Sometimes we write or think things that we don’t want to believe; we dream of impossible or unthinkable things, we imagine utopian futures and grand possibilities, we fall for wish fulfilment or fall into paranoid delusions. Often such flights of fancy are just that, with no more meaning outside of our own personal psyche. But other times, we may slip into the world of intuition, of prescience, of a kind of knowing that could only emanate from the otherworld, from the dimensions where time is folded with other realms so that the future somehow pops up in front of us and we know what is coming. Writers of faery tale or myth have always explored these realms, while prophets and other wise ones access this space with skill.
But we have to be clear about how our mind works before we can start to trust these kinds of intuitions. Once we know the style of our desires and fantasies, we can be alert to them arising in our minds, and dismiss them on the way to more objective information. To do deep listening to nature, we have to quieten our personal mind and open up to our greater mind; the one that is talked about in ecopsychology, animism and spiritual realms as being the human mind that is at one with the greater reality, with the world, even with the cosmos and its mysterious gift of consciousness. This is what i mean by the ecomythic; the dimension from which appears such otherworldly yet ecocentric wisdom.
On December the 9th of 2019, i wrote that “A great fire is coming and we are all in line.” Everybody knows now that the whole south east of Australia is burning, but a bushfire near my home on the south coast of NSW had already been burning for weeks. In previous years, this would have been known as a serious fire; it took out a beautiful stretch of forest over 30km long, countless trees and animals had been scorched, and we were breathing in smoke and swimming in ash as we got used to the new reality. Life goes on and we adapt. But now we are preparing for a future of unknown collapse, just as climate scientists have been warning for years. We’re going to have to collectivise rapidly, coherently, with deep reservoirs of patience and generosity.
I didn’t know the ‘great fire’ i wrote about was going to spread from the one already burning and threaten my home and destroy so many others, as well as kill so many people and the countless other beings; but i knew it could. What i meant was that a great fire is threatening all of humanity now … that greenhouse gases had created a world hotter than we could handle, that traditional ‘Care for Country’, as Australian Aboriginals practiced for tens of thousands of years, had been dismissed by the new machine of modern agriculture, that the business of clearing, sowing and poisoning the land for ever-increasing yields and profits was creating a tinderbox that is ready to ignite all over the place and not go out until it has taken us with it. The amount of firepower out there nowadays; coal mines and power stations, oil refineries and endless vehicles burning petrol, nuclear power plants and of course an unconscionable pile of weaponry, from street level guns to tribal warfare capable dirty nukes, handheld anti-aircraft missiles and more, creates endless opportunity for the damaging aspect of fire to be unleashed as fresh hells on earth. Anthropogenic climate change and ecosystem destruction creates the tipping points we know are adding up.
Alongside the fires, there will be more devastating floods and hurricanes, sea level will continue to rise and destroy low-lying cities; in short, other horrors await us just around the corner. All of it is coming sooner and harder than predicted, which means we should be taking the climate science more seriously than ever, seeing as it is clear it has been overly conservative, in an effort not to be too alarmist. Ancient traditions have predicted this since before colonisation stole the lands of so many earth-loving peoples. The pueblo-dwelling Hopi of Arizona, where i spent some time in conversation with a spiritual leader some years ago, saw the signs of End Times everywhere, but also put this in a bigger picture perspective of worlds that come into being and pass away in cycles. This also inspired the visually stunning art film Koyaanisqatsi, a forerunner to more recent explorations such as Baraka and Samsara.
The Abrahamic religions tend towards linear timescales, where current events lead to degeneration and saviour for the faithful. The dualism common in western society is a constant feature, as a force of ultimate good finally defeats an evil power, after much thrashing about and the devastation of much that was good in the first place. Some fundamentalist sects even believe that the destruction of the human world could hasten on this ‘rapture’. Unfortunately, Australia currently has a Pentecostal Prime Minister, which may be part of the reason he has shown such deplorably poor leadership in terms of tackling the climate emergency and the bush fires.
Eastern philosophies tend to favour cyclical time frames, wherein the end of one world would result in the birth of another. This reflects the traditional, animistic position, which followed the laws of nature to see that out of death new life emerges. Examples include the caterpillar withdrawing into the cocoon only to emerge as the butterfly – an image i have always found solace in – and the way Australian Aboriginal firestick, or cultural, burning, promotes new growth. These kinds of ideas can be extrapolated to faith in the ongoing life of the human soul beyond death; just as the snake sheds a skin, so we ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ to arise new in another dimension. There is no reason to dismiss such beliefs, unless we are so trapped in what sociologist Max Weber called ‘the iron cage of reason’ that we can no longer accept any reality outside of the one we have been socialised into. Rather, an intelligent and open-minded person would understand that human culture evolved in close contact with nature and exercised refined senses to read subtle energies and ‘track’ psychic paths as we traversed the possibilities of consciousness outside of the physical realms.
My Zen training, alongside recent years of deep listening in nature, has opened a world of possibility like this. Generally, in Zen, we attempt to be as true to the moment as possible, focussing on the now even while always taking into account – or at least, not dismissing – the extent to which we are always also partly caught up in our personal histories and possible futures. But i have found that while dissolving the traps of personal disposition, compassionately letting go of our escapist fantasies and slipping out of the iron cage of reason, it is not only the moment that becomes more clear, more sparkling and evocative. There is also the ever-present realm of the ‘otherworld’, wherein deeper patterns of meaning that include the world of nature and psyche beyond our personal self become apparent.
And thus appears … Burning in the Sky. I was scared of this song at first, as it paints such a terrifying picture of the reality we are now speeding towards. But i knew i had to sing it and thankfully i’m in a band with 3 of the most amazing musicians, who could compose and play the music to make it a symbolic anthem for this time, as well as a call to those who want to continue to evolve and adapt, together. I knew immediately, as i heard it in my head in Tathra one night last year, that it was mystic prophecy. I just didn’t expect it to become so prescient, so quickly. Rebel for Life. Because a great fire is coming for us all and there will be a burning in the sky. Better to be forewarned than ignorant, even – perhaps especially – if the message is bleak.
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