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“Take me to the places on the earth that teach you how to dance, the places where you can risk letting the world break your heart. And I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again.”
Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book The Dance 

‘Dadirri’: Deep Listening

I recently learned a new word. It’s a lovely word actually. Both in form and meaning. “Dadirri”, a term described by Aboriginal Elder, writer, artist, and educator, Aunty Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, from Nauiyu country, the Daly River in the Northern Territory. Her language is the Ngan’gikurunggurr language. She says “I believe it is the most important gift. It is our most unique gift. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our fellow Australians. In our language this quality is called Dadirri. It is inner, deep listening, and quiet still awareness.” She goes on to say “it’s in everyone. It’s not just an Aboriginal thing.”

It is from Aunty Miriam’s words I have taken the title of this series of posts. She not only explains, but exemplifies the spiritual practice necessary for living in and reconciling two worlds.

There are so many points raised in the above video. So many lessons. So many things that it should be necessary for all Australians to contemplate and meditate upon. Not least of which the grace with which so many Aboriginal people have experienced and moved through the (often violent) “clash of cultures”.

To begin with is the concept of Dadirri itself, a spiritual practice of renewal, contemplation, of “letting go” and becoming aware in a timeless space. Of self, and surrounds. As Aunty Miriam says, to do so, it means going bush. Back to the quiet of nature.

How familiar this is! And I am sure many readers, even those unfamiliar with the word understand the process. As a teacher, it is the first lesson; go into nature, listen, let it speak. I have learned from my teachers to call this “sinking in to the Great Dark”. The meditative practice of settling quietly into the great void of the Great Grandmother’s Green Gown. That place from which everything emerges and returns. What strikes me in Aunty Miriam’s teaching is that she acknowledges that Dadirri is not only within us, but within nature. Perhaps, we can understand this in terms of the Lore “As above, so below”. But the emphasis is clearly on our quietude; silence is necessary to hear the lessons of the subtle and veiled powers. In this way, rather than a solely internal processes, we have a practice that focuses externally, which informs and forms anew the internal self. Rather than an internal process imposed upon the “world outside”. What she says is “a prayer in a sense that you just feel a presence, of the Great Creator”.

That Which is Given is Truly Taken

In my practice as I was taught, and teach, in one of our rites of offering, we say “that which is given is truly taken. That which is taken is truly given.” It is a phrase of deeply layered meaning, and speaks to the complex of interdependence and the constant exchange, the vast and dynamic nature of Wyrd, the Mystery in its unknown wholeness. I was reminded of it listening to Aunty Miriam, “It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our fellow Australians.”

There is so much Lore, so many Dreaming Stories that many Elders have truly given. Made available online, speak of in their communities, written in books, shared in their art and rituals. It is often advised by those of us who do teach to not appropriate Indigenous Lore into our practice. We emphasis a need for deep understanding, rather than superficial attraction. As I listened to the video it occurred to me that there are things that perhaps now must be truly taken. Not simply with ‘respect for what other people do’ and then left quite alone, but instead with the deep respect of students receiving wisdom from our Indigenous Elders; with great thanks, allowing it to alter and change us.

I found the word itself very beautiful. Within it seems to be a very complex idea, so elegantly expressed and so simple a term. As I meditated on it, I felt that within it, this deep spring, deep listening, there was not only enough room for, but reconciliation of more clumsily expressed concepts in my own practice. Words have their own power. This is not a word from far flung places I simply find pretty, this is a word from people who belong to the Land, and know its ancient stories, my home. With an expressed teaching for all Australians. One that I can perhaps take back with me as I enter into communion with the Land, and strengthen that connection. An idea, a concept, and a practice. Truly given.

Truly taken.

And, as I allow Dadirri to unfold within my own practice, and use it openly, in return the respect and acknowledgement due to a culture and our Elder from which such an elegant expression comes, is truly given.

Living in Both Worlds

'Dadirri' by Miriam Rose Ungenmerr-Baumann

‘The Tree of Life’ by Miriam Rose Ungenmerr-Baumann

Aunty Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann is a Christian. Her painting, left, hangs in St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Cathedral in Darwin. The Darwin Diocese website details Aunty Miriam’s explanation of the work:

She was asked to paint a picture to go with her talk called ‘Dadirri’, meaning silence or stillness. It was the time when the saltwater crocodiles lay their eggs in the mounds they have prepared along the river banks or in the swamps amongst the cane grass. The painting is in three parts. The upper part depicts nature, which is our calendar. It tells us when to hunt for fruits, yams, animals, reptiles, fish or birds. By looking at certain flowers that are blossoming, or which way the wind is blowing, we know what to look for and gather.

The bottom of the painting is ourselves. The circles and lines mean that we have been washed with Jesus’ blood coming from the paperbark chalice. The yam under the cross is Jesus’ body. The cross means that Jesus died for our sins and rose to life again. At the top of the cross there are flames coming from fire sticks. Jesus is the light of the world.

The tree in the middle represents the Aboriginal people. Pope John Paul II said to them: “You are like a tree standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned, but inside the tree the sap is still flowing and under the ground the roots are still strong.” When the wet season sets in and the rain comes, the tree grows and blossoms. The storm winds come too.  The white lines on each side of the tree are the water and wind representing the Holy Spirit.

Many of the sources and websites that speak and teach Dadirri are Catholic. It is perhaps surprising to some to discover that actual syncretic religious practices, and dual faith are thriving in Australia. Obviously, in terms of appropriation, it is impossible to “appropriate” anything of the dominant and proselytising religion. That is its point. But there is perhaps a lesson in Aunty Miriam’s visual interpretation of Catholic theology through the lens of her unique Aboriginal culture, a perspective informed entirely by her Land. In the first place, that Land, any Land, is flexible like that. In Dadirri – A Reflection the complete transcript of Aunty Miriam’s speech, (which you can read here Dadirri – Inner Deep Listening – M R Ungunmerr-Bauman) she writes:

We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his Word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.
We are River people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.
We hope that the people of Australia will wait. Not so much waiting for us – to catch up – but waiting with us, as we find our pace in this world.

It is perhaps lamentable, no, not perhaps, it is, that all the effort to reconcile the two worlds that exist in Australia should come so often from the one side. In exploring the wisdom of Dadirri, and the beautiful example of Aunty Miriam, perhaps we can see a way in which those of us on the wrong side of White Australia problem can begin to move to meet them in the middle. And in the process, strengthen, deepen, and beautify our own spiritual practices.

Further Reading

You can read more about Dadirri and Aunty Miriam at:

Creative Spirits, with further links, articles and suggested practices; and
The Northern Territory Government Department of Arts and Museums biographical entry.

Miriam-Rose Therese Ungunmerr-Baumann © Northern Territory Library

Miriam-Rose Therese Ungunmerr-Baumann © Northern Territory Library

There is a deep spring inside of us,
a vast silence like the desert.

Here, in this space.
Time and timelessness,
peace in silent awareness.
I listen and wait,
all that matters is Now.
We watch the seasons come and go,
watch the moon wax and wane,
wait for the fruit to ripen,
watch our children grow,
sit with our grief.
Silence is our gift,
we welcome it,
call upon it,
and it calls us.
Listen, watch, wait,
this will determine what we are to do.
Quiet, gentle, strong, patient.
No need to hurry, nothing is more important than Now.
Being still brings peace and understanding.
a stronger peace than mindfulness.
A deep peace,
grounded, over aeons.
Dadirri is the sap and strong roots of the tree,
it is the flow of the river,
the sunrise and the sunset.
Deep respect for all things,
and their ways
of being, knowing, and doing.
~ poem by blogger, Tree Girl, of Dharug Country, NSW @ Under The Tea Tree

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land and her Ancient Lore and Stories, their ancestors, past and present, of Hobart, the Mouheneener tribe; the Land on which I was born, beside the River they call Tucoerah, the Cabrogal Clan of the Dharug Nation and peoples of the Dhurawal and Dharuk Nations; and Aunty Miriam’s Country, Nauiyu.

This post is the second in a series titled Two Worlds.
Click here to read the first: Two Worlds: Utopia
Click here to read the third: Two Worlds: kunanyi / Mt Wellington
Click here to read the fourth: Two Worlds: Look Out & “The Sight to See”
Click here to read the fifth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 1
Click here to read the sixth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 2

P.S. ‘J’ is for ‘Just Listen’. This post participates with The Pagan Blog Project 2014.