Tag Archives: cosmology

Our Primal Nature

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.

Crocodile and fishI’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:

  1. creation of life emanating from underground and water-dwelling part-human part-snake beings called nagas in Indian and Buddhist mythology;
  2. water, the coming of spring, resurrection and rebirth associated with meso-American winged serpent God Quetzalcoatl;
  3. the Hopi’s annual snake dance honoring serpent God Awanyu celebrating water, fertility, and the arrival of spring;
  4. the rainbow serpent creator God of Aboriginal Australians that controls the water;
  5. Fu Xi and Nu Gua who had male and female heads and snake bodies and created human life in Chinese mythology;
  6. the kundalini snake that animates the body and spirit in Vedic mythology; and
  7. Western medicine’s use of the Asclepius symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff to represent healing based on Greek and Roman mythology.Rainbow serpent and snake

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.

Alienation & Judgment

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!).

Wetiko – Cognitive Infiltration of the Third Kind | Zero Hedge

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.

5 Most Effective Conflict Management Styles (+When To Use ...

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.

holistic

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…

Healing Whiteness Trauma

“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)

fordschoolmeltingpot

David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:

  1. The violent displacement of communities from their traditional lands in order to use that land for profit and create a dependent, exploitable workforce, and
  2. The replacement of traditional cultural identities that valued the welfare of the community and the Earth with a culture of capitalistic, possessive individualism with a social hierarchy divided along racial, gender, religious, and other identities.

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:treechakras

Beneath the Roots

Ancestral trauma 
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

- Tree Annick Racines du Ciel

(Image from here, by artist Annick Bougerolle)

Thanks-Giving at Solstice

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.

quote.jpgThough 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.

solstice.jpgTo 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.

 

Guest Post: On Climate Change

Prof. Dan Cziczo discusses Climate Change - Belmont Public ...Dear Greta,

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)

I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems ...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.

Carbon as a building block of life (video) | Khan AcademyWe 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)

Yours sincerely,

Luke Ringland

Power, Force & Corruption

Building on some previous posts about power objects and healing unjust power dynamics, I realised it would be wise to define power and related terms. Energy is defined in physics as the ability to do work, and spiritually I have been taught that work is worship. The ways we work/worship result in beautifully diverse e-motion (energy in motion) reflecting our culture, values, and worldviews. Power is the strength of our work over time. We can use a lot of strength to express a lot of power in an instant by screaming, or we can repeatedly use a little strength and practice our singing for a few years to build a powerful voice.

yallforceWhen energies interact, we get a force, which is a relationship or co-creation. When we think about forces of nature, like a tornado, we can feel awestruck by the immense power of energy the elements of air (wind) and water can co-create. The Force in Star Wars aligns with good/evil, right/wrong binary thinking, so I find it helpful to consider force on a spectrum:

Trust/Acceptance ←——→ Conflict/Struggle ←——→ Traumatic Aversion/Repulsion

dogshame

Forces can change direction depending on emotions expressed. For example, your dog ripped the head off your child’s baby doll. You feel angry (TraumaticAversion/Repulsion), give your dog an annoyed look, and yell, “NO! Bad boy!” Rover looks upset, lowers his head and seemingly expresses remorse (Conflict/Struggle). You sigh, pat him, and take the baby doll head from him to see if you can repair the doll (Trust/Acceptance). From an Earth Ethos perspective, forces that place us in traumatic aversion/repulsion are opportunities to experience profound death/rebirth energy, which often results in a process of struggling to let go and experiencing internal and/or external conflicts, and resolves when we are able to sit in trust and acceptance.

In the example above, if we had come home and seen the dog and laughed, we would have started with emotions of acceptance and trust and had a much easier time. Our initial response and our power to resolve a trauma or conflict into acceptance defines our character. We’re probably all familiar with the famous Lord Acton quote about all power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely; I don’t find that to be true. Some of the quotes below I find to be more accurate. As I see things, we are humans, we are not God/Spirit/Creator/The Force. We can suffer from a psycho-spritual virus that deludes us into believing that we are alimghty Gods/Creators instead of humble human co-creators. This is when abuses of power occur, when we try to live above, or be stronger than, something or someone else.

 

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I have witnessed moments in which multiple organsiational leaders become corrupt, when the power flowing through their beings overwhelms their strength of character and their moral compasses fail. In that corrupt space we put ourselves above social agreements and laws of nature. I see this as a lack of grounding with deep-rooted judgments and traumas surfacing that are seeking healing. I feel that it brings shame to us all when corrupted people remain in leadership roles while lost in Traumatic Aversion/Repulsion forces. This seems to happen less in social systems with simpler or no hierarchies, and affecting a limited number of people and resources. When I consider the strength of character necessary for someone to wield the power available in certain roles such as being CEO of Amazon or President of the US, I think we are incredibly foolish and insanely ambitious to imagine that one human can embody that much power while carrying values such as grace and humility. To me, indigenous structures of governance with layers of leadership councils who unanimously share decision-making reflect much more wisdom about the nature of power than individual kings, emperors, presidents or CEOs.

Our collective delusions about human’s place in nature has resulted in the social system of capitalism we know is very destructive (well described in this article). At the root of these individual and collective beliefs and behaviours I see existential judgments and wounds that can be healed. We can re-member our connections and acknowledge God/Creator/The Universe/The Force/Nature/ Energies much bigger than us, experience humility and awe, and become more grounded to allow deep healing. Magic is possible:

In that real place the knowledge and the power comes from the ancestors to heal bones through touch within a few minutes, to heal the environment, to travel to the stars. If we are not in this reality, we are not in our indigenous mind.–Apela Colorado

Exercise: Contemplate these quotes about magic and nature and how they apply to your life. Where in your life can you enter into a state of acceptance, or ease towards such a state?

 

 

 

 

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

catholicaltar.jpg

I am delighted to hear from people having success working with ancestral altars and have been asked to write more generally about altar and shrine practices. I will also talk about power objects. Starting with etymology, “altar” is from a Latin word for “on high” (like altitude) and refers to honouring and worshipping great gods through sacrifice, usually by burning something and sending smoke up towards the heavens. “Shrine” is one of those mysterious words of unknown origin that refers to a sacred case or box (like the ark of the covenant) for keeping holy papers or other powerful spiritual objects. Shrines honour the spirit of a person, event, or ideology. The way we tend shrines is by leaving offerings. Altars are interactive, working spaces of worship where we ask for insight and guidance. We often create blended shrine-altars where we both leave offerings, as well as ask for insight and guidance. Most churches and temples are such blended spaces, where people leave incense, flowers, or candles with gratitude to figures like Jesus,

shrineofrememberance.jpgBuddha, and Krishna, and where people also sit in contemplation and pray for insight and guidance from those figures. I find it helpful to be intentional about these differences in my own life, but maybe blended spaces work for you. Ultimately, we build relationships with figures, ideas, events, places, and energies, and those relationships work best when we both give and receive, and do not always ask or give with the expectation of immediately getting back… (Images: Altar of St Michael’s Church in Munich, Shrine of Remembrance for the War Dead in Melbourne)

There are three types of altar practices that I use in my daily life: an ancestral altar, a personal altar, and a body altar. My introduction to a personal altar practice came from the mesa program. The personal altar for me, is medicine wheel-based, because that is my cosmology. It is a cloth on a flat surface next on my night table to represent the medicine wheel and provides a personal reflection for me. My husband who gravitates more towards Buddhism has an altar built on a footstool that is in three vertical layers. Yours might be Christian or Daoist; it depends on where your spirit feels most at home. Out of respect for my privacy and current altar work, I am posting a photo of my altar from 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it looks like and to explain some of the symbolism.

altarmay2017

Following a medicine wheel path, in the centre is the heart, where I have power objects of rocks and crystals representing core beliefs I was working with at the time, including rose quartz for unconditional love and acceptance, a fossil for honouring ancestors, a small glass globe for honouring Mother Earth and right placement, and two clear quartz crystals for clarity and courage. In the north (mental) realm which in my medicine wheel is white, there is a feather and a small angel figure to connect with my personal power animal (egret) and my highest thinking (angel). In the east (spiritual) realm which is yellow is a candle in a glass with UT Austin written on it as I was pouring my spirit into my PhD program at the time. In the south (emotional) realm which is red is a shell that was in my parents’ house growing up where I burned offerings to clear those emotional bonds. And in the west (physical) realm which is black is a young girl to represent my inner child being held by a crystal to represent Grandmother Moon and a salt lamp to represent Grandfather Sun.

All of the items on the altar are power objects, meaning they are imbued with energy and meaning, and I put them on and take them off the altar with care and ceremony. Power objects can be anything that we feel drawn to or has meaning for us, from a candle to a cross to a rock we pick up off the ground. Sometimes the meaning is clear to me when I place an object on the altar, and sometimes the meaning becomes clear over time and begins mysteriously. At times I am moved to break open power objects to free trapped energy (which I find creates ease for my body and relationships that do not need to break instead), and at times I pass the objects on to other people, bury them, burn them…it depends what feels right and what insight comes to me in visions and dreams.

The body altar practice is how I start each day. It was inspired by a practice Cristina Pratt mentioned of using her body as the centrepiece of the medicine wheel, followed by most elements of the body prayer which I learned from kundalini yoga teacher Carolyn Cowan (see below).

These days Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon are outside of the borders of my personal altar, and Grandmother Moon carries slips of paper I regularly print with inspirational notes and quotes to set my daily intentions. So each morning from my bed I reach for some of Grandmother Moon’s wisdom, take it in, and place the slip of paper on my altar. (I regularly burn the slips of paper when it feels like the right time to ground this wisdom into my life.) Then I get up and do a body altar practice. I stand facing the east and ground my feet by imagining roots extending into Mother Earth. I reach my left arm out to the side and thank Grandfather Sun, and reach out my right arm to thank Grandmother Moon. I raise my arms up to thank Father Sky, and bend to touch the ground to thank Mother Earth, then place my hands on my heart to honour my interconnection with all beings. I then honour each of the four directions with breath, movement, voice, and intention, and then extend my arms out and twirl to honour my boundaries and human limits. I then do a movement to bring energy up from the Earth below and into my life for the day and thank the ancestors of the land where I am and of my lineages and past lands of connection. And I end with an embodied prayer of unconditional love and acceptance through the Body Prayer above (minus lying prostrate on the floor).

Each evening before bed I pray at my personal medicine wheel altar. Behind the altar on the wall are images of my totems, moiety (paternal line) and heart-language (Frisian), so that that I honour them daily. Many days I am moved to leave offerings at my ancestral altar which is more of a shrine for me and a working altar for my husband at the moment. Some days I leave offerings at a tree altar in our garden (such as bits of food with thanks for Mother Earth’s bounty and with awareness that non-human beings in our garden also need to eat!). Some days I bring offerings to a tree grove in a nearby park whom I have asked to support an upcoming ritual. Offerings are a complex subject for a future post, so I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought at the moment!

Exercise: What altars and shrines are in your life? What do you intentionally want to cultivate? To let go of? What meanings do some power objects in your home have? Which ones might be useful to let go of, destroy, bury, flush, or pass on to someone?

 

Healing & Cultural Appropriation

In the previous post I wrote about how complex it is to honour multiple cultural identities, ground ourselves where we are now and honour the ancestors of the land, forgive our ancestors’ mistakes and decolonise our everyday lives. This post is a step further, because cultural appropriation is different in the context of spiritual healing. I have learned through experience what cultural appropriation in a healing context is, and the destructiveness it brings. I have also gained valuable insight, lessons, and tools when some cultural appropriation was being done that added a layer of destruction to the person’s offering. We are human, and our healing work is inherently imperfect. (Image from here.)

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In my experience, once we are out of crisis, healing within a market economy context is limited. There are different power dynamics, feelings and experience when meeting in a therapist’s office for 50 minutes for $100, and when with meeting a caring community member in a home, or while walking and talking with a friend in a park. As I wrote in a previous post, please RUN AWAY FROM people who say they are fully healed or ascended masters or anything like that unless you want to join a cult, because delusions of grandeur and beliefs around exceptionalism and/or superiority are not conducive to healing. Also from a previous post, keep in mind that:

“A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998). 

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time.

I don’t mean to say we should never participate in a ceremony in an apartment with a medicine from a foreign culture and land. But if we do, let’s do it with awareness and help it be as safe as possible. I ask for my own guidance in a form that resonates with me (either prayer or meditation usually). I acknowledge the limitations of the healing work I am considering participating in and ask if it is right for me. If I get signs and insight to move forward, then I ask what I need to do so that it is in balance. For example, when I offered an ancestral trauma healing workshop earlier this year on land with which I have limited cultural connection, I received guidance to donate participants’ gift economy offerings to an Aboriginal advocacy organisation. I also verbally thanked the ancestors of the land during the workshop for supporting our lives and the healing work.

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I will share the following story to offer a contrast of an experience of cultural appropriation with a man who called himself a shaman and worked with indigenous people in the Amazon, Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. He quit his day job to do healing work full time and did so within a gift economy and invited me to participate in a group healing ceremony supported by the tribe in the Amazon. He gave us all a protocol of how to prepare for for three weeks, which I followed. Two days before the ceremony, he said he had new information and changed some things, which I found strange. My husband said he had a bad feeling, but I still trusted the man. I got a sign there was danger ahead, and I felt shaken but kept going. The ceremony changed again the night it took place. At one point, the so-called shaman stood over me menacingly while I was laying on the floor, yelled at me and called me names. I told him I found the behaviour abusive, but I never heard from him again and did not see him after that. When I wrote the couple running a school for shamans in the Southwestern U.S. who recommended him on their website, they said that he had lost his mind, that he was threatening them and they were scared of him, and that putting his information on their website was not an endorsement. I later realised that the tribe was split in their support for his doing that ceremony within their lineage, with their healing tools, away from their land and culture, and that my own cultural heritage was so filled with conflict that I was able to provide the group with a reflection of this problem he was denying. What a messy, valuable lesson he gave me. Here are some less extreme examples of cultural appropriation I have experienced:

  • People charging money for community healing ceremonies traditionally offered within a gift economy or by donation, and/or facilitating ceremonies without integrity:
    • e.g. for a sweat lodge: charging a fixed fee, failing to configure the fire and lodge correctly, failing to honour the land and lineage ancestors, failing to clear the space and clean up the lodge before doing another ceremony
    • e.g. calling oneself a spiritual counsellor in a modern city and charging $100/hour without any formal counselling training or supervision from another counsellor
  • People of mixed cultural heritage identifying with only one ancestral blood lineage,  denying their own complex wholeness, then projecting that dissociation onto others whom they are supposedly offering healing to:
    • e.g. studying curanderoismo healing with someone from rural Mexico and identifying as an indigenous Aztec healer when the person did not know one of their birth parents, grew up in one U.S. state, and lived in another U.S. state.
    • e.g. identifying only as an oppressed African-American, indigenous or Jewish person without acknowledging other blood lineages and cultural heritages

heartheal.jpegI have a lot of compassion for the messiness of embodying Earth Ethos in modern multicultural cities. This is my life! And it is hard, messy work. It’s important to give ourselves and each other grace and trust that we all do our best. For a beautiful story from someone of mixed cultural heritage about honouring all of her complex heritage, read this by Lyla June. (Image from here.)

Since I have learned much of this stuff the hard way, I offer you the following suggestions of what to consider when seeking spiritual healing:

  • Intention & Identity
    • How do YOU see your role and identity in healing work done within the context of a human relationship? Are you looking for practical tools? Emotional support? Plant medicine? Ceremonial healing? A spiritual elder? Escapism? Adventure? Gratification of curiousity about an ‘other’ culture?
    • How does the other person see their role? Do they call themselves a healer or shaman? Do they say they are healing you? Channeling healing energy? Facilitating healing? Holding space? Offering medicine? Helping you connect with your inner higher self? How does the other person identify themself?
  • Cosmology & Culture
    • What cosmology/cosmologies do you embody? What perspectives and beliefs do you want to learn more about and bring into your life? To let go of? How do you relate safely to people with different cosmologies and/or cultures?
    • Is the other person’s cosmology related to (a) specific culture(s) or lineage(s)? How do you relate to the other person’s cosmology? What ancestry does the person have?
  • Place & Form
    • What physical place supports your healing (e.g. a sweat lodge, therapist’s office, church pew, a home, etc.)? Is the place relevant to the culture or lineage on which the work is based, or has it been adapted to your context in some way? What form supports your healing (e.g. talking and listening, music, dance, energy work, laying of hands, artistic expression, etc.)?
    • Where is the person willing to meet with you, and what forms of support are available? How does the person honour multiculturalism, modern places and forms? What cultural and place-based relationships does the person bring? If the person is working within a specific cultural context, how has the person received those teachings?

 

The Red Road

The concept of the Red Road comes from Westerner’s attempting to understand the way indigenous cultures of North America structure their lives and see the world, though I havehopiroadoflife heard people who identify with a North American tribe use the term too. (If you are not familiar with the concept of a medicine wheel, read this post first.) Consider the example of the Red Road from the Hopi who live in the Southwestern U.S. Look at the medicine wheel is in the centre alongside da Vinci’s re-drawing of the Vitruvian man. The belly down to the feet maps onto the lower world coloured in black which represents Mother Earth, the sacred feminine. I estimate the proportion of the Red Road in this lower world is about 80%. This means focusing 80% of our time and energy on standing up for our values, exploring the mystical side of life, and nourishing and expressing our creative energies. 

vitruvian.pngLiterally, this means keeping our hips open, our legs strong, and our bare or grounded feet firmly planted on the Earth. We talk about having our carbon footprints, but what about our physical ones? I practice walking so respectfully and gently that I imagine my feet are kissing Mother Earth with gratitude with each step. My respect is shown through wearing flat, primarily leather-soled shoes, as well as through the act of stepping. Consider how to walk silently and softly with fox walking, and compare those movements with how you normally walk through the world. (Here’s another video to help you practice fox walking.) Aside from yoga or pilates classes, I find most of us pay very little attention to how we physically move through the world. To be honest, I cringe when I see people walk in stiletto-like heels because it looks to me like they are stabbing Mother Earth. I also feel pain when people are very heavy-footed, because it looks like they are punching Mother Earth with each step.

Metaphorically, as one indigenous scholar describes it:

Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.

The path of the Red Road is mostly felt and sensed, and includes the mystery, magic, and miracles that arise through following signs and seeking synchronicities. It is more bottom-up than top-down, more grassroots than executive-led. Someone who walks the Red Road is more likely to be described as determined than headstrong. It reminds me of the Lakota morning prayer ‘Today is a good day to die”, which embodies living fully in the moment. In such a state, we harbour no regrets and are able to even let go into physical death if that is what is asked. It is being so attuned that there’s little to think through, life magically and consistently emerges and we are so allowing that living is like watching beautiful flowers blossom over and over again.Indigenous-Flag-RS.jpg

 

There is wisdom in the colour red, with some universal meanings present across cultures, such as: primal and sexual energy, blood and ancestry, fire and passion, and physical earth or clay. I am reminded of the colours of the Australian Aboriginal flag, with red representing Mother Earth, black representing Aboriginal people walking on Her, and the sun representing the creative life-giving energy connecting the people and the land. (Image from here.) I am similarly reminded of a current affairs story in Canada of an indigenous minister who resigned due to unethical political pressure from the prime minister, and another minister who resigned in solidarity. I find it apt these women chose to dress in black and red together as they took this historical stand. (Article about it and image from here.)

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Exercise: Regret is a grief about something left undone. When we are em-bodied there is nothing to re-member because we are living in the moment on the Red Road. Think of a regret. Is that dream still viable and important to you? If so, can you take a step towards fulfilling it and make a commitment to continuing on that path? If not, can you make time to grieve the loss of the dream and let it go, perhaps through some sort of ritual, so you can move on and allow new creative energy to flow?

Calendars, Seasons & Cycles

There are four types of calendars:

  • A lunisolar calendar follows both the cycles of the moon and sun. Because the days, weeks and months are fixed, holy-days determined by the lunar cycle fall on different calendar days each year. (e.g. Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, and pre-Christian Germanic tribes)
  • solar calendar like the Gregorian and Julian ones we are most familiar with follows the cycle of the sun only. It tends to be used by agricultural cultures. (e.g. Christian, Berber, Tamil, Bengali, and the French Republican calendar)
  • mooncalendar.jpgA lunar calendar follows the cycle of the moon only and may have 12 or 13 months in honour of the number of moons in a year. (e.g. Islam, Igbo & Yoruba of Nigeria)
  • A seasonal calendar is based on elemental (earth, air, fire, water), floral (plant) and faunal (animal) patterns throughout a year. The number and types of seasons are dependent on specific places, so even tribes near each other may have different seasons if their land has a river that floods during a “wet” time, or if an animal migrates through their land at a specific time of year. (e.g. Aboriginal Australians)

You may think that four seasons a year has been standard in European cultures, but the old Norse calendar had only two: summer began in mid-October, and winter in mid-April. The “Wheel of the Year” is a common calendar used by modern-day pagans of European ancestry and is based on the equinoxes and solstices, and the half-way moments between them to mark changes of a four-season calendar. The images below are of Heathen (modern-day Germanic and Norse pagan) and Celtic pagan calendars. If you are in the Southern hemisphere and wish to honour this calendar, Glenys of Pagaian Cosmology translates it so your celebrations are seasonally appropriate.

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There are many ways of acknowledging seasons and cycles because of the diversity of environments, traditions and beliefs that influence a culture. The term “pagan” may make you think of someone in pre-Christian Europe who worships multiple gods, but it actually refers to people who are “fixed or fastened” to the land, i.e. villagers and country folk. In other words, pagans are people who have not yet experienced cultural genocide and disconnection from their ancestral homelands and whose culture is indigenous to, or rooted in, a specific environment and place. Aboriginal Australians offer us a reminder of how all humans once lived “fastened” in sacred connection with our environments:

(Clip from here.)

Exercise: Wherever you live, consider how to describe a seasonal calendar in your area. You may want to use the image below as a blank canvas, and an Aboriginal seasonal calendar as an example. Consider how this may be different to the environment and seasonal calendar of your blood ancestors from another land. Consider how you might honour this knowledge in your life today. (Image from here.)

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