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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.

The Ladies Coach: How To Deal With Family Estrangement ...In 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.

As 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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The power of communal dreaming

Blog by Lukas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conflict resolution & animism, part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flailing into freedom

Poem by Lukas

All around me

And inside me

Flailing

Flailing across the medicine wheel

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

Always the changing sky with its fast moving clouds

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

IMG20210622090000

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

Sometimes we need a wall.
A mentally engineered structure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find it helpful to keep the following in mind: 

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

 

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

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

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

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Faith, hope & trust

Blog by Valerie

Talking with a few people this week, it seems timely to share my perspective on these concepts and how I work with their energies. Though there can certainly be overlap between them, I hope clarifying the way I think about and hold these is helpful for your own thinking.

  1. Faith

I experience faith as a big, deep energy. Words that relate closely faith for me are ‘reliance’, and ‘belief.’ I experience existential fear to be a flip side of faith. When I have discerned that the fear I feel is existential and not due to being in imminent danger, I lean into faith and practices that support me to maintain and heal it. I am relishing this Michelangelo quote of late, reminding myself to have faith that everything happens at the right time. 

michaelangelo quote

Where we place our faith can have huge consequences for our life experiences. For example, if I place my faith in getting THIS JOB I applied for, that is setting myself up for a big crisis if I don’t get the job, or if the job doesn’t work well for me. If I instead place my faith in something bigger like ‘the right job finds me at the right time’, then if I get the job I may breathe a sigh of relief, and if I don’t, it will likely be easier to accept and wait for something better.

I have found that placing faith blindly leads us to be let down, and even lose faith in faith altogether, leading people towards nihilism. You can live in nihilism if you want, but having spent time there and with people who are choosing to be there, I found it too bleak and painful. If placing faith in certain things supports me to live a more fulfilling life and embody my core values (peace, play & passion), then I will do so. I think the below quote is a good warning sign for loss of faith altogether, and I think it often comes with over-placement of faith into things, then experiencing existential crises, and not knowing how to work with faith in other ways so giving up on it entirely instead.

disbelief in magic

My view is that faith ought to be grown through an iterative process. We place faith in something (I suggest starting with an affirmation that feels good, like ‘Life is always here for me’ or something to that effect), then we see how it feels to live with faith in that space, and when it is challenged whether it would feel better or worse or neutral to place more faith there or elsewhere. Placing faith in life always being for my benefit has been very beneficial for me – so that even when hard things happen, I look for the lesson in letting go and the space for new support and adventure that is seeking to come through. Placing faith in this also ensures that I limit identification as a victim. Even when I AM victimised in some way, I do not take it to an existential level, because I choose to place faith in there being an important teaching (or two or three or twenty) in my experience of victimisation. 

Faith, for me, is something we build through an iterative process over time that supports us to navigate the mysteries of life.

2. Hope

obama-hope-shelter-copyI see hope as a more fleeting, softer and elusive energy laced with personal egoic desires. I might choose to have faith that the right job will come to me at the right time (which will likely require me to do a bit of work putting myself out there), and if I feel excited about a particular job I just interviewed for, I may HOPE that will be the one that comes through. This is why I found the energy of Obama’s Hope & Change campaign less exciting than many people. I feel like many people placed FAITH in his presidency resulting in meaningful change instead of HOPE, and thereby set themselves up for huge disappointment (Image from here.)

Hope is a smaller, lighter, more specific energy that I associate with words like ‘wish’ or ‘desire’. The best way to use of hope is to express more specific desires and wishes without expectation or attachment to results.

3. Trust

Trust, like faith, is a big energy for me. Where faith relates to my interactions with the unknown, trust relates to the constants in life that I can rely on, things ‘I know’. Trust relates to truth for me. I trust that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. Trust for me, is a ‘knowing,’ which can be something we just have or find within ourselves. In Buddhism people refer to ‘transmission’ of certain ‘knowings’, meaning that if you find a ‘truth’ within yourself you can project that into someone else when they are open and receptive to it and awaken that truth in them. 

One of my mother’s favourite phrases was ‘Trust but verify’, which to me means there is no trust at all, by design. When I expect not to be able to trust, there is no room for trust to grow. But if I start by being willing to doubt myself about this, then I am open enough for some hope, and then maybe some faith to come into my life. And faith can become trust as we learn that we can rely on certain things. I grew up feeling that life was hard, and that someone was always out to get me (that was true! I was being abused!). But as I grew up and moved out on my own, I dared to hope life could be better than that. Then I dared to place faith in the idea that life was always for my benefit and there was a positive purpose to all the pain and trauma I’d been through. At first that was an idea, but then I started to see it and experience it more and more. Over time my faith was challenged, and still I kept being able to come back to that idea, and over time it has become a truth for me. I am now able to trust it. And when I met someone who doesn’t have that knowing, I can see  them because of the journey I have been on.

As I stay true to myself – by being authentic and following through on my words with actions (even inside the little agreements I make to myself in my own mind – I am able to build trust with myself and be a trustworthy person. That allows me to build trust with another person, even someone who has struggled to be around trustworthy people. Sometimes I don’t follow through on my word, or my words run away with me and I have to chase them and either apologise and make amends or do things I would rather not or at a pace that is not very smart. But in moments when I  am able to help awaken other people from a myth that they are an eternal victim in their own life, that no one and nothing is trustworthy, then I experience the gift of that journey, which helps makes the painful betrayals I’ve been though feel worthwhile.

4747714-James-Baldwin-Quote-Trust-life-and-it-will-teach-you-in-joy-and

 

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Befriending our fear

Blog by Valerie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Indigenous Science Dialogues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lived Experience Knowledge

lovepain

Blog by Valerie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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