I write this from Sydney springtime–wisteria, tulips, blossoms–that unmistakeable lilt in the air. Instead of a weekend workshop, I will be meeting the labyrinth community in the park on Saturday. The universe has seen fit to gift me with relaxation and time to integrate some of the layers of my encounter with this venerable continent.
My time in the desert was a revelation. Desert in Australia is not the sandy Mohave or barren Sahara. It is a rich environment of shrubs and gum trees, spiky flowering bushes and granite outcroppings . 19 women came to join me and create the circle at Koora Retreat Center. Koora has been built out of the remains of a town site from the last century when a railway was built straight into the bush ignoring the song lines the Aboriginals knew for 60,000 years. This to accommodate mining interests and Eurpean conquest. At each stop along the railway, someone planted a Morton Bay Fig Tree and this beauty graces the entrance of Anna and Peter’s giant labyrinth:
We arrived at 11:00 on a freezing evening and found snug accommodation in metal buildings surrounding the always burning campfire. I awoke before dawn to the sound of big birds and walked out to find the labyrinth and the rising sun. Peter had made us a fine open sided tent with pews around the edges. Anna’s first act was to find twenty chairs so that we could encircle our altar.
We began our circle and got to the greeting dance just as the bush flies arrived for their daily visit. Undaunted, the women donned their fly nets and continued. These sisters were fierce, compassionate women, some from the desert themselves, others from Perth and still others from Mebourne and Queensland. As we heard each other’s stories and enacted the Dream Quest rituals and sang Earth, My Body and Return Again, we joined in the ever widening circles of Women in the States, Poland, England and Wales.
Our four days together led up to a 5 hour period alone in the bush, so we prepared ourselves with writing exercises to focus us on the next steps of each of our spiritual journeys and awareness of the impediments of despair, resignation, grief, and shame that get in our way. On the Tuesday we headed out in vehicles an hour further into the bush to a salt lake camp site where we found ancient fossilized weevil nests the size of walnuts to symbolize all that we were willing to let go of. I drew a labyrinth on the salty belly of the dry part of the lake. We walked solemnly, allowing the rocks to hold our sorrow and then two by two walked far out to meet the water. The rest of us, in the tradition of the West Africa grief ritual, sang our sisters on and greeted them when they returned with the phrase. ” We saw you there. welcome home!”
As we prepared for our alone time, taking some food, water, big hats and journals, I got more and more excited. I had been looking forward to letting go of holding the circle and having my own encounter with the landscape. I had found myself interested in the granite outcroppings that marked a pause in the thicket of growth that covered the sandy floor. I found a shady spot under some gum trees and a wattle shrub–tall spindly branches with lemon yellow flowers. There is lots of wattle in many variations throughout the desert. Mine was particularly lovely as it quaked in the welcome breeze. There were flies. There was sun. I rested and wondered and finally sat still enough to hear the call of the land. Following a bird, I wandered out toward the granite and everything began to shimmer, inviting me. I relaxed into that wonderful state of not knowing. I found myself laying on the warm granite, arms and legs outstretched. I slipped into the Imaginal and “saw “a group of Aboriginal hunters coming in my direction. I was being checked out and when I passed the test, a presence appeared through a tear in the fabric of the cosmos. He tells me that the Dreamtime is everywhere. You cannot intend it, you only encounter it. It is so simple. I receive more–beyond words–and feel graced, grateful, healed. Rather suddenly, I am told to get out of the sun, drink water and rest.
That night we lay in the rosette of the labyrinth gazing at the vast starry sky–our beings extending outward quiet and exhaulted.
Our last day brought the inevitable conversation of what it means to integrate the sweetness and mandate of the circle and the quiet expansion of soul that comes in such a landscape. We agreed that the circle is forever and always and that creating circles in our lives is the epitome of the work of wise women in the world.
Peter and Anna threw us a wonderful dress up party with wine and dancing on the labyrinth and more fabulous food in candlelight.
I will never forget my desert initiation and the love of this circle of desert sisters