Ensouling our Work: Lessons from Ecopsychology, Spiritual and Indigenous Traditions

Saturday 3 June 2017  –  Presenters:  Professor David Tacey and Dr Suzanne Cremen

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The Heritage Room, University College, University of Melbourne



IntroductionJob, career or calling?  A brief context of the historical development of ‘vocation’ in spiritual and secular traditions – Suzanne Cremen

TalkThe Spiritual Problem of Australia – David Tacey

'The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places’
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

How can we ensoul our work, our lives, or understand our calling, in a society that has no ‘dreaming’ or ‘cosmology’ of its own? This talk will explore Australia from a spiritual point of view, and outline ways in which soul and spirit have been acknowledged by our artists and creative writers, but disregarded by the ‘official’ history of our secular and materialist nation. The talk will suggest ways in which spirituality nevertheless comes up through the gaps in society:

"In Australia, everything relating to the sacred is pushed away, hidden from sight. I sometimes imagine that the sacred will emerge from below, from what we have suppressed, what we have pushed ‘down under’. While Australia might seem godless on the surface, there is another Australia which is revealed in indigenous and non-indigenous art, in music, private moments and contemplation. Another Australia is found in the warmth of human relationships, in the experience of nature, in volunteerism and dealing with adversity. This other Australia is beneath the surface much of the time, but it is nonetheless real. …
Cut off from a sacred connection, the nation lives a half-life and is in need of something more. It is this desire for more that fuels our rampant consumerism. We are looking for something but we don’t know what it is. Our anxiety finds an outlet in buying up, but it does not last. We know we are incomplete and yearn for more, and society offers us goods, drugs, alcohol, entertainment and technology. The soul is hungry and it’s feeding on ersatz products, hoping it will be satiated. But it is not satiated by these substitutes. It is my contention that we do not turn to the sacred, the source of our longing, because we are ashamed to do so. ...
Our lives move along relatively smoothly while secular values and stories keep us bound to the status quo. To fall out of our comfort zone requires a shock, trauma or loss, and we descend to a deeper place, where we ask different questions and face new realities. But this can be a felix culpa, a fortunate fall, if we are able to break through to the spirit which brings renewal. Thus, the fall can lead to conversions and new purposes. ...  – David Tacey
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TalkVarieties of Initiatory Experience – David Tacey

All traditional cultures have forms of initiation, and yet these are being eroded or lost in the modern age. This talk will discuss initiation as an archetypal process, which takes place whether or not society has made provision for rites of passage. If society does not allow for it, the psyche itself spontaneously takes over the leadership, and people find themselves in initiatory situations with or without adequate planning and preparation:

"He told me that the initiation ceremony is designed to terminate the natural state and turn young people into adults. At the time, I did not realise that the normal self was to be ‘replaced’ in initiation ceremonies by an ancestor spirit; I only found out about this later. Aboriginal elder Warren said when the natural self is overcome in initiation, the individual comes out of a purely personal life and lives for and on behalf of the community. He asked if we had ceremonies to terminate the childhood state. I tried to answer from my Christian background, and said we did have ceremonies of baptism and confirmation. He looked concerned, and turning his head to one side, said:
'Those ceremonies must not work anymore; otherwise you people would act different.' Warren …

We experience a range of initiations including the age-related changes from childhood to adulthood, the midlife transition which has been popularised in our time by the phrase ‘midlife crisis’, and other forms of initiation such as induction into secret societies, positions of high degree, eldership, mentorship, and the esoteric rites of spirit-healers and keepers of the law. Yet secularisation has dispensed with initiations, seeing them as remnants of a former age. ...

The view of depth psychology, however, is that if society does not allow for initiation, the psyche itself will spontaneously take over the initiatory role, and individuals will find themselves in initiatory situations with or without conscious awareness and preparation. ...   – David Tacey

Commentary: Vocation as an experience of initiation – Suzanne Cremen

Journaling, reflection and discussion

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Talk:  Dadirri - The Aboriginal Gift of Contemplation (David Tacey)

Aboriginal cultures were regarded as oddities or of marginal interest in colonial Australia. However, as we progress as a nation, and begin to understand that soul needs to be taken into account and nourished, the secular nation is beginning to take more interest in its indigenous cultures. In particular, a contemplative practice of deep listening, called dadirri in the Northern Territory, is indicative of how we might attune our lives to deeper impulses and inward callings:

"Aboriginal elders believe that the non-indigenous are in denial of their need for a spiritual belonging to place. They can see we don’t have it, and they want to show us how to develop it. They understand that we do not have roots in this country, and want to help us grow them. Aboriginal people do not think we have departed so radically from the human condition that we have no need of spiritual connections to place. …
Tribal groups achieve this in ceremony, rites of passage and meditative practices. We however, think of such activities as antiquated and a waste of time. We have no cosmology that could make sense of the idea of restoring our relationship to the whole. All indigenous cultures know that when our connection to the mystery of the world is strengthened, our identity is renewed and we are able to move on with our lives in meaningful ways. …
In her seminar presentation on dadirri at Alice Springs, 2016, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr reminded us that spiritual experience teaches that our deeper identity, our inmost self, is given to us by something other than the ego:
'There is something else that makes you become who you really are. Find that spirit within you, we all have it but you were not taught about it.' …
Miriam-Rose believes that this depth of spirit needs to be brought to the surface in this country, and when it does her culture will ‘blossom and grow’, and new life will come to ‘the whole nation’. ... Even though they have been seriously damaged by the colonisation of their land, our Aboriginal people turn toward us, the colonisers, and want to help us in our plight. They can see that we are not happy, are exiled from the land and locked up in ourselves, and they want to liberate us."   – David Tacey

CommentaryAttending to calling in indigenous and mythic traditions (Suzanne Cremen – 20 mins)

Journaling, reflection and discussion (25 minutes)

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TalkEcopsychology and reanimating the world (David Tacey – 45 mins)

Ecopsychology is a relatively new field of enquiry which explores the relationship between ecological and psychological experiences. Pioneered by Jung, Hillman and Roszak, it represents a new way of overcoming the barriers between self and world, so that the lines between them becomes permeable and open. It is significant that ecology emerges as a major field in the wider world just as ‘wholeness’ or the ‘ecology of the soul’ looms as a guiding principle in psychotherapy and counselling:

"Subtle threads connect us to the world, and while these are hard to describe they cannot be ignored. Myths, cosmologies and religions have developed highly sophisticated ideas about the nature of these threads, which have been called spirit, soul, Tao, the One, Indra’s net, anima mundi, and the Dreaming. The diversity of cultures ought not blind us to the similarities. When the threads between humanity and world are severed by excessive rationality, the collapse of a cosmology, or, as in our time, the complete absence of a cosmology, we are left outside the field of nature in an isolated state. ...
Even people without much romantic feeling for nature are saying things like: 'Gaia is angry'. James Lovelock’s hypothesis, that earth is a unified bio-physical system and we have disturbed the self-regulating function of this system, seems to have hit a nerve in popular consciousness. There are things going on in the natural world that are unprecedented, and part of our response to the disorder is to think of nature as a unified whole, and resort to phrases like the ‘anger of Gaia’ to account for it. ...
The environmental crisis has been misnamed, since we are dealing with a crisis of consciousness. It is we who are disturbed, and we have foisted this disturbance on the world. But punishing ourselves is not enough. We need less of the stick and more of the carrot. What is the carrot apart from an invitation to inhabit a new mind, a new consciousness? Enter environmental philosophy, eco-theology, eco-feminist, panpsychism, new animism and a field in which I have played a small part, eco-psychology. Ecopsychology has emerged from the works of Jung, Hillman and others, and has been inspired by their passion for finding psyche or soul in the world, not only inside humans."   – David Tacey

CommentaryBeing guided by the psyche in nature – Suzanne Cremen

Journaling, reflection and discussion

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SAMPLE PRE-READING LIST (PDFs and links to further preliminary reading articles and resources are provided to participants on registration)

  • David Tacey, ReEnchantment: The New Australian Spirituality (Sydney: Harper Collins, 2000).
  • Makarand Paranjape, ed., Sacred Australia: Post-Secular Considerations (Melbourne: Clouds of Magellan, 2009)
  • Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen K. Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995).
  • Maya Ward, The Comfort of Water: A River Pilgrimage (Melbourne: Transit Lounge, 2011).
  • David Tacey, Edge of the Sacred: Jung, Psyche, Earth (Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Daimon, 2009).

Bookings: http://www.lifeartistry.com.au

Saturday, June 3, 2017: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

The Heritage Room, University College, University of Melbourne, 40 College Crescent, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia

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