The second week in July is NAIDOC¹ week in Australia, celebrating the culture, history and achievement of indigenous people.
As a newcomer to Australia, I’m fascinated by this ancient yet still-surviving culture, and its place in modern day Australia. While I don’t understand so many of the intricacies and etiquette around Aboriginal culture, I feel a deep respect for their traditional ways and understanding of the land.
Listening deeply or nature-based meditation, is a daily practice for me, and it’s brought so much vitality and belonging into my life. I used to sit in my room, meditating. Now I get to walk outdoors, the breeze on my skin, the soft earth under my feet, the sound of burrawongs echoing, and still aware of my thoughts and emotions, the inner nature.
As well as helping me understand place better: which trees are around me? Which way is the wind blowing? Is the tide high or low right now?
I love trees, and have done ever since I was a child.
I can remember being five or six and running down the hill in our local park to a great chestnut tree, which had these big roots reaching out like many, many arms, and we’d climb on them, round and round the tree in circles, standing on these roots and holding onto its trunk.
In times when I felt sad, I would seek out an ancient oak, and sit beneath it, and feel comforted by its strong and loving presence.
My own ancestry is Celtic, and trees were at the centre of every aspect of traditional village life: as the gathering place, as a sacred sites for prayer, marriages and seasonal rites, as a source of food and medicine, and even the basis of language; in the ancient Ogham alphabet each symbol comes from a different tree.
A dear friend of mine said they feel awe and wonderment, in connecting with a tree. For me, I feel a burst of warmth in the heart.
How do you feel, when you stand and behold a tree?
To run your hand along its muscular trunk, or fondle its soft, green leaves?
It is said trees were the keepers of knowledge, and that it was amongst the sacred oak groves that the Druids first learned the truth of the world. In fact, the Irish words for oak and ‘druid’ have the same root, the word dour, meaning “door to the otherworld.”
Sometimes I enter a magical timelessness, when deeply connected to nature. A slowed-down, effortless way of being. Feels like the boundaries between me and tree disappear, then. There’s just a seeing and a breathing and a listening. Just one flow.
Here’s an extract from the poem Kakadu man, by Bill Neidje, a Kakadu elder:
I love it tree because e love me too.
E watching me same as you
Tree e working with your body, my body,
E working with us.
While you sleep e working.
Daylight, when you walking around e work too.
Folks and trees are deeply connected. Each breath is a gift from the trees, as Bill Neidje says, “Tree e working with your body, my body”.We literally exchange breath, receiving their excess oxygen and giving our excess carbon dioxide.
And on a relational level, as part of our family, we can feel and receive a lot of love from trees. If we’re open to that. As the poem says, “I love it tree because e love me too.” Have you ever felt seen and loved by certain trees?
There’s a River Tamarind near our place, cracks my heart open when I go there. It’s my refuge when I’m sad or stuck on something. Sitting with this tree, I feel loved and comforted. Sometimes a deep and moving insight has arisen, that’s really helped me.
Indigenous culture has a lot to teach us about our place and purpose in the world, listening deeply and living in harmony with the land and each other. Maybe like many of us, I want to see the voice of indigenous people well-represented and respected.
The indigenous mindfulness practice of dadirri comes from the Nauiyu Daly River area.
“Dadirri” means “deep listening” in the Ngan’gikurrunggurr languages from the Northern Territory. Practising dadirri you go into nature and listen deeply, to the land and to oneself, patiently and with “quiet, still awareness”.
Aunty Miriam Rose Ungunnmerr-Baumann wrote the Dadirri text, which she is clear is a gift to Australia. She says, of dadirri: “We call on the deep, and the deep calls on us, so we connect and feel that we belong still. And nature plays a part in your becoming a whole person.”
Many of us today have learned meditation or nature connection, from different schools, maybe through yoga or Buddhism or mindfulness classes or vision quest. But here is an unbroken lineage of deep listening, that has been passed down for generations and is intrinsically part of the way of life. We have a lot to learn from this.
More about dadirri:
Listening deeply is also something we can practise with ourselves, with our emotions.
If we listen to our emotions, and be patient with ourselves, gently asking what they want to tell us, what we need, we can honour our feelings, and live more in harmony with ourselves. We don’t have to fight with ourself or repress anything.
If we know how to listen deeply to our own emotions, we can be with another in this way too, and sit compassionately with their feelings, their truth.
Here’s a poem I wrote about listening to sadness:
Waking today with sadness,
I sat on the end of the bed,
And listened to the sadness.
Like a sack of stones around my heart,
“Dadirri,” they said, “Dadirri,” “Deep listening.”
So I listened deeply.
I listened, really listened,
A patient taking-in,
The gentle knowing and unspoken
Understanding of unhurried ears.
No need to fix or change, Just “Dadirri,”
Sadness mostly silent, I felt to gently ask
“Sadness, dear, what do you want?” and “To be felt,” said Sadness.
So this listener held the space,
While the body felt sad, so heavy.
In Dadirri, In listening and in letting be,
Two things emerged:
The feeling sadness, so heavy,
And around it, listening space,
Clear and kind and free. Not so heavy.
“Dadirri,” they said, “Dadirri.”
And so I felt called
To listen to the listener.
Patiently… Quietly… Listening to the listener.
And there my mind grew still
And my heart grew soft.
Listening to the listening space,
The more I research listening deeply, the more I find it part of many, many indigenous cultures. Listening in quiet still awareness is in us, in our bones, our DNA. Our ancestors, if not still now, were so deeply connected to the land. This way of being would be so familiar to them.
Maybe we get a taste of this when we go on holiday, you sit beside the ocean. We listen to the sound of the ocean. We feel our feet pressing into the soft sand, the cool water between our toes. We feel the heart rest. The sound of birds calling.
This way of being is in us, if we listen deeply.
Artwork by Miriam Rose Ungunnmerr-Baumann
¹ National Aborigine and Islanders’ Day Observance Committee