A Night in the Heart of Australia

April 6, 2017

This is an excerpt from a larger article “A Ganma Odyssey” in this blog https://dodona777.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/a-ganma-odyssey-2/

I will post other stories about my travels across Australia so look at this excerpt as if it’s a prologue of sorts.

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It’s been 25 years since I last visited Central Australia. Back then, the Sturt Highway was a two way dirt road all the way from Darwin to near Port Augusta. In 1972, words like revolution, liberation, justice, equality, freedom and peace, rolled off my tongue with a tender passion. Feeling the emptiness in the institutions, the knowledge factories and the general lack of soul in the world I hit the road. Back then I was searching for something. Nowadays, I’m still searching and it seems that the ” R ” word is the only one that doesn’t roll off my tongue so easily. Perhaps it should.
Twenty five years ago I found myself, with little more than nothing, in the heart of Australia. All I had was my canvas pack with a few clothes, a couple of books and some water in a bottle. I had no money. The previous three nights I had slept under the stars along the highway and during the day I prayed for a lift. I was two hours south of Alice heading for Adelaide when I was dropped off at Erldunda, near the turn off to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Across the road a petrol bowser stood as if on guard outside the general shop. A bus arrived and parked a few metres away from where I was standing. I watched the tourists get off. I hadn’t eaten a thing for over three days and I knew that the people getting off the bus would have something to eat. I approached a woman in a white hat as she stepped off the bus. Looking her in the eyes I said, “Excuse me, have you any food?”.

She looked at me with some pity and reached her hand into a brown paper bag pulling out a small green tomato. As she handed me the fruit I sensed everyone looking at me, from the bus driver to the little girl with her face pressed against the bus window. The white hat woman released the tomato into my hand and a ripple of disgust crossed her eyes and brow. I was dirty, I was homeless, a Dharma Bum now just a bum. I accepted the food and turned away from my shame. I noticed someone standing ahead of me in the distance waving, beckoning me to come over.

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Photo © Mark Moxon 1995-2017
All Rights Reserved

I had nothing to lose but everything to gain, holding the unripe tomato in my hand, I walked towards the stranger. As I got closer I could see white hair and a white beard on the face of an old black man. He wore trousers that were a little too big for him and a coat that was a little too small. He smiled and placed his hand on his belly whispering, what sounded like, “Hunger…hunger..” He took me by the arm and showed me to his home by the highway. It was a lean to humpy with a corrugated iron mulga branch roof. Some old flour bags were scattered on the dirt floor to sit on. He shared with me some milk arrowroot biscuit pieces and a powdered milk drink in a tin cup. He let me stay the night. The shop with the petrol bowser had switched its lights off. During the night, nothing much was said between us – the silences, with the occasional bark of a lone dog, said it all.

In the centre of Australia I saw that the dispossessed ones were the generous ones. We non – indigenous ones take and take while these people, the original ones give and give. Twenty five years later, in 1997, our government wants to stop the original people from reestablishing their culture and reconnecting with their land. Extinguishing the recently acquired native title rights is the equivalent of stealing what little these people have and giving this little to the rich, whether pastoralists, miners or just greedy transnational corporations. Will we the non – indigenous ones ever learn? So, 25 years later I was returning with a hunger so subtle that you’d miss it if you weren’t seeking it. It’s a hunger for something which may transform the hole in my being to the whole.


Lost in Damascus, Syria….

June 17, 2010

A month after leaving Mount Athos in Greece (May, 2000) I arrived in Damascus, Syria. I left my bag in the hotel and found my way to the Jordan Embassy. I needed a visa to get across the border to Jordan and I arrived five minutes late. The embassy officer was adamant I had to return the next day before 11.00AM. I was frustrated and irritated but I decided rather than give vent to my negativity I’d just walk in any direction to see what happened.

I walked streets with only Arabic signs and scripts.

My travel guide book gave the street names in English only. I walked by houses with concrete veneers and gardens on terraces, vines entwining telephone polls and wires across a lane making an arch of leaves, palm trees swaying in the dry breeze rooted in concrete pavements, lurid red and blue posters of the latest film shows on billboards and walls. I kept walking sensing the Syrian sun on my face and discovering I had no marker, no point of direction back to my hotel.

I was lost in the streets of Damascus.

There were flashes of deja vu, definite sensations and feelings I had been there before – a familiarity on the tip of the tongue. Maybe I was here in a previous life. I was lost in a place that felt like a long forgotten home. My stomach rumbled and I saw a restaurant with vats and tables outside on the street. I went in and found a seat at a table with four other men, one much older sat beside me. He began speaking to me in Arabic. When I replied, “Yunan, English” meaning Greek or English he spoke even louder so that others from tables nearby turned their heads towards us. I repeated, “La (no) Arabic – Yunan (Greek), English” pointing to my mouth. The old man had a short white beard that seemed to brighten when he shook his head. The others around our table stared at me.

I said, “I’m Australian – Australos – English or Greek – Yunan.”

A few tables away a man with a black moustache called out, “You from Australia?”

I said, “Yes”.

“Then why this?” He pointed to his face and drew a circle around it in the air and then pointed at me. Shrugging his shoulders he extended his arms in front of him.

He was saying in hand talk, “How come you look Syrian but claim to be Australian?”

I said, cradling an imaginary baby in my arms, “Baba, Yunanistan,” then I made my fingers walk in the air saying, “Australia.” I went to Australia as a baby from Greece. The others in the restaurant, even the owner were watching this exchange. They smiled and the man who asked the questions said, “Hey, I come and be with you.”

He was in his late thirties, slim with a certain earnestness about him as he walked towards my table. He squeezed between the two men sitting opposite me. By now his presence had made my table invisible again.

He said, “You from Australia? I know a little English.” I told him about my trip from Greece via Turkey, to Egypt and that I’d be leaving very soon for Jordan.

He asked,

“Where are you going now?”

“The old souq (market). I have lost my way and stopped to eat here.”

“Ah, good. I’m going to a library and the souq is on the way. I will show you where to go.”

There was a certain radiance about him, as if there was a tiny grain of the sun burning in his chest. He nodded, “I understand much better in English than I speak.” Something in the way he said “understand” touched me.

For no apparent reason I said, “One of my wishes while travelling through your land is to meet someone who is wise in the way of the Sufi,” I paused and in the silence I added, “I visited Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey, how I dearly wish to visit Ibn Arabi’s tomb in Syria.”

“You know Ibn Arabi?” he asked surprised, “you know of our saints?”

“Yes, only a very little. I have read about Ibn Arabi in English. What little I know of him has touched my heart. I wish to pay him my respects.”

He said, “Come, let’s go. I want to take you to a special place, a surprise place for you.”

There was this instant trust between us. As we walked under a concrete bridge near a busy intersection he said, “You’re not a tourist just going click, click, click with a camera. You know something of my culture. Islam?”

The way he said “Islam” prompted me to reply, “I’m a Christian and I believe that all religions speak of one truth but in different tongues and styles. I’m searching for truth and anywhere I can find it I value it.”

“I will take you to Ibn Arabi’s tomb.”

“What here in Damascus?”

“Yes, just around the corner. You must not speak. Just copy everything I do. You look Syrian, only your tongue gives you away.”

I wondered why I had to pretend to be Syrian and not speak when we arrived at the saint’s tomb. I figured that it was a very small price to pay – to be silent. We passed some men sitting on wooden boxes playing backgammon on a small table. One of the players smiled at me revealing a toothless mouth. The streets of Damascus are mostly narrow and crooked. Saint Paul lived on Straight Street near where we were. We turned a corner going down a narrow lane and finally arrived at a small door in a stone wall of a mosque. As we entered we  climbed down some narrow stairs that lead to a silver cage enclosing a small tomb. It looked like a big beautiful bird cage on the floor.

Others already there were prostrating on their knees and lifting their torsos up while silently moving their lips to prayer. My friend indicated that I stay beside him and as he went down on his knees I copied his movements. I bowed and touched the floor near Ibn Arabi’s body. I was amazed that I was there in front of his tomb, a tomb that has been there for hundreds of years.

Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (1165 – 1240) was at the centre of an extraordinary flourishing and cross fertilization of Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought in the Moorish culture of Andalusian Spain. He was a Spanish mystic who had a huge and subtle influence on both East and West. In his early childhood he was recognized and taught by two women saints, Yasmin of Marchena and Fatima of Cordoba. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” was influenced by Ibn Arabi’s work.

As I looked through the cage, the more I saw, the less I knew. Who am I? Why am I here? I smelt a delicate fragrance in the swirls of prayer around me. After about a quarter of an hour we arose and left. While climbing the stairs I took one final look at the small tomb of a great man. I felt my own smallness and my own limitations as a “man”. Somehow, even though his body had lay there for so long I felt something emanating from the space that contained Ibn Arabi’s remains. I wondered whether it was his own emanations that remained there or if the people who came to offer their respects and prayers left “soul stuff” that gradually accreted over the years so that one could feel a palpable presence in this small space. Maybe it was both and was it the same in other sacred places?

Mahmoud told me that it was Ibn Arabi’s special mission to scatter Sufi seeds onto diverse contemporary fields of learning accepted by the people so that they would come to recognise the One Love behind everything.

“Now, let us go to the special place I promised I will show you,” Mahmoud said with a grin.

“I thought Ibn Arabi’s tomb was the special place.”

“Yes, it is special and this other place is special in a different way. I won’t go to the library today, it can wait. I will spend time with you.”

I was curious as to what special place he had in mind. As we walked we mentioned various authors and books to each other and we were amazed that we recognised each other’s references. The theme was the search for truth and the miraculous. I was excited by the prospect of meeting a Damascus local who may have contact with people who understood the inner essence of Islam and who could sense or know the same essence in Christianity.

After a while he said, “You know that Christians, Moslems and Jews are cousins? Abraham was our common ancestor, our common source.”

We were at the large courtyard of the Omayyad Mosque. Mahmoud said,”It is interesting that this mosque was built on land that was sacred before Mohammed. It was used as a place of worship 3,000 years ago by the ancient Syrians. Then it was a pagan temple for Jupiter during the Roman era. Then it was… no, wait for the surprise.”

Omayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

We walked on beautiful geometric patterned tiles. These patterns were repeated on some of the façade and walls. The doors also had hand carved patterns that looked like they were lifted from crystal reflections. I felt as if I walked into a world of lattices, a net of lines, a web of relationships numerical in kind and geometric in shape. I took my shoes off and entered the main door. Inside was a cavernous space, Mahmoud pointed out a section of the wall with mosaic panels made of coloured and gilded glass. He told me that all the walls were decorated like this centuries ago. The prayer hall had a small domed shrine near where we stood.

Lost in Damascus Umayyad Mosque geometric

Omayyed Mosque

Approaching the shrine, Mahmoud said, “This is the surprise. The shrine contains St John the Baptist’s head and maybe his body!” Surrounding the shrine were Moslem people bowing and praying. I asked, ”Why the prayers for St John the Baptist? Why is his tomb here in a mosque?” Mahmoud delighted, said, ”Yes, I knew it would surprise you. This place of worship many centuries ago had divine services for both Christians and Moslems. The Christians worshipped in one half of the space and Moslems worshipped in the other half. Together Christians and Moslems worshipped under this same roof.”

I paid my respects to St John the Baptist, this time crossing myself the Greek Orthodox way. No one took exception to me for doing so and as we left I felt a real connection between our two faiths. Mahmoud explained to me that Jesus was a prophet and Mary his mother was revered in Islam. He told me that St John the Baptist was revered by Moslems as a saint. Mahmoud was right, this place was a special place and that it would surprise me. He invited me to his home which meant that we had to catch one of the many small service taxis (mini buses) that were everywhere on Damascus roads. Road rules didn’t seem to count here as our bus swerved in and out of lanes with no indication and turned corners without slowing down. While our bodies moved this way and that in concert with the bus I was curious as to how Mahmoud would take my experience at Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey.

I said, “While I was visiting Rumi’s tomb I felt that I could only pay my respects as an Orthodox Christian but could only do this in a hidden way. I couldn’t externally pray like the Moslems around because I’m not Moslem and at the same time I couldn’t pray as a Christian outwardly because I did not want to offend those around me. So I held my hands together in front of me and inwardly I imagined my right hand making the shape of a cross. In my faith, the thumb stands for the Father, the index for the Son and the next finger, the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. My ring finger curled into my palm signifies the divine nature of Christ and the little finger is the human nature.” I showed him the tripod of fingertips and my curling fingers. I continued, “So, in a manner of speaking my hand reflects the whole of my faith. I move my right hand with the thumb and my first two fingers joined together. Firstly to my forehead, then to my belly, then to the right of my heart and then to the left of my heart – three times. I did this inwardly while silently chanting a prayer. Outwardly I was standing with my head bowed and hands together but inwardly I was actively praying in the Christian way. Tell me Mahmoud, did I do the right thing for Rumi?”

We jolted forward as the bus swerved around another corner. Mahmoud said, “My friend it is obvious to me that your intentions were pure. You were in pure heart and so whatever you do in such a state is pure. You can do what you will and it would not be wrong because of your state of mind and heart. So, you did the right thing.” He stopped and looked at me eye ball to eye ball.

“By the way,” he said,”did you know that Sufis, the People of the Path are also called esoteric Christians?”

“No,” I said, “What of our cousins the Jews?”

“Rabbi Jesus is also revered by Jews in touch with the hidden stream.” He smiled and gently touched my hand, “You and I are seekers of truth and as such we are not caught in the literal meanings of scripture and sacred texts. It is these literal, fundamental meanings, dogmas that create misunderstanding between our religions and ways of being in the world.”

I couldn’t agree more but this didn’t mean that individual and unique differences that make up a particular set of beliefs were obliterated. No, it seems to me that seeking the essential truth behind the formal, literal truths was a way of freeing one self from narrow mindedness and the razor wire of fundamentalism. And I don’t just mean religious. To name a few – scientific, economic, political, psychological, philosophical, artistic ….in fact, name an activity and it can be done and thought of in a fundamentalist way.

Mahmoud lived in one of the many concrete and cement apartments in down town Damascus, right under the arc traced by missiles from Israel. He was very lucky he told me because he had a ground floor apartment with some earth for plants. A wooden door from the street set in a large wall was the entrance to his home.

He introduced me to his wife and two daughters, his father and mother and his brother as “Stavros from Australia”. His wife Jamil brought some tea in glass tumblers and sat next to me. She said, “Pleased to meet you and welcome. I want to show you a book. I am learning English.” I was touched by the effort she put in saying this to me in English.

We were sitting around a wooden table in the enclosed area behind the wall facing the street. Mahmoud pointed to a fountain and pool, the size of a bathtub on our right . He said,”I and my brother made this fountain.” It was made of cement with inlaid patterns of shells, coral and pebbles. The shape was more like a cumulus cloud than rigid lines of concrete blocks. The water spouted from a bowl in the centre while the spirals, circles, squares and triangles of the fountain’s container looked on with mosaic eyes. I walked over to it and admired the detail of their work.

Meanwhile Mahmoud’s father, mother and brother brought cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots, radishes, cheese, bread and boiled eggs to the table. Soon after, falafals, humous, fried eggplant, cinnamon beans and dips were added to the table. Everybody sat around the table with the young girls at one corner each. We each had a plate on which we placed what we wanted from the dishes before us. Everybody was interested in this stranger from the other side of the planet – Australia. In my shoulder bag I carried postcards of Australia to give to new friends. I pulled some out and passed them around – pictures of kangaroos, koalas, Sydney Opera House, Uluru and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everybody recognised the kangaroos.

Jamil brought over a book on the English language. She was studying English on her own using this book and some tapes. Her husband Mahmoud helped when he could but he was not fluent in English either. She said,” Please, may I read and you tell me if sounds true? Please?” She read some dialogue between two people. One was asking for directions and the other answered. The only thing missing in her delivery was confidence.

As I sat there with this Syrian family I thought about philoxenia, “Friend of the Stranger” the Greek word for “hospitality” which in the original denotes something sacred and more open than “hospitality”. It is mentioned in Homer’s “The Odyssey” where Odysseus experienced philoxenia often in his travels. My new friends expressed philoxenia in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes. I was a stranger in their midst and they offered me friendship, food and comfort. A bond grew between us that had its strength in our common humanity and the fact that everyone is a stranger away from home. Mahmoud and his brother asked me what hotel I was staying at and then phoned for a taxi to take me there.

While waiting for the taxi Mahmoud said, “I want you to have this.” In his hand were some worry beads. I showed him the worry beads my uncle gave me in Greece. The Greek ones I had were more solid and heavier with round beads. Mahmoud’s were smaller and the beads were like long brown rice grains. We compared them.

He smiled, “Well you now have Syrian worries to keep your Greek ones company!”

Mahmoud and his brother rode with me to my hotel in the taxi. They would not allow me to pay for the fare. They just wanted to make sure that I was taken to the right place.

In Damascus, Syria, I found true philoxenia not xenophobia. Now I had a paper boat from the Holy Mountain and a set of worry beads from the Middle East to take with me back to Australia. I put these in a special bag where I kept other special things like hand made amulets, pellets of rose incense, a smooth stone from Dodona, crystals, a small wooden cross from Jerusalem, a tiny rock from Mt Sinai, a stone from an Aboriginal Elder in Australia and some holy oil from a small monastery of nuns near the birthplace of my father in Greece. The bag, made of an old Turkish rug remnant was wrapped in a scarf from Bethlehem, along with the Chinese “Book of Changes” – the I Ching and tarot cards. These four items were my psychic technology backup, just knowing they were there helped me. The last item to be put into my special bag was the frayed remainder of the Southern Cross flag that flew on Eureka. It was placed on top of the other things soon after we left South Bellona Reef on our way to Nauru.

My Spiritual Kit Bag with psychic technological backups, to be used in case of emergency sailing to Nauru!

A  few days later I visited Palmyra, about 100 miles east of Damascus, near the border of Iraq. Palmyra has the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. The stone buildings all have a rose tint and you feel like you are entering a Roman city with rose tinted sunglasses on.

Here’s a picture or two of what I saw. Another time, another story.

Palmyra, Syria. That little taxi takes you everywhere.


Searching for Ithaka – C. P. Cavafy

May 5, 2009

The following quote from the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy resonates deeply with me.

I was 48 when I returned to my place of birth, Ithika, Greece. It was strange sensation being a “tourist” in Athens. After I visited my relations and saw my birthplace ( a little stone cottage with a dirt floor, that was uninhabitable and about to be demolished ) I felt more and more as a fellow Ellinas (Greek).

There are photos of my journey through Greece on this blog. I may upload more later. Anyway, Cavafy’s beautiful prose poem gives another dimension to my late return to my mother land. Australia is my home now, this is where my wife and children reside, though my heart at times feels Ithaka is where I belong.

Of course, Ithaka, can also be metaphorical and the quote below is a universal statement about seeing that the journey itself is what the search is about and not the finding. Ithaka? Heaven? Shangri La?

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Searching for Ithaka

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.  Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all.  Better if it lasts for years, so you’re old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you wouldn’t have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

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C. P. Cavafy


Discovered Photoshop’s Posteriser!

March 15, 2009

Mucking around with Photoshop I found the Posteriser, well, technically “poster edges”. It makes posters of photos and emphasises the edges of the picture’s various contours. It’s incredible to see some of my photos in a new light. I posterised some photos I put up on my old Photojournal website in 2002 and the whole process changes the picture in an amazing way. This old geocities website no longer exists. So who said that websites are eternal?

When I took these pictures I used a cheap “instamatic” camera without a zooms lens. My instamatic camera used film and it was very expensive to develop the large number of rolls of film I had when I returned to Australia. I then scanned the photos and used Photoshop to enhance and edit as needed. Today I use a small digital camera, not only is it far cheaper to take and see your photos, but also with the large memory disks available you don’t have to worry about carrying rolls of film.

So, 2000 seems like another age when it comes to photography!

The following pictures are from the above website.

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I will put up more “posterised” photos as I complete them here.

Here’s a few:

Just click on the pictures below to see an enlarged version.


A Ganma Odyssey

March 11, 2009

 

This is the title I used for an article published in  “Education Australia”  way back in 1998. I think it is still relevant in many ways, particularly now that Australia has had a change in goverment. Since it already is online I will just give you the link to it here  “A Ganma Odyssey” . If the link should ever become inactive I will upload it to this blog.

I chose this title to connect an Aboriginal word with my Greek heritage – the Odyssey. Ganma is an Aboriginal word from the Northern Territory which is the name for a waterhole that has fresh and salt water mixing together in a rock pool. One of the speakers at the conference (see below “The Ganma Metaphor”), suggested we use the word “ganma” to refer to a “multicultural space” as in a classroom. Anyway, read the article and you will see the full context. By using the word “odyssey” I alluded to my own Greek heritage and the fact that the journey to the Heart of Australia was also a journey to the centre of my own heart because I was retracing a journey I undertook about 25 years earlier as a young man on the road looking for truth . . . . my own naive version of a Dharma Bum.

The coloured text excerpts and photos, beneathe “The Ganma Metaphor” are scanned from the hard copy of “Education Australia” Issue 39, 1998. So, check the article out >> “A Ganma Odyssey”.

The Ganma Metaphor

“This metaphor I had learned during earlier visits to Yirrkala Community School in East Arnhem Land, on the coast of the northeast corner of the Northern Territory. Yirrkala has organised their curriculum and teaching around a metaphor of the contact zone where rivers meet the sea, named ganma in one of the local Aboriginal languages. Literally, ganma is where fresh and salt water meet. Metaphorically, ganma is where cultures meet: fresh water is indigenous Yolngu knowledge and practices; salt water is the white Balanda knowledge and practices; and one place where they meet is in school.

Flying in a small plane from Yirrkala west to Darwin after a visit in 1993, l could see clearly the swirls of different colors in the ganma waters: bluer from the sea, browner from the land. Manduwuy Yunupingu, who was principal of Yirrkala when I first visited in 1991, has also described the role of Yothu Yindi, his internationally known rock group, in the meeting place of popular culture in these same ganma terms (Shoemaker 1994).

At first thought, this ganma metaphor may seem to ignore the important power differential between dominant and nondominant cultures in institutions like schools. But if you think again about literal relationships between fresh water and salt, the potential threat of unequal power is there: salt water tides and typhoons can flood the land, while fresh water cannot seriously harm the ocean. But if the two can be kept in balance in the ganma space, then the rich nutrients that come together from the mix of different waters nourishes richly diverse forms of life-biologically in the literal situation, culturally and intellectually in the metaphorical.”

Courtney B. Cazden

Quote from ‘A Postscript from Alice Springs’, in Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures.

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Here is an excerpt from the article :

It has been suggested that the human notion and definition of self has been through major shifts since the beginning of human consciousness (Julian Jaynes, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, Boston, Houghton Miffen, 1977 ). The closest to us historically, that may demonstrate this shift, is said to have occurred in Homer’s Greece.


According to this view, in Homer’s day, the people did not have the same sense of self as we may have. Their inner psychological organisation was different to what we take for granted. The voice of the mind was somehow perceived as a “god” speaking from outside themselves. It didn’t take too long before people started sussing out that there were a lot of “gods” running around in the temples and in the marketplaces saying contradictory things about how things were, that they saw the untruth of their “godhood”. Gradually this voice of the “gods” became established in the sense of self we call “ego”. What was there before the voice? Who and what was Ulysses’s “sense of self” on his Odyssey?

Have we in the dying years of the Industrial Age, come to a cultural cul-de-sac? Somehow, we have alienated ourselves from not only each other but also the common ground of experience – nature, the Earth. Is it time for another definition and sense of self, another way of knowing, one that acknowledges something other than the sovereign rights of the mechanistic, rational, technocratic and anti – spiritual mindset of the “Western” sense of self?

Edward de Bono in his “I Am Right, You Are Wrong”, thinks that this is the case. He suggests that a renaissance of thought and language patterns is needed so that humanity doesn’t self destruct. He proposes turning away from the “table top logic” of the traditional “Western” mindset in favour of developing a way of knowing that is based on perception. De Bono explains that recent developments in the understanding of self-organising systems and ideas from information theory, have given indications as to how the neural processes of the brain perform the activity of perception. Perception operates in nerve networks like a feature of a self-organising biological system, a living entity. Let’s call information that comes through our senses impressions. These impressions fall on the inner landscape of our mind like rain. The rain on the mind organises itself into tributaries, rivulets and streams of temporarily stable patterns. These patterns can subsequently flow into new sequences and patterns. According to de Bono, the perceptual mode of thinking encourages the mind to form multiple branching flow patterns; the sensory information is not boxed in by fixed linguistic concepts, generalities, and logic. Perceptual thought patterns follow the natural behaviour of neural networks; our present mode only plays back a recording of words and concepts provided by a preestablished cultural mindset.

Courtney Cazden during her paper on Ganma Space spoke of the necessity of getting rid of the margin and centre metaphor. This metaphor was based on the myth of terra nullius of students’ minds and being. Courtney told us that while she and Mary Kalantzis were flying to some school in the Northern Territory they noticed water holes that had fresh and salt water tributaries and other smaller rivulets all feeding the main space of the water hole. This, they found out was known as a ganma. The ganma looks like localised swirling spirals from the air. Courtney said that the mingling of brown, fresh and salt water in this space was analogous to the culturally diverse classroom. And in light of the process of perception is an apt image of the inner subjective world, our mind, our being.

The multicultural classroom as a Ganma Space, this metaphor rather than create separate marginalised groups besides the mainstream, recognises the primacy of all the diverse groups’ backgrounds and experiences. There is no one central dominant culture enforcing a mainstream reality. There is an influx of different cultures, different literacies, different world views, a swirling waterhole, a turning of bracken water whose salt has not lost its savour.

A living Ganma Space.


Let’s go one step further and consider that in the industrially developed world there is the primacy of the head, (some localise it to the left hemisphere of the brain) and all the other ways of being and cognition – feelings, sensations and intuition have been marginalised. What do we have if we apply the ganma metaphor to our own inner world? In this ganma, head, heart, body and spirit all contribute equally, but differently, to our sense of the real. These parts of ourselves may all be cognitive in nature, they may be different tributaries of knowing, different source data. Ganma Space taken as psychological space, the internal world of our experience, would allow for the possibility to connect our known and unknown parts of ourselves. This opens the opportunity to connect with others by being able to include more of the “other” in one’s awareness.
Could the perceptual mode of thinking be a ganma way of knowing?

The taste I seek is a taste of being – not in the philosophical sense – a point of view to be debated, but rather an experience, an immersion through the background/underground of one’s chattering monkey mind – into the moment. We’ve seen that working from only a part of ourselves doesn’t work. The problems confronting all of us in this time of planetary transition are whole systems oriented. Now we see through Chaos theory, that a butterfly fluttering her wings in South Africa has global consequences. And when it comes to the ecological state of the Earth and the widening gap between the rich and poor across the planet, it is obvious that whole, global issues require an effort and a response that is from the whole of ourselves, the ganma of ourselves.

From “A Ganma Odyssey” published in Education Australia, 1998.

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Hello world!

December 19, 2008

Albrecht Durer

Journeys and Star Gazing

What do I mean by journeys? And what do I mean by Star Gazing?

Recently I started to walk again, with a limp, after having broken my leg and being immobile for a long time. The physiotherapist told me that a walk of about 1 kilometre per day would be good exercise for me, especially to get my foot, ankle and leg muscles flexible again. She said to treat my walk as a physiotherapy exercise. Since I walk very slowly now without a crutch, I’m starting to become aware of a whole new world which appears in the slow pace I take. I become aware of my breath and the sensation of each step on the ground. As I do this I become aware of a silence within me which makes space and allows the sounds of birds singing , the sensation of the breeze touching my skin, the smell of recently mowed grass to enter.

Of course my “monkey mind” is still climbing and jumping around in the space within my skull but somehow because of the slow walk and the effort to “be” in the moment of the walk makes the monkey appear like a distant shadow puppet. Yes, my walk is a  Zen like exercise and the fall I had which broke my leg was Life-as- Zen-Master, wacking me into a state of mind that may prioritise what is essential in my life.

My walk to the newsagent in the morning is a journey both on the road and its side gutters and beneathe my skin between breaths and sighs of wonder at what is around me.

A journey, for me is going from point A to point B via the whole alphabet of being. The Alpha and Omega. the beginning and the end of a journey is where the snake bites its own tail, a gentle ouraboros.

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 It all depends on one’s awareness. So, one can make a journey from one’s lounge room and go across the borders marked by a door into a kitchen. It is no different to travelling in time by simply dipping a biscuit in a cup of tea as Proust did in his “Remembrence of Things Past”. A journey can also be a trip across the planet on a boat or a plane, a train or a bus, on foot or a bicycle. It can also be a journey to the Moon or to Mars in a space ship, or a trip to Saturn and Jupiter or Andromeda in one’s mind.

Star Gazing is not only looking up at the night sky and seeing how small we genuinely are in the midst of all these galaxies and stars, pinpricks of Light escaping through Heaven’s cape. It is also seeing into the meaning of those star gazing moments, those moments that coincide with a particular configuration of planets, Sun, Moon and stars. Yes, Star Gazing for me exists in that space between Astronomy and Astrology. I look up into the night heavens and I see the stars above and I wonder why am I here looking and living. My wife got me a telescope for Christmas this year and I hope to be able to take some photos of what I gaze at.

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I look at a horoscope ( I also call it a Sky Map) and I see the symbolic language of these same stars.  When I say Stars I also mean the planets and the Sun and Moon. It is an easy shorthand. Star gazing becomes communing….communicating in star language. Astrology for me is a language, a way of communicating with the deeper parts of my and your nature for I believe that we all are ultimately made of star matter. While I look up at the Stars and gaze at the light that departed from its source billions of years ago, I recognise that I gaze at old, old light. The youngest light, including sunlight is only 8 minutes old when it touches my skin, Alpha Centauri light, the closest star to us, is only about 4 years old. Star light has journeyed a long time to arrive through my eyes into me and you.

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However, strange as it may sound, when I speak of astrology, I’m not really talking about the balls of rock and gas that orbit our Sun – Sol as planets or about the physical stars and galaxies that surround us. The stars and planets I speak of astrologically have nothing to do with those we know astronomically and through a telescope. The only connection astrology has with the astronomical stars is the coincident time of happening. Carl Jung coined a term to explain events that happen with no apparent physical causal connection – synchronicity. This word is made of two Greek words syn – same and chronos – time...synchronicity…things that happen at the same time.  The important addition that Jung makes with this is that the connection between events is subjectively meaningful for the person. I think of a person and I hear a song with the person’s name in it and then almost simultaneously, the person rings me on the phone. This is very meaningful for me because I haven’t seen or heard from this person in a long time. The song, the thinking of the person and the telephone call are not connected in any physical scientifc way, but they do connect in a very meaningful way in my mind and heart. This is synchronicity. Astrology for me is synchronicity written in Sky Script. The physical stars are connected to the stars within my inner universe, my deeper intuitions and feelings that struggle to find a way to speak. The star language of astrology gives these promptings a voice.

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In Journeys and Star Gazing you may read posts that include both a journey and an astrological reading of the journey. Sometimes, you will come across a life’s moment navigated by the stars or a journey planned by the use of astrology.

It would be great to hear from you.

You can connect with me at Twitter. Here’s my handle @dodona777

stavros


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