updates from Waipu and beyond

Firstly some overdue acknowledgements… Adrienne Giacon from the Hearing Voices NZ Network did a fabulous and unbelievably prompt creation of this blog site; Teresa Rudgley from Whangarei did an amazing job of publicizing the Whangarei public meeting. I originally estimated around 30 attenders but others thought closer to 50.
Carmel treated me to extraordinarily generous hospitality at extraordinarily short notice and Rosemary Neave of Waipu fed and gave me bed for the night, and invited a few of her friends to hear me talk about the hikoi kaupapa.
Great thanks to all for their contributions….

Waipu estuary is a long narrow estuary held between a narrow spit of beach and the “mainland”. Alongside it is a breeding area for two endangered species: New Zealand dotterels and New Zealand fairy terns. Walking along it slowly for about two dreamy hours opened me to observing a richness of life, where the human realm is completely irrelevant. So much birdlife- no great flocks of any species, but so many species…each with their unique ways of wading, flying, feeding, the cormorants in flight skimming just above the water, the stilts with their long, spindly orange legs trailing behind them, herons so graceful on land, with their odd, clumsy flapping flight and neck awkwardly pulled into body…and the suspenseful feeding style of the terns, hovering until they catch a tell-tale glimpse then plummeting at great speed with their only weapon an accurate beak…

How many bird folk live and breathe and feed
on a northland muddy estuary
I’ll tell you now of some that I saw
and those i miss you’ll surely pester me (for?)

Godwits and dotterels
Pied stilts and blue herons
Cormorants black wings drying on the breeze

There were Caspians and a fairy tern,
Seagulls and kingfishers,
Tiny mud crabs that disappear or freeze

Pied and Variable Oystercatchers………..
(With apologies to “english country garden”)

And speaking of fairy terns, I was in tears after reading the sign calmly stating that they are critically endangered with only approximately! 45 remaining.
Chief Seattle’s words “If the beasts were gone we would die of a great loneliness of spirit” ringing loud in my ears…
So many human beings and so little true responsibility for the world we are blindly creating…

It took me about half an hour before I even noticed the tiny mud crabs, just the occasional one either disappearing into its tiny mud cave in the blink of any eye or freezing into motionlessness. I felt like I have never witnessed anything so utterly still yet completely alert as these crabs in freeze mode. After about another hour I happened to look further ahead and realized that before I get close the mud is absolutely crawling with them, and I have up until that point only been seeing the braver of cheekier ones!!
Anything that brings me into closer contact with the rhythms of nature I find inherently healing..feeling in touch with the moons cycle; awareness of the changing of seasons in the length of daylight and the feel of the morning air or the afternoon sun; sunrise and sunset, but perhaps never more than tidal estuaries. They seem to carry a deep natural peace in the slow transforming ebb and flow of the tide. All lifeforms yielding to the tidal rhythm. And the sad sweet call of the humble seagull carries the reminder of the beauty and mystery at the heart of even simple ordinariness.
Over the past few weeks I have needed to hitchhike on several occasions (I promise that I AM walking the trail!) and I continue to be astounded by the great enthusiasm that virtually everyone has for the hikoi kaupapa and also how virtually everyone has a sad tale of quiet despair over a loved one or friend’s decline through over-medication….

Some more recent reflections:

Rachel and I were both touched by the spirit of someone who picked us up at the end of our tough walk on forestry roads around Puketi forest. He was a prison officer at Ngawha prison. He used that beautiful phrase: “There but for the grace of God go I.” He spoke of their rehab programme for young offenders using a marae-style process which has reduced re-offending from 80% to 30%. So much is possible with that gesture of the heart and spirit: “there but for the grace of God go I.” This is something clearly lacking where the diagnosis of a person as a psychiatric “condition” immediately creates a gulf from the human being behind the distressed behaviour.

In a way this Hikoi is an attempt to throw light on a dark corner of our culture – a corner where very real people don’t apparently really matter, or matter enough that we offer better options of treatment for them that don’t destroy their bodies, mental capacity and quality of life. I know these are very strong words, and I still am not saying that medication is never appropriate.  But it needs to be used wisely and judiciously and always within a context in which the emphasis is on ensuring that medications are not interfering with long-term recovery.

It almost feels like trying to help break a spell, a spell that our whole culture is under in various ways. In this case the pharmaceutical companies are making a roaring profit at the expense of the health of consumers, (often entirely against their will); Asian people in their sweat shops pay the price for those of us in the West to have cheap goods; and every other species on the planet pays the price for too many people wanting a life-style that the planet cannot sustain.

Our western culture has developed a tendency to always want quick-fix solutions, which of course the medical model of both general and mental health fits like a glove. But what are the costs further down the line of the side-effects of drugs which work in the short-term to suppress symptoms??

Going deeper, it’s the insatiable drive of the personal self to keep going with business as usual, keeping inner disturbance at bay with the next pay cheque, the next meal, the next article of clothing, the next drink, the next few kms til there’s a good campsite: rarely, if ever, stopping to question the mechanism that’s driving this vast, unhappy, loveless momentum.

The track since Waipu has been very variable: small patches of protected bush (including a small grove of medium kauri), a couple of beautiful coastal tracks, a slight nostalgia for 90 mile beach walking the length of Pakiri beach,(a brief “holiday from walking” with Nyanaviro at Goat Island) and quite a lot of road-walking through forestry and farmland. It also included a kayak down the Puhoi river to Wenderholm park (where I was met by Monica with her Bambi van, and Hilary with a sumptuous picnic) and an early morning scramble around the rocky points between Wenderholm and Hatfields beach, racing the incoming tide…

This has been my summer for getting to know taraire trees, which I was only vaguely familiar with previously. There have been many magnificent ones in the forests between Herekino and here. Twice now I have stopped to rest and admire underneath one, to be joined by a curious pied tit. Something so essencey about being in the presence of two such species: One massive and deeply rooted to the earth, the other tiny, almost weightless and capable of such swift movement – both communicating with the place in me which is from the same source as them- the great mystery of life-force itself…

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