How White Fella Dreaming awakened to Belonging

Have you ever hit one of those points where you knew the next move you made was vitally important to the rest of your life and you weren’t quite sure which direction to take? This year the White Fella Dreaming project took me way outside of my comfort zone and forced me to rethink the reason behind it: how ‘new’ or non-indigenous Australians feel more at home on the land, so that we treat it better, and achieve a more satisfying and respectful reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the process.

Two Humpbacks underewater

The story begins on the remote desert-fringed beaches of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, where I spent most of June and July this year. I was a long, long way from electricity, let alone mobile phone or internet networks. I snorkeled, fished, cooked over a fire with my lovely little family, and dreamed of what the sands and salt water would say to me if I could be awake enough to listen to them. I meditated in the sand dunes and heard the rustling of the ocean breeze in the desert grasses. I watched bands of olive-coloured budgies flock overhead, chirping a sussuration across the sky as they headed one day south, a few days later back north, on some mini-migration that remained a mystery to me. As I so often do, I wondered what knowledge the original inhabitants of this land would have had to share, if they still lived here on the land. I saw the occasional ’roo at sunset or dawn and eagles seeking roadkill along the endless highways; but there are not many animals out here, where the land is so sparse and the rain so rare.

budgies

In the water, it is different. I snorkeled alongside a manta ray while it fed in spiraling circles, before tipping upside down and swimming away with its under flank exposed, looking down at the sand and reef below. I flipped around with turtles, avoided a sea snake, kept my distance from the bronze whaler sharks, and marveled at the wild variety of other creatures that shared this ocean paradise: colourful fish, of course, but also sting rays, squid (which look almost celestially radiant underwater), cuttlefish, octopus, giant gropers and cod, flashy mackerel and tuna, harmless and beautiful reef sharks … the list goes on. But one amazing experience will stay with me for life. Around 2km out to sea, while free-diving from a boat, two humpback whales approached me, banked around to keep me in full view, and allowed me to swim by them for a couple of minutes. Those brief moments were some of the most special times that I have enjoyed in the company of other animals. I could hardly believe such magnificent creatures would come to me out there in the middle of the ocean. I wished that time would slow down to a stop, at least just for a while … but of course nature keeps moving, and they soon continued their migration towards the Kimberley, where they would calve some 1000km to the north of here.

manta ray

And it was up in the Kimberley – or at least that most exotic of Australian towns, Broome, which serves as the western gateway to this incredible landscape – that my calling became refined by fire. For here, in consecutive meeting with researchers into indigenous knowledge, I came to realize that I needed another way to teach alongside White Fella Dreaming; a way that did not put anyone off side, as I was told that my usage of the term “Dreaming” would, in terms of Aboriginal feelings about traditional and surviving culture. The Dreaming, for me, is a kind of mythology – or powerful story that links the physical world with a sense of the sacred – that listens to the song of the land and identifies people with the rest of nature, so they we are compelled to protect it as well as enter into conversation with it.

But this didn’t cut it on “country” (the “enlivened spiritual cosmos” of the land, as Deborah Bird Rose puts it). It didn’t matter how well I could defend my understanding or aims; the whole idea of White Fella Dreaming was just too close to cultural appropriation. I acquiesced to this and suggested I talk about “comparative mythologies” – which is technically my area, combined with the ecological humanities – but no go. The Kimberley Aboriginal peoples didn’t want their culture talked about in terms of myth, because this could also lead to misunderstandings. Once again, nothing I could do to help ease such confusions was going to be enough to get over that barrier.

So, I had to quit on the idea of working with this research centre and their people and move on. This didn’t mean the end of White Fella Dreaming, because I had seen this controversy coming, in one form or another, and knew I would have to weather such storms. And I had another set of allies who had also helped me to overcome this kind of challenge from a different angle – beautiful friends who had been advising me to find a ‘universal’ value, something in the human heart and soul that any and all could appreciate. While sensed they were right, the problem was that I still hadn’t found that theme. But now I was frustrated and that kind of energy, like anger, can be very productive when it is chanelled right. I was also lucky enough to be in Broome with another of these friends, my colleague Paul Pulé, who was interested in researching with the same group in his own field of ‘ecomasculinities‘. Together we workshopped my dilemma, using some of the phrases I had been advised to throw around: What is it that I do, everyday, that is behind all my efforts in the world? What is my highest, or deepest, calling? Put another way, what vision do I wish to serve, which will lead to ‘generative’ outcomes no matter what? And what word or phrase best describes this value in a way that does not lead towards possible misunderstandings or political disputes, conflicts or arguments (all that stuff we desperately need to resolve!). Finally, Paul helped me to name it. Regardless of who I am talking to or what the topic is – whether it is an intellectual conversation or an emotional support session, about spirit or football, at work or in the park, there is always one thing I wish to leave people with if I can – and that is a feeling of belonging.

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When people feel they truly belong, they are comfortable in their skin. They are at ease with their community. They feel loyal to the earth. They are more likely to do good work, to try and resolve conflict rather than inflame it, to protect what is worthy – including fresh air, clean water, healthy soil and other animals as well as all people (especially the defenseless or oppressed) and other manifestations of life (beautiful buildings, art, the scientific mind as well as the spiritual life, creativity as well as critical thinking – the list could go on forever, to include anything you stand for and love and wish to protect). In belonging I find what is most meaningful to me and to my work – something that underscores and takes priority over the intellectual labour of university life, something coded into the DNA of great stories and humble truths, a feeling that can emerge out of any compassionate interaction between myself and others. When I feel I belong and I share that feeling, all levels of possible conflict can be dissolved. The sense that we don’t totally belong in our bodies? Melted into a tangible sense of at-one-ness. Our experiences of conflict with others in our community, close or far afield? These can lead to a more robust order, a higher level of communications, better ways that allow for opposing perspectives. Our alienation from the rest of nature? Even this dissipates in the face of belonging, like a bad dream that fades as we awaken to a new life, transformed back into what we once and always were – at home, here in our bodies, with each other, born to this incredible fortune on our beautiful jewel of a planet.

For those keen to work with these ideas in a supportive environment, Geoff’s inaugural workshop on Belonging will be held on Saturday 10th October at CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick East. For more information and booking details please go to belonging.org.a

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Spirituality, Leadership and Management – hop on board!

How do we bring a sense of the spiritual – the integration of the worlds beyond this one into our everyday lives, the linking between physical reality and our higher, deeper, greater selves – into professional practice, business, negotiations, life?

 

The Yarra River

When conventional religions have let us down and so much of politics is bunk, a new era of leadership requires our creativity. Inspired by the world of ideas, the possibilities inherent in the human mind and body and heart and soul and spirit, and our innate sense of what’s right, combined with the traditional wisdom that continues to speak to us from the earth and the stars and the people who have kept listening, we can forge new meaning with depth and reliability.

Being part of this movement means walking the talk, accepting the challenges of a world that all too often defers to an orgy of meaningless consumption, and speaking out – both against this corporate desolation, and for the incredible, marvelous array of ground-breaking (and ground-nurturing!) actions taking pace across the planet right now. We are part of the critical mass, which is crystallising around an emergent understanding of the potential of the human race to evolve into a better species; one that takes care of its home, even after it has developed high technologies (which bring so much danger with so much promise!).

 

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I’m proud to be part of the team that is bringing this work to Australia, in the form of the SLaM (Spiritual Leadership and Management) conference to be held in Sydney, August 21-23. “Mind in the Matter; What is Mindfulness in Business and Professional Life” promises to hold all participants in a space that is generative and supportive; and that takes us all through the stages of deep inquiry and carries the gifts of such work back into the field of everyday life. It is with love and gratitude – and professionalism and expertise – that i will facilitate the “Programmed Strand” of workshops, alongside a gifted team of committed practitioners. To ensure the most profound spirit of transformation possible, it will take place as a 2 and 1/2 day retreat at Wiseman’s Ferry, where we will immerse ourselves in the work and find truer, clearer connection to ourselves, our community, and our planet in this time of need.

See the website here for more information; and below is a copy of the Newsletter outlining the theme and flavour of the conference. It is beautifully written by Susie Goff, current President of SLaM. It would be wonderful to see you there. Please feel free to explore this exciting field of endeavour.

And please share this opportunity with anyone, or any organisation, you think might be able to make it to the conference, or who might be able to let more people know about it.

Keeping it real, Geoff Berry (White Fella Dreaming).

SLaM-Newsletter-May-2015

The New Year in Symbolic Context

Omigawa-fireworks

 

In ancient Mesopotamia, the new year was celebrated in style. It took a few days to complete the rites and a main feature was the Sacred Marriage, wherein the gods and goddesses were joined together in a way that ensured the ongoing fertility of the earth. Naturally, the earth meant the land most important to the people, who lived in city-states with now-exotic and evocative names such as Ur. Now while the tutelary deity (or city god) of Ur was Nanna, the moon-god, bull of the sky, provider of plenty, guard against perfidy, naturally the local king would stand in his place and be married to the goddess, most likely Innana. Typical men, huh? Never losing an opportunity to aggrandize the self. Anyway, the point was that the party was taken seriously, there was something sacred occurring, and even if it was used as a way to cement patriarchal and military authority, it was also a way of ensuring that people’s lives stayed linked to the stories that explained to them the deepest meanings of life, the human place in the universe, and our ties to the mysteries out of which we arise and to which we return upon death.

 

WLA_ima_Sharp_Francisco_Martinez_Future_Chief_of_the_Taos_Pueblo

 

Navajo ritual often ends with the phrase “Beauty is returned.” This is a lovely comment upon the successful ritual, which should leave us feeling refreshed in vision, mind and body. It’s the same result we want out of the telling of myth, which can re-place us in the heart of the world, a unique and lucky incarnation as a conscious, self-aware being in an incredible cosmos, capable of learning and teaching our fellow creatures, finding solace in our souls so that we can be at one, or at least comfortable in our skins, enough to be spiritually generous, or at least emotionally stable enough to not be a drain on others. This is what successful myth and ritual offers us, every day, but especially at signal moments in the annual calendar.

 

Dark_night

 

Having recently passed the solstice/Christmas season, we now stand at the horizon of another opportunity for a new start. Once we have settled in to sense the promise of the return of the light, through the dark night of the soul, which we pass through collectively each year and which we experience individually every now and then as passing phases of melancholy, or in catastrophic bursts of mental unease or collapse, or in evenings of emotional turmoil followed by sleepless nights, or in horror at the callous turn of events that sees innocent children suffering horribly or men dying pointlessly, or women harrowed by another gut wrenching chain of events over which they have no influence … the dark soul of the night, whatever version we know, that ends finally, either in a fresh dawning of hope in our hearts or in the birth of a new generation, has been and gone and now we can reset the clock. This chronological metaphor is not unwitting – we set the year by some kind of calculation, even if we don’t see the universe as a clockwork mechanism anymore – and this avails us of the opportunity to consider the end of one cycle and beginning of a new one.

 

Heroesjourney

 

This isn’t always a very comfortable reflection. I’ve been revisiting my hyper-sensitive early teenage years of late, as I recognize a new era in my personal standing ticking over through another cycle of social anxiety and emerging self-assuredness. But we have to just sit with this kind of material and keep on working on ourselves, day-by-day, allowing ourselves into the pit to the extent that we need to be dipped in it if we are to emerge truly refreshed, yet not letting ourselves be fully lost to the night, which will swallow us up and leave us crushed if we are not careful to maintain our sense of self as we go. It’s a matter of balance. Being real to the transformative potential of evernew, reliable myth and ritual, while maintaining a stable sense of self without which we cannot function helpfully on behalf of ourselves of others. I’m going to stay true to my life metaphor, my totemic animal power, my symbolic analogy from within, the Butterfly, this new year, and make sure I am true enough to my time in the cocoon of darkness to emerge completely refreshed, with new and colourful wings, on the other side. Happy New Year from White Fella Dreaming.

 

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Image: 1. By アリオト (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. American painter Joseph Henry Sharp documented Indian tribal life and ritual. This is an idealized portrait of a seventeen-year-old Indian boy who later became Chief of the Taos Pueblo. The boy is shown drying a bird’s brain to create a talisman that will guarantee his future success. 3. Image title: Dark nightImage from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/dusk-dawn-public-domain-images-pictures/dark-night.jpg.html 4. “Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Milkweed Cropped 2800px” by Derek Ramsey – Derek Ramsey. Via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg