Tilba Wisdom Circle at Open Sanctuary
14th May 2022
The first Wisdom Circle at OS was held in March, where the whole theme and idea of a regular Wisdom Circle was outlined. Wisdom was seen to be, amongst other things,:
My reason for wanting to establish a regular Wisdom Circle is the belief that we in the World, at both local and global levels, are facing an enormous moment of truth. We are knowledge rich and wisdom poor. We have never known more about the ‘what’ of the world, and seemingly never understood less about the ‘how’ of the world. Our actions can now be devastatingly powerful, but we don’t seem to know how to act to save ourselves. It is as if we are entrapped in an incapacity to act together for our own good as a human race. We are like an assemblage of individuals, of parts, each beating its own drum, rather than the one human race, a Whole that is more than the sum of its parts. The enormity of the future we are facing is not getting through to all these parts. Why is this happening? What are we missing?
In that first gathering I suggested that we are running out of excuses for avoiding the Whole and wanting only to live for much lesser wholes. We are running out of excuses because our World, our little Planet Earth, is now an object in the Universe not only in our imagination but to our actual perception, in immediate experience for space travellers and through photographs for the rest of us. One of the most famous photographs ever taken, Earth Rising at Christmas, taken in 1968 was but the first of now countless photographs of Planet Earth, each enabling us to understand our ‘home’ as an object over and against us but in which we, each one of us, at the same time are part. Our world can never be the same, and unless a human colony is formed on another planet somewhere, this is it. We make this one work or we have had it! We really and truly need to balance our knowledge with wisdom. Photographs of Planet Earth floating in the Universe are symbols of an ultimate Whole we need to be living for and with.
This understanding of the Planet as a Whole that now must demand all our attention points to the importance of the 4th dot point above, making decisions with the well-being of the whole in mind. What are some of the implications of this great shift, for us as individuals, for us as Australians, for us as largely descendants of European cultures in the new world, and so on. But also for us as organizations, businesses, governments. There is a paradigm shift here that has the potential to transform.
More than that, are there other Wholes as well we need to be more aware of, perhaps of at least equal importance waiting to emerge, that are implied I believe in the Whole that is our Planet Earth. For instance, if we can look at Planet Earth and admit to ourselves that we are all human beings needing to live together if we are to survive, can we also see that we are all participants in the one Story of how we got here. This brings in the 5th dot point above, deeply understanding the human and cosmic situation, mankind’s experience, and human nature. Let me unhesitatingly suggest that this Story is another essential Whole to become more aware of in finding greater wisdom. I suggest that these 4th and 5th points might well be the key points in our list that in turn help to enable the other points that make up Macdonald’s understanding of Wisdom.
It doesn’t stop with Story. When Copernicus provided data that supported the idea that the sun and the planets did not go around Planet Earth but rather we all went around the Sun, a new sense of World began to dawn in European consciousness, at least in imagination. The word World was in fact emerging in the developing English language to translate the word Cosmos in Greek. It meant literally the Age of Man. We began to believe the World could be mapped long before it could be photographed. Mercator produced one of the first maps of the World. This change in perspective or concept was part of the general move toward our increasing sense of self as individuals, that we each stood over and against the world and it over and against us, as individuals; that we are microcosms of the macrocosm. Just as all the parts of our being constitute a whole, so all the parts of the World constitute a whole. We mirror each other. So you and I, we are all Wholes to be taken seriously as well, and not only parts. Wholes within wholes.
Understanding ourselves as Wholes in both space and time is ideally the focus of all three great poles of human experience and exploration, science, art and religion. Each focus is from a different point of view. But currently, and for some time, these three poles have been fighting and misunderstanding each other, just as people generally have been fighting and misunderstanding each other. Science has developed scientism, religion fundamentalism, and art surfacism. We have been progressively losing a sense of the depth of our being and our connection with the Cosmos, something many Indigenous peoples still have.
There have been many who have been pointing these sorts of things out, some in a general sort of way such as Jo Marchant in The Human Cosmos, others in a profound way such as David Bohm in Wholeness and the Implicate Order and other works. We can learn from them in coming to understand our situation better, and the need for Wisdom to balance Knowledge. One thinker in particular is coming to the for at the moment, Iain McGilchrist. He has just published his magnum opus The Matter With Things following an earlier book The Master and His Emissary. We will be dipping into these two books in the Wisdom Circle in gentle bites for some time.
Where I think McGilchrist is genuinely very important and helpful is that he brings together the spiritual and psychological with the material, in other words Mind with Brain, Body with Consciousness, Action with Spirit. In the whole of the modern period in our European traditions these have been irreconcilable, if not rent asunder. He has done this by returning to the differences of function between the two hemispheres of our brains, something that became popular 40 to 50 years ago but was then discredited by neuroscience as a reaction. McGilchrist, as a neuroscientist and psychiatrist and thinker, is saying, in effect, ‘lets get the baby back and let the bathwater go; in understanding the way the brain works will help us understand our minds and consciousness and how these have evolved to our current situation’.
All this might sound a bit heavy. Don’t be put off. My intention, and those helping me, is to make it all interesting and digestible, and more importantly tie it into the practice of silence and contemplation and prayer, a finding or re-finding of depth, in understanding who we are and where we have come from on this little Planet Earth; and our options for the future, globally and locally.
Dear Friends and Friends of Friends of Open Sanctuary
I am writing to warmly invite you to our first Wisdom Circle in 2022. It is to be held at Open Sanctuary (the old All Saints Church on Corkhill Drive between Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba) on Saturday 19th March beginning at 3pm. Everyone is welcome.
As most of you will know, Open Sanctuary is a contemplative community, sensitive to spirit, Country and environment. On many occasions Linda has encouraged us to practice ‘deep listening, a spiritual skill, based on respect. Sometimes called 'dadirri', deep listening is inner, quiet, still awareness, waiting – and available to everyone’. The indigenous practice of dadirri increases our awareness of ‘what is’ around us, and can lead to a sense of inner participation in the energies and images that make up our world. There are those who see this sort of practice as ‘The Aboriginal Gift - Spirituality for a Nation’ that is ours to accept, something that would help us meet the emotional and spiritual challenges of our own time here in Australia. The Aboriginal Gift - Spirituality for a Nation is the title of an important book by Eugene Stockton, and more recently a talk given by Dr David Tacey through the Eremos Institute. I believe in our own way we at Open Sanctuary are accepting and working with this great gift.
In my own life I have come to value enormously this sense of participation through deep listening and waiting. I have come to link it to the original consciousness that perhaps characterised our experience when we humans lived in the paleolithic. There was little veil between our inner and outer worlds. Our psyches activated easily and we thought spontaneously in metaphor. Wind, breath and spirit were all one experience. There are times when I feel the fluttering leaves in the tree, caressed by the breeze, as movement and energy within myself. I feel alive and connected. In this sense of connection I have taken to talk to the world around me. I often pass cows in the paddock on my walks, and they stare at me ‘knowingly’ as I talk to them. I imagine their lives as mothers and little calves. I have come to cherish that different trees have different characters. They have presence. They ‘talk’ in different ways. Even rocks have presence when I am in that dadirri spacetime. I am attaching a photo of me talking to my favourite rock. And looking into the night sky I imagine the fascination of the ancients in the mystery before them, looking for movement and patterns, signs and portents, but most of all feeling surrounded by and fully part of the mystery that is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes terrifying. I am not having a separate experience in my isolated self; I am sharing in Experience far greater than myself. I love all that dadirri and similar concepts and practices stand for, and so grateful to have come to know about it and be guided in my spirituality by it.
But I am also a child of our own age. How different. We live at the other end of history to the paleolithic. We have been on a huge journey as human beings in which we have increasingly separated ourselves from the Cosmos, from the world around us. We have come to know the world not personally and subjectively but impersonally and objectively. With this knowledge we have acted upon our world to shape it to our wills and wants. We have abstracted the physical world, the world we can measure, from our phenomenal world, the world we experience as human beings, and reduced it to mathematical formulae which enable us to predict and experiment to our own advantage. Modern science is without a doubt a great triumph. But there is an enormous cost to this triumph that needs to be redressed.
The idea of a Wisdom Circle for me has arisen as a response to what is happening in our world, both locally and globally. We have reached a point in our history when we have unprecedented knowledge and technology, but we don’t seem to know how to act. We court disaster not knowing how best to act. Many think we just need more scientific knowledge and technology, and then we will be all right. But scientific knowledge and technology can empower our actions but cannot tell us how best to act. For that we need a different sort of knowledge, a knowledge that does not only work with the parts but a knowledge that also has a sense of the whole. Wisdom enables us to act in a way that is best for the Whole.
There are many wholes in our lives. A relationship with another person is a whole; wisdom is knowing how best to act in a way that is of benefit to both persons. A family is a whole; being a wise effective parent is to know how to act in a way that is of benefit to all the members of that family. Work places, associations, clubs, churches, organisations are all wholes made up of parts. They work for everyone if the leaders are wise and everyone bears the interest of the group at heart. States and countries are wholes needing wise leaders who inspire trust and goodwill.
Our planet is perhaps now our most significant Whole, and this is where there is a major shift from the past. The paleolithics lived within the mystery. They had little or no sense of planet Earth as we do. Since space travel and the circulation of actual photographs of our beautiful Home in our vast Universe, we have been able to see and imagine this most significant Whole as never before, Planet Earth. This is the symbol that will centre our Wisdom Circles at Open Sanctuary. This symbol will not only centre our thoughts and feelings now in what is happening in our lives and in the world, but will also focus our thoughts and feelings about our whole story as a human race. Sounds big? I guess it does, but we will only bite off bits at a time. Whereas the ancients once looked unguarded into the majesty and mystery of the heavens and balanced this with descent into the womb of the earth in rock shelters and caves, we now ascend above the Earth in imagination and vicarious association with those who have travelled space and stood on the Moon, to view the Whole that is our home in an endless SpaceTime and to ask ourselves the big questions of how it is now best to act. And we seek the Wisdom of the Whole that lies within the vast structures of our unconscious psyches, gifted to us by the evolution of matter and consciousness in the great Story that brought us here.
Underneath the clash of identities that marks our public and private lives now is the undeniable fact that we are all human beings in One World, parts of the One Whole. We all share the same underlying identity. How then can we best act locally and globally in ways that will be of benefit to this One Whole. How can we then use our science and technology to empower our actions? This is what the Wisdom Circle is exploring. We need to do what we need to do, in our own little ways, trusting the Mystery.
At the time of writing the World has been plunged into the possibility of a Third World War that would be the result of one man’s complex foolishness and cunning, however much he thinks his own country might benefit. Cunning is invariably self-interested and ego-centric. It is the opposite of Wisdom. Wisdom dares to love, dares to trust, dares to be open.
At our first Circle on March 19th we will look at Wisdom in an introductory way. In our second Circle on the 2nd Saturday of April we will be honouring Noel Davis, one of nature’s wise persons and long time member of Open Sanctuary, who died a year ago. Noel is buried at Open Sanctuary. His memory is honoured amongst us; his spirit is alive and well. We will be welcoming and blessing the completion of his last book of poems, organised and published by Trish Delaney.
Hope to see you there at both occasions.
PS. This is me talking to my favourite Rock