A couple of weeks ago, I spent five days in the MacDonnell Ranges, about an hour’s drive east of Alice Springs. Well… that’s where Google Maps says I went. It felt more like visiting a different dimension – a place outside of our ideas about time and space.
I was on a small group tour with Frank Ansell, the Arrente medicine man I met last December. This time we were on Frankie’s tribal land, where he knows the stories and the songs and the spirits. It was a privilege to witness him share some of that knowledge with eight of us non-Indigenous folks from the city.
A lot of freaky shit happened. I’m not ready to talk in detail about most of it publicly yet. I will say that I heard and saw and felt some things our scientific-rational Western cultures have no explanation for… and I loved it. It felt familiar, like something I once knew but had long forgotten.
But the point of the retreat wasn’t really the freaky shit (although the freaky shit kept coming and coming). The point was to slow down and get real. To get out of our busy Western minds and into our bodies. To plant our asses on the earth for a while and listen, carefully, for her answer. And answer she did. At one point, she reached up and grabbed me and pulled me down into her red heart so hard and fast, I almost saw stars. It was shocking and delightful. I felt completely held and completely loved.
Frankie and his country make an amazing team. In five days, I saw a small group of people go through highly individual but uniformly beautiful transformations. As we worried less and laughed more, our faces became younger… and our hearts grew bigger. I got fresh insight into the relentless working of my monkey mind, as well as a deeper, stronger connection with the land of my birth and early childhood. It was powerful medicine, which I will return for again and again.
Because I need antidotes to this crazy world we’ve created. I need to keep myself vaccinated against the illnesses we’ve unleashed on ourselves – the relentless busyness, the not-good-enough hustling and the fear of not knowing whether we can actually stop this bus before we drive ourselves and our planet right off the cliff.
I love simple spiritual prescriptions… and Frank has one. Slow down. Get your ass on the earth. Let it all go. And then listen, because Mama Earth will take it all from you and send a tornado of love in return.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced the healing power of nature. I went to spend time in the desert with Frank because I was already convinced that the only medicine I can’t get from consulting with my own heart and Soul comes from the earth. So it follows that I’m captivated by the oldest living culture on the planet, which has a stunningly sophisticated understanding of the energetic nature of reality and the inter-relatedness of all things.
Or had… before my European ancestors did such an outstanding job of destroying so much of Australian Aboriginal culture and heritage.
Now that I have a tiny glimpse of the elegance and beauty of Indigenous wisdom, I’m starting to grasp the tragedy of what we’ve already lost. I also better understand the challenges faced by Indigenous people and communities who are trying to survive, protect what remains of their heritage and keep their culture alive. And I can articulate more clearly why the current political moves in Australia to forcibly close over 150 remote Indigenous communities are so distressing.
It’s partly because the Federal Government – lead by a man who’s declared himself Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia – performed a disingenuous cost-shifting manoeuvre that also seems designed to distance themselves from a nasty political problem, in a nation that now fails to hide its cultural streak of deeply embedded racism. It’s partly because his characterisation of life in remote communities as a ‘lifestyle choice’ has not generated anywhere near the public backlash I would have hoped for. It’s partly because we (non-Indigenous people) seem determined to keep taking and taking until there is nothing left of Indigenous culture and heritage. And it’s partly because it may actually be remote communities, where some people still live on or near their country and maintain the old knowledge, that hold the key to protecting and preserving the elements of traditional Indigenous culture that remain intact.
I want to be very clear: I am not Indigenous. I am a white, middle-class Australian who – by definition – was born into a life of privilege. It is not my place to lay claim to Indigenous culture (my ancestors laid claim to plenty, for long enough). But during those few days in the desert with Frank, he shared enough to make me feel like I have a stake in the future of Aboriginal Australia.
Quite simply – with the greatest of respect and without any sense of ownership – the culture no longer feels like their culture… it feels like ours. It’s not their wisdom… it’s ours. And it’s not their country… it’s ours.
Because we have to believe it’s ours, if we’re going to hold onto what we have left of the earth’s first people and deepest wisdom. And we desperately need that wisdom to balance out all our technological prowess and rampant consumerism and soul loss. But if we keep believing the culture and wisdom and country is theirs, we will keep taking it from them… and we will have no idea what we’ve taken from all of us, until it’s too late.
Frank Ansell has a different vision for the future. I plan to help him realise it, in whatever ways I can… and it starts with lending him my voice. May it be an instrument for graceful change.
You can find out more about Frank or how to go hang out with him in the desert – if you want to know more about the freaky shit or any other aspect of my experience with him, feel free to get in touch with me directly.