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.


“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”.

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”.


One thought on “Authenticity and Imperfection – the final

  1. Thank you very much for linking to my blog Jim. I like the way you have delved into a complex discussion of aboriginal beliefs then tied it to aging and to becoming authentic. To an itinerant person like myself (I think I’ve lived in over 50 houses over the course of my life) the idea of being spiritually connected to a particular place since birth is something of a foreign concept. I like the idea of finding my own ‘land of belonging’ within myself through following my own truth and living with integrity.


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