‘’Come with me to the point and we’ll look at the country. We’ll look across at the rocks. Look, rain is coming! It falls on my sweetheart.’’
( the indigenous song from the Oenpelli Region, Australia)
As the fires burn out of control across Australia, beyond the emergency response and dealing with crises, we also have to pause and reflect. Yes, they are the opposing movements: rushing to help our neighbors on the path of fires and stopping to listen to its message. It might be too difficult to do this at the same time, and yet, the time seems to be running short and soon it might be to late for either. Once the fires are over, there will be another danger looming: as we count the looses and the cost, and attend to recovery, we again might forget how to listen to the deeper message, we might again, in our to rush to repair the old ways, try to continue as before.
And I am not the only one who believes that in this fire the message is delivered, loud and clear, that this is not possible any longer. We did not want to hear it in the species disappearing one by one, in our rivers stopping to run, in the cries of our indigenous brothers. What other means were left to our mother Earth than to warn us with the thundering roar of fire?
It is time for emergency responses AND it is also time for employing Dadirri – a special quality, a unique gift of the Aboriginal people, inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. After all we are talking about a country with this long-lasting indigenous tradition of deep listening to one another with the heart, to what our soul is saying, to the soul of the land and to the whisper of Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. We are talking about the continent which was inhabited for tens of thousands of years by people who were in tune with the needs of the land and who understood the importance of balancing their needs with those of the land, who knew how to appease the spirits of the land, so that it continues to support them. We are talking about a very sophisticated culture of understanding the spiritual and cosmic dimension of life, as well as practical “land management” measures which assured the cyclical nature of life and land is honored and observed.
Most of all, the indigenous people of Australia knew about the natural systemic, cosmic laws which all life is subject to, and “all life” included not only what we in our narrow materialistic sense consider to be alive, but also the rocks, the oceans, the clouds and the stars. Indigenous Australians understood the land was animated, en-livened by spirit, and for them it was every bit as much alive as that kangaroo hoping or their own child being born. It was all of one Great Spirit, or of one Rainbow Snake.
The decisions concerning life and the land were not made from some centralized position of power, through a democratic process of investing all power to this or that person of this or that belief system, but through a very experiential, practical approach of walking the land up and down over wast distances and listening deeply to what it is saying and what it needs.
This information from the ground was then conveyed through an elaborate system of story telling, the Songlines, which was passed on from generation to generation and from one tribal region to the other. The decisions on the action needed were made according to that assessment “on the ground” and were clear. The only law needed to be listened to was the law of the land, the law of nature and of big cosmic cycles. Their Parliament was made of stars, rocks, running wallabies and trees, the only law they needed to obey the law of nature and the law of spirit, embodied in the all-encompassing, intricate system of rules which regulates all social, emotional, ethical and spiritual aspects of human life – Tjukurpa.
For Aboriginal people, religious beliefs are derived from a sense of belonging to the land, to the sea, to other people, to one’s culture. Being human is defined by where we have come from, who we are, and where we are going in relation to country and kin. For these people who have lived and loved here since the creation times, the land is more than a physical place; it is a moral sphere, the seat of life and emotions and place of the heart.
This is encapsulated by the ‘Dreaming’ – a complex network of knowledge, faith and practices derived from stories of creation, which dominates all spiritual and physical aspects of Aboriginal life. A central concept of Aboriginal life is the notion of the spiritual continuity of present and future with the ancestral past. As part of the ritual ceremonies, humans are reminded of their responsibilities, of the need to care for the country and kin.
A relationship of deep reverence and love towards the land is more precious than our human relationships, the land being the “sweetheart”, as expressed in that song from the Oenpelli Region.
How did we, the “whitefellas”, ever think that we can come from the outside, take over the continent, assert our ways as “civilized” and consider our way of life and land management as superior to those who had been an intrinsic part of that eco-system for thousands of years and learnt how to breathe with it in a harmonious rhythm? How did we ever think that we can get away with it, not just with decimating aboriginal population, but plundering the land’s resources with no regard for anything else but personal profit? Is it so surprising that the arrogance of our white, colonised mind is coming to haunt us? A bit over two hundred years has been long enough for the consequences to show in full blast.
So, this is not only about the natural climate change cycles, it is even not only about the changes of climate brought by our human activities. If we see it like this we will miss the opportunity to see what the real cause of this disaster is and to make the changes necessary.
The crucial question is not how to save the environment, but how to start experiencing ourselves as just another aspect of that “environment”. This is not going to be possible unless we see, truly SEE, the oneness of creation working through us and everything else at the same time. Our world can not be saved if we do not perceive it, and us, as a part of the same whole, embedded in the Greater Soul. Unless we make this connection with the sacredness of our world, and make this experience present in our daily lives and actions – we can not thrive, probably not even survive.
There is little chance for humanity on the whole if we can not make this shift in Australia, the land of ancient knowledge and wisdom still accessible, still so close to us, if we choose to see and to listen. The indigenous knowledge has been greatly damaged, but not extinguished, that fire is still burning, still preserved and alive, willing to be shared, safely and for the safety of all. But are we willing to listen and to learn?
Last (largely sleepless) night I was taken back to the experience I had some 25 years ago as I traveled the outback, trying to understand the language of the land and the Australian indigenous people. Some messages were clear, most unintelligible to me, a child of a different land. As I made acquaintances with some indigenous cattle station workers in the remote outback, I felt I could relate easily to these “blackfellas”, even across the vastness of our cultural divide. And even in their disempowered position of disconnection from their tribal traditions and their culture, eyes blurry from too much booze, puzzling to me then – there was strength and dignity in their presence. And in their names, too. For many, their name was probably the only connection left to the world and family/tribal belief structure which attributed them with those. I still remember the mixture of sadness and pride in this hauntingly thin, warn out man, conveying his name to me as if a secret, or a precious ornament. He said his name was Fire. Simply Fire, meaning fire.
What if these current fires are simply telling us: “Look at me. I am here. I belong too. You have excluded my powers for way too long. I include myself now in this way. I am but one expression of natural force which you chose to ignore. And I am stronger than you. I can easily bring you to your knees.”
Those of us who work systemically know the importance of the systemic balance, the dangers of exclusion and the need of being in harmony with spiritual forces higher than us. It is quite simple really: these systemic laws apply to all systems, from family to nation to planet to cosmos.
We need to restore our relationship to the sacred, as David Tacey ascertains, now more than ever. “In Australia, landscape carries our experience of the sacred other. For two hundred years the majority of Australians have shielded themselves against the land, huddling together in European cities, pretending we are not in or part of Australia….No matter how we attempt to package or construct it, the land will always break out of whatever fancy dress we foist upon it. …The only way to develop a spiritually powerful culture in Australia is to enter more into the psychic field of nature; to “shamanise” ourselves in the image of nature.” (Tacey) Where else than in Australia are we in a better position to do that, to, as another true blue Aussie Les Murray puts it, “keep those gills for dream-life we have in our head wet”? But not if we, Australians and others, try to continue with “business as usual”.
Practical measures are important, but pale in significance to the intelligence of the cosmos, which prevails and guides it all. While doing whatever I personally can, I also surrender to its greater wisdom, with full trust that whatever happens will be how this force wills it. Part of a solution to our present day crises is also in such surrender, acknowledging with respect and humility, that not everything is in our hands. By doing so, we also evoke the sacredness of our world, which is the only life force which can take us safely into the future.