An Indigenous Approach To Healing Trauma

By Jonathan Davis on Monday July 20th, 2015

The Healing Power of Listening in Stillness

People have always experienced pain, and in the vast span of time before the colonial expansion of western culture, indigenous cultures weren’t without their methods of dealing with trauma.

For centuries we’ve largely ignored the wisdom of those among us who are still directly connected to ancestral ways of knowledge. As our modern lifestyle collides with the fact that our Earth is not capable of supporting our current way of life, we are finally starting to look to those who once lived in a state of indefinite sustainability and abundance, for a way forward.

In order to have sustainable community you have to make sure the people are sustainable. This means healing trauma. – Jarmbi Githabul, Narakwal / Githabul Custodian

What is Dadirri?

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’. – Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Ngangiwumirr Elder

When Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann speaks of dadirri, she speaks of a form of deep, contemplative listening that is nothing less than a personal spiritual practice. This type of listening in stillness is widely known all across the Australian continent, in many language groups under many names. “When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again.” Miriam describes. “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.”

Miriam-RoseMiriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann – artist, writer and public speaker.

Learning and Healing through Listening

According to Ungunmerr-Baumann the act of learning, from a very young age, is all about waiting and listening; not asking questions. In a culture where everyone is so well practiced at listening that it becomes a spiritual art, it makes sense that when trauma occurred, the people would come together and deeply listen to each other. For this reason, dadirri also refers to a form of group trauma healing that brings the deep presence found in the solo practice of dadirri to a group setting. Details of dadirri as group practice can be found in Prof. Judy Atkinson’s book Trauma Trails, Recreating Songlines. The essence of dadirri, in this wider context, is the creation of a space of deep contemplative, heart-based listening where stories of trauma and pain can be shared and witnessed with loving acceptance.

In my own experiences with original Australians who are deeply connected to country, I have felt that they are so grounded it’s almost as if the land itself is listening to you, through them.

Healing country heals ourselves, and healing ourselves heals country. – Prof. Judy Atkinson – Jiman / Bunjalung woman, author of Trauma Trails, Recreating Songlines

Emotional Completion

According to Prof. Stan Grof, trauma healing comes from finally completing an experience emotionally that may have been physically completed long ago. The initial moment of pain may have become so overwhelming that we make a subconscious decision to ‘check out’; in other words, we emotionally dissociate. Every part of us screams “Stop, I don’t want to feel this!” The problem is that we don’t stop the emotional experience, we just press pause.

When we don’t have the courage or skills (because we are too young, or were never taught) to actually feel all of the emotions of a traumatic experience, we inadvertently trap the part of it we couldn’t handle and store it away for later. Dadirri is a practice that allows us to open up this trapped pain and trauma in a sacred and held space and with the support of those around us, we can finally feel it in order for it to be released.

Jarmbi GithabulJarmbi Githabul, Ngarkwal / Githabul Custodian.

Trauma puts you in a disempowered position that makes it easy for you to be influenced. It interferes with your ability to make clear decisions for yourself. – Jarmbi Githabul, Narakwal / Githabul Custodian

The importance of a practice like dadirri is that it is completely based on non-judgment. Over time, the story is shared on multiple occasions, and by doing so the telling begins to change. The emotional charge is released a little at a time as the circle around them offers an unwavering reflection of loving acceptance. Very often, the person who has suffered trauma starts to adopt this attitude of loving acceptance toward themselves.

Limbic Resonance and Revisioning

The reason this works, from the perspective of neuroscience, is because of: limbic resonance, mirror neurons and neuroplasticity. The notion of limbic resonance asserts that without consistent love and acceptance during childhood our brains don’t develop properly. The part that becomes developmentally stunted is our resilience against emotional distress. Similar problems can occur in people of all ages when they suffer trauma. The process of limbic revisioning is about rewiring the neural structure of a person who has suffered trauma or emotional neglect; in order for this to occur there needs to be an external example for the limbic brain to mimic.

Deep, respectful, contemplative, heart-based listening based on loving acceptance instead of judgment may well be the optimal reflection for a traumatised limbic system to use as a model for restructuring. Mirror neurons see this outer, compassionate reflection and fire internally in the same way; and neurons that fire together wire together. With a bit of repetition, neural re-wiring occurs (thanks to neuroplasticity) which gives a neurological explanation as to why dadirri is good for helping people who have suffered trauma.

I feel we’re fortunate to be living in a time where, whether we’re indigenous or non-indigenous, we’re waking up. We’re recognising the common threads between ancient and modern ways of healing ourselves, and by doing so discovering the techniques that actually work.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Bauman speaking about Dadirri at an Indigenous Theology Symposium.

If you’d like to contribute to the empowerment of Indigenous Australians, consider donating to Jarmbi Githabul’s Wise Up, Rise Up Program.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Jonathan Davis

Amplifying personal healing and growth for collective evolution.




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26 Responses to An Indigenous Approach To Healing Trauma

  1. As a Psychosynthesis Coach and Hypnotherapist, we have so much to learn from the Old Cultures.We need new healing myths, at the centre of an emerging New Culture, which integrates the “old ways” of community, of relating to the land.

  2. Although this maybe a practice across most Indigenous communities here, please be mindful, not all call it by this name. There is not one Indigenous people here but many and they all have their own name for this.

  3. As a dance ethnologist, I see a very important similarity between spiritual healing through dance and Dadirri, the indigenous approach to healing trauma: it is the end result of loving acceptance toward ourselves. The natural force of movement in deep awareness is key here. In listening in stillness there’s a contemplative movement deep inside.

    What I particularly learn and appreciate in this article is the concept of emotional completion. Being conscious that I’ve put myself somehow on pause is untying a huge knot in my journey to self healing… a self healing in my present body and life from generations of trauma…

    I see how my people and I are on pause, emotionally dissociated from our origins…

  4. I suffered physical and mental trauma many years ago. I found a block of land where I learnt to stop and listen to everything. Myself and nature. I had to leave this place. I am now looking for another place that accepts me.

  5. Dear Jonathan. I am the Associate Editor at Sutra Journal, a curated monthly online magazine on the Sacred Arts and Dharma traditions
    We love your article and would love to republish it with your permission, and in agreement with Uplift of course.
    Please let me know if this is agreeable to you.
    Thank you



  6. To be provided with the correct, safe and loving ‘mirroring’ as I heal self is my intention. Thank you Love. I can do all things well, and this one needs support from ‘other.’ Source will provide.

  7. Jonathan, can you provide the direct source of the Grof quote regarding emotional completion? I would love to go read more of what he wrote about this specific topic. Thanks!

    • It’s not a quote. I have paraphrased it from reading a number of books of his, including:
      – Spiritual Emergency
      – Realms of the human unconscious
      – Beyond The Brain
      – Healing Our Deepest Wounds
      – Holotropic Breathwork.

      Theres also a nine hour audio recording available on itunes.

      I’d start with the book Healing Our Deepest Wounds as somwhat of a summary and primer that will help you get an overview and direct you to which of the many Grof volumes might be the best for you to read. I also believe it’s the best book for describing what i’ve paraphrased into one sentence.

      Hope this helps!

      • Indeed it does, Jonathan. Thanks!

        I began my digging into why I was unhappy some forty years ago. Eight years ago in a therapist’s office I fell through the trapdoor of repressed memories of horrific, preverbal abuse at the hands and rage of my father, a trapdoor which I had no sense EVER of existing. My impression from the images that flooded over me then – and in subsequent work – is that I was around 20 months old. That experience answered nearly every question I had about myself. The self-hate that abuse produced has been all I’ve ever known.

        My work has intensified mightily the past few months; a self-declared fight to the death with my PTSD and frozenness, and only one of us gets to remain standing.
        Between a gifted therapist helping me using Somatic Experiencing techniques and the MDMA-assisted therapy I’ve been doing (which has REALLY intensified things), I was able to (finally) be back inside that tiny little boy and cry the unspeakable and unabsorbable pain I’ve been carrying for decades, be fully with it, and be witnessed in a sacred, loving and supportive fashion by my therapist. What you describe Dadirri as being is precisely what happened for me a few weeks ago:

        “Dadirri is a practice that allows us to open up this trapped pain and trauma in a sacred and held space and with the support of those around us, we can finally feel it in order for it to be released.”

        I saw this article only a day or two later and it rocked me to read my experience within your paraphrasing of Grof’s words to describe EMOTIONAL COMPLETION. That is EXACTLY what I experienced. It seems so simple, now that I’ve been inside the wound. Of course, it took so much work to get there. Quite an irony.

        And the work continues as I heal, soothe, grow and become the ‘me’ who has been hidden for so many years.

        Thanks for your response and for putting this information out into the world.


          • Hello, Star. It’s difficult to answer that question for you. Where do you live? One great thing about the Internet is the ability to search for therapists by treatment modalities, cost, location, experience and more. It’s just one person’s opinion, but I would always look for someone who has experience in treating trauma in addition to traditional therapy methods. Resolving my trauma is what is feeling like finality to healing my wounds. Everyone is different, yet the difference for me in doing trauma therapy in the hands of skilled practitioners has been beyond stark.

            Blessings and best wishes to you. -SM

        • You are very brave. I have been working on releasing a past life trama and I am so blessed that I was strong enough and ready to let go and work out being strangled and treated terrible. I have been scared, anxiety and very sour but I am trying to focus on the blessing of working through this Karma. Now my body will be better. I need to focus on this and not on the pain or being scared. It is over DONE, STOPPED. Thanks for sharing

          • Thank you, Pamela, and thank YOU for sharing. I am convinced that the more all of us share, the more the scourge and cost of trauma in our families, our communities and our world will be known. -SM

        • I’m always so grateful when I hear stories like this of people genuinely and truly dealing with deep trauma.

          I fully support mdma assisted
          Psychotherapy for
          PTSD and have studied the practitioner manual in depth in order to gain any insight from how these people work. I also know someone at MAPS who provides guidance to the therapists conducting the clinical trials. In my opinion, much of the protocol was developed based on grof’s work.

          Thanks so much for sharing your story. If I ever do a story on MDMA & PTSD I may just get in touch!

          • Please do, Jonathan. Maybe by then (and hopefully soon!) I’ll also be comfortable to “out” myself and not hide behind a bogus name.

            I’m now 17 sessions in as of a few days ago and finally seeing some core changes/letting go start to happen. (SO much stored up terror and violent anger to process first…)

            The (non-academic) literature around this as relates to pre-verbal trauma is slim to none – from what I’ve been able to find – and it is frustrating knowing I’m making progress yet not knowing how much further this needs to go before I finally do not feel terror responses in my body and psyche. I know I’m not alone in carrying early childhood trauma, whether from abuse or other events – and this story is so much huger than we (humanity) truly gets at a deep level. If we truly knew the costs, we’d intervene in a New York second. When I broke my arm badly a year ago (requiring a four hour surgery), no one suggested I “tough it out”, “suck it up” or “just think of good things and it will be OK.” No, I was rushed into the ER and was in surgery within an hour and a half.

            We need the same response to trauma victims for individuals’, families’, communities’ and the world’s sakes. And ESPECIALLY with children.


    • Can I suggest Silvia Hartmann’s “Events Psychology”. I was already familiar with this and stunned to read a description above (by Grof) which echoes Silvia’s teachings by way of how incomplete events are reflected in emotional pain, among other things.

  8. I’m coming over to Melbourne from Europe for a Month….where can I meet someone who practises this? this coincides so much with listening to hte body, which I practise.

    • The wounds in Australia are still very new, and in a lot of places ongoing.

      We are fortunate when indigeous australians are willing to share any of their knowledge. Dadirri is not yet a practice that people can come and learn in workshops.

      If you are seeking deep nature connection and the development of deep listening through all of the known and unknown senses, I recommend looking into Jon Young, author of ‘What The Robin Knows’. Apache tracker Stalking Wolf, taught his mentor Tom Brown, and he also learned from the African Kalahari Bushmen tradition.

      What these traditions have in common with Indigenous Australians is the fact that they are all renowned trackers. The ability to connect to nature on the level required to become a tracker at this level requires a cultivation of deep listening to nature with all of the senses.

      Jon Young teaches a system of sense development and nature connection that enables anyone to slowly over time cultivate the kind of connection to nature that all of these ancient traditions are famous for. Look up The Mind Of The Mentor and Bird Language, two related education streams that dove tail with each other and help us re-connect to the natural world and our ability to practice deep listening to a level that many would consider impossible.

      • Update: Prof Judy Atkinson is now running workshops.

        Also you could try to contact Miriam Ungenmerr-Bauman.

        • Hi Jonathan, do you have a link or contact information re; workshops by Prof Atkinson. Thanks. Leanne.

  9. I’d like to talk with Jonathan Davis. I’m LA and if like to start a Dadirri movement here. 323-327-7979