An interview with Dharma
The following is a transcript of an interview that occurred a month or so ago. I was asked if I would be happy to participate in a project called “Turning Point Stories”. You can follow the stories here at https://www.facebook.com/turningpointsstories
To begin I was asked where I would like for the interview to occur, I smiled and indicated towards the bush…. and so, here is what followed. This is a personal account of my way with some turning points in my life, not all, just some of the ones that really hit home deeply!
Sofan: Rachel, what is your Occupation?
Rachel: hmmm, Being myself. Mostly in nature. Cultural educator from an indigenous lens. Engaging people in natural environments and nature based activities.
Everyday is different really,I kinda roll with it. Sometimes I bump into people, take them on a nature adventure! hehe I also work with
people who are looking for a change in their life. Maybe engaging them in nature activities can help. Sometimes I work in the bush with people with special abilities (disabilities) to support them in arriving to themselves throuhg using their body. I do so many different things, its kind of hard to answer. So that is why I say, my occupation is ‘being myself’…. yeah so every moment is an opportunity to be myself. It could involve music, art, bush craft, public speaking, performance, meditative kinda stuff, conversation, animal care, or some therapeutic practice to support people in freeing themselves.
Sofan: In life we have lots of turning points to face something from a different perspective. What is your
Rachel: Throughout, what is a big turning point in my life is when someone in my world dies. This has always created turning points in my life. When my grandmother died, there was a turning point. When I was 19 and my boyfriend died, that was a major turning point in my life. It just stopped me in my tracks. It was a personal reality check for me that doesn’t involve anyone else.
No ones opinions, no beliefs, ideas, no books, I literally stop and go very deep in myself and I notice that in those moments I make big changes in myself which change my perception. Somehow a metamorphis may occur and with the death of that
person, also I arrive at a death in myself where that person lived inside me. It triggered a kind of death in myself and I would wake up in another world.
A lot the things that support me in my reality have
literally died. I felt it very deeply. And, I’ve changed my life and shifted myself to other ways of being,other possibilities, but it’s not necessarily that the other people in my life change.
Its like another world. I end up engaging with all different types of people. that’s been a theme in my life. When someone has
died, my entire world has change. So funnily enough when I was 10 years old, 19, 29 they have been major turning points in that regard for me. It is a big reality check and I just stop and go deep inside
myself, really listen deeply and something comes from a deep place within me, or (i’m not sure how to word it) but it emerges from within.
Sofan: you mentioned that many deaths wake you up to turn things around. So can you talk about your dharma practise, your truth practise and knowledge you use to handle the death, grief, loss. How do you
handle this and turn the grief and loss around?
Rachel: I look it in the face. The first time (with my grandmother’s death) I didn’t have the opportunity since I was a child of 8 years old and my mother didnt allow me to go along to the funeral. I didn’t have the opportunity to look at the physical thing in the face, the person who died. With every death, I’ve looked it in the face, touched it and felt it. In that place, I got to see that the body isn’t the person and it fascinated me. So while there was some sense of grief on a human level because its what you are supposed to feel is grief, but something bigger was talking to me beyond that. I was fascinated by this perfect body that was no longer animated.
When I was 19 my boyfriend died and I had to go and
identify his body. His brothers couldn’t do it, because it was too big and painful for them so I had to go and do it. And, I got to see something; like there were policemen there, it was in a morgue, but something else spoke to me. It didn’t look like him, he had a car accident, he was all bloated. I had to look past all that and in doing that, I don’t know what happened, but something kind of fascinating occurred where another reality started to speak to me. It wasn’t coming from the other people.
So I had to go and see his body again once all the fluids had been drained and he was now in the funeral home where they dress him. So now he looked like the character I knew. I was fascinated by how perfect the creation of the body looked, It was still there, and it was interesting. But I could sense something that wasn’t in the body, in the room. Even then I could sense something beyond all of that, beyond what I identified as him and as me, his girlfriend.
I dunno, maybe I cracked. Instead of the grief holding on to
me. Maybe the grief cracked me open. So in that way I wasn’t bound by the grief, it left an impact on me, some sort of trauma which I had to clear up over the years when I might engage with another person in an intimate way. There was a fear there. But it never controlled me. I simply asked more questions of myself.
When you are standing on the edge of a cliff, you take caution. Then you say oh well I know how to use ropes, I know how to look at the lay of the land, maybe I can climb down. Maybe that growing up in nature,
having to figure things out for myself, maybe never having other people around to always to show you the way, maybe that is where I draw from. That is what I call an indigenous lens, because it is from the
So maybe I have been applying that in other ways when I have been struck by a deep emotional experience. It’s the same kind of thing. I am fascinated by what creation comes up with. The physical world; I am fascinated by the perfection of that. But I am also fascinated by the unseen.
I just somehow have this knowing that by communicating to myself in a non tangible way I can also gain some sort of insight; that may take me a little while to comprehend. But it’s not like its a dead end. it’s not like
the path is finished. Its not a dead end road, its not a one way street. Somehow it keeps going, revealing and opening, revealing and opening, somehow.
Sofan: so you mean your truth practise, dharma practise and the knowledge that you gather is mostly
from being in nature, but being resilient and finding your way around and find your way to do different things in an organic way, that serve you to face what we think is adversity; death, grief, loss things like
Rachel: The continuum that is expressed in nature, like a tree that falls down, It can still put shoots out. Or, an oil spill in the ocean, the ocean seems to do something to balance the chemicals out. Or, when a cyclone comes through, but I guess that continuum comes through. It is inside my body too, because my body is made of the same stuff, so if I can draw on that. Even if I don’t fully understand that with my mind I definitely access it. So, ‘yes’ is definitely the answer.
Sofan: So the dharma knowledge, the truth knowledge. what do you think they were from. How did you access that? What type are they and where were they coming from? Experience being in the bush and
what types of knowledge that you gather around you to serve you and support you to go through your turning point, the grief and loss, going through that?
Rachel: Maybe I could say gravity. Gravity is my friend. You know when you drop something, it can’t go any further. You know that saying, you can’t fall any further since you have hit the ground. I guess gravity, knowing that law of gravity, well what do you do now? You just have to stand up, you can’t go any further down.
Its kind of good, because I’m on the ground, the earth is holding me. Something has caught me, gravity is my friend, it is not a limitation. I know if I fall what will be there. The earth will always be there!
Sofan: So the earth is supporting us through any kind of loss, grief and trauma because of that?
Rachel: Yeah, I’d have to say so, because it is! When I peel it back, it is supporting me, I can eat, I can drink, I can even escape if I want to. Away from the other world, from expectations in society. Or, I can just be. Whatever way it is just here (in nature). I can go for a swim. I can go for a walk, lay on the rock, climb a mountain. It doesn’t matter, it will never disappear. So, it always is here. How I use it is my own choice. But it doesn’t go anywhere. Not unless I disappear, into that transition (death), I don’t know.
Sofan: How do you practise, your dharma practise, connection with the earth, the environment. How do you do your dharma practice in the daily basis?
Rachel: Acknowledgment. It is a continual acknowledgement. I am present with that, you know. I don’t just do it on a Sunday so to speak. I am present with the fact that I am supported, with water, clothes, everything, from the petrol in the boat, to the car. That acknowledgement.
Some people may say gratitude, but I don’t think it is even gratitude. It is a continual conversation. In continual presence with what is supporting, what is there as a nourishment, what is there as a challenge. Whether it is a weather challenge, or whatever. It is
thank you. I’m saying thank you for lack of better words. But, I just don’t take the moments for granted, im always in acknowledgement of the moment, aware of every moment.
And if something has come from deep inside, using the language of being ‘triggered’. Just the breath, (breathes deeply) so the earth again from the earth (pointing at the tree’s), just breath. It is a continual thing, it is not stationary. It is always moving and its not just when I need it. It is even when I don’t need it. It is a continual conversation, continuing
Even in the city, all the concrete, the rock, everything in the city is still from its original place in the earth. So I’m able to even acknowledge that now and not forget that everything has… like having to identify the dead body as a person.. its like in the city, I can identify that thing still had an origin. It may be not what it was, but I can still be in presence with it as I can be in relation to it. It doesn’t have to be disturbing at all. And, it has come to a place where I am actually aware of myself more, and I can hold that awareness innately in any given environment. And even if my mind is having a little spaz attack, something is tripping out. That’s the opportunity in that moment, to be in presence with that deeper
thing that is informing me. That never went anywhere.
Sofan: So is that how you worked with adversity, big or small in the daily life. Keep yourself in presence with the bigger picture?
Rachel: Yeah, keep my self in presence and stay with that remembering. Sometimes its a funny conversation inside, the tiny little moment of the mind, or ego, I don’t know what it is. It’s like a little tantrum. And, then I just laugh at myself and breathe and go ‘hey, expand your perception Rachel’. So I’m my own best friend in that regard. And say ‘hey, that’s not the opportunity here. there is another opportunity. open you perception and you might just see it. It might just show itself to you”. It’s really fun actually.
Sofan: So you put to work your indigenous knowledge? How would you label it?
Rachel: It’s a creative force. I would just say. I would relate it back to that simplicity of indigenous perception. We are sitting on a rock right now; there are a couple of plants out from us just now. That plant and the possibilities are with that plant, you can use it to help make a spear, can use it as a fire stick, use some of that material for weaving. So there are three (and more) possibilities from that one plant. So that is why I say, an indigenous lens, because it sees possibilities, whereas seemingly it is just a plant. That is how I understand it.
Example, my mum would be out bush. She didn’t grow up on the land with her family, but when we lived in the bush it all came forward. She could see possibilities in the materials, the landscape around
us. And I do the same thing. When I needed to move my cupboard and keep the doors closed, there was a plastic bag there, I turned it into a rope. I didn’t need an actual rope to achieve the goal and I didn’t hesitate! It is seeing possibility. so that is the flavour of every other moment.
There is more possible than meets the eye of the educated mind, I guess. yes, there is so much more possible, just attune your eyes to “let me see it” and then ‘pow’ you start seeing it. And its fun, you don’t need 20 cents for the lolly machine, you just breathe. Its actually free.
Check out the link to read other Turning Point Stories!
The years have seen me walk this continent, sitting alongside the local peoples of those landscapes. I have travelled much, yet there is still so much to experience, so much to learn. With each year of my life I have experienced what it is to be Aboriginal in varying ways. See the word “Aboriginal or Aboriginine” was what I knew my mother was, she was identified as half cast and therefore me and my younger brother were quarte cast. In the early years of my life, I was proud of this. The terminology was normal and that’s what I knew myself to be through the eyes of society in Southern regions of Australia. Beyond that I was Rachel, a little cheeky thinker who watched everything and had many unanswered questions. A little tacker who wondered how things came to be the way they were and recognised that adults did not have all the answers!
Fortunately, not only did I have exposure to countryman from the many countries throughout Australia, I also grew up knowing who my family were. My mothers mother, her children, my great Aunties and Uncles who were her brothers and sisters. I had a word “Aboriginal” but I had a connection to land, people and place. I heard songs, saw family dynamics and felt country. So the word itself was not what fuelled my identifying with where my bloodlines arose from, it was the interactions that built warmth of knowing and contributed to my sense of heritage. So many seeds were ignited within me in mingling amongst family and other countryman. So much was placed in safe places for when I would be able to hold those awareness with respect and care.
In walking among countries where practises of culture were almost intact, I experienced with deeper eyes. The word “Aboriginal” was not at the forefront. These people knew their Country, knew their Lore. I walked with them in this LORE. I learnt to walk outside of being a quarte cast Aborigine the daughter of a child of the stolen generation. The timing was perfect, I was becoming a teenager and moved out of home to live with elders and all the children they were caretakers for. I walked with those old people through stories and in the Dreaming of their songlines. At times I would walk with the old people out bush and we never spoke, they used subtle gestures to indicate of something to pay attention to. Always teaching always learning, yet unspoken. I don’t remember any of us calling ourselves “Aboriginal or Indigenous” when we were together, we were Bama Murries, living amongst the rainforest. We spoke in both English and Djapukai language, we weren’t Aborigines!
My brother was adopted in by one family and I was adopted in by another, but we were all connected. It was a warm time and very valuable. Sometimes I cry when I write (like right now) as those moments and those old people were so rich, they have long passed from this life now, yet the teachings and passing on of knowing remains strong within. I guess it’s the kinda feeling many experience when with nature, those old people were true and gentle with their ways. They did not force anything, yet they could see very clearly, see right through you and into your heart. They knew, but would never say unless you were going to really hurt something without just cause.
None of us were Aboriginal, none of us were Indigenous, and no one was white either! We were all people with different insights and contributions, that’s the warmth that those old people brought to my spirit, a greater lore of being.
Today a brother had a post stating “isn’t it time to stop saying Aboriginal and say Original”. This post stirred many responses and reactions and hence I write. The question always comes up for me when Im invited in a cultural context to share, especially in schools. I am asked if I would prefer to be acknowledged as Aboriginal or Indigenous. The aim is not to offend me, but in truth for myself, I’m not offended as I don’t have a reaction to either, thats not where I am at with all that. My response to the question in that arena is this “Simple, state the facts – I am a descendant of the first people of this land” So that is how I am introduced as well as the teacher trying to pronounce my Grandmothers country name. hehe
This is my statement to all, I have travelled and travelled and yes, there are those who are very offended by the word “Aboriginal or Aborigine” and there are those who are very offended by the word “Indigenous” but one thing all agree on, we are descendants of the FIRST PEOPLE.
First and foremost we acknowledge and pay our respects to the first people of the many cultures and lands now commonly recognised as Australia. We pay our respects and acknowledge the living breathing spirit of the first peoples. The Ancestors and Dreaming that still to this very moment, informs the descendants of the first peoples. We are a living people. We still walk among our Dreaming tracks, albeit those paths and song lines have had other realities superimposed upon them.
It’s our DNA and our SPIRIT that remains true to LORE. As we heal our Ancestry It’s our heart and mind that follow through and ignite the knowing that we are the First People that hold within us keys that have been shaped over thousands upon thousands of years!
When we arrive to the proper way again – the true nature of our being and what has been passed down from our Ancestors (not the trauma) we walk with the authority of knowing that we are the first – we are sacred, as is the Land and all of life!
This key opens doors of truth based on a reality beyond the playground of politics and manmade agendas. Although we interact with that dimension/paradigm our intelligence far outweighs that game….
The greater LORE of which we as a people who are as individuals freeing themselves towards again (from within), is the LORE that will ultimately balance the scales. The first peoples walked in accordance with this and the balance was kept.
We are the balance when we remember this and walk proper way with this. We are the First People. I am a descendant of the first peoples as well as many other bloods from around the Earth, and my freedom has come from balancing the scales within, facing my Ancestors, healing the timelines and witnessing the game for what it is!
I’m aware of what I’m made of, many are seeking and debating and missing the opportunity. So again, I acknowledge the first people of the many cultures (for there are many) of the many Lands (for there are many) now commonly known as Australia!
Knowing In Nature (C) 2018
Eating of Country
This old lady, she would walk with me, pointing out foods in the landscape… she never talked, she just pointed and waited for me to go and pick some of the plant. At first I felt a little uncomfortable, I mean I didn’t feel confident in what part of the plant to take because she never told me, she just pointed.
After a few of these walks together, I took my time and imagined the relationship that the old lady, this elder had with the plants already. I imagined the footprints and relationship that was already ahead of me, all the understandings that had been cultivated over time and I began to see. I could literally feel where to break the plant, how much to take of it and from where. I learnt how to approach the plant so that it could offer itself up as opposed to me hacking into it for my own wants and needs.
When I finally arrived to this, it was then and only then, that the Elder began to share more with me and she used words to do so. She began to show me modern ways of creating culinary delights infused with traditional foundations and bringing the worlds and timelines together. She was rather famous for this herself, I wasn’t aware of it at the time, just knew I loved spending time with her and walking country. It was her homelands and I was the visitor, so I felt a great sense of gratitude in my heart for the opportunity and the fact that she looked for me to spend time with her too.
All in all there wasn’t much talk to be honest, much gathering, much walking, much sensing yet not much talk. In this way, for me, each moment was rich with content and the experience landed deep. The learning was true.
As I ate of country, I also connected with the stories of the land. I would eat one food at a time, often leaving a leaf in my mouth for an hour or so to absorb the information it carries. If I ate of a fruit, the seed would be kept in my mouth almost all day. The transference occurs while not looking for it to.
To simply gobble something up in an instant never really counts for much other than filling the belly and leading you to curl up like a big old carpet snake and dream it all away!
In the landscape I’m living in at present, Warrigal Greens sing and grow here. It reminds me of the Elder as she showed me an awesome pesto to make, so I made one today with a few little twists of my own including other foods growing here also.
So here we have it, a delicious mostly native pesto from wild foods growing on the Island!
Warrigal Greens/wild spinach, Nasturtiums, Macadamia nuts, lemon myrtle with some Ozzie Olive oil and Italian parmesan cheese and a little sea salt!
Don’t ask me how much of everything because it’s pretty much a bit of this and some of that, those are my measurements! Most important is to feel good when your making it and be grateful that you can!
Make sure you blanch the Warrigal greens, it makes them lovely and soft and they give you what you need how your meant to have it, be sure to squeeze out the excess liquid so your pesto doesn’t become to moist.
I made a Kangaroo spaghetti bolognaise and had a large serving of the pesto to celebrate the dish!!
- By Rachel Shields
- Knowing In Nature 2017 (c)
The Dreaming of a fish
The waters are warmer now on the eastern coast, inviting both for the swimmer and the fisher person. Standing upon the jetty off the Island I can see many fish showing off their shimmering scales, especially in the light reflecting upon the water. A man attuned the river tells me that it takes 9 years for a Bream to reach legal size as a catch. I think, holy shit! I ask him how old he thinks the fish are that we can see swimming around by some burly that he has set earlier. “Well, those ones there look to be about ten to fifteen years old” he says. To my eye they are not very big at all. The fish we are looking at are Bream, apparently a slow growing fish. His line go tight and within a minute he pulls in a Flathead fish, looks to me and asks if I would like it for dinner, “Yes Please!!” but just as I accept the offer the flathead flicks itself free of the hook and melts into the rivers depths like it was never separate from it.
As the man keeps flicking his line about, I wonder as to the dreaming of each river fish. I appreciate that the man merely fishes for an activity and prefers to return most of his catch back to the waters. He is very attuned to the variety of fish, their growing and lack of due to over fishing by commercial fishing vessels. He speaks of how people has told him he is cruel for pulling fish out of the water and throwing them back, meanwhile he watches them buy fish from the shop that they have no connection with and have not actually earnt the right to eat by catching it themselves. I appreciate his words and position.
In the pause between conversations, I again wonder as to the dreaming of the fish here in this river. I wondered about their watery existence and lifespan. About the significance of each fish and its contribution to the greater eco system.
I know I enjoy eating fish, grew up catching them both in the rivers and on the ocean as a child travelling and living from the land and waters. I used to live off them almost entirely for a span of my life after leaving high school. I used my money to pay rent and bills, but I would go out every single day and catch a shark to use as bait in my pots for mud crab. Id Cast my net to catch prawns after the rains had flushed them out of the river down into the mouth, most often I would also catch a fish in my cast net! Id fish and fish and fish and climb coconut trees, gather banana leaves and ginger and make a big old feed with rice! That was pretty much my diet for a good time there.
In living like this, I knew the seasons, not the four seasons that are commonly recognised. I attuned to the many seasons reflected in the species and their rhythms. Even the body began to know what was coming and you would know what to take when you caught it and what not to. It was just a feeling.
One day when I walked out about waist deep into the ocean to check a crab pot, it was out in the run off from the mouth of the river (crocodile territory!) I got close to it to see a rather large shadow circling it, kinda made my bum cheeks clam up! But I found that it was a giant Groper keen on what I assumed was a juicy Mud crab in the pot. Slowly I edged my way in and lifted the pot to indeed see one of the largest mud crabs ever… hmmm, what to do what to do?!?! I told the Groper “Sorry, perhaps another day” and I walked further up the river with pot in hand and set the Grandfather crab free.
But here I am, in another landscape. There are no crocodiles here, yet there are bull sharks and other finned friends. In the area here there are stone carvings of fish, whales and sharks, indicators as to languages and to the seasons.
Everything has its dreaming time, its time of creating and growth. It’s not right to take of things all the time. These fish have a dreaming about, a spirit that may well just need to stay around to contribute a little longer to the greater scheme of things.
Spend time learning of these things and we can perhaps better encourage species to flourish.
So the Dreaming of the fish can continue to be part of our Dreaming.
By Rachel Shields
Knowing In Nature 2017
Caring for Our Body as we care for Country
Throughout time, all across the planet Earth, groups of people were shaped by the landscape of which they lived, ate and drank of and created life in.
These landscapes were diverse. Mountain tops, to rivers and seas. From deserts to Icelandic harshness and jungles of density, all these environments both hot, cold, dry, wet to freshwater and salt water and all the meeting places in between have informed languages, created song lines, shaped our physiology and created Eco systems abundant in life forms, foods and animals that carry rhythms known to us as seasons.
In this current point in the human timeline, this is still presently reflected. By the accent in a person’s voice you will gain an insight as to where they have or may live, like a person from North Queensland usually says “AY” after everything they say and people from Adelaide usually sounds a bit British! (or articulate, hehe) You can pick someone from overseas by their accent and a person’s look is reflective of their original landscapes or heritage.
In earlier times, as we lived in relation to the landscape that sustained us, we were better in health than we are today. We were strong. In truth all landscapes have experienced the harshness that nature too can bring, yet humans adapted in accordance with this and over time developed ways of continually co-existing in balance. Maintaining the care for their landscape (or for Country) and in turn automatically caring for themselves. It just went hand in hand, it was a given. A science that was naturally lived ,through being deeply understood and abided by.
While this is all interesting, this point in time is reflective of much disharmony existing in humans’ physiology and psychology. Many people are not physically well within themselves, nor mentally well. Many do not use their entire body in the lifestyles they live. For many the landscape of which they now live, eat and drink of and of which they work, by no means assists with them Caring for themselves as they would care for Country. The custodian has become the consumer, yet in turn is now being consumed by that which they invest their attention and time towards!
For many we live in landscapes of urban build up, bombarded by billboards and advertising. The continual hum of progress and production fuelled by a wireless continuum that promises connection and up to date information.
Now think about that for a moment “IN – FORM – ATION” just like country shapes us, it affects our inner form, it created our language and our rhythms. We literally are shaped by our environment, both physically and psychologically. We are shaped by what we ingest and expose ourselves to, what we continually think about and are bombarded with from the outside in. Unless of course you are an extremely intact, strong in spirit connected human who is truly free!, for there are those who exist and it is possible to return to that.
Many are passionate about Caring for Country, caring for the environment and life outside of themselves yet are some of the most out of balance people with very needy and hurting bodies that they drag around with themselves. This doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t add up. To better help you understand, part of why we had Welcome to Country in traditional times, was to make sure sickness of spirit and mind was not brought into the landscape from another who was not of that landscape. It was also to allow time for a person to begin to resonate in accordance with the environment they were wishing to enter into. For that landscape to recognise them and for that person or people to begin to recognise themselves in relation to what and where they were entering into. And also for the people to suss out who and what a person or peoples true intent is. It’s about responsibility with the life that exists both through us and our physiology and that of all life within and on the environment.
Our bodies are made of the same stuff as we find in nature; we are a composition of the many elements. Within us is history embodied in our unique DNA. Our body produces all the drugs we need and it is capable of keeping the balance! In true health, It does not require anything to be added to it.
We need to give it space to return this though, as it is shaped by the environment in which we expose ourselves most to.
Caring for country to me stands as equally important as caring for our body. The body is the landscape of which we reside 24/7. It is with us every step of the way, from conception to the end of our physical life. It is not an obedient pet that you can take for the occasional walk and give a piece of smacko to as a reward for its loyalty of love in return to your lack of attention and true care!
Caring for Country has a foundation of respect, caring for our bodies as our immediate country requires a foundation of respect. Cultivating a life with a foundation of self respect goes a long way in healing our relationship with the land, the animals and all the people in a way that shows thorough integrity; and through walking in this manner provides others with insight and steps toward seeing this as an option for a way of life.
It’s nothing new really, has just been put on the shelf while people run around writing books on how to get there, but it’s already right here! We are Country, Country is us…
How can we expect others to care for Country if we are not truly living the example ourselves?
- By Rachel Shields
Knowing In Nature 2017