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The Archetypes of Bullying

Blog by Lukas

In her PhD Justice is Healing: An Indigenous Approach to Sexual Trauma, Valerie describes three main roles in violence: victim, offender, and bystander. In my view, it is vital for us to look at where we play these roles in various aspects of our life, with special attention given to looking at how these energies manifest internally. Internal versions of these energies may manifest in concert with each other, for examples as our psyche offends against itself in its own presence as a bystander.Triad

Often, too, there are pairs of internal-external energies, for example one’s internal bully manifesting as a tendency to blame others externally, or a tendency to blame oneself internally manifesting as a tendency to offend against others. In this way I would see the bystander role as a dissociative state internally, that could manifest as any one of the three on the outside with dissociation from the impact. 

These roles are also evident across social strata, where whole groups of people play different roles, internally and externally, resulting in cultural forms of violence like oppression, domination, submissiveness, and lateral-violence, which is when an oppressed group turns against itself.

This blog came together by thinking about what we can learn from looking at victim-offender-bystander triad on an individual or small group level that might be useful for some of the larger and more intractable societal and cultural issues.

Through lived experience I am deeply familiar with the dynamics of schoolyard bullying so I chose this the small group context to explore. In this case the victim/offender/bystander triad are a substrate — kind of like building blocks but without defined boundaries — from which the archetypical personas emerge. 

The archetypes are as follows:

1. The Ringleader.

ヴェネチアはくらんかい! - 願わくば 背中合わせに 音楽を。【旧館】This is the person with the most social power, both within their group and across groups. The Ringleader commonly lacks classic “excuses” for their behaviour, and usually comes from a relatively “good” and “stable” home. They often evade punishment if teachers don’t go for a full root and branch investigation of bullying, as they are masters at having others do the dirty work. They are primarily driven by a deep-seated greed for power and control, their inner victim being the delusion that this brings fulfilling or lasting joy to life. (Image from here.)

2. The Casual Bully

The Casual Bully has a fairly safe (on the surface!) social existence that enables them to live above the fray most of the time. They’ll participate in the bullying sporadically, usually on those more “zero sum” occasions when to not do so would be testament to supporting the victim. They are usually friends with the Ringleader and have a fear driven desire to remain that way, as it makes them “cool”.  Their inner world is similar to the Ringleader, but for whatever reason they are not as desirous for that level of power, or don’t posses the social skills to get it.  

3. The Bystanders

Similar to the Casual Bully but they aren’t necessarily friends with the Ringleader, or anywhere near as greedy. They are content with a degree of social safety that puts them above the fray, and will stand back almost all of the time. They’ll seldom harass the victims overtly, but may do so in more subtle and insidious ways when it suits them. They won’t support victims (which of course contributes to the victim’s sense of isolation) because this would risk their social standing.

Their inner world can be highly varied, possessing varying degrees of envy of Ringleaders, contempt for Bully Victims, and perhaps even some shame at their own passive support of the social hierarchy.

4. The Henchman

Henchmen are critical to the Ringleader’s power. They are often recognisably disadvantaged. Maybe they came from a struggling home and wear tattered clothing, or maybe they are a bit overweight or have acne. The Henchman will receive an almost constant mild, though carefully executed, stream of bullying from Ringleaders and Casual Bullies. The “carefully executed” part is because a good Henchman will usually posses a weapon even the Ringleader wants to avoid. Maybe they are big and capable of violence, or maybe they just generally have a crazy streak to them that needs careful taming.

J's henchmen - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon ...The Henchmen are the bane of any true bullying victim’s life, dishing out most of the torment at the behest or with the support of the Ringleader. They are often quite dissociated emotionally and act without shame, which is both part of their resilience, and what makes them very dangerous.

Sometimes there is a sense of the Ringleader archetype being totally absent, leaving a hierarchy of Henchmen, where you might have a chief Henchman acting as a Ringleader of sorts. In this case you might think of the true Ringleader being forces outside the school. (Image from here.)

5. The Bully Victim

This archetype has a lot of overlap with the Henchman, but there are some key differences. Henchman are outwardly tougher than Bully Victims, often because their early childhood years or home life were rough. A Bully Victim on the other hand does not have this kind of resilience, weapons, or obvious “excuses”. They often feel intense shame about their predicament.

Bully Victims are often the group those higher up the chain take the most joy from belittling and humiliating. It does not come with the guilt of bullying a Victim, as the Bully Victim is often seen as “having it coming”. 

Pathetic

It can be hard not to see the Bully/Victim as the most pathetic specimen of all. Most people have trouble having compassion for them, including the teachers. They get bullied almost constantly, but have this delusion that there might be a way for them to get on the good side of the Ringleader and rise back up the social 

ladder. Unfortunately this delusion has them humiliating themselves in various ways for the sadistic entertainment of Ringleaders and co. or by bullying someone else, either another Bully Victim or a Victim (see below). The balance of offender and victim energies will often vary over time, giving them moments of seemingly more power and intense falls from social graces. (Image from here.)

6. The Victim

The true Victim has little social power (within the hierarchy) and knows it. They are under few delusions. In your typical school the Victim might come from a minority group or have some kind of obvious physical disability or hardship. Life is hard for the Victim, but on the flip side, their clear-eyed appraisal of their situation means they are likely to form protective bonds with other Victims. With just a little support from teachers (increasingly the case in the modern world), they can be protected, which most schools these days at least have the intention to do. The flip side of a Victim accepting their fate of course can be a willingness to put off the fight when perhaps it was needed, or rely on Helpers (see below) too much for protection. 

The Ringleaders are increasingly careful in a modern school yard not to give Victims direct attention as it is riskier (teachers notice more), and besides, the Victim’s acceptance of their situation means they don’t provide much entertainment. Instead it is the social dynamic setup below the Ringleader that does the job for them. 

On some occasions and perhaps increasingly so, a canny Ringleader will publicly shame a Henchmen or Bully Victim for bullying a Victim as a means of virtue signalling, and deflect attention away from their own sadistic behaviour.

Victims usually have the most contempt and/or pity for Bully Victims, and fear of Henchmen. Wiser victims do know that the root of their ills are people higher up the ladder, but they often don’t know what do about that. Seeing a Bully Victim or Henchman get punished can quench that thirst and give a sense of justice but leave long term insidious patterns inherent within the hierarchy unaddressed.

7. The Helpers

The Helpers are the school yard saviours and are an increasingly common archetype. The Helpers make it their mission to defend Victims from Henchman and love to pick on Bully Victims, who due to their relatively privileged background compared to a Henchman, are low hanging fruit for punishment. Bully Victims are susceptible to intense shame, and often clash with Helpers.
Saviour

A Helper likes to convert Casual Bullies and recruit people they see as Bystanders, and it is usually from the ranks of these groups that they emerge. They might even poke the bear of the Ringleader once in while though not often, as even this can be beyond their fear threshold. Helpers are often blind to the hierarchies within their ranks, and to the ways in which their righteous defense of Victims can be a form of bullying. They are hard on themselves inside, which is of course one of their main motivations for doing what they do. (Image from here.)

8. The Forgotten

Very similar to a Victim, but not as visible. Their predicament often goes unnoticed by everyone, and manifests more as isolation and invisibling.

I spent most of my early high-school years between the age of 12 and 15 primarily as a Bully Victim. I have learnt a lot about my internal world by reflecting on the fact that I can so clearly recall the times when I bullied people, whereas much of the time I spent on the receiving end disappears into a minimising morass. This tells me that I have tended to bully myself inside, terribly, and thus take some of this out on others, but also accept my being bullied as somehow being what I deserve. The more I bullied others, the more I felt “deserving” of punishment, which reinforced my internal bullying, and round and round it went/goes. What I did have was a natural inclination to look holistically at things, which has been both a blessing and an incredible burden in my life. And whilst it did lead to my Ringleaders-in-Chief getting a few literal black eyes, I always received a lot of attention. I was never quiet, whether bullying or being bullied.

Many research papers over the years have sought to understand the impact of school yard bullying on mental health. Some more recent ones showed clearly that compared with people who are more purely offenders and victims, the Bully Victim has the highest correlation with depression, anxiety and ADHD[1] (me on all counts), as well as suicidal ideation[2]. Bullies (Ringleaders, Casual Bullies and Henchmen) and victims also had poorer mental health than people considered “not involved”, but not as bad a Bully Victims. Bystanders, or witnesses to bullying also fared worse than those who supposedly had not witnessed anything, showing that even peripheral exposure to violence can be traumatizing. It also shows me again the extent to which the Helper persona is a self—protection mechanism as much as it is something that comes from deep inner power and benevolence.

The conclusion of the papers was of course for anti-bullying efforts to ensure they give attention to the wellbeing of bullies as well as victims.  When it comes to compassion for “offenders”, this is part of a trend where society seems to be starting with the low hanging fruit of children even if we can’t yet manage it for adults.

Shadow - Wikipedia
In closing, I have found it really enlightening, and indeed fun to apply these archetypes to the various groups and social strata in society, particularly a modern Western colonial one. It is critical to remember that people can embody more than one of these different archetypes as well as the substrate energies (victim, offender bystander) both internally and externally, both visibly and invisibly. (Image from here.)

Exercise: What do you think? Did I miss any school bullying archetypes? What societal groups would you align with which school yard bullying archetypes?

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24920001/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23790197/

 

Reciprocity & the Resentment-Denial Dance

This week I am moving through some grief. I had known that a friendship would end had been observing it fade away for a while, and I was hoping it would just fade and drift gracefully into nothingness, but that was not what occurred. Not only was there a calling out of disrespectful behaviour that resulted in denial, blame, and spite being projected onto me, but following that was additional denial about the state of the relationship. I felt resentment that my former friend was so in denial that she needed me to explicitly spell out that we had already co-created the ending of our relationship, and this resulted in even more blame and spite being projected onto me. What a mess of pain we were in.

It reminded me of Torres Islander writer Nonie Sharp‘s concepts of mateship and in-mateship, where in-mateship creates feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, denial. She says that the very presence of superiority creates shame, and a fear of shame causes people to oscillate between seeking revenge and prestige, resulting in psychic bullying, social violence, and denying reciprocity; if you judge someone as an inmate, you control & define social and existential boundaries. I see this as narcissistic…

lotusIn processing this resentment, I realised that when there is a lack/denial of reciprocity in a relationship, we dance between resentment and denial — resentment within the person who feels stifled/unseen because the other person isn’t holding them in wholeness, and lack/denial/not good enough within the other person who feels cut off from their wholeness (and may or may not want to heal that rift inside themself). Those of us who live with an Earth Ethos embody a knowing that we are all interconnected, and we are not lost playing out myths of superiority and inferiority based on existential judgement.

In some people’s minds I “cut off” this friend, but I have not experienced this. I can no more cut her off than I can cut off the air I breathe; she has become part of me and the space she has in my heart and mind will remain throughout my life in a linear sense of time, and is always there in a nonlinear sense of time. Thoughts and feelings related to her will emerge, and I will pray and send love and feel pain whether we are actively engaged in our relationship or not. It was and it is, and through time and space relationships move through various forms, or trans-form.

Reciprocity is a core Earth Ethos value. As Potowatami writer Robin Wall Kimmerer says:

In the old times, individuals who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counselled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished… It is a terrible punishment to be banished from the web of reciprocity, with no one to share with you and no one for you to care for.

My view is that such punishment/banishment on a mass scale underlies the current mainstream Western culture and results in the extreme levels of narcissistic wounding we are witnessing. Aboriginal writer Tyson Yunkaporta explains:

In Dreaming stories, Emu is often a narcissist who damages social relationships. These stories teach us about the protocols for living sustainably, and warn us about unsustainable behaviours. The basic protocols of Aboriginal society, like most societies, include respecting and hearing all points of view…Narcissists demand this right, then refuse to allow other points of view…They destroy the basic social contracts of reciprocity (which allow people to build a reputation of generosity based on sharing to ensure ongoing connectedness and support), shattering these frameworks of harmony with a few words…They apply double standards and break down systems of give and take until every member of a social group becomes isolated, lost in a Darwinian struggle for power and dwindling resources that destroys everything…

Australian Indigenous Astronomy: July 2011Yet in Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the Emu is so highly regarded that people traditionally organised their lives around following the wisdom of the Dark Emu in the sky, which is the constellation of darkness within the Milky Way. The image is from here and shows the Dark Emu during one season of the year, and corresponding rock carving honouring the Emu in Sydney.

Something that I continually find challenging in embodying reciprocity is moving through a world where so many people around me believe in individuality and are lost in saviour complexes that convince them they are working for the collective good. I live on land my ancestors are not indigenous to, and I do not yet know what lands my mother’s family is interconnected with. And when I move through the dance of denial and resentment in an intimate relationship, it helps to remember that once I fully see the Dark Emu I will be wiser and more capable of orienting myself in my centre; and as this unfolds, it helps to have compassion and keep strong in my convictions of the worthiness of this healing journey, as Rumi reminds me. Wuradjuri healer Randal Ross said that we don’t realise how free we are until we see that freedom disintegrate; and I feel that correspondingly, those of us who have been abused and denied are re-membering how free we are through calling it out with compassion and creating healthy, whole lives in the midst of collective wounding.

Exercise: Consider this Robin Wall Kimmerer quote and how you might apply it in your life: “Restoration is imperative for healing the earth, but reciprocity is imperative for long lasting, successful restoration… We restore the land, and the land restores us…The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart…For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend[] on it.”

Earth Ethos child development

Some studies of newborns suggest that humans’ most fundamental need is to be part of a culture, to engage with their social environment and try to make sense of their surroundings. It can be helpful to conceptualise culture as a “cognitive orientation” instead of dividing people into racial or ethnic groups (Brubaker et. al, 2004), because “the most significant features of any child’s environment are the humans with whom they establish close relationships” who these days are often multi-cultural (Woodhead, 2005). Raising children is a process by which “we try to achieve cultural goals and well-being for ourselves and our children,” through pathways “determined by cultural activities organised into routines of everyday life” (Weisner, 1998). Children learn cultural models of living through relationships with parents, close kin and social institutions, during which time their young minds develop interdependently within their cultural context. This graphic shows elements of Yolgnu (Australia) child-rearing:

The developmental niche theory provides a framework for connecting culture with childrearing (Super & Harkness, 1994). A child’s physical and social settings, cultural customs of childcare, and psychology of caretakers form a “developmental niche”, and the eco-cultural niche theory identifies five areas of child development: (1) health and mortality; (2) food and shelter; (3) the people likely to be around children and what they are doing; (4) the role of women and mothers as primary caretakers; and (5) available alternatives to cultural norms (Harkness & Super, 1983). Some years ago I worked with social worker Amy Thompson to develop the following model:

childdevelopment.png

In modern Western culture, there’s a lot that is broken, out of balance, and unwell. To intervene in any of the bubbles above will alter a child’s (or inner child’s) cultural identity and autonomy. And there’s a lot of wisdom in Indigenous childrearing.

A Love Letter To My Mother on ThanksgivingUnlike the paternalistic culture many of us are familiar with, Earth Ethos parenting respects children’s agency. Autonomy is the freedom “to follow one’s own will” (Oxford English Dictionary). It’s important to note that autonomy is not the same as agency, or a child’s capacity for intentional, self-initiated behaviour. In “central Africa children are trained to be autonomous from infancy. They are taught to throw spears and fend for themselves. By age three they are expected to be able to feed themselves and subsist alone in a forest if need be” (quoted in Rogoff, 2003). Aka Pygmy children in Africa have access to the same resources as adults, whereas in the U.S. there are many adults-only resources that are off-limits to kids, and Among the Martu people of Western Australia, the worst offence is to impose on a child’s will, even if that child is only three years old” (Diamond, 2012). Yet Western children tend lack much autonomy and agency until they turn 18. One scholar suggests that four main ideas have shaped Western civilisation’s parenting practices:

  1. The young child is naturally wild and unregulated, and development is about socialising children to their place within society (e.g. Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1699);
  2. The young child is naturally innocent, development is fostered by protecting the innocence and providing freedom to play, learn and mature (e.g. Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778);
  3. The young child is a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate, development is a critical time for laying the foundations that will enable children to reach their potential (e.g. John Locke, 1632-1704);
  4. The young child is shaped by nurture and nature, development is an interaction between potential and experience (e.g. Emmanuel Kant, 1724-1804) (Woodhead, 2005).

European American (mostly middle class) mothers have been extensively studied, and their parenting practices dominate popular culture and academic literature, yet a study across twelve countries found their beliefs and behaviours abnormal in an international context (Woodhead, 2005).  Common conflicts between Western and other cultures were:

  1. Emphasis on the individual versus emphasis on the family;
  2. Autonomy versus interdependence;
  3. Youth culture versus respect for elders;
  4. Unisex versus gender differences;
  5. Individualism versus communal; and
  6. Competition versus cooperation (Friedman).

In most Indigenous cultures child development is not led by parents but is seen to naturally emerge through a network of kinship care. Children are seen as autonomous and encouraged to learn through experience rather than explicit instruction and rules (Sarche et. al, 2009). Parents avoid coercion and corporeal punishment, instead using storytelling and role modelling to discipline. This teaches natural consequences and allows parents to avoid imposing punishment. For example, this article shares a story of a preventive parenting practice by which an Inuit mother who asks her two-year-old son to throw rocks at her on the beach. He hits her leg, and she says, “Ow! That hurts!” to show him the consequence of hitting someone. And even if he kept throwing rocks after she showed the pain it caused, traditional Inuit still do not yell at children: “yelling at a small child [is seen] as demeaning. It’s as if the adult is having a tantrum; it’s basically stooping to the level of the child.” Child attachment differs from Western culture as well:

It isn’t just about attachment to the mother or the biological parents, but attachment to all of my relations. Practices and ceremonies were meant to build attachments to all parts of the community and the natural world, including the spirit world.–Kim Anderson, Métis (Canada)

Winter Medicine for Rooting Down and Healing Burn Out

An Anishinabe (Canada) woman explains the development of her attachment to Country through bush socialisation:

The absence of fences, neighbors and physical boundaries led way for the natural curiosities of a child to grow and be nurtured…I learnt to search for food, wood, plants, medicines and animals. Trees provided markers; streams, rivers and lakes marked boundaries, plants indicated location, and all this knowledge I developed out of just being in the bush…My bush socialization has taught me to be conscious of my surroundings, to be observant, to listen and discern my actions from what I see and hear. Elements of the earth, air, water and sun have taught me to be aware and move through the bush accordingly. (Image from here)

Ceremony is modelled from a young age. In this video, a Yolgnu (Australia) boy is barely walking and already learning traditional dances to connect with his community and his ancestors, and by the end of the video at age 7 is participating in a funeral dance:

This medicine wheel from a childrearing manual for First Nations Canadians further demonstrates that in an Earth Ethos, children are seen as autonomous and interconnected, and shown how to live in balance with all my relations.

relationshipwheel

Exercise: What parenting perspective or childrearing practice would you like to improve in your life? Using suggestions from this post, researching on your own, or your own insight and intuition, what step could you take today to move further towards balance?

 

Boundaries & integrity

There’s a lot of rhetoric about boundaries, and setting healthy boundaries, and crossing boundaries, but in essence, we’re talking about integrity, or wholeness. From google, the etymology of integrity is:

When we are in integrity, we are boundaried. We do need to assert our boundaries at times, but most of the time they just are and don’t require work or thought. I find asserting boundaries arises quite involuntarily and naturally–if someone stomps on my foot, I say OW! or HEY! without thinking; and if someone is behaving disrespectfully repeatedly (3 times for me), my voice usually rises in volume and the words emerging from my mouth become harsher.

Boundaries and Confidentiality - ppt download

I see a lot of confusion around boundaries, and a lot of misguided effort to “set” them resulting in drama, mind games, and power plays. We can’t bypass healing through intellectual knowing. I see people deny themselves healing opportunities with justifications like “they know better” or they “don’t deserve” the pain they’re feeling.

Deserving has nothing to do with it; that’s a victim mentality that’s totally disempowering. And pretending we know better than to walk through the experiences life is presenting is an arrogant way to avoid reality. If you’re carrying pain or emotional charge, take the opportunity to free yourself by experiencing the pain fully, healing, and embodying its medicine. Boundaries will flow through your healing process the more you trust; you will realise when you are called to walk through an ordeal, which battles are not yours, and ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’ will flow.

In the medicine wheel, it’s easiest to agree on physical boundaries and integrity, though concepts such as consent and personal space differ by individual and culture. Spiritual integrity bounded by our faith, beliefs, and ritual and ceremonial practices, at individual and cultural levels. Emotional integrity has to do with self-knowledge and expressing our feelings fully in honest, healthful ways. Many people find psychological boundaries challenging to maintain, and many of us don’t think about psychological integrity because we are so used to our super busy minds. The more contemplation/meditation, grounding, and ancestral trauma healing work I do, the more integrous and embodied I become, and the lighter and more prescient my thoughts are.

TOO BUSY FUNNY QUOTES image quotes at hippoquotes.com

Traumas in our lineages, lives, and on our lands disconnect us from integrity, and we carry a lot of that trauma in our minds. Everyday tasks such as buying groceries can feel like minefields. Are we buying organic? local? from exploited workers? plastic packaging? We are all indigenous to this Earth and can experience profound interconnection and belonging with ourselves, other people, plants and animals, and even landforms.

Paul Young, a medicine man in Sydney, suggests a three-step healing model for mental integrity: (1) de-colonise and increase receptivity, (2) culturally strengthen and ground, and (3) alter your state to experience indigenous inter-connection through ceremony, meditation, prayer, etc. Similarly, in a conversation with Dr. Apela Colorado last week she suggested a healing process based on contemplating the following three questions:

  1. What were your traditional cultural ceremonies?
  2. How did you lose them?
  3. What losses do you need to process to stop perpetuating colonisation?

Exercise: What does integrity mean to you (spiritual, emotional, physical & psychological)? How would you start to answer Apela Colorado’s questions? Consider your answers in light of this quote from a Rwandan man:

“We had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”

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?

 

 

 

 

Deep Grounding/Earthing

I’ve written about ways to integrate earthing/grounding into everyday life, but what’s come up recently is how to take that to a deeper level through ritual or ceremony. If you are an immigrant, or your ancestors were within the last 7 generations (depending how you define a generation), then your connection with land is energetically split between the land where you live, the land(s) of your blood ancestry, and land(s) where you have lived or otherwise feel a strong connection with. Indigenous people who are deeply connected with specific lands and places have a strength and purity of connection with the land that is quite powerful. As one Anglo-Australian writer put it:

In my own experiences with original Australians who are deeply connected to country, I have felt that they are so grounded it’s almost as if the land itself is listening to you, through them.

For those of us who do not have such a depth of connection with land where we live, we can still drop into spaces of earth energy flowing through us when we’re deeply grounded wherever we are. This work heals the places we live now, as well as places we’re connected with through our ancestry. Given all the wars and violence on land in Europe, for example, we can help heal that land from America or Australia while not asking it to physically support us.

There are many rituals and ceremonies to deepen our relationship with the Earth. Here are a few that I have found to be powerful tools:

  • Create an outdoor altar and leave offerings of gratitude to the Earth, a tree, stream, rock, landform, tree grove, tree stump–the options are endless.
    • You can symbolically bury power objects to represent something you wish to heal or ground an energy in your life. You can also hang prayers on ribbons or flags or with chimes or bells so the wind spreads your prayers far and wide. Buddhist prayer trees use wind in this way. buddhistprayertree
    • Note: A maypole is an outdoor altar, and so is an outdoor Christmas tree, but once you cut or pot it and bring it inside, you are honouring a tree for giving you its life, which is different to you being generous and honouring the Earth. (Images are from uncredited images on pinterest, and from here.) 
  •  Without creating an altar, you can build a relationship with a place, tree, rock, etc.
    • Pick a place you regularly visit and start to build a relationship. Like building a relationship with a person, this requires giving of yourself and takes time.
    • For example, there is a grove of trees in a park near my home that I felt drawn to a couple months ago. Once a week or so, I go say hi. I either literally say hello to each tree, nod and direct my gaze at each one in turn, or stand at each tree and put my hand on the trunk and take a breath. I stay there for a while and meditate to see what messages and insights they want to share with me, and I psychically share some messages or prayers with them. I also leave offerings, such as flowers or crystals at their base or tucked into their bark, or I do a dance or sing a song, or I leave something of myself that is useful such as my urine or or spit, which brings me to the next example.
  • Share of your body with the Earth, a tree, plant, rock, etc.
    • Sharing may involve simply dancing barefoot) outdoors. Your feet drumming into the Earth and your body performing for a place is a beautiful way to do a ritual or ceremony to deepen your connection with a place. You can try deep breathing to start, let go, and see what movements the Earth inspires your feet to do. You can add in chanting or drumming, but I suggest starting simple so you don’t get lost in your head and stick with a state of flow.
    • Your “waste” is literally fertiliser to many earthly beings. Your urine creates nitrogen-rich soil. Giving your spit may sound strange but with intention, it is a way to physically leave a piece of yourself, and can feel like a better energetic exchange if you are, for example, taking a piece of bark or leaves from a plant or tree.
    • bloodroseI have heard of many magick menstrual rituals, but I prefer to honour the Earth by giving my blood to a flowering plant. This is a very powerful ritual women can do to ground menstrual energy as well as connect with the Earth. (Sorry, guys!) I have also heard of some fertility rituals where men ground their semen and symbolically plant their seeds in the Earth, but I have not tried this myself for obvious reasons! (Image from here.)
  • Do a burial ceremony in the Earth.
    • If you want to do something by yourself, or feel like trying a less intense ceremony, do a lower body burial ceremony.
      • First, choose a place for the ceremony, and ask the land if it’s okay to plant yourself there.
      • If it feels okay, then dig a hole big enough to plant your feet, or your feet and lower legs, into the Earth. Make sure you are barefoot so you feel what it is like to be grounded in that way, and pick a spot where you feel comfortable standing for a while like a tree or plant in the soil.
      • Try keeping your eyes open and closed, or do the ceremony at sunrise or sunset so you can experience the difference in natural light.
      • Do the ceremony somewhere with a view in the wilderness, and somewhere more urban like in your backyard, or in wet and sandy soil, and see how you feel being planted in different environments.
        • Last year, I received dream visions and moved to facilitate this ceremony at a sacred site whose traditional custodians welcome non-Aboriginal people to access the place respectfully, and it felt like ceremony to welcome my husband back home to Australia.
    • If you are called to do some deep body and Earth healing, an incredibly powerful ceremony is a full body burial. This is a death/rebirth ceremony that is timed with the cycle of the moon and ideally takes place at night. For this ceremony, you do need someone to support you. It is physically not possible nor safe to do alone. (Read this for one man’s experience.)burial.jpg
      • First, you and your support person/facilitator choose a place for the ceremony, leave offerings, and ask the land to support your healing. You may get a vision of a place to do the ceremony, or you may do it somewhere practical like a backyard.
      • Once you commit to the ceremony, you and your support person will start to receive guidance around timing and how to prepare yourself and the land. (Image from here.)
      • The day before or the day of the ceremony, you will dig a hole that is almost as big as a grave/cradle for your whole body, piling the dirt to one side.
      • When it is time for the ceremony, you will want to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and are a bit tight, unless you are okay with insects crawling underneath them! I have done this once wrapped in a blanket lying in the grave/cradle with dirt over me, and I have done it once just in clothes with dirt over me. I prefer the latter, because it feels more intimate.
      • Your support person will sit behind you so you do not see them, but they are able to watch you and hold space, and get you a drink of water, a hat or tissue if you need something like that. There may initially be prayers or music played for you, but most or all of the ceremony will be silent so you can go deep within yourself.
        • The first time I did this ceremony in the U.S., it was a very cold winter night with a waning moon (so emotions could be released/a death ceremony). Initially, I got images of my ancestors from Germany who had been fighting in World Wars, how many people they saw die, and how many of them died on the land. It was painful, and I cried. I then got images of my Jewish ancestors fleeing for their lives while their houses were being burned. It was scary, and my body shook and felt cold. Finally, I got images of Native Americans being slaughtered on the land where I was doing the ceremony. It was sad. My heart was heavy, and I sent them prayers. I lay underground for hours until my whole body was cold and numb and it felt like I was done. It was so deeply healing —  I had no idea I was carrying so much in my body even after years of doing other intense healing ceremonies!

Exercise: Inspired by this post, do something new to deepen your relationship with the Earth and the places around you!

 

 

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

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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.

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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?

 

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.