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Wilderness of mind.

Like the cosmos, the human mind is expanding and full of unknowns.

Nov 19, 2019


Words: Mim Hook
Images: Max Dureau

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This is a place more rugged than Far East Gippsland’s forests, more ragged than Wilsons Prom’s coastlines…

It’s wild out here — exploring the blurred edges of human understanding.

This is the landscape of your mind.

Pull on your boots, you’re about to meet four incredible Gippslandians who’re adventuring into its many mysterious nooks.

RAYLEE FLYN — Swifts Creek
On the experience of living with brain tumours

“Nine years ago I discovered I had a massive brain tumor. I’ve had numerous surgeries, but unfortunately my version of brain tumors keep growing back.” Nearly ten years of continuous brain tumours has pushed Raylee into uncharted mental waters. Before she knew about the tumours, Raylee had slowly lost her ability to read and speak.

“I remember picking up the paper and thinking it doesn’t make sense. It was a blur and my eyes would go across without recognising anything.”

Raylee was told before each major surgery that when she woke up she might have a different personality.

“I gave orders as soon as I woke up to, ‘get me a hot cup of tea and none of that cold shit!’, and my family laughed because they knew I was me.”

So how has living with brain tumors altered Raylee’s mind?

“It seems easier to swear than think of the right word now, but I think that comes with old age too! I also think maybe the part of my brain that gets anxious about things was affected because I don’t get that worried anymore.”

“I’m more aware of the brain being this funny thing that’s lots of different compartments. Your brain’s like a filing cabinet and it’s whether you keep the doors closed or open. I’m also now an anti–bucket list person. I have an anti–bucket list consisting of things I’m not going to do anymore. I don’t put up with shit, don’t worry about housework.”

LYDIA SCHÖNHALS — Newlands Arm
A yoga teacher explaining her experiences when taking hallucinogens

“It shines. Sparkles. I can see the spirit of the trees. If you go inside your mind you see all those beautiful patterns, geometric forms and shapes dancing into an endless vision of shapeshifting, infinite colours.”

Lydia says there are different ways to connect with your subconsciousness, “Yoga, meditation, music and hallucinogens all are different ways to get in”.

“I’ve had moments of extreme meditation where my mind opens, expands and I can’t feel my body anymore. You become one with the universe.”

Lydia has used different types of hallucinogens to explore her mind’s wilderness.

“From mushrooms to acid, iowaska (ayahuasca) to kambo… all have taken me on beautiful journeys. Sometimes it’s made me cry, sometimes I’ve had guides stay with me while I’ve gone to these places.

“Kambo’s [derived] from a type of tree frog. You put some of its poison under your skin. It helps you access parts of your mind you usually can’t. You go to the edge of your mind and body. You connect to a state of consciousness where you can access deep knowledge and wisdom.

“You can look inside into the wilderness of your mind or outside into the wilderness of the world. You can experience the world, nature, energies, your own mind, in a different mindset. Being really connected. Right here. Right now.”

HARRI COOK — Lakes Entrance
Has a masters in neurological rehabilitation physiotherapy

“There are infinite questions and things we don’t understand... more unknown than known.”

Harri works with people who’ve acquired brain injuries, helping them rebuild in different ways.

“My work has a huge influence on me as a person and makes me realise we’re never stuck, never fixed in the way we are and who we are; we’re constantly evolving and changing. It’s powerful to realise I can wake up every morning and be a better human. You should never ever feel like you’re stuck in a certain way of being. My clients are so inspiring, the way they’re working hard everyday to try and change their brain.”

As a physio, Harri’s working with people in the outskirts of their minds and at the edge of science’s current understanding of the mind.

“Use of language has a huge impact on our brain and what neuroconnections we’re creating. I really think about the words I use [with patients]… Instead of ‘osteoarthritis’ I might say ‘wrinkles in the joints’ or ‘kisses of life’. You can take away the fear. This can apply to life as well. Everything we say to someone is changing the wiring of their brain. We’re powerful influences in each other’s lives.”

Moving from her patients to self-reflection, Harri talks about being in the wilderness of her own mind, “It’s amazing to jump into a world where there are no constraints of society or this reality and anything can happen”.

HARRY HOOKEY AKA DESERT ALIEN — Cowwarr
A song writer and musician.

“When I’m in the wilderness, I’m hunting. It could be just a word, or a melody, a chord, or a phrase. You feel the power of it when you find it. You can feel the originality. That’s the beast I’m hunting for.”

Harry spends his days writing songs.

“You know something’s out there but you just can’t get your hands on it. There’s a tedium, a relentlessness of not catching anything… a frustration.”

What’s it like, out in the capacious corners of a creative mind?

“It feels really good when you’re fully consumed by the hunt and you can feel it’s close. It’s an adrenaline rush, an obsession. It’s out of body. You’re operating on base instinct and you’re amazing yourself. It’s fully self-created but you don’t know where it’s coming from,” says Harry.

“You’ve got to let yourself surprise yourself, which is a hard thing to do. Part of being in the wilderness is not having a map of what’s going to happen. Having no control over what you’ll find or what you’ll see. You have to trust your instinct in any given moment.”

WILDERNESS, A poem Harry Hookey
In the dizziness of liberty
I dived into my wilderness
looking for perfection
or some sweet state of grace.
I tried to concoct a miracle
but divinity deserted me.
The desert bird was merely words,
she had no name or face.
Then a counter strike of destiny,
it struck me like a snake.
From wilderness unimagined,
a phosphorescing lake.

Familiar skies stare upon
this unfamiliar sight,
entangled to the electron,
all my weakness, all my might.
She was the one I’d always known,
as ancient as the stars,
as new as the mourning touch
of sunlight through the bars.
This prison is existence
but she broke me out alright.
Do not be fooled by shadow’s friends,
Through all this darkness,
there is light.

Like the cosmos, the human mind is expanding and full of unknowns. The sphere of our knowledge grows infinite as we gaze inwards and out. Us Gippslandians are an intrepid bunch, not only content with traipsing through the far reaches of our region’s natural wilderness, we’re also forging through the wilds within. Go on, explore your inner wilderness. Follow the lead of the brave adventurers above, and keep wandering. What does it look like for you?

How shit is waiting in Centrelink?! Like, seriously, it’s a life zapper. My kids, Felix and Dotti, and I were halfway through a long wait. In front of us was a guy scrawling and scribbling frantically. So intent on his notebook, it wouldn’t have been surprising if he was suddenly sucked into its pages. “What’s he drawing?”, three-year-old Dotti asked, in that really unsubtle kid way. He turned to us and kindly showed us through his notebook. Pages and pages of drawings that seemed to flow straight from the brain to the page. Brain spew. “My dream’s to be an illustrator,” said Max, “I just don’t know how to make it happen, so I’m here instead.” Max waves his arm out at the ‘inspiration desert’, Centrelink. Well, Gippslandia, you rock! I’ll never forget the feeling of my first published piece as a writer with you, picking up my son and spinning around the lounge room. Now Max gets that same feeling. Max actually rang me, dancing down the street, after submitting his illustration for this article. I could hear the smile in his eyes.


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