Tag Archives: colonialism

Existential Wounds

vol-13-1-coverExistential wounds seem to occur more often for those of us with multi-cultural, immigrant, and colonial heritage. When we are (or our ancestors were) forcibly moved, forced to adopt unfamiliar cultural practices of spiritual worship, live in homes and wear clothes of unfamiliar materials, eat foods unfamiliar to our bodies, or were abused or enslaved in some way, we experienced trauma. This trauma often took the form of existential wounding where the very core of our identities, ways of being, and understandings of the world are shaken. It can take many generations and much work to heal such wounds. I recently had an article about indigenous trauma healing published if you want to dive more deeply into that. (Ignore the abstract; they used the wrong one.)

Through generations of carrying existential wounds, we feel ashamed that what our ancestors taught us about the right ways to live and what we learned to honour has been desecrated. We become ungrounded and disoriented and struggle to trans-form and re-form ourselves and our cultures in new places. We feel lied to and know in our bones that something is wrong. We wonder if we’re crazy, if something is wrong with us; we get angry with our families or society and struggle with mountains of conflicts. (This is structural change; re-claiming the body/mind/spirit as one where we are now.) If you are reading this, chances are you feel a calling to do that work! As an example, I always felt disoriented in the Northern Hemisphere. I struggled to orientate and make sense of directions, and when I got my PhD I had the definitive feeling that I was moving backwards, spiralling inwards to the core so I could get to the essence of the existential wound, go through a spiritual death and be reborn again. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere has helped me feel like my life is finally correctly oriented. Yet at the same time, native foods of Australia are unfamiliar to my body. So I gather lily pillies to make jam, eat native figs off of big ficuses when I walk by, and cook up warrigal greens (See images below). I’ve noticed that native foods are unfamiliar to most people here, though, and eating European meats and veggies seems to keep people’s psyches more tied to places across the planet and help them be more willing to mine indigenous land in their own country! (Images from here and here.)

I believe that decolonisation has profoundly positive effects on healing of existential wounds as it helps us feel more whole. While listening to the Mythic Medicine podcast recently I realised a simple way to heal some of our existential wounds is to name and honour the landforms and elementals that raised us, and support us where we now live. Here is mine for where I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia:

I was raised on the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (earth), hilly land with red clay soil and loads of spindly pine trees. The water (water) that I drank and bathed in came from Lake Lanier, a dammed portion of the Chattahoochee River. The winds (air) were unnamed but predominantly flowed from the southwest towards the northeast. Power (fire) came predominantly from a hydroelectric plant that dammed the river. The main spiritual practice (heart) there was Protestant Christian, and in particular Southern Baptist. The largest landform was Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping that extends underground into five states and has a Confederate Memorial carved into it which is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. Other memorable landforms are the network of manmade highways, including a circle around the city with an X of two highways that meet at the centre, and incredibly messy interchanges such as one called Spaghetti Junction that looms large in my memory (see below). A local park called Henderson Lake was a safe space for me, and I walked there regularly (see below). The Creek and Cherokee nations existed on the land before English colonists, and before that were nations of mound-builders which we know little about. (Images from here and here.)

atlantahwy hendersonlake

Exercise: I invite you to download this My Ancestry Exercise that came together when preparing for an ancestral healing workshop a couple months ago. I have my answers on there as an example. It will give you a reflection of what you know about where you come from, and your intuition may answer some questions you didn’t realise you knew! You can add to this exercise an honouring of landforms and elementals exemplified above for the land(s) that raised you, and the land that now supports you!

Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

You may have grown up, like me, steeped in multiculturalism in your home and city, eating foods from all over the world, making friends with others of totally different cultural heritages, travelling and living overseas, and honouring multiculturalism in your everyday lives. If you go back a few generations, how many of ancestors of your blood lineage spoke your language? Dressed in clothes like yours? Listened to similar music, or did similar dances or art? Were taught similar stories about the right ways to live? Did formal schooling? Worked indoors? Followed a similar faith tradition? Celebrated the same holidays? Lived on the same land where you live? Ate foods native to the land where you live? The hardest thing for most of us to fully accept is that in order to survive, we and our ancestors all appropriated from other cultures, and had our own cultures appropriated from. All earth beings move and trans-plant. For example, potatoes are native to the Andes, yet we often think of them in relation to Ireland. We are in living in a hopelessly multicultural world. Just think about the fact that one box of tea we buy for $3 is made from leaves grown in India, packaged in China from cardboard made in Bangladesh, then is shipped to England in a barge made in Denmark, and then distributed to our local supermarket chain owned by a German company. How complicated! (Image from here.)

multicultural.jpg

How do we practically honour the multicultural complexity of one product in our shopping cart?  How do we honour the complexity of our lineages, in terms of relationships with food, place, land, and spiritual traditions?  At what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the 1700s:

I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors…for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices…I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people…[Yet] the land, her spirits…even after all that has happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people…built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about reparations…[that will be] inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories.

If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

I see colonising behaviour all over modern cities today. We talk about ‘gentrification’ when people of traditionally more dominant and resourced cultural groups displace traditionally oppressed groups in the parts of a city where the oppressed groups had been forced to live. I consider this micro-colonisation, akin to the term micro-aggression. What if that’s the only place you can afford to buy a house? Does that mean you ethically shouldn’t? Should people with white skin never move to Oakland, California or to Redfern in Sydney, Australia? I don’t think so. But if you choose to, you have the responsibility to be honest about what is happening, feel the pain of others’ displacement along with the joy of your new placement, make amends and build positive connections with the people and land as best you can.

multicultural2.jpeg

Acknowledging the peoples and lands from which traditions emerge is a way to deeply honour ancestors and keep wisdom alive, and allows you to be a cultural bridge in new lands. The respectful intent and humble, teachable spirit with which you approach such activities is the main difference between honouring multiculturalism in our modern world and a the colonial, oblivious, blind, entitled, and greedy and grabby spirit of cultural appropriation. If you are honest about where you stand today and are able to honour your ancestral journey, however many mistakes and sacrifices you and your ancestors have made, you will have a much easier time honouring others’ cultural traditions.

humanfamily

It also helps to keep in mind how fluid ancestry and identity is. Culture is so much more complicated than just tracing your blood lineage and labelling someone as indigenous or non-indigenous, black or white or brown-skinned. Just because you do not have a known ancestral lineage in Japan, for example, does not mean that you are culturally appropriating if you feel moved to practice aspects of Shintoism, learn to do a traditional tea ceremony, or how to brew your own sake. We multicultural moderns have much more similar journeys to drops of water that are re-cycled around the planet, evaporating from a lake into a cloud and flowing across the sky, falling as rain into a huge ocean, entering a jet stream that crashes as a wave against a rock across the world from where we started, and hanging out in a pool on that rock for a while. I personally think this modern mess we’re in is here to remind us that we’re all one big human family! (Image from here.)

Dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness practices are other great ways to connect with our ancestors, as well as donating time and money, building and tending ancestral altars, spiritual practices to heal unjust power dynamics and colonial wounds, supporting the revitalisation of indigenous languages, connecting with non-human ancestors of land and place, and reconnecting with languages and traditions of your ancestors.

Exercise: Modern people tend to use food and drink as the main tool for connecting with ancestry. Try branching out. If you have Gaelic ancestors, learn a few words and see how you feel speaking them, then put on music and see how your body naturally wants to move to it. You may have some moves burst out that you didn’t know about! Also, imagine how ancestors lived on the land where you are now. Did they used to fish by the river you walk along? Imagine how your ancestors used to live in faraway lands. Did they build a fire in the evening to heat their homes just like you are doing? One study found that just thinking about our ancestors and how they lived is beneficial to us! 

 

Guest Post: Colonial Disconnection

My partner Luke Ringland posted the following on Facebook, and with his permission I am re-posting it here, because his words paint a clear and powerful picture of modern city life. Those of us who have disconnected from our land(s) of origin have much loss to grieve, and much joy to gain by re-integrating with the lands and indigenous wisdom of where we now live.

naturequote.jpg

One of the many MANY things about my life and worldview that has changed since I’ve known my wife Cloud Clearer has been seeing things more clearly from an indigenous perspective. And in this I don’t mean indigenous Australians. A lifetime of my best effort at open hearted learning would be nowhere near enough to truly know their suffering. And I certainly don’t mean nativism, which so often takes the form of destructive, oppressive tribal occupation.

I’m talking about indigenous in the form of a deep, dare I say spiritual, connection to place. A felt and emergent sense of belonging in which one’s existence is symbiotic with, dependent on, and unshakeably connected to the Earth. A oneness that means all that happens to earth, happens to a person, and what happens to a person is also happening to the Earth. This is opposed an egoic mind, floating in desperation and disconnectedness on top of the earth, plotting the ways in which all other things around it can be exploited for its survival, as though one were necessary for the other. An indigenous worldview, or Earth Ethos, understands that the exploitation of the land is ultimately a self-destructive act.

I spent the day driving around Western Sydney today, and it hit me so hard how disconnected, and therefore desperate, we are. Billboards, trucking supply chains, retail superstores, and development. Everything a commodity. And I don’t mean to pick on the West. The older areas of our colonial civilisation are just pretty scars, made so long ago it’s easy to see them as somehow natural, as though European energy has somehow always been here. And herein lies one of many white Australian delusions: It is not that there isn’t something wrong in a felt sense about the tens of thousands of newcomers setting up mini colonies in our big cities. I believe there is. I feel it. But the delusion is that we were, or indeed are, any different. Just ask any indigenous person.

(Images are the first two found for the google search ‘colonialism’, from here and here.)

Exercise: What is one way you can support indigenous well-being? Consider learning which indigenous people have lived where you now call home and how to honour them, such as donating to a non-profit like this, or a local one like this in Australia. Consider integrating Earth Ethos ceremony into your everyday life to feel more deeply what is happening in your body and with Mother Earth. You might try beginning and ending each day with intention through prayer, mindful movement, breath-work, sound, or spiritual reading.

Cultural Shadows & Reflections

Our lives are an endless series of resolving tensions, or reconciling polarities. We navigate this process based on stories, beliefs, and spiritual tools we’ve learned, which differ by culture. Culture arises from the Earth below, and for the majority of us who come from immigrant, slave, refugee, or forced migration lineages, our sense of culture has been disconnected from land(s) of origin. This creates cultural shadows and reflections, which are different things.

d-bush_reflections-on-ice.jpg

Think about a reflection from a lake: if the surface of the water is clear and still, the reflection maintains its form and colour, but size may be distorted by angle of perspective, uneven water surface, if we are bigger than the body of water reflecting us is able to show., and by warmth of the water – just look at the difference of the reflection of the trees from water and ice.

catshadow.jpg

Now think about a shadow: it distorts form, colour, and size. So it is a rather messy reflection of blocked light. The way shadows work, the closer we are to the source of the light, the larger the shadow appears. Placement and perspective have a huge influence on us, from how we see ourselves to how we survive in different environments.

Survival is primitive, root chakra, grounded energy. All Earth environments have a unique nature, which is why I agree with the perspective that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. This is nature; we all know that Earth environments and human cultures are diverse. We would aboriginalland.jpegnever expect someone from Northern Europe to have the same culture as someone from Australia. But when a bunch of people with Northern European ancestry move here (many unwillingly), what does that mean for the culture of the people and place now living on land we call Australia?

Most of us today are experiencing such a cultural transition. We are reconciling polarities of disorientation and loss as we let go of what does not serve us anymore, and trying to ground ourselves where we are. The lived experiences of our ancestors, the myths and teaching stories our elders have passed down, and collective wisdom that has allowed our lineages and tribes to survive has reached limits. Coming from cultures that are disconnected from the Earth where we live now, unpack a lot of shadows. Some of us fret about sustainability yet cling to old cultural stories and ways of being, while others seek to adapt and grow by learning through diversity, taking risks and trying new things. We seek new cultural forms to ensure the survival of our lineages and tribes, which requires sacrifice and risk. (Image from here.)

shadowbookWe literally become bridges between the land and cultures of our ancestors and a new land and culture. Our wild and crazy human journeys allow landforms like mountains and lakes, and trees that have been grounded in one place for centuries to travel vicariously through our reflections and learn what we’ve seen and experienced. What rich gifts we bring when we allow ourselves ground in a new environment. (Image from here.)

What drives us onward through the pain? What makes us want to endure the challenges of reconciling such vast polarities of energies in order to survive? It’s an innate, profound joy and gratitude that we are alive and embodied. And if we are open and humble enough, we can learn a lot about how to survive in our current environments from indigenous elders in person and in spirit. See if you can allow the Aboriginal elder’s joy in the video below to spark a memory of never feeling lonely because you are so connected with your environment and nourished by Mother Earth. 

If we remain shut down, overwhelmed, and closed to connecting with our new environments, we miss opportunities to ground polarities and transform ourselves, and instead become stories of fallen civilisations or evolutionary dead ends.

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.)

earthhands

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

earthlove

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.

nightsky

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?