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Practicality In Complexity

far reaching musing by Nora Bateson



How can we use knowledge of complexity in a practical way? I am often asked this question. I am confused by it. Practical at what level? By “practical” what is meant?

Practical to offer quick but un-systemic solutions?

Or practical to offer better understanding of the complexity of the context?

Executive decisions define our lives, and evidence based research with deliverables is required to back those decisions up. In this era substantive demarcations of what makes an effort worth the time and money it costs should be provided at the outset of a program. Consequently we see, in workshops, lectures, conferences, and universities, an insatiable appreciate for another pret a porter improvement program. There is always the next new step by step program ready to be sold with the promise of improvement for individuals, organizations and ministries. Usually they read something like The Five Steps to the Seven Applications… for…

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Dawson’s Desert Legacy

Dawson was a wisdom holder of many traditions – Ojibwa, Hopi, Lakota and the Native American Church. He did have a second name but preferred Dawson. He was a legendary figure in Central Arizona and left a lasting impression on everyone he met. I have encountered many people at conferences and talks all over North America and when it emerges that I have spent a considerable amount of time in Central Arizona desert country, I am always asked if I know a man named Dawson. He had met all kinds of people in his capacity as a guide and teacher. Yet his attention and presence never wavered in its intensity as he welcomed all into his orbit of wisdom and patience. I first met him in 1987 on a day long ethno-botany field trip he offered in the Sonora desert region of Central Arizona. I was the only person to turn up, yet this did not deter him. He generously extended his knowledge of plants and hidden sources of water in the scrubland of the Sonora desert. His field trip skirted ancient medicine wheels created centuries ago. He talked about plant cycles within the teachings of the medicine wheel for both ceremony and healing.

Dawson was a slender yet muscular man in his sixties, though he seemed to be much older. His manner was slow and deliberate, gentle but firm though his light blue eyes carried a steely glint that spoke legions. He loved movies and would always sit there in the cinema until the end of the credits rolled past and be the last person to leave. He would stay there with his eyes closed, making a point of downloading the full feeling of the movie. That was also how he was with people, animals and the desert. He brought a sense of gentle intensity and intimacy to every relationship. The initial connection from that first field trip and movie experience warmed into a friendship. I did numerous sweat lodge ceremonies on his property near the township of Cornville, though it was the desert that always drew him out.

One evening, two years after our initial meeting, I was basking in the outdoor hot tub of the Quail Ridge Resort in Oak Creek Village, having traveled down from Canada, when I received a call from him. He asked if I would pick him up two hours before dawn the next morning. “Wear hiking boots,” he said. I drove in the early morning dark to Cornville and found him waiting outside his house. I followed his directions to take various forestry roads leading to a reserve on the northern fringe of the Sonora desert. After parking we hiked for approximately thirty minutes into the desert scrubland.

It was still dark when he gestured that we should sit. He had a flask of coffee that he shared. We also shared the intense silence of the desert, interrupted only by the slither and scurry of lizards and small animals. As daylight slowly emerged he gestured for me to look in the direction of three large cacti directly in front of us. The sun rose and I could vaguely make out the flowers on the cacti opening. It was so unusual and surprising that I really did not see them at first. Then Dawson pointed them out. They were absolutely stunning in their unreal beauty, ranging from yellow to dark violet. We sat there for over an hour, as the morning sun rose.

“You had to see this before you travelled home to Canada,” were his only spoken words as we sat close to the splendour of the cacti flowers. But it was not yet over. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, it quickly became very hot. Out of nowhere a sudden hailstone storm was upon us. We put our packs over our heads and ran quickly to the shelter of the nearest rocky outcrop. The hailstone squall lasted only for ten minutes or so. The hail stones were not small, making quite an impact on any unprotected area of the body. Dawson looked at me strangely.

“That sure is some kind of acknowledgement from the past, and it aint for me. What have you been up to Mister Ian?”  Dawson said with a shrewd glance my way. I just shrugged, as I had no intimations of cause. We walked in silence to where I had parked the car. The hailstones were not to be found beyond a hundred yard perimeter of where we had been sitting. “Beats the hell out of me,” said Dawson, as he peered at me out of the corner of his eye. These were the last words I heard him speak. As was his custom we drove in silence. He got out of the car by his property, waved once and was gone. That was the last time I saw him. On a later journey in 1992 to that region of Arizona, when enquiring about him, I discovered to my dismay that he had been killed one year prior in a car accident outside Phoenix. I was deeply saddened by this loss, thinking about all that he had so patiently taught me. I drove to where I had last walked with him, to pay my respects to this extraordinary teacher, remembering the way almost without thinking. It was not the time for the cacti to flower but I treasured once again the gift he had shown me. The hailstone storm was still a mystery to me. I wondered who he had passed on his vast knowledge to. The very small piece I had received from him had been put into place in the hermitage where I lived, in the Gatineau Forest in Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.

            Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1994 I experienced very intensive shamanic journeys with an Algonquin shaman that I prepared for through fasting, meditation and sexual abstinence. On five separate journeys I met in turn and dialogued with the ancient shaman from the East, the ancient shaman from the South, and the ancient shaman from the West. Then, I journeyed to the ancient shaman from the North and finally to the ancient shaman of the Center. I figured at first that this was an experience with five facets of the same archetypal material from my deep unconscious – though there were major surprises I had not anticipated. Each shaman carried the force of a distinctive unconscious energy within me, though interconnected to the other four. In each journey I was always met by the same beautiful female figure, who then led me to the ancient shaman.

In previous writings I had stated that primary access to the collective unconscious for males in western civilization was through the female archetype, the anima. The significance of this scholarly assertion was right before me in the experience of being met by a female figure in each of these five journeys. Yet I did not make this connection until much later, when I reviewed my field diaries more than a year after these particular journeys took place. It was with an almost visible shock that I noticed I had missed something so significant. There it was, Carl Jung’s anima staring me in the face from my field logs. That intellectual insight was only a half-way house to understanding what was taking place. This “anima” was much more significant and had been incorporated into my training long before I was prepared, or capable, of recognizing the significance.

At my hermitage in the middle of Gatineau Park Forest in Quebec, I had a small circle of large stones in my front yard with beautiful ferns growing at the center. I had an overwhelming compulsion that summer of 1994 to build a medicine wheel with this circle of stones as the interior circle. I had been taught by Dawson the appropriate mind-state and procedure of respect to construct a medicine wheel. I had also learned the importance of the center of the wheel and I had planned this to be right where the ferns so beautifully displayed themselves. Dawson had instructed me about the central circle of the medicine wheel. It could only be truly experienced when connection to the sacred mystery was intact. The four cardinal directions, East, West, South and North, were the organizing axis for this ultimate fusion. At the time I did not know why I took the utmost care of the ferns in the central circle of stones, though Dawson had explained to me about the fusion of the mystery at the centre. It had sunk into my intellect only. It did not reach my heart until much later.

To construct the medicine wheel in my garden, I enlisted the assistance of two friends who shared my respect and training. We carried out the appropriate ritual, reverence and construction. As we proceeded on a very hot and humid summer’s day, a silence settled on all three of us in a tangible way. Something was happening inside and around us while we were creating this architecture of incredible grace, power and beauty. I had collected the stones for the medicine wheel from my garden and the surrounding forest. They were some of the most ancient rocks on the planet, the hard granite of the Canadian Shield, and were part of the very ground where the medicine wheel was being built.

After wheeling in fresh earth from the rest of my garden to fill in the four quadrants of the medicine wheel, we contemplated what had been created. I realized with a start that it was completely related to my five shamanic journeys over the previous months. The cardinal points of the wheel are the four directions, North, South, West and East, all leading from an outer circle to an inner circle at the Center.  The five ancient shamans I had journeyed to meet. It did not register with me at the time, but the beautiful ferns at the centre were an appropriate symbol for the feminine muse to deliver me to each one of the five ancient shamans. It took me a long time to wake up to that insight.  What I did realize, however, was that I had constructed a symbolic map of my internal experience. I was re-inventing the wheel from my journeys to meet the five Ancient Shamans, yet also ensured that the beautiful ferns remained intact at the centre of the medicine wheel.

I started to smile at how this medicine lore and knowledge had gradually seeped into my consciousness from Dawson. I could feel his intense blue eyes watching me at this moment and perhaps he permitted himself a smile too. He had known that I would eventually understand, and had instructed me five years prior in the precise construction of a mental medicine wheel and quietly informed me at that time about the space at the centre being the locale where I would seek counsel from the internal feminine – the beautiful ferns at the centre no less.



Why I Wrote this Futuristic Book

A 2016 release….

“New Planet, New World” provides a counterpoint to the demise of modern civilization. I chart a Beginning Anew for humanity, a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing. This adventure is not without risk or cost, as power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth.

The book opens with a lyrical and dangerous meeting on a distant planet later this century. The protagonists are from different centuries and cultures. From the 18th century Rising Moon is hurled by shamanic means to Planet Horizon in a nearby galaxy. From the 21st century Catriona gets there from a failing spaceship in an escape module. Wisdom of the Elders meets 21st century Hi-Tech. Instead of killing one another they choose to be blood sisters and embrace survival, accepting nature as a Matriarch. This fragile thread is challenged by the brutal abduction and rape of a main character, Sian the Celtic seer. Her inner strength, of being more than a violated body, inspires the community of pioneers who escape safely from the spaceship. They create a communal structure of living and carve out a home and life on the new planet.

Four Hopi Sacred Keepers offer their lives in a ceremony to enable renewal on a distant planet that none of them will experience. Mysticism combines with hi-tech to enable a Transfer Particle to seed the new planet and establish settlements. The expansion of communities is interrupted by a jihadist attempt to take over. A terrorist cell on Earth hijacks a spaceship and imperils the lives of the pioneers, who respond with tactical violence to kill them. Compassion is exercised towards sleeper jihadists secretly embedded in their midst. The stark violence of survival prepares a backcloth for three distinct love stories to emerge. Ethical settlements grow as a mirror for Tolstoy’s vision of “people of the twenty fifth century” – ahead of their time. The dark episodes and lyrical passages move the story along with action, fear, resolution, death, rape, bravery and exile in a futuristic opportunity for humanity. This action packed book ends on a philosophical note concerning our place in the centuries to come.

Intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. This end game is a philosophy of the future. The inclusiveness of science combines with Tolstoy’s vision, Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical and not repeating the mistakes of the carbon cabal. The underlying message is from Tolstoy, the ‘Conscience of Humanity.’ He described humanity’s bottom line as the cultivation of love, the mainspring for authentic and responsible living.

I do not present this as idealism, rather as down to earth wisdom. That is why I wrote this futuristic novel. It is the final bookend of a trilogy – “Chronicles of Awakening.” Redemption is the first book in this trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. The final tome of this trilogy takes characters from the prior two books, placing them in the future on a new planet. I place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a blistering rant to the UN in 2080 that I would certainly like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm.

The First chapter describes tension then co-operation between Catriona and Rising Moon. Instead of harming one another they create a safe haven and save other young people ejected in escape crafts. The Second chapter documents the desolation of Planet Earth, the location of Planet Horizon and establishment of space stations on Mars and Jupiter. Chapter Three relates the destruction of the spaceship and safe landing of some of the pioneer travellers. Chapter Four is a love story and the search for children ejected in escape modules from the spaceship. Chapter Five provides vision for community building. Chapter Six is dark with the tragedy of rape yet permits the human spirit to prevail. Chapter Seven documents the flourishing communities established – Eco-villages and towns plus Wisdom of the Elders villages. The battle with jihadists in Chapter Eight is not for the squeamish. It ushers in the end of innocence and the beginning of wisdom. Chapter Nine is a tender love story, accompanied by Catriona’s shamanic preparation. The final Chapter Ten muses philosophically about human survival anywhere.

“Little” Moments


going outwords & inwords



If you can practice patience in the traffic jam with a sense of humor
approach or whatever approach you want to use, you are training for really major difficulties in your life. So, it sounds silly, but actually, it’s true. If you’re sowing seeds of aggression in the
traffic jam, then you’re actually perfecting the aggression habit.
And if you’re using your sense of humor and your loving-kindness or whatever it is you do, then you’re sowing those kinds of seeds and strengthening those kinds of mental habits; you’re imprinting those kind of things in your unconscious. So, the choice is really ours every time we’re in a traffic jam.

– from Pema Chodron

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The Power of the Ocean

This blog takes us home to deeper understanding


Floating above the waves, letting the current take me where it pleases, I surrendered to the power of now, to the energy of the universe, to my thirst to understand the earth I inhabit. As I’m floating I slip for a second, like in meditation when you realise your thinking about dinner, I slip out of mindfulness or consciousness and try to put my feet on the floor but I can’t. I turn around and panic that I’m too far out so I swim closer to shore. Why? As I’m swimming I remind myself to try to understand the ocean, the currents and the strength of it, I return to lying on my back, stretching out so I can see only my toes in the horizon, it’s a feeling of isolation like no other if you imagine you’re the only person in the water, you can’t see anybody even if…

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Inspiring Kids Through Literature: Sara Stem Saves the Bees

Empowering girls.

Green Living Ottawa

Written by Denise Deby.

Sara Stem Saves the Bees book - D. Deby photo

A children’s book with a strong female character who faces an environmental challenge and takes charge with a science-based solution—that’s Sara Stem Saves the Bees.

Local author Julia Cieslukowska created the story of Sara Stem, a girl who realizes something is happening with the bees. Sara uses her knowledge and the resources around her to find and carry out a solution. The book, written for two- to six-year-olds, illustrates that individual actions can make a difference for the environment.

I had the chance to meet Julia Cieslukowska at her book launch on November 16. Julia, who’s also doing a masters’ degree in international affairs at Carleton, wanted to write a book to empower kids, particularly those who don’t see themselves often represented in literature. You can read more about Julia’s motivation for writing the book here.

Julia has set up a Kickstarter campaign where people can…

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Spring 2014 Edition of Pine Gate: Volume 13, Issue 2

Dear friends and gentle people,

enjoy the latest issue of Pine Gate, the online Buddhist journal I edit . Available online at

This bumper issue, beautifully sculpted, by Brother Yves, brings Climate Change front and centre. Another crisis of our times – cyberbullying – challenges educators and Buddhists to catch up and deal with it. New Meditations, Recipes, Milarepa, Master Linji, Mindful Consumption, Poetry, Charles Dickens and Humour add to the feast. The Vesak Day harmony in the City of Ottawa is a joy to read.

Cymbals at vesak

Share this offering with friends, networks and family.

with metta,


Dancing Trees – a poem published in Northern Cardinal Review – January 10, 2014

Dancing Trees

Silver birches silhouette the sky
Gather in numbers,
Elegantly, grace “en pointe.”

Sway and breathe
Bend and whisper
Leaves shimmer.
They dance to gathering wind.

Murmur Creation’s tones
In synchrony with stellar rhythms,
Their sound carries waves
Rolling into shoreline rocks.

Silver birches silhouette the sky
Silver beauties
dance for us.

Dancing trees
Dancing Trees