Authenticity and Imperfection – the final

That period of reflection was much longer than I anticipated! I have been involved in other writing activities which I will explain in future posts but for now to return to the central point of authenticity and imperfection.

journey

“We are all visitors to this time, this place”. It is a journey we are on, a journey of life and the footsteps we leave are never straight, never definite. Our First Nation peoples knew that truth and lived it completely. Life to them was cyclical, it kept returning like the seasons and the sky which measured the “time” of their life. Time to our First Nation people was not a lineal concept and they saw no need to accumulate or develop, concepts that Western Society with its dependence on “growth” have at their core. When the first Europeans arrived here to stay in 1788 they saw no evidence of accumulation and certainly no clearly defined divisions of ownership or possession. There was no apparent external control of the society like the English used with their armed soldiers in their resplendent red coats and guns and their chained and shackled prisoners who were expected to perform all the work required to set up the camp and were flogged or hung if they did not. It must have been both confusing and amusing to the local Eora people who watched this spectacle unfold. Only when these white-skinned intruders started taking more than their share of the food and the women, did the warriors of the tribes respond. That response only failed because of the devastation of manpower caused by the introduced diseases the First Nation people had no immunity for. It was death as well as dislocation that the English brought with them.

The external measures of control that European society demands of its citizens through its laws enforced by power invested in people by rank were present in the First Nation people in their very soul. They knew people and their place by who they were, not what they were. It was “control” based on a deeply spiritual understanding of life and land that was finally given a word in English after a century of contact which pathetically understates the true depth of First Nation life. That word was coined by the anthropologist Baldwin Spencer in the mid 1890s and is still today not understood by most people. It is the word “Dreamtime”.

“Dreamtime” and the often used alternative “dreaming” are an attempt in English to describe something that the anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner in 1956 described as “a complex of meanings”. In the same essay he went on to say,

“One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen … The Dreaming has an unchallengeable sacred authority”.

In an article that appeared in The Conversation, January 23, 2014, Christine Nicholls, Senior Lecturer at Flinders University who has worked with Warlpiri people at the Lajamanu School in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, first as a linguist and then as school principal, and who speaks fluent Warlpiri, had this to say about the words in the 250 separate First Nation languages with their 600 to 800 dialects that existed when those first Englishmen were setting up their camp.

“There is no universal, pan-Aboriginal word to represent the constellation of beliefs comprising Aboriginal religion across mainland Australia and parts of the Torres Strait. Unfortunately, since colonisation, this multiplicity of semantically rich, metaphysical word-concepts framing the epistemological, cosmological and ontological frameworks unique to Australian Aboriginal people’s systems of religious belief have been uniformly debased and dumbed-down – by being universally rendered as ‘Dreaming’ in English – or, worse still, ‘Dreamtime’.”

To the Warlpiri, it is “Jukurrpa”, an “an all-embracing concept … grounded in the land itself, it incorporates creation and other land-based narratives, social processes including kinship regulations, morality and ethics. This complex concept informs people’s economic, cognitive, affective and spiritual lives.”

It is the spirit of the land, expressed in the song cycles of each nation in each country that determines the “law” for First nation people. That spirit enters the person at conception. The Warlpiri have a term “yiwiringgi” which is a person’s Conception Dreaming, defined in the Warlpiri dictionary as an individual’s:

“life-force or spirit which is localised in some natural formation and which may determine the spiritual nature of a person from conception and the relation of that person to the life-force.”

The Warlpiri Jukurrpa is in other nations, in other language groups described in different words, but that belief of the spirit life-force that comes from the land and sustains a person for life is shared by all nations. That is what makes an “authentic” life to First Nation people. The concept of “control” is the on-going relationship between the person and that life-force. It is a complete reversal of the Western, European, English concept of “control” by law, an external set of codified rules.

If we really want to present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, as Brene Brown requests, we need the self-acceptance that comes from our sense of belonging. I referred to this in my first post on this issue and said it was in response to Suzanne’s quest to find “fulfilling ways to age”. https://beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/

We must age on our journey through life, it is the “fulfilling” part of that we search for. I believe that fulfillment comes from accepting the place you are in, the place that is your spiritual life-force. To the First Nation person, that is the land of birth. But each of us can find our own “land of birth”, if we live the “life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually” that is “walking the red road”. Walk forward with confidence, walk forward with knowledge that all is as it is now because that is how we find our “land of belonging”.

cropped-3-solar-plexus-uluru-kata-tjuta-northern-territory-australia.jpg

Authenticity and Imperfection – continued

In my last piece I finished with these two images and the statement “authority and control are the shadow side of authenticity and imperfection”. I have spent most of my life attempting to reconcile authenticity with authority by “doing the right thing”. At school I would abide not only by the rules but by the expectations of the teachers, other students, and the society in which I lived if I was to be regarded as a friend or useful contributor to that society. This is how we all live successfully, by mostly conforming to the authority of what is accepted practice in our school, workplace, social environment and life we choose. Those outside of “accepted practice” are regarded as rebels or at worst criminals and perhaps even insane. It is all measured on what we do, who we do it with and how we respond to those we are with. Our actions are observed, our results are quantified and we are assessed accordingly on the scale of “rightness”. But is that really an “authentic” life?

A life lived in obedience to an external set of requirements is not an authentic life, I believe. It is a life half-lived, a life lived in “image” not reality. What is real is inside you, inside your heart, your mind, your soul, your essential humanness, your source. There is only one person who really knows you and that is yourself. What you do and say with anyone else is an “image” you want to project at that time in that situation. You relate to people in honesty but that relationship is always coloured by the knowledge of what has occurred in the past, the sensation you each have in the present and the goal you wish for in the future. Relationship is a constant transmission of energy in a cyclical fashion.

But what about the Law; what about morals, beliefs, standards, guidelines, even rules that ensure the society we live in does not degenerate into chaos and madness? In Australia, those laws are based on the British tradition which arrived on this continent 231 years ago. It completely replaced a system of Law that had been in place in this Southern Continent for at least 60,000 years and possibly much longer. The British could not “see” this Law because it was held in the landscape and the stories that the people who lived here told as they journeyed on that landscape. Mother Earth was their source, the basis of their life and their law, which was to them, the same thing. The British tradition was based on codes, precedents, written words that people could express and define and show others where they were wrong, regardless of how they “thought” they should live.

This written system of Law has built up over time from the Roman law that was established throughout the Empire in Europe then substantially enforced in an adapted form by the Roman Church which was in turn the basis of law in the developing European system of Empire building that led to British settlement of this Southern Continent. Between the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church and the growing commercial business empires of capitalist Europe, we now have the country we call “Australia” ruled by Governments adapted from a British system known as “Westminster” with its codified Rule of Law and with a people living in a society where people’s worth is defined in terms of educational achievement, social success and a work ethic that rewards competition and acquisition. We define people by where they are, what they say and what they do. Even our beliefs are codified, with “good Christians” defined as those who “do good things” or who attend religious services in their chosen church. Where is our source, where is our “heart”? What is an “authentic” life? The answer, I believe, lies in understanding that word “imperfection” and knowing what “control” really means.

I will continue, but first some images to stimulate reflection.

Authenticity and Imperfection – An Introduction

In my first post last year I wrote how I planned on this blog to share the stories of my life on the “red road” of life. That concept was from my reading of David A Patterson Silver Wolf, the first American Indian professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, who wrote on his blog in 2011 that:

“Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.”

This year I returned to my blog and declared I would “present my authentic, imperfect self”. I was encouraged by my reading of Brene Brown who in her book “Braving the Wilderness” wrote,

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”.

Fellow blogger Suzanne on her site “Being In Nature” has written a series of posts on her quest to find “fulfilling ways to age”. Each of them can be read here:

  1. https://beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/the-quest-begins/
  2. https://beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/defining-the-quest/
  3. https://beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/into-the-mystic/
  4. https://beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/aging-as-a-spiritual-journey-part-2/

A friend on Facebook who runs a business called “A Better You Naturally” posted this on her page:

imperfection

“I love how Brene Brown talks about Perfectionism, and how it differs from ‘healthy striving’. Perfectionism comes from feeling the need to hide who we really are….to look perfect…..to act perfect….to live perfect……it’s a way of avoiding blame, pain and judgement. But sadly, it also stops us from truly connecting, and from feeling love and joy. Being Imperfect is being honest, authentic, and understanding that we’re all in this together, and when we embrace it, we’re never alone. I love the idea of “healthy striving” which comes from within, and asks…’how can I improve, for me?’……..not ‘What will others think of me and how can I please them?’ I have promised myself this year to strive for IMPERFECTION! So…..shall we be perfectly imperfect together?” https://www.facebook.com/ABetterYouNaturallyLeanne/?tn-str=k%2AF

I say Yes, together we will all be perfectly imperfect because those words are not a contradiction, they are the same as the words “authentic, imperfect” self I wrote and lead to the word “belonging” Brene Brown mentions. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene concludes that the “gifts of imperfection are courage, compassion and connection”. She goes on to say her book was written not so much as “self-help” but more of an invitation to:

“join a Wholehearted revolution, a small, quiet, grassroots movement that starts with each of us saying, ‘my story matters because I matter’. A movement where we can take to the streets with our messy, imperfect, wild, stretch-marked, wonderful, heartbreaking, grace-filled, joyful lives. A movement fueled by the freedom that comes when we stop pretending that everything is okay when it isn’t. A call that rises up from our bellies when we find the courage to celebrate those intensely joyful moments even though we’ve convinced ourselves that savouring happiness is inviting disaster.”

I’m there! My story matters because I matter and sharing that story brings connection in a way that enhances growth and freedom, not authority and control. Those two, authority and control, are the shadow side of authenticity and imperfection. I will develop that idea further in my next post.

 

The Writing Journey

Just over three months since I last posted on my blog and there is no single simple reason for that. When I started to reflect on why I have been quiet, the usual excuses come to mind – I was busy doing other things, I was too lazy, I was unsure if I had anything to say, I didn’t really want to! But then I started reflecting on the reason for writing on the blog and realised it’s not about frequency or building up achievements in posts, it’s about just being myself and expressing my thoughts when I need to say it.

It’s a combination of things that have encouraged me to come back to this site and do this piece, a combination that isn’t completely clear to me yet. I gained a lot of confidence from reactions to an event a writers group I am involved with started where I was in the role of chairing the event. It was an open mic night where writers were asked to read from their work and discuss it with an audience who turned up on the night. A very casual affair, small groups of people attended, but somehow it all worked and people who were quite anxious about speaking in front of an audience began to relax and shared personal stories of courage and hope. Reactions were positive and the event continues to grow in stature and size.

Then I started to read some books I had previously read by Brene Brown on vulnerability and belonging. I came across this statement in her book “Braving The Wilderness”:

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”.

I decided I should once again brave the blogging wilderness and present my authentic, imperfect self. In that way we can connect and build that sense of belonging which makes us human. Then I looked at a re-write of a piece I wrote on this blog about why I write. I added this little poem:

The writer sees the bright bud of possibility growing on the trees,

The language of leaves fed by the mulch of past endeavour,

Discarded on the forest floor.

I listen to the wind of words

As I walk through the forest of feelings,

The bark of beauty,

The wood of wonder,

The trees of truth.

 

Then I discovered these two images online about trees:

Again I concluded – “it is the truth I want to share as a writer, the truth of my experience that when shared, connects us all. That is why I write”.

Join me on the journey:

journey

A Well-Educated Mind

via Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind

As a teacher I spent my working life in “education” focused on producing “well-educated minds” but what that meant for each individual student and even for each individual teacher was often contentious. The Education System is focused on Results – defined in academic success which is measured quantitatively and ranked hierarchically. It is then convenient for goal-oriented workplaces to select their workers based on who is “best”. In order to improve those “results”, as demanded by anxious parents and reactive politicians, the system has instigated a program of “standardized testing” which is supposed to provide information for planners to target “needs”. Unfortunately the system does not seem to recognize that standardized testing assumes standardized humans. I never met one of those in my thirty years of teaching!

Standardized testing is simply a political tool that is used to promote those who are pronounced as “excellent” and save money by sending it only to those who have “needs”. It has nothing to do with education and is, in fact a hindrance to a well-educated mind. In Australia we now have a test called the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy or NAPLAN. It is run by the rather ponderously named  Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and was intended as a tool to  “drive improvements in student outcomes and provide increased accountability to the community”. They test literacy and numeracy skills of students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, which is at ages 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15.

An entire industry has built around NAPLAN, including online sites with past papers, suggestions and hints for students and parents to enhance success. Teachers in some schools have been under pressure to “prepare” students by practising on past papers and teaching to the criteria of the tests rather than the curriculum. The movement to abandon the testing process is growing louder and well it should. Teachers, Principals, Parents and Businesses are all starting to question the value of “standardized testing”. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to stopping Naplan:  https://www.facebook.com/protectingchildhoodofficial/. 17800482_1928295607385998_6608780034137023046_n

This is the banner on their site.

Their impressum is:

Education; Children; Wellbeing; Play

 

That impressum is a growth formula, each level brings deeper understanding, greater knowledge, better people. Let our children PLAY, then they will learn. That is the only additional pillar I would add to the three pillars of “intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and critical thinking” outlined by Paul in his excellent blog. As he concluded so eloquently if you adopt these pillars as the basis of good education:

Not only does it lead to the excitement of discovery, but also to the satisfaction of understanding.

Thank you Paul.

Why Write?

I have been writing for many years but now I ask why? I have recently found it difficult to write, something I struggle to understand. I have always been able to write my feelings, my thoughts, my ideas for myself. Writing my thoughts I was able to say what I really wanted without fear of negative response.

Natalie Goldberg in her book “Writing Down the Bones” writes:

“‘But why,’ people asked me, ‘does everybody want to write?’ … We all have a dream of telling our stories – of realizing what we think, feel and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate. … What crannies of untouched perception can you explore?”

A friend of Natalie’s and a fellow writer, Julia Cameron wrote in her book “Right to Write” published in 1998:

Why should we write? We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. …

We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.”

“A felt path through the world we live in”, exploring “crannies of untouched perception”, perhaps that is why I am struggling to write now. My path is winding, my perception broadening, my feelings deepening. I have been exploring my family history and uncovering much that is giving me pause. There is a trail of separation and dislocation that begins with the first of my Father’s ancestors who were sent to Australia as convicts from Britain. I wonder that the present generation carry some of the pain and anxiety from the past that may shape their “untouched perception” of their current reality? Is my anxiety inherited?

Science has begun to study how our DNA can be shaped by more than just physical factors. In 2017 a report of three separate studies by scientists concluded:

They came to a stunning realization that if our emotions affect our DNA and our DNA shapes the world around us, than our emotions physically change the world around us.

And not just that, we are connected to our DNA beyond space and time.

We create our reality by choosing it with our feelings.

https://www.lifecoachcode.com/2017/02/26/emotion-shapes-reality/

Epigenetics is the study of the chemical tags that wrap around our DNA and determine which are used and which not. These tags respond to our environment especially food and stress. When it comes to inheritance, we are born carrying some of those same tags that our fore-fathers and mothers had. As one scientist who has studied the effects of past trauma on the children and grandchildren of holocaust victims states:

“I think everyone’s intrigued by this idea they’re part of a history that isn’t just about the genes that they have, their DNA, that it’s also about the experiences that occurred before them to their ancestors. I think this is such a powerful idea,” said Rachel Yehuda, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-04-21/what-does-epigenetics-mean-for-you-and-your-kids/8439548

My story, the realization of what I “think, feel and see” in Natalie Goldberg’s words, is the story of my ancestors too. That story needs to be told in all honesty so that I may “claim my world” as Julia Cameron says. The path is long, there will be many twists and turns, hills and valleys but it will bring “clarity and passion to (my) act of living”, it will be “grounding”, but above all it will be “good for the soul”.

That is why I write.

Reflections on Anger

It has been difficult to write recently without making some reference to the level of anger being expressed in so many ways by so many people. In Australia we have the spectre of politicians expressing their anger by taking revenge on colleagues from their own political party in government, urged on by the increasingly vociferous attacks from the angry men who hold sway on some radio programs. These government leaders of our society, tasked with providing effective government, seem to have forgotten that it is best achieved by building relationships based on trust. This is certainly not achieved in an atmosphere of “threats, intimidation and bullying” as one female Cabinet Minister admitted publicly. The men call it “robust conversation”, but I wonder if they mean it the way Jim Killen and Fred Daly did? Sir James Killen was a member of the Liberal Party Government from 1955 to 1972 and again from 1975 to 1983. Fred Daly was a member of the Labor Party Government from 1972 to 1975, having been a member of Parliament since 1943. Both men had “robust conversations” many times in Parliament and in the media, but had so much respect for each other that Jim Killen wrote the preface to Fred Daly’s collection of political memoirs. I could not imagine Tony Abbott writing a similar preface for anything Malcolm Turnbull will write, and they are supposedly on the same side of the political fence?

There is a culture of anger based on frustration and fear in our society that needs to be understood. Anger cannot be denied, it is a normal part of the human condition, but it should be understood. To unleash anger in the name of improvement is the real problem. Anger, based on frustration and fear, denies the person confronting the opportunity to respond in a positive way. The only response to anger is more frustration, more fear, more anger. It builds a cycle of destruction that is the antithesis of trust, effective leadership and positive relationships. That is why the bullying, intimidation and threats that our leaders demonstrated as their preferred mode of achieving their goal in recent times is so disturbing. It destroys effective government, it does not provide it.

Last night on National Television, Alan Jones, the man who described himself as “very comfortable” with his “privileged position” that enabled him to “manipulate and paralyse our parliament”, as one questioner put it, advised one female Liberal Party member who had complained of bullying to “take a teaspoon full of cement and toughen up”. Alan has been a radio “shock-jock” in Sydney for many years and has built a reputation as being a leader of reactionary conservative views with his angry tirades against any alternative view to his own. He is one of many angry men who seem to have a hold on radio especially in Sydney. They use their anger to build an audience of frustrated people who resent changes and do not want to consider any reason to question. It is a view of the world that is too prevalent in this society of goal-oriented achievers who want to protect their place and position against any threat they perceive. That is the fear they base their anger on, that is reason we have a leadership of destroyers, not builders.

To build a positive future we need to accept and understand who we are and how we have got here. Only then can we hope to start the conversations that are so desperately needed to enable us to grow. I live in hope and offer this image for reflection. Peace.

Maleny (3)