Blog on the Hike
Today was our final official day in Australia, and spent most of the day participating in a hike with an aboriginal guide. I am rather fond of hikes, and as such, I was excited. However, I did not expect to learn as much as I did about the native culture and the landscape in which they had inhabited. This was all thanks to our guide, who was particularly knowledgeable regarding both subjects.
Before we had started the hike, he took time to explain the aboriginal practice of “dream-time”, something which has been mentioned through the class, but knew little else about. Essentially, dream-time is a practice of controlling your outlook on life, significantly improving your well-being as a result, and allowing yourself to feel natural and automatic feelings of elation. Our guide described it as being an opposite of the thinking mind, which allows individuals to dwell, worry, and otherwise allow them to become trapped in their own head and stem their productivity. It is difficult due to the fact that those who have not practiced dream-time, because it involves the suppression of those negative thoughts that can from the thinking mind, but as the day went on, I found that escaping these negative thoughts became easier by using the advice he had given us.
One of the issues he stressed during the hike is a greater awareness of our surroundings and our footwork, and this was done with many purposes, all focused on the idea of getting closer to dream-tie. However, many of these cultural practices are quite useful, speaking to the underlying tones of practicality. This kind of combination of ritual and usefulness is seen in many indigenous cultures, and makes sense, as living off the land would be their first priority.
In regards to our footing, he recommended taking quiet steps, stepping strait down, and taking the time to “feel” this ground. Feeling the ground allowed us to move closer to dream-time, but also allowed us to become aware of the texture of the ground, and therefore adjust our stance accordingly. This was crucial when we crossed over rocky terrain, where one misjudgment could lead to injury. Stepping lightly reduced our noise, and allowed use to see and hear more of Australia’s wildlife, namely the song of the lyrebird. This cause not be done otherwise, as the lyrebird is very sensitive to thumping sounds, sensing them as danger. This is common with most Australian wildlife. Finally, the walking was done to illustrate how the aboriginals (or as he referred to them, the old-people) walked. This style of walking has health benefits, as it uses the quadriceps, gluts, and core abdominals, meaning a more toned body and less stress on your leg’s cartilage. He also instructed us to feel the land with our hands to bring us closer to dream-time as well as nature. However, like the footing, using your hands to traverse obstacles and to better secure your footing is an important consequence.
In-between sections of the hike, our guide would take time to impart valuable knowledge regarding aboriginal history and native bush and tree life, and its uses. On note was the dancing which he initiated early on. It was not a choreographed event, as he instructed us to move freely, allowing use to move anyway we wanted, albeit ungracefully. While I was apprehensive at first, I did the dance for the experience, but was amazed by the instant feeling of elation that had come over me immediately afterwards. This elated and care-free mood set the tone for the rest of the night. From this simple demonstration, I understand why aboriginals and many other natives have dancing as a part of their everyday life. He took time to identify trees such as the eucalyptus, turpentine, and tea, and too many bushes to go over. The eucalyptus tree in very important in rituals, and was seen as sacred by many indigenous groups. The turpentine’s sap has the ability to act as an anti-septic and mild pain-killer, making its uses ubiquitous. The tea tree’s leaves are cure-alls when used topically, relieving many illnesses; this knowledge was known to the natives, who commonly would collect leaves for trips and hunts.
He also shared stories regarding rituals, and how the acts of initiation and celebration were important in life. Individuals were initiated at key points in their life, and allowed them to move on to the next stage. For example, moving from boyhood to adulthood required acts which tested endurance, mental fortitude, and maturity; all of which were important cultural values. He also went over the importance of scarification, which detailed the level of the individual, and specified what kind of food they were allowed to eat. Of all the stories he shared, he reserved one which was painted upon a wall. While I was denied information, I found this gesture to be one of respect to his people, which I had appreciated.
Altogether, we had a plethora of information given to us, a perfect way to end the class. The ideas of dream-time resonated with me as well, and I intend to try to use more “positive” thinking in the future, as I find that it is quite common for my thinking mind to drive me to inaction. Again, as with all of the other excursions we have had, I see connections with my own culture, making the experience all the more personal to me.
In retrospect, I find this course to be valuable for the reason that it gives both a personal, emotional attachment to the indigenous people, and a factual and comprehensive knowledge to their culture and history. This intimate knowledge cannot be attained in a classroom setting, it requires going out into the world, seeing new places and meeting new people. It requires forcing yourself into new situations and learning as much introspectively as much as the subject in question. However, as our tour guide said wisely: “you have to give one hundred percent to get all that you can out of it.” I knew vague facts and stereotypes about Aboriginals, but nothing of their contemporary situation and the rich culture which they have kept alive for thousands of years, and that knowledge is only available through communal sharing. I feel honored to be a part of this experience.