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.
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.
‘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)
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.
Over the past week the act of collectively dreaming has woven its way into several of my yarns with F. Each time our conversation turns to this idea I feel a rush of energy and want to dwell here… Disconcertment also dwells here though. I feel a tension between putting my energy into a fight (defending and responding to threat) to protect country and focusing my energy and intention on loving this country and imagining it staying strong into the future (a generative and creative act/process). The question I have smouldering away in my mind is, can we (Indigenous and non-Indigenous people) collectively dream a future for this country? Every fiber of my being cries out, ‘We must!’ Is this one of the things that is happening when we are collectively walking the Lurujarri Song-cycle? Is this act of collectively dreaming at the core of Paddy Roe’s vision for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people being with/caring for country together? Then I think back to Scharmer’s (2009) references to presencing and allowing the highest possible future to emerge; when we are being with country and feel a sense of connection/in-separateness, does this allow our collective dream to emerge? Seeing each other and identifying as being part of a collective must be critical in all of this. Surely there needs to be a collective consciousness about something (say a future possibility) if it is going to emerge.
Already, in the conversations I have had with people who are becoming of this project, I have felt networks/connections strengthening. The process of yarning and sharing stories of being with country and love for country seems to be opening up a space where something collective can be expressed. Is it a recognition of each other through connections that we share? Is it a process of creating a collective entity through seeing and identifying with each other?
Each time I speak with someone about Paddy Roe’s vision for this country I get a sense that it still holds a lot of agency. When I spoke with B a few months ago he said, “Paddy’s vision is always alive, it is never dying and never dead; this one man’s vision is everyone’s vision, we’ll keep it going.”
During this year’s Lurujarri Dreaming Trail Richard, Storyteller for the Northern Song-cycle, referred to the third people when we were sitting across from Ngunungkurrukun. He was sharing a story from Bugarregarre (dreaming) and then asked us all, ‘Who are the third people? That could be us.’ At the time I found it interesting that he brought Bugarregarre into the present and opened up a space for us to contemplate how we are part of this country. Then he said, ‘Country change and people change, together.’ How could it be any other way, unless we assume that we are separate and disconnected? I have been thinking about that for months now, the dynamic nature of relationships, place… they are all being performed with actors weaving in and out, some more powerful at times and then others. Someone else made a reference to the third people the other day when we were having a yarn about being with country. He posed a similar question, who are the third people that will be caring for country? I make no assumptions, I have only questions and much wondering about this.