Tag Archives: Being with
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…
Images by Hayley Bunting
I had a conversation with a woman in a dream. She told me that she had seen a mamara (spirit tree) that I had written about (see The Women and the Mamara), but not on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. I was confused, I had not written about any other mamara. Which place and which mamara was she talking about? This dream was so hauntingly vivid, I felt as though the conversation had happened during a lucid conversation. The next day as I walked through the native gardens close to where I live I looked up and saw her, as if for the first time. It was her, the mamara from my dream. Fat girth, limbs outstretched and caressing the sky, this mamara was old. I found a shallow dip near the base of her trunk and burrowed in, my back supported by her body.
How had I not see her all the other times I had passed by? Perhaps I had see this eucalyptus, but I had not seen her, the mamara. With eyes open, I began looking around at the surrounding country and noticed that I could see a long way into the distance, in all directions. This was the highest point for a long, long way. A big tree on a big hill right under my nose and I’d never noticed… From this mamara, on this hill which used to be called One Tree Hill, you can see unimpeded all the way to the Dandenongs, out to the Yarra Ranges, over to Mount Macedon on the western side of the city and a long, long way to the south.
My friend J grew up next to this park. When I asked her about the tree she knew which one I meant in an instant. She told me a story about when she was little… whenever there would be thunderstorms passing through, she would worry that the lightening would strike their home because they too were perched on top of the hill. Her mother told her not to worry, that the tree (the mamara) would protect them.
A week later I came back to the mamara and started to feel another tree calling. Not far away, near the adventure playground I found her. A sprawling coast tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) hugging the earth and creating protective caverns for children to hide and imagine in. Her limbs twisted into impossible turns, diving down into the soil (just like the jigal mamara on the sand dune at Bindinyankun) and rising up again. A child discovered me whilst I was meeting this mamara. He had come to visit his ‘magic tree’ and draw a picture of his secret cave in this journal. I asked him if he thought this was one tree or many. He carefully considered my question, gazing and what looked like at least 10 different tree ‘trunks’ (actually limbs) rising out of the earth. I showed him the emanation point, the place of convergence where all the branches came from – the well hidden original tree trunk. He was shocked that this could all be one tree!
To have two mamara (that I know of) close to home has awakened the possibility of seeing other entities in this place. It makes ‘coming home’ feel like a process of renewal; a deepening of my being with this country into which I was born.
and dwell in
somewhere inside me.
You ask me,
tell me about your being with this place?
and things shift.
I don’t realise
what my being with
I meet my being with
as the words pass
From life in the
life on the
my being with and I, and we
Image: David Millard.
Many thanks to a dear friend who posted this on social media today – an offering on gratitude by David Whyte. It reminds me so much of my seeking to find stillness, which feels so difficult at the moment. I have been rejecting the invitation to be still, to be present and with that which is seeking to emerge. To let go and be in some type of flow seems impossible. I feel like my body is hoarding (ideas, expectations, guilt and intentional blindness) so much so, that I am bulging and about to burst my banks. What is it that I am not paying attention to? I went and sat under the sheoaks at the cliffs this morning, hoping that the wind and trees would whisper secrets into my ears and heart, and help me to be present and still. They were soothing, as are these words from Whyte…
Gratitude is not a passive response to something given to us, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.
… to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.
Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness… Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences (©2013 David Whyte – Excerpted from ‘GRATITUDE’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words).
I am reminded of the words of Abram (1996) and Mathews (2003) about being in silent conversation with things and being present enough to encounter the more-than-human world. To be open and acknowledge with gratitude the abundance of life that we can be with all of the time. To realise we are never alone.
Whenever I catch my first glimpse of the sea and the island shaped like ET I am reminded of the words to a song that Miranda’s mother used to sing to her and her sister on their approach… “I can see the sea, it is a lovely blue…”
Distant and removed from that place, I sway in my seat, weaving through the imaginary turns of the imaginary corners of the road imprinted in my mind. This blue evokes something in me, it calls to me, reels me in. I see it and feel like I have returned home. Dwelling 4000 kilometers away I yearn to see this blue, anticipate it appearing on the horizon after each familiar turn in the winding road.
What happens when we are called to be with and cannot be there? Can I still be with this place in an imaginary? There must be a place inside of me where I can crawl up into a ball and be with the blue sea. Today I feel a deep longing for that.
The grevillea outside my window soothes me in its afternoon glow, but it also reminds me of where I am and it illuminates the distinction between here and there. Can I be in both?
When I stand on this beach (it faces the head of the island shaped like a sleeping ET) and look at the big and little mountains, I feel a welling-up inside of something big. A big feeling like a creative blurrrrgghhhh that just rises up from somewhere (maybe the wet sand), through my feet and goes ‘bang!’ when it reaches my heart. Words pour out – poetry and song – like some ecstatic frenzy. At times like that I am present, but reminded of Rumi and what he must have felt like when he was connecting with a bigger source of love and creativity. I want to be in this place today… Listening to what is seeking to emerge. Not waiting, just ready for it to come and flow through me.
I close my eyes and invoke being with this place, the big mountain and the little mountain there beyond the expanse of sandy beach.
on your pages
are my connections.
a calling forth,
you re-appear in my
Actors from my being with,
come to me,
and make me remember.
Näkarrma shares dhäwu mala (stories) about gurul – visiting, planning ceremony, negotiating, being with.
This teaching from country lecture comes from north-east Arnhem Land.
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.