Tag Archives: liyan

Feeling Country

Richard Hunter, Frans Hoogland, Jaqueline Wright from ABC Open, and I have been working on a project which I’d love to share with you all, it’s about Feeling Country. Many thanks to Jacqui for all the hours of pulling it together and to Gabrielle Norden and Sara Retallick for contributing beautiful sounds from Country. Enjoy!


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Filed under Moving Images, Sound, Walking

You’ve got to drown in it

Click here to read an essay I wrote about the performance of liyan (feeling and intuition) on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. The essay is published in Issue 11 of the PAN: Philosophy Activism, Nature Journal.


Filed under Articles, Birds, Birds, Dogs & Trees, Dogs & Trees, Theory, Walking

‘Seeing’ the whole and the collective consciousness

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.

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Facing oneness

In Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent post, So Many Faces, on her website Life at the Edge of Extinction, Rose writes about the run-away levels of species loss due to land clearing practices that are still prevalent today. The hook that really drew me into Rose’s writing was her reference to Levinas’ idea that the ‘face’ awakens within us an ethical responsibility:

The great continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote of the ‘face’ as that which interrupts my self-absorption and calls me into ethical responsibility. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years as to whether the face means ‘a human face’. What about other animals? What about trees? What about understory? The definition of face that I find most inspiring treats it as a form of action. Here face is something one does rather than something one has:  ‘facing is being confronted with, turned toward, facing up to, being judged and being called’.

The living world is filled with facings – to be alive is to live among faces, many of which are noisy and interruptive. This is good. This is life in the mode of ethics. At this time, this is also tough. There are so many facings, and often one feels so helpless.

I have written before about ‘seeing’ through feeling (liyan) and the process through which I have come to sense a communicable engagement with more-than-human entities. As well as a call to action (facing), the idea that the ‘face’ awakens a recognition with us humans that we have a responsibility to ‘others’ eludes to something very powerful; ‘face’ becomes a metaphor for deep recognition. But recognition of what? Ourselves? Oneness?

Rose introduces the most recent literary work of Australian science writer Tim Low, Where Songs Began: Australia’s Birds and How they Changed the World:

… DNA evidence is now showing beyond any doubt that Australia was the original home of songbirds. In Tim’s words, birdsong brought ‘a new dawn for planetary acoustics’.

This quote stirred within me remembrance of a conversation I had had with an Indigenous elder about lyrebirds. When I ask Uncle Max about the significance of these lyrical birds, his very first and most punctuated word was ONENESS. Through my dialogue with Uncle Max an understanding is unfolding about my attraction to lyrebirds and the role that they play in the perpetual process of co-creation. I have not yet had the opportunity to read Tim Low’s book, but I wonder if the lyrebird plays a role (from his ecological/historical perspective) in the ‘singing up’ of the world and is in fact a creator, not just a mimic. Perhaps the lyrebird, through its songs (if we choose to listen), can remind us of who we are and what we are connected to.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs & Trees, Metaphors

‘Seeing’ home

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.

Mamara on the hill

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.



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Filed under Birds, Dogs & Trees

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?


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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Filed under Metaphors, Theory