Tag Archives: ancestral healing

Social belonging

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The etymology of the word “belong” is “together with” or “related to.” It’s a tribal concept. Years ago I worked with a shaman who said human nature is tribal, not national, by which he meant, the colonialist social experiment of countries would naturally devolve into tribes. These days I agree with this. Places like the US are too diverse and too big to be governed by anyone but a strongman holding it together through control. Before colonisation, Native Americans had governance structures of inter-tribal councils where power was not concentrated in one person but in a diverse group of elders that needed to reach consensus on contentious issues, and tribes had their own internal governance structures on top of that. But these days, what is a tribe? I like this definition, that in when we’re in our tribe, we feel normal and accepted. A clan is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a tribe, and a family is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a clan. A community is made up different tribal members and is formed either out of necessity (such as living as neighbours), or shared interest (such as attending the same school or church). (Image from here.)

I have been a member of communities my whole life, but experiences with tribe, clan and family have been much more recent. The most memorable time I felt part of a “family” was a few years ago right before an indigenous dance ceremony with a group of people I had never met before. I had an “aha” moment sitting in a kitchen watching people buzz about preparing things for the ceremony and savoured that feeling so it would imprint in me and I would remember it. As a “black sheep” it took me a while to realise that for me family is based on feeling, and that being born out of intertribal conflict literally creates “bad blood” that I’ve needed to reconcile in order to survive. My tribe is scattered across the planet, and that’s okay. And many members of my tribe are invisible, ancestral spirits.

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An experience I have often is “whitewashing,” where people look at me and immediately assume that I am a Christian of Anglo Saxon colonial background (though I have no Anglo Saxon blood that I know of, and I was not raised as nor do I identify as Christian). Growing up in the American South, I had a friend whose parents were Jamaican who similarly grew weary of being referred to as African American. We really project a lot of identities onto people without realising. Someone said if you really want to change the world, be mindful of your own projections, and boy do I agree with that. Even then, a projection and an internal felt sense of belonging are not remotely the same thing. (Image from here.) I am reminded of an experience in a sweat lodge where a Tiwa woman said she had been hoping there was no “white blood” in her family because the karma of that energy was so hard to deal with, but that a DNA test had shown she had some European ancestry. I said a prayer during that lodge: May all our intertribal conflict remind us that we are one big human family. May we celebrate our diversity and enjoy healthy boundaries. Aho. A cactus may appreciate a water lily, but they can’t survive in the same environment, so why would they go against their nature and try? Some of us must be in the wrong place physically, or else we would not have so much conflict in our communities. Sometimes we’re so used to being malnourished, it takes a while to imagine what it would be like to really flourish.

I’ve been reflecting on genocide, where one tribe has an overgrowth of the psycho-spiritual Wetiko virus convincing them that they are existentially better than another tribe so they set about violently trying to prove this by removing the “other.” If energy cannot be created or destroyed, when a tribe is killed, where does that energy go? I realised it emerges as ancestral trauma within the dominating tribe in successive generations in an attempt to reconcile the conflict from the inside out. Many of us who feel we were born into the “wrong” family, tribe, culture, body, etc., are bearing this diversity.pngkarma of humanity out. It’s all over the place: it’s conservative Christian parents confronting their prejudice with an LGBT child; a Southern Baptist who falls in love with a Catholic; a strong patriarch with a young daughter wiser than he is; a mother who worked so hard to break into the corporate world whose daughter wants to stay at home with her kids. Over and over again I see situations in which that which we judge, hate or reject is presented to us in an even more intimate way so that we learn to love and accept it. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Where, when and with whom do you feel belonging? What does it feel like? Next time you feel lonely, isolated or alienated, be with the “longing” for that aspect of yourself and explore why you feel that. What part of you feels rejected and why? What do you need to feel more present and whole in that space?

Questioning Cosmology

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Stories are great teachers. They help us give meaning to events, teach core values, and inform our understandings of social order and individual identity (Engel, 1993). We each carry stories, personal mythologies, that form our core values and beliefs, help us understand our place, and guide us on our path. The concept of empathy, of deep listening and heartfelt storytelling, is central to oral-based cultures, and even in cultures that privilege the written word, such practices are considered deeply sacred, like the Catholic Confessional, or an important part of daily life, like meeting a friend or family member for a chat/yarn. (Free use photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

In practice, empathic listening, and the safe sharing stories, is limited by the cosmologies of participants. When we share a story with someone, and that person is in a state of being in denial/judgment about what we are saying, we experience rejection/lack. When we receive this reflection, we tend to feel shamed. And especially as children, or because we feel fear of being exiled from our family/tribe/community, we carry this shame in our own hearts and minds, fuelling feelings of low self-worth. Rejection is a deep pain to process, a lack of feeling whole. And most of us have inherited much of this due to ancestral trauma. An Earth Ethos suggests that those of us who are involved in violent behaviours, in whatever role (victim, offender, or bystander), carry elements of shame in our very senses of identity (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013; Sawatsky, 2009). This shame, often referred to as “sin” creates feelings of lack of worth and dissociates us from fully being present. We fear social exile, and rightly so, because without connection with other people, it is hard to live. (Image from here)

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When I did research with sex offenders, I heard a lot about the depth of social shame they felt. I heard about some men who were disturbed by sexual thoughts of children and were too terrified to seek help until they acted on it, and others who did seek professional help and were reported for abuse they had not committed. I felt an intensely painful energy in the space of social stigmatisation where so many of these people and their family members and friends, these fellow humans, live.

compromiseI encourage you to connect with your own cosmology and question rejecting/violent statements/thoughts like “He should have known better”, or “It serves her right.” Such words indicate an internalised denial/judgment and fuel shameful, painful feelings inside you, the person you are speaking/thinking about, and our collective culture. Even when we believe/think something is wrong, we can still hold that aspect of our cosmology with compassion and respect. These words are pointers to places of yourself that could be further explored, unpacked, and transformed. Dangers and fears come in many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Watching an interview with someone who has killed another person, for example, may trigger emotion you are carrying and show aspects of your cosmology that could be shifted from judgment or denial/lack into compassion and empathy, and gratitude that you did not need to learn such a lesson the hard way. (Free photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

Exercise: Reflect on how many compromises you make in the name of “social harmony”/fear of change, and when it is important to you to go against the grain. See if you can connect with an aspect of your own humanity that is unfamiliar, like your “inner prostitute,” “inner abusive parent,” or “inner murderer”, and be with the discomfort that comes up in order to hold people in that space, and yourself, in more compassion and gentleness.

Holiness

Most of you reading this, like me, grew up a Judeo-Christian culture. And like many of you, I experienced conflicts and hypocrisies with aspects of those teachings. One such conflict is with the concept of “The Holy Land.” I have always known deep in my bones that all land is holy land, and that all bodies and beings are holy and sacred and worthy. To elevate a particular place as “Holy” is to demote other places as un-holy or less-holy. Not surprisingly, the etymology of the world “holy” is “healthy” and “whole.” If only one place on Earth is “The Holy Land”, and only about eight million people live there, then by definition, the rest of us 4+ billion people are in exile, cut off from our Motherland, not feeling whole.

adameveThe foundation of Judeo-Christian mythology leaves us unconnected with environments where the vast majority of its followers live. The Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden is not an embodied story connecting humans with nature inside and outside ourselves within a web of life. In fact, the entire Earth has not, for some time in Judeo-Christian culture, been portrayed as a home, as much as a place to endure or get through (Gustafson, 1997). Feeling rejected by the Sacred Feminine, we are collectively convinced we are in exile, and so it follows that many of us live in our heads and suffer from mental illness. (Image from here, altered for copyright from this image.)

Indigenous, Earth Ethos thinking challenges this vision. As Lee Standing Bear Moore and Takatoka of the Manataka American Indian Council say:

If God created the universe and countless universes beyond our own into infinity, it is clear that part of the master plan was to place God’s creatures in a place where everything they see and touch in nature is healing medicine.  What better place to care for the children of Creation?  Therefore, the Garden of Eden is symbolic for the Kingdom of God and it exists as we see it, and live in its midst, both physically and spiritually.   The Mother Earth is part of the Kingdom of God and thus humans and other creatures present in the garden were never expelled, but remain to live and evolve.   Eden is all around us, everything we see in nature and beyond is the garden and Kingdom of God.  We are here and never left. [emphasis added]

So the Christian fundamentalists asking us to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is here now are onto something. repent(Image from here.) 

I invite you to imagine what your life would look and feel like if every land you walked upon was treated like holy land; if every human body you came into contact with including your own were treated like holy land; if every animal and plant you ate, every mineral and stone mined and built into your smartphone and car and house were treated like holy land. Indigenous thinking sees the Earth as the source of life, not a resource to be used for a period of time. The understanding that all land is holy, that all of us are wanted and held by Mother Earth where we are now regardless of our ancestor’s trauma of leaving their Motherland, is incredibly freeing. I first experienced this healing during an indigenous dance-fast ceremony in Colorado following teachings of Joseph Rael. I remember kneeling in front of a tree during the ceremony and weeping with the realisation of how much Mother Earth wanted and cared for me, how much pain I had been carrying disconnecting me from those feelings, and how much pressure that had been placing on other relationships, especially my birth mother.

Years ago I read a book whose central thesis really stuck with me written by Wilhelm Reich, a controversial former student of Freud. Reich said that more than anything, we are truly afraid of pleasure, joy, and the abundance of gifts always in our midst; that we have collectively, in Judeo-Christian/Western culture, grown used to identifying with a fundamental sense of rejection, so that we shy away from profound opportunities for acceptance. I remember too, years ago, reading about the origin and etymology of the word sin:

[T]he most common word translated as “sin” is chait. The “sin” of Adam and Eve was chait, a mistake. People don’t “sin.” People make mistakes. After all, we are human.

sinThis word “sin,” then, was meant to help us humans understand our nature: that we are powerful and able create wonders and also an innate capacity to blunder. What curious creatures we are! We have been believing and embodying an errant, mistaken thought and believing that we are exiled, unworthy, and that our sacred, earthly Mother doesn’t fully love us, and this sin/mistake/confusion has been defining the course of our collective history for multiple millennia, and is still going. If this isn’t Wetiko energy, I don’t know what is! (Image from here.)

Faced with so many reflections around us of our collective disconnection with Mother Earth, our bodies, fellow beings, and elements of our environment necessary for living like our water and air, it helps to have a sense of humour. Here’s a quote from George Carlin:

The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

Exercise: I invite you to re-think the concept of “holiday” and “other” days, and generally how you carry and embody being holy.

Bridging identities

There is increasingly a movement for recognising non-binary gender and sexual identities. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves bisexual, pansexual, gender non-conforming, etc. There is also increasingly a celebration of multi-cultural identities, which primarily means a celebration of people with different ancestral homelands, traditions, foods, clothing, etc. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves African-American, Greek-Australian, Russian-Jewish, etc. Something that is very dear to me is a recognition of non-dualist cultural identity.

I see how indigenous and non-indigenous identities evolved from separating the colonised from the most recent coloniser, labelling one as wounded victim and the other as wounded offender. It is important to acknowledge historical trauma and the enduring wounds people carry who experienced colonial dispossession, as well as the wounds of those whose ancestors dispossessed others. I appreciate the modern Australian practice of acknowledging “traditional owners” of a place, though I think stewards would be a more apt word. (I do not know where this image is from and will link it if shown.)

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We are all humans indigenous to the Earth. We are all indigenous to a land of which we were born; we all have ancestors indigenous to at least one known place, often numerous ones; and we are all in a process of becoming indigenous to a place where we are now living and embodying ourselves and crafting our senses of identity. In fact, I venture that every single one of us on this Earth carries ancestral trauma of being dispossessed of or otherwise removed from a sacred homeland. And we all need support healing these wounds. Despite all of this, I see few people willing to identify as indigenous without being aware of their ancestral connection with a known, existing tribal group. And:

According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.”

If culture emerges from the Earth below, and I, for example, was born of the land we call North America, then my body, and to some extent my identity, is indigenous to that place. I mean no disrespect to people of cultures that have developed more intimate relationships with a place than I; such people, when willing, have much wisdom to share with those of us of born in or living in a place who are still learning how to live in harmony in our environments. If I, for example, live in Australia and am transplanting my body and being in this environment, I am learning how to be indigenous here and to connect with my husband who is of this land. (Image from here.)

Non-Dual-Thinking

I honour spiritual leaders who see people crying out in pain for lack of connection with place and offer basic tools to help us connect. I envision us all remembering that we are one big human family, that we all are indigenous to somewhere and so were our ancestors, and that to claim an exclusive indigenous or non-indigenous identities is to play a social game that perpetuates separation and pain. By all means, claim an identity with a tribe and be proud of it, please. For those of us who cannot do so because such identities were lost touch with long ago in our ancestral lineage, please find a way to hold us in heart and mind as also indigenous, newly learning how to honour the Earth, our collective Mother, where we are placed now and where we have come from. Here is a poem I wrote about the social conflict I experience:

Land bridge

My heart is indigenous
In sync with the seasons
My feet firmly grounded
In Mother Earth below me.

My spirit is indigenous
Interconnected with all that is
Flaming with animist passion
For peaceful coexistence.

My mind is indigenous
Built upon a cosmology
Of communal integrity,
Wholeness and ease.

My soul is indigenous
Ravished with pain
In States of mankind’s
Civilising war games.

My name is indigenous
Given during a spiritual journey
CloudClearer, who helps release
Dis-eased thinking.

I challenge cultural exclusion,
Indigenous and non-indigenous;
Living between identities
I cry out for community.

Confronting Colonialism

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.–Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Indigenous writers describe colonialism as “a violation of the psychological womb” and  “a great rupture with the Mother [Earth]” (Cervantes & McNeill, 2008). Colonialism has spiritual roots in our ideas about the meaning of life, our nature and place in the world. In Judeo-Christian culture the Earth is often seen less as our home, and more as a place to endure. An Earth Ethos sees the Earth as the source of life from which resources are continually re-cycled around, not a temporary playground for us to use for a period of time. The Earth’s health is reflective of our human health. In Australian aboriginal languages, “land” means “everlasting spirit” or “source of life” (Atkinson, 2002).  To say “I’m going for a walk in nature” shows our modern Western alienation with the Earth and the place where we live. Cities are highly cultivated environments, and a forest is wilderness, but both are aspects of nature–we cannot escape nature except in our own trickster minds!

You know how when you walk into a room, and you can feel that people were just arguing in there? You feel some funny energy in the space. Similarly, places carry trauma and violent energy that reflect into our bodies and psyches, though we are not as conscious of this. We may not be aware that 100 years ago there was a massacre on land where a school is today, and we may wonder why that school has such problems, when a school a few blocks away does not. This is why art and ceremony on land of traditional cultural significance are vital to healing. “The land under each tribe’s feet is the [spiritual] source of its culture,” and is we are responsible for giving back to the Earthfrom which we came (Kimmerer, 2016). An aboriginal elder recently taught me that the night sky and the Earth in that place are exact mirrors of each other, and to live intimately with a particular place on Earth, we learn from our ancestors in the sky.

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Research on trees planted for commercial gain that are of the same species and lack connection with a network of older trees has found that they do not communicate well, and that they compete with each other more and suffer more ill health than when they grow wild in forests (Wohlleben, 2016). In cities full of commercial culture we often similarly experience spiritual lack. We spend a lot of time in rooms and vehicles shaped like rectangles, struggling to feel deeply connected with and nourished by our manufactured environments. We seek distraction (literally un-grounding, a loss of traction) and use substances such as alcohol, caffeine and marijuana that numb uncomfortable feelings or stifle unwanted thoughts in our minds.

According to indigenous thinking, colonisers previously experienced a trauma of disconnection from intimate, reciprocal relationships with their land of origin, and conquering and privatising land is a re-enactment of this trauma (Smith, 2005). Some indigenous cultures describe a psycho-spiritual virus as the root of this trauma. TheAnishinaabe in Canada describe Windingo as a hungry, destructive force that is never satisfied and even eats its own kind (Kimmerer, 2016). The Ojibway refer to Wetiko, “a cannibalistic spirit who embodies greed and excess…an autoimmune disease of the psyche… [in which] the immune system of the organism perversely attacks the very life it is trying to protect” (Levy, 2014). The Zar spiritual disease in northern Africa is described similarly (Monteiro & Wall, 2011). In indigenous Asian cultures, a poison in the mind makes us forget who we are, manifesting as anger, desire and ignorance (Kakar, 1982).

The understanding expressed across the world by such stories is that we humans naturally carry some destructive energy. It is part of nature to create and destroy. Just look at a volcano: it both births new land and destroys existing land. When we regularly purify ourselves, this natural destructive, cannibalistic energy does not grow out of control. But when this destructive energy grows too large, it penetrates our spiritual beliefs. Then we forget who we are, feel disconnected from ourselves, each other and the Earth, and engage in destructive behaviours. I have read an indigenous elder describe that when colonialists first arrived in his ancestor’s community, the amount of such a psycho-spiritual virus that those few men were carrying completely overwhelmed the entire community. We may frame this destructive energy as diseases such as smallpox and syphilis, or behaviours such as raping and pillaging, but the spiritual root of these is considered that destructive, cannibalistic energy.

Purify your Heart(1)Psycho-spiritual purification exercise: Reflect on a relationship where you are trying to make another person see your point of view, or trying to control their behaviour and tell them what to do. What is stopping you from living your own life, and letting them be who they are? What are you avoiding or denying in your life by focusing on them, or on controlling your environment? What do you need to be more nourished right now?

 

 

Healing Unjust Power Dynamics

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Through a Shipibo elder of the Amazon I learned that about 90% of the thought-loops that circulate our minds are not based in ego, but in ancestral trauma. I learned through Dakota Earth Cloud Walker that ancestry is defined in three ways: blood lineage, ancestry of place, and personal karma. Personal karma refers to past, present and future versions of ourselves, and all of the complex identities we take on during our lifetime (or multiple lifetimes if you see things like that). Blood lineage is the most common way we think about ancestry, reflected in a family tree. Ancestry of place includes places where the people in our family tree lived, as well as where we have lived and live now. (Shipibo art.)

Places imprint themselves into us, and we imprint ourselves into them in human-and-environment interaction. If our ancestors lived for generations by the ocean, we may feel a connection with the sea even if we grew up inland by a mountain. Like walking into a room where someone’s had an argument and it just doesn’t feel right, when there is discordant energy in a place, we can feel it, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Most of us from countries like the U.S. and Australia carry traumatised and discordant ancestral energy. Most of our ancestors disconnected from their homelands because they were feeling persecuted, or lacked material or social support. Feeling forced to leave a place where your family has called home is itself a traumatic experience; just look at modern-day refugees. And indigenous populations who were already living in the “New World” found themselves traumatised by the behaviour of the immigrants. (Ancestral tree image.)

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Unhealthy power dynamics set into motion through colonialism still drive modern culture, and though we talk about racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormatism, from an Earth Ethos perspective, we do little to address the root causes of these social diseases. Disease in most indigenous cultures is understood to be caused by both natural and supernatural forces. Natural forces include causes such as cold air, viruses and bacteria, and food or water contamination. Supernatural forces include wounds in social relationships between people who are living or with ancestors, as well as wounds in relationships with other beings such as spirits of a particular land or place (Sussman, 2004).

According to science, energy is neither created or destroyed. According to most spiritual and religious traditions, energy, or spirit, exists eternally regardless of physical presence. Ancestral trauma circulates in our psyches and plays out in our culture today. It is based in large part on unjust power gains of one group putting themselves over another. Healthy power dynamics requires honouring and valuing everyone through power-with, not power-over relationships. In healthy power dynamics, hierarchy is never based on a value judgment of any person’s role, skin colour, gender, etc. being better than another’s. Through an Earth Ethos lens, all people have gifts, and to make a value judgments or even comparisons of gifts is wrong.

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Sometimes even when we are aware of our biases, we struggle to let them go see the world differently. In order to heal some unhealthy power dynamics, I offer the following exercise, which came to me after working with an ancestral healing exercise from Mary Shutan:

Close your eyes and visualise yourself and someone you feel out of balance with. Set the intention for a healthy power dynamic between you. Breathe. You may feel some energy entering or leaving your body, and in your third eye you may see energy exchanging. You may also do exercise between yourself and a place, an event, or even a group of people. (African ancestral image.)