Peace Circles

earthethospeacecircle“Stories are medicine…embedded with instructions” that guide us about how to live our lives (Estés, 1997). Practices of talking circles, or peace circles, have emerged within many cultures throughout known human history, though most modern Westerners don’t understand underlying cosmological foundations of these practices, which come from indigenous cultures. The talking circle is a metaphorical life tool of the medicine wheel. Being aware about what we are doing allows metaphor to bring ceremonies like talking circles to life (Rael, 1998). It is no mystery why, in Australia for example, when people with indigenous ancestry facilitate yarning circles, a type of talking circle, it feels different than when Westerners do. I learned why while working for a decade in the field of restorative justice. When we encouraged people to put altars in the middle of their circles, I had quite an aha moment when I saw what people were using to metaphorically represent the heart centre. “A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998).a

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time. (Image is a screenshot from an online gallery of Amazonian-Andean artist Juan Carlos Taminchi of ayahuasca visions.)taminchiartThe depth of relationships, and the experiences, feel quite different to participants. Similarly, instead of peace circles as a tool to help control behaviour or improve the way people speak and listen to each other as is common in westernised restorative justice practices based on a Judeo-Christian worldview, an Earth Ethos peace circle is an opportunity for a communal spiritual experience based on an indigenous cultural cosmology. Because of the intentional use of metaphor, it ought to feel different to participants (and certainly does to me) than simply sitting in a circle (or around a table where we are blocked from connecting with each other physically) and passing around a talking piece. Many indigenous peoples use oral traditions to preserve cultural wisdom. Verbal repetition and physical embodiment of teachings keeps them pure (Rael, 2015). An important aspect of any medicine wheel ceremony, including a peace circle, is purification or cleansing, opening participants’ hearts for sharing wisdom as a community. Purification is often symbolised through the use of smoke, or smudging.

ent.jpgHealing of, and prevention of, dis-ease requires ceremony. Ceremony is an important human practice connecting the visible material/physical world with the invisible, spiritual world. Life feels empty and unsatisfying when we do not do enough ceremony, and ceremonies are most powerful done regularly and intentionally in community (Rael, 1998). Disease in indigenous thinking is caused by natural and supernatural forces, where natural forces include things like cold air, germs, or impurities in food and water, and supernatural forces include things like upset social relations between people, with ancestors, or other beings such as spirits of the traditional custodians of a place (Sussman, 2004). (Image is a depiction of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s land spirits called the Ent, a tree spirit) Western concepts of unconscious or subconscious drives are similar to indigenous concepts of such spiritual forces (Holliday, 2008). When we focus our energy on cultivating healthy invisible environments based on values such as acceptance, non-judgment, inclusivity, compassion and empathy, we help purify our own hearts and the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm. Indigenous thinking teaches that our social reality is based on a fundamental understanding of life in which humans are interconnected with all of nature, and by participating in an Earth Ethos peace circle, we literally embody Mother Earth together by sitting in a circle with an altar at the centre honouring the interconnected web of life we are part of. If you’re in Sydney and want to join a monthly Earth Ethos peace circle, please contact me for more information.

Dignity & privilege

One of the basic premises of an Earth Ethos, and of indigenous teachings generally, is an innate worthiness of being. It does not depend on behaviour or social status or species; all beings on Earth are of worth. This is the foundation of dignity, whose root comes from Latin for “to accept, to take.” In the previous post I wrote about how acceptance keeps us in the present moment. And when we’re in the present moment in a state of worthiness, we are strong and we are dignified, even if behaviour of another person is not. Privilege, on the other

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hand, comes from the Latin words for “private” and “law,” indicating an advantage, right or priority over another person, group, or even species. In social justice circles there has been a lot of discussion in recent years of privilege related to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, age, citizenship, and disability. I know there are real life impacts for many of us because of social privileges, but our focus on these inequities distracts us from the important work of ensuring that we stand in dignity and see others that way regardless of their behaviour or beliefs. It’s our responsibility to remember that regardless of the domination of certain social stories and world views, there is innate dignity in all ways of being. Stories are powerful because we feed them, even if we do so by fighting.

It does not matter if a person has a million dollar home or a high social status job, being in denial and numb to painful feelings is not a privilege, is it disembodiment, disconnection with self, others, and the present moment. It is a disabled and difficult way to navigate the world. I know this because after numerous efforts to ask for help and protect myself from sexual abuse as a child failed, I dissociated, and did not re-member those experiences until my mid-twenties. My life before that was really hard and confusing. It has taken many years and hard work to build a trusting relationship with myself. I have had to let go of and reform numerous unhealthy relationships including my entire family of origin; I have had to ride out decisions based on that denial and numbness and give myself grace in the process; and I have had to dig deep into my psyche to question foundational stories and beliefs that guided me for over 20 years, and replace them with ones that feel and work better. (Image from here. And like skill, you could rank by social privilege as well.)dignity-cartoon.png

Sometimes it feels like we have no choice, because everyone around us is on board; we feel forced to accept global stories like, for instance, capitalism, or countries and borders, or languages we communicate with. These big stories do privilege certain values and world-views. This is Christmas season. How many of us know that Jesus was not born on this day, and that the Catholic Church repurposed indigenous European celebrations for winter solstice over 400 years after Jesus’s death? (Even a Christian site called www.allaboutgod.com knows this. In fact, many of the so-called Christmas traditions have strange histories. It’s okay to celebrate something on another day, like when it’s your birthday on a Tuesday and you have a party the Saturday before, but it’s less powerful than if you celebrated the actual date. It’s the same with solstice. It would be a lot more powerful if we celebrated winter/summer solstice on the actual celestial days instead of the days chosen for Easter/Christmas depending which hemisphere you’re in.Consider connecting with the powerful celestial energy this solstice and doing something to celebrate our planet regardless of what else you celebrate. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas celebrations with fake snowmen, fake pine trees, fake garlands, and sweaty Santas in summer are farcical. (Image from here.)

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It is of course possible to be dignified in celebrating Christmas; it is meaningful to many people. It is also important to recognise, whether you celebrate it or not, that in society right now Christmas is privileged, and to consciously decide how you want to behave given that social reality. Most of us get time off of work for Christmas, and some of us have to use our vacation to celebrate days that are meaningful to us which are not socially privileged. If you have not taken the time to reflect on what the elements of the modern Christmas celebration mean to you and whether your participation aligns with your values and world view, I encourage you to. How could I get out of this if I wanted to?you might ask. Everyone buys presents, decorates houses and offices, makes certain foods, plays certain music, and expects me to join in. Didn’t anyone ever ask you as a kid if everyone was jumping off a cliff if you would too when you used that sort of logic? Christmas celebrations started to feel empty to me as my sex abuse memories were integrating. Christmas memories from childhood were joyful because my dad spent time doing creative things with me, not because there was deep meaning in the specific activities. I didn’t know why I was busily making and buying things, as I am not a dignityquote2.jpgmaterialist or a Christian, so I told people close to me I would focus on birthdays and important life events, and I stopped. I don’t want to deprive anyone of the joy of giving, but I don’t want to feel burdened receiving what is intended as a gift, so I told people close to me if they want to give me something, I prefer personal notes, meals, time together, and handmade art. I dislike expectations to behave a certain way on a day that is not especially meaningful to me, so Luke and I take short trips just the two of us over Christmas to enjoy Mother Nature instead. This all make it easier for me to stand in dignity because I am accepting me and not playing a victim by gracefully navigating a situation where my way of being is not socially privileged. Cultivating the discipline to deny ourselves that which brings us pain and suffering helps us stand in dignity and experience more joyful abundance.

From a pagan friend: Happy Holidays meme.jpg

The cynicism trap

If you’re reading this, chances are you are someone who walks willingly into uncomfortable feelings and values lessons gained through pain. Thank you. Your presence on the planet makes a difference when you walk such a path. I too have been on a hardcore heart-warrior journey for years with an understanding that energy is trans-form-able. I have trusted that being with and creatively expressing painful emotions is a valuable way to be of service. In some respects, this perception is misguided. Mary Shutan reminds us that certain primal energies related to survival are by their nature quite brutal. They are worthy of being with and expressing creatively, but they are not transformable. Most of us have witnessed a predatory animal stalk and eat its prey. Most of us have physically stood near an animal that humbled us and showed us our place in the food chain. (Who wants to swim near this guy?)

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Most of us have experienced forces of nature bigger than we are, such as tornadoes or flash floods. Some of us have faced homelessness or joblessness and been unsure how our basic physical needs will be met. Experiences like these challenge our individual survival and ask us to stand in faith. I define faith like Christina Pratt as “a liquid state of grace”, a free-fall, a letting go and allowing something bigger to steer us for a while.

seattleIn his famous speech Chief Seattle foretold that the way U.S. settlers were treating Mother Earth was moving us collectively into “The end of living and the beginning of survival.” I find it helpful to think of survival as more complex than fight, flight or freeze. One researcher suggests the following survival strategies: rescuing, attaching, adapting, asserting, fighting, fleeing, competing, and cooperating (Valent, 1995). Knowing that a small proportion of people are controlling physical resources, and that through various ways of looking at inequalities physical survival fears are very real, and that legal systems are maintaining many of these imbalances, I can see why some say that trauma-induced behaviours such as hyper-vigilance are actually evolutionary protective mechanisms to help us survive modern life (Silove, 2007). (Image from Wikipedia.)

Across the planet species are going extinct, human languages and cultures are dying, polar ice caps are melting, and lands are disappearing underwater. In an Earth Ethos, we are all interconnected, so if we didn’t feel pain with those things going on, we wouldn’t be living! I think it is important to accept we live in a time filled with survival struggle energy that it is brutal by nature and often seems to have incredibly unfair impact. Accepting this does not mean that we give up, lose hope, renounce faith, or fall into the cynicism trap by giving up on a healthy, balanced future vision for generations to come. While we may not be able to transform primal survival energy, we can transform cynicism and question ourselves when we or others get caught up serving survival strategies. I say “serving” because, years ago Tom Lake said to me there is a difference between “being of service” and “being a servant.” When we are guided by rigid stories in our minds, we are servants blindly acting them out. Consider the “good person” story. We feel the need to do certain actions and avoid others to prove we are “good,” then we judge others’ behaviour as “bad” and justify acting on our righteous anger by punishing them, which is the basis of our criminal justice system. I find this story incredibly destructive, and I agree with Sadhguru that there are no good or bad people, only miserable and joyful people.

imwithher.jpgWhen we are miserable we are rejecting or rebelling against reality, which is destructive and results in existential crisis. When we are accepting we remain in the present moment, however painful. Many of us understandably feel overwhelmed by the depth of pain on the planet right now, so we numb ourselves with substances such as sugar, caffeine or alcohol; run away to our heads to avoid certain feelings; and seek out “light work” or “positive psychology” to create bubbles of security around ourselves. This is so common that a famous social psychology study published in the 80s suggesting that “overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism…promote mental health” has yet to be refuted. So not only are we serving a story (like being a good or bad person) that doesn’t need to survive, we are avoiding the important responsibility creating a vision for future generations of a world we want them to live in, but the cynicism trap doesn’t even improving our mental health! The medicine I find works best when you catch yourself falling into the cynicism trap is to let go of that cynical vision and move into a graceful free-fall instead, living on faith for a while. The more I stand in faith, the more clearly I see that Mother Earth has a beautiful vision she’s desperately trying to communicate to us when we move through our survival fears and make space to listen and act on her guidance and wisdom. (Image from here.)

Exercise: What survival strategies do you most commonly use (rescuing, attaching, adapting, asserting, fighting, fleeing, competing, and cooperating)? Where are you serving a story that does not need to survive? What is preventing you from letting go of control and standing in faith?

 

 

Governance

Today is 100 years since the armistice to end the “war of all wars,” which as we know did not do so. The word “armistice” comes from “arm” and “solstice,” where “solstice” means to stand still and firm, referring literally to the movement of the sun. You may wonder like me why the word “arm” refers to the part of our body and also to weapons. The etymology is from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root word meaning “to fit together,” referring to joints (Though that doesn’t explain why we refer to big biceps as “guns.”) The fact that we use the same word for our body and a weapon is interesting, and it is worth reflecting how we are embodying armistice today. A Bible study website says arms are “used to denote power” and “the omnipotence of God”, and a site linking body metaphysically with spirit suggests that arms are about “the ‘social embrace’ or how we reach out to other people.” (Image from here.)

Armistice-Signed

In an Earth Ethos, the way we reach out to others says a lot about how we govern ourselves, and how that is a reflection of our inner space (our capacity to be with and hold complexity), our values, character, and spiritual development. I have been noticing more and more how the Western archetype of “king” as ruler in control manifests in everyday life. To quote from a previous post:

“Europeans relegated sovereignty to only one realm of existence: authority, supremacy and dominion. In the Indigenous realm, sovereignty encompasses responsibility, reciprocity, the land, life and much more” (1999).

Critical_Thinking_Skills_Diagram

For most of us Westerners, the critical thinking/rational mind (we literally call it “executive functioning”) governs a lot of our actions. This is mirrored in society with complex hierarchies where power is concentrated in people we call “executives” who are higher up the “chain of command” (another military term). An executive is literally executing a vision (another word with a violent double meaning), but what is that vision based on? It’s based on a worldview: how we see ourselves, each other, and how we fit together. This makes up the “dreamtime” as Aboriginal Australians say, or the subconscious as social scientists say. Being governed by rational, executive functioning is destructive, because our human lives are not rational and reasonable. Many of us have faith in a “higher plan”, a destiny or fate to help us make sense of events we can’t understand or otherwise explain. (Image from Wikipedia.)

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We get so caught up in understanding, we lose touch with the ground we’re standing on. We want to know what caused the fire before we put it out and clean up the mess it left. Most of us are taught from a young age to think through our actions and analyse behaviours of others. But if we look at the path a river takes to flow to the sea, we may think it’s crazy and inefficient: it twists and turns, goes over rocks and down waterfalls. Our biggest computers cannot mathematically work out the best path for a river to flow even if we have detailed topographic maps, because our nature is not static enough for to understand. Weather, animals and plants can change topography in an instant, and we might joke about poor meteorology predictions, but it says a lot about science (the study of human knowledge) that we can’t understand the natural flow of earth, air, fire and water. (Image from here.)

carrying

A wise woman friend who has since passed on said to me that “all we humans do is carry things.” We carry ideas, stories, feelings, emotions, spiritual views that frame our worldview, and dreams. Most of us are carrying some stories based on black-and-white, right and wrong, judgmental thinking, which we often refer to as critical thinking. But this critical thinking for many of us has outgrown our ability to remember who we are and remain present in our hearts. How often you “know” what to say, or you have a strong instinct to do something, and you talk yourself out of it, later realising that feeling/knowing was a better path? Our want to know in our heads is plaguing us with doubt for other types of knowing that are really valuable as well. Critical thinking is literally preventing magic and creation from freely flowing in our lives. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Life tested me for many years until I made a commitment to stand for peace. It has cost me a lot of energy emotionally, psychologically, and physically, but spiritually it is my bedrock, and I feel lucky to know that. Each day I learn my limits and practice opening my arms more widely to embrace even more energy with loving compassion and graceful acceptance. Because my dreaming is a world filled with peace where terms for weapons and body parts are very distinctly different.

Exercise: How do you carry armistice? What do you stand for with arms open? What is the bedrock of energy that governs you?

Social belonging

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The etymology of the word “belong” is “together with” or “related to.” It’s a tribal concept. Years ago I worked with a shaman who said human nature is tribal, not national, by which he meant, the colonialist social experiment of countries would naturally devolve into tribes. These days I agree with this. Places like the US are too diverse and too big to be governed by anyone but a strongman holding it together through control. Before colonisation, Native Americans had governance structures of inter-tribal councils where power was not concentrated in one person but in a diverse group of elders that needed to reach consensus on contentious issues, and tribes had their own internal governance structures on top of that. But these days, what is a tribe? I like this definition, that in when we’re in our tribe, we feel normal and accepted. A clan is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a tribe, and a family is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a clan. A community is made up different tribal members and is formed either out of necessity (such as living as neighbours), or shared interest (such as attending the same school or church). (Image from here.)

I have been a member of communities my whole life, but experiences with tribe, clan and family have been much more recent. The most memorable time I felt part of a “family” was a few years ago right before an indigenous dance ceremony with a group of people I had never met before. I had an “aha” moment sitting in a kitchen watching people buzz about preparing things for the ceremony and savoured that feeling so it would imprint in me and I would remember it. As a “black sheep” it took me a while to realise that for me family is based on feeling, and that being born out of intertribal conflict literally creates “bad blood” that I’ve needed to reconcile in order to survive. My tribe is scattered across the planet, and that’s okay. And many members of my tribe are invisible, ancestral spirits.

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An experience I have often is “whitewashing,” where people look at me and immediately assume that I am a Christian of Anglo Saxon colonial background (though I have no Anglo Saxon blood that I know of, and I was not raised as nor do I identify as Christian). Growing up in the American South, I had a friend whose parents were Jamaican who similarly grew weary of being referred to as African American. We really project a lot of identities onto people without realising. Someone said if you really want to change the world, be mindful of your own projections, and boy do I agree with that. Even then, a projection and an internal felt sense of belonging are not remotely the same thing. (Image from here.) I am reminded of an experience in a sweat lodge where a Tiwa woman said she had been hoping there was no “white blood” in her family because the karma of that energy was so hard to deal with, but that a DNA test had shown she had some European ancestry. I said a prayer during that lodge: May all our intertribal conflict remind us that we are one big human family. May we celebrate our diversity and enjoy healthy boundaries. Aho. A cactus may appreciate a water lily, but they can’t survive in the same environment, so why would they go against their nature and try? Some of us must be in the wrong place physically, or else we would not have so much conflict in our communities. Sometimes we’re so used to being malnourished, it takes a while to imagine what it would be like to really flourish.

I’ve been reflecting on genocide, where one tribe has an overgrowth of the psycho-spiritual Wetiko virus convincing them that they are existentially better than another tribe so they set about violently trying to prove this by removing the “other.” If energy cannot be created or destroyed, when a tribe is killed, where does that energy go? I realised it emerges as ancestral trauma within the dominating tribe in successive generations in an attempt to reconcile the conflict from the inside out. Many of us who feel we were born into the “wrong” family, tribe, culture, body, etc., are bearing this diversity.pngkarma of humanity out. It’s all over the place: it’s conservative Christian parents confronting their prejudice with an LGBT child; a Southern Baptist who falls in love with a Catholic; a strong patriarch with a young daughter wiser than he is; a mother who worked so hard to break into the corporate world whose daughter wants to stay at home with her kids. Over and over again I see situations in which that which we judge, hate or reject is presented to us in an even more intimate way so that we learn to love and accept it. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Where, when and with whom do you feel belonging? What does it feel like? Next time you feel lonely, isolated or alienated, be with the “longing” for that aspect of yourself and explore why you feel that. What part of you feels rejected and why? What do you need to feel more present and whole in that space?

Hope for Change

In Old English, the word hopa, from which modern-day “hope” emerged, meant “confidence in the future.” For me, this requires trusting in natural forces more powerful than I, and a willingness to venture into unknown territory (inside and outside myself) with an open mind and heart. It requires me to set aside what I think I know in order to see what is and will be. Daily contemplative practices like meditation and prayer purify me so that there is space in my world for miracles to occur. In my experience, where I do such practices makes a difference.

hopeflower.jpgAmericans often say, “I went for a walk in nature.” This is crazy, because we are always in nature. A house, a church, an office, a car—these are natural, highly cultivated, environments. A forest, a desert, a seashore, a mountaintop—these are natural, wilderness environments. Think about a spectrum of highly cultivated environments such as New York City, to total wilderness environments such as Alaska, and think about how you feel and behave in different environments. In cities, we tend to cultivate our lives: we carefully groom our faces, clothe our bodies, decorate our houses, cook pre-packaged foods, and schedule our time. In wilderness, we tend to let go and flow more. (Image from here.)

Many of us think that wilderness is meant to be free from human impact. This is simply not so in indigenous cultures. I have heard indigenous environmental advocates say that once there is stronger cultural consensus about respecting wilderness, they will come into conflict with Western environmentalists who want to keep it pristine and virginal. The lyrebird in Australia is famous for mimicking sounds in its environment. In recent years as its environment has been impacted by us modern humans, it has learned not only to the songs of birds and sounds of other animals, but of chainsaws and car alarms. The lyrebird does not judge some sounds as more or less natural, so why do we?

In an Earth Ethos, we humans need to interact with our environment, and in fact we have a sacred responsibility to do so. Taking a few minutes to meditate, pray, or practice mindfulness is a simple way to give back to our environments and express gratitude for all the gifts the natural world gives us. A “sit spot” is a simple contemplative practice for being in wilderness. All that is involved is sitting still in a wilderness environment and being as present as you can. The best “sit spot” is one that you are easily able to access, such as a park or garden near your home or office. Even sitting for five minutes a day makes a difference in how we feel in our bodies and how connected we feel with our wild Mother Earth.

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A Potawatomi elder and academic refers to modern humans as “species poor.” Most of us eat foods and use medicines bought in stores, and if we do grow our own, most of those plants originated in other places. Foraging enriches us by improving our connection with our environment and demonstrating our respect for the land. Indigenous wisdom says that plants emerge to offer the medicine and nutrition we need to survive in a specific environment. A simple practice is to learn some edible and medicinal plants in your current environment, gather and use them. (Image from here.)

organicWhen we change our perspectives, we change the world. When we recognise value in plants and animals in our environments, we act accordingly. Ten years ago few of us knew what “free range”, “grass fed” or “organic” food was. As an increasing number of people saw the destructive impacts of pesticides and other high-yield agricultural practices, collective modern culture began to change. Today, most of us are more aware of what we’re eating than we were ten or twenty years ago. That gives me hope that as we keep growing, more Earth Ethos changes will occur in our lifetimes. (Image from here).

Exercises: Start a “sit spot” practice. Learn to forage in your neighborhood.

Nourishment

Like all natural beings, each of us has a unique nature. The word “symbiosis” comes from two Greek roots: to live + together. Biology recognises six types of relationships, but I see the following three:

  • Mutualism (& Commensalism & Neutralism) – mutual benefit (though it may not be clear how)marigoldhiss
    • bees pollinating flowers
    • algae & fungus forming lichen
    • mammals eating fruit and dispersing seeds
    • a squirrel living in a hole in a tree
    • a bird hunting for insects while a hog digs up the ground
  • Parasitism – one benefits, one is harmed
    • kudzu grows up a tree, blocking its light and knocking it down
    • a mosquito, tick, leech or tapeworm takes blood from its host
  • Competition (& Predation) – one benefits, one faces loss (or death)
    • male gorillas fighting for dominance
    • a cat killing a mouse

(Image: Some of you may recognise our former cat Marigold and question whether pet cats are mutualism-based relationships.)

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Relationships nourish us, or not. Sometimes our relationships are based in part on shame. Through trauma-bonding in childhood we may have learned to associate nourishment with aspects of parasitism or competition. It took a long time for me to leave parasitic and predatory relationships involving members of my family of origin, as I kept working to transform them into mutualism ones, and it didn’t work. Sometimes our natures do not align for mutualism relationships. We’re all familiar with stories of someone who had “pet” bear, or snake, or wildcat that turned on them one day. I’m reminded of the Aesop fable of the frog and the scorpion:

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We tend to place value judgments on the categories, but there’s nothing wrong with the nature of a scorpion needing to sting. We have these types of relationships in our lives, and through knowing our nature and being strengths-based and having healthy boundaries, we create conditions where we’re more likely to flourish. For example, I’m not competitive by nature, but occasionally I get caught up wanting to be right. This is a sign that I am not accepting myself, that I am in shame/judgment/punishment and am attempting to prove my worth and fight for my right to survive in that context. It is either an area of transformation, or a place to protect myself from and avoid as it is not healthy space for me. Parasitic relationships I can tolerate in small amounts and need to avoid on a larger scale. It’s one thing for a mosquito to take a drop of blood now and then; it’s another for twenty mosquitoes to be taking blood at once. (It’s one thing for a co-worker to ask you to listen to a sob story once a week, and another thing to be married to someone who plays a victim every day for months on end.)

Exercise: Think about some important relationships and contexts in your life. What nourishes you spiritually? emotionally? psychologically? physically? What do you see as your nature (it may change in different contexts), and how do you accept it?

Questioning Cosmology

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Stories are great teachers. They help us give meaning to events, teach core values, and inform our understandings of social order and individual identity (Engel, 1993). We each carry stories, personal mythologies, that form our core values and beliefs, help us understand our place, and guide us on our path. The concept of empathy, of deep listening and heartfelt storytelling, is central to oral-based cultures, and even in cultures that privilege the written word, such practices are considered deeply sacred, like the Catholic Confessional, or an important part of daily life, like meeting a friend or family member for a chat/yarn. (Free use photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

In practice, empathic listening, and the safe sharing stories, is limited by the cosmologies of participants. When we share a story with someone, and that person is in a state of being in denial/judgment about what we are saying, we experience rejection/lack. When we receive this reflection, we tend to feel shamed. And especially as children, or because we feel fear of being exiled from our family/tribe/community, we carry this shame in our own hearts and minds, fuelling feelings of low self-worth. Rejection is a deep pain to process, a lack of feeling whole. And most of us have inherited much of this due to ancestral trauma. An Earth Ethos suggests that those of us who are involved in violent behaviours, in whatever role (victim, offender, or bystander), carry elements of shame in our very senses of identity (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013; Sawatsky, 2009). This shame, often referred to as “sin” creates feelings of lack of worth and dissociates us from fully being present. We fear social exile, and rightly so, because without connection with other people, it is hard to live. (Image from here)

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When I did research with sex offenders, I heard a lot about the depth of social shame they felt. I heard about some men who were disturbed by sexual thoughts of children and were too terrified to seek help until they acted on it, and others who did seek professional help and were reported for abuse they had not committed. I felt an intensely painful energy in the space of social stigmatisation where so many of these people and their family members and friends, these fellow humans, live.

compromiseI encourage you to connect with your own cosmology and question rejecting/violent statements/thoughts like “He should have known better”, or “It serves her right.” Such words indicate an internalised denial/judgment and fuel shameful, painful feelings inside you, the person you are speaking/thinking about, and our collective culture. Even when we believe/think something is wrong, we can still hold that aspect of our cosmology with compassion and respect. These words are pointers to places of yourself that could be further explored, unpacked, and transformed. Dangers and fears come in many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Watching an interview with someone who has killed another person, for example, may trigger emotion you are carrying and show aspects of your cosmology that could be shifted from judgment or denial/lack into compassion and empathy, and gratitude that you did not need to learn such a lesson the hard way. (Free photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

Exercise: Reflect on how many compromises you make in the name of “social harmony”/fear of change, and when it is important to you to go against the grain. See if you can connect with an aspect of your own humanity that is unfamiliar, like your “inner prostitute,” “inner abusive parent,” or “inner murderer”, and be with the discomfort that comes up in order to hold people in that space, and yourself, in more compassion and gentleness.

Space Clearing

smokeWhen I have lived in big cities such as Mumbai and L.A. I would come home and wipe visible grime off my skin. But I also picked up a ton of invisible psychological, spiritual, and emotional grime, and we often forget about this. Imagine how many people’s thoughts are projected onto you each day, how many people’s and other animals’ emotions you pick up on, and how much spiritual energy (probably mostly negativity) you pick up too. When a friend asked an indigenous elder how cleansing worked, he said the smoke eats us. What that means to me is that the smoke literally eats away at all the energies we are carrying that are blocking us. These days the only serious cleanses of spaces we tend to do are fumigations with toxic chemicals for pest control. Yet cleansing our space is a simple way to shift our energy, lighten our loads, and literally make space for new blessings to flow into our lives. Hospitals, schools, cars and homes are all very different spaces when we release the myriad of projections and energy patterns that build up in them! (Image from here.)

smudge

In indigenous cultures, purification with smoke is often referred to as smudging. Plants chosen for burning carry symbolism for a culture and are local to a place. Native Americans burn tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass and sage. Palo santo wood is burned in the Amazon. Aboriginals in Australia burn acacia, eucalyptus, paperbark and treefern (Guédon, 2000). Plants are burned to symbolise the purification of a space for healing. This reminds us of the sacredness of life and helps us be in the present moment. In Tiwa language of the American Southwest, the word “nah-meh-nay” refers to land, which means “the self that purifies” (Rael, 1998, p. 29). (Image from here.)

Clearing a space by burning incense, plants, or resin is done for similar reasons in many Christian, Buddhist and other religious and medicinal traditions. Scientific studies investigating herbs used by indigenous cultures suggest that smudging may cleanse bacteria from the air (See e.g. Nautiyal, Chauhan, & Nene, 2007; Mohagheghzadeh, Faridi, Shams-Ardakani & Ghasemi, 2006). In fact, as recently as during WWI, rosemary was burned in hospitals for cleansing a space.

In an Earth Ethos, we clear space by working with the four elements (earth, air, fire, water). To honour the earth element, we use incense, herbs, plants or resin; to honour the fire we light it; to honour the air we allow the smoke to spread throughout the space; and to honour water we spritz it (often mixed with an essential oil or infused with an herb or flower) around the space to finish. When cleansing a space, it is important to set an intention that everything unnecessary/not yours be released. Feel free to use specific prayers if you follow a certain tradition. While plants, trees and flowers have unique strengths that herbalists know, using something you feel intuitively drawn to or that you have a relationship with already (like you have grown it in your garden for a while), will strengthen the cleanse. For example, sage is commonly sold and used to cleanse a space, but it is traditionally used not to cleanse a space, but to create sacred space before a ceremony (Mary Shutan, 2018)

bathBefore you cleanse the space outside of you, it is important to smudge your body and walk through a spritz of the water you will use so you are as clear as the room! A full body smudge is often done in the shape of a cross going along one arm across the chest to the other, up above the head and down to the feet, and then the same around the back of the body. For a more thorough bodily cleanse, consider a mindful bathing/cleansing ritual. Spiritual bathing, whether just in pure water or with additional herbs or minerals, is an ancient practice of purification done across cultures and religious traditions. It takes the form of baths, steams, saunas, hot spring soaks, and sweat lodges. Science has shown that the skin is our largest organ, so it helps keep us healthy on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels to cleanse it in an intentional, ritual way. A simple and effective bath you at home is adding salt to bathwater, along with a spoonful of non-piped-in water such as collected rainwater, seawater, or water from a nearby lake or river to strengthen the power of the water. This blog has useful basic information about spiritual bathing. And if you don’t have a bathtub (which I didn’t in my previous apartment), it’s amazing what a weekly saltwater/essential oil intentional foot soak can clear!

Unless you have a lot of stuck energy in your life, or there has been a lot of arguing or pain in your space or your body, a once a month spiritual house cleanse and once a week spiritual body cleanse should be sufficient (Mary Shutan, 2018). It’s a small ask that can deliver big results. 

Exercise: Clear your space and cleanse your body with a spiritual bathing ritual. Even better, do regular rituals for a few months, and see how it improves your life’s flow!

 

 

Holiness

Most of you reading this, like me, grew up a Judeo-Christian culture. And like many of you, I experienced conflicts and hypocrisies with aspects of those teachings. One such conflict is with the concept of “The Holy Land.” I have always known deep in my bones that all land is holy land, and that all bodies and beings are holy and sacred and worthy. To elevate a particular place as “Holy” is to demote other places as un-holy or less-holy. Not surprisingly, the etymology of the world “holy” is “healthy” and “whole.” If only one place on Earth is “The Holy Land”, and only about eight million people live there, then by definition, the rest of us 4+ billion people are in exile, cut off from our Motherland, not feeling whole.

adameveThe foundation of Judeo-Christian mythology leaves us unconnected with environments where the vast majority of its followers live. The Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden is not an embodied story connecting humans with nature inside and outside ourselves within a web of life. In fact, the entire Earth has not, for some time in Judeo-Christian culture, been portrayed as a home, as much as a place to endure or get through (Gustafson, 1997). Feeling rejected by the Sacred Feminine, we are collectively convinced we are in exile, and so it follows that many of us live in our heads and suffer from mental illness. (Image from here, altered for copyright from this image.)

Indigenous, Earth Ethos thinking challenges this vision. As Lee Standing Bear Moore and Takatoka of the Manataka American Indian Council say:

If God created the universe and countless universes beyond our own into infinity, it is clear that part of the master plan was to place God’s creatures in a place where everything they see and touch in nature is healing medicine.  What better place to care for the children of Creation?  Therefore, the Garden of Eden is symbolic for the Kingdom of God and it exists as we see it, and live in its midst, both physically and spiritually.   The Mother Earth is part of the Kingdom of God and thus humans and other creatures present in the garden were never expelled, but remain to live and evolve.   Eden is all around us, everything we see in nature and beyond is the garden and Kingdom of God.  We are here and never left. [emphasis added]

So the Christian fundamentalists asking us to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is here now are onto something. repent(Image from here.) 

I invite you to imagine what your life would look and feel like if every land you walked upon was treated like holy land; if every human body you came into contact with including your own were treated like holy land; if every animal and plant you ate, every mineral and stone mined and built into your smartphone and car and house were treated like holy land. Indigenous thinking sees the Earth as the source of life, not a resource to be used for a period of time. The understanding that all land is holy, that all of us are wanted and held by Mother Earth where we are now regardless of our ancestor’s trauma of leaving their Motherland, is incredibly freeing. I first experienced this healing during an indigenous dance-fast ceremony in Colorado following teachings of Joseph Rael. I remember kneeling in front of a tree during the ceremony and weeping with the realisation of how much Mother Earth wanted and cared for me, how much pain I had been carrying disconnecting me from those feelings, and how much pressure that had been placing on other relationships, especially my birth mother.

Years ago I read a book whose central thesis really stuck with me written by Wilhelm Reich, a controversial former student of Freud. Reich said that more than anything, we are truly afraid of pleasure, joy, and the abundance of gifts always in our midst; that we have collectively, in Judeo-Christian/Western culture, grown used to identifying with a fundamental sense of rejection, so that we shy away from profound opportunities for acceptance. I remember too, years ago, reading about the origin and etymology of the word sin:

[T]he most common word translated as “sin” is chait. The “sin” of Adam and Eve was chait, a mistake. People don’t “sin.” People make mistakes. After all, we are human.

sinThis word “sin,” then, was meant to help us humans understand our nature: that we are powerful and able create wonders and also an innate capacity to blunder. What curious creatures we are! We have been believing and embodying an errant, mistaken thought and believing that we are exiled, unworthy, and that our sacred, earthly Mother doesn’t fully love us, and this sin/mistake/confusion has been defining the course of our collective history for multiple millennia, and is still going. If this isn’t Wetiko energy, I don’t know what is! (Image from here.)

Faced with so many reflections around us of our collective disconnection with Mother Earth, our bodies, fellow beings, and elements of our environment necessary for living like our water and air, it helps to have a sense of humour. Here’s a quote from George Carlin:

The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

Exercise: I invite you to re-think the concept of “holiday” and “other” days, and generally how you carry and embody being holy.