.

Sorry is a hard word here. Sorry is the complement of forgiveness, indicating that any apology is incomplete without the corresponding forgiveness. It is very difficult to apologise if a power complex lurks in the background. And forgiveness itself requires that we have fully faced and integrated the betrayal that underlies it, which in many countries and cultures is a long way away, and festers like a deep infection. Betrayal is a division: a wresting asunder of a primordial state of unity into disunity and conflict, a schism of wholeness.

We all recognise that the division of peoples requires “healing”, but until we examine and identify what healing actually is and the depth of its demand, any other process will be somewhat limited, arbitrary, and incomplete, leaving open the possibility – or the inevitability – of the wound breaking open again.

First and foremost, healing is not synonymous with curing: this is the great mistake Western medicine has made. Curing is about getting rid of a problem so that it is no longer there, so curing may not heal. Healing is about integration of a problem from division to wholeness, so healing may not cure. Some people can be cured of cancer, but not feel healed at an emotional and spiritual level, remaining dependent on medical check-ups and reassurance. Others can be healed by an illness and die in peace, though not conventionally cured.

Healing comes from the Old English word “Hal”. Hal means to “heal”, but also “wholeness” and even “holy”. So healing is synonymous with wholeness and extends to the spiritual dimension of our existence: it is not about the usually superficial problem solving. Healing is an archetypal process, it transcends people and cultures, time and place. For true healing to be effected the archetypal depths of the process must be activated and engaged, which is where the power of ritual resides.

Presently we are addressing the process of reconciliation with the politics of peoples. If we have learnt one thing from the completion of the Second World War it is that political solutions are limited and repetitive. The situation in Northern Ireland stands as testimony to this fact. Many commentators have remarked on the fact that the forces that led to the Second World War have not been fully acknowledged, dealt with and reconciled. From the archetypal perspective I can only add my voice to this view – with some sadness.

So how is this issue addressed between peoples, if our politics and rationality aren’t enough? It requires an appreciation of the non-rational realms: the world of emotions, feelings and spirit. It requires an appreciation of the culture and its lore; of myth and myth-making; song, story, and poem, which necessarily connects us with the land itself.

But how can we in the West achieve this? Aren’t we spiritually impoverished and bereft of myths to guide us? Where are our rituals, ceremonies and rites of passage? For it is these we must rediscover, connect with and LIVE if we are to bridge the gulf with other peoples.

Several years ago I attended an indigenous peoples’ conference in the Western desert of Australia. Seated under a flimsy gum tree affording scant protection from the hot sun we were listening to an Aboriginal elder talk of his work with Aboriginal youth. His problem was that the colonialisation of Australia had led to a disruption of cultural patterns within his people, and he was addressing this by reintroducing rites of passage away from civilisation and technology – in direct contact with the land. As he was talking an Anglo-Saxon voice came from the audience: “That’s all very well for you, your spirituality and culture is alive, ours is dead.”

An Apache Indian Chief in the audience took up the right of reply: “That’s not true, you do have your own culture. However, you’re lazy and are looking to us for it. But you’re not Indian and never will be. You just have to dig a little deeper in your own culture; it’s buried, not dead. We recognise it in your Druidry and pantheistic spirituality.” (Actually he prefaced this with: “There are several things that shit me, one is people wearing eagle’s feathers when they haven’t earned them…”) The audience was silent. Some serious consideration was going on.

That afternoon I felt restless and walked into the landscape. The day was hot, and the desert there exposes itself in a harsh and uncompromising, yet very real and beautiful manner. By the end of the afternoon I was thirsty and tired, and keen not to lose contact with my way back to the farm-station. The storm clouds began to gather and I was blessed with a range of experiences; synchronicities with nature, where I felt in communion with the land and the land “talking” to me…

I see that the initial step of reconciliation is about the rediscovery of our own culture and the spiritual ways that talk to us. This dimension is contexted in myth and story, enacted in ritual and ceremony. It is becoming increasingly revealed in our time, maybe because the need for reconnection is so great and dire, and the need itself is spirit beckoning to us. It is also primarily an inner process, about our own wholeness, which is an essential prerequisite for connecting with the “other” in our environment in an ever shrinking world.

Yet it is more than this, as the healing journey necessitates a re-visioning of our relationship with the environment and the land herself. My experience is that if the inner healing journey is valid then you will inevitably be drawn into a deeper connection with nature and the land; it is inescapable. From here the connection process – relationship – becomes a dialogue: Not only do we “talk” to the land, but the land “talks” to us. This may be in feeling, synchronicity, inspiration and dream; but, whatever the form, it is recognisable and indisputable.

In Britain the ley lines indicate a profound wisdom of the land. In Australia the aboriginal culture has song lines to identify places and their role or purpose. Often this is simply practical – water or shade, for example – but equally important is the spiritual dimension encoded in song and myth.

We are embedded in the landscape. The sun still rises and sets, we don’t experience ourselves as on a planet orbiting a star. The Copernican revolution may influence the way we think, but maybe not the way we feel and experience reality. We exist within and are part of cycles within cycles of existence as reflected in the heavens, the land and our bodies (which are part of the land).

The inner reconnection process also encompasses our relationship to our bodies and nature in ways that have become more commonplace, practical, and even of future necessity. No longer do Western pharmaceutical medicines and technologies cope with the malaises of our civilisation, our “dis-eases”. We have rediscovered the importance of our diet, which is also a beginning in the reconnection process, and a fundamental instinctual dialogue with nature and the land. For our malaises we recognise the power of the herbal kingdom, and our ritual connection with this in the healing process.

If we read accounts of this from the spiritual perspective, ranging from Castaneda’s stunning accounts of his relationship with the Yaqui shaman Don Juan, or to the more culturally compatible Wulf in Brian Bates’ The Way of Wyrd, we see the depth and relationship of spirit and nature manifesting in herb and hallucinogen. We also see something vitally important: the role of ritual.

Our need for ritual is becoming increasingly obvious. In recent times we have deified the rational, scientific, and technological: We have simultaneously relegated the world accessed through ritual as “animistic” (implying “primitive”), “childish” (because children have not yet lost their essential wholeness and the ritual function embedded within it) and confined it to sundry “specialists” (priests) who hold it for us de facto, ministering the wafer in the same manner as doctors now minister their pharmaceuticals: in and of itself a hidden ritual process. Yet in times of stress and emotional upheaval we are drawn to ritual and the magical realm, it is no longer as suspicious and “evil”. What we need to do is integrate it within our lives – routinely.

And the land offers ample opportunity for this. If we can escape the violence to the night of street lights and never-ending television, and leave our prison-cities to appreciate nature on her own terms, then we chance upon a wealth of cycles and patterns that lend themselves to ritual and reconnection. If we continue this process we appreciate the wellbeing and sense of wholeness it brings, and we are then available to a dialogue with nature, the land and existence itself.

We may be able to access through literature and elsewhere traditional ritual patterns to assist us in this process, and information to support and direct us. But these patterns are to be lived in the present, and in many ways we are faced with a challenge of not only rediscovering our mythology but also reinventing it: Such is the nature of the changing times we are in and the demands of the future.

Once we have begun this, then the dialogue with the land becomes routine and commonplace – though never dull! The process itself and the patterns we rediscover and are revealed to us can then invest us with a real spiritual authority which we can wear with honour and humility.

Then, and only then, in my opinion, are we in a position beyond the wounds and the betrayals to approach the proud peoples of this world who have for so long held alight the torch of natural spirituality, whilst we have wandered in the cul-de-sacs of egocentric and political monotheisms (I exclude here the genuinely mystical dimensions of these disciplines) and material deserts.

Then can the process of reconciliation begin.


Questions and Answers

“Can you elaborate on the ‘power complex’ with respect to the divisions that exist between peoples?”

There is a world of difference between a power complex and power per se, and in psychological parlance a power complex is defined and considered to act unconsciously.

Power is an essential component of existence, and one we cannot do without. It has it’s instinctual side in terms of survival and procreation, but there is also a human side. This human side has power working in conjunction with relationship; it is a mature position that is currently popularly characterised as “win-win” situations, where the more I empower you and remain in relationship with you, the more I will be empowered. This really is a mature position and not achieved when someone denies or tries to avoid expressing their power, but by recognising and integrating it within themselves so that it can operate in a conscious, co-operative and creative manner.

From the unconscious position exactly the opposite occurs: power operates divisively, as exemplified by the adage “divide and conquer”. In concrete terms what happens is that an invading nation disempowers the indigenous people by creating division and disunity, and the way this is done is to disrupt their physical and spiritual harmony and relationships. The invaded peoples are betrayed in this process, becoming resentful and angry. The danger is, of course, that they retaliate from a similar position.

So we see peoples being “relocated”, as with the American Indians being placed in reservations and Aboriginal children being separated from their families. We also see the imported religious systems used in this process. This may be obvious by forceful means – physically and psychologically – or more subtly with the adoption and integration of existing mythic and religious systems into that of the invader.

Historically the Roman empire exemplifies much of this process. First there is physical domination and subjugation with features like rape and slavery, then the religious system is used to dominate the existing spiritual systems by building churches on sacred sites, then amalgamating sacred days and mythic people into the dominating culture. Slavery acts to disempower but also to relocate people, whilst rape has an obvious dominating factor but also serves to “impregnate” the invaders genes within the oppressed population.

What is required is for the dominating people to relinquish their power “over” the other, most often operating from within the political and religious arenas, and for the subjugated peoples to appreciate their sense of betrayal. Then the one can apologise and the other forgive: Quite a task, as history testifies.

“It seems that colonising peoples have almost an envy of the indigenous peoples relationship with the land?”

Exactly that: the “relationship” with the land. Because there is an existing relationship, the invading power complex will try and disrupt it, so dividing the people.

Don’t forget that the colonising peoples have “left” their own land, so they are in a divided state as well. Imposing their views and systems on the colonised landscape is an attempt to feel “at home”! But because this is predominantly an imported situation there is a deep envy of peoples who have maintained a valid relationship. In North America once the Indian peoples were liberated from the yoke of slavery they re-established their relationship with the land and its attendant customs and traditions. And because, in my opinion, this has been managed without being excessively locked in the cycle of betrayal and retaliation, the invading peoples have begun to look on with envy.

A similar situation is happening in Australia, more so because the Aboriginal’s sense of relationship to the land is so sacred and profound there is little room within them for betrayal and retaliation, making them extremely vulnerable at many levels. When this happens the invading people is not forced to defend itself, and will eventually look on and “see” what it is missing.

I believe all this is exemplified in the story about the conference in the desert I attended.

Aren’t you an Englishman relocated in Australia? Maybe you can best illustrate the overall situation by explaining how you have dealt with this difficulty.

I certainly can, but firstly I don’t see the situation as “dealt with”. I believe I am still dealing with it: maybe not so much on a personal level now, more a transpersonal or spiritual one. However it has been essential to understand these issues at a personal level, first and foremost, before the other is engaged, otherwise there is a danger of all sorts of personal “complexes” operating. For example, I am of the opinion that most politicians have an unresolved power problem at a personal level, which is then disguised under all sorts of supposedly “good intentions” at the social and collective level.

The reasons for my coming to live in Australia are many, but at the core was the sense of vibrancy and life I found here. On returning to Britain I experienced decadence and denial on many levels so, with a young family, I decided to emigrate. However the breakdown of my marriage and the professional dissatisfaction I was experiencing led me to an inner search.

What I discovered there was a powerful connection with the Arthurian myths, and with them a sense of “being at home” in Australia. This “at home” feeling was interesting: I hadn’t recognised it’s lack until it was filled. This led to a move away from city life and a re-establishment of a connection with the environment that I had experienced as a child on a farm. I also recognised that this connection – the mythic and spiritual with the environment – was very important.

In examining the seeds of this disruption I was compelled to look at the uncomfortable fact that the spiritual disruption also existed in my family and upbringing. I felt at home with the animals and on the land, but not with the dogma of the religion I was presented with. This made me realise the same phenomenon was operating in the land of my upbringing and within me, so a simple returning “home” to Britain would not achieve the unity I was looking for.

This led me to a search for my own mythic and spiritual heritage, which I found synonymous with my deepening reconnection with the land where I live: the two aspects were moving into relationship. At the same time I felt empowered to change the structure of my professional life and apply these principles to medical practice.

Examination of my cultural background beyond what I largely consider as the imposition of “Roman” Christianity has led to adapting mythic patterns and ritual structure to this hemisphere and landscape. It is only now I feel able to approach Aboriginal people in this regard, and at the same time I have had profound feelings of the environment “talking” to me. We have explored the environment locally in an attempt to identify energetic sites of significance and introduce them into professional work and spiritual practice.

It is also my profound belief that it is at this level that any consideration of reconciliation needs to begin.

“Isn’t your position essentially pantheistic and anti-Christian?”

Pantheistic? maybe, anti-Christian? No. When I stressed “Roman” I was attempting to dis-identify Christianity as a mystical discipline from the doctrinaire and political aspects. In this respect I see the cultural stream of “Celtic” Christianity to be more applicable to my background. Because the Celtic peoples at this time where essentially embracing of the spiritual emergence of Christ and capable of adapting it to their existing pagan worldview, as opposed to the more dominating and controlling position of the Roman stream.

I also do not see Christianity as incompatible with pantheism, indeed I believe it is an essential relationship, and its disruption has led to much unnecessary suffering and confusion. I certainly do not hold with an entirely supernatural idea of the divine, which I consider a subtle form of hubris in humanity.

Examination of the issues involved here from many aspects leads to the unavoidable conclusion that a sense of spirituality and the environment are profoundly interconnected. In this sense, and simply stated, the divine is everywhere. And what I have been attempting to demonstrate is that if you disrupt a person’s relationship with the land, you disrupt their relationship with spirit. The consequence of this, beyond what we have already discussed, is alienation, despair, and phenomena such as mental disease and addictions.

“Addictions are caused by spiritual malaise?”

I don’t think it is a question of “cause” but of association, which makes looking at problems like this a bit more creative. Epidemiologically there is a definite alcohol problem with peoples like the Aboriginal and American Indian. To see the problem as due to the lack of the culture’s appreciation of alcohol at a physical level is trite and limited. But rather than base my view on this “associative” evidence, I would like to look at the problem from another perspective.

In traditional cultures various so-called illicit drugs have been used from time immemorial to induce spiritual states, although this is usually done in a ritual and ceremonial fashion, and with the guidance of one experienced in this, usually called a shaman. This is to open the doors of perception to realities beyond the habitual and, once achieved, to be negotiated without the use of substances.

In my experience all drugs of addiction are capable of producing “altered states of consciousness” which are synonymous with spiritual appreciation. However, if they are used outside of the ritual context and without guidance, there is an obvious danger of their increased and repetitive usage leading to psychological and physical addiction.

So, if a subjugated people is torn from their land and spiritual structure, it is very vulnerable to addictive problems. What is unfortunate is that the invading peoples may even encourage such behaviour to further dominate them.