Giving Aboriginal Children a Voice – Part II

Bloopers captured in time on our crowdfunding campaign video

This blog goes out on the cusp of the release of my first children’s therapeutic picture book.  Nerves aside, it’s been an exciting but hectic week as Christine and I prepare for media interviews.  We’ve also been busy creating a crowdfunding campaign to get the community on board with our hopes for the book.  We are new to all this stuff, so of course there have been many laughs along the way (hence the blooper snapshot captured here while filming our campaign video).  If you really want to know what all the fuss is about, then maybe this Q&A might provide some answers.

What is the book about?

There are two characters in the book, a little boy called Jack and his friend Tree, who lives with his family (or other trees) in the bush.   I think the blurb on the back cover is a good summary of what happens in this story.

“Tree is living a peaceful life in the bush until a wild storm comes along and damages his environment.  His friend, Jack is worried that Tree won’t recover and be able to play with him again.  When Jack also lives through a wild storm in his home, he comes to realise just how strong they both really are.  Jack has strong cultural roots, just like Tree that brings hope and healing to his whole family.”

This story is really exploring the ‘storms of life’ that children go through and how this impacts on them.  It’s also a story of healing which comes through connection, culture and the support of family and community.

How did this story come to me?

The story was just slowing coming together in the back of my mind, mulling away there for a long time.  Then one day, I think I was in a day dream state and the idea just popped into my head.  I then went away and wrote it fairly quickly.  Often ideas come to me in my dreams day or night.

Book Cover

What are the aims of the book?  What are my intentions in writing it?

I think the book reflects what I am trying to do in my counselling work with children.  First, it’s about helping them find their voice and give words to the ‘problem story’ of their lives.  It’s also about making visible the ‘strong story’ of their lives – what is it that is keeping them going, stay safe and be happy.

I am hoping that the adults in children’s lives will use this book to give voice to the strong story of children’s lives and perhaps even document this.   This could include the skills, abilities, beliefs, values and knowledge the child has in coping and keeping themselves safe.

‘The Life of Tree’ is another resource that people can add to their tool box in their conversations with children.

Who is the book for?  Who would be interested in reading it?

This book is intended to be read by an adult to Aboriginal children who have been affected by trauma.

This book will appeal to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people care for, live or work with children who’ve experienced trauma such as domestic and family violence.  So this can include family members and foster carers as well as professionals such as counsellors, social workers, support workers or case workers.

 What inspired me to write the book?

 My biggest motivation is to help children tell their stories.  One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my work with Aboriginal children, apart from the obvious cultural and gender barriers is gaining enough trust, for children to feel that it is OK to talk about the really tough stuff.  And that what they are feeling is normal.  Kids do feel sad and angry about violence in their families.  And it’s shame and fear that really hold them back from speaking up and healing from their experience.  So in order to gain trust we need to create a safe space for the conversation.

Another motivation is to provide a culturally safe tool for professionals.  ‘The Life of Tree’ uses images and themes that children can connect to because it reflects their own cultural traditions and beliefs.  Christine has done an amazing job bringing her artistic talents to this story.  I haven’t really found any other resources like this out there.

Of course, my favourite part is the use of metaphors because this has worked in other areas of my practice.  I’ve been practicing narrative therapy in my work with children for 8 years, with groups of children in remote communities as well as in individual counselling.  I have witnessed how the use of metaphors is effective in connecting with people and creating a safe space for conversation about difficulties in their lives.   Asking direct questions isn’t always going to work, but people seem to spontaneously want to share their own story, if they hear a story that is similar to theirs.

What initially got me interested in this topic?

10 years ago I arrived in the Northern Territory virtually green from university. The first 6 months working out bush as a drug and alcohol counsellor, I drank lots of tea and did a lot of listening.  I later moved into children’s counselling and I was hearing lots of stories from women Elders about their concerns for their children and grandchildren.  I guess, I’ve always been listening for ways I might be able to meet an expressed need – that’s what community development is all about.  If there is some way I can walk alongside communities to find solutions to the problems in their communities, then there is a place for me there.  Along the journey I’ve found myself more and more in the healing space, finding ways of bring healing to people’s lives.

When is the book being released?  How can people buy it?

The book was released on Wednesday 1st March 2017.  You can access further information and a Sneak Peak of pages from the book from my online Shop.  There you’ll also find a downloadable Order Form.

 What about people who can’t afford to buy the book?

We are officially launching a crowd-funding campaign on Tuesday to raise money to send free books to communities.  Christine and I would like to put donated books into all the women’s refuges in remote communities of the NT, WA and Queensland.  We are both aware that the support for children coming into remote safe houses is pretty limited.  ‘The Life of Tree’ is one way, that Aboriginal workers in those services could engage children and directly support them.

So if there is anyone out there who would like to sponsor a book, they can look up our campaign ‘Giving Aboriginal Kids a Voice’

Christine with ‘The Life Of Tree’

7 Reasons why Social Workers should Blog

It’s scary out there but you can show new social workers the way!

Curiously, I recently searched the web to see how many Australian social workers have a personal blog about their journey.  Disappointingly, there are not a lot of us out there!

My main motivation for starting a blog was linked to my own experience upon leaving university.  During my degree, there was not a great deal written about social work in Indigenous communities and the task seemed daunting. I would have really appreciated being able to hear real-life stories about ‘how to do it’.  (Ah-hem – from real people, not academics!)

Thankfully, there are loads more academic texts and journal articles around these days on Indigenous social work.  But my vision was to offer a space for graduating students to connect and prepare for their journey through stories.  As well as a go to resource for the rest of us who continue to learn every day!

So here are my 7 reasons why you should start a blog.

1.  You can make a difference

Remember when you first started studying social work because you wanted to make a real difference to people’s lives?  Well, having your own blog is one way of teaching others about what works and how to avoid making the mistakes you made.  You will be shaping and mentoring the next generation of social workers.

2. Experienced professionals want to hear your voice

You will be surprised at the wide range of people that will benefit from reading your stuff.  Not just senior social workers, but nurses, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, youth workers and even entrepreneurs.  Some of these people don’t ‘get’ what it is we do.  Now you can show them.

3.  New social workers need to hear your voice

Social work in Indigenous communities is bloody hard sometimes.  Newcomers need to hear that!   We need people who are prepared to walk the talk, take the knocks and pick themselves back up, accept they are not going to change the world and be content to take the small wins.  So we have to tell it like it is.  I have seen too many people come to remote Australia expecting to change the world, only to leave feeling helpless because they had no idea what to expect.  Whatever field you practice in, there is a lot of work to be done and you can help prepare newbies.

“Oh, the places you’ll go and the people you’ll meet!”

4.  You can inspire people with the rewards

OK, so entrenched social problems arising from a history of colonising practices in Australia make this one of the most challenging fields of work.  But it also comes with a-m-a-z-i-n-g rewards and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, if workers have the patience and perseverance to stick around long enough to see it.  With stories about the people you meet, the places you go and the successes you have, you can inspire them.

5.  You can tell stories about the real world

Some people just want to know what ‘A Day in the Life of a Remote Social Worker’ actually looks like.  You can’t get that from reading a journal article or text book.  Stories of lived experience can teach others about the pitfalls, the challenges, the rewards, the tips and the strategies for surviving and thriving.  Blogs are authentic and practical – real world stuff!

 6.  Blogs are immediately accessible

Writing a journal article takes a lot of time and is a highly scrutinised process.  I just wanted to get my ideas, my opinions and my experiences out there.  You can write about a current issue and hit publish today.  You can start a conversation, mobilise a mob and get immediate feedback.  How powerful is that!

7.  You can earn PD points.

Having a blog is another alternative for reflecting on your practice with yourself initially (like when you’re staying out bush and you’ve got nothing else to do)  and then with all your followers who hopefully send comments.  Even the AASW recognises the value of social workers sharing their perspective and contributing to the growth of the profession.  Go to Category 3 ‘Professional Identity’ to claim PD points for ‘Presenting or Promoting the Social Work Perspective’ and claim the hours you have taken to write your piece.  Bonus!

So if this has convinced you that blogging is a good thing, go for it.  There is lots of information out there about how to get started.  Please drop us a line if you do.  I, for one, would love to be the first to read it (and comment).

2016 – It will be a Shining Year (if i have anything to do with it)

IMG_20160116_165221And so it is with trepidation and determination that I sat down in January and planned out my year ahead.   But I didn’t want to do it just any old way.  It had to be what Sark would call a wild succulent process – one that would make me want to follow through on the goals I set.  So I ordered myself a gorgeous diary and journal to create myself a shining year.  During the mapping process, I came to appreciate what a unique position I am in.  I currently hold down two jobs – the first as a Project Worker has been in the making for many years through my experience working on the Tiwi Islands – the other, a new environment counselling children and families in a mainly mainstream setting.   If you have ever held down two intensive part time jobs that demand your energy and your passion in completely different ways, then you’ll know what a challenging task it is to change hats mid week.

Of course all these responsibilities has meant that the work of Metaphorically Speaking as a private practice has been put on hold for now.  Well sort of.  You see I’ve set myself another goal this year too.  To finally self publish a children’s book that’s been in the making for the last few years.   This dream grew out of my work as a children’s counsellor on the Tiwi Islands and NE Arnhemland.   I have noticed that primary school aged Aboriginal boys had real difficulty talking about domestic violence in their families and community.  Often shame was so great that they were silenced or too traumatised to speak about their experience.   Gender and cultural barriers also provided extra challenges.  Much of my work focused on using non verbal methods of communication such as drawing, clay or drumming to help boys express themselves.   I also came to appreciate the power of metaphors to help children talk about their lives in safe ways through groupwork on family healing bush camps using the Tree of Life methodology.   The Elders enthusiastically took up narrative practice ideas that drew on storytelling traditions focusing on strengths, hope and resilience.  Seeing how well these ideas worked in community has inspired me to use similar metaphors to reach out to children, who are silenced by their experience of violence.  My goal in writing this book is for counsellors, therapists and even mums and dads to have a way of giving children a voice to their experience by lifting the veil of shame and self blame.   I also believe the book values the strengths of culture in keeping children safe and strong.  I feel privileged to be working with Christine Burrawunga in making this book a reality, with Christine turning her amazing artistic talents into the role of illustrator.  As is so much a part of my practice, this project will be a two way learning experience and genuine partnership.   I look forward to working together with Christine over the next few weeks to begin dreaming and scheming the images to accompany the text.  This is a journey neither of us have been on before.

2016 is also an exciting time, as I near closer to starting our very first support group on the Tiwi Islands for pregnant women or women with young children who are living with or at risk of trauma from violence.   This project is a long time in the making, and has come about through funding made available through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to Relationships Australia.   Last year, my focus rested on training local women in Wurrumiyanga to be group facilitators and peer mentors to participants using the talking tool called It Takes A Forest to Raise a Tree.  This resource is something I have developed alongside Elders in the community beginning in 2010, after they expressed worries about their grandchildren and the difficulty of connecting with their parents, they described as the lost generation.  Finally, the tool will be out there hitting the ground where it is most needed.

Meanwhile in 2016 I will also be starting some new work in Child Inclusive Practice in my counselling role at Anglicare Resolve.  This requires new learning and new approaches for working with children whose parents are separated, as well as getting my head around the family law system, how it operates and how it impacts on families and children.

So there’s lots of work ahead.  It’s daunting.  It’s exciting.  It’s gonna be a shining year.

For more information about my work on the Tiwi Islands, you can contact me at Relationships Australia NT.  To access my culturally safe counselling services for children and families in Darwin, contact Anglicare NT Resolve.  To get a copy of my children’s picture book, stay tuned.

Mindfulness: A new fad OR a practice used for thousands of years in Australia?

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Nature has a way of bringing us back to the moment.

Has anyone noticed how busy, how violent, how damaged, how lost the world is lately?  Sometimes it feels like I spend more time defending some right, advocating for some justice or worrying about some worthy cause, than I spend with my own children just living and being.  My Inbox is flooded with agencies wanting my signature on their petition or money to fight their case.  As a peoples, we seem to have lost our sense of self – our humanity – distracted by the temptation of technologies and drawn into the seduction of social media.  We have been sucked into believing that our leaders and politicians have our collective human interest at heart.  We have been disconnected from what our intuition, our bodies and our earth is telling us.  We are detached from relationship to each other.

It seems like there are quite a few of us out there who are despairing at the ravaging of the planet and the inhumane treatment of human beings at many levels.  It has been refreshing to witness the emerging movement of people standing up for human and environmental rights around the world.  There is change on the wind.  Some have called it the time of the Great Turning.  There is also a movement of people simplifying their lives, ridding themselves of the possessions of consumerism, growing and sharing free food, moving into a tiny house, cutting back their work hours and looking for a tree change.  These are not what might be called hippies or tree huggers but average people. Yes it is the average person that is waking up and looking within for what is true and just.

Mindfulness is also making a comeback with a wider audience than just the yoga-loving types. Mindfulness teaches us to stop, to breathe, to reconnect, to listen.  Seigel (2015) calls it taking ‘time in’ (as opposed to time out) inviting us to become aware of our bodies, feelings and thoughts at this moment in time.  Not the past.  Not the future.  Now.

Professionals in the field of neuroscience now have the evidence that mindfulness really is good for our human brains.  So evidently the human services sector is jumping on board with mindfulness being the answer to all manner of human problems like addictions and mental illness, manifestations of the crazy, stressed-out world we have created.

I would argue that Aboriginal people in Australia have been practising mindfulness for thousands of years. It appears to be very close to what Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, from Daly River calls ‘Dadirri’.

Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us.”

“The contemplative way of dadirri spreads over our whole life. It renews us and brings us peace. It makes us feel whole again.“

“There is no need to reflect too much and to do a lot of thinking. It is just being aware.”

Miriam has said that dadirri is not just an Aboriginal thing, it is deep inside each one of us.  Sitting in nature is one way we can become more connected with the practice of dadirri.  Sit, feel and listen – to the birds, the wind, your breathing, your heartbeat.  Allow yourself to be quiet and be still in this moment.  It won’t fix the worries of the world.  But it will allow you to just be.

It’s pretty ironic that the one culture we have tried to destroy in Australia is the same culture that can teach us how to live in peace with ourselves and the earth?   If only we had just listened.

References

Siegel, D. 2015 ‘ Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain’.

A Social Work Practice Framework: The Right Mix for me

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Like the bush damper, my social work practice framework is a recipe I’ve learnt from wiser people around me.

I was recently asked by the Australian Childhood Foundation to answer some questions which would be used to contribute to the development of a team practice framework.  I have no doubt my answers will be very different to other members of the team.  It represents what is the best mix for me at this point in time.  It is an emerging and ever-evolving recipe for working with Indigenous communities.  Like any recipe, there is always room for improvement.  Here are just some of the ingredients.

How would you describe the 5 most important principles that underpin your approach to working with children and families?

  1. Awareness of Aboriginal history, colonisation, cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma. This is a big topic to get your head around but it is necessary.  One cannot be working with Indigenous folk without appreciating and accepting how ‘white privilege’ impacts on our work.  It is an ongoing learning project for me.  This is closely linked with the social work values of human rights and social justice which are the core values that drive my passion for this work.
  2. Mutual respect.  This cannot be achieved without a relationship.  If you give respect, you can expect respect in return.  Establishing a relationship of trust is the most important part of the work, given Indigenous people can be suspicious of whitefellas (with very good reason – there is a history of people coming into their communities, doing their work and leaving without engaging in authentic consultation or setting up any sustainable change processes).  It was important to me to stick around, to show that I wasn’t going to be another ‘white toyota’.  In my first 6 months working remote, all I did was had cups of tea with people and listened.  This was so important in being able to establish a relationship of mutual respect.
  3. Doing ‘with’ not ‘for’. It is walking alongside our clients, not in front and not behind.  This is probably the hardest principle to stay connected with.  It is very tempting to take over and do things for people when they have become so disempowered.  I have to constantly remind myself ‘how can I be?” rather than ‘what can I do?’  There is also a risk of overdoing it, thinking you can save the world and then dropping behind from burnout.   I am reminded of the words from Lila Watson

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

  4. Genuine collaboration and accountability to the community. This is not something that should happen as an aside in the work.  This should be first, foremost and ongoing.  It follows on from my previous point about ‘doing with not for’, and my next point about not being the expert.  I have written a bit about collaboration from a cultural perspective elsewhere.
  5. Coming from a stance of curiosity and non-expert.  I don’t have the answers.  I will never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of an Aboriginal person.  But I do have skills in being able to listen to the problems of people’s lives and reconnect them with their skills, knowledge, values, hopes and visions that may have temporarily become lost.  I believe everyone has the capacity to find their own solutions if they are prepared to explore the ‘real me’.  Discovering the person that has got lost, sometimes means working through some really hard issues that have got in the way of their preferred self.  My approach is therefore one of curiosity.

What theories or knowledge do you draw on to inform your approach?

  1. Community development theories. Of all my formal social work education, the theoretical understandings of community development have had the most impression on me.  Community is also an important part of my personal life too.  I take an active role in volunteering, participating in community life and being a change agent in the community development process.
  2. Systems theory.  One cannot work with children alone.  For real change to occur we must engage at the family, community and society level.  After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  3. Two way learning

    Two way learning

    Two way learning model.  This implies I have just as much to learn from the people I work with as they do from me.  We are exploring the questions and finding the answers together.  When I started working in NE Arnhemland I took the time to document the emerging practice framework between myself and our Yolngu worker to demonstrate how Yolngu and Western worldviews were working together to bring healing to the lives of children, their mothers and families affected by domestic and family violence.  I hoped it might give some insight into how other workers might marry Western approaches to counselling with Yolngu methods of healing.  This reflection speaks extensively about the knowledge, values, beliefs and skills underpinning this cultural practice framework.  I also enjoy documenting and sharing the skills, knowledge and abilities of Indigenous folk who are staying strong in the face of hardship.  Many of these stories can be found here.

  4. In recent years I have been drawn to the trauma-informed approach in children’s counselling to address concerns around behaviour, learning, health and various aspects of wellbeing.  But how does this scientific knowledge inform our work with groups and communities who have experienced intergenerational trauma, where the effects of violence are normalised?  What affects has the impact of trauma from colonisation, dispossession and assimilation had and continue to have on Aboriginal people, families and communities from a neuroscience perspective?  These are big questions I wonder about.

There are many, many other theories and pieces of knowledge somewhere deep inside my brain.  But these are the ones that come to mind at this present moment.

How do you describe the goals or aims of your work?

I am really passionate about early intervention and prevention.  These terms get thrown around a lot so they have lots of different meanings for different people.  My passion is about the prevention of trauma through culturally safe therapeutic support.  My current work is all about the prevention of trauma in young children under 3.  I believe this is where we can make the most difference in breaking the cycle of violence and trauma.  If we can get a child through the first 1000 days of their life with a secure attachment and no ongoing exposure to harmful trauma then they have a much better chance of growing up strong and healthy.  Unfortunately, many Aboriginal children have an early childhood developmental history of exposure to domestic or family violence, child abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.  In 5-10 years time, my hope is that this number is reduced significantly because there is more investment being made in the early years to ensure children’s safety, security and emotional needs are being met.  It seems wrong to me that we spend all the money on children when they reach school.  The damage has already been done by them and it is harder to heal.

What are the 5 most important techniques that you use in your work?

  1. Narrative therapy. I have shared some of the ways of I incorporate narrative practice into my work with Indigenous folk here.
  2. Puppets are great for externalising conversations with kids.

    Puppets are great for externalising conversations with kids.

    Expressive therapies. Communicating using drawing, painting, craft, clay, storytelling in the sandtray or with puppets.  These are the mediums where many great things can happen from externalising problems to integrating trauma.  I have had fun writing about and developing my own art therapy techniques, testing, reflecting on and reshaping them to ensure they are culturally safe.

  3. Indirect questioning. It is better to invite an Aboriginal person to tell their story than to ask a whole lot of direct questions.  Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get a picture of what is going on, maybe many months.  This requires patience.  But at least you won’t be causing more shame or bad feelings for that person through interrogation.
  4. Attentive listening. Double listening.  Listening for what is said as well as what is not said.  Watching out for the signs of resistence.  Listening for the ways people are standing up to the effects of problems and systems on their lives.  Looking for the sunlight peering through a small crack that opens the door to people’s preferred ways of living their lives.
  5. Self care. I cannot approach my work with care and empathy if I am not giving this to myself.  I have learnt the hard way.  In 2013, I developed early stage thyroid disease which can be exacerbated by stress and shortly after, herniated a disc in my lower back.  Both of these physical impediments are closely linked to psychological health.  Remote work can be taxing even when you are healthy and have a strong mind like I do.  I had to give up my work for a while to begin a process of healing and recovery.  This has been a long hard process.  I have learnt how to listen to my body and meditation has now become a daily practice (something I struggled with for many years).
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Helping people to help themselves and employing local people.

What are the 3 outcomes that you believe you achieve in your work?

  1. Trust.  And with that comes engagement.  Once you have engagement, then you can work together on the practical issues.  This goes for counselling – resulting in the client feeling listened to, finding the conversation helpful, wanting to come back and moving forward in their lives.  It goes for community work too, with Elders and leaders of the community wanting to stay connected to what you are doing.
  2. Awareness raising. While I would like to say that I have been able to stop violence in a family or community, it’s probably not the case most of the time.  The best I can hope for is to make women and children aware of the impact of trauma on themselves, their children and their community.  It is up to them in the end, whether they stand up to it or take action to protect themselves and those around them.  My latest project is getting ‘the brain story’ out to women in communities, so that they can make a more trauma-informed choice about their protective behaviours towards children.
  3. Helping communities to help themselves. I am committed to employing and mentoring local people to work alongside me.

What kind of supports do you believe are important for you to experience that will enable you to improve the effectiveness and quality of your work?

Supervision from an Aboriginal social work practitioner.  This is difficult to access when working under funding arrangements which don’t necessarily value this.

What books or journal articles have inspired you?

Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines: The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma In Indigenous Australia by Judy Atkinson

Collective narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma by David Denborough.  His latest book Retelling the Stories of Our Lives is such an accessible, easy read.   It is designed for anyone to be able to do their own healing using the gentle principles of the narrative approach.

Telling Our Stories in Ways that Make us Stronger by Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester

Our Voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Work eds. B Bennett, S. Green, S. Gilbert, D. Besserab

The Art Therapy Sourcebook or anything by Cathy Malchiodi

Anything by Dan Seigal including his many U-tube clips and TED talks.

Social Work in Aboriginal communities: Get real and collaborate!

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Alberta Puruntatameri, Lucy and Elaine Tiparui at Pirlangimpi Family Healing Bush Camp

I’ve been lucky enough since moving to the Northern Territory to find myself doing therapeutic work in collaboration with Aboriginal people. I mean real collaboration not consultation. To me, collaboration is a genuine partnership where both parties have an active role in achieving a shared outcome with mutual respect for the skills and knowledge of the other. In practical terms, this has meant being able to employ Aboriginal women to be in the counselling room with me.  My Aboriginal colleagues haven’t necessarily had formal education or training, but to me the most important thing is a passion for helping women and children.
The advantages of providing therapy together are too numerous to mention.  You can communicate with your client in their own traditional language; you can find out what the client’s body language means because they will always pick up things you don’t; you have immediate access to first hand information about community issues that could be impacting on a client; and you can explore traditional methods of healing that can be incorporated into the work.  The other part of the ’two way’ learning equation, is the opportunity to impart knowledge and skills about mainstream counselling and group work methodologies, practices and even theories.  In my experience, Aboriginal women are keen to learn and take an active role in the health and wellbeing of their own families and communities.  Often they will be there working, way after you have packed up and gone, into the night seven days a week. So why shouldn’t they take up position alongside me in the counselling room?  Unfortunately for the majority of Counsellors working in Aboriginal communities, this situation is the exception rather than the rule!  But to me this is what anti oppressive social work practice looks like; I am being held accountable at every step on the journey.  It’s definitely not easy work by any means, but any perceived obstacles to this practice can always be worked through. Yes things go at a lot slower pace. And what appears to be risky or outside the box, may actually result in some amazing transformative outcomes for everyone involved.

Patricia (right) at the Cairns SNAICC conference with the remote Therapeutic Team (Michelle and Elaine) and colleague (Therese)

Patricia (right) at the Cairns SNAICC conference with the remote Therapeutic Team (Michelle and Elaine) and colleague (Therese)

One of my most memorable moments would have to be working with Patricia Munkara, who by complete accident happened to fall into the job (but that’s another story!)  Patricia came with no experience at all but with an enormous amount of respect in the community with Elders and children and everyone in between despite her ‘young’ age.  She also understood the importance of confidentiality for people that would come to us for support and was able to work with these challenges whilst fulfilling her family, community and cultural responsibilities. I saw Patricia develop from a shy, softly spoken woman into an outspoken advocate for children in her community!  She even stood up and presented alongside me at a conference after just nine months into the job.  Awesome!

It was an obvious choice for me to adopt this same model when starting my own business earlier this year.  Many people are saying our service offers something unique in the Northern Territory.  Tonight I launched our first crowd funding campaign, aimed at assisting my colleague Christine Burarrwanga to participate in ASIST (suicide intervention) training.  This is another step towards our goal of offering a real collaborative culturally safe counselling and support service!
So check it out.  Our small video will give you some more insight into what is important to us in our work.

 

Recipes Of Life: How cooking is transforming my relationships, community and work

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Cooking in the Mulch Pit Community Garden.

Many years ago I started an initiative which I called the Community Chef. The idea was to share recipes using local food and a dozen of us would gather in someone’s house to prepare and cook these together. I remember the smell of garlic and ginger being pushed around the wok, the laughter of men gathered round the stove, the chatter of women munching on carrots and homemade spinach dips, and handwritten recipes handed down in families or along cultural storylines. There was something about this experience that was pretty darn special. Even though our community cooking nights have moved to an outdoor kitchen at my local community garden, this method of sharing knowledge and skills in such an earthy, organic way has huge therapeutic potential for each one of us. It does not assume that only one person is the expert but that we can all be teachers and learners.

It was pretty ironic that I would meet Natalie Rudland-Wood at around the same time as starting the Community Chef.  Natalie had developed the Recipes of Life program, adapted from similar narrative folk cultural methodologies like the Tree of Life.  Natalie was using Recipes to engage children and young people affected by homelessness in conversations about their lives using the metaphor of food.  Cooking and counselling was proving to be an effective mix.  In documenting and sharing their Recipes for overcoming hard times, the kids were experts in their own lives and becoming supportive mentors for their peers!

Having recently won a small grant, I’m currently preparing a program to trial Recipes of Life with refugees and asylum seekers living in Darwin.  It is not my intention to describe how the program works, but instead give you “a taster” by sharing my own recently crafted Recipe of Life.   Hopefully, you will see the two-fold potential therapeutic benefits, for the person writing their recipe and contributing it to the life of another, and the person receiving it (who might also be experiencing hard times).

LUCY’S RECIPE FOR LIVING WITH CHRONIC BACK PAIN

Ingredients

Mental strength         one bucket

Support                        a cup overflowing

Mindfulness                1 shovel full

Stamina                        a heap

Willpower                    as much as you can muster

Good diet                     1 teaspoon per day

Exercise                        between 1 teaspoon and 1 cup per week

Acceptance                   ideally 1 pinch per day

Patience                        1 handful per day

Understanding             doesn’t need to be added, just happens

Sourcing

The origins of Mental Strength are home grown after watching my mum who has had to put up with a lot over the years.  I remember having it after leaving home and it grows stronger every year.

Support is ‘on loan’ from my generous husband and kind friends.  It is always available but not always easy to accept.

The ideas and principles of Mindfulness have been imported over the years from friends, books, people I don’t know on the internet and Buddhist Monk, Gen Kelsang Dornying.

Stamina and Willpower is cultured from home as a result of leaving my birthplace and family in my early twenties and learning to rely on myself.

Good Diet and exercise are a mix of home grown skills of listening to my body mixed with advice from trusted naturopaths and chiropractors.  This sometimes gets confusing as the two sources can be conflictual.  But in the end, I know best, over any expert advice.

Acceptance is reluctantly borrowed from God who makes it easier to understand the need for this Recipe.

Patience is a gift from gentle role-models like my mum and Nelson Mandela.

Understanding is also a gift that presents itself from the mixing of all the other ingredients.

Method

Blend together mental strength and support using a wheelbarrow and shovel.  Pack down tight into the bottom of the wheelbarrow so there are no gaps.  You can’t afford to let any contaminants spoil this mix.

In a bowl, whisk together mindfulness, stamina and willpower.  Set it aside to ferment.  This will take a minimum of six months. Every day add good diet to the bowl.  Once a week add in exercise, not too much, just the right balance (depending on how you feel).   If it hurts, back off and just add the minimum required.  Even though you don’t like it, you must add small amounts of Acceptance especially on bad days.  For best results, add a pinch every day along with Patience.  The fermenting process is complete when Understanding has developed.   You are now ready to add this mix to the wheelbarrow.

Spread on top and leave out in the pure natural rays of the sun to cook. It will rise in the heat.

This recipe will take at least six months to ferment and develop its subtle flavour because you have to adjust ingredients as you go, depending on the level of pain on a given day.   Full maturity may take as long as two years.  

Mental Strength is the backbone of the recipe.  Without it, the recipe is doomed.

NB: My special tip is on really bad days to consume double the dose. For example, for my peace of mind, I had to advocate strongly to get an MRI against doctor’s advice which was “not clinically indicated”.  This takes a double dose of Mental Strength.

Serving Suggestion

Sometimes you will have to eat this in bed.

But the ideal way to serve it is at the end of the day, preferably in front of the sunset on the beach, surrounded by loved ones. I would have my immediate family, mum and close friends there, swaying in cosy hammocks with not a care in the world. The spread would be laid out on a huge picnic blanket with simple pure white crockery, the best silverware I could afford and fancy etched glasses with pink champagne.  The picnic basket would never run out of food.  We could eat as much as we wanted. There would be a high tide, lapping at our feet and a gentle breeze with the sweet smell of frangipani’s tickling my nose. The sound of curlews would ring out gently and intercept the laughter and joy of friendship.  I would speak with gratitude in honour of my soul mate and husband for sticking by me “in sickness and in health” for 21 years and the support of all those since that have drifted through my life, sharing their knowledge, encouragement and love.  A fairy would magically come and do all the washing up, leaving everything sparkly clean back in the picnic basket.

Has this got you thinking about how to use these ideas in your work?

Or perhaps how your personal Recipe could actually make a difference to the life of someone else?

Read more about Recipes of Life by downloading Natalie’s article in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work or if you’d like to write your own Recipe, contact us.

“Let’s Do Dadirri” – Using your Inner Wisdom on this rocky Journey called Life

IMG_2122How often do you stop and sit in quiet still awareness, open to listening to what your inner voice is saying to you?  For some, this might be too confronting, perhaps afraid of what they might hear.  However for the majority, it seems our busy world distracts us from this important human task.  Those who practice regular meditation will have some idea of what it is like to sit in quiet still awareness, and be open to receiving new insight into what the body and mind needs at any particular point in time.  For those with no time to do nothing – you could be missing out on so much more that life has to offer!

Before I moved to the Northern Territory, I had been told by two different employers that I should “stop and smell the roses occasionally”.  This is difficult to hear by one who is passionately driven in their work.   Then I came across the words of Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, an Aboriginal Elder from Nauiyu (Daly River) who talks about Dadirri like it is the essence of human life.

“Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call ‘contemplation’.

When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening.”

“In our Aboriginal way, we learnt to listen from our earliest days. We could not live good and useful lives unless we listened. This was the normal way for us to learn – not by asking questions. We learnt by watching and listening, waiting and then acting.”

These words really struck me.  And I have carried them with me from the moment I stepped onto Aboriginal land to work with the Tiwi people.  For the first four months, I hardly spoke a word. I sat around with women Elders drinking cups of tea and listened as they generously poured out their stories – about them, about their community, about their people, about their hopes and dreams, and about what they didn’t want whitefellas doing to them anymore.  I learnt a lot by keeping my mouth shut.

Since injuring my back in January this year, I have had a lot more hours lying around in quiet still awareness, listening to what my body needs.  This has tended to be more reliable than the advice from doctors, physios, chiros and even well intentioned friends.

Dadirri doesn’t have to take a long time out of your day or be some mindblowing, life course altering transformation.  For instance, today I stopped to contemplate an out-of-the-blue email from an interstate colleague I’ve never met face-to-face, suggesting I read a book called “Leadership Beyond Good Intentions”.  She courageously suggested that “this book might help you look after yourself…as you continue your social leadership journey.”  I didn’t even realise I was on a social leadership journey!  I wondered whether others would have laughed off this observation, made a polite response and hit Delete.  But her insight got me contemplating.  What can she see that I can’t?  Where am I being lead?  Well, there was only one way to find out.  I ordered the book.

Anyway, it was all this contemplation that led me to write this blog…..

What are the signposts in your life that you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy?
What do the sights, smells and sounds around you have you feeling and thinking?
What is that piece of music or the bird that pooped on your head, really saying!
Stop and take notice.  Chances are your thoughts will be a reflection of what is important to you, who you really are and what you need.   It’s your inner wisdom talking.

“[Dadirri] is in everyone. It is not just an Aboriginal thing.”—Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann

When All Else Fails, Push Play : The Healing Power of Music

Xavier Rudd

Xavier Rudd follows the sun to the water.

Have you ever been so moved by a song that you look back and think that was a turning point in your life?

I was never really one to be touched by music in a really emotional way, until I reached my thirties. I was a third year university student and sitting in on the first lecture of Working With Indigenous Communities with Tony Kelly, a passionate man who had worked in the NT for 30 years. The only reason I’d taken his elective was out of curiosity – I’d heard that he cried in class. He pushed play on the cassette player (remember those?) and out came Paul Kelly’s From Little Things Big Things Grow. The tears started to form at the corner of my eyes and what followed was five months of no-holds-barred, in-ya-face black history (what I’d never learnt at school) and an invitation to take a long hard look at myself and my whiteness. Yep, it was a turning point. From Little Things… was a tiny seed planted and watered, which led me back to the NT.

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is a beautiful song, but it wasn’t until I watched the journey of the Choir of Hard Knocks culminating in their performance at the Sydney Opera House, that it gave me goosebumps. What Jonathan Welch and the homeless people of Sydney achieved together was nothing less than inspiring. Did you know that Leonard Cohen’s career had reached a low point when he wrote Hallelujah in 1984 and his record company didn’t bat an eyelid at it? Every time I hear it now, the goosebumps return.

I have a colleague, who I worked with just long enough a few years ago to make a spiritual connection through shared values and views about the world. We go months without seeing or talking to each other as we both lead busy and very different lives. However, earlier this year, when I was having a particularly tough time and felt like I had come to a crossroad, I got a call from her out of the blue. All she said to me was, listen to Rudd’s song – Follow Your Heart. When I opened the you-tube clip and and was invited to check “which way is the wind blowing”, tears welled up. Not so much because it became obvious to me what I should do. But because this distant friend, like a guardian angel or something, had delivered this message to me. Another turning point.

And this brings me to my last favourite song – another off Xavier Rudd’s album – Spirit Bird. See if you can get through this one without shedding a tear! Like a fighting warrior, these words provide the inspiration for me to keep going and never give up. I know I’m heading in the right direction.

I can count the number of songs that move me to tears or lift me up out of a low point, on one hand. But that’s what makes them all the more special.

What about you? In hard times, what are the songs that bring you healing? Share them. It could make all the difference to the life of another.

“Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul.”   Martin Luther (1483-1546)