Category Archives: Theory
“In this lecture at Schumacher College (29/1/14), Rupert Sheldrake shows how the “scientific worldview” is moribund; the sciences are being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas. But science itself is now transcending the materialist philosophy, and pointing toward a new sense of a living world. The cosmos is no longer like a machine running down; it is more like a developing organism with an inherent memory, and so is our planet, Gaia. These new paradigm shifts in the sciences shed a new light on spiritual practices like pilgrimage, ritual, prayer and meditation.” Darlington TV
There were many moments whilst watching this talk by Sheldrake that I was jumping up and down in my chair at the parallels between his research and my own. I am not a scientist and feel very challenged by materialist views of ‘reality’, particularly when there is little or no space to acknowledge things that lack a materiality, like life force. Things that Sheldrake spoke about which resonated most deeply with me relate to intention, resonance and sacred places.
With regard to intention, he speaks about our minds reaching out and touching that which we are paying attention to. He uses his research with pet dogs and their owners and other experiments between friends calling each other randomly, to try and demonstrate telepathic and intentional connections that exist between beings (humans and inter-species). Each of these experiments was small, contained and replicated many times. I have my own questions around intentions and what influence they might have in shaping our own and collective realities. Though the stuff of my research is not so much isolated to pet dogs, their owners and telephones – the scope feels a lot bigger! So how do I write about the individual and collective intentions that are expressed on country by people who are sharing their stories? How are these intentions being manifested on a physical plane?
The existence and making of sacred places, whether they be trees or constructions (e.g. churches, obelisques, temples), was another topic which Sheldrake dwelt upon. He spoke about the potential for tall structures to create conduits between the cosmos and the earth, mainly through their ability to channel lightning. I was very interested in Sheldrake’s dialogue on this, but it was his next discussion topic, morphic resonance, which shed more light on the meaning of sacred places for me.
For the last few weeks I have been wondering about the collective walking of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail and whether this has ritualistic or ceremonial qualities. This country has been walked for a very long time (if we want to look at time as something linear) and is inscribed with meaning through Bugarregarra (dreaming, creation); and then countless other meanings since colonisation and in the new emerging ways that people are relating to that country. But when people collectively walk the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, particularly if there is an intention to connect with Indigenous custodians, are we re-enacting a creation story/Bugarregarra? Sheldrake introduces his theory of morphic resonance (memory in nature/place) to suggest that in the practice of rituals, ‘… the present participants will resonate with morphic resonance with those who’ve done the ritual before.’ A community of people who practice a ritual extends beyond the here and now and includes ancestors: ‘… a literal collapse of time of presence and the past, connecting those performing the ritual with those who’ve done it in the past.’
Perhaps the ‘memory’ in a place, which may have been created through repeated ritual practice in that place, acts like an intention of how beings should interact with place and each other in situ. Maybe morphic resonance is like an affordance of place [James J. Gibson described affordance as all “action possibilities” latent in the environment (Gibson, J.J. (1977), The Theory of Affordances. In Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing, [Ed] Shaw, R. and Bransford, J.)]. When I am camping at Murdudun north of Quandong Point, I always feel like I should rest there. It is a very nurturing place in country which resonates with a strong female presence/energy. Yet each place in country feels different; Goolarabooloo people might say that each place has its own liyan (feeling… but this translation of liyan is completely inadequate as there is so much which is sensed that cannot easily be articulated into language).
I see words like intention, dreaming/creation, liyan, morphic resonance, sacred and ritual swirling around above me in a figure of 8, their connections between one another and their meanings slowly becoming more solid, more visible.
“… The response of this country to our call consisted of different but cross-referenced responses to different individuals, together with common responses for the collective. It felt like a coming alive of the world, a flow of configurations of circumstances along axes of meaning.”
Freya Mathews in The World Hidden Within the World: a Conversation on Ontopoetics [Published in The Trumpeter 23, 1, 2007].
I’ve just finished reading the article Walking as Spiritual Practice: The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, written by Sean Slavin. His discussion on the discursive tools (e.g. maps, guidebooks, pamphlets and signage), which pilgrims use along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, prompted me to think about the discursive tools/objects that are employed along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. What were the ‘tools’ or ‘objects’ that told stories along the Trail? Had I asked this question a year ago I would have uncovered something very different; up until this year, the key discursive ‘tool’ predominantly used along the Trail was oral storytelling, with the focus being on stories from Bugarregarra – creation/the dreaming. All my past experiences of walking trail were punctuated by the storytelling of Richard Hunter, Goolarabooloo law boss and Storyteller for the Northern Traditions Song Cycle.
Richard retired from the role of storyteller last year, creating space for the younger Goolarabooloo men to step into this role. There were a number of Goolarabooloo men who shared stories with the walkers on Trail this year, but not without a visible reluctance (I think this was more about being shy and lacking confidence, underpinned by a deep respect for Richard’s authority as storyteller and teacher). I guess it is hard to step into someone else’s shoes after they have been doing something for a long time.
As the first walking of the Trail progressed and ended and the next one began shortly after, the storytelling became more scant and the walkers of Trail more hungry… This hunger was visible in the way that people swarmed around interpretive signs at key locations along the Trail and hung off every word when a story about country was being shared in the process of walking. These interpretive signs share local Indigenous knowledge about country, including plants, animals, places and stories from Bugarregarra.
Expectations of stories being shared by Goolarabooloo bubbled to the surface of conversations that Trail walkers were having amongst themselves. It became increasingly evident through the conversations that I had with other walkers that people wanted the country they were walking through to be storied; they wanted to see this country through the lens of Bugarregarra.
At one point, a volunteer on the Trail unearthed a dilapidated box of old Lurujarri Heritage Trail brochures; they were received with great excitement by the walkers who were in the vicinity. Stories told through the brochures were poured over, words recited and then the brochures were filed away safely into journals and notebooks. It is important to note that these pamphlets were barely being held together; they were stained yellow with mildew and were torn along the folds. Miraculously, they had endured two decades worth of wet seasons in the Kimberely.
The other discursive object that we came upon during Trail was a large information board about past Goolarabooloo custodian Paddy Roe. Whilst Paddy’s descendants often make mention of him and the legacy which he created by initiating Trail, this information board (it contains images, a transcript from his obituary and an article in which he speaks about the Trail) gives Paddy a different agency on Trail. Standing at the board in front of his images, I feel a sense that I am having a moment with Paddy himself. It is hard to articulate why this is so.
At the heart of this story about discursive objects and tools are the questions, how do we generate meaning about place and our relationship with place? What role do stories play in the interweaving of people and place?
A flash and a flicker outside my office window caught my eye yesterday. There, on the leaf litter before me, in its sleek form, was a Monitor. It spotted me, froze and slinked off under a grevillia bush. Not long after, a Grey Goshawk landed on the same grevillia. It too had spotted the Monitor and was sizing it up. In the seconds before it flew away, our eyes met and I was filled with a sense of being with this life form. Whilst our meeting was fleeting, I was left with a sense that we had bridged a perceived space; we had encountered one another. It was synchronous then that I was in the middle of reading Freya Mathews’ (2003) descriptions of encountering; people encountering people, non-human life forms and ‘inanimate‘ aspects of country. She writes about encounter as a way of relating to the world, which is potent with the possibility of being with if we invite those ‘things’ that we see as objects to become subjects.
A question that Mathews (2003) raises which caused me to pause and wonder was…
‘But how are we, in our present cultures of disenchantment, to understand encounter with the non-human world? What forms of response might we expect from nonhuman subjects? Is it perhaps not too difficult to imagine the responsiveness of fully sentient beings to our overtures. But the barely sentient, or altogether nonsentient? How might encounter with plants, for instance, be imagined?’ (p. 81).
Is this calling of non-human sentient and nonsentient beings and entities into the subjectival realm really a question of agency? If we assume that everything that is present in and on the land (e.g. trees, animals, rocks, water, spirits, people) has agency, does that make all of these entities subjects?
I am reminded too of the words of Paddy Roe and Frans Hoogland (1999) who write about country as a living entity…
‘… where the land is whole and complete; where the interaction between people and land is alive through law and culture; where the spirit of the land is ‘standing up’, and ‘vibrant” (p. 30).
I feel as though I am being invited to see the whole of country as something to encounter, to be with.
The final thread that I want to weave into this conversation is the Yolngu pronoun ŋayi (ngayi) which is used to refer to he/she/it. Is the between gender and sentient/non-sentient/inanimate a deliberate attempt to shape perception of everything as subject? To all my Yolngu teachers out there please comment!
Mathews, F. (2003). For love of matter: a contemporary panpsychism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Roe, P., & Hoogland, F. (1999). Black and white, a trail to understanding. In J. Sinatra & P. Murphy (Eds.), Listen to the People, Listen to the Land (pp. 11-30). Carlton: Melbourne University Press.