Voices From the Dreamtime
Mary Lynn Adzema*
An Essay Review of Robert Lawlor's
Voices of the First Day:
Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime
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In Voices of The First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime,
Robert Lawlor invites us to put aside for a moment our superiority complex
and a misplaced pride in our civilization's "accomplishments," and join
him on a journey to recapture a treasure long lost to us, a memory of the
true origins of our species.
He points to the fateful schism between our civilization and the
natural environment a schism reflecting the more fundamental one within,
between our conscious and unconscious selves. This lack of integration,
along with our objectifying and overly analytical mind is now driving us
headlong to apocalypse.
In his eloquent and richly illustrated work the author urges us to
expand the vision of our origins and, in so doing, dare to embrace a saving,
healing synchrony with Earth's cycles of death and rebirth.
He is not the first to diagnose our dilemma but the mirror he uses
It is one of our most cherished assumptions that Western civilization
is based primarily on the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, and Rome. But if we are to find a way out of the disastrous imbalance we have created
on our planet, then we must search elsewhere for a model and spiritual
guide. In fact, Lawlor maintains, we need look to none other than the oldest
known human culture on this Earth, that of the Aborigines in Australia;
for it is here not in Africa, but in Tasmania to be exact where we shall
find the true birthplace of humankind.
What can we learn from this ancient people? For centuries we have
denied the universe an internal life and have imprisoned our own awareness;
living only on the shallow surface of our world and of our consciousness,
we have lost touch with our sense of unity not only with our deeper self
but with all of creation. At this time in human history it is absolutely
essential that we recover it, and, as Lawlor demonstrates, this is the
precious knowledge that the Aborigines possess. In the Aboriginal way of
life there is a vital message for us and a deep logic that we can no longer
Lawlor seems well qualified to guide us on this journey. He has spent
much of his life studying ancient civilizations, particularly ancient Egypt.
He lived and worked for six years with Dravidian village people in South
India and has spent another ten years on an island off the coast of Tasmania
considered by the Aborigines to be the sacred abode of their deceased ancestors.
Australian Aboriginal culture is founded entirely on their remembrance
of "the first day." The author begins by describing their worldview a myth
of creation, which, along with the value system it gave rise to, has survived
some 150,000 years. The Aborigines, Lawlor tells us, call the forces that
shaped the world their "creative ancestors." It is their experience that
the world has been created perfect in accord with the power, wisdom, and
intent of these first ancestral beings. During this creation epoch which
the Aborigines call the "Dreaming" the ancestors traveled, hunted, made
camp, fought, and loved; and through all these activities, shaped the original
void into a topographical landscape.
Before journeying they would sleep and "dream" the adventure of the
following day. In this manner, moving from dream to action, the ancestors
created all things from grasshoppers and emus, food and plants, the sun,
moon, and stars, to human tribes. All were created at once, and each could
transform into any of the others. Finally, wearied with their activity,
the ancestors retired back into the sky as well as into the creatures they
had created, where they remain as a potency within all creation.
These ancestral journeys are preserved and cherished in the rituals,
stories, art, and social patterns that have been carefully maintained by
the Aborigines for thousands of years. And the lessons learned from these
sacred stories is what they call the "Dreamtime Law," expressed even today
in the pure simplicity of the Aboriginal way.
To explain it in our own terms, Lawlor describes the Dreaming as
the original field of consciousness from which all life emanated. All beings
stars to humans and insects each uniquely reflects a form of that consciousness.
It is then self-evident that the Aborigines respect and adore Earth "as
if it were a book imprinted with the mystery of original creation" (p.
17). It is their life's goal to preserve and maintain the natural world
as much as possible in its original purity and wholeness.
Following his sensitive explication of the Dreamtime myth in Part
One, Lawlor demonstrates in Part Two how the Aborigines' cosmology is perfectly
expressed in their cycle of life, beginning with their attitudes and practices
surrounding birth, sexuality, initiation, and their kinship system. In
Part Three he examines the role of totem and image as vibrant communication
links between the Dreamtime and the realities of everyday tribal life. Part Four is devoted to "Death and Initiations of High Degree."
sets forth in fascinating detail how their lifelong cultural practices surrounding
birth; initiations; education in totem, taboo, and animism; as well as
the underlying strength provided by their elaborate kinship system all
prepare the Aborigine for her or his final passage, death, as a natural
and not to be feared expansion back into the Dreaming.
Without propagandizing he lets us see for ourselves through the brilliant
lens of anecdote, observation, and conversation with tribal elders how
the Aboriginal lifestyle and worldview prepare each member to face the
inevitable changes, challenges and crises of life and even the denouement
of death not with resignation, but with the grace of conscious surrender.
Ever implicit in the Aborigines' altogether natural and fearless embrace
of life is a depth of psychological wisdom and a full-blooded spirituality
which shows our civilization, with all of its highly touted achievements,
to be impoverished and even barbaric by contrast.
Indeed, Lawlor can be fairly described as a paradigm-smasher. Side
by side with the simple, spiritually nourishing Aboriginal way, he places
our own; showing how our adherence to Darwinian theory, which is based
on the principle of natural selection and the implication of Homo sapiens's
superiority, has projected a worldview based on competition and conflict;
a worldview which has resulted in the subjugation and destruction of indigenous
cultures the world over. Basic to our own myth is the ladder concept which
portrays the climb through stages from lower to higher, simple to complex,
a theory pervading most Western cultural structures and even transpersonal
psychology! (cf. Wilber, Kenneth; any work from 1980 to present) thus perpetuating
the idea of struggle, and demonstrating once again how deep is the split
in the Western human between the conscious and the unconscious self.
As a logical outgrowth of this worldview, is it any wonder that we
are fragmented, stressed, engaged in ravaging our environment and fleeing
How well has our Newtonian-Cartesian-Darwinian paradigm served? How
well, indeed, can be readily observed when we place its end-product, the
Western man and woman, next to their Aboriginal counterparts, who are quite
at home with their instinctive, psychic, and spiritual beingness and who
live in a creation which is "fully present, embodied, and magical in the
union of its physical and metaphysical dimensions . . . " (p. 389).
Are there some specific lessons we can actually learn from a culture
seemingly so diametrically opposed to our own?
Lawlor points out that Aboriginal society can be a potent resource
for us in finding non-violent alternatives for parenting and discipline.
For example, young children in the Aboriginal culture are allowed
full expression of their emotions and free rein in their behavior and are
supported, even indulged, by the entire clan. But as they mature they are
increasingly introduced to their responsibilities to kin and society. In
other words, as babes and toddlers their individuality is supported and
encouraged; but as they grow older, around the age of six or seven, their
relatedness to clan and tribe is increasingly emphasized. Still later,
at the time of puberty, they are introduced by way of initiatic rites to
the spiritual mysteries of the Dreaming. These rites are designed to help
the young Aborigine to face his or her worst fears, making conscious the
unconscious. At this critical transition into adulthood, children are provided
concrete experiences in relating to and surviving in the natural world,
in meeting a variety of challenges physical and spiritual, and in so doing
are encouraged to unfold their natural psychic powers. Finally, upon completing
their rite of passage, their achievement is joyously celebrated by the
entire tribe, giving each young person a sense of well-earned self-worth,
acceptance, and rootedness in their tribal family.
As a result of this natural progression, Lawlor points out, Aboriginal
adults are mild-mannered, confident, and easy-going . . . with none of
the rigid defensiveness and self-centeredness of the Western personality. In Western childrearing practice, for the most part, repression and control
occur very early; the emphasis as the child matures is on competitiveness,
rather than relatedness, and materialism as opposed to spirituality. Nor,
with the exception of the Bar Mitzvah of Judaism, for example, are there
supportive rites of passage. Is it any wonder that the cumulative results
of our unnatural childrearing practices, not to mention the violence of
our high-tech birthing procedures, are the ever-increasing cycles of violence,
suicide, and addictive behavior in our young people?
Is there hope for us? Yes. In fact our "fall from grace" may have
been a natural part of the cosmic rhythm, the ebb and flow of events that
is expressed in the explicate order by the periodic shifts in the Earth's
magnetic fields, to name one factor. In spite of the cosmic drama, with
its highs and lows, the implicate order (as David Bohm would have it),
the Dreaming of the Aborigines, the "Ground of Being" of Paul Tillich,
is ever with us, timeless and eternal. Indeed, our primal "home" has never
really left us. We need only open the door. For starters we can pay heed
and perhaps imbibe some of the ancient wisdom which the Australian Aborigines
and so many indigenous peoples, including our own Native Americans, have
preserved now for over one-hundred-thousand years.
This does not mean a return to the hunter-gatherer culture, of course.
But it will mean having the courage to heal our sundered selves. To heed
the archaic voice, which, although brutally quelled when first heard in
the turbulent Sixties, is once ill be heard.
Indeed it is already happening. All around
us links to the archaic are manifesting: shamanic journeying, inner explorations
through holotropic and pagain swelling and demanding expression. And this time it
wrimal breathwork, and other modalities based on
the reclaiming of our repressed inner selves are now spreading fast.
The very fact of Lawlor's book, along with many others now being
published under the New Age rubric, speak to a growing and now perhaps
irreversible "primal renaissance"; hence the title of this journal, and
the theme of this first issue: "Multiple Realities and Primal
Voices of the First Day is a magnificent call to acknowledge
and join in this renaissance. An artist as well as anthropologist, Lawlor
has brilliantly highlighted his many-faceted and wholistic work through
his choice of photographs, Aboriginal art, and his own drawings based on
some of the finest early photographs from collections around the world.
The effect of this book is that of a tapestry, weaving together many
fascinating strands of knowledge from the latest research on the effect
of the Earth's magnetic field on our mental processes; data from the new
biology, the new physics, psychology, philosophy, and the world's religions to
Lawlor's own uncompromising analysis of the destructive impact of Darwinian
and Baconian thought on our civilization. But more eloquent than all of
these, and resonating throughout, is his faithful depiction of the Aborigines
and their vibrant, joyful, and totally Earth-friendly way of life.
All the elements in this tapestry reinforce Lawlor's theme: that
there is now a critical need for us to integrate our physical, psychological,
and metaphysical selves. From this integration alone will come the healing
that the modern Westerner is so desperately seeking; and from this integration
alone will occur quite naturally the healing of our imperiled relationship
In reading this magnificent book we can only echo Lawlor's motivating
Dreams, collective memories and imagining are more potent
than religious faith or scientific theories in lifting us above the catastrophic
ending that confronts us all. A recollection of our origins and a remembrance
of a sense of reality in its pure and primary form is essential if we are
to understand our present circumstances and imagine the possibilities of
our collective destiny. (p. 8)
In conclusion, perhaps we can take sustenance from the Aborigines' profession
of faith, which Lawlor shares with us:
One need only be aware of the intricate interwoven fabric
of the body, mind, and spirit of nature to know that . . . . nothing is
left to chance or probability in the wondrous woven web of creation. As
the Aborigines say, "The life of the universe is a one-possibility thing."
article was originally published in
Primal Renaissance: The Journal
of Primal Psychology, 1(1), Spring 1995, pp. 111-115.
Copyright © 1995 by Mary Lynn Adzema
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MARY LYNN ADZEMA is
a former journalist, civil-rights activist, and poet, whose writings have
appeared in a number of West-Coast, national, and international publications.
She has been a student of yoga and Eastern spirituality for over thirty
years. She has also been a lecturer in psychology at World University
in Ojai, California, where she had previously earned a Masters degree in Consciousness
Psychology and an A.B.D. in
Philosophy. She wrote a chapter for and co-edited a book about
the experiences of Sai Baba devotees titled Transformation of the Heart. Mary Lynn
has received training with Stanislav Grof in holotropic breathwork and with
various people in primal therapy. Having served with the International Primal
Association on it Board of Directors and as Assistant
Editor of the publications, Primal Renaissance: The Journal of Primal
Psychology, a professional journal of psychology, and Primal
Spirit: The Deeper Wave of the New Age, a magazine; she now serves as
Assistant Editor of those some publications in their reincarnation on this
website, and as consulting editor for Primal Spirit
website in its umbrella-role for those publications plus all its other
facets. Most importantly, she serves as Assistant Director of the newly
opened Primal Spirit Center for Human
Evolution, offering primal breathwork, primal therapy, a community of
healing -- to name its major intentions. Mary Lynn's extended bio can be
found at Mary Lynn Adzema's Writings. She can
be contacted at P.O. Box 1348, Guerneville, CA 95446-1348; phone:
(707) 869-9008; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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