Nigel Patterson came along on The Journey into Aboriginal Wisdom, the post-conference offering that we organizsed as part of the Spirituality, Leadership and Management conference (SLaM) this year. The wisdom Nigel gained is transformational and I am deeply touched by his insights. In the following brief essay he tells us that true reconciliation between the white people and the black people of Australia emerges from coming home to our hearts and the land where we live.
“I call Australia home, finally.”
(Reflections on my trip to Alice Springs – 12 to 16 September, 2011, by Nigel Patterson)
Having travelled and spent time with many indigenous communities in Africa, USA, South America, Asia and Australia, the experiences all have one thing in common: they each provide for me a means to be able to “come home” to my heart.
Spending time with Frank Ansell of the Arrernte mob, an indigenous healer (nungkari), in central Australia was no different. Having spent four days with him and his business partner and co- facilitator Sue Gregory of Alice Springs, it was clear that they too provide the same healing space where one may come back home into ones heart.
However, the experience of working jointly with indigenous Frank and Anglo Sue was different. The best way I can describe it (for me, anyway) is that Sue, a typical Australian settler, is looking to find that place that we call home – in her heart. Simultaneously, Frank, an indigenous healer, is looking to heal the land that once was his home but was taken away from him by the white settlers, and in turn, heal himself. The two working together made a powerful team.
What was quite evident is that we as westerners consider ourselves separate from the land and thus find ourselves on a quest looking for a place where we can feel “at home”. This eventually leads us to doing our inner work as we discover that the peace we so seek lies within our hearts. It is here that we reconnect with our soul and thus “come home”.
By contrast, my understanding is that the Aboriginal people believe they are integrally connected with the land, the animal, insect, and plant and sky kingdoms. There is no distinction between these elements. For them, “coming home” is about reconnecting with the place that bore them and that supported them through life. Separate them from the place where they were born and you are taking them away from their home. White settlement has effectively ripped their hearts out and left them wandering feeling lost and disconnected from their homes. Sharing time with Frank Ansell, it became quite apparent that he longed to be reunited with his home, that place where he feels spiritualty reconnected with who he is – but most of it is now in the hands of white farmers. There was a deep sadness in his eyes along with a sense of hopelessness that white man will never be able to understand what it means to have his home taken away from him. Sure, he may have his house repossessed by the bank, but that is not the same. In effect, I got a sense that white man never really gets a sense of home until he finally “comes home”.
The beautiful interplay between Frank and Sue is testament to the potential of how the two different perspectives of “home” can support each other in finding that deep inner peace we all seek. In order for Sue to feel at home, she needs to fully connect to her heart, that spiritual centre of who she is. One way of doing this is through the land. She needs to “come home” to the land that supports and nurtures her. It is no longer in mother England; it is here in Australia, the place where she was born and lives. And in so doing she will need to grieve in order to heal the guilt all white Australians carry deep within regarding the Aboriginal “issue”. Frank is her guide to bringing her home.
And as Sue comes home to her land and thus to her heart, she recognises that there is no difference between the land and who she is at the deepest essence of her being – she herself becomes indigenous to the land. And this is where the healing between Frank and Sue occurs. As she embraces the land so too does she embrace all that the land supports, including Frank and all indigenous people who have been of this land for so very long.
This is where true reconciliation takes place; in Sue’s heart, and in so doing, the connection between the indigenous people and the white settlers.
We are all the same. Doing harm to one does harm to the other. Ripping the indigenous people from their land is the same as ripping the heart from our own bodies. We separate ourselves from our hearts. We feel empty and afraid, and carry guilt. To show feeling and own our emotions is too difficult. We look to blame others for our own heartlessness as it is too painful to confront our inner voids. We perpetuate the separateness until it becomes an entrenched belief etched deep within our souls. We wither and die within. Life becomes meaningless as we accelerate the modern-day treadmill seeking further distractions from the emptiness gnawing away within. Until one day it breaks. We feel we must now DO something if we are to survive. But what?
It is not difficult to book a ticket for a flight to Alice Springs. It is not even difficult to get time off from our busy schedules. However, what is difficult is acknowledging that we are each personally responsible for our own journey of “coming home”.
Arriving in Alice Springs is like stepping into another world, one where two cultures collide. A feeling of hopelessness pervades the place, a sense that everyone is looking to make sense of what it means to simply be alive. Many eyes stare blankly into the depths of empty grog bottles. Broken dreams look back at them. Grog’s insidious power has taken hold of almost everyone. But no one has the courage to say ‘enough’!
It is those few like Frank and Sue who recognise this despair and who offer hope in a sea of lost souls. It is people like them who provide a path which we may walk upon as we lift our eyes from the fog with the hope of finding home. They each represent different journey’s depending upon one’s own cultural history. But together and jointly they lead us to the same place. And it is through this recognition that their respective destinies are inextricably linked, that we too feel this deep truth which leads us to a deep inner peace as we finally come home, not as two separate nations, but now as one.
As white man heals so too does black man, and as black man heals so too does white man. The land is what connects us all and brings us home to our hearts. Our spirits are thus united. And we can all call Australia home, finally.
(This document has been printed with the kind permission of both Frank Ansell and Sue Gregory. Please feel free to pass it on to whomever you feel may benefit from this story.)