Category Archives: Healing

Forgiveness

Here is another chapter from the book I am writing. I hope you enjoy! Blog by Valerie

Ho'oponopono Blog en Español de Mabel Katz Archives ...Some years ago while working with practicing Jews and Christians, I realised the underlying process many of them were continually going through: judge an act as righteously right or wrong, confront moral failings within oneself and others, then forgive and let go by giving anger to God or Jesus. The depth of potential existential judgment is so intense (e.g. eternal damnation and social ostracisation), that it can be very hard for people to acknowledge ‘wrong’ behaviours. I have experienced numerous instances of trickery of someone intending to forgive and let go (or deciding to avoid an issue), resulting in hurtful and confusing passive-aggressive behaviours. Often the underlying issue emerges years later after so much resentment has built up and trust eroded that the relationship becomes very hard to repair. (Image from here)

I was taught this judgmental process by Jewish family members, and had it reinforced by community members while growing up. I am thankful that another process was also taught to me by some Frisian ancestors: the process of accepting. I became consciously aware of this process as an adult when I worked with Tom Lake (now retired), who founded the International School of Shamanism on the foundational process of ‘unconditional love and acceptance.’ Belle Noir Magazine | Big. Beautiful. You.: Fearless ... Though it may at times seem more painful in the moment, I find loving acceptance brings me immeasurably more ease and peace than judging. I then discern what, if anything, I need to say or do when I experience hurt or realise I have caused hurt in another being. I remember Tom saying to me once that even when he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, if someone tells him that his actions have hurt them, he chooses to apologise because it is not his intention to hurt anyone. I appreciate the humility in that, and that it also helps hurting hearts to remain open to an ongoing relationship. (Image from here)

A common misconception is that a process grounded in acceptance means we make excuses for concerning behaviours. That is not my experience at all. In fact, working among Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory, I heard lamenting from many community members about how Western ways have eroded their traditional forms of justice and created more intense and seemingly never-ending conflicts. In many Indigenous Australian cultures, when someone broke a traditional law, a member of the aggrieved family would ceremonially spear a member of the offender’s family. This ceremony created an opportunity for everyone to accept what happened, because the aggrieved party could admit wrongdoing and face a consequence that would then restore their social place in the community, and the offended party could act as a channel for spiritual retribution. This is referred to in English as ‘payback.’ The spearing could hurt or kill someone, or it could miss them altogether, and the outcome was accepted as the will of the spiritual realm. Once the ceremony was done, the issue was let go, and relationships were restored.

Feud (TV series) - WikipediaNow that the Western justice system has criminalised the payback ceremony, many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory struggle to reach forgiveness with their Indigenous science of justice. I heard about someone who had been in prison for years as ‘Western justice’ who was released and immediately had to face spearing if he wanted to see his family and community again. I heard about family members of an offender being beaten up until someone agreed to be speared in place of the offender in prison. I heard about decades-long violent feuds involving multiple generations where many people didn’t even know how the feud had started, but no one felt justice had been satisfied. I even heard about someone trying to sue someone else for using sorcery against their family as payback instead of spearing. It’s a mess. (Image from here)

Whether a spearing ceremony resonates with you or not isn’t the point; the point is, it was working for these peoples for many thousands of years. Their shared understanding of the world, its laws, and the intervention of the spirit realm supported people to admit and face consequences for ‘wrong’ acts and then reach a space of collective forgiveness and letting go of the issue. For me, such a justice process accepts that being human inevitably includes engaging in some ‘wrong’ acts. In traditional Indigenous justice processes, it was very rare that anyone was seen as unredeemable, and even if they were, it tended to be seen as someone’s spirit being overcome by a disease such as Wetiko rather than a failure of their individual moral character. We are all influenced in our sense of self by stories and projections from others, and I encourage you to consider how you feed this in the following exercise.

Exercise: Reflect on someone you dislike and feel some aversion towards, whether it is someone you know or a historical figure like Hitler and fill in the blank: He/She is  _________. Consider the meaning of saying someone ‘is’ a trait such as ‘evil’, or ‘too selfish’. Is that their identity in your eyes? Do you judge it? How might you be hurting them, and yourself, by holding these stories and projecting that onto them?

♥ De Coração a Coração ♥: HO'OPONOPONO E UM POUCO MAIS....Though we may not be able to ceremonially heal with the people who hurt us or people we have hurt, we can do spiritual ceremonies on our own to change the way we hold people and what we project. Shifting our perspective requires us to hold paradox and avoid binary and judgmental thinking. In traditional Hawaiian culture, people use “Ho’oponopono, the traditional conflict resolution process…[to] create a network between opposing viewpoints…that allows dualistic consciousness to stand while becoming fully embodied by the ecstatic love of Aloha”[1]. In Hawaiian science, illness is caused by breaking spiritual law and requires the offender, aggrieved, and their entire families to forgive themselves, each other, and seek forgiveness from the spirit realm before the illness can heal[2]. The traditional Ho’oponopono ceremony has been adapted for outsiders to practice forgiveness by Hawaiian kahuna Morrhah Simeona and her student Ihaleakala Hew Len[3]. Though these teachings have been criticised as being New Age-y and deviating from traditional teachings, I find one of the basic elements useful and include it as part of the exercise below. (Image from here)

Forgiveness exercise

Ground and centre yourself and create sacred space. Bring to mind someone who has hurt you. Imagine that person’s face and see them saying the following to you in your mind’s eye: “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” If it feels okay, imagine saying the same phrase back to them. Be with any feelings that arise.

Next time you feel hurt by someone, take some time alone and then do some eye-gazing and say these four sentences to each other. Notice how you feel.

[1] Colorado, A. (2021). Woman Between the Worlds: A call to your ancestral wisdom. Hay House, p. 128.

[2] Veary, N. (1989). Change we must: My spiritual journey. Institute of Zen Studies.

[3] Vitale, J., & Len, I. H. (2007). Zero limits: The secret Hawaiian system for wealth, health, peace, and more. John Wiley & Sons.

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Discernment

Here is another chapter from the book I am writing. I hope you enjoy! Blog by Valerie

As Diné (Navajo) historian and lawman Wally Brown says:

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.

By ‘getting beyond’ our fear, Wally is referring to developing discernment. Fear is a challenging energy to be with, and it’s one of life’s beautiful paradoxes that we can learn to be safe with our fears, creating space and understanding about how and when to act even when we feel terror flowing through us. In Western culture, we talk about emotional intelligence (EQ) and mental intelligence (IQ), but rarely about physical or spiritual intelligence. Physical intelligence is related to our relationship with our environment, as well as our own body. And spiritual intelligence has to do with our capacity to hold paradoxical energies, our ability to access altered states of consciousness, and skilful use of Indigenous science data.

twopathsI am using the word ‘discernment’ instead of ‘judgment’ because ‘judgment’ is often linked with negativity, but ‘sound judgment’ is similar to skilful ‘discernment.’ I think of discernment as a muscle more than a practice, because it inevitably gets regular workouts through our life experience, so we are wise to work out the muscle so it’s in good shape to navigate inevitably testing moments in our lives. Discernment is grounded in our desire to uphold core values, and will help us to strengthen our boundaries. One of the best ways to work out this muscle in everyday life is through the following exercise. It is easiest to do this exercise when you have a conflict, challenging emotion or thought loop to work through. It is most powerful when done in the moment of heightened fear response, if you are able. (Image from here)

Is-it-mine Exercise:

Reflecting on a recent experience of fear and other intense thoughts and/or feelings. When you have an instance to work through, go into that energy and ask yourself ‘Is it mine’? Breathe through any discomfort and await a deep inner response. You may hear an inner voice, or have a feeling or a sense of knowing, or you may see an image that clarifies this question.

If you realise that it isn’t yours, that it is ancestral trauma or projection from someone else, set an intention to let it go, and ask your wise inner self for guidance about how to do that.

If you realise that at least some of it is yours, ask yourself, ‘What percent of this is mine?’ Set an intention to let go of what is not yours, and ask your wise inner self for guidance about how to do that. For what is yours, you may wish to ask your inner wise self what the underlying fear, belief, or myth is, and any guidance about working through it. You may also wish to ask your ancestors for guidance with this or seek wise counsel from people you trust.

In Western culture, black-and-white thinking abounds in terms of apportioning responsibility. We are either guilty or innocent, or we share the blame 50-50. It is very hard for most of us to apportion responsibility outside of that 0-100 or 50-50 framework. Yet most real-world conflicts are complex, involve multiple parties, and each bears some proportion of responsibility. Carrying some responsibility is part of having some power, and taking responsibility for where we have power doesn’t excuse others from destructive behaviour. For example, as young woman, I sometimes wore tight clothes and short skirts. Though I understand the importance of wearing what makes one feel good, I did not feel good nor empowered having to process so many men’s sexual projections (and women’s jealousy projections) while walking around town.Defend Your Back End: Gender, Blame, and the ... I felt deeply uncomfortable, as it triggered wounds of previous sexual violence. So I started modifying my outfits, pairing a tighter top with a longer skirt, and carrying a sweater or wrap to cover up when I felt overly exposed. I still experienced some uncomfortable projections, but those choices helped me feel good about what I was wearing as well as empowered to protect myself from many uncomfortable projections. I did not feel responsible for the projections other people were making, but since I seemed to be triggering people, I felt some responsibility to protect myself. Perhaps in an ideal world we would all be so self-aware that I wouldn’t have needed to deal with such projections, but that was not my reality. I have since grown to more deeply value modesty and to embed that into my values. (Image from here)

Another way to strengthen our discernment muscle is embodied in that story: try something and see how it works, then adjust as need. Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who had been in an abusive relationship for a long time, and he said that one of the most empowering things he did to heal was to give himself no longer than a day to make a big life decision, and no longer than an hour to make a smaller life decision. By holding himself to these timeframes, he limited his anxiety about making the ‘right’ decision, increased his empowerment about making a decision himself, and increased his discernment muscle (as well as his ability to give himself grace) by experiencing how well his decisions turned out. EvenTake the first step | ”.. and your mind will mobilize all ... when something went really poorly and didn’t turn out how he had hoped, he said he felt a sense of pride that it had been his decision and knew he would learn from it. This strategy may not work for you, but the underlying idea is empowering for our discernment muscle. Sometimes we over-think, over-analyse, or over-consult others for advice, and the best thing to do is take a step in a direction and await feedback from the universe, then adjust and await feedback again, through an iterative process that can also strengthen our discernment muscle. (Image from here)

teepeeAll discernment relies on some foundational knowledge. When we are confused, lost, or tricked, we have poor information with which to discern what to do. This is another reason why grounding and centring practices are so vital. If we think about it in terms of intelligence, if I don’t have much physical intelligence about my environment, I won’t have much to go on when trying to discern where to set up camp. I will have to rely on knowledge from other environments, but I may learn the hard way that camping near a stream kept me close to water but that the water level rose more than I expected, or that the trees providing shade had branches that easily snapped in heavy winds. This is where local Indigenous knowledge is so valuable. (My photo from Austin, Texas Pioneer Farms)

Exercise: Do you know how to survive a few nights in the wilderness environment where you now live? Could you find and/or build shelter, get water, make fire and otherwise keep yourself warm, and forage for food? If not, empower yourself with some knowledge and connect with the Indigenous ancestors (living and ancient) of those lands.

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Trauma & Healing

Blog by Valerie Cloud Clearer

As some of you know, I have been writing a book (or it’s being written through/with me may be more accurate language ), so I have felt less inclined to blog. Today I thought I’d adapt a chapter from the book into a blog, since I haven’t written directly about the Indigenous science of trauma in blog form before. It was my PhD topic (and much of my lived experience), so it has taken many years to be able to succinctly express some of the ideas. I hope it resonates with you.

forgiveyourselfTrauma’s meaning, causes and methods of healing differ by culture and cosmology. In Western science, trauma is typically defined as profound wounding that damages a person’s ability to trust in life and self, resulting in existential crises[1]. Trauma is encoded in brain pathways rooted in fear/terror and disgust/ aversion. Feeling fear is intended to protect us from life-threatening danger, so our nervous systems rev up and prepare for crisis. Trauma causes our nervous systems to activate stress hormones when danger isn’t present, creating flashbacks, emotional volatility, strained relationships, re-traumatising experiences, and severe stress[2]. Primary trauma occurs for a person who directly experienced it, and secondary trauma for family and friends. There’s also intergenerational trauma. A typical Western healing approach is individual counselling, with some alternative approaches including other family members, or integrating art therapy, body work, or EMDR[3]. The underlying idea is that by surviving trauma, we can become more resilient individuals.

In Indigenous science, all disease including trauma is indicative of “disruption in the natural order of humans’ interactions with the spirit world,” such as failure to honour the spiritual realm, failure to honour one’s ancestors, neglecting cultural rituals or religious ceremonies, or losing faith in the Creator[4]. Where Western scientists seek cures of diseases and treatments for trauma, Indigenous scientists view trauma and diseases as potential gifts of healing that can offer important insights about how to live well and bring new wise leadership into a community. Where Western science views a personality or ego as the centre of an individual being, an Indigenous medicine person or ‘shaman’ views a person’s eternal spirit as the centre of being. That is why the heart is at the centre of a medicine wheel, to remind us that we are connected to ourselves, each other, and all of Creation.

In Indigenous science, to try to make trauma ‘go away’ through suppression, denial, or taking drugs (legal or illegal) is denying an important spiritual initiation needed by an individual and their community[5]. Experiencing and healing trauma includes all our relations, human and non-human. Through my Ph.D. studies on Indigenous scientific approaches to healing trauma (which included Indigenous healing ceremonies and apprenticeships as well as Western scientific research), I found four underlying causes of trauma in Indigenous science:

  • Disconnection from the Earth;
  • Unhealed ancestral trauma;
  • Soul loss; and
  • Shaman’s illness.

hardtimeReconnecting to the Earth, healing ancestral trauma, and Shaman’s illness have been covered in previous blogs, so let’s discuss soul loss. In Indigenous science, traumatic experiences propel us into terror and dissociation, creating “soul loss,” meaning that we are no longer fully present in ordinary reality because parts of our spirit have split off, fled, or gotten lost. “Soul” is understood to mean ‘consciousness’.[6] To live with soul loss means we are not consciously whole in the moment, that parts of us are frozen in an unresolved past, causing us to lose energy and feel disorientated, weak, anxious and depressed, and to exhibit signs of mental and emotional illness. We may have internalised punishment or protectively hidden parts of ourselves that were unsafe to express, or internalised poisonous emotions like anger, bitterness, envy, fear, greed, hate, intolerance, pride, rage, resentment and vanity that need to be released [7].

findingyourselfOur task as healers is to allow alchemy to occur so that sh*t we are carrying in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits can instead turn into fertiliser for ourselves and others. By consciously choosing to move into terror and aversion/disgust when we are in a safe space, we can reconnect with lost soul parts. In doing so, we gain knowledge that expands our individual and collective understanding of ourselves and our world. This is seen as the sacred calling underlying a ‘shaman’s illness’. Trauma is seen as a spiritual offering of a huge amount of energy that can redirect us into a new identity like a phoenix rising out of ashes. Indigenous healers are called ‘medicine people’ or ‘shamans’ because through healing trauma we embody medicine by living in a wiser way and offering support to others who are struggling through similar wounds.

We heal by consciously going into our traumatic states in a safe space. We are born being able to express few sounds, and similarly much of the traumatic energy of re-birthing ourselves is preverbal. Indigenous traumatic healing requires us to access profound, primal energies, to re-member ourselves by moving through layers of pain, being with and expressing chaotic, violent, pre-conscious and unconscious energies through visions, bodily sensations and movements, and dream-like states of consciousness outside of a Western cosmology.[8] Trauma gives us the ability to enter into altered states of consciousness, and by transforming that gift from sh*tty triggered experiences of traumatic dissociation into a skilful powerful method of connecting with the ethereal, spiritual, sub- and un-conscious realms, we gain access to profound wisdom and aspects of life that others do not experience.

Exercise: Reflect on a traumatic experience you have had. How did it change your understanding of yourself? Your place in the world? Of life itself? See if you can reflect on a deeper level of consciousness through relaxing into a drum journey.

[1] See e.g. Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[2] See e.g. Kirmayer, L., Lemelson, R., & Barad, M. (Eds.). (2007). Understanding trauma: Integrating biological, clinical, and cultural perspectives, pp. 118-141. Cambridge University Press.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing

[4] Monteiro, N. & Wall, D. (2011). African dance as healing modality throughout the diaspora: the use of ritual and movement to work through trauma. Journal of Pan African Studies4(6), 234-52.

[5] See e.g. Kopacz, D. & Rael, J. (2016). Walking the medicine wheel: Healing PTSD. Tulsa, OK: Millchap Books.

[6] See e.g. Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[7] Nuñez, S. (2008). Brazil’s ultimate healing resource: The power of spirit. In Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[8] See e.g. Culbertson, R. (1995). Embodied memory, transcendence, and telling: Recounting trauma, re-establishing the self. New Literary History, 26(1), 169-195.

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Estrangement

Blog by Valerie

Estrangement is something we rarely talk about, and to be out of active relationship with one’s family of origin feels very stigmatised and taboo. Even after many years of accepting this reality for myself, I still feel vulnerable to social judgment and shaming about it. It’s a common and innocent question to ask someone about their family, and it’s often easier for me to say a little about them and not mention I’m estranged if I don’t know the person well. But it hurts, and it contributes to feeling the absence of my family constantly, which is especially hard during holidays and important life events.

How family members cope with estrangement - Chicago TribuneIt may help if I share a bit about my experience. When I came out to my family as an adult about being sexually abused by an uncle, that entire side of my family rallied around him. Some stopped speaking to me, others sent me nasty messages saying that I must be mentally ill, one tried to act like I hadn’t said anything then lost touch when I wasn’t willing to be invisibled anymore, and after five years of silence one wrote me to say the family had treated me unfairly, then didn’t respond to my reply and request for a relationship. The other side of my family was already very fractured before I came out about the abuse. A couple tried to pretend nothing had happened, one told me they’d be there for me on my healing journey but instead distanced themselves and one eventually admitted that it was too painful to be in relationship with me and ended it. Another blamed someone outside the family for abusing me, and when I wasn’t having that, started denying that I had been abused, lying to me and behaving increasingly hostile and aggressively, causing me to end things. That was the only relationship I ended myself, and even though it was an abusive lost cause, it still felt devastating and wrong to walk away from the last remaining family member in my life. (Image from here)

#estrangement | Simple reminders quotes, Betrayal quotes ...I was raised to hold family sacred, and so processing the initial childhood betrayals, followed by the adult estrangements, has been incredibly painful. It felt like a sudden orphaning that was out of my control, a genocidal loss of everyone I deeply knew, had learned to rely on and share my life with. I am still in touch with one friend from childhood, one from middle school, and my nanny’s daughter who knew me as a baby. Though I am not close with them, it feels quite precious to me that they are still in my life and knew me when I was young. My husband and a few friends have walked with me through my estrangement and have met some of my family members, but hearing stories and seeing photos isn’t the same as having witnessed me as a child in the context of my family and seeing how far I’ve come as an adult.

estrangementhealingIn every culture there are structures of kinship linking us with an extended family, and in Indigenous cultures, our kinship networks include humans and non-humans. Western kinship networks were severely weakened after the fall of the Roman empire when the Catholic Church greedily: (1) expanded the definition of incest marriage prohibitions to include even your sixth cousins (!), (2) criminalised polygamy, and (3) discouraged remarriage and adoption – all of which resulted in redirecting property and inheritance away from families and into the Church’s coffers. This devolution of kinship and focus on the nuclear family arguably created the foundation for individualism, civil society, and democracy (reference). European languages changed as well, so that separate terms for paternal and maternal relatives disappeared, as did different ways of referring to blood relatives,  in-laws, and ‘spiritual kinship’ created by baptisms and sacraments (e.g. godparents) (reference). My understanding is that Indigenous pagan Germanic cultures like the Frisians encouraged cousin marriages, which wove families together within a tribe – a group of people connected by kinship through marriage and interbreeding (reference). It is also my understanding that a man’s brother was meant to be a second father to a man’s daughter in pagan Germanic cultures, and so on a spiritual level, that man abusing me feels even more devastating. In most cultures there is a sacred reciprocity within the cycle of a parent raising a child, and then a child supporting a parent in their old age. I feel I have been denied this experience, and I feel a loss and grief about it, which I put into spiritually supporting my family in a way that feels okay to me. (Image from here)

#estranged, #estrangement (With images) | Toxic family ...It is a big deal to estrange, and I have counselled people who have told me they were considering it that it’s like the guy who got stuck in a crevice while rock-climbing and had to saw off his arm to survive – it’s drastic and changes your life forever, and sometimes just has to be done. There’s little accurate Western scientific research about estrangement, with studies in the US citing 10-40% of people having experienced it. Estrangement has certainly given me a lot of resilience, space, strength, independence, fierce boundaries and some humility. In terms of humility, I have a limited threshold for projections of family expectations and game-playing, which has resulted in separating myself from my husband’s family. I don’t expect people who know and care about me much less than my own family to dig as deeply into themselves and reflect on their behaviours as I need in order for them to be ‘family’ to me.

strengthtoletgoAs with any loss, my experience of estrangement has created opportunities for a lot of self-knowledge and spiritual growth. It has given me the time and desire to do gift economy work supporting people’s healing, as well as community-building, knowledge-sharing, and our other humble activities through Earth Ethos. If I had family obligations and relationships taking up my time and energy, I would not be able to serve in this way. So you can thank my family for estranging from me, as it has gifted these insights to you today. And if you know anyone who is estranged, don’t assume that their situation can, will, or should change.

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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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We are Enough

Blog by Valerie

Picture1In social environments, it seems to feel proportionally less safe to be oneself the farther we identify from collective norms and ideals. There is a concept in mathematics called ‘regression to the mean’. It is basically the idea that when you put some ice into a glass of water, the ice will tend to melt and take the form of the water; in essence, it is about assimilating into a collective norm. Yet assimilation is a dirty word for many people, because we want to celebrate our uniqueness as well as being part of a peoples. (Image from here)

Picture2Feeling safe to celebrate our difference depends on culture and context. These social wounds keep us trapped and unable to trust ourselves, each other, non-humans, and Spirit/God/oneness. Our capacities to heal and seek retribution are also based on cultural values and intergenerational traumas. Cultures that are more welcoming of outsiders seem to encourage healing and embracing collective wounds for transformation, whereas cultures that are more exclusionary seem to ‘other’ people and tend towards separation and seeking retribution. Fear of retribution can keep us trapped and unable to trust. It is as if there is a collective trauma belief that says, ‘if we let them in, they will hurt us.’ In my experience with Judaism, and what I am learning are my deeper Sumerian cultural roots, there seems to be a collective belief that ‘we can’t trust anybody.’ My own grandmother told me that as a child, and I asked her incredulously if I couldn’t even trust her. She didn’t answer, just stared at me in silence. Living in this social environment, I never felt safe. In fact, I felt terrified to even take up space. One wrong move could find me terribly punished, kicked out of the group, or worse, judged irredeemable by God. Despite constantly striving to be ‘a good person’, it never felt like what I did was good enough. I got used to feeling terrified that threats of judgment, punishment and retribution were always imminent. I worked hard to learn the rules I might break and the triggers I might set off that would result in my being punished. But I wasn’t in control. My brother had a habit of breaking rules and refusing to admit it, so we would both be punished. This was scary, too, because I didn’t know when the punishment would happen, or how intense it would. It felt safer at times to intensely control and punish myself so that I maintained a sense of autonomy. It also seemed safest to play the part of Narcissus’s lover Echo, to hide my own voice rather than put myself into danger, because I depended on dangerous people and their approval for my survival. It wasn’t safe to be different, much less to celebrate it. (Image: Echo & Narcissus by painter John William Waterhouse

Picture3For most of my life I felt terrified to take up space. I felt like no space was ‘mine’ existentially or practically. For example, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to lock my bedroom door. I used to get dressed in my walk-in closet so I had some privacy and warning if my mother was coming into my bedroom. It took many years into adulthood – and practically ending many formational familial relationships that were untrustworthy just as my grandmother had told me – for me to become trustworthy to myself, be authentic and celebrate my difference, and surround myself with trustworthy and authentic people. By trustworthy, I mean people who say what they mean and do what they say, and when they can’t follow through on something, own it, apologise, forgive themselves, and make amends if needed. By authentic, I mean people who know their core values and practice embodying them in everyday life.

Picture4It is still unsafe for me in many spaces where my values conflict with the collective. But I don’t feel a need to constantly strive towards some central ideal, nor do I feel like it’s me against the world at war. I feel peace in myself for accepting who I am and doing my best to navigate the collective morass, and for cultivating spaces where I, and others, are free to be. In this way, I can embody the knowing that we are enough. (Or ‘good enough’, whatever that means.) (Image from here)

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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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Central Myths

Blog by Valerie

The human mind is a story-creating meaning-making machine, and as we get to know our minds better, we uncover beliefs, values, and stories underlying our thoughts and behaviours, and ultimately defining our paths in life. We may be well aware of certain stories or beliefs have impacted us deeply, such as the story of Jesus in the Bible, or paradoxical sayings like “time is money” and “money is the root of all evil”. Yet we may wonder why certain things happen to us, why certain large-scale patterns seem to recur in our lives again and again and be bound up with our sense of identity and our understanding of our placement in the world.

sterntalerIn this section of Mary Shutan’s Body Deva book, she has an exercise called Releasing a Central Myth. When I did it years ago, I uncovered a story from Germanic mythology called Sterntaler (in English, Star Money) that basically amounts to: if you are good-hearted and give generously, life will reward you and ultimately have your back. The dark side to this myth, which resonated with me in childhood and took me a long time to balance as an adult, is the importance of boundaries and discernment about when and how to live this way, otherwise one becomes a martyr. I painted the picture on the left at the time, hung it on my wall a while, then ceremonially burned it to heal any wounds from carrying it in an unsustainable/imbalanced way. As Mary says in a blog post about the concept,

[A]t the base of our being, we have a central myth that propels us into being. We may have many myths regarding ourselves, and although they can in some regard motivate us, they are restrictive energies because such myths tie us to expected behavior and an expected trajectory… Loops primarily come from trauma.

I have found (so far) that I have been carrying two central myths, which are in conflict. This is no surprise given my blood lines, and the fact that in traditional Jewish culture that because my birth mother identifies as Jewish that defines me as Jewish, yet in traditional Germanic cultures, I inherit cultural identity through my father as a woman, and if I were a man I would inherit from my mother. I feel intuitively in my being as though I inherit from my father, and I have had Indigenous elders from other cultures also confirm that they see my moeity as patriarchal. Yet as I wrote in this post, I’ve been unpacking Indigenous roots of Jewishness, which after nearly 6000 years of Biblical beliefs has been a challenge to say the least and involves lots of work in the root chakra. I am doing this shadow work because my inheritance from my mother’s lineage feels destructive and forced upon me, and I want to heal and take responsibility for that part of my life. And, not surprisingly, the central myth that has emerged from my Jewish lineage is a traumatic pre-Biblical Mesopotamian story about intergenerational incest and familial distrust. story

I encourage you, if you haven’t already explored this within yourself, to consider reading Mary’s blog and looking at the exercise linked above in her book. Some common central myths to consider that cut across cultures include: the hero’s journey, the damsel in distress, the martyr, might makes right, the American dream, individualism, and any religious or folk/fairy tale stories that resonate deeply with you or that you identify with. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t identify with certain stories; it is to say that it’s empowering to be consciously aware of our central myths so we can hold them fully with their pros and cons/dark and light aspects. This frees us from acting our infinite trauma loops in which we project our central myth(s) onto people and places around us in an attempt to see ourselves. In my experience for myself and witnessing others’ healing, it feels freeing, humbling, and ultimately brings peace as we more deeply understand the influence of ancestral stories on our life’s struggles… (Image from here)

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Jews’ Indigenous Roots

Blog by Valerie

Lately I have been working to ground some of my Jewish wounds through relating biblical stories to Indigenous cultural stories of that part of the world; my own intuition, lived experience and knowledge of archetypes and patterns in Indigenous science; and some western research such as archaeological findings. This post is to share some knowledge that I hope you will find interesting and of service as Judeo-Christian culture has had, and continues to have, a huge impact across the planet.

  • Ancient Jews honoured a male god and female goddess (and an ancient serpent creator)
    • Evidence in written texts at the time and archaeological evidence indicating that for two-thirds of the time the temple in Jerusalem existed (before it was destroyed and re-formed into what is now known as the Wailing Wall), it contained an altar for a male god (Yahweh) and a female goddess (often called Asherah), and that the goddess altar was removed and re-instated repeatedly until ‘the cult of Yahweh’ won out. Then the temple was destroyed. (See e.g. The Hebrew Goddess). There is similar evidence that for about a third of the time the temple existed there was an altar for a serpent creator being. Consider this about Asherah:
      • “Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel; it was only after the exile that worship of Yahweh alone became established, and possibly only as late as the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC) that monotheism became universal among the Jews.”
  • Ancient Jews used a medicine wheel (which Christianity integrated)
    • Biblical references of an ancient medicine wheel are described in Ezekiel and further symbolised in Christianity by the four evangelists Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. Here’s a quote from one of the Wikipedia articles linked above:
      • “The animals associated with the Christian tetramorph originate in the Babylonian symbols of the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the ox representing Taurus; the lion representing Leo; the eagle representing Scorpio; the man or angel representing Aquarius. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements of, respectively Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The creatures of the Christian tetramorph were also common in Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian mythology. The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists as the tetramorph…” (Image from Wikipedia is a 13th century Cluniac ivory carving of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the creatures of the tetramorph).
  • Ancient Jews saw human nature as a struggle
    • You know the story: because Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good & evil, they were kicked out of paradise. But did you know that there was a cherub with a flaming sword placed in the East (the direction symbolised by man and water) to block human access to the Tree of Life still at the centre of sacred garden? So we’re our own worst enemy…
    • I invite you to compare some images: Tree of Life by Gustave Klimt (where are the roots?), an image of the Tree of Life (called Yggadrasil in Norse mythology) by Friedrich Heine, and an Assyrian carving of the Tree of Life (roots?)

Note: the fruit representing human’s ‘sin’ isn’t specified literally as an apple in the Bible, but became an apple by integrating a Greek myth about Hesperides. I suppose any sweet fruit could be symbolic of the human struggle to endure pleasure and pain, but a red apple seems like a juicy sexual symbol since we all have red blood and we women have a small round clitoral pleasure spots that could be likened to ripe apples…

Reflecting on all of this, I am reminded of an essential feature of the primordial goddess archetype across Indigenous cultures: her nature embodies positive and negative attributes. Sometimes Mother Nature rages and spews volcanic ash over the lands where we live – and then out of that ash grow healthy plants that we can eat after some rain, sun, and time. The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is illustrated beautifully in this collection of cultural myths about the wild side of our feminine nature.  I see it as our job as humans to hold these aspects of our nature with both compassion and awareness. Where I live, for example, there are deadly crocodiles and snakes and other creatures. In order to survive, I need to accept that this land is not necessarily safe. I need to be able to live with danger. And to thrive, I need faith that safety still exists whether I am experiencing it in a given moment or not – that if I see a crocodile and adrenaline pumps through my heart and sends me running, I can come back to a feeling of safety again – and trust that there is something meaningful about such a terrifying experience. It’s not gone forever. (It’s like the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics.) Struggling to hold such paradoxes is to me, essential to being human.

Grounding these Jewish myths in context, while also remembering that a lot has been lost in translation – for example, the Hebrew word ‘shalom‘ which means peace, wholeness, harmony, well-being and hello/goodbye (a beautiful greeting & farewell!) is simply translated into English as ‘peace’ which doesn’t do it justice – is helping me hold my Jewish ancestors and our traumatic history more fully, helping me access deeper compassion for Judeo-Christian/Western thinking and ways of being generally. Indigenous cultural roots are embedded in everything in the Bible, and is changing my sense of identity. Even the word ‘Eden‘ is from a Sumerian word meaning ‘plain or steppe’, which then became an Aramaic word meaning ‘fruitful, well-watered.’ Water is particularly precious when you live in a desert, and once we Jews were no longer living of our traditional country, we seem to understandably have lost connection with the goddess/sacred feminine aspect of being. The Bible indicates that Jews settled in Palestine, not that Jewish people are Indigenous to there. Abraham (the original father/cult leader of Jews) was from Ur, a city in Sumeria. Within myself I have found a stronger felt connection to Sumerian lands currently in Southern Iraq, though I may not be able to visit there this lifetime for political reasons. This journey into my roots led me over time to change my sense of cultural identity from Jewish to Sumerian, which feels more grounded and whole, since I do not practice the Jewish religion nor, having visited, do I feel that Palestine is my land.

As a final note, I link Wikipedia often because it is open access, and I give thanks for such knowledge that is freely shared (the modern way), as well as secret spiritual knowledge shared in a specific way at a specific time with specific people often through a gruelling ordeal of initiation (the traditional way).

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