Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to certain places?
Why you find yourself living somewhere at a certain point in your life?
How the energy of that place affects you?
For the last year I have lived and worked in Alice Springs as a midwife. The land there is so strong and powerful you can’t help but feel its presence. The wide open spaces, the red desert sands, the caterpillar ranges jutting up out of the flat land, with tops of dragon-like spines. It speaks to you like few other places do. It speaks whether you listen or not.
Every third person will tell you they came to Alice for a day or a week, and 20 years down the track they are still there. Others came and left quickly, the intensity too much, the demons too great. Every second person will tell you they were ‘called’ to come to Alice in one way or another. I was one of these, having had a dream a few years before, literally telling me to go there. I was surprised to find I was by no means alone in this calling. And yet why? What is it that calls us?
Alice is still a place where the indigenous culture remains somewhat intact. Aboriginal languages are still spoken commonly and ancient ceremonies still go on. And despite the mess Australia has inflicted and is still inflicting on these ancient cultures, despite it being diluted and large parts lost over the last 50 years, the culture is still recent enough that the memory remains alive in their bones. Their connection with nature is so natural it appears unconscious to us whitefellas. But it is totally conscious, it’s just that it is innate, so built into them that they don’t notice it. But to all us civilised folk who have been slowly disconnecting from the land as time goes on, if we are aware of what connection to the land is, then comparatively the indigenous’ earth connection is much stronger and present. I guess there are many whitefellas who are incredibly unconscious about this fact, not seeing the incredible wasteland we live in from not having had that connection. Still thinking that the way we live is better, that we should intellectualise and civilise the natives. That is not to say there isn’t lots that we can teach the indigenous, but what is often forgotten is how much they can teach us……and it is not generally through words, but by being. As a culture in general, they tend to live in the present where time has little meaning, conversely to us who are constantly avoiding the present and looking to the future or the past.
Anyway, what I am getting to is that I am convinced that it is this still-alive connection with the land that makes Alice Springs such a strong powerful place. A place where the lands energies can still be felt. Where the spirit of the land is not hiding below the surface, but is palpably felt and present. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t too many places around the world like it. The only other place I have experienced something similar is the Findhorn community in Scotland, where again, a conversation with nature was what built the community. Where the land energies and nature spirits and plants were listened to and consulted in its growth.
If you do wrong by the land in Aboriginal culture, it is deadly. You can literally be killed for it, such is the importance of following the laws of the land, of listening and respecting it. It is not a thing to be taken lightly or toyed with.
Anyway, getting back to the question, my own experience of living in Alice was intense. While I loved the beauty of the land, its power and strength, I was also constantly confronted by my own inner challenges. It is like the place, the land wanted me to go deep deep within myself. And for months I avoided doing this. Paradoxically, working as a midwife requires complete presence and so while I was at work, I was present, but the work/job itself kept me constantly unpresent in my own life – I had to plan everything a few months in advance in order to get my roster requests, in order to have enough food to eat while I was doing shift work etc. And working shift work full time kept me totally in survival mode only, all of my self-care practices which I know are so important to my wellbeing got dropped as I lacked the time and energy to do them. I was living a superficial life, wanting to connect deeply but not having the energy to do so. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy theory and that we are victims, but I definitely can see that in my own life, full time work (even when I love the actual work) keeps me complacent, unhappy and apathetic. I did not have the energy anymore to do things that mattered to me or to the earth.
At the same time, working in an institution that was contra to most of my personal belief system, left me feeling isolated and alone. While I made a couple of beautiful friends, I felt alienated and different to the majority of people around me. It was as if I had a sign on my forehead saying ‘reject’, and this was so widespread in my interactions outside of work more than at work, that I was forced to see it as something being reflected to me, a deep internal conflict rising to the surface. Only now can I see that this was another message asking me to go within, to connect to myself more deeply. But still I did not listen.
It was not until about 8 months in, that I finally connected back to myself and back to the land by doing a nature spirits weekend. It was pure joy. Of course. I heard my heart again. I could hear nature’s wise voices again.
So why did I go to Alice?
Maybe it was to fully experience the oppression of the heart, of our feelings, of nature, of the feminine. To fully recognise it within myself, and also to see it clearly outside of me……
I mean we are surrounded by it every day in our society. The mind over matter (head/masculine over body/feminine), the raping of the earth by money hungry mining; the medicalisation of childbirth – as if women’s bodies didn’t know what to do already. The government is still trying to absorb Aboriginal people into ‘normal’ white culture and appears nonplussed when they don’t want to work full time in order to buy things they don’t need or want. Personally, my own experience working in a hospital system is much the same – nothing about it is healthy – physically or emotionally, nothing about it respects the body or personal wellbeing – long hours, huge responsibilities with pay that does not reflect such weight, atrocious food is served to patients, and don’t get me started on the way illness is treated symptomatically without any vision of the body as a whole. That is not to say I didn’t love my work, or even my workplace, it is just the system, the institution and the whole foundation it is based on. There is no respect for the feminine, for the heart and for nature. And this inner conflict within our society is so externally expressed in so many ways, a few of which I have already mentioned above.
But ultimately it was this oppression, this total and utter oppression which I was feeling, that forced me to go deeper within myself than I had ever been before. To search out on a personal level and to find my deepest reserves, to find more strength than ever before, to find my true nature despite the external forces. In a word, to reconnect.
And can we ever do more than what we can do personally? In order to change the world, we need to change ourselves first. Even though we still may need to fight our battles in the external world at the same time, isn’t it the inner world where the change really occurs?
So that was Alice.
Now circumstance has brought me to live in Barcelona. To not work. To take a sabbatical and give myself time to rediscover the joys of following the whims of my heart, the passion of my heart. So that it is no longer all work and no play.
And Barcelona is the heart of Catalonia. A place that wants to be its own country, has wanted to and tried to for so many years but is still under the government of Spain much to its disgust. This is a place that was totally repressed, where you could get killed for speaking Catalan in years past. But the language and culture was still retained under that oppression, and now is encouraged, now it is taught in schools. Now if you can’t speak Catalan as a foreign university student, you’d better learn fast! The Catalonians are proud to be Catalonian. Just yesterday at the organic market, when I asked the woman in Spanish the word for ginger she took great pains to tell me the word in Catalan, and then couldn’t remember the Spanish word for it. This is a place where the people are vibrant yet serious, and certainly not apathetic. There has yet to be a week where I haven’t come across a protest going on – last week it was against the rising of fascism and racism. The week before I came across a very well organised peaceful celebration protesting the fact that new laws are being brought in making it possible to be gaoled for two years for taking a photo of a protest!!! They are willing to fight against their oppression, to fight for their freedom and their rights.
Although it is still early days for me in Barcelona, it strikes me as interesting that I find myself here amidst a people that have been holding their true selves close to the heart, in secret for many years against the oppressive forces of a dictatorship, but not forgetting nonetheless. And when the time was ripe, they once again could rise up and fight for their beliefs, for the rights and freedom to express themselves truthfully in their own way.