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The Material and the Sacred

Posted on Apr 23, 2016 | 0 comments

The Material and the Sacred

Environmentalists should embrace materialism. Bet you didn’t expect me to make that claim, but I mean it. Materialism needs to be appreciated, just in a radically different way. Materialism in the sense of the desire to accumulative material goods, leading to overconsumption, is seen as one of the evils of capitalism, with spirituality sometimes presented as the antidote. There is much wisdom in teachings on non-attachment and the like, however there is a thread to both religious and new age spirituality which is easy to confuse. In the rejection of the pursuit of ‘material wealth’ we can come to associate the material, matter, with the mundane, or more harshly, the profane. I cringe when I hear the ‘up and away’ type language that can be associated with spirituality. Think of discussion about ‘transcending’ or ‘raising our vibration’ or the spirit realm (as if spirit were something separate to the realm of matter) or ‘higher’ states of consciousness or emphasising parts of the self that are perceived as not the body (mind, spirit, consciousness)… What are we trying to escape from here? Is high better than low? Is earth somehow less sacred than heaven? The desacralising of the natural world is one driver behind our environmental destruction. If nature is filled with non-sentient, non-sacred creatures and substances, then why should we care to respect and protect it? When I talk about these nature retreats that I do, it is not about transcending at all, it is about going deeper and deeper into the here and now, discovering capacities our culture has forgotten about and communing with the nature right in front of us as access to the unifying field underlying all things, not a god far away up in heaven. The Slow Movement has faced criticism as a being a luxury for the rich. Which I guess when Slow Food gets construed as being just about gourmet food I can see the point, but quite often I think that critical sentiment is coming from the belief in the need to be productive as possible. And if you are not, then you are lazy and indulgent. I think Slow’s appreciation of quality, sensory pleasures is actually quite beautiful. It makes gratitude for the gifts of nature all the more possible. One of the insights I had during my 28 day solo retreat was that things become sacred when you treat them as such. The sense was very similar to taking a conscious choice to change the tone of a relationship. I think one of the ways that nature can be such an incredible teacher is because nature makes it easy to see the sacred in the here. I wonder what would happen if we chose to see the sacred in the substance of everyday...

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3 Strategies to Reclaim Your Senses

Posted on Sep 6, 2015 | 0 comments

3 Strategies to Reclaim Your Senses

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper” W.B. Yeats In my last post I discussed the effects on our nervous system and resulting impacts on daily functioning from living in world that surrounds us with stimuli that is more intense and comes at us faster than ever before. We need to give ourselves breaks from the bombardment to reduce stress and take off the glove of dulled senses. We can also mitigate some effects of this hyperstimulation. Through refinement of our senses we are capable of picking up on things we never dreamed of. When we relax and choose where to place our attention, expansion of awareness occurs. Our senses can reach out to meet our environment, our loved ones, the universe, etc. If you take the time to notice the breadth and depth of your awareness when stressed and overwhelmed, you will probably notice a contraction into a very narrow sphere of awareness. The good news is that the solution is quite simple. The bad news is that we are complex creatures living complicated lives. Implementation of the solution can be quite difficult. There does need to be attention paid to our habits, how we chose to spend our time and construct our lives. I propose a 3-pronged approach. 1. Daily practice What you do daily really builds the foundation of who you are. Build in regular, dedicated time for meditation, yoga or creative pursuits. I say this, but as a lady with a mission and a tendency towards action I do fully appreciate the reality of trying to find time in the daily schedule. I’m not there yet. It is not that I don’t meditate, but I do think that doing it consistently would be transformational. During my month-long solo retreat last year I sensed that if I could improve my focus and placement I could have gone so much deeper (and it’s not that wonderful things did not happen as it was). This is my main challenge over the coming year. It is also one I’m planning to tackle and reflect upon in my PhD; part of my cunning plan to ensure that I have no wriggle room not to make this change. But! I do still have a daily practice of micro-moments of connection and mindfulness as I go about my day to day activities. For instance, as I ride my bike to work I make sure that I pay attention to the nature that I pass and hold that attention long enough to feel the connection, get a visceral response, not just think about it. I am mindful of negative thoughts, refusing to be a victim of my own mind. I watch the transition between work and home and make sure I do something calming or not head-based immediately upon getting home such as watering the garden or having a conversation with my chickens (play is a great practice). 2. “Choice architecture” To support the above, we can change our environment and routines to make it easier for us to select those choices towards slowing down, relaxation and refinement of the senses. We only have a limited pool of mental effort, which includes willpower, to draw upon. Review your environment to identify sources of stimuli which fracture your attention and consider what beneficial actions you could routinise to avoid to dilemmas of choice. A simple environmental modification is to turn off your email alerts with those annoying pop up boxes, to minimise unnecessary interruptions when trying to focus. Your work colleagues may need to adjust to...

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Leadership lessons from Nepal earthquake

Posted on Aug 19, 2015 | 0 comments

Leadership lessons from Nepal earthquake

True crisis situations are fabulous at cutting away the cloud of things that just don’t matter. Like a crucible, things are boiled down to essentials. A few months ago I followed my intuition to Nepal. Our group was in the remote and sacred Tsum valley near the border of Tibet when the earthquake hit on April 25. Although the area was close to the epicentre we were fortunate to be walking in a place where the valley widened out and all 20 of us were unharmed away from the danger of rock falls or landsides. Watching avalanches and boulders being flung off the dramatic Himalaya while feeling the ground wave under our feet was an experience that literally shakes you to your core. We were then stuck for 8 days until a helicopter came to take us back to Kathmandu; a time which provided it’s own challenges in terms of not knowing how our families were feeling and uncertainty over how or when we would be rescued. I felt truly blessed for many reasons, and one of those reasons was the incredible lessons that the earthquake experience provided. A particular interest of mine in to do with leadership and profound systems change. We were provided with a shining example of leadership in the form of a Tsum local and mountain guide, Dhawa. Dhawa owns the guesthouse in the tiny village we ended up in after the earthquake was over. He happened to be walking up the valley with a couple of clients towards this village when the quake happened, in a bad part of the trail. Dhawa literally saved their lives by pulling one of them out of the way of falling rocks and keeping them both moving to safer ground. He described to me later that in the moment he thought of his own family and felt a conflict between trying to maximise his own chances of survival by getting out of there as quickly as possible in order to be there for his family and taking more personal risk to help his clients. His sense of duty and attitude of service won out. After that ordeal he arrives at his guesthouse and finds the 20 of us waiting there, having not yet worked out what we were going to do with ourselves. The village we were aiming to stay in that night had been completely destroyed. Without hesitation he began making preparations for temporary shelter under a large tarp in the horse paddock and mattresses and blankets were hauled out. No one knew if the buildings were stable and aftershocks kept coming. We were fed from the tiny kitchen despite the limited stocks in the pantry with no guarantee of replenishment in the near future. His impact on the group was immediate and palpable. As he started speaking to us we circled around. He cut through the stress and confusion with a welcome groundedness, calm and presence. As the initial drama of the earthquake event itself subsided, a different kind of stress emerged. Uncertainty and lack of control. It took two days to find a phone that we could use to make international phone calls, so no one knew where we were for a while. We also could not receive consistent communication from the outside world so it was difficult getting a clear picture of the situation: could we walk down, if not, how would we get helicopters here, what were the embassies doing, what was the situation in Kathmandu even if we could get back by helicopter, would embassies pick up people from other countries (there...

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Hyper-Stimulated World

Posted on Aug 18, 2015 | 0 comments

Hyper-Stimulated World

As the cool water envelopes my feet I sense my continuity with the water, indeed with all of life. I am home exactly where I am. This was a thought I had yesterday while out rock climbing on the river near where I live. This was not some kind of mind-blowing spiritual revelation. Just a simple moment of uncomplicated awareness. What did strike me on reflection though was how much this is related to why I am doing the Slow Project and Way of Nature retreat guiding. While I consider such moments at once profound yet also ordinary, I remember that this was not always the case and truly appreciate the effect this quality of awareness has had on my life. Let’s take a step back and have a look at our senses in today’s world. Most of human history has been spent in times where there were immediate physical dangers. Our nervous systems have adapted accordingly. We are hardwired to react to novel stimuli because, as far as our nervous system knows, it might indicate a threat. These days most people do not live in situations where danger might lurk around every corner, however the quantity and intensity of sensory input has escalated off the charts. Consider the changes to the human habitat since the industrial revolution; increasing density of urban living, cars, advertisements, marketing materials, loud speakers, artificial light, etc. It is a ‘hyperstimulated’ world that we live in. You might be wondering what is the problem with this stimulation. We do have positive association with the word ‘stimulated’ and I agree that intense sensory input cannot be glorious in itself, but everything is about balance. “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom” – Francis Bacon Some people are particularly prone to adverse reactions to excessive stimulation. I became interested in sensory processing during my time as as an Occupational Therapist. I learnt about how our nervous systems must filter through and modulate incoming stimuli in order for us to be able to function. Efficient sensory modulation is the ability to effectively regulate the degree to which one is influenced by various sensory inputs. For many people, and especially children as their nervous system is still maturing, sensory processing poses a challenge and disorders result. We all have different ‘sensory profiles’, sensing and letting in different quantities of stimuli from our various sense organs and then filtering it differently through our systems of perception. Even if it is not at a ‘disorder’ level, we have our own sensory challenges. I also wonder if the changing sensory environment of the modern world is leading to an increase in sensory processing disorders because it is not what our nervous systems evolved to live in. Too much sensory stimulation results in a stress response and sometimes a ‘shut down.’ Sensory overload has actually been used as a method of torture. Bit of a side note – but it was too interesting not to mention – in my research I discovered that creative people tend to have reduced ‘sensory gating’; letting in more stimuli than others. However when our prefrontal cortex is activated, creativity is suppressed. The prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, cranking itself up for new stimuli and moving your attention to the source of the stimuli.((http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload)) Creatives often advocate for the need for silence. This bombardment and relentless activation of the prefrontal cortex also fractures our attention, switching our focus over to the source of the new stimuli. This is a disaster for efficiency and also delivers a double stress-whammy. Multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone...

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Going Deeper

Posted on Mar 15, 2015 | 0 comments

Going Deeper

Of all the things I passionately believe in, the power of deep experience is right up there. In fact, a large part of my commitment to Slow comes from an appreciation of the relationship between Slow and depth. One of the great tragedies of our Fast society is that we only skim the surface of life’s experiences and furthermore become unaware of this shallowness. With our senses so thoroughly bombarded and hence numbed simply as a coping mechanism, our perception of life becomes grossified. By slowing down and bringing more of our attention into the present we sink deeper into each moment. The things we discover can change our lives forever. I never would have had an appreciation for Slow if it was not for doing my first Way of Nature Sacred Passage. I spent a week in solitude and after two days of mostly sleeping, settling in and relaxing a whole new way of being with the world opened up in ways I could never have imagined. The incredible sense of connectedness was like a caress for the soul and the reciprocity with the beings around me in acknowledgement of this changed, deeper relationship with nature changed the way I see the world forever. I have found this and other deep experiences I have embarked on since then much like finding a great radio station and adding it to your favourites: you might not always be tuned in but you can find it again, the path has been illuminated, and simply just knowing it is there waiting for you is the source of much ease. Deep experience help you to see what is possible, inspiring and guiding everyday practice. So if you have started or thought about any kind of practice, such as meditation, to assist you to slow down, I encourage you to find the space and courage to let yourself go deeper. In a way, it is a matter of courage. Deep experience by its very nature requires you to go beyond comfort zone and learn about surrender, trust and letting go. These in themselves are incredible valuable lessons. Sometimes I’d claim my strategy with The Slow Project is to gently introduce people to Slow principles, thereby allowing them to come to the conclusion that deep experience is something they are ready for. But then other times, such as now, I just get too excited and decide that I’m going to try to convince you straight out. I practice what I preach, and I am heading off in a few week to spend 5 weeks in Nepal learning Thai massage and doing more meditation and qi gong on a pilgrimage. Before I go I am hoping to get enough people for two nature programs I am running in May and June. The May 23 event is a taster 1-day retreat and the June Nature Quest gives you a proper deep dive exploring and strengthening your connection with nature over 5 days including 2 days in solitude.  So have I convinced you? Are you keen? Please get in touch, even if it is to ask some questions over a coffee. Sign up for post updates:...

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Nature Quest in the Midwest

Posted on Mar 7, 2015 | 0 comments

Nature Quest in the Midwest

Craving time out from the craziness of modern life and ready to push your boundaries to explore what meaningful relationship with nature might be like? Technology-driven, adrenaline-fueled, time-compressed modern society creates separation from our bodies and from nature – the very essence of what it is to be human. In the vast skies of the midwest we will retreat and rediscover. What’s involved? The centrepiece of this program is 2 nights, 3 days spent in solitude in wild nature. Prior to this ‘AllOne’ time, we will learn simple and effective practices to allow us to become present and relaxed, merging with the natural energies and rhythms of nature. These teachings are based on the 12 Guiding Principles of the Way of Nature organisation. To keep costs low we will share responsibility for meals during the group time. Fasting is recommended for the AllOne time, although is not mandatory. Bring any snacks you might want for that time. Who’s it for?  This Nature Quest is suited to those who: Are looking to move beyond simple appreciation of nature and develop their skills in connecting with inner and outer nature May have tried some meditation but looking to connect that with your love of nature Yearn for space to reflect and rest in stillness May not have spent much time alone but looking to expand their boundaries with the support of nature Cost: $450 or $400 if booked prior to March 29  ...

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A Nibble of Nature: 1 day retreat

Posted on Mar 6, 2015 | 0 comments

A Nibble of Nature: 1 day retreat

Modern life bombards us from every direction, leaving us hyper-stimulated and consequently stressed, depleted, distracted and our senses dulled. Finding the space to reflect, centre and balance yourself with natural rhythms and energy is vitally important. Paruna Sanctuary forms an important link in the ecosystem in the Perth Hills. Come and revitalise your connection with nature and yourself in the process! Learn simple meditation and Qi Gong (energy practices) techniques to become more present, relaxed and open to the wonderful harmonious energy of wild nature. Cost: $65 including entry to the sanctuary and lunch. Since I will be away for 5 weeks from March 30 (learning more beautiful practices to share with you!) and out of contact for that time I am asking people to please book and pay by March 29 so that I know if I have minimum numbers. Email me to book and I will send you details for bank deposit. A Nibble of Nature...

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