I was reading the article Brain in your belly which discusses the intelligence of our gut and it made me think about the concept of liyan which many Indigenous people in the West Kimberley speak about. When I hear people talking about liyan they often associate it with the word ‘feeling’, e.g. ‘I got a good liyan from that place’ (In my mind I visualise the storyteller putting their hands on their stomach when they are telling me this).
The above mentioned article had this to say about the intelligence of our gut:
“… gut feelings are highly regarded as a source of intuitive knowing and insight in many cultures around the globe. As it turns out, gut thoughts and feelings are not a fanciful notion but a physiological fact. Rather than the one brain found in our head, scientists have revealed that we have two brains – the other one is located in the digestive tract” (David, 2013: online).
I managed to find little written about liyan from a West Kimberley Indigenous perspective. An unpublished oral histories project with Broome elders introduced the concept of liyan as:
“Once [people] start listening to their liyan, things become different, as if new connections were suddenly showing between all aspects of their life. Liyan is like a barometer that guides your life. When you become receptive to your liyan everything seems to gain new meanings because you become aware of your connections with all your relatives and your environment” (Glowczewski, unpublished).
And in a report for the Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd. liyan was described as an,
“… individual and collective sense of spiritual and emotional wellbeing” (Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd., 2010).
These description of liyan, as well as descriptions that people have shared with me on country, deeply resonate with my felt experiences of being with country. Experiences through which my intuitive awareness and somatic knowing, help guide me in how to be with country.
In a conversation with psychologist Eleanor Rosch, Otto Scharmer and Eleanor explore this idea of “wisdom awareness” and “primary knowing” which I liken to intuitive awareness and gut feeling and liyan:
“Rosch distinguishes between two types of knowledge: analytical knowledge (cognitive science) and what she terms “wisdom awareness” or “primary knowing.” Says Rosch: “The analytic picture offered by the cognitive sciences is this: the world consists of separate objects and states of affairs. The human mind is a determinate machine which, in order to know: isolates and identifies those objects and events, finds the simplest possible predictive contingencies between them, stores the results through time in memory, relates the items in memory to each other such that they form a coherent but indirect representation of the world and oneself, and retrieves those representations in order to fulfill the only originating value, which is to survive and reproduce in an evolutionarily successful manner. In contrast, “Awareness is said to [be knowing] by means of interconnected wholes (rather than isolated contingent parts) and by means of timeless, direct, presentation (rather than through stored re-presentations). Such knowing is ‘open,’ rather than determinate; and a sense of unconditional value, rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of knowing itself. Action from awareness is claimed to be spontaneous, rather than the result of decision making; it is compassionate, since it is based on wholes larger than the self; and it can be shockingly effective.”
In trying to track down which other traditional cultures placed high value on the wisdom awareness present in the stomach or gut, I came across concept of hara from Zen-Buddhist culture:
“Contact with the hara is an inner listening contact, one that is available to us at any time… simply by cultivating our ability to bear with others in pregnant silence” (Wilberg, 2003).
This reference to hara reminded me of darirri, the philosophy of deep listening which Ngangiwumirr woman Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann articulates as:
“Dadirri means inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness… Dadirri recognises the inner spirit that calls us to reflection and contemplation of the wonders of creation. Within a deep silence we attempt to find the inner self and the perfect peace. We are not threatened by silence. We are completely at home in it. Our Aboriginal way has taught us to be still and wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons.”
Gut brain, liyan, wisdom awareness, hara and dadirri… are they all different articulations of the same type of knowing and connecting within ourselves and with everything else in the world?
Glowczewski, B. (Ed. unpublished) Liyan: The story of a living culture
MacroPlan Australia (2010). Yawuru Indigenous Lands Rezoning Proposal: Final Report, prepared for the Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd.
Rosch, E., & Scharmer, O. (1999). Conversation with Eleanor Rosch: Primary Knowing: When Perception Happens from the Whole Field, from http://www.dialogonleadership.org
Ungenmerr-Baumann, M. R. (date unknown). Dadirri: Aboriginal Way – Listening to One Another
Wilberg, P. (2003). Head, Heart and Hara: The Soul Centres of West and East. New Gnosis Publications.