Category Archives: Theory

Hug a tree – the evidence shows it really will make you feel better

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March 19, 2014 · 5:34 am

The Land makes us

I have returned to the literature of Kombu-merri woman Mary Graham, who writes about storytelling as an Indigenous methodology that is grounded in place. Graham (2009) writes:

The inclusion of Place in a story provides an authentic explanation of how and why something comes into the world. This in turn provides a balance between agency, whether human or spiritual, and point of origin or Place. Balance and re­balance is achieved when Place is used like an ontological compass (p. 75).

And…

Place, as an Aboriginal category, implies that there is no division between the observing mind and anything else: there is no “external world” to inhabit. There are distinctions between the physical and the spiritual, but these aspects of existence continually interpenetrate each other. There is never a barrier between the mind and the Creative; the whole repertoire of what is possible continually presents or is expressed as an infinite range of Dreamings (Graham 2009, p. 76).

I like the way that Graham addresses dualism and creates metaphors for a unified existence between people-place. She speaks beautifully about the agency of Land in her interview with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio.

The way Graham speaks about Land – as a great life force and the holder of knowledge – reminds me of Paddy Roe’s description of Living Country – land that is alive and has the agency to act upon us and reveal itself to us when we are ready to learn. In, Listen to the People, Listen to the Land, Frans Hoogland (1999) describes Living Country as:

… 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).

The dynamic relationship between people and place is most often depicted from the perspective of human direct experience by non-Indigenous writers. It is so important that Indigenous people’s perspectives rise to the surface to voice their perspectives and give voice to the Land. Graham talks about the recognition that Land has of its people in her interview:

…The Land knows its own people, because it hears the language of its own people and it’s, I know it sounds a bit odd, but it’s sweat, it recognises the sweat of people and they know, ‘Ah yes, that’s the sweat of the people, our people, my people, the people that belong to this area and that sweat, that other people’s sweat I don’t recognise that,’ that land is saying…

Her edict, I am located therefore I am, puts place at the heart of identity and belonging, and I am reminded again of what is slowly coming up and becoming visible, seeking to emerge; narratives of belonging for settler people and subsequent generations through a deep acknowledgement that we are becoming of this place and are becoming of this home, but based on a deep respect and reverence of Indigenous peoples who have always been at home because this country is theirs.

Graham, M 1999, ‘Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews’, Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture & Ecology, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 105.

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, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, pp. 11-30.

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Intention, resonance and sacred places

“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.

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February 12, 2014 · 2:36 am

Living Country

“… 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].

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Gut Brain

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).

Photo on 19-11-13 at 4.25 PM #2

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?

References

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.

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Discursive tools and objects

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.

This is Richard on Trail last year with a big barney (goanna).

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.

The next generation of Goolarabooloo men sharing stories on Trail this year (Rurrjaman)

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?

GALLERY OF DISCURSIVE OBJECTS
LURUJARRI DREAMING TRAIL, 2013
DISCURSIVE OBJECT #1: INTERPRETIVE SIGNAGE
DISCURSIVE OBJECT #2: LURUJARRI HERITAGE TRAIL BROCHURES
DISCURSIVE OBJECT #3: PADDY ROE INFORMATION BOARD, WALMADANY CAMP

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Encountering as being with

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! 


References 

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.

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