Category Archives: Indigenous Science

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.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

[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.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

[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.

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.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

Warriorship

Blog by Lukas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

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.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

Identity politics

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

photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

Indigenous Science Dialogues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

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.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

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).

giveheart

If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.