There is one habit I seem to have developed in the last year or so. It is my ritual for when i arrive in areas which have cultural, environmental, historical and spiritual importance. I paint myself with Ochre.
It is so easy for us to be transported to a special place, we hop into our cars, we pop some finite mineral resources into our tanks and drive off. After a bit of driving and perhaps a GPS device, we arrive at our destination and take in a breath of ancient air.
Done. We’re here. Lets go explore!
This habit of arriving at a special place and not taking the time to acknowledge the history and significance if that place is a result of our culture and socialization – a culture which is still in it’s infancy.
For many many years, aboriginal cultures walked. They walked from place to place, dependent on the availability of food. If the land-base was starting to decline, Aboriginal people moved to other areas to let those first ecological systems recover, an example of true sustainability.
This movement from place to place took with it a reverence, a respect, an actual journey from a place with little, to one with plenty. A transition which created a mental shift in the mind from one concerning the need to survive, to eat, to relocate, to a mental space of plenty, of richness. This reverence and respect is what western culture is missing. Our cultural adolescence demands immediacy, constant stimuli, discovery and spiritual larceny. We strive to see the one-big-thing which makes an area special, the famous tall tree, the much talked about water hole, the mysterious valley, and we are so focused on doing something and that we forget about being something. I’m guilty of it, we all are – we want to get there now, we want to find it, and we want to take a piece of it home with us to put on our mantle. Like when you take a prettier shell than ordinary home with you, a mossy rock, a sample of black sand from a New Zealand beach, or in my case, the epiphytic orchid which blew off from a tree onto a road. We take because we want to have a little reminder of the spiritual essence of a place.
I find myself having to be reminded that when i go to a national park, nature reserve or conservation area, its not about doing, seeing, or taking something from that place, its about being in that place, and being satisfied by knowing that you can absorb the beauty of a special environment without physically taking something from it.
So what’s happened is that now, whenever i go somewhere which is special, i hold a stone in my hand, and i engage with it. I say hello to it! I say hello and thanks to the environment i am in. I acknowledge it and respect it. I combine the landscape and my body together to form a mutual bond, a new being – a being which only exists in that time, is born and dies then and there. I grind a stone against another and mix it with water or saliva until it is a fine paste. I apply it to my skin, tracing along the lines of my veins, across my face and chest. The land is as close to my body as it ever will be, millimeters away from my blood stream where the particles of iron in my blood are almost close enough to touch the particles of iron in the rock. Then i wait and i am. I am truly being. The ochre dries on my skin and it is then that i feel true unification, the end of a mental process of consolidation with the land. I might look a little weird to others, but i don’t give a crap, this is my way of showing that i have truly arrived at a special place, where i will respect and acknowledge the ancient beauty of a place that i love. I then wash the ochre off my skin to see the minerals return to the land from which they came, taking with it a sample of my skin – the place was in my skin, and now my skin is in the place.
Unification – participation – cultural innovation.