Harvesting Liminal Songlines – Honoring the Aboriginal Tradition of Australia

Uluru at Dusk, Central Desert, Australia

This past fall I went live with my new website giselawendling.com and blog Liminal Pathways. Liminal Pathways is also the title of a framework I have developed based on my evolving understanding of rites of passages as an archetypal framework for understanding human systems change. The word liminal comes from the Latin and means threshold or margin. It alludes to the in-between period in a change process where we are no longer the old and not yet the new, when the transformative process is the most active. The Liminal Pathways blog features essays on this topic.

In this post I introduce 13 essays that are very special to me and which I originally wrote for my Liminal Songlines blog. I these essays I reflect on my experiences exploring the spiritual healing tradition of the Aboriginal people of Australia while I was living there from 2009 to 2012. I write about the timeless wisdom of the Aboriginal people, their ceremonial practices and art, what they can teach us about relating to the land, […]

Working with Crucibles of Change

Recently I was invited by Meridian University, where I also teach, to host a dialogue via videoconference on Crucibles of Change: Guiding Liminal Processes in Organizational Life. Here is the link to the video stream.

To me the crucible is a generative image. Once we come to understand what a crucible is, we begin to see it everywhere, especially in our work as change agents.

I invited Alan Briskin, author of Collective Wisdom, David Sibbet, my colleague at The Grove Consultants International, and Bethe Hagens, who I came to know years ago at an Anthropology of Consciousness conference. As an anthropologist, exploring liminality has been a significant part of Bethe’s research and academic work. The four of us had a wonderful dialogue. Here is the video link.

The Grove intensive Designing and Leading Change that David Sibbet and I lead explicitly explores how to identify and shape crucible-type situations and events in larger change processes. The Liminal Pathways Framework which we introduce in this three-day workshop indicates the […]

Endings

A significant change impacts not only what we can observe on the outer side of things; it is also a process that is deeply felt. On a day-to-day basis, however, we tend to forget this is so. We are comfortable with the familiar and are focused on getting things done. But when confronted with change, it can feel like a shock or deeply disruptive experience.

Change – whether sought or unwanted – disrupts our routines, pulls us out of our comfort zone and forces us to navigate new territory. We come face to face with the fact that change is a process initiated by something that has come to an end.

In his book Transitions (1980) William Bridges refers back to Arnold van Gennep’s anthropological work and names the three phases of change: 1) endings, 2) the neutral zone and 3) new beginnings. Of course, moving through the middle phase is not as dispassionate as the word ‘neutral’ would suggest—but more about the second phase in my next post.

Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old before […]

2018-09-26T00:09:15+00:00August 6th, 2013|Change, Indigenous Wisdom|2 Comments

Change: Ancient and New

Change and transformation are central to the human experience. The patterns and rhythms of change follow archetypal processes that can be observed wherever the cycle of endings and new beginnings spirals its course—in nature and in the human community. Transformation is the renewal function of any living system.

Cultural traditions from all over the world have a rich repertoire of knowledge about these pattern and rhythms and how to best support them. These perspectives add much depth to our contemporary Western models of change. For example, indigenous traditions teach us the interdependencies between change and stability, and the Eastern traditions about the principle of impermanence.

Here is a perspective on change and stability from oldest culture living on Earth today, the Kalahari Bushman/San people. In Bushman cosmology and their story about the workings of the universe, the process that endlessly changes form is considered to be God. This Big God has two sides: the stable side and the trickster side. Their circular interaction creates change and generates growth, maturation, and transformation.

According to a Cgunta Bushman healer, “Our most important idea is thuru. That is, the process in which one form changes into another […]

2018-09-20T20:13:21+00:00November 20th, 2012|Change, Indigenous Wisdom|0 Comments

Rites of Passages and Wisdom Emerging

A couple of months ago I participated in the Wisdom Emerging retreat at IONS with Alan Briskin, Lauren Artress and Angeles Arrien. I began making the painting above during the retreat’s expressive arts process and completed it a couple of weeks later. The painting symbolizes significant aspects of the rite of passage that I am currently in. Here are my thoughts about the making of the painting and what it represents. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

Technique and Australian Symbolism

The painting is made within the art tradition of the Eastern Arrernte People of the Central Desert in Australia. I have been very inspired by the art of Kathleen Kemarre Wallace. She uses extremely bright colors and very intricate designs to tell the story of her people and her land. It is worth mentioning here that there are tight protocols about who can produce Aboriginal art. I have had to deal with this issue since I began exploring Aboriginal art making when I first moved to Australia. It is very important to state here that my art is not Aboriginal art. My art has primarily been an inquiry into Aboriginal culture. […]

Hunting for Honey Ants

During one of my visits to the Central Desert to participate in the women’s ceremonies, several Aboriginal women went hunting for honey ants and took a friend of mine and me along. Before we left I knew very little about these ants except that they had a great cultural significance to the Aboriginal people. In the middle of the day we spent several hours out bush in the sweltering heat hunting and  digging for these ants and what we received in return was priceless. Aside from tasting the sweet nectar of these honey ants, I was able to witness the refined perceptive powers of Central Desert people, hear a story that sensitized me to the pain of Aboriginal women, appreciate the nourishing power of one of their bush foods, and see how Aboriginal symbols as found in many of their paintings reflect what we can observe in nature. Shortly after this particular trip to the desert I made the painting above to capture the story of our experience that day.

As we took off for the hunt, the burning sun penetrated our bodies and the red sand drenched in sunlight radiated heat […]

Ceremony As A Collective Healing Response

A few posts ago I shared my perception that ceremonies are a collective healing response to the existential experiences of being human. This clarity crystallized when I participated earlier this year in Women’s Business (Ceremonies) with Aboriginal Elder Women in the Central Desert. Previous experiences with indigenous ceremonies elsewhere, helped shape the foundations for this understanding.

Ceremonies in general are a way to step out of the ordinary goings-on of daily life to enter a sacred space for personal and collective healing through praying, singing, dancing, silence and the laying on of hands. Ceremonial practices generate movement toward wholeness and wellness by removing the blockages and heavy energy that we accumulate as part of living daily life. These blockages and layers of heavy energy prevent us from feeling and recognizing one’s belonging to this world, that we are an integral part of the great weave of life, and that the living energy travels among, through and between us.

My experience in the Central Desert reflected and confirmed other experiences I have had with indigenous people: in Africa with the Kalahari Bushman, with the Andean indigenous People of Peru, and with Native American ceremonies […]

That Old Man

In only a few minutes, this video conveys in powerful images and simple language how the Aboriginal people and their ‘country’, their art and their stories, and their songs and ceremonies are part of one another and, in fact, inseparable. Watching this film, I am reminded of Gregory Bateson’s comment that the aesthetic, the whole and the sacred evoke each other.

Having just returned from the Central Desert the second time and participating in Women’s Business at some very special sacred sites, I have begun to grasp in a new way what the notion of homeland or ‘country’ may mean to the Aboriginal people and how healing the land is healing ourselves.

Enjoy this glimpse into a completely different kind of human relationship to the natural environment, visible or not.

This post was originally published in my blog Liminal Songlines. The intention of that blog was to help capture my initial understanding of the spiritual healing traditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia while I lived in Australia from 2009 to 2012. Much of what I learned there is relevant to my continuing explorations of […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – Two

Sacred Women’s Business

Women’s Business is sacred business and it is secret business. During the ceremony important cultural knowledge and sacred practices are shared and the agreement is that participants do not talk about the particulars of the ceremonies with those who have not participated in them before.  However, we were given permission to share about the going-ons of the visiting women’s camp since we were not doing ceremony with Aboriginal elders there. We were also asked not to take any photos while in either camp and to refrain from journaling, especially notes about the going-ons in the ceremony. We were asked to come with an empty mind and to be present to what is. I have often found photo-taking during sacred activities to be somehow disturbing the feel or energy of what was unfolding in the moment and refraining from journaling helped me stay more present with what was moving through me and before me rather than spending time in reflection and analysis. (I will share a few comments about the above painting later in this post.)

I have made […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – One

Ceremonies are a collective healing response to the elemental and existential experiences of being human. As we dance, pray, chant, make offerings, surrender, and feel heard and witnessed by one another and the great mystery of which all spirits, all gods, and all that is divine are a part, our shared humanity becomes visible, and our place within this great weave of life is affirmed. Ceremony is healing and an enactment of wholeness.

The Sacred Centa: Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Last March I joined a group of nearly 30 women who traveled from across the country and overseas to the Central Desert to be in ceremony with local Aboriginal women. We spent four nights and five days camping out at a sacred women’s site about 20 minutes away from Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). Uluru is the most sacred site to the Aboriginal people of that area and over the years Uluru has become the most dominant symbol of the Central Desert as well as a tourist destination for many travelers. However, for most outsiders the area is only accessible by flying into the small airport […]