The elders are reminding us to go back to the land. And so, for us, the land is the biggest healthcare system, and so we know that through the cultural practices of how we survived great sicknesses before, that the land is the answer.
The elders are reminding us to go back to the land. And so, for us, the land is the biggest healthcare system, and so we know that through the cultural practices of how we survived great sicknesses before, that the land is the answer.
This is part one of a series of blogs looking at the great Corona virus toilet paper hoarding of 2020 by Lukas.
The odds of any one individual getting the Corona virus are so far quite low, and the probability of severe symptoms or death even lower. Making individual decisions based on this low probability is therefore, on some level, the rational thing to do. But on a long enough time scale — which in this case could be a matter of weeks — self-interested rationality becomes catastrophic. For some it may be physical, and for others psychological, emotional, and spiritual.
Perhaps the most visceral example of self-interest creating collective chaos in recent times is Australian toilet paper hoarding.
I will analyse this phenomenon from three frameworks of Western thinking starting with the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It goes like this: two prisoners are being interrogated. They have only two choices, rat on their mate or keep silent:
If one’s individual goal is to avoid as much jail as possible, the most “rational” self-interested thing to do is to rat, because if you are acting in a self-interested fashion, so too might be the other prisoner. If you rat, you have a chance at going free, and your worst case scenario is only two years. Cooperating is a good option for the individual but is irrational because it cannot be relied upon and comes with the greatest personal cost. But this thinking falls down if one has confidence in the collective values of the other. The IRA were famous for fanatical silence under interrogation, such was each member’s commitment to the collective cause. For our prisoners, the cause could be a desire to collectively serve less time. Applied to our toilet paper example, it means that the decision to hoard toilet paper is like ratting on your accomplice. If you can’t rely on the other’s collective values, or even their spirit of selfish cooperation, it is best to join the hoarders. Best case scenario, you are fully stocked for months; worst case scenario, you will have a decent amount. Under no circumstances will you be left with none. (Image from here.)
Another famous idea is the “Tragedy of the Commons”, an 1833 essay now part of the Western cultural lexicon. This is the idea that a common resource, for example grazing land, can easily become depleted or destroyed by individuals acting in their own self interest, i.e. grazing their own herd without regard to the long term effects on the land. This was in fact an argument — a terrible one if you ask me — for the morality of the enclosure movement, which was the creation of legal property rights over what was previously common land in the Britain, the idea being that an individual owning land will take better care of it, because it will be within both their interest and power to do so. This could mean that rather than our being trusted to collectively or cooperatively manage the supply of toilet paper, an authority needs to “own” the supply. This is perhaps like supermarkets ‘taking ownership’ of the situation and setting limits on TP purchases. (Image from here.)
A third framework of interest, and perhaps most relevant to our toilet paper dilemma, is the idea of Commonize Costs — Privatize gains. Also called “Moral Hazard” during the Global Financial Crises, it is an individual maximising their self-interest by being selfish with any benefits derived from their interaction with a common resource and offloading any negative consequences to the collective. In the toilet paper case this is people hoarding a personal stash and leaving the consequences and chaos to others to deal with. They got in early and those who didn’t can be damned. If this behavioural trait is common in a group, those with the most community-minded instincts or values in relative terms lose out (i.e. those who didn’t buy extra TP because to ‘do the right thing’ and now have none). (Image from here.)
Looking at these articles on Wikipedia, it struck me how much that I think ought be deeply ingrained wisdom and self-evident knowledge has been studied intellectually and quantified as ‘evidence’. This is borne out by people acting like they need this kind authoritative guidance and advice before believing something is true. For example, the Tragedy of the Commons article mentions a study finding clear evidence that the culture of the people had something to do with how people treated common land! It is truly shocking to me that this needed to be studied. I do not wish to sound totally negative about the usefulness of these ideas. But it is clear to me they are fundamentally limited by ignorance of the worldview and cosmology from which both the behaviours and our attempts to understand them emanate. To me, the sheer complexity of systems at play in all of these circumstances call for indigenous thinking and science. From this vantage point, how to look after a common resources is self-evident, an idea antithetical to the Western scientific mind. (Image from here.)
Part 2 in series will look in more depth at the origins of our individualistic behaviours as well as discuss it from a worldview that includes some indigenous thinking.
Right now it’s easy to feel survival fears, to observe deeply ingrained panic behaviours and to hear people talk about ‘these strange times.’ I understand the sentiment, but I think it’s strange that so many of us have become used to unsustainable and imbalanced ways of being; where our grocery store shelves and medical centres rely on supplies shipped from across the planet, where in countries like Australia the government has created a “free market” (more accurately a corrupt gambling scheme) for one of our most precious elements: water; and where ultra-deep sea mining and drilling is going into the Earth’s crust in our seemingly endless exploitations of this planet.
I’m reminded of a beautiful book called Singing the Land, Signing the Land written by European-Australian researchers in collaboration with Yolgnu indigenous scientists and traditional knowledge-holders. The researchers remind us that in the European Middle Ages, “nature actually was a book to be read, like the Bible, in order to discover God’s purposes. There were ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones’.” And the Yolgnu hold up a very telling mirror when it comes to how they, and their European-Australian counterparts, see the crocodile (which the early Australian-European explorer quoted below mistakenly referred to as an alligator). Consider these two very different views:
I see a crocodile as an animal that is part of me and I belong to him, he belongs to me. It’s a commoness of land ownership. Everything that I have comes from the crocodile. Crocodile, he’s the creator and the land giver to the Gumatj people. In my group of people, and the forefathers, we have always treated crocodile in a way that it is part of a family…Aboriginal people, through thousands of years of living with crocodiles, never have considered that they are dangerous animals. We have always lived with them. They lived their own life and we lived our own ways, as long as there is common respect for each other.–Gularrwuy Yunupil’u
I had stripped to swim across a creek, and with gun in hand was stealthily crawling to the outer edge of the flat where my intended victims were, when an alligator rose close by, bringing his unpleasant countenance much nearer than was agreeable … My only chance of escaping the monster was to hasten back to the boat, and to cross the last creek before the alligator, who appeared fully aware of my intentions…the race began. I started off with the utmost rapidity, the alligator keeping pace with me in the water. After a sharp and anxious race, I reached the last creek, which was now much swollen; while the difficulty of crossing was aggravated by my desire to save my gun. Plunging in I reached the opposite shore just in time to see the huge jaws of the alligator extended close above the Spot where I had quilled the water. My deliverance was providential, and I could not refrain from shuddering as I sat gaining breath upon the bank after my escape, and watching the disappointed alligator lurking about as if still in hopes of making his supper upon me.–John Lort Stokes
(Image from the book, cited as art by Bede Tungatalum, Bathurst Island entitled Crocodile and fish, woodcut).
I was recently listening to an Aboriginal Australian view of the St. George & the dragon myth in which Europeans first saw their animal, primal nature as a scary monster, then attacked and tried to kill it. And then re-enacted that nightmare in the form of colonisation, slavery, exploitation, and all manner of destruction around the world. It reminded me of some of my previous learning about serpents. It is thought-provoking to consider how in Judeo-Christian mythology the serpent enticed Eve into mankind’s fall from Eden, whereas other cultural myths about serpents include:
Interesting note for Western culture: Freud cited a fear of snakes as fear of the penis. While many cultures see snakes as wild and potentially dangerous, they are generally highly respected and seen to symbolise fertility, the creation and resurrection of life, springtime, and a connection with water and emotional wellbeing. On the medicine wheel, water is often connected with our emotional life, and since snakes are connected with water, a negative or fearful view of snakes is linked with negative or fearful emotion. (Image from the rainbow serpent link.)
These myths, and especially creation stories and the emotions they evoke are embedded into the foundation of a culture’s collective psyche. When creation stories evoke negative or fearful emotions, these emotions emanate beneath the surface of conscious everyday thought, and other aspects of culture are built on top of them. This is something for those of us carrying Western creation stories to consider. Tyson Yunkaporta points out that in Greek mythology the ouroboros was meant to represent infinity, but “how can this serpent be a symbol of infinity if it will eventually eat itself?” I too find this symbol disturbing and have a visceral memory of someone I was getting to know showing me a silver ouroboros ring she had made, which so repulsed me I must’ve expressed that in my energy because we never met again. I find the symbol to be celebrating sabotage or suicide, but it seems many people feel otherwise! I am trying to understand, for as the authors of Singing the Land, Signing the Land say, “The world is now too well connected to allow the luxury of alienation within one conceptual system.” I hope our current circumstances are helping remind us of this and of our innately interconnected primal nature.
I was perhaps one of Earth’s most alienated of beings, and by that I mean that I did not sense belonging here. My cultural context was such that I had no sense of relationship with my earthly and cosmic habitat…Earth/Nature itself was devoid of real consequence; it was human activity upon it that was of consequence…but even then they had to control its waywardness with sprays and fertilizers. It was a big dead ball of dirt…from which we would be saved by ‘God’ eventually…Here in the South Land, the supernatural Christian drama of God and Jesus was completely unrelated to place. It was a particularly cerebral religion, and in that sense barren – devoid of ceremonial recognition of the fertile Earthbody.–Dr. Glenys Livingstone
She goes on to describe how when she was growing up in Queensland, Australia, her schoolbooks from the northern hemisphere showed the moon phases in mirror image to the moon here, the path of the sun was described as clockwise from east to west which is not how it travels here, and the seasonal celebrations were out of whack with fake snow in the middle of summer for Christmas (that still happens and weirds me out!).
I see this on individual and societal levels. It seems to be a common form of wetiko, the psycho-spiritual virus of supremacy common in colonialism, some cultures and religions. In our bodies and by our nature, it’s SO much easier to live in sync with the seasons, be present in our environments, accept experiences without judgment. So why don’t we? I feel that as a whole we have become alienated with aspects of ourselves and our environments. Because this is so painful, rather than face those wounds and work through them, we deny, avoid, and dissociate. When we feel hurt we: (1) say we forgive but carry resentment around instead, which becomes an emotional bomb that detonates at an unexpected time, (2) don’t say anything, resulting in resentments, passive-aggressive behaviours, and ‘faking it’, and (3) take some space to try to manage our own emotions without confronting the conflict, but the conflict keeps occurring in a painful holding pattern.
If I try to let something painful go and can’t, or if I feel like I need to address something in the moment so it doesn’t get bigger, my approach is to directly, honestly, bring it up with the person. I don’t ever intend to judge, and if someone does experience me as judging, I want to be told. If someone does something that hurts my feelings and I care about the relationship, I will either let it go or tell them. And if I do something that hurts someone, I need them to let it go or tell me so we have the opportunity to work through the pain and maintain integrity. Conflict creates opportunities to deepen intimacy, to heal, and to learn about ourself and someone else. I accept that navigating conflicts is part of being human. (Fodder for another post: Do you know your conflict style(s) ala the image above from here?)
What I find, though, is that we can know someone for a while, even a few years, and the first time we express annoyance, or say we feel disrespected or hurt, and directly, respectfully, confront a conflict, the other person does (1), (2), and/or (3) to avoid being honest. This prohibits intimacy and integrity and destroy relationships. I saw this behaviour in a new light this weekend through a relationship with a friend. I realised the way she identified as Christian is grounded in her human family, not the Earth, which placed humans hierarchically above the rest of nature. Even though she talked with me about my cosmology, expressed interest in indigenous healing, and was struggling with painful and deep patterns of narcissistic abuse. In my experience, narcissism can only heal through re-orienting ourselves into a holistic worldview.
There is a pattern to the universe and everything in it, and there are knowledge systems and traditions that follow this pattern to maintain balance, to keep the temptations of narcissism in check. But recent traditions have emerged that break down creation systems like a virus, infecting complex patterns with artificial simplicity, exercising a civilising control over what some see as chaos. The Sumerians started it. The Romans perfected it. The Anglosphere inherited it. The world is now mired in it.–Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta
He goes on to say:
Narcissism is not incurable…Entire cultures and populations recovering from this plague have been left like orphan children with no memories of who they are, longing for a pattern they know is there but can’t see…There are so many adolescent cultures in the world right now, reaching for the stars without really knowing what they are. Adolescent cultures always ask the same three questions. Why are we here? How should we live? What will happen when we die?
But if everyone around you sees the world through the lens of human supremacy except for one person (like your weird friend Valerie), are you willing to believe that person? In my experience, it takes a courageous person who’s ready for a new form of freedom, and even when we ask for something and it’s handed to us, sometimes we can’t see it and still reject it. I find it really painful watching people get so close only to give up and destroy their relationship with me through disrespect and existential judgment. I know they’ll get another opportunity, or two, or three, to heal the wound, but not with me. I use honesty and directness to maintain fierce protective boundaries…
This week I am moving through some grief. I had known that a friendship would end had been observing it fade away for a while, and I was hoping it would just fade and drift gracefully into nothingness, but that was not what occurred. Not only was there a calling out of disrespectful behaviour that resulted in denial, blame, and spite being projected onto me, but following that was additional denial about the state of the relationship. I felt resentment that my former friend was so in denial that she needed me to explicitly spell out that we had already co-created the ending of our relationship, and this resulted in even more blame and spite being projected onto me. What a mess of pain we were in.
It reminded me of Torres Islander writer Nonie Sharp‘s concepts of mateship and in-mateship, where in-mateship creates feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, denial. She says that the very presence of superiority creates shame, and a fear of shame causes people to oscillate between seeking revenge and prestige, resulting in psychic bullying, social violence, and denying reciprocity; if you judge someone as an inmate, you control & define social and existential boundaries. I see this as narcissistic…
In processing this resentment, I realised that when there is a lack/denial of reciprocity in a relationship, we dance between resentment and denial — resentment within the person who feels stifled/unseen because the other person isn’t holding them in wholeness, and lack/denial/not good enough within the other person who feels cut off from their wholeness (and may or may not want to heal that rift inside themself). Those of us who live with an Earth Ethos embody a knowing that we are all interconnected, and we are not lost playing out myths of superiority and inferiority based on existential judgement.
In some people’s minds I “cut off” this friend, but I have not experienced this. I can no more cut her off than I can cut off the air I breathe; she has become part of me and the space she has in my heart and mind will remain throughout my life in a linear sense of time, and is always there in a nonlinear sense of time. Thoughts and feelings related to her will emerge, and I will pray and send love and feel pain whether we are actively engaged in our relationship or not. It was and it is, and through time and space relationships move through various forms, or trans-form.
Reciprocity is a core Earth Ethos value. As Potowatami writer Robin Wall Kimmerer says:
In the old times, individuals who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counselled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished… It is a terrible punishment to be banished from the web of reciprocity, with no one to share with you and no one for you to care for.
My view is that such punishment/banishment on a mass scale underlies the current mainstream Western culture and results in the extreme levels of narcissistic wounding we are witnessing. Aboriginal writer Tyson Yunkaporta explains:
In Dreaming stories, Emu is often a narcissist who damages social relationships. These stories teach us about the protocols for living sustainably, and warn us about unsustainable behaviours. The basic protocols of Aboriginal society, like most societies, include respecting and hearing all points of view…Narcissists demand this right, then refuse to allow other points of view…They destroy the basic social contracts of reciprocity (which allow people to build a reputation of generosity based on sharing to ensure ongoing connectedness and support), shattering these frameworks of harmony with a few words…They apply double standards and break down systems of give and take until every member of a social group becomes isolated, lost in a Darwinian struggle for power and dwindling resources that destroys everything…
Yet in Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the Emu is so highly regarded that people traditionally organised their lives around following the wisdom of the Dark Emu in the sky, which is the constellation of darkness within the Milky Way. The image is from here and shows the Dark Emu during one season of the year, and corresponding rock carving honouring the Emu in Sydney.
Something that I continually find challenging in embodying reciprocity is moving through a world where so many people around me believe in individuality and are lost in saviour complexes that convince them they are working for the collective good. I live on land my ancestors are not indigenous to, and I do not yet know what lands my mother’s family is interconnected with. And when I move through the dance of denial and resentment in an intimate relationship, it helps to remember that once I fully see the Dark Emu I will be wiser and more capable of orienting myself in my centre; and as this unfolds, it helps to have compassion and keep strong in my convictions of the worthiness of this healing journey, as Rumi reminds me. Wuradjuri healer Randal Ross said that we don’t realise how free we are until we see that freedom disintegrate; and I feel that correspondingly, those of us who have been abused and denied are re-membering how free we are through calling it out with compassion and creating healthy, whole lives in the midst of collective wounding.
Exercise: Consider this Robin Wall Kimmerer quote and how you might apply it in your life: “Restoration is imperative for healing the earth, but reciprocity is imperative for long lasting, successful restoration… We restore the land, and the land restores us…The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart…For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend on it.”
“The first step in liquidating a people…is to erase its memory…Before long a nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”—Milan Kundera
Whether you are considered “white” or not, I feel confident saying you have been impacted by whiteness trauma, and as this quote suggests, that your people/s likely experienced and perpetrated genocide somewhere in your family line/s. Genocide is an intentional act to destroy a people, and whiteness is an intellectual construction based on traumatic social rejection from & disconnection with Mother Earth, self & cultural heritage, and other people. It was used as a tool by the ruling class to divide the working class, and so is also called “the bribe of whiteness.” David Dean gives a clear and compelling history of the creation and rise of the “white” identity in this article, People who have learned to identify as “white” tend to deny their own complex cultural heritage. Some people even study “whiteness theory” and “white fragility” to try to make sense of the shame they carry and the way this history of European identities being whitewashed and replaced by modern, nationalistic ‘Western’ identities still play out today. For example, did you know that assimilationist policies in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to companies like Ford running mandatory English classes and job training programs that finished with ceremonies in which people clad in traditional cultural clothing walked through a huge ‘melting pot’ then emerged in company uniforms? (Image from here)
David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:
As Tyson Yunkaporta points out in his new book, ‘Western’ is not an identity, because by its nature it is in reference to someone or someplace else (presumably ‘Eastern’); it is not inherent. To be ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ is also quite amorphous. I have out of curiousity asked a number of people what it means to them to be ‘Australian,’ and I have gotten one of two answers: (a) I am part of a multi-cultural modern soup, or (b) It means nothing to me, and I am English/Irish/Wiradjuri/Yuin/etc. living on this land we collectively call ‘Australia’.
My view is that whiteness trauma is based on a European history of intergenerational trauma, shame & pain. It was spread by the Romans & other empires dividing and subjugating peoples on their traditional lands; by the violent spread of Christianity through power & force, including the systematic desecration of indigenous & pagan sacred sites; and by horrendously hateful acts such as witch trials, inquisitions, slavery, rapes & genocides. It seems to me that over the last few thousand years, violence, terror & control became normalized as a method of asserting dominant leadership throughout Europe. Multi-generational disconnection with an innately human intimate & reciprocal relationship with the Earth were replaced by a power struggle for whose anthropocentric story is ‘right’, in a might-makes-right model. This led to land ‘discovery’ (i.e. colonisation) and other myths such as when upper class, white-skinned, Christian, land-owning males founded a ‘free’ government for ‘the people’ in the U.S. Ultimately, whitewashing & glomming together of many European peoples and cultures into “Western” expanded to non-‘white’ people, so that today millions of people around the world identify with a colonial nation rather than a traditional culture living within an empire.
Here is a little poem I wrote about my own journey of healing ‘whiteness’ trauma:
Beneath the Roots
Has defined me
But I kept digging
Because I knew
My taproot was deeper
And drinking in peace
Somewhere down there
To heal from whiteness trauma, I have found many helpful approaches, including: honouring ancestors, grounding, re-defining tribe & belonging, bridging multiple identities, healing power dynamics, and healing existential wounds. The following quote is a humbling reminder of what our indigenous minds carry somewhere inside of us from an Australian Aboriginal culture more recently colonised:
“The first peoples of this land don’t need statues of our heroes, we have mountains that remind us of our people. We don’t need painted portraits, we have rivers that flow with the stories of our dreaming. Our songs are filled with culture, our language of the land. So we don’t need books. Our history, our connections, our hearts are true to this country.”–Baker, 2017, quoted in Koori Mail, Oct 23, 2019 p. 24
(Image from here, by artist Annick Bougerolle)
A few months ago somewhere in the outback around Broken Hill, I experienced a spiritual lightning strike inside. Something in me died, an old dream (maybe it was always a lie), and its energy has been emerging from my body in incredibly itchy rashes across my chest, back, face, and shoulders, and grief-laden tears. Sometimes I know certain things aren’t working but am reluctant to call them out or make a change, sitting in doubt and denial and dumbly hoping they’ll work out without conflict. I started to feel, for the first time in my life, like I could fully exist somewhere, and a community started to gently invite me in. Though it was not practical to join them, I can still see some smiles and hope and hear someone asking me to invite her to my housewarming when I move out there next year. It is possible. I’m sure I don’t know. All I know is the sand is shifting under my feet again, and some people and aspects of life I’ve been counting on are disappearing. I’ve been through this many times, and I know my role is to stay centred, be patient, accept the gifts I’m given, let go of that which is not working, and freefall into the unknown with as much grace as I can.
Though much trauma is being acted out in the world right now that is sometimes referred to as ‘white privilege,’ no one is merely ‘white’, and I cringe when I am referred to as such. We all have cultural heritage with gifts to unpack and celebrate. My modern, multi-cultural self includes a body born of Shawnee land carrying earth ethos teachings from my East Frisian roots as well as teachings about existential destruction from my Ashkenazi Jewish lineage, as well as wisdom from Native American, Anglo-Celtic Australian, Anglo-Saxon American, Irish-American, Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian-American, Peruvian, Indian, South African, Buddhist, Christian, Hindi, Aboriginal, and many other beautiful cultures. I saw a quote a few months ago that really resonated and went something like this:
Life was better before colonisation and mass migration, but now it is more beautiful.
I think there is much truth in that, as well as the inset quote a friend sent me. We each have much to celebrate and reconcile within our individual cultural mix. So on December 24, I finished baking some Stollen, sang Godewind songs in German and Platt, told stories and looked at photos to honour my East Frisian paternal ancestors and country.
To honour my earth ethos, I celebrated a fiery summer solstice in ceremony with loved ones. (Literally, there were, and are, many fires burning this country.) Sitting around a fire pit in the four directions, we embodied some of my heart’s favourite forms of expression: music, meditation, poetry, and art. Part of our ceremony was a poetic prayer in words & drumming to the Thanksgiving Address gifted to us all by the Haudenosaunee, which brings our minds together as one in thanks for: The people, The Earth Mother, The Waters, The Fish and Other Water Creatures, the Plants, The Food Plants, The Medicine Herbs, The Animals and Insects, The Trees, The Birds and Other Air Creatures, The Winds, The Thunder Beings, Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, The Stars, The Wise Teachers, The Creator, and All Others Who Have Not Been Named. (Image from here of the People thanking Grandmother Moon)
May you enjoy the blessings of the season from Father Sun and Mother Earth whether you have just been through Summer or Winter Solstice.
Most of us are familiar with outliers from mathematics, as illustrated by this image:
I have always felt like an outlier. Outliers can be inspiring leaders, and can also be absolutely crazy. Most outliers, in my experience, embody a bit of brazen madness that carries us outside the mainstream. Others have written about the challenges of honouring a multi-cultural identity, and of digging deeply into their roots to claim their full identities. I will write about something else. About the outlier as a leader and a madman.
To me, leadership must create an opening, which shows that it is alive. It may open someone up to joy or to pain, open up space between people or open up connection, but it creates opportunities to become more fully embodied and alive. Much of what we call leadership I feel leads us to dead ends. A leader unwilling to step aside and help someone else into their place, who clings to their standing, is not a leaders but a childish dictator in my
eyes. Leaders know there is always somewhere else to go. To me, true leadership is a pioneering into unknown, lost, forsaken, and forgotten spaces. Aboriginal scholar Tjanana Goreng Goreng defined sacred leadership as people:
Ultimately, the difference between an outlier who goes mad and one who becomes a leader is one who is able to move beyond personal self-interest and live with a heart of service. This means balancing self-care with asking for support and taking risks, sometimes putting oneself purposely into trauma or danger, but not to the point of becoming a martyr and building resentment. It can be a challenging line to walk. It requires very high personal standards along with loads of compassion for self and others. It can be isolating and incredibly fulfilling. Instead of being outraged about whatever stupid action Trump did this week, I was in awe to learn that fish underwater sing the water and reefs awake at dawn, just like birds on land.
I have struggled to connect with many people around me, and I’ve worked really hard to understand Judeo-Christian, Western, and Anglo worlds. But I don’t innately understand them, and they don’t innately understand me. There must be something that makes each of us feel like an outlier, even in a small way. What if we focus on enjoying that breadth of our diversity, on learning from each other, and on exploring the outer limits of our inner worlds? We may just find, like these side-by-side images of Western microscopic art and Aboriginal Australian art that we outliers are redefining social structures in ways that align with Mother Earth better and can inspire others through our own leadership into owning our outlier statuses. (Image: Gum leaves under a microscope & Gathering Bushtucker painting)
A few weeks ago I was watching a couple of rabbis and their wives driving around Australia looking for Jewish people. They said throughout history Jews have been hunted down by persecutors, so now they’re hunting down Jews to bring them back into the religious community. When they came across a few young men at Uluru who said they were Jewish, they outfitted them with yarmulkes and tefillin, prayed with them, danced the hora, and said, “Be proud to be Jewish.” That remark stung, because I rarely feel that. I’m deeply disgusted that since its inception, the largest number of UN resolutions on an issue has been against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I’m deeply disgusted by how many Jewish people identify as victims while remaining in denial about their own offending. I’m deeply disgusted how little regard many Jewish people have for Mother Earth, and how often this results in over-the-top consumerism. And I’m deeply disgusted that in the name of belief, people mutilate their baby boys a few days after birth through circumcision while rarely reflecting on modern knowledge of the neurological consequences that sets into motion. (I have a short article on that coming out soon.)
I have spent over 30 years wrestling with my Jewish identity, trying to understand it and what it means to me. I have studied Eastern European Jewish folklore, the Yiddish language, the mitzvot, and sacred stories in the Bible. I have celebrated holy days, braided challah for Shabbat and charoset for Passover, done a bat mitzvah, adopted a religious name, and even visited Israel on a birthright trip that resulted in a stalker showing up across the country at my door afterwards which the rabbis leading the trip denied was an issue. At its core, my Jewish experience has involved studying and then freeing myself from a cult of belief forced upon me that embodies profound harshness and righteous judgment along with coping through humour. This judgment has been a tough way for people to uphold morals and values, some of which I agree with. And living nearly 6000 years waiting for a messiah is a long time to keep hoping and stubbornly stick to the same story that he’s coming, and he wasn’t Jesus. You need a strong sense of humour to uphold that cosmic joke!
But the way I’ve been taught to embody Jewishness feels fundamentally faulty. Rather than try to prove I’m a worthy person and feel like a failure, I’ve decided to think that worthy as I am. Rather than shame others’ behaviours, I focus on accepting what I feel ashamed about and speaking out with passion when I also have compassion. Rather than guiltily force myself to follow Jewish norms that feel wrong or abusive to me, I’ve set boundaries with people in my family that have resulted in my being socially shamed and having to abandon people I care about to avoid being abused.
My Jewishness has been so profoundly painful and dysfunctional that it required me to learn how to engage in practices of purification. I celebrate my ancestral resilience; we’ve collectively suffered and survived a lot of shit. And while I have compassion for acting quickly to survive traumatising situations, when we’re no longer desperate I believe we’re responsible for reflecting on our past actions and making amends for ourselves and our ancestors. Jesus, the Jew, definitely preached this. I’m proud of many Jewish people I know for being heart warriors, standing with those who are downtrodden and keeping cultural beliefs and practices alive that matter to them. But mostly I’m profoundly disgusted by and even ashamed of my Jewishness, and it’s been quite hard to be honest about that. So many of the beliefs and stories given to me I’ve found to be based in fears, lies, and mind games. I think there must be something more to the Jewish identity than being a people whose story begins with slavery and involves worship of a judgmental masculine sky god. I visited Israel and did not feel a Pachamama presence there, nor do I feel that biblical stories reflect my creator or people’s story fully.
Resilience is especially necessary when one’s path is based on existential judgment and conditional love. Without an earth ethos grounding us in our bodies, environments, and communities, we can’t experience unconditional love. And the Jewish identity I inherited is completely ungrounded–it is not even connected to Israel. Outsiders may laugh at Jewish neuroticism in a Woody Allen film, but I grew up with such people failing to take care of themselves or me, convinced there was something wrong with them that doctors’ pills could fix, and never satisfied no matter what they achieved. Having lived intimately with this addiction, abuse, and neuroticism, I’ve come to see it as based in self-betrayal, self-hatred and self-abandonment. I don’t know what set my ancestors on Jewish paths many generations ago. I know some of the traumas they and I have been through, and I feel that staying on the Jewish diaspora path has served to make our traumas bigger. For example, my grandmother told me as a child that I can’t trust anyone, and I asked with surprise, What about you?! It’s a much harder road to judge, confront, and forgive than to just accept in the first instance. I thank my Jewishness for this hard learned lesson. My current path is one of accepting unconditionally. I don’t feel this aligns with my Jewishness, so I seek to uncover what lies underneath that for me. I’m moved to close with this quote from someone else who has dug beneath the roots of her inherited identity:
Freedom is uncomfortably unknowing yourself and a willingness to keep coming undone — Zen Buddhist nun and queer African American, angel Kyodo williams
I admire your fire and passion, and your courage to take on so much of the world’s attention. Whether this attention be loving, ambivalent, or hostile, the sheer weight of it is no doubt burdensome, in a way you may not yet even realise.
I am writing to suggest that you are missing something profound about life in the modern Western world. You admonished adults, both those of us alive now and our collective ancestors, for stealing your dreams. And indeed this is so. But with respect, the true theft has only peripherally to do with climate change. (Image from here). Here is a quote from Aboriginal Australian scholar Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta:
Every human child is born the same. We are born with innate structures. And those structures all steer us towards living and loving and learning in cooperative groups, and in being profoundly connected to a habitat, and being very curious about that habitat…I believe that every child is born as what we now call indigenous. It just takes quite a rigorous program of indoctrination to twist somebody and turn them into a civilized person.
It is your indigeneity that has been stolen. A life of profound connection with fellow human beings, with spirit, and with the earth. In the world both you and I grew up in “civilised” is seen as an unambiguous virtue. It has given us much in the form of transcendence of material challenges, but destroyed so much more. It has blocked our growth as beings. I see the civilising force of Western modernity as turning the children we were at birth into beings that are unbalanced in the mental, floating above the rest of existence in a state of separation. It has turned us into beings who know only one way to cope with suffering, which is to fix it with our minds. But this idea of “fixing it” is a myth that fails us, born of hard and false boundaries like “self” and “other”, “right” and “wrong”, and “good” and “evil”. As Dr. Yunkaporta says:
The war between good and evil is in reality an imposition of stupidity and simplicity over wisdom and complexity.
And so I put it to you that this applies to the scientific orthodoxy on anthropogenic climate change as much as anything else. To say that it is an unambiguous cataclysm or “evil” requiring our “fix it mind” to go into full swing is potentially just living in the same delusions, and repeating the same fundamental errors of our recent ancestors. The reality requires a deeper wisdom than just the capacity to power the world from renewable energy. Renewable energy in and of itself will not fill the hole inside us, nor reconnect us to the sacred, and to the Earth. For this we need tools that Western science does not know about, but indigenous scientists and mystics of many faiths and traditions around the world have known about for thousands of years. (Image from here)
We don’t need to fix the world, rather we need to learn to flow in it, and be in deep relationship with it. I have no doubt that from such a stance we’ll look at open pit coal mines and the internal combustion engine, not to mention countless other inventions and lifestyle choices, as being fundamentally out of flow, a desecration of something sacred that severs us from the Earth. Western science will play a role in helping us work out what to do next, but the truth of our modern desecration of the Earth does not need facts and figures, and positivist experimentation for us to experience. If you don’t believe me, go and sit on a chair in a forest near where you were born for a few minutes and watch your mind. If you are anything like me, you will experience a lot of discomfort and dis-ease from being with the craziness of your undistracted modern mind. Can you “fix” that with your mind alone? Can Western science offer you any help? There is as much to learn about why we face climate disasters from that one simple activity as there is from any number of bore holes dug into the Antarctic ice.
We need to question more than our use of carbon. We need a new and bigger dreaming. We need a dreaming of lived interconnection to immortal oneness. Such a dreaming is bigger than our daily struggles, and even our comprehension of existence itself. Certainly much bigger than our worries about three degrees of global mean temperature rise. You might say, “Well that is easy for you to say, it is not your daily sustenance under threat, or your island about to be swallowed by the sea”, and this may be true. But my reply is that these ideas I am telling you are not mine. They come from the wisdom of people who did indeed face and transcend such hardships. Islands have disappeared before, and life went on. Regardless of what we do and don’t do, life will go on this time around too. The only real question is what kind of life it will be. (Image from here)