The theme for this retreat was: understanding our true connection with nature. What emerged from the experience for me was not so much ‘understanding’ as waking up to a living oneness with nature – of being gently reabsorbed into nature – the sense of separation between ‘me’ and ‘nature’ softly fading away and being replaced by a vivid sense of oneness, of belonging, of being of the same fabric. Something perhaps like Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘interbeing’ including all and everything. Mandaza spoke of it as the great spider web of Spirit that interconnects everything in the universe.
On reflection it seems to me that this sense of separation is something that we unconsciously create when we withdraw from an active relationship with the abundance all around me – because it was through consciously engaging with this abundance that the vibrant sense of oneness sprang out of its dormancy and into life.
On the first day of the retreat we were awakened to the earth. We sat outside on the rocks and grass in the beautiful spaces cleared by Martin, beside the stream flowing and babbling down from the mountain, and were asked to identify all the other communities present there with us: the grasses, mosses, flowers, trees, soils, minerals, insects, mammals, birds – in the earth, on the earth, above the earth. Our group identified over 70 within a very short time. We looked at just some of their roles and contributions to the web of life. In simply bringing this to mind, an awareness of the abundance of interconnected support all around us arose together with an awareness of our forgetfulness as humans – of our dismissive disregard for all that gives and supports our life when we imagine ourselves to be separate and superior. We blindly blunder on in our arrogance, caring little for the source of our lives or for the wellbeing of future generations.
This led to a lot of discussion about how this way of conceiving ourselves leads to such flagrant abuse and destruction of that upon which we depend for our lives and wellbeing. Mandaza spoke of all that we receive from the earth and how the earth receives all our waste, transforming it into fertile life-sustaining nutrients. He asked how often we say ‘thank you’ to the earth, how often we give back to the earth by seeing, feeling, noticing, appreciating, tending and caring for the earth and all her communities? Later in the day we were encouraged to take a handful of seeds and go out to the places on the land that we feel a special bond with and express our gratitude by giving some seeds back to the earth as a gesture of recognition and thanksgiving. It is difficult to describe how powerfully meaningful and moving it felt to do this. And the earth took her rightful place as our mother.
On the second day of the retreat we were awakened to water. We began by talking about water – its qualities, attributes, roles and contribution. A rich dialogue followed about water – the beauty and functions of its various forms like ice, snow, rain, rivers, ocean, mist, steam; its volume and extent on the earth and in our bodies and all other bodies, its network of streams and rivers and oceans, its life-giving and sustaining role, its role in circulating carbon dioxide, cleaning the air and maintaining the atmosphere, its molecular structure and capacity to respond to sound and other forms of energy, the pleasure we feel in playing and bathing in water….and so much more. And then Mandaza asked us, each one individually, instead of speaking about water as if it is something separate from us, to speak as water about water’s contribution to the web of life: “I am water, I ……” And water came to life within us.
In the afternoon Mandaza took us each through a water ritual at the stream after which we spent time on our own outside contemplating our individual experience of the ritual.
In the evening we began to talk about dreams and listening to the messages that come through our dreams – both for ourselves individually and communally. So began the process of integrating the dream world into the healing of our wholeness. Each morning then began with a dream circle where we shared the dreams we could remember from the night before and shared what we saw in each others’ dreams. And the messages lived among us.
Dialogues continued through the remaining days on our purpose as humans on earth, on our relationships with our partners, families, children, elders and ancestors, on race and gender, on what love is, on the languages that we use – of love and hate and gossip, on leadership, on service, on prayer, on healing, on forgiveness and justice in our personal and national lives, on living in peace. Interspersed among the dialogues were meditations, laughter, play, song, and drumming. And the birds and butterflies came to join us.
I was left feeling both immense joy and sadness. Joy at the taste of fulfilment of a deep yearning from childhood for this immersed attunement with all that is – and sadness at the tragedy of what has been lost and devalued through the alienation and arrogance of human hubris. May we yet have the humility and courage to ask for the help we need from the wisdom keepers among us for the wellbeing and joy of present and future generations of all life on our planet.