‘Seeing’ the whole and the collective consciousness

I have been following the work of Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge (Theory U and the Presencing Institute) since I first started by PhD and have found many parallels between their work on shifting the collective consciousness and what is emerging in my own research. There are many aspects of the video below which I could highlight here, but the one I wish to give attention to in this post is that of ‘seeing’. In this conversation between Scharmer and Senge, they discuss the idea of ‘seeing’, both as a metaphor and literal experience, in relation to groups of people/collectives becoming aware of the collective – they talk about the system becoming aware of itself. The precursor to this ‘seeing’ is the presencing of the collective; otherwise stated, going into a space of silence and deep listening, which allows people to tune into what is seeking to emerge. Senge talks about how he is encountering communities all over the world who are having these emergent experiences. What I love about this conversation is the way it challenges the way of being in and with the world which has become so integrated, that it is now invisible. To be with the unknown and to let it precipitate and come into being, relies upon a very different cosmology to the one that most western societies operate by. The attention that Senge gives to feeling, not just thinking, is key. Many Indigenous societies hold fundamental the notion that feeling (liyan, intuition, gut feeling, somatic knowing, attunement… there are so many ways to describe it) is paramount to being in and with the world. The work by Scharmer and Senge makes a contribution towards making visible this way of being (ontology) for non-Indigenous people without appropriating Indigenous wisdom.

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Stories that endure

I have written before about the work that stories do and their ability to move through country, people(s) and objects as they do this work. In the last few weeks I have come across a story that brings to light (for a broader circle of people) the ways in which stories in country endure.

The first story was told by the Adnyamathanha people whose ancestral estate takes in the northern Flinders Ranges. (Listen to the 2-part radio documentary, Yulu’s Coal, featured on ABC Radio National’s Earshot program, here: Part 1 and Part 2 . It is better if you listen to the Adnyamathanha tell these stories. I will only offer a brief summary here to help tell a bigger story). Adnyamathanha storytellers trace how their ancestral creator beings, Yulu (the Kingfisher Man) and two Arkurra (Giant Rainbow Serpents) formed the landscape as they journeyed through country, including a large deposit of coal near Leigh Creek. These stories belong to Yuramuda (a complex understanding of spiritual existence that is present in the landscape and how to live in harmony with country – akin to the Western notion of cosmology and ontology ‘the Dreaming’) and continue to inform the Adnyamathanha’s existence. Arthur Brady, an Adnyamathanha man, said that:

Without these stories Adnyamathanha people won’t be the people they are today. The thing that makes us who we are is our stories.

Stories are constitutional, they give meaning to people’s presence in, and experience of the country. The knowledge that is held within these stories is held within the people – who in turn belong to these stories. The knowledge contained within Yuramuda stories also highlights the relevance and important of Indigenous knowledges in understanding country. While some anthropologists and people in general may have, or continue to, interpret Yuramuda (or the cosmology/Dreaming of another peoples) as myths about creation, the Adnyamathanha, along with other Indigenous peoples on this continent, in partnership with geologists, are showing people that Yuramuda accounts corroborate with Western scientific stories about country (see another account: Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 years). On Yulu’s way to an initiation ceremony at Ikara (WilpenaPound), he lit a big bushfire near Leigh Creek to tell the mob further south to wait for him. The coals that were left behind in from this fire, form the large coal deposits that are present in that land today. The Adnyamathanha understood that Yulu left coal behind in that place long before geologists and mining companies set their sights on Leigh Creek.

There is a personal link here to a bigger story, one about the way in which people are assembled by stories. My ancestors come from a village in the Macedonian province of northern Greece. The name of the village, which has endured for a long time (not as long as Yulu’s story), means black spring and relates to the vast coal deposits that sit beneath the ground in that valley. The fields and homes, and all the other places where my ancestors dwelt, are soon to be disassembled and an open pit coal mine put in their place. The land will no longer endure as it has for millennia, in relationship with people. Soon, all that my family will have left of this place, as with the Adnyamathanha, are stories about the country, albeit different types of stories to the Adnyamathanha people. The stories endure when the land is gone, they can still live within the people, but there is an emptiness and a deep connection that is lost.

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Places to dwell in deep summer

Ancient rock and ibises make me ground and soar.

Ancient rock and ibises make me ground and soar.

Getting pulled through the Blackwood forest by lyrebirds that call.

Getting pulled through the Blackwood forest by lyrebirds that call.

Diving into rock pools laced with Neptune's Necklace and glimpsing the pink octopus that dwells within.

Diving into rock pools laced with Neptune’s Necklace and glimpsing the pink octopus that dwells within.

Colours of this place open the doors to my memories of being here.

Colours of this place open the doors to my memories of being here.

The land cradles us in her folds and pockets.

The land cradles us in her folds and pockets.

IMG_1575  IMG_1574 IMG_1579 IMG_1573

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Sustaining Oral Tradition

Stephen Muecke writes the preface for Stuart Cooke’s edition and translation of George Dyuŋgayan’s Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle, which also appears in the Cordite Poetry Review (20 Oct 2014, see: Sustaining Oral Tradition: A Preface to Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle).

Muecke writes,

The complex process of translation spelled out by Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle – from a spirit being to Dyuŋgayan to Roe and Butcher Joe, to Ray Keogh to Stuart Cooke; from Nyigina to Broome English to Australian English; from oral production supplemented with gestures and sand drawings via tape recorders and notebooks to alphabetic script printed on paper – reinforces the idea that translation is emphatically never about reducing the number of mediations, nor indeed facilitating the transfer of meaning.

I am reminded of my own process of watching stories translate between contexts and materialities in my own research. These stories of being with, performed on country, move through. They might offer a moment of fixedness/stability (Frans; Law 2004), otherwise, they draw on metaphor to metamorphose and translate into new forms, including oral stories. Just like the rainbow serpent creator beings that are said to have shaped parts of the Australian continent, stories too ‘dive and reappear in new places’ (Emerson in Levin 1999, p. 3). Stories make themselves visible in one manifestation or another: in country and through storytelling, before they disappear or transform into some other materiality: into transcripts, conversations of remembrance and onto paper. Following stories and metaphors as they reveal themselves as actors in my research, my task as the researcher is to ‘… seek to understand, and to watch what they’re up to’ (Nicholls 2013, p. 42). There can be no prior assumptions about what these actors do; as John Law (2004) states, actors as entities ‘… are not given, [instead] they emerge in relations [with other actors]’ (p. 102).

References:

Dyungayan, G & Cooke, S 2014, Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle, Puncher &​ Wattmann, Glebe.

Law, J 2004, After Method: mess in social science research Routledge, Oxon.

Levin, J 1999, The poetics of transition: Emerson, pragmatism, and American literary modernism, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C.

Nicholls, A 2013, ‘Paper work’, Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts, vol. 12, pp. 40-3.

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Stories in the sky: Indigenous astronomy

‘The stars hold great significance for Australia’s indigenous people. The sky is a textbook of morals and stories, retold from generations to generations. Through their Dreamtime legends, these stories have been the stages to their existence for thousands of years.’ (SBS online)

Click here to link to this story.

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Metaphors for learning – a Mäori perspective

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Being called (back) by place, cont.

The others left the track before me, choosing to scale up the low sand dune which grew off the side of the track. I kept going, drawn in by the corridor of tea trees that led me deeper into the heart of the big sand drift. The sandy track emerged into a windblown chute in the towering sand dunes. Beyond was an endless expanse of sand, sculpted by the winds that buffer this promontory. I’d expected there to be no other people here, it had always felt like our secret place. Somewhere in the near distance I could hear the sounds of people whooping and whistling as they slid down the steep face of sand dunes. I could see them in my mind’s eye, rolling and catapulting over themselves all the way to the bottom and then scrambling hand after foot back up to the top. Squinting into the sun, I could make out foot tracks, they crisscrossed the dune system below where I stood. More people; things must have changed. I hadn’t been back here for years, maybe ten or more.

Walking in giant steps down the slope, my eyes grew wide at the sight of a large soak (of water) in a depression in the sand dunes. Being early spring it made sense for there to be water around, but having never been here in this season, to see water amongst sand dunes seemed like a fantasy. Tracks from all directions lead to the edge of the soak. Bird tracks, roo tracks, but no human tracks. Confused, I looked out again at all the tracks crisscrossing the landscape around me. Three toes imprinted in the sand glared up at me from the wet sand to my left. Three toes… three toes… ahh! I followed those three-toed footprints away from the dunes. Countless other three-toed footprint tracks intersect the path that I followed.

Led away from the soak, I arrived at a group of acacias just as the emu tracks petered out. The thinnest sliver of a new moon hung low in the sky, making its final descent towards the dunes. The track that I followed brought me here, I felt a sense of having arrived somewhere. Scanning the area around me I wondered why it was that I had arrived here. But I carry on… Clambering up low sand hills, compelled to walk the edges of these sand sculptures, they are the embodiment of impermanence, providing (if any) only moments (or illusions) of stability. Wandering north to find my group, I felt called back. I was meant to be there. I looked back to see the acacias that acknowledged my presence where I had arrived. The only things in this landscape that had some kind of grip on me, I am pulled back, descending the dune, returning and to their circle. Countless tiny seedlings shoot up from the sand, encircling a group of older trees of the same species. Walking forward, I parted the dense foliage of the older trees. Mossy growths inhabit the thick limbs of these trees, I could just make out what appeared to be the ‘heart’ of the formation. Something about this situation felt familiar… the jigal mamara on the sand dune at Bindinyankun. What had appeared to be 10 or 15 trees growing out of the sand dune was actually one. I looked deeper into the thick growth and saw a dense tree trunk emanating from the dune. Tracing the branches, they all led back to this central trunk. One tree. Standing within the spherical canopy of this acacia, I felt as though I was in a world. All round me native bees hummed as they fed on the yellow flowers in bloom. This tree wanted to be seen, acknowledged, and there was a path that led me here.

I have always felt a strong pull by this place, since I was a young child. In my return there is a sense of having been called back. I am not sure why, but there is a strong resonance in my being with this place.

The faint sounds of ‘Coo-eee’ reached me before being swallowed up by the sand. In the distance I could just make out the silhouettes of three figures walking the ridge lines towards me. When we meet I ask them if they too feel a familiar sense of walking on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, across the pink dunes at Rujimon. When I think of this place as a home, a camping and hunting place (fresh water, animals to hunt, close to the coast), my feelings shift. Sensing the habitation of a place, the dwelling that is happening, or has happened, creates a profound shift in how I relate to that place. Place as home, it is an invocation, an opening for new things to emerge, new realities to be born.

We headed north, back towards the farmland and the old coast banksias that fringe the path to this big sand drift. My eyes searching the sand as we climbed the dunes, and there they were…

IMG_1003

IMG_1004… Small messages lying in the sand that this place is home.

Images by Hayley Bunting

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