Adapting another chapter from the Indigenous Science book I’m writing into a blog.
Blog by Valerie Cloud Clearer
This week we’re going to consider eight common spiritual traps we can fall into that take us away from Indigenous Science, along with suggestions for freeing ourselves.
(1) Spiritual vacations occur when we do something (like take a psychedelic) or go somewhere (like a meditation retreat) that alters our consciousness, then find ourselves unable to integrate what we learned into daily life. Putting ourselves in a group environment allows some of us to access states of being we otherwise can’t, just like some of us find that certain substances help enter altered states of being.
Cultivating the self-discipline of a daily practice is a way out of this trap. Another is honest check-ins about our intentions; like: ‘Am I reaching for this plant because I feel called to do sacred ceremony, or because I want to feel a certain way today?’ (Image from here)
(2) Sometimes we get addicted to intensity. This could look like anything from doing thirty ayahuasca ceremonies to being in relationships with lots of drama. Indigenous Science is about balance, and we need to be able to deeply appreciate a range of experiences (emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually).
The main way to break free is to detox by taking a break from the intensity, resetting boundaries, and allowing ourselves to feel numb, grumpy and bored while we reset. With patience and persistence, we regain the ability to enjoy more subtle states of being. For example, if you’re used to hearing city traffic, it’ll take a while of being in the quiet of the country to be able to hear the wings of a butterfly when it flits by. (Image from here)
(3) Spiritual bypass is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” Someone may believe that they must remain in an abusive relationship because of karma; or someone might be getting feedback they’re behaving bossy and controlling and excuse it as being a leader with high standards.
The first step out is being open to realising that you have been denying or suppressing something. Sometimes it takes multiple experiences, or wise counsel from someone we trust. The next step is facing the denial and seeking support. (Image from here)
(4) Another trap is black and white thinking. In Indigenous science, “Both dark and light are necessary for life.” Unlike New Age ‘go to the light’ thinking, Indigenous scientists see darkness as the purest form of light because it contains all colours, whereas white reflects and rejects. When we find ourselves existentially rejecting or judging (e.g. ‘cancel culture’), being ‘objective’ (e.g. imposing our view onto others) and/or labelling (e.g. a ‘bad’ person), we are engaged in black and white thinking.
To heal we must make space for grey areas, find the humility to carry a little doubt even when confident. Noticing our and others’ existential crises (i.e. being highly triggered), we can then unpack why we and/or others feel so unsafe and shift beliefs. (Image from here)
(5) Guru worship involves giving our power away to a being who ‘knows better’ on an existential level. When we place someone on a pedestal, we devalue ourselves. That which we honour with our time is what we worship, which may be non-humans such as marijuana, mushrooms, alcohol, etc. Guru worship is the basis of most cults.
The main way to escape (as a giver or receiver) is to become aware of feeling devalued or pedestalled. And if you are using a substance with the intention of doing ceremony, I suggest stopping regularly to see if you experience any addictive urges, reflect on your relationship with the substance and work to purify it. For example, I know someone who stopped doing Native American tobacco pipe ceremonies the moment he realised he had picked it up to smoke without the intention of praying. (Image from here)
(6) Spiritual ambition is tricky, because ambition is often rewarded in other areas of life. The saying that when the student is ready the teacher appears is wise. With each spiritual teaching comes responsibility. For example, if you do a pipe ceremony, you enter into a sacred relationship with tobacco. If you then smoke a cigarette at a party, it not only won’t be fun but you may even become unwell for desecrating the plant.
I suggest reflecting where your desires for new learnings are coming from, and taking a small step to see what feedback you get through Indigenous Science data. For example, if you wish to carry your own medicine drum, you might start by placing a power object representing this desire on your ancestral altar and pray for guidance and support on that path. Then see whether a step towards a drum emerges for you. (Image from here)
(7) Spiritual businesses are another tricky aspect of modern life. What is spiritually wise (e.g. telling a student they are not ready for a ceremony) may be very unwise in the business world. And sacred reciprocity isn’t based on a transactional economy.
I suggest not making a spiritual business your sole survival strategy financially so it’s easier to maintain integrity. It also helps to be willing to fail while doing what’s right. (Image from here)
(8) Cultural appropriation is using “objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression practices.” There’s some nuance here, but it’s important to consider when knowledge-sharing with other cultures.
It’s important to be honest with yourself about your intentions when learning and using other cultural knowledge, how you may be benefitting (socially, financially, politically etc.), how you are honouring the source of the knowledge, and whether you are the right person to be further sharing another cultures’ knowledge. It is valuable to be an ally, but keep in mind that allies do not lead unless they are asked. (Image from here)
Exercise: Reflect on the eight spiritual traps discussed this week. Which ones have you experienced? Which ones have you witnessed others go through? What helped you and those you know escape and avoid these traps?
If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.