Watering New Shoots
I watched the way the gum tree forests and tall boy grasses sprouted defiantly and joyously after the black summer fires ravaged the lands around me.
I searched for the new tender shoots of wisdom that might sprout as we humans looked into the face of our devastation wrought by greed, arrogance and stupidity in the hubris of our Gods of continuous Growth, Progress and Technological Entrancement.
While many still indulge in the old dreams of prediction and control of natural and social processes, before our eyes they continue to dissolve into broken shards of chaos as anxiety stalks the land.
Weaving the New Story
It came to me when I spied Jillian Culey’s woven vessel, the indestructible ancient wisdom of First Nations knowledges interwoven with the green vine of the newcomer settlers and their science, technologies and cultural stories of meaning and identity
As we seek to weave a new story of meaning, relationship and purpose away from the troublesome Gods that are driving us over the cliff of insanity.
I take heart from First Nations Peoples, giving voice to their epistemology of woven interdependencies, a profoundly eco-spiritual relationist ethos
Whereby, in the words of Gundungurra Elder Aunty Sharyn Hall, Ngurra (Country) has a deep meaning of belonging.
Ngurra takes in everything within the cultural and spiritual landscape—landforms, trees, rocks, plants, animals, foods, medicine, minerals, stories and significant places. It includes Cultural practices, knowledge, songs, stories and art as well as Spiritual Beings and people, present and future.
I live in this Gungundurra Ngurra on the ridge above the Gully swamp, the ancient gathering place of the Gundungurra people, source of Kedumba River that flows over the escarpment into Lake Burragorang, home to Gurrangatch, the mythic eel Ancestral Being of the Gundungurra people.
We’ve trapped its waters in the Warrangamba Dam to become the source of water now for all we newcomers, more than five million strong—from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, the Americas and Africa, who call Sydney home. I am one of these, a third generation of settlers from an ancestral potpurri of Irish, English and Danish ancestors, shaped by the violence of colonial settler culture with its roots in penal colonies and vicious class exploitation.
My ancestors were deaf and blind to the deep wisdom and voices of this Country, filled with the arrogance of European colonial hubris.
The Vision of Two-Way Learning
Stephen Page of Bangarra Dance Theatre sees his works helping to create a revolution in consciousness, opening up the minds of the newcomers to Australia’s ancient wisdom.
The Aunties of Regenerative Songlines Australia say they are making a new songline with Two-way Learning, with their network of regenerative projects.
They ask: can we weave our ancient insights that celebrate the way the world is woven in the fabric of interconnection, sung in the ancient songlines of the Dreaming and the Ancestral Beings, with the newcomers learnings?
The aunties think we are slowly learning humility as our sciences of non-linear complex systems shatter modernity’s dangerous illusions of control and certainties into the mystery of dancing ambiguity, the flow of indeterminacy and emergence.
These insights are calling us to the ancient Buddhist realisation of shunyata, the indivisibility of open potentiality and appearances in form, sound, light, movement, which I have learned from my Tibetan Buddhist teachers on my own wisdom journey over these last more than thirty-five years, a wisdom nurtured in the lands of Tibet secreted behind the forbidding Himalayas, a land of mountain gods and earth and water spirit forces.
What new story can take us away from the tired old meme of ‘becoming a renewable energy superpower driving up more jobs and growth’ to allay our anxieties about paying our electricity, telecom and housing bills?
As the real bill of our human profligacy continues to mount.
Emergent Threads of the New Story
So I set about tracking some of the threads of the new story that is being woven in the shadows of the old political formulas of ‘jobs and growth’ in the global competition for wealth and the most liveable cities.
- Regenerative Songlines Australia and Future Dreaming Australia—a network of projects informed by First Nations knowledges to transform the extractivist, colonial mindset and practices of the dominant industrialised society, economy and culture of Australia, towards regeneration and restoration, so that we can live and thrive within bioregional ecological limits and planetary boundaries – regenerative-songlines.net.au and https://www.futuredreaming.org.au/
- Sense-making—cracking the knowledge codes of ontology, epistemology and axiology that shape our worldview, and understanding how alphabet-based literacy has reduced language to only human linear, representational abstractions that speak ABOUT all life forms with their different agencies rather than TO all life forms, the land, the water, the sky—to ask and respond—producing a human epistemic alienation in a profoundly relational world, where all life forms and the environment have their own agency and voice if we can but learn how to listen – https://wildethics.org/
- Planetary Health and the Legal Rights of Nature— recognising ‘we are nature’ provides a framework for us to reassess and adapt human practices to better support a healthy planet for current and future generations, including learning from sustainable resource management practices that have been used by traditional peoples from around the world for millennia – planetary health initiative
- Community Lands Trust—transforming housing as a financial asset into homes in community that are perpetually affordable, linked to community gardens, ecologically sustainable design and building materials and a profoundly eco-spiritual relationship with Country – https://communitylandtrust.com.au/
- Regenerative Agriculture—a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration and increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystems, supporting bio-sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil – https://www.scu.edu.au/regenerativeag
- Regenerative Cities and Communities—urban development and design approaches that align networks of projects that invigorate community members and organisations to create ecologically enhancing, restorative relationships with the creative, natural, socio-technical systems that support human wellbeing, resilience and environmental restoration and regeneration – https://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/regenerative-cities/
- Personal Resilience—the promotion of attitudes of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness through projects that seek to support the development of human resilience and mental wellbeing in dealing with life challenges, and a yet more profound shift in thinking such as eco-psychology https://www.ecopsychology.org/ to incorporate our relationship to the world around us, not just the world within our individual minds. The highly successful Resilience project, with its GEM approach of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, is still trapped inside the cognitive model of the individual human mind, not yet responsive to the sort of relationist ethos of our First Nations cultures – https://theresilienceproject.com.au/
- Post Growth and De-Growth Economics— a conscious set of policies designed to optimize human and planetary wellbeing while minimising inequality, poverty and environmental harm, and overcome the distortions of techno-capitalism – https://www.postgrowth.org/
- Community Regeneration and Renewable Energy—local projects helping communities of all socio-economic status and cultural backgrounds transition to cleaner, more affordable, and sustainable energy, through a redesigned power distribution grid-network and developing the networks and capacity to sustain creative, resilient local economies and culture – https://sei.sydney.edu.au/research/environmental-humanities/transforming-future-imaginaries-from-the-ground-up/
- Consilience—making sense of complexity, systemic fragility exacerbated by new technologies, geopolitical instability, an ecological crisis and a reliance on global economic supply chains – https://consilienceproject.org/
- Humane Technology and the Meta Crisis—efforts to understand and develop the wisdom and ethical systems to manage the accelerated impacts of technological advances such as the services based on artificial intelligence by Fully-Verified, including social media platforms and information pollution, CRISPR genetic engineering, GPT-3, deep fake videos, cyber warfare and weaponised AI – https://www.humanetech.com/
- Arts Front—an arts sector vision project led by Feral Arts to release the incredible potential of a conscious, connected and collaborative arts sector in creating a more just, equitable, sustainable and inclusive Australia – and a better world – https://artsfront.com/
- Basic Income Earth Network—a global network of academics, social policy practitioners, economists and NFP organisations promoting and undertaking research, and undertaking conferences on the idea of universal basic income to replace the welfare system, as a basic economic underpinning of society – https://basicincome.org/
Can this new story we are weaving through these interconnected initiatives help us avoid the catastrophe that those grappling with deep time and scientific indeterminacy are leading them to build Earth’s Black Box to be sited on a granite-strewn landscape surrounded by gnarled mountains in Western Tasmania. It is designed to provide records of the causes of society’s collapse for any who might survive the impact of rising temperatures, environmental degradation and geopolitical competition and their accelerating feedback loops.
The Spiritual Dimension of Our Cascading Crises
What role does spirituality and religion play in this weaving of a new story? Religious beliefs and spirituality lie at the core of how we understand our place in the universe, the expression of our deepest beliefs about our planet and our place in it.
Modern culture has developed a schizophrenic relationship between our professed religious/spiritual beliefs and our everyday actions in politics, business and community—something we see playing out in the behaviour of political leaders across the globe—whether it is the politics of the ‘religious right’ in the US and Australia, the Hindu nationalists of Modi in India, or Islamic fundamentalism set against Islam’s claim to be a religion of peace.
For this reason, many turn away from organised religions but still long for a spiritual dimension in their lives. While others seek to nurture a different response within their religious traditions, such as the eco-spirituality movement in Judaism and Christianity, and attempts to shatter the patriarchal and gendered structures of old.
From time immemorial, human beings have taken the familiar patterns of climate and weather in their environment as a resource for inner, spiritual balance. Conversely, a permanent change in climate can shatter not only the ‘outer’ working lives of human beings, but also their inner spiritual lives.
Many in the religious community consider that humanity’s very survival depends upon our capacity to make a major transition of consciousness, equal in significance to earlier transitions from nomadic to agricultural, agricultural to industrial and industrial to technological. To meet the challenges of the Anthropocene, growth-based ideologies of economism and techno-capitalism, we must transit to complementarity in place of competition, convergence in place of conflict, holism in place of hedonism, optimisation in place of maximisation.