On taking a life

Would you take a life?

The wind gusted as I arrived home, violently shaking the lermucia and eucalypt alike. The day had been still, hot and I had not been gone long, yet the atmosphere was vastly different to the one I left. I walked through my room, change a light bulb, and headed out onto the deck of the pool. The owner has thrown a lot of chlorine in there today and I want to check that it has dissipated. Actually I have no real reason to go out there, I have no end of other tasks to do, but this one seems to call to me, just as it had yesterday.

Yesterday, in the same scenario, I came out to find a black snake caught in some netting that hangs over the rocks by the pools edge. I sat with the snake for two hours, on and off, and then assisted the snake handler to remove him. My senses, although usually pretty keen, are particularly wary in this space today.

It doesn’t take long to see it. A rat. It is still and leaning against a hose. It is wet. My guess is it has fallen into the pool, the chlorine level being lethal to a beast this small. One of its eyes is black and swollen out of its head. Ants are swarming around it and I can see flies crawling on its belly. It has been here for some time I think. Suddenly its body convulses and settles into a slow regular breath. It is not dead, not yet. 

I sigh heavily as i know what must be done. There’s a knot in my stomach. To leave it now, to turn my back and walk away, pretend I never saw it, is simply not possible. It would be an insult to the animal yes, but it would be a far greater insult to myself. An insult to who I am and who I wish to be, to my ancestors and to the future generations. 

I dig a small hole under the lemon tree. I push the rat onto the shovel, it’s blind and beaten body still protests against the unseen hand of his Grim Reaper. His limbs, clearly in pain, still react to fend off the inevitable. Lofted on this chariot he is gently guided into the cool hole prepared for him and him only. He huddles there. I wonder if he has found comfort or perhaps is now wanting it. It will come to him. 

“From the day we are born until the day our bodies pack it in and we shuffle off this mortal coil, we are involved in a struggle. The great struggle of life. Your struggle is now at an end, little friend. Your pain will pass. There will be no more suffering.”

With that I stand, take a breath and then bring down the scythe that is the edge of the shovel onto the rats neck. And again. And again. And again. There will be no more suffering. 

And just like when I hunt an animal, a little part of me dies with it. Were the words I spoke for the rat or for myself? Was the comfort I sensed just a part of my psyche, dawning with the awareness that it will be severed from its pain soon enough?

I bury it and pack the earth. No being deserves to suffer like that. I cant help but draw the analogy between the rat and us. Of all the pain we cause ourselves as humans when we near the end of our lives, when we are in pain from the burning chemicals of our world. The Dr Frankenstein of modern medical science, re animating corpses, bringing back those who are ready to leave. We have created our own purgurtory in which we must linger, and suffer. Robbed of our power to exit this existence in our own time, with our own dignity. It begs the question of me: Had I the choice, with a human, would I? Could I? A question I’ll not be able to answer.

But I can answer it with animals. It appears with increasing frequency in fact that I must answer this with animals. Over the past few months I have encountered many animals in various stages of distress. Some I’ve had to help, some I’ve had to leave to their own fate, some I was too late for and some I had to end their lives. All of them though I did not turn away from. All of them I stopped the car for, sat in sun or rain for, sometimes even risked my life for. I know I’m not alone, there are others who stop and help animals. I wonder though, how many of us are willing to take an animals life. 

I understand the reluctance, I mean it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s emotionally traumatic. In fact if you don’t find it hard I feel you should perhaps go have a chat with a psych. But it’s also an integral part of life. Avoidance of the pain around death will not alleviate it. It will not make death go away. In our culture, with our obsession with looking young and our treatment of our elders as lepers, all stemming from an avoidance of death, it is still there. It still binds us all with a common thread. It truly may be the only ‘oneness’ that is absolutely common to all life. 

There is a level of intimacy that is formed around death. A bonding of those involved, differing from yet similar to the intimate bonds created around birth, sex and many other formal or informal rites of passage. Yet we are still so very avoidant of anything to do with death that we miss out on this. Perhaps this is a place were we can ‘leap forwards’ as a society. Our culture has seen many revolutions in the recent past: Sexual and gender based liberation, equality movements and revolutions, so perhaps our next step is to open up the conversation about death. Perhaps we need a Death liberation. 

So, how comfortable are you with thought of taking a life? If you’re uncomfortable, why are you? What is your relationship with death? 


Fear and Lonely: The grips of depression in the depths of comfort

I’m scared and alone. Cold and lonely. Anxiety racks my brain, sending a flood of hormones and electrical signals through my body. I should be running, climbing, fighting. Instead I’m sitting in bed, in my studio apartment, in comfort. I’m well fed, showered, warm. Yet none of these elevate the aforementioned feelings of dread. The thing that scares me isn’t some attacking horde. It’s not a ravenous beast or a natural disaster. It is the silent stalker that hunts and kills many men of today. It is stress. Anxiety over money. 

I sat out on the land today, in the trees and the wind. The sun slowly slithered away, irradiating the evening sky in hues of pink and orange. Dirt beneath my hands. Scratches from shrubs I crawled through. Mosquitos buzzing my ears. Birds on wing, lapping the last of the days light. I’m happy here. I want for nothing. 

I think to myself how long should I stay here. A minute. An hour. Forever. What if I never return. If I do return, what is it that drives me. Hunger? Loneliness? The need to tell someone how cool sitting watching the sunset is? I find nothing overly motivating to drive me to my house, nothing to run indoors from. Happy isn’t the right word. Content would be more suited. Peacefully content. 

Finally my dog finds me. She’s so excited to find me she runs past me several times. If I stay quiet she would have gone right by. I’ll go home and feed her.

Hours later, indoors, staring at screens. Emails. More bills, to be added to the already burdening pile. $1000 bill. It actually feels like I’ve been punched in the stomach. All peace evaporates like the paint being blown off a house in a nuclear test. Fear. Scarcity. I can’t pay that. Instantly my creativity drys up, the darkness of depression consumes me. How can I get money? Who owes me? Where can I get more? 

I’m in a beautiful, comfortable studio apartment. At the same time i’m in a prison. I’m in a tomb. 

I am no stranger to depression. Growing up as an introvert lends itself to a predisposition towards it, and now that dark friend lays his hand upon my shoulder once more. It’s a dizzying spiral down, unchecked, with no one to stop me. I think the thing not often considered with depression is that it is based on the fear of the fall, which is illogical. If you are going to fear something it should be the sudden stop at the end. Only there is no real stop, that why depression can be a trap, a fall in constant fear of an eventuation that never comes. It occurs to me now that the splat would be much better. 

That sounds a tad suicidal and that’s far from my meaning. It occurs to me that it would be much better to fall to my knees and say ‘Help me’, to fall upon the sword and realise defeat, than to languish in this purgatory of descent. 

As a man, this is exactly the sudden stop that I fear. To admit that I failed, that I fell, that I am less than perfect. What will you all think of me? It’s hard enough to navigate the minefield of modern masculinity as it is but this situation is a prime example of how far we haven’t come. We are still Cavemen. 

I should be outdoors. I should be running and dodging and jumping. I should be fighting an epic fucking battle. Instead I’m in my comfortable bed in a nice warm room, experiencing the same physiological response as my Tarzan self would if he were in battle. No attackers. No cliff face climb. Just numbers on a screen of an imaginary system of make believe bartering we call ‘money’. My brain is like a Commodore 64 trying to deal with Mac OSX. Old hardware in a world full of freshly updated operating systems. 

I feel like crying in the shower. I feel like King Theodin before the Orc invasion ‘How did it come to this?’.

I will fight it! I tell myself. I will find more money, more ways to earn, more people to get it off. I will do what I have done before in this situation, which now that I think about it lead me back to where I am now. No that doesn’t seem right. 

No, I will not fight. I will fall. I will splat. I will sit in bed and pour my self out through words onto a screen, the same screen that caused this pain. And then I will show it. Show it to you. Have you look upon me, open, fallen. Understand how hard it is to be a man in this world. Right now I’m not a rock. I’m scared and alone in the dark. And I want you know that that is ok. That it is perfect. 

The problem of being depressed is not being depressed, the problem is not knowing it ok to be depressed. Saying it’s ok to talk is the first step. Actually talking is the next.

What maketh a man?

What maketh a man? What are the attributes, skills, qualities that go into defining a ‘Man’? Unfortunately for me, the answer to that question did not come that easy. For starters I cannot just say ‘this is man’ and expect everyone to meet that standard. The phenotypic expression of man will be personal to the individual. What I am as a man will not be what you are as one. We are all individuals (I’m not). I have been accused of being ‘manly’. Being told that I can be manly led me to question what exactly this ‘manly’ is. I didn’t personally feel overly manly nor un-manly, so I was curious as to what I was displaying to others, what were they seeing there? No one could answer that question with any sort of satifactiory solid response. 

It was just a ‘thing’.

So is this thing inherent in all men? Are there certain qualities that we define as manly that are common across cultures? And are these qualities transferable, teachable? 
The more I searched for the answer the more I found it elusive. In fact there more I pressed people for answers the more it seemed to delve in the macho faux masculinity bullshit that defines the facsimile of man. The only way I could define it was through abstract, by defining what it was not – and in that I found abundant examples.
“He’s like a rock. I just don’t know how he feels”
“Domestic abuse is perpetrated by cowards. They are also probably victims themselves”
“I hate it when a guy can’t make up his mind”
“He takes longer to get ready than I do”
These are all quotes from conversations I have had with women. The list of complaints goes on. And on. To be fair, I don’t blame them for complaining. I was somewhat dumbstruck but some of the behaviors I was hearing about. 
Through this abstraction of man though, I began to find patterns or common threads of attributes that crossed generations and cultures – what seemed to be a ‘natural state’ of man started to emerge. 
I also found that I certainly was not alone in my search for this. The more I dug the more I uncovered other pioneers in this work who, like me, have felt the impending doom of lost Manhood. In fact this theme seems to echo down through the ages, like a cycle. But more on that another time
As I started to see the themes again and again it started to solidify in my head, a kind of ‘treasure map of man’ (cue “It’s Raining Men”).
I saw attributes, attributes that to me could be personified in characters, or archetypes. Ok so I’m a geek and by archetypes I mean ‘D&D character classes’. But still you get the point.
These archetypes came along with a whole slew of psychological ‘backstory’, after all that’s why we have archetypes, to short cut a long explaination. These back stories stating looking a lot like a Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. Of course there’s the obvious link to C.G. Jung’s work here (he’s another one of my ‘Dead Mentors’) but one slight difference. The attributes, for me, boiled down to seven. Now where have we seen that before… (Apart from everywhere). Seven Chakras. Surprise, surprise the seven psychological states of the archetypes lined up with the chakras. 

It’s important to point out here that my belief is that we have too much emphasis on the bodily location of chakras (in the western world at least). I see the chakras much more as a psychological step ladder. The points on the body are representative of those states, much in the same way as an archetype is representative (or framework) for a collection of ideas. If I say my gonads we can assume it has something to do with sexuality. I’m not stating my gonads are sexuality.

I now have what’s ended up looking like a hotch potch of ideas and theories throughout time. But it made sense to me, and that’s what’s important, after all this is my search for answers.

It’s through these systems and through observations of my own journey that I began to formulate this construct – The archetypes of man – and thus start to answer my own question: ‘What maketh a man?’
More importantly than just answering it, forming it into some sort coherent legible answer that others can read and furiously agree with (I assume). It’s really a deconstruction of my journey thus far, of the mechanisms I went through to reach a certain psychological ‘awareness’. It’s how I got to outwardly displaying those afore mentioned ‘things’ that are seen as manly.

This is a much more important point that what my rambling notions look like. The fact of self enquiry leads down a path of self analysis, and to know thy self is to know the universe. The question should be asked, and the answer sought, by all people. By asking and then continually searching we start ourselves on a path of self discovery, for both men and women. 

So, what is a man?

Travelling to see or travelling to expand

Why do we really travel ? To see the world or to know thyself…In my opinion, ‘seeing’ different places in the world is the physical element of travel, but it is not the means to the end. 

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

All our world is, is perspective. The real magic of travel comes from its ability to shatter, widen, expand and change our perspective. And for this reason, if we travel with a rigid mind that is not open to adapt to the new information and stimuli coming in, but instead finds a way to assimilate everything we see to fit with our preconceived perspectives, are we as people really ‘travelling’ at all? Or is it merely our physical bodies and fixed minds moving from place to place, with no real change taking place. 

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S Eliot. 

We are all unique, with different journeys, all finding our way to go about this thing called life. Some are able to gain the same perspective shifting experiences through deep meditation, some seek the physical experience of travelling and others seek to keep their reality the way they know it, choosing comfort and stability. 

On my personal journey I have come to realise I value growth more than ease. I have avidly seeked challenges to test myself, unknowingly creating rites of passages for myself to move from one phase of self to another (this is another discussion). There comes a time when the risk it takes to remain with the consistent world as it is ‘known’, becomes more painful than the risk it takes to dive into the world of unknown possibilities. 

The necessary breaking of illusions… We are born into the world with wisdom. This ‘wisdom’ or ‘feelings of truth’ as some might say, are gradually eroded from our souls and replaced with the ‘truths’ of society, ie. the programming that becomes so deeply engrained that many never think to question, thus, unknowingly accept them as truths. 

My question is, what isn’t an illusion? 

I have embarked on what is a never ending quest for my truth, the kind of ‘truth’ that gives my full body tingles with knowing, the kind where the mind is not involved, there is no back and forth to come to a conclusion, instead it is as if somebody just dropped a letter into the mailbox of the back of my head, and boom there it is. 

As we are constantly changing, so too should our beliefs and views of the world. This is why openness is essential, flexibility of ones belief system gives space to learn and adapt. By opening our letterboxes we are saying ‘yes’ to find truths that continue to resonate more and more deeply with our core self… And what will be true for me may be completely different for you. But a little side note, as your truths increase in strength of knowing, the more likely you are to attract a tribe with those same truths 😉 

So anyway, travelling, what has this got to do with any of this ? Well in my experience, travelling has been an accelerated way to widen my perspective on the world, particularly when experiencing worlds and cultures so vastly different from my home culture. In this globalised world many are not born into a unified culture, or even those who are reject it if they begin to see beyond it and begin to feel the limitations it may place on their uniqueness. This blesses us with the opportunity to create our own world entirely, based on what resonates most with our core self. We can learn a bit from the zen monks, a dab from the Vedic yogis, a swab from the shamans of the south, a pinch of the Druids of the north and a dash of the warriors of the Norse, and bake on 180 until golden. All the while rejoicing the unique qualities of each and celebrating the similarities. 

I see it important that while rejoicing in the differences of the specifics of any culture or tradition, we also need to recognise the foundational aliveness that connects us all. In this time especially I see it critical need to break any illusion of separation, and to understand the foundation from which we each spring forth, the same womb of the same Nature (why Mother Earth of course). I view this to be the most valuable ‘result’ of travelling -when so many illusions have been cast away, so many programmes unlearned, that we are stripped back to the root of our being. Our definition of ‘family’ becomes global and infinite, and our definition of ‘home’ goes back so many layers that we are at home again everywhere on the Earth. 

The Beginning of an End (for me at least)

Ah the whirlwind of emotions that is the U.S. Of A. There have only been two places in the world that I have ever, truly, considered living outside of Australia: New Zealand and North America. Each time I arrive I always ask myself the same question “Why wasn’t I here sooner?”.

Maybe it has something to do with the 36 hours of flights, buses, terminals and lost luggage. 

But as I cruise through the sleeping streets of a very warm night in Boulder, none of that matters. The air smells sweet, sweeter still with the knowledge that I’ll be reunited with my lover soon. I arrive at the address, there’s a camper van in the driveway, our temporary home for the night. She spills out into the night air, nude and more than half asleep, straight into my arms. It’s like no time has passed at all.

Only, time has passed. 2 months in fact.

This fact becomes painfully aware the next morning in a cafe. Questions are asked, questions that are not aimed at a jet lagged, travel weary brain. Questions aimed at my heart. Questions of it’s absence. Tears are spilled. Coffees go cold.

We knew separation would not be easy. Chels has been traveling for 2 months, but not just traveling. She has been experiencing. She has been doing beautiful, opening soul work, plunging into her depths, connecting with amazing people, both in group settings (in courses) and personally through reacquainting herself with her family. 

Juxtapose this with my life. I have been static, hidden in our beautiful forest home. I have been grinding the ‘usual’, stressing about work, lamenting a seperation from my lover in a setting where everything reminds me of her, restraining a collapse into ‘ash work’ (ash work is in reference to a term I first heard from Robert Bly’s thesis on modern man ‘Iron John’. It refers to the base work that a man goes through after he has ‘burnt out’ been destroyed in some way or voluntarily gone underground to soul work).

It’s not like I haven’t grown, we have just grown in vastly different ways. Whilst hers has been uplifting, mine has been constricting. A breath in, though at the point where I am staring at her tears in a cafe in Boulder the realization hits me. Too long have I dallied in my hidden home. Too long have I tried to hold myself back from the ashes, from the collapse. It’s time to let go, to be burnt and destroyed. It’s time to breath out.

I bow my head. I open my heart. I cry too now and admit my short comings. I promise to see her, if she will see me too.

And so sets the tone for the journey, the realization of why I am here and what stage of my life I’m at. It is the destruction of the old. It’s time to bravely step into the fire and allow myself to be turned to ash, so that something else may grow from from the fertile ground. To have faith to let go of the broken image of ego that I’m holding onto and allow the Phoenix to rise.

Bit by bit it has become more obvious to me. Revelations are exposed at the right time, as they need to be (if you choose to listen though is another question) but I still had surprise that I had not realized this sooner. My own theory, based on looking back at my life, showed that at every seven years, my life cycle has changed, I have changed. At each of these points, a rite of passage happened (or at least needed to) in order to move to the next stage of my life. 7, 14, 21, 28…35. I turn 35 in 3 months [slaps my palm onto my forehead].

This is the beautiful thing about a conscious relationship. Within its container, there are no taboos, no words left unsaid. If something is wrong (or right), then it’s brought up, processed and then acted upon. Growth is accelerated. In this case not only the growth of the relationship, but my personal growth. Without this emotional ‘kick in the ass’, I don’t know if I would have been motivated to critically look at myself in this way. It set me on my path of change, of growth, and for this I am eternally grateful to her, both as a person and as the power that she represents.

The medicine of the US

I am in the midst of major personal upheaval. My path of change has been shown to me, but only the fact that there is A path. I still have no idea where it goes. I have no idea how to get there. I know where I’m at. I’m in Boulder, Colorado. I fly home in 6 weeks. The rest is a mystery. No itinerary. No fixed locations. No accommodation (except the tent on her back). No idea.

And that is absolutely perfect. 

Without the restrictions that we normally place upon ourselves we have opened up a space, a space that affords the great mystery the opportunity to pour in whatever it will. If we are not worried about which way to swim or which rock to cling to, we can just sit back and allow the river to take us. We can sit in Tao and flow.

First stop is a lesson of being in the right place at the right time, of the medicine of the US. Through a contact of a beautiful sister back home, we went to have a chat and a coffee with Mary Sweeny. Mary runs re-wilding camps for children. Her background in psychology and wilderness therapy is impressive, but much more than that is her vibrancy and focus on the work she is doing. The three of us meet for 30 minutes, have a coffee and drop in deep and fast to juicy conversation. It’s one of those conversation where everyone feels like an excited 7 year old that’s just met a new best friend. You want to simultaneously tell them everything about yourself and learn everything about them.
30 minutes later we part ways. We are now staying at her house in 4 days and then spending the week helping on her kids camp. I feel the sense that we are now flowing in the Tao. We also have a list as long as my arm of other people we should connect with (including an equine therapy camp that we went to and helped out on). And here in lies the first clue to the magic of the US – Connection.

There is a willingness to help, to connect you with others and to look after others, that seems somewhat foreign to my Australian (or colonial?) mindset. Americans seem to always see the ‘angle’, to overload people with help. They understand that referring to others with most likely lead to referals back. In my experience Australians are little behind in this respect. Don’t get me wrong, we do ok at it, but not to the scale that is happening in the US. 

But this is really a symptom of the greater medicine that the US offers to me, what I call the ‘Big Mind’. There’s a bigger picture here. There’s more people. The scenery is scaled up. There’s more opportunity. “Everything’s bigger in Texas”. Despite the talk of climate change, Donald Trump and economic collapse, there’s a real feeling of possibility in the air. That air is fresh and sweet to someone coming from a penal colony. The fact that Americans have never heard of the ‘tall poppy syndrom’ is a telling sign

Perhaps it has something to do with the land itself. We toured from Colorado to New Mexico to Arizona to Utah and back to Colrado, and each place in its own unique way was over whelmingly beautiful. Each place had its own grandness, on a scale that seems to wipe the fragile ego of a human away. In these places I could behold the spectacle of nature, in all its unbridled glory. 

Only in Nature can you feel simultaneously insignificant and God-like. 

She’s casting spell on me, I can see that, but it’s a two way street. Yes I am getting a feeling of awe and wonder from the land but I’m also giving something – my attention and presence. It’s easy to discount the magic of this vast nature, to whiz by in a car, to jump off a bus snap a photo and then leave. When you sit, watch and wait however, that’s when the real magic happens. If you give yourself the time and space to be open to what is there, that’s when the medicine happens.There is a realisation that the medicine is a two way street, that which you gives also gives to you. 

As we were leaving the kids re-wilding camp Mary pulls me aside and talks to me, tells me how important is that I give ‘my medice’ to the world. Up until this point I had seen many of my hunting, stalking and other military skills as something to be ‘rehabilitated back into society’. Now, for one of the first times, I’m being told that it’s exactly who I am is what the world needs. Mary’s words are not taken lightly by me, in fact they hit me like an arrow striking a prey. Even though it’s a massive compliment, it’s the first blow to my constructed ego, an ego that must die in order for me to find my true purpose in the world. 

The ego must be hunted, killed and then eaten to be made anew.

These words bounce around in my head, the thought of what my medicine is, what anyone’s is. Just themselves. My behaviours and knowledge isn’t social or anti social, it just IS. Skills learnt that have no place in a society, a society that in many regards is sick, may just be the medice it needs. That I had to take people to the wilderness, teach people the skills and philosophy of hunting, that I had to be open and transparent, that I had to talk about my thoughts on being masculine in today’s society – all this and more was taking flight in my mind. The wounded ego was losing its grip on the infinite possibilities of my soul. 

This was but the first step in a much larger journey, but a pivotal one. This was the door opening, or a least being a jar, allowing me, if I so wish to kick it open and step inside. It’s not an easy path, in fact it’s terrifying. Looking into yourself and being prepared to tear apart all that you are (or think you are), but on the other side is something larger, much larger than I could ever believe. Like laying eyes on the Grand Canyon for the first time, once you step through that door you will struggle to fathom the depth of possibility that await. 

It’s time to start thinking with a big mind. The world needs it.