A week-long immersion, walking on country with Aboriginal elders and the Nauiyu people, prompts Pat O’Gorman to reflect on the importance of listening, silence and stillness.
By Pat O’Gorman
“Just listen”. These are the two words that repeat over and over in my head as I arrive in the community of Nauiyu (Daly River), three hours drive south of Darwin. I am here as part of a cultural connection immersion retreat facilitated by The Miriam Rose Foundation and I can’t wait to meet the inspirational Aboriginal elder and activist Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, and to be immersed in the concept of ‘Dadirri’.
Dadirri is a Nauiyu word that means ‘quiet still awareness’ and ‘deep inner listening’. Based on respect, it is a contemplative practice that connects the Nauiyu people to the spirit within themselves and within the land – a practice I have read a lot about over the years. As Dadirri spreads over the whole of life, it renews and heals, bringing wholeness and peace. Dadirri calls us to slow down and connect to being present.
“Look into yourself and around you”, Miriam Rose urges. “Here where you are, you will find yourself. Just be open. Listen!”
Being a Good Samaritan Oblate the injunction ‘to listen with the ear of your heart’ (RB, Prologue) is a daily invitation and so I am ready to embrace whatever unfolds over these next days.
The Malak Malak people are the traditional owners of the land around Daly River and the welcoming of our group is generous and engaging as we are invited into the living story of this remarkable community.
We travel to the causeway, a safe spot along the magnificent, but crocodile-infested, river. There, our hosts inform us that Westerners have a “spirit baby” that needs awakening and they invite us into the water to perform a moving ceremony of blessing; pouring water over our heads and our navels. We learn of their belief that as babies we are joined to our mothers at the navel and in this great ritual of “washing over” we become joined to the river and are part of community and will have safe passage through country. We stand there in awe and reverence, marvelling at what is beginning to unfold. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. It invites us to tap into the sounds of the deepest parts of our being and our yearning, the place where we meet God. We call on it and it calls to us.
I listen. I feel. I see. I breathe. I wait.
We sit in community watching and yarning with Miriam Rose and the other amazing elders – Agnes, Bridget, Monica, Louise and Rose. We listen to their stories of the days of “Mission” and the “Nuns”. We laugh. We cry. We are taken deeper into community as we sit together around the campfire plucking feathers from freshly hunted magpie geese, watching the wallabies carefully butchered, baking damper, weaving, painting and more yarning. Never far are the deep scars of stolen generations, massacre, dispossessed people, government interventions, unconscious shame, lost culture and identity, and yet the focus is on healing and reconciliation.
“Reconciliation in action is what we are doing. We’re in it together”, Miriam Rose assures us.
The yarning circle at Nauiyu, this profound experience of authentic and deep conversation, reminds us that relationships are at the heart of human connection. The desire to sit on country with someone is reconciliation.
Healing is a major concept underpinning conversation in this community. In recent years, the people of Nauiyu have witnessed a decline in the general wellbeing of their youth, with suicide and substance abuse on the increase and young people not succeeding in their education. The Miriam Rose Foundation was established in 2013 in response to a large number of youth suicides in the community. The acknowledgement of recent and past trauma and a commitment to be custodians of the future, strong in identity, motivates this community development foundation. It aims to make a difference for young people through providing education, culture, arts and horizon-expanding opportunities.
Part of Dadirri is about opening the spirit and allowing the earth to heal and repair the sorrowing moments of life. Listening to and sharing experiences with some of the younger adults – Olivia, Katrina, Dylan and Troy – along with the many excited children running around, speaks to us of courage and hope, healing and possibility.
I listen. I feel. I see. I breathe. I wait.
I inhabit the silence and receive much more than words could ever articulate. I feel a vulnerability and an outrage crack open inside of me.
“White man got no dreaming”. This is what Australian anthropologist William Stanner calls his 1979 collection of essays, where he views the “Aboriginal problem” from an unusual viewpoint—that of the Aborigines themselves, for whom the “Aboriginal problem” is the “white Australian”. I feel my own white privilege and advantage. I am challenged and humbled by the gaps in my cultural competency. I reflect on what is happening in our society, with people clamouring to climb Uluru before it is no longer permitted; the complexities of Australia Day; the growing disadvantage and impact of economic, social and cultural disparities; the struggle for the First Peoples of Australia to get proper constitutional recognition and an authentic voice to Parliament.
“Don’t worry,” Miriam Rose says. “We know that in time and in the spirit of Dadirri, the way will be made clear. There is no need to reflect too much and to do a lot of thinking. It is just being aware. We don’t like to hurry. There is nothing more important than what we are attending to. There is nothing more urgent that we must hurry away for.”
Dadirri is about awakening. It can awaken in all of us if we commit to learning and listening, to opening minds and hearts, to respecting and understanding each other better. Stillness brings peace, understanding and awareness.
As you become more aware you begin to grow into who you are and then your responsibility becomes about sharing your wisdom.
I realise that Dadirri is more than a word, or a concept, it is a way of being. It goes with you, impelling you to leave nothing unchanged in the making of a more inclusive, more just, more hospitable world for all.
The experience of Dadirri enlivens and challenges me in the living out of my own Benedictine spirituality. Deep listening and quiet awareness reminds me of the need to maintain balance, to live a rhythm of prayer and work, to stay rooted in the reality of the situations and the people of the now, and to continue to seek God in the ordinary circumstances of each day. I promise myself to walk more softly, more gently, and more slowly.
I recall Miriam Rose’s words, “We wait on God, too. God’s time is the right time. We wait for God to make God’s Word clear to us.”
Silence is necessary to hear the lessons of two subtle words… just listen.