Tag Archives: animism

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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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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