Category Archives: Decolonising

Warriorship

Blog by Lukas

Are the most prescient ideas and images that come to mind when you think of the word “warrior” all about physical strength, toughness, and violent conflict? I doubt you’re alone. To borrow a trick from Valerie, if you online image search the word “warrior” the first things that come up are virtually all men and related to physical violence, specifically some new television show that evidently involves a lot of arse kicking. The story is similar if you try “female warrior”.spartan-4016133_1280

The technical definition of a warrior in the English language supports this narrow view, being rooted in a French word guerroieor meaning “one who wages war”. Most definitions of warrior relate to waging armed conflict, specifically those who have some kind of specialised role in doing so. (Image from here)

The etymology of the word “war”, however, is much more interesting, seemingly originating with broader concepts that include difficulty, dispute, and hostility. According to  etymonline.com, if you follow the known Proto-Germanic cognates as far back as they go, you arrive at a word that means “to bring into confusion”.

This is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Not least of all because virtually all first-person accounts of war I have read describe some manner of confusion and chaos to a degree that was unexpected to the writer. My flailing fist fights over the years confirm this; and as “Iron” Mike Tyson said: tyson

So if war is to some degree about confusion and chaos, perhaps the true warrior is someone who uses their power to bring these things back into a calmer balance? This then is about a warrior responding to and resolving conflict rather than instigating it, even if it is they who strike first. Without doubt there is a rightful place for violence in this, but also many other elements. Sticking to the realm of the physical, another version of the warrior could be a woman in labour finding her strength and power and calmly birthing just when things were at their most chaotic and the pain most intense. (Image from here)

But if we are to use this warrior concept to its fullest extent, literally and metaphorically, perhaps the most important thing is to apply it across the medicine wheel. So this gives us emotional, spiritual, and mental warriors; any and all ways in which a being can use their strength and power to bring conflict and disorder back into balance.

Note that this bigger version of warriorship does NOT just mean these other aspects of warriorship being in service of physical violence, such as mental energy being devoted to better weapons technology, or emotional quieting and centring that improves fighting ability. It means recognising their deep value to our being in and of themselves and together in balance.

This topic came to me when thinking about men and masculinity in the context of healing and reconciliation between Anglo-Celtic Australians and Aboriginal Australians. If we restrict our thinking about and valuing of warriorship to literal, physical combat, this makes such healing hard, such was the intense lopsidedness of the physical contest.

I don’t think it is controversial to say that in the world of Aboriginal Australians, weapons and warfare were just one part of what made men and warriors in those cultures whole and powerful. The weapons they had been using for millennia more than did the job they were needed for. Europeans, on the other hand, were by 1788 riding a wave of centuries of escalating prowess in using violence, supercharged by technology and in service of greed. Warriorship caused more conflict and trauma than it resolved.

With this fuller version of warriorship comes some understanding of what I as an Anglo-Celtic colonist lack, and what I need for healing. I don’t yet value my heart and spiritual warriorship enough.

warrior-body-paint-ritual-scars-Western-Australia-1923

On both the oppressor/colonist side, and the survivor/colonised side of this ledger is ample reason to grow through helping each other to see warriorship more fully. When we do this we’ll need no self-shaming to see the deep value of the balanced warriorship of Aboriginal masculine culture. We colonists can learn what being a whole mature warrior means, and Aboriginal men can learn to value who they are more fully. Then we can do ceremony to bring the conflict and disorder back into balance. (Image from here)

Exercise: Taking a strengths-based stance, think about how your sacred masculine (regardless of your gender) displays warriorship across the Medicine Wheel.

Exercise for Australians: If you are doing an Acknowledgement of Country (especially when there are only men present), try acknowledging the Aboriginal warriors as well as Elders.

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Identity politics

At the heart of the Earth Ethos Indigenous Science Dialogues earlier this year was the issue of identity politics. dialogues.5.2021-1The dialogue of that name was with my friend Shannon Field, a Walbunja woman of the Yuin nation, a traditional owner of the land where Lukas and I currently live, the land his first settler ancestor claimed for himself through the crown of England and in whose name the Australian government is still run today.

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With identity politics at the centre, all dialogues touched on that issue. Anglo-Celtic Australian man Lukas Ringland spoke for the PHYSICAL, sharing his experiences of settler trauma, including the pain of being part of a corrupt social majority. On the Crown’s genocidal survival strategy for ex-convicts, he explained: “The more wild the land was, the more likely it was to be given to an ex-convict, like, ‘you go to war against the Indigenous people.’ So you had this battle for life being fought between newly freed convicts and Indigenous people, and then closer to the centre of the colony you had the higher-ups who didn’t have to participate in that.” (Image from here)

Filipino Australian Ellis Bien Ilas spoke for the SPIRITUAL about the trauma of leaving the Philippines for Australia as a child, and his subsequent complex journey of ancestral healing: “I was literally shaken by an event on July 2, 2015…in the ER with an undiagnosed cardiac condition…I was having symptoms medical professionals can’t explain, and…it was looking back…[realising the date of my event] was my grandfather’s death anniversary, and I [] carry his name…That event was a huge catalyst for my spiritual awakening which occurred here in Sydney, Australia.”

Jewish Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) woman Sara Hudson spoke for the MENTAL about the close-mindedness in Aboriginal governmental policy: “When [the government] could verify [some Indigenous knowledge], they were like ‘Ooh! Okay, maybe there is something to this, because it matched what we found ‘scientifically,’ so therefore maybe we will listen now to these Indigenous knowledge-holders around water.’ This is the crazy stuff –  ‘I only listen to you once we have it verified by our Western scientific methods.'” (Image from the ABC, link unknown)

beautiful handsShona (Zimbabwean) Australian woman Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama spoke for the EMOTIONAL, about her experiences navigating whiteness trauma as an African migrant, the absurdity of Australia’s racial labels (Anglo-Celtic, Indigenous, and CALD – culturally and linguistically diverse), and how invisible she feels because “we have never dealt with the race issue with our Indigenous Australians…[but] the WHOLE THING is based on a system of whiteness…[and] we’re not looking at ourselves and the system that led us to do these things…[and now the definition of CALD is] so broad that the only people not captured by that category are Indigenous Australians!”

At the HEART centre, Walbunja Australian woman Shannon Field spoke about “cultural mining”, how “non-Aboriginal people mine our knowledge, mine our experiences in order to form up views, opinions, politics, positions…but in doing so, not providing us with a legitimate and/or authentic opportunity to have influence on what those outcomes actually are….So basically taking the authority and control of our knowledge into White hands.” She also explained, “For me, what identity politics is, that isn’t always a comfortable topic…as an Aboriginal person with fairer skin…I don’t know if it is called a colour privilege, but certainly there are some biases that are applied in terms of palatability of lived experience for White people taking on a Blak story or Blak history…that fits a narrative of what White people want to see….That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of…[And] while I feel like I personally have had a fairly benign experience as an Aboriginal person, your life as an Aboriginal person is not unpoliticised…your mere existence [is under constant political scrutiny and attack].”

always was always will be aboriginal land | Aboriginal ...This “mere existence” of Aboriginal people as humans worthy of dignity collapses the entire ‘legal’ foundation of the Australian nation. The High Court overturned terra nullius and declared that the Australian lands were inhabited at colonisation, but no treaties have been signed, and the Native Title system designed to return Crown land to Aboriginal control (which often takes decades to do so) is fatally flawed. My heart bled last week when I read these words from Gamilaroi-Irish woman Aimee Mehan: “[O]ur Native Title Act does not give Indigenous Australians the right to refuse development on our ancestral lands…imagine that you are told about the impending trauma to a relative [your land/home]. Now you, together with your extended family, must ‘negotiate’ [the] event. You cannot prevent [it]…you must not only endure the trauma…you must sit month after month at the table to negotiate the future occurrence of it with a tribunal. [Then] imagine watching your close relative’s perpetrator being promoted by the Australian government on the world stage in Glasgow.” Gamiliroi Man Wollumbi Waters added: “All of which triggers the trauma and pain we carry as Aboriginal people, the true caretakers of our sacred lands. We walk with our ancestors every day, as the earth is our body and the water is our blood, and the trees and rocks our brothers and sisters, and this is what we hold on to.” Aimee describes this trauma as part of the #metoo movement from an Indigenous science perspective, with non-consensual boundary-breaking rapes and related actions that violate the vitality of the Sacred Mother, the land. (Image source)

Indigenous Justice & Restorative JusticeWhen I hear transhumanists like Jeff Bezos talk about ‘using up’ the resources of Mother Earth (i.e. destroying our home and source of life) necessitating the colonising of Mars, I cannot understand how we continue to give that insane and destructive a person so much power and control over so many resources. I pray for transformation of our rotting, greedy and destructive collective psychosis towards fulfilling the wisdom of Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr. instead: “The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors” (Quote source, Image source).

Exercise: Reflect on your own lived experience of Identity politics. You may want to listen to the Indigenous Science Dialogues and share to inspire rich, healing conversations with loved ones.

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The power of communal dreaming

Blog by Lukas

File:Apollo 11 Launch2.jpg - WikipediaValerie recently asked me why space exploration so captivated me as a child and still evokes strong emotion for me today. I’ve realised it’s got something to do with the safety of collective achievement.

Through the eyes of a child, perhaps nothing feels safer and more secure than seeing adults working together in determined harmony and solidarity towards a shared vision. As a child of the 1980s and 90s, few had the grandeur of space exploration. And so it is with deep ambivalence that I experience the individualistic efforts today of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, even though I am still brought to tears by ham Hollywood depictions of golden era Space Race events like Apollo 11 and 13. (Image of Apollo 11 from Wikipedia)

There are easy critiques about the merits of investing massive resources in space exploration, such as the need to focus more on addressing climate change, poverty and disease. There are strong counter arguments, such as that solving complex challenges related to space exploration leads to technologies that can be used for overall good, as well as strengthening our collective problem-solving ability. That’s where the refrain to “moonshot it” comes from – that when we put so many resources into something it’s collective by its nature. Lately I’ve been thinking about differences in space exploration during the Apollo age and now, and what this says about our society. For me, Bezos’s and other company’s efforts highlight a disillusionment with and disconnection from collectivist and communal dreaming.

As a former space nerd, File:Hubble 4x61.jpg - Wikimedia CommonsI chuckle at the impotence of today’s individualistic and self-aggrandising efforts. For example, all of the Mercury Program’s flights in the early 1960s travelled higher than Bezos did, and in terms of payload capacity, no recent effort has yet bested the Saturn V rocket that carried the Apollo program astronauts to the moon. Led mainly by Space-X, the commercial payload industry has grown immensely over the last decade, but none of its achievements come close to the complexity and technical difficulty of the Hubble Space Telescope missions of the Space Shuttle from over 20 years ago. This is especially ironic since the Space Shuttle was a fairly weak technological achievement meant to be a “proof of concept” of a reusable space vehicle. (Image of Hubble from Wikipedia)

It can be quite plausibly argued that the last true great leap forward in space technology was the space station SkyLab and related Soviet efforts, with their budgets waning ever since. Author of 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of space travel in the year 2001 now seems so off the mark, but considering the pace of achievements at the time of the Apollo program, they were not that far-fetched. He failed to account for the political reality that having effectively ‘won’ the Space Race, the U.S. appetite for massive collective investment in Space Exploration would drop off so considerably.

Il 4 ottobre di 60 anni fa ci fu il lancio dello Sputnik 1 ...Of course the collective achievements of this era have a massive dark side. The Space Race was just another front in the Cold War. The bedrock of the technology and indeed the scientists who advanced it were from the German rocket program of the Second World War. (If this is new to you, check out Operation Paperclip, the Allied Mission to secretly bring German rocket scientists to America.) I think it is fair to say that the U.S. of the 50s and 60s was not much more collectivist than it is now, but one thing people did know how to do was come together to fight a war. The American “war machine” of WWII is in my opinion one of the most spectacular achievements in the history of industrialised civilisation – just consider the material prosperity of the years since that was built on it. Capitalism was critical, but without the consent, taxes and labour of the people working in a war socialist footing, it could never have happened. This is true of the Space Race as well. (Image from here)

So in no way am I saying the achievements of the likes of Apollo were halcyonic. It was part of a war. The capitalist military industrial complex was supercharged. But on some level it was so massive an effort as to not be possible without some form of communal dreaming. This is what feels important to me.

World News #35 - Evil Empire (Amazon) | David BernieToday Bezos wants us to be impressed with his relatively meagre achievements precisely because he has done it without communal dreaming, though he thanked all Amazon customers for funding his personal vision. Materialist, consumerist individualism put Bezos into space, and he wants us to be wowed and entranced by the power of putting massive amounts of power and resources in the hands of a few. He doesn’t want us to worry about communal dreaming, just keep to following our individualist dreams where we fill our lives with goods and services and very few of us may go on to join him amongst the pantheon of the super-elite. (Image from here)

Por aqui passei eu:There are a number of challenges today waiting for us to approach them communally. I predict that when things get bad enough, the power of collective dreaming will become clearer and more appealing to us. But it is sad if only desperation and an existential war footing can prompt us to recognise what I consider a truth: there is inherent value in collective and communal dreaming, for our internal and external worlds.

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Conflict resolution & animism, part 2

This blog builds on part 1 from a few weeks ago, which started by reminding you that in animism, it’s not only not expected, but against our own nature to play nice with certain beings and energies. Earlier today I heard the following story:

cyclistsThree cyclists were riding down a neighbourhood road when an older guy in sports car drove by and yelled, “Get off the road, assholes!”. Of course, cyclists are legally allowed to be on the road. The female in the group gave him the middle finger, angering the driver more and he turned his car towards her, then veered onto another street and into a carpark of a private club. She almost fell off her bike, scared and filled with rage. She blasted through the private club gate past the security guard while her fellow cyclists followed and called the police. You might be thinking that she was trying to get the driver’s plates, but she already got a photo of that. When he stepped out of his car she screamed in his face how wrong his actions were and how terrified she felt. He pushed her out of his way, and she raged even more and threatened to press charges for touching her. By this time her companions had gotten through the security gate. The security guard initially threatened to call the police and report the cyclists for trespass, but changed his mind when he saw the scene. Police arrived and explained to the driver that cyclists are allowed on the roads as much as he is, and told the cyclists they can’t charge the driver with anything but simple battery for pushing her because he veered his car away and didn’t hurt anyone. No one was happy with this outcome.

What a mess. Something to keep in mind with animism, and indigenous understandings of justice in general, is that they don’t necessarily align with Judeo-Christian morality. This may be the heart of why so often people feel things that happen are unfair or that ‘nice guys finish last’, because we are mentally programmed to expect rewards when we are ‘good’, whatever that means (often obedience to social norms it seems).

Five basic approaches to conflict resolution are: collaborating, compromising, accomodating, avoiding, and competing. In the story above, the woman and the driver are both competing. I lionthink about a lion competing to be king of the hill – they’re getting their fight on. chameleonThe security guard started out competing but then accommodated the cyclists, represented by a chameleon changing its colours to fit the situation. The other two cyclists are collaborating with their friend, like a school of fish sticking together, and the police officer is fishcompromising by offering to charge the driver with something since the cyclists want him to be punished. Compromise is represented well by a zebra with its dual-coloured stripes. zebra

What we don’t have in this scenario is anyone avoiding conflict, which I think would have been the wisest option. There were many missed opportunities for the cyclists to avoid escalating the conflict and potentially endangering themselves further. Let’s represent avoiding with a turtle who can stick its head in its shell. turtle

If the cyclists had been growled at by an actual lion, they likely would not have tried to compete but would have done their best to avoid escalating the conflict. And if one of the cyclists had decided to angrily provoke the lion further, the other cyclists would have been less likely to collaborate and more likely if she got hurt to tell her that she had asked for it. Other than a sense of moral outrage and upholding of social norms, why do we behave so differently with people who exhibit threatening lion energy than with actual lions? One reason is when something is really important to us, we feel called to be warriors and stand up and fight. Some things – like protecting our family – feel worth dying for, and it can be too hard to live with the guilt and shame of knowing we didn’t try to stand up for our values. Another reason is that we are reacting in autopilot and have a tendency to compete when we feel threatened. If the reason is the latter, we can work on creating self-awareness and space to make more intentional decisions about addressing conflicts.

conflictWhen we do choose to avoid a conflict, it helps to be aware of the Cycle of Indecision: ‘I feel bad. I should do something. Nothing will change. I gotta let it go. But I feel bad…’ I find when I avoid a conflict but over time it keeps coming up inside me, then I do need to do something to address it. That may involve talking to someone, creating art to express my emotions and tell my story, doing something ceremonial to keep the energy flowing without endangering myself, or finding a passion to advocate out in the world. For example, if I have a conflict with someone close to me, I tend to try to collaborate and talk it through when we are both less emotionally charged. But when I have a conflict with someone I don’t trust to collaborate with, I often write them a letter, leave it on my altar, and burn it so that the energy gets sent out in spirit.

Notice that no one in the story above was happy with what the police officer offered as a compromise to try to appease everyone and follow the law he’s working with. This is because of a common conflict resolution issue – people conflating positions with interests. The cyclists’ interests are (likely) being safe and respected while on the road, but their position is they want the driver to be punished for yelling at them and veering his car at the woman, but they may also have an interest in revenge. positioninterestThe driver’s interest is (likely) not being criminally charged and being able to express anger that cyclists are not riding single file (which they don’t have to). Maybe he has an interest in trying to change that law or have cycling lanes built on the road so he doesn’t have to share, or maybe he’s just interested in expressing anger, but his position seems to be ‘get out of my way’. We’d need to talk to everyone to unpack their underlying interests and potentially resolve the conflict in a more mutually beneficial way, but that’s not the job of the police officer. That’s something we could do through an Earth Ethos peace circle if everyone was open to collaborating and had been prepared to come together with open hearts and minds. In peace circle processes we use deep listening, open questions, I-statements, reframing emotionally charged language, and other tools to make it easier for people in competitive positions to feel safe to open up and connect with others. Because lions tend to be lonely, dangerous creatures – with only one male on top of the pride, he’s always scared of being bested by another and losing everything. Sometimes conflicts in our lives are like that, are all or nothing, but usually they needn’t be. We just can’t see another way. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Reflect on how you tend to approach conflicts. Maybe you tend towards different approaches at home or at work or with your kids or partner. Think about a recent conflict you were in with someone. How did you want to approach that conflict? What was your position in the conflict, and your underlying interest(s)? What about the person you were in conflict with? 

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Flailing into freedom

Poem by Lukas

All around me

And inside me

Flailing

Flailing across the medicine wheel

But only the fix-it mental mind in charge of change
Leading our growth.
Ideas, always ideas.
Never just isness

Always the changing sky with its fast moving clouds

Never the rock, or the mountain or the tree.
Never the deep time of timeless ancestors
Or the inherently clear sky
The all, oneness.
Unknown to us.

IMG20210622090000

Our recent generations so scarred
The very notion of old, grounded wisdom
Gone, abandoned and unknown
Admonished
Disrespected
“Primitive”
Always new ideas.
Evidence based ra ra ra.
Ideas that must fit together like bricks
A shape absent in nature
For sale.

Sometimes we need a wall.
A mentally engineered structure.

Sometimes this kind of thinking is a gift.
But most often our very logic is our prison.
Don’t try and trick me with your rationality
Don’t tell me about your evidence
Don’t scale-up, export and expand
Don’t show me a widget for saving the world.
Don’t try to sell me anything.

Please just connect with me
Connect with the earth.
Connect with your heart.
Connect with spirit.

Be with things as they are. IMG_20210610_091412
Messy.
Painful.
Joyful.
Blissful.
Dark as well as light together.
Alive.

Where could we go and flow if this was our way of being?
Of course I can’t tell you rationally.
There’s no map.
No blueprint.

These building blocks are not square.
But just letting this mystery wash over me feels like peace.
Freedom.
(Photos by Valerie)
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Conflict resolution & animism, Part 1

“One of the things that I notice quite a bit is that people who tend to be attracted to Animism (and Shamanism) are often good-hearted people who wish to be kind to everyone and everything…Part of an Animistic practice would be reclaiming that wild within ourselves– the parts of ourselves that can defend ourselves and our homes, that can take action, that can pounce and prey and track and growl. And can do those things without guilt and without the type of moral apprehension that modern spiritual circles tend to be so riddled with. It is easy to be shamed into being a really, really good person that everyone and everything can run over and treat like a doormat [as] ‘nice’ or ‘spiritual’ or ‘being the better person’. This has little to do with nature, or with Animism, and more to do with a spiritual culture that is out of touch with its inner and outer wildness, animalistic instincts, and darkness.”–Mary Shutan

I have been seeking lately to more fully embody a balance between the sacred feminine and masculine. To me this means the following: sacred masculine energy is the individual aspect of my identity. This energy is seeking to celebrate diversity and is willing to say hey, I am here and ought to be treated well, and I am allowed to take up space. Sacred feminine energy is the universal aspect of my identity. This energy is seeking places of connection and is willing to give generously to facilitate intimacy. Whether my characterisations as sacred masculine and feminine energies resonates with you or not, hopefully the importance of these energies being honoured and in balance is relatable.

I have done a lot of training, professional and personal work in conflict resolution. It has been important for my survival, and I learn a lot through conflict. When our relationships enter into conflict, we either grow closer or farther apart as a resolution unfolds, sometimes dramatically so. Relationships that have been built over years may end in an instant when a lie emerges.

I find it helpful to keep the following in mind: 

  • perspectiveWe all have different perspectives. It helps to find space and respect for another whose view strongly conflicts with ours by carrying a bit of doubt about what we ‘know’. For example, if we ‘know for a fact’ that Covid exists and others deny this, we can avoid placing ourselves into judgment and remind ourselves of things we didn’t believe until we experienced them for ourselves or trusted something that didn’t work out well for us.
  • We are not meant to closely collaborate and connect with everyone and everything. It is dangerous for a frog to be intimate with a snake. The same goes for us with certain people, places, etc. We are responsible for setting boundaries and protecting ourselves.
  • notthereWe all have blind spots and project things that aren’t there. Awareness of blind spots and wounds allows us to better protect ourselves and know when we need wise counsel. When one songbird spots a predatory bird in the forest, their outcry helps birds, mice, and others know to duck under cover. Knowing whom to listen to, why and when is helpful. I’ll take on western medical advice from a doctor, but I will not take on advice about my spiritual life (such as a statement like ‘that wound will never heal’).
  • unclearWe all see things unclearly and with a distorted lens sometimes too. Awareness of these limitations can be empowering. Our greyhound Chloe has such a strong prey drive she projects potential prey onto wind lifting up a blanket. Hope can be a powerful trickster.

When dealing with intense emotions, we tend to have go-to strategies. Knowing our tendencies empowers us to choose which ones to use in when. This, like anything, takes practice. Common approaches with some of their pros and cons include:

  • minimisemaxMinimising or maximising – distorting reality into being bigger or smaller than it is. Some people tend towards one or the other, and others swing between catastrophising and bravado. Maximising can help us notice hidden emotion we may have not been aware of, and minimising can be helpful to get through danger or pain but isn’t sustainable. Swinging creates drama and is often quite painful.
  • bypassBypassing or avoiding – actively or passively choosing to evade something or someone. This can be wise especially if there is danger to protect ourselves from, but may be a trick that comes back to bite us and can limit opportunities for intimacy and growth.
  • fixitProblem-solving or fix-it mode – this may be practically helpful but risks being emotionally damaging as it tends to come from rejection or lack, of not accepting our pain in the moment and judging someone or something as inherently wrong or broken.
  • validateEmpathise or validate – affirming our shared humanity and showing care can be helpful, but may not be fully honest and not build trust or allow us to learn tough lessons.
  • inquireInquire or try to understand – curiousity helps us learn and see each other more clearly, but it risks inflaming someone in crisis. When a house is burning, we first need to put out the fire and then investigate why it happened. Focusing on why first can be damaging.
  • reflectAcknowledge or reflect – Similar to validating but more passive, can be useful when we are not emotionally charged to provide a more neutral mirror to someone or go within and look at what we can learn from the situation. Repeatedly going within to do our own reflecting can limit our intimacy with others who may feel like we keep running away.

Exercise: Which strategies for dealing with intense emotions do you tend to use for yourself? With others? Do you use different ones at home and at work? Which strategies do people close to you use, and which ones work best for you?

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Befriending our fear

Blog by Valerie

“You can never conquer fear, it’s always going to be there…Walking in beauty involves encountering fears, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and getting beyond them, so we can have joy, happiness, confidence and peace in the four areas of our being.” — Wally Brown, Diné (Navajo) historian/lawman

Fear is a challenging energy for us humans to be with, and we often use its influence on us to justify actions we otherwise would not allow. It may be tempting to remain in denial and avoid deepening our understanding of our primal nature, but that limits our ability to enjoy fulfilling lives and realise our deepest dreams. In my blog about addressing addiction, I shared some tools I use for facing fears and increasing my sense of safety. It’s one of life’s beautiful paradoxes that we can learn to be safe with our fears.

fairyfireHere’s an example from my life lately. Our new home is being heated by a fireplace (image to the right). The first few weeks we stayed here, I woke up during the night coughing and struggling to breathe. Being unable to breathe properly feels incredibly scary and triggers survival fears very quickly. At first I thought the house was too dusty (it was), and I did deeper and deeper cleanings. That helped a bit, but I was still struggling. Then I realised the fire was emitting such a dry heat that I needed more moisture in the air, especially at night when I’m not drinking much liquid. So I started using a spray bottle to fill up the room with moisture before I went to sleep. That helped, but was not enough. As I kept waking up with coughing fits, I practiced breathing through it and being with the fear, and my mind and body started to feel more peace as the realisation settled that yes, this was scary, but it did not mean I was dying.  As a next step, I have put up a DIY humidifier consisting of a wet towel hanging from the ceiling which slowly evaporates over about 24 hours. And now I’m sleeping through the night without a coughing fit. But I noticed today when I swallowed water and it went down the wrong pipe, though my body was dramatically coughing to expel the liquid, my mind was relaxed in the knowing that this was not going to kill me, and my emotions remained steady with just a bit of embarrassment that a friend was visiting and worrying seeing what I was going through.

When I first started waking up in the night with coughing fits, I told Lukas it felt like I was drowning and I kept getting images of gasping for water in my mind. As a young child my parents told me a story of how I almost drowned in a baby pool once, so it’s possible that embedded a deep fear in me that was coming up now. In general, I have been processing a lot of survival fears since we have settled into a new home. Practically, it’s somewhat insecure with a month-to-month lease agreement, but it’s more secure than nomadically moving around and finding a new place to stay every week or two which we were doing the first half of this year. It’s exciting to move around that much, and we learned to live very simply and minimally, and to enjoy daily pleasures of being by the beach, in the bush, cooking with limited tools and ingredients, and snuggling under the covers with hot tea and TV.

fearmoneyquoteIt also takes a lot of energy to be in survival mode, to watch your savings drain, and maintain faith and trust that you will settle again at the right time and place. Each time I have been on that journey alone or with Lukas, the eventual landing has been better for me and us, and this is no exception. I feel so much safer for all the fear I have faced over the last year of not having our own space, that now we are resettling into this house, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to be borrowing this for a while. I know none of these earthly spaces are ‘mine’ in an ownership sense. (Image from here) And part of how Lukas and I honour that knowing is by:

  1. Renouncing the buying of land that in our eyes is all Aboriginal sovereign land, and avoiding playing the role of colonists buying intergenerationally stolen land;
  2. Having immense compassion for friends and community who choose a different path of buying land, as facing survival fears is a very personal journey;
  3. Taking time to get to know the country we’re on by paying our respects to important landforms, learning some words in traditional language, building respectful relationships with Traditional Owners who live here; and
  4. Waiting for the synchronicity that led to Lukas’s new work and our settling into a new home; ensuring we do not force ourselves onto the country and that we feel welcomed to settle and become part of the dreaming of this particular paradise.

ringland signFor 7th generation colonial settler Lukas, renouncing ‘owning’ of property is a lifelong path of facing fears and healing from ancestral ‘taking’ of land. When we visit Ringland’s Bay and the other areas around Narooma named after his ancestor, a ship captain buried in style in Bermagui Cemetery, we feel connection with place and pain. When we are with Traditional Owners who are our friends and talk about projects to facilitate healing people and country, it makes our journey into the pain and fear feel very worthwhile.

fearquoteIt’s so empowering to have enough space with our fears to act instead of react, and to be able to discern which feelings of fear are life-threatening (there’s a gun, get out of there!) versus which ones may feel life-threatening but can be healed (that person’s judging me, which hurts and feels socially scary, but their judgment isn’t going to kick me out of society, so I need to protect and comfort myself). It makes this famous quote make sense to me, and is inspiration to continue befriending our fears (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), especially with covid creating limitations in the physical world and opportunities for us to be more intimate with our inner worlds. (Image from here)

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Indigenous Science Dialogues

Update: All dialogues are now available online on the Earth Ethos YouTube Channel.

You are invited to join Earth Ethos in honouring each element of the medicine wheel (earth/physical, air/mental, fire/spiritual, water/emotional) and the heart centre through five dialogues between Indigenous scientists this May.

All dialogues will be facilitated by Dr Valerie Cloud Clearer Ringland, an East Frisian (Indigenous to northern Germany) and Jewish-American woman living of Yuin country with lived experience and a PhD in Indigenous trauma healing.

May 3, Fire/Spiritual: Ancestral Healing with Ellis Bien Ilas, a Filipino-Australian ancestral healer living of Eora country.

May 5, Earth/Physical: Settler Trauma with Lukas Ringland, an Anglo-Celtic Australian (and Valerie’s life partner) healing and living of Yuin country.

May 7, Air/Mental: Weaving Knowledges with Sara Hudson, a Jewish-Pākehā woman living of Darug country using Indigenous and Western knowledges in evaluation and academic work.

May 11, Heart/Cultural: Identity Politics with Shannon Field, a Yuin woman living on country and working in Aboriginal policy.

May 13, Water/Emotional: Confronting Whiteness with Dr Virginia Mapedzahama, a Shona (Indigenous to Zimbabwe) with African Women Australia Inc. living of Wangal land.

Sign up at the Eventbrite page to get the Zoom link or use the Earth Ethos Calendar to click on the Zoom link to participate. All dialogues will be available next day on the Earth Ethos Facebook page.

Please pass on information about this dialogue series with others who may be interested!

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Lived Experience Knowledge

lovepain

Blog by Valerie

There is immense power in embodying healing through lived experience. As I work in facilitating & healing spaces, I feel it is important to be open about parts of my journey. If you want to learn more about my personal lived experience journey, please read on.

My healings, awakenings and navigations of grief and loss have been quite intense. I am the child of two lineages steeped in trauma and conflict: an Ashkenazi Jewish-American mother whose ancestors fled pogroms in Eastern Europe to the U.S. in the late 1800s, and an East Frisian father, an Indigenous northern German man who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, and bonded to a lapsed Catholic Anglo-Celtic-American nanny as a mother. I was born on Shawnee land in Ohio, U.S., and from infancy until age 15 was sexually abused by an uncle who may be my biological father. My maternal bond to my nanny created resentment and jealousy for my mother, and a cross-country move separated me from my nanny, creating another layer of abandonment wounding. As my father was the first in his family to move off country, I inherited his abandonment of country wound, in addition to that of my mother’s family which for Jewish people is extensive.

I grew up primarily in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., a city with a history of genocide, slavery, civil rights, and immense racial tension for over 300 years. It was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and is home to the largest Confederate Memorial in the U.S. as well as being ceded Cherokee land that was the start of the Trail of Tears. Most my community was heavily Christian, and I lost many childhood friends who failed to ‘save me’ from being Jewish. 

Throughout childhood I had problems with my digestive and hormonal systems, and from ages 18 to 33 I endured intense physical health challenges, with my digestive, hormonal and nervous systems dis-functioning and shutting down. My body was so full pain, trauma, and loss, I could not digest or hold what I had experienced in childhood, nor be present in my environment. I did not know myself. I had poor boundaries and was almost entirely enmeshed in codependent and abusive relationships, including with my family of origin. I experienced my parents’ relationships as domestic violence and grew up with a lot of mental illness and intergenerational trauma impacting me and my family, though people denied it.

nightskyBecause of an interest in justice and meditation, I was pushed into law school, though the Western legal system is not my idea of justice at all. Determined to be of service, I spent years doing pro bono and low-paid work around the world with a focus on child advocacy, community building, and conflict resolution. In India I drafted a law to criminalise child sexual abuse that passed in 2012; in South Africa I led a small non-profit focused on community building and did conflict resolution with a rural Zulu communities; in Australia I worked with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, which ultimately led to a Royal Commission and systemic reform; and in Peru I worked with an inner-city restorative justice program. During this period of my life though I had already been through a lot of healing, I was still in spiritual crisis and had multiple near death experiences. Something in my life needed to dramatically shift as I was numb to dangerous situations.

sterntalerI met my life partner Lukas in Australia in 2011. Our journey to be together has been hard work, which has helped us both to realise our worth. We travelled South America to be together when my Australian visa ended, and I finally felt safe and distant enough from my family of origin for repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse to emerge. It was like a cork full of chaotic energy popped open and challenged my mind’s ‘knowns’. My life started to make more sense as dissociated and lost soul parts emerged in an intensely painful and dramatic awakening process. As I healed, every family of origin relationship and many others with close friends and trusted mentors faded away. The period of most profound grief and loss I weathered was when my father, nanny, and best friend all died within seven months, my husband moved across the country for work, and the professor I moved across the world to do my Ph.D. with behaved abusively and unethically, causing me to change the direction of my work from restorative justice and conflict resolution to Indigenous trauma healing and to founding Earth Ethos.

In my healing journey I have re-membered the medicine wheel, altar practices, totemic relationships, cultural lore, and ancestral healing practices. I have participated in plant medicine ceremonies in the Amazon; done a 10-day silent meditation retreat; danced three dry-fasting Native American knowledge-sharing healing ceremonies; apprenticed in sweat lodge-keeping; studied Indigenous grounding, movement, music, ritual and ceremony as medicine; and learned some wilderness, survival and first aid skills. I earned a Ph.D. in social work through doing three interrelated research projects on indigenous trauma healing focused on sexual trauma. 

For most of my life I have lived in denial about my value and worth, and it’s been a continual series of blessings to be freed of wounds and re-member who I am and why I am here. Through trauma healing and spiritual awakenings I have been on a journey of becoming free. I have learned to courageously speak my truth, embody sovereignty with dignity, and live interdependently with respect for all beings. My cosmology, identity, and placement continue to become clearer as I adopt and am adopted by the land, peoples, and ancestors of Australia. I find myself in flow navigating life through Indigenous Science. Though I am very far from ancestral lands, increasingly I feel, for the first time in this life, that I am centred and at home. I am grateful for all I have been through that has made me who I am and enables me to support others on their healing journeys.

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Synchronicity

Blog by Valerie

Four years ago I wrote the following and saved it on my computer:

Imagine synchronicity as a lifestyle.

Inner & outer awareness/alignment

Today I was reminded of that document and moved to write this piece. For me, this is the essence of being alive and embodying an earth ethos, for in Indigenous science, timing is synchronicity. This underlies indigenous seasonal calendars, and many familiar sayings about there being a time and a season for things. You can’t force a caterpillar to become a butterfly, or a flower to go from bud into bloom – so why do we force ourselves and our environments to be out of alignment with nature? If you’re cold, be cold; if you’re hot, be hot. If you’re old, be wrinkled. (I find older botoxed faces scary and in denial, and wrinkled elder faces comforting and joyful, a sign of pride, dignity and wisdom – image from here.)

The Bamboo Project: Moving at the Pace of Nature

In the book Treading Lightly, it is described as telling “time in terms of synchronicity: an event will happen when all or a sufficient number of conditions are met.” The authors go on to say that this “view of the universe is thus more sophisticated and advanced than it first appears, and is close to quantum physics and the theory of relativity.” I too have found parallels between physics and Indigenous science and even did a reading group of the book Sand Talk with some physicists I used to do research with in the U.S. (And if you’re interested in a very nerdy outcome of this collaborative work, see chapter 4 of my dissertation).

A few months ago I was feeling drained and filled with grief as I had realised a big lie I had been told by a parent my whole life, and (of course) in synchronicity with this, big lies were exposed where I was living and working at that time. I prayed for a break, and I have been getting a break from the western workplace, with more time to spend in the bush and focusing on survival in the full medicine wheel sense of the word. This ‘break’ feels tough and unsustainable, also like a precious gift filled with wilderness medicine. Living in a way few people do, I experience a lot of shadow spaces that people in the western world do not go, and in these spaces, a lot of synchronicities that bring me peace and affirm the spiritual path of wholeness that I am embodying.

When we make space for all emotions, including our pains and sorrows, we honour ourselves and the spirits of those energies and everyone else who carries them. This allows things in our lives to flow – to release and emerge – without force, and a grounded power comes in that further centres us into our beings. A month ago, after nearly five years of repeated rejections, I received news that a paper on my indigenous science empathic dialogue work with sex offenders and their family members would finally be published. A few weeks later I found myself moved to publish a second poetry collection, entitled Mother Wound. To me these books have become power objects into which creative energy has been concentrated and birthed into being. And in synchronicity with the season this all happened right around the autumn equinox, as the season transitions into winter. I am curious to see what emerges as these energies are freed and released from being carried inside me.

.: Lifecycle butterflyBut right now I am still experiencing a lot of thoughts, emotions, dreams, and earthly energies. Autumn is a time of harvesting. Fulfilling a wish from years ago, in imagining synchronicity as a lifestyle, I am currently living as a nomad and flowing where I feel called, connecting with places and people of Yuin country (south coast NSW). And I have faith that I will emerge from my current cocoon at the right time with the desire to expose my beauty to the world by flitting about as a butterfly for a while. Until that “I” dies and the cycle continues with my being reborn from a little egg once more… (Image from here).

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