Category Archives: Healing

Embodiment

Blog by Valerie – a final chapter shared from the book that was just written

Being authentic, centred and grounded means having awareness of our core values and doing our best to en-live-en them through our life choices and forms of expression. Embodiment is a recognition of the universality of our connection with all of Creation as well as our individuality of lived experience. It’s important not to confuse lived experience knowledge with intellectual understanding or awareness, often referred to as ‘knowledge’ in Western science. We all have intellectual under-standing and awareness about life experiences we haven’t had; for example, we may say that -10 is cold, but unless we’ve felt it, we don’t have an embodied knowing of how cold that is.

coehlo quoteThere is so much power in lived experience that from an Indigenous science perspective, it is the only way we can ‘know’ something. People with a lot Western theoretical or book ‘knowledge’ are often seen as arrogant, or even dangerous. If you’ve learned some ‘evidence-based’ ways to prevent obesity, you will still have a limited ability to empathise with people who have experienced it themselves or witnessed it through an intimate relationship. Knowing our standing, or positionality, makes a huge difference in how well we embody our values and medicine. Our standing refers to placement – socio-politically, culturally, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’ve included socio-politically and culturally because we live in two worlds as Indigenous scientists and need to be aware of our Western political placement as well as Indigenous cultural placement.

positionality-300x156As an Indigenous scientist living far from ancestral lands, from a socio-political perspective, I am a settler[1] doing my best to be a political ally[2] of Aboriginal peoples of Australia. I can’t experience what’s embodied through their cultural lineages and relationships; they carry a power of intergenerational knowledge that, if shared with me, supports me to build my own relationships with their ancestors and the land where I live (Image from here). Gitksan scientist Dr. Cindy Blackstock explains Indigenous scientific trust in long-tested ancestral wisdom and our collective responsibility for carrying and passing on Indigenous knowledge:

As knowledge trustees, whose job it is to understand and relay knowledge which has been passed down by generations before us, we pay great attention to the detail of the knowledge and the values and spirit embedded in it so that we can pass it on. Because knowledge needs to echo across lifetimes and generations, multidimensional standards of rigor are needed to ensure knowledge is understood within the four dimensions of learning: spiritual, emotional, physical and cognitive and that each teaching is situated within an interconnected knowledge web[3].

It’s natural to speak about things we haven’t experienced at times, but it’s wise to do so with humility in recognition of our standing within that interconnected web of life. For without lived experience (which includes knowledge embedded in our bodies through ancestral inheritance), to some extent we are guessing.  

Embodied methods for sharing traditional knowledge have helped ensure its efficacy and accuracy over time and prevented the impact of such human limitations from diluting or distorting it. As Dr. Lynne Kelly explains, “At every level of initiation into knowledge there were memory aids…from hand-held objects to art on bark or rocks, to the landscape itself”[4] in addition to songs and stories that were easy to remember yet cleverly layered with knowledge[5]. This is why changing landscapes and moving Indigenous peoples can be severely disorienting and detrimental to cultural integrity.

Exercise: Reflect on embodied memory aids you have – such as objects in your house, photos, places you go, music, etc. Which ones bring you joy? Which ones feel like clutter that could be let go? Are there any that trigger you into trauma or other difficult emotion? If so, do you wish to let them go or ceremonially cleanse them?

It’s helpful to consider that our bodies themselves ‘speak’ stories, with our bones showing how nourished we are, our body’s ergonomic strain, and even our toxin exposure[6]. Our bodies also arouse stories in others. Shona scientist Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama says when she walks into a room she experiences predetermined socio-political space simply because of her Black body[7], whereas Yuin scientist Shannon Field describes awareness of her socio-political privilege since she can pass as White though she is a Blak Aboriginal woman[8].

To further complicate things, many of us have lived experiences that aren’t fully processed. For example, if someone believes that lying makes them a ‘bad person’, they may subconsciously trick themselves and others into believing an altered story that omits a ‘bad’ thing they did. An acute listener will likely experience cognitive dissonance, a sense that the storyteller’s heart and head were in conflict. This highlights the importance of using discernment with shared knowledge, even when it is embodied.

Exercise: Reflect on what spaces embody, such as a school, a park, or a prison. Reflect on what social structures embody, such as a performer and an audience, or a judge sitting higher than the jury, victim, lawyers, or the accused. Reflect in your own life what you embody and what you intentionally wish to.

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[1] For a discussion of the settler role, see Settler trauma dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj5-MTr78V0&t=3s

[2] For a discussion of embodying Indigenous allyship, see Weaving Knowledges dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9N7UE7UMqY

[3] Blackstock, C. (2007). The breath of life versus the embodiment of life: Indigenous knowledge and western research. World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium Journal4(1), 67-79, p. 68.

[4] Kelly, L. (2015). Knowledge and power in prehistoric societies: Orality, memory, and the transmission of culture. Cambridge University Press, p. xvii.

[5] See e.g. Karl-Erik Svieby & Tex Skuthorpe. (2006.) Treading Lightly: The hidden wisdom of the world’s oldest people. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

[6] See e.g. Krieger, N. (2005). Embodiment: a conceptual glossary for epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health59(5), 350-355. https://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/59/5/350.full.pdf

[7] Navigating whiteness dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYYN-f5m3YI

[8] Identity politics dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxIJAARiZLo

Initiation

Blog by Valerie – hope you enjoy another book chapter!

Initiations are rites of passage ceremonies marking existential life transitions. An important one across Indigenous and Western cultures is the transition from spiritual child into spiritual adult. Abagusii scientist Mircea Eliade describes it thus:

To gain the right to be admitted among adults the adolescent has to pass a series of initiatory ordeals; it is by virtue of these rites, and by the revelations that they entail, that he will be recognised as a responsible member of the society. Initiation introduces the candidate into the human community and into the world of spiritual and cultural values. He learns not only the behaviour patterns, the techniques and the institutions of adults but also the sacred myths and traditions of the tribe, the names of the gods and the history of their works; above all he learns the mystical relations between the tribe and the Supernatural Beings as those relations were established at the beginning of Time[1].

transitionInitiations intentionally lead us through Earth’s cycle from life into death then rebirth with a new identity through a purposefully traumatic process. (Image from here) As one Western psychologist explains:

The initiate, by virtue of encountering ritual trauma, was prepared to meet real-life trauma on terms that were integrative to the tribe’s social system and spiritual beliefs. Rather than encounter trauma as senseless and random, as many tend to do today, the initiate could meet trauma as an opportunity for meaningful participation with the greater spiritual powers[2].

SunwheelbyRyanSpellmanenhancedInitiations may be seen as having three distinct phases: separation (from daily reality), ordeal (trauma), and return (rebirth and resolution)[3]. The separation phase tends to include seclusion from family and time in the wilderness to take us out of everyday familiarity into unknown energies and into encounters with the elements, spirits, and our non-human kin. (Image from here)

In many Indigenous cultural traditions, men are put through painful initiation ordeals and women’s initiation is considered to be biologically built into the sacred ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth[4]. In some cultures, though, women are put through ordeals as well[5]. Spiritual initiations are painful because we tend to value what we earn through hard work, and we learn best through lived experiences.

Interestingly, a South Saami creation story[6] teaches that this entire world is the result of our previously taking the Earth’s bounty for granted and needing strong reminders of the value of her resources. This is similar to what I was told by some Mayan people in 2012 when the Western media was reporting that the Mayan calendar said the world was going to end. ‘No’, they told me, ‘our calendar says that in 2012 we are collectively moving out of spiritual childhood as a human species and into adolescence, and into a different calendar. They said overall we will become consciously aware that Mother Earth requires reciprocity, that we cannot just take from her, that there are consequences for our use of the Earth’s resources.

an_amazon_boy_needs_to_pass_through_these_painful_rituals_to_prove_his_adulthood_20171127120918One example of an ordeal is the Sateré-Mawé tradition of adolescent boys enduring the pain of repeatedly putting their hand into a glove filled with bullet ants that inject toxins into them[7] (Image from here). They are called bullet ants because the intensity of the poison they inject is meant to hurt as much as being shot. The boys are expected to endure this willingly, silently and stoically, which teaches them be hunters who can handle the toughest aspects of their Amazonian jungle home; it also affirms values such as courage and strength. It also represents a loss of innocence by teaching that their environment can be dangerous, and even deadly, for after each session of placing a hand into the ant-ridden glove, boys are given medicine that makes them purge. Keeping the ant toxins in their body can have lifelong effects, such as loss of sanity. The myth is that the ants originate from the vagina of an underworld snake woman – an embodiment of the dark side of the sacred feminine and the Earth herself[8].

AboriginalStoneArrangements1Initiations thus teach cultural myths and values, and ordeals without sacred spiritual stories attached to them are merely meaningless violence, reinforcing nihilism and lacking re-integration and fulfilment of a new identity along with its social responsibilities. In the example above, boys who complete the initiation are allowed to hunt and marry, which complete their rebirth as adult men in the community. Many of us grew up in cultures with rites of passage that included separation and ordeal phases but lacked full return phases to reintegrate us into a healthy new identity. We may feel called to question our cosmology and find a way to re-birth ourselves with limited collective ceremony or recognition of our hard work. (Image from here)

Exercise: What partial or full initiations have you been through? Were they facilitated by other people, or simply lived experience? If it was a full initiation, how do you celebrate your new identity? If it was a partial initiation, work with your ancestors and reflect how you may complete it to feel whole and celebrate your new identity.

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[1] Kenya, S.W. (2002). Rites of Passage, Old and New: The Role of Indigenous Initiation. In Thought and Practice in African Philosophy: Selected Papers from the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Society for African Philosophy and Studies (ISAPS) (Vol. 5, p. 191). Konrad-Adenauer Foundation. citing Mircea, Eliade., (1965) Rites and Symbols of Initiation, translation by W.R. Trask, New York; Harper and Row, pp x.

[2] Morrison, R. A. (2012). Trauma and Transformative Passage. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies31(1), p. 40.

[3] Id. citing Eliade, M. (1995). Rites and symbols of initiation: The mysteries of birth and rebirth. Woodstock, CT: Spring. (Original work published 1958)

[4] See e.g. Gonzales, P. (2012). Red medicine: Traditional Indigenous rites of birthing and healing. University of Arizona Press.

[5] See e.g. Dellenborg, L. (2009). From pain to virtue, clitoridectomy and other ordeals in the creation of a female person. Sida Studies24, 93-101.

[6] See Nordic Story Time: A South Sami Saami Creation Story, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTDKeZB7rnM&list=WL&index=16&t=474s

[7] See e.g https://sites.google.com/fsmail.bradley.edu/buanthro/satere-mawe-ceremony

[8] Kapfhammer, W. (2012). Tending the Emperor’s Garden: Modes of Human-Nature Relations in the Cosmology of the Sateré-Mawé Indians of the Lower Amazon. RCC Perspectives, (5), 75-82.

Spirit baby birth story

IMG-20220515-WA0000Recently Lukas and I welcomed our daughter into this wild world. We won’t be posting any photos of her to protect her privacy, but here is one of us with her in my womb. More people are becoming familiar with the concept of a spirit baby (often through this book I haven’t read), and I wanted to share about our experience. One definition is: “A spirit baby is the consciousness of a baby waiting to be born to you and your family. Long before incarnation, spirit babies connect with the parents who will most likely facilitate the learning experiences they need to have in their next life.” 

Years ago when we were living in the U.S. and I was going through some intense childhood trauma healing, for the first time in my life I couldn’t imagine having a child. I was in so much pain that I thought I might need to just process that this lifetime, because I felt determined not to pass it on to a child of my own. And soon after I let go of having a child, a spirit baby came to both me and Lukas in dreams. We compared how she looked and felt confident that it was the same little girl, and I accepted her visiting us as a message that we would have a daughter in the future and told her we weren’t ready yet and needed help to be ready to parent her. 

Knowing she was coming to us and that we would get through whatever relationship challenges we had (and there were some big ones) helped us find the strength and stamina to work through things. Over seven years she came to us a number of times in dreams and meditations, and we felt like she was guiding us as well. She told me her name and showed me where she’d be born if we stuck with the path we were on (which we didn’t), and showed us a way out of at least one tough situation. When we moved last year to Yuin country, I did a lot of nesting. I felt that she was coming sooner than we would find ideal, as we hadn’t been here long enough to build community, but I trusted she knew what she was doing. I felt the moment I became pregnant, and I knew it was her spirit. 

IMG_20220617_195036And I got messages from her throughout the pregnancy; for example, I knew to honour the placenta with a burial ceremony, but she wanted a lotus birth. That means the umbilical cord isn’t cut, the baby and placenta separate when they are ready. According to Western science, blood from the placenta finishes flowing into the baby between 10 minutes to an hour after the placenta is birthed. This is why delayed cord clamping is becoming more popular in hospitals. But spiritually, my body grew the baby and the placenta – her twin and primal nourisher – and for many hours after her birth I felt that she was being energetically nourished by the placenta and didn’t even need me for hours during her early transition. She and her placenta twin held onto each other for 10 days. I sewed a special bag to carry the placenta in and made a mixture of salt and herbs to dry it out. It was logistically a bit tricky to handle the placenta with the baby, and we had to choose clothes and swaddles that allowed them to still be connected, but it was what she wanted. She and her placenta chose when to let go; we didn’t intervene.

Similarly, I chose to birth at home and breastfeed, which I felt this was important to the baby also. I wanted to heal from my own experiences and give her the most peaceful, supportive start in this life that I could. Throughout the pregnancy, the birth, and postpartum, I simultaneously bonded more deeply with my daughter and my husband, and continued to process my own early childhood and grieve and let go as stuff arose.

Play the Hand You're Dealt : Life Lessons from Solitaire - positively ...Sometimes it’s tough to accept that the best gift we can give is to prevent the passing on of painful experiences and confused projections – and not by withholding or denying, which just buries the energy – but by expressing, grounding and processing it. Sometimes I grieve that my inheritance requires me to remove toxins as best I can to clear the way for future generations. I’d rather be planting seeds and tending to beautiful healthy eco- and social systems to pass on instead, but that isn’t how most of my energy is spent. How fortunate I am that this spirit baby picked me to be her mommy, and on some level of consciousness, I trust she understands the state of things, the world she’s been born into, and that we’re doing our best.

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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