The Bats of Tropical London AKA Reading the Natural Life of the City

There’s a mini heat-wave, and London becomes the tropical city of my dreams.  There are long sun filled days at the ReUnion.  My five year old splashes in the pool, golden, beads she made in the play project round her neck, performing songs with her friends while I have a cheeky half with their mum.  Icy cold London Lager from the micro brewery, sipped under the railway arches.  I follow my baby son, now toddling, as he pads along the deck, walking with Sara, a member of the collective of artists who made this space, interpreting her dreams.  These whisper of a steady,careful surrender to a great and transformative Unknown; and the tensions of how humans exist with, and make, built environments.

Lucky me, I think, brought to this place of freedom and Life: easy, joyful, gently/firmly disciplined, grounded, ephemeral.  Wide open.  Most of all, playful!  When I come to a place like the ReUnion, I am grateful for the sense of play; both internal and external.  There are other families here too from the local flats.  All of us benefit from the openness offered by the ReUnion.  The sharp edges our children develop in defense against crowded living conditions and the materialistic city, visibly melt as they begin to play.  Or make banana crumble.  Or sit wide eyed watching a group of feminist protest artists practice a topless intervention.  I love how afterwards these serious and focused women bend down to answer the questions from the children.  Only here.  In the gap between building sites, luxury apartments, council flats and the overhead trains.

In the sultry tropical evening, I go for a walk with my Beloved.  Rainbow Olympic lights on the River, the Tate changing colour.  When London gets hot, even the local parks gets a sweet and heady feeling in the golden pink hazy light of dusk.  Our meander takes us through our local park.  The grass has become lush and electric green.  A bat flies over our heads.  I am surprised and delighted.  It is so rare to see bats in the heart of a built up metropolis like ours.  But if my dreams and practice of the last year have shown me anything, it is that the city has a natural, wild-life all of its own, woven into the concrete and the high rises.  The pocket woods in-between.  Animal teachers do appear, and they bring messages and lessons.

On that day, Bat spoke to the tension and dance of what had come up for in my weekly Circle meeting with my writing partner, and in the dreams I had interpreted for Sara at the ReUnion.  What happens when we try to control and dominate what we create?  What happens when we are responsive to the environment we create in (both the inner and outer worlds), surrendering to the rhythm of what is and building  from that point?  It’s a dance because there is always the opportunity to take a step away from a stance that is too dominating; to be rescued from the plotting of our egos.  The soft landing of Hay Bales.

Dancing between domination and surrender in the West as I write the Life Story, I notice how when I try to force the story (I want it to be finished quickly….), it gets stuck.  When I write from a free and open point (within a gentle discipline), it flows.  It is almost like magic, the way it shifts and unburdens my mind set as I read it out loud.  The same goes for listening to the stories my writing and circle partner shares.   Bat brings me a live message about death and initiation:

“Shaman death is the symbolic death of the initiate to the old ways of life and personal identity.  The initiation that brings the rights to heal and be called a Shaman is necessarily preceded by ritual death”

The ritual death that I am being asked to undergo by my practice isn’t about being buried alive or placed in the woods alone.  It’s about releasing the hold of what has gone and being reborn without the ego that clings to the pain stories of the past as my primary identifier of Self – and all too frequently, my sub-concious saboteur.

I wondered today about what I would say, or what I could say, when my daughter asks why we aren’t rich or live in a big house.  What are the reasons?  My initial thought was how I could tell her about the hardships I went through as a youngster when we first moved to the UK, when our family lost all our money and our home, and fractured rather than pulling together through crisis.   How this set me back so I couldn’t recover economically as an adult – there was both the lack of financial help for getting started, and the pain of traumatic rupture I carried around too.  Then I remembered the story my father told me as a child: about how he gave up his place at University so his sister could study because his father couldn’t afford to educate them both.  And the subsequent loss of all of his family’s property and money when Mozambique became independent.  This is a pain story about sacrifice, martyrdom, holding onto regret and being self-made against the odds that has been passed down.  I listened in awe to it then, and now I’m ready to pass it down again as the primary answer to a question that actually deserves far more nuance and consideration in its reply.  Not least in questioning the very basis of what we consider wealth to be!  How dangerous.  That’s why I’m going through the Wheel.  To stop passing down the pain stories.  And it’s hard.  Sometimes I stagnate.  And it scares me.  The idea that I won’t make it.

“The basic idea of ancient initiations was to break down all the former notions of self that were held by the shaman-to-be”

That’s what telling the Life Story, and identifying the pain, does.  It breaks down all former notions of ‘self’ and ‘past’ as intact, absolute, inevitable.  Allowing the old self and beliefs to be broken down and die, is to allow it to be transposed into a newborn being.  Again, this is the message from the Bat in Mint St:

“Hanging upside down is a symbol for learning to transpose your former self into a newborn being”

I have to keep going.  Surrendering to the writing of the Life Story as it comes, and moving into the North of the Wheel.  This is what I learnt from giving birth too.  The more I resist what is, or try to impose my will on it,  the longer and harder the labour.  The labours for both my children were fast, easy and exhilirating because I practised surrender to the pain, the fear and the Power that was greater than ‘me’.* I joke that if I was as good at writing PhD’s as I am at giving birth I would have several by now!  And the same goes for the stuckness I get to in the Initiation practices of The Wheel.  It’s all about Resistance – letting it run things and dictate the pace.  The less resistance to what actually is, the easier the birth of whatever it is we are labouring to deliver.  Or the faster the death of whatever it is that no longer serves us.  Which is the final message from contrary Bat:

“Some people think themselves into a corner with obstacles that are illusionary.  By the time they decide what to do, the opportunities are gone and old age is upon them.  Use your mind, courage and strength to insure an easy labour and quick  delivery into your new state of understanding and growth.  Surrender to the new life you have created from thought.”

Tuning in to the natural life of the city on a hot summer’s night.  Now that’s how I like to live!

*Giving birth in this magnificent way also involved pooing on myself (both times) and making some very far out noises.   Just so there are no misconceptions about what ‘easy’ means in the context of birthing!

With thanks to the following sources:

http://the-reunion.org.uk/

http://www.medicinecards.com/

http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/wheel-of-initiation

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Of Dreams and Foxes

This is the story of how the poem ‘Night Foxes’ got written.  It’s all about how creative acts can bubble to the surface.

Not sure why I’m sharing this.  It’s sort of mundane, personal… but why not open up an exploration of the ways in which creativity emerges and see what other experiences anyone has to share?   I would love to hear.
It was during a visit from my father.  Dad had been with us for a week already.   On good form but intense.  Always so caught up in his own head; the incessant talking.  My own latent anger.  It was the end of a nice, but emotional, day where his family had come over for lunch.  My aunt had cried while talking to me and her daughter about the time our grandmother, her mother, had died.    My Aunt told me later by e mail that she always felt guilty about how differently her and her brother’s life had turned out.  Her’s marked by material success and good health as she aged; his by big losses and struggles with mental and physical health.  I was getting a little lost in the big feelings that were coming up.
That’s the general background.
Before going to bed that night, attempting to settle, I drew a Medicine card.  It was the Fox.
This is a summary of Fox’s message:
The ability to meld into one’s surroundings and be unnoticed is a powerful gift when one is observing the activities of others.  Fox’s ability to be unseen allows it to be the protector of the family unit. If danger arises, Fox is johnny-on-the- spot. Nanih Waiya, Great Spirit in the Choctaw tonguehonors Fox with the duty of keeping the family together and safe. This is accomplished through Fox’s ability to observe undetected, without making others self-conscious. Fox is always concerned with the safety of family members and is an excellent talisman for those traveling far afield.
If Fox has chosen to share its medicine with you, it is a sign that you are to become like the wind, which is unseen yet is able to weave into and through any location or situation. You would be wise to observe the acts of others rather that their words at this time. Use your cunning nature in a positive way; keep silent about who and what and why you are observing. In learning the art of camouflage, you need to test your ability to pull this off.  One test of exercise that may be helpful to you is deciding to be invisible. In doing this exercise, you might try to visualize your body as part of your surroundings, full of the colours of the location you are in. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with stealth and grace, unheeded by others. If you do it right, it works! You can leave a party unnoticed or become as unobtrusive as a piece of furniture, watching the developing
drama of the subjects you are studying.   
With Fox medicine, you are being asked to see
all types of uses for Oneness.
 
I reflected on the aptness of this card after a day of being so immersed in the memories and dynamics of the preceding generation.  My father and Aunt don’t see each other very often.  Their meetings are years apart, and can be hard work.  As a daughter and niece, I had hosted this lunch because it was a means to create a space where we could be together.   Though not always easy, there is something important about witnessing the dynamic of the family; accepting it; opening to it.  The lunch was not about ‘me’, but about witnessing the older generation, however imperfectly.  It was my attempt to acknowledge the ‘oneness’ of my story with theirs.  And I suppose it had required me to become less visible, to listen more (I struggle with listening).  Fox is also a significant animal for my younger sister, who is away right now travelling in North America.  Drawing it, I felt connected to her, able to draw on the support and insight she gives to what can be a heavy family dynamic.
I then went to sleep, but was woken a couple of hours later by shrieking sounds outside on the street.  I got up and looked.  There were two foxes on the road outside!  They appeared to be having a fight, eventually going their separate ways.  I watched the last fox make its way out of sight, then wrote this down:
 
The dead of night
Foxes wake, sounding warnings
Crossing rivers
Made of
Sand
 
I went back to bed and had this dream:
I had through a process of becoming, infiltration, luck and knowing, become part of a tour of Brazilian musicians, who were world famous, and also deeply rooted in a spiritual tradition.  The most well known of the musicians, an older, slightly porky man, showed me evidence of sacred places where he had been instructed not to play music by ghosts who had communicated through till receipts (yes, the kind you get from Tesco.   There is no accounting for the sub-concious!)  He showed me where they had marked the receipts with ‘zero’ to communicate the silence.  This was not a message not to play music -far from it- it was a message about which places on earth are places of sacred silence.  A different thing altogether.  It was powerful.  I put on a big show of being freaked out.  Inside I was amazed and glad to have been included in this inner circle.  I had gained access to it at the Stage Door.   When stopped by the bouncers, I had talked my way in by partly bluffing and partly remembering that I was a Fado singer, who had grown up immersed in the world of Fado through my family.  As I spoke to him I was engaging in a process of piecing together, and creating,  the story of my life, partly fact, partly fiction.  Anyway.  It was enough to get me through the door.
There it is.  In the waking world, I have grown with the world of Fado as a marker of identity, albeit distantly.  My father and Aunt are of Portuguese descent, and their grandmother, a seamstress and a poet, had once made a dress for the famous Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.  This was a story I had heard a lot as child.  There is more to excavate in this dream, but for me the main thing right now is this sense of making a life story of one’s own that is intimately connected to all the life stories of all the others who are around you, came before you, will come after you.
Since then I have been practising the technique of ‘disappearing’.  This is not so much about magic as it is about lessening one’s sense of being separate.  Doing it, I was reminded of something I had read once by Alice Walker in which she spoke of imagining yourself as gone from the earth, having left not a trace.  In a world obsessed with legacy, fame, being noticed and remembered, this is a powerfully challenging exercise to do.  In terms of my Wheel of Initiation practice, it has provoked an examination of the ways in which I engage with the process of writing my life story in the West.  What version am I telling?  How do I inhibit growth by attempting to tell a perfect version?  What other pain stories, apart from my own, are revealed in hearing what I am writing told through other people’s perspectives?  What do I carry?  What does it mean to release these burdens?  Disappear?  Cultivate spaces of silence?  Not as an escape, but as a form of practice that lessens the attachment of ego to the idea of separation as a primary identifier of Self.
These are tentative reflections on the ways that creativity, in all kinds of forms,  bubbles to the surface out of the soup of everyday life, dreams, coincidence and the opening of practice.