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Questioning Cosmology

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

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

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

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

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

Space Clearing

smokeWhen I have lived in big cities such as Mumbai and L.A. I would come home and wipe visible grime off my skin. But I also picked up a ton of invisible psychological, spiritual, and emotional grime, and we often forget about this. Imagine how many people’s thoughts are projected onto you each day, how many people’s and other animals’ emotions you pick up on, and how much spiritual energy (probably mostly negativity) you pick up too. When a friend asked an indigenous elder how cleansing worked, he said the smoke eats us. What that means to me is that the smoke literally eats away at all the energies we are carrying that are blocking us. These days the only serious cleanses of spaces we tend to do are fumigations with toxic chemicals for pest control. Yet cleansing our space is a simple way to shift our energy, lighten our loads, and literally make space for new blessings to flow into our lives. Hospitals, schools, cars and homes are all very different spaces when we release the myriad of projections and energy patterns that build up in them! (Image from here.)

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In indigenous cultures, purification with smoke is often referred to as smudging. Plants chosen for burning carry symbolism for a culture and are local to a place. Native Americans burn tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass and sage. Palo santo wood is burned in the Amazon. Aboriginals in Australia burn acacia, eucalyptus, paperbark and treefern (Guédon, 2000). Plants are burned to symbolise the purification of a space for healing. This reminds us of the sacredness of life and helps us be in the present moment. In Tiwa language of the American Southwest, the word “nah-meh-nay” refers to land, which means “the self that purifies” (Rael, 1998, p. 29). (Image from here.)

Clearing a space by burning incense, plants, or resin is done for similar reasons in many Christian, Buddhist and other religious and medicinal traditions. Scientific studies investigating herbs used by indigenous cultures suggest that smudging may cleanse bacteria from the air (See e.g. Nautiyal, Chauhan, & Nene, 2007; Mohagheghzadeh, Faridi, Shams-Ardakani & Ghasemi, 2006). In fact, as recently as during WWI, rosemary was burned in hospitals for cleansing a space.

In an Earth Ethos, we clear space by working with the four elements (earth, air, fire, water). To honour the earth element, we use incense, herbs, plants or resin; to honour the fire we light it; to honour the air we allow the smoke to spread throughout the space; and to honour water we spritz it (often mixed with an essential oil or infused with an herb or flower) around the space to finish. When cleansing a space, it is important to set an intention that everything unnecessary/not yours be released. Feel free to use specific prayers if you follow a certain tradition. While plants, trees and flowers have unique strengths that herbalists know, using something you feel intuitively drawn to or that you have a relationship with already (like you have grown it in your garden for a while), will strengthen the cleanse. For example, sage is commonly sold and used to cleanse a space, but it is traditionally used not to cleanse a space, but to create sacred space before a ceremony (Mary Shutan, 2018)

bathBefore you cleanse the space outside of you, it is important to smudge your body and walk through a spritz of the water you will use so you are as clear as the room! A full body smudge is often done in the shape of a cross going along one arm across the chest to the other, up above the head and down to the feet, and then the same around the back of the body. For a more thorough bodily cleanse, consider a mindful bathing/cleansing ritual. Spiritual bathing, whether just in pure water or with additional herbs or minerals, is an ancient practice of purification done across cultures and religious traditions. It takes the form of baths, steams, saunas, hot spring soaks, and sweat lodges. Science has shown that the skin is our largest organ, so it helps keep us healthy on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels to cleanse it in an intentional, ritual way. A simple and effective bath you at home is adding salt to bathwater, along with a spoonful of non-piped-in water such as collected rainwater, seawater, or water from a nearby lake or river to strengthen the power of the water. This blog has useful basic information about spiritual bathing. And if you don’t have a bathtub (which I didn’t in my previous apartment), it’s amazing what a weekly saltwater/essential oil intentional foot soak can clear!

Unless you have a lot of stuck energy in your life, or there has been a lot of arguing or pain in your space or your body, a once a month spiritual house cleanse and once a week spiritual body cleanse should be sufficient (Mary Shutan, 2018). It’s a small ask that can deliver big results. 

Exercise: Clear your space and cleanse your body with a spiritual bathing ritual. Even better, do regular rituals for a few months, and see how it improves your life’s flow!

 

 

Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being & Doing

When walking the medicine wheel in everyday life, we choose where to place our focus. The lower world, the invisible, felt world of Mother Earth is a metaphor for our state of being. Out of our state of being arises action in the physical, visible world of Father Sky. By focusing on our deepest values, we feel more solid, like a tree with a strong foundation in the Earth. By focusing on specific actions and situations, we feel more like an individual leaf that may be tossed about by a breeze. treebg

Using the Medicine Wheel as a metaphor for our life path shows us how this works. The concept of the Red Road and Black Road is distilled from numerous traditional tribal teachings of indigenous cultures of North America. The illustration below suggests how to walk the Red Road. Imagining a line drawn across the Medicine Wheel below shows that on the Red Road the majority of our focus is on the lower world of Mother Earth, on letting go. This means we are focusing on embodying our deepest values, such as compassion, empathy, grace, and kindness. It means we are regularly purifying ourselves individually and in community so that we deepen our ability to remain present. It also means that we trust that all of us on this planet are of innate value, that the Earth wants us here because we are being supported to live right now, and that we have gifts to share. Sometimes it takes leaps of faith to be willing to trust that we are valuable. We may get caught up in proving our worth through our intellect or actions. Most of us carry stories from the Old Testament of a God that asked us to do good actions to prove that we are worthy of living another year. When we are behaving this way, we are walking on the Black Road. We are focusing on actions and outcome, often justifying means that conflict with our most cherished values to reach certain ends, because we feel scared, overwhelmed, or confused.

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Many indigenous languages focus on action verbs and vowel sounds to embody this Red Road path. In this kind of thinking, there are fewer labels and fixed ways of being. I am not a noun called “Valerie” or “Cloud Clearer,” I am “Valerie-ing” and “Cloud Clearing” in every moment as I flow through the world. The avoidance of labels like “right” or “wrong” gives us space to exist no matter how we behave, or where we place our focus. Yet, if we choose to be on the Black Road, there are consequences. For example, if we don’t tell the truth, we are in a state of being untrustworthy and create shame. In modern Western culture, we often feel an expectation to have an opinion or respond to a question with an answer. We even talk over each other in spirited debates. On the other hand, to show respect for each person’s place, many indigenous cultures traditionally practiced deep listening in silence, only responding after more silence once the person finished speaking, to show that their words were considered first.

To walk the Red Road has much in common with A Course in Miracles. What we can dream up on our own pales in comparison to the miracles that can occur when we truly let go of resistance and allow our lives to flow. Sometimes we are so full of emotion, stories, and unprocessed past experiences, that what we need most is to create space. Crees teach seven ways of releasing negative emotion: crying, yelling, talking, sweating, singing, dancing, and praying (Ross, 1996). We also need practices to help us return to and retain states of being that we prefer. In my life, meditation is an invaluable daily practice in this regard. In meditation, I listen to my inner voices, practice compassion, honesty, and letting go, and create space so that miracles may occur.

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Exercise: Our hearts are for-giving and for-getting. What are you giving and getting in this moment? If it is painful, remember that you already survived it, and feeling it fully, expressing and releasing the emotion, is a courageous and freeing choice to let it go. May you enjoy the flow.

The Medicine Wheel

Indigenous cultures around the world are based on a philosophy of innate wholeness of all beings. The medicine wheel is the “essential metaphor for all that is” (Rael, 1998, p. 35). Walking the circle of the medicine wheel is a life path, and the medicine wheel in any physical form is a tool for learning, growth, and remaining in balance. A visual representation of the medicine wheel tends to be a circle divided into fourths (though some cultures such as in China and India divide the circle into five). There are many metaphors for the four parts of the circle, including: the four directions (north, east, south and west); the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall); the four times of day (morning, afternoon, evening and night); the four stages of life (infant, child, adult and elder); the four elements (earth, air, water and fire); and four aspects of being human (physical, spiritual, emotional and mental) (See e.g. Bell, 2014; Charbonneau-Dahlen, 2015; Dapice, 2006; Rael, 2015). The medicine wheel below in 2D is from the Hopi tribe of southwestern North America as an example of one culture’s symbolism for the wheel.

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To see the medicine wheel in 3D, imagine a central point below the ground, a point in the centre of the circle representing the heart that unites us all, and a central point above the ground. The portion of the medicine wheel above the ground represents Father Sky (aka Pachapapa), the visible parts of life, and the lower half of the medicine wheel represents Mother Earth (Pachamama), the invisible parts of life below the ground. Mother Earth is experienced through feeling and intuition; she is mysterious, a dark womb of life. One of Joseph Rael‘s teachings is that darkness is the purest form of light, because all colours come out of it. Mother Earth nourishes all of us who walk on her surface.

vitruvianWhat is outside the medicine wheel is without form, what we refer to as the unknown or the shadow, whereas inside the medicine are known aspects of a culture or individual’s world (Rael, 1998). Energy is constantly cycling in and out of the medicine wheel. In the Hopi medicine wheel some energy may enter in the North, the mental realm, and give us an idea: I forgot to brush my teeth. Then the energy moves into the East, the spiritual, where we give meaning to the idea: I might get a cavity. Then it moves to the South, the emotional, generating feelings based upon our meaning: Fear of cavity! Our feelings then move us into taking action in the West: going to the bathroom and putting toothpaste on our brush. By expressing the energy, we move to the centre of the circle, the Heart, where we reconcile the energy and experience it in 3D as human lightning rods (or channels or hollow bones) connecting the Earth and Sky. To imagine the medicine wheel in 3D, consider da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian man, which is based on an indigenous Greek drawing.

All directions need to be in balance for us to live in well and be centred in our hearts. So the medicine wheel shows that each of us humans is a symbolic embodiment of our spherical planet Earth. A talking circle, in which a group sits in a circle with open space between them (and may pass a talking piece around) is based on this sort of Earth Ethos cosmology. The talking circle represents a communal medicine wheel where every being is interconnected within an inclusive web.

medicinewheelexerciseExercise: Consider where you may be in and/or out of balance by filling out this empty medicine wheel chart. Write down what is going on in your mind, what you are experiencing in your spiritual world (aka what is giving your life meaning and purpose), what emotions you are experiencing, what’s going on physically in your body and environment, and what keeps you centred/keeps your heart open. Notice if something is out of balance, and consider what area(s) of the medicine wheel might need some attention. This is a tool I developed that can be used periodically to check-in with yourself, or be given to friends or clients to do so to help notice progress and change.

 

Flow

We often say “random” to refer to something unexpected happening. In English, “random” arose from the word “run”, which is related to the Rhein river in Germany, and refers to “flow.” When we have space for the unexpected, miracles flow. When we live in obligations and expectations and keeping up appearances, we feel dead inside. How well life works when let go of our traumas and projections and are able to trust and accept the natural flow of events. Judgment comes from existential black-and-white/right-and-wrong thinking; we dissociate part of life that we do not accept and carry that energy as guilt, shame, or hatred. Then we project these dissociations onto people, events, experience, etc. and judge our own projections. It’s a very destructive game. (Rhein delta image from: http://www.delta-alliance.org/deltas/rhine-meuse-delta)RhineMeuseDelta.jpg

There is a difference between seeing events and experiences as neutral and allowing meaning to emerge, and making meaning out of events and experiences by projecting our wounds (traumas, emotions, beliefs, etc.). There is a difference between carrying a dream, praying/wishing for it to come into being, and taking action to bring it into reality, and of forcing a dream to take form based on our own vision and desire. It’s the difference between being a dictator, and a co-creator or co-dreamer. As a co-creator or co-dreamer, we acknowledge that we are not in charge of the “how.” We may not even know “why” we have a particular dream, “where” it came from, or “who” will support its birth into being. We may only have a vague sense of “what” the dream is, because we know it needs to evolve in a context much bigger than our own mind can know.

For example, we may dream of being a parent, and we may carry a vision of what that looks like, such as: a stable romantic partnership, financial security, a safe home environment, and a caring community. But the events and experiences of our lives may be very different to our vision. We may struggle to become pregnant, lose our job and be unable to afford some things we wanted, or get pregnant in an uncommitted relationship. Why do these things happen? The best answer I have is, I don’t know! And that answer is so freeing. I help my mind be okay with not knowing, because I practice flowing and accepting. I also choose to trust that life is always helping me to awaken, evolve, and become a more authentic and present version of myself. So when I experience unexpected hardship, I feel alive, and I know I will learn something.

Trauma gets a bad rep. Sure it triggers pain and can be overwhelming. I have experienced a lot of that. But trauma is a powerful birth/death crisis-type of energy that has potential to teach us about ourselves and our world, to help us remember on a Avocado_Seedlingdeeper level who we are, and to offer us new life experiences. You can’t plant a seed in the ground without digging a hole and traumatising a small patch of earth. And a seed can’t begin its journey of growing into a tree without traumatising the seed encasing its energy and expanding into the soil. Trauma is part of the cycle of life, of birth-life-death-and rebirth. We can look at a tree and label it “dead” and forcibly chop it down. Or we can look at it and realise it’s decaying, and that there are numerous insects, animals, fungi and bacteria living in that environment who are helping transform the tree back into earth. It is a witnessing of energy changing form. We may also notice that even tree stumps may be “alive” through the interconnection of their roots with other trees in a forest, to keep a network of support and communication flowing between trees living above ground. Sometimes stumps even sprout new trunks and regrow themselves entirely.  (Image from: http://blog.daleysfruit.com.au/2014/03/grown-by-grafting-cutting-seedling.html)

Sometimes our minds are so full of stories, our lives so full and structured with meeting expectations and fulfilling desires that we lose touch with flowing energy. Rivers rarely flow in straight lines, and so flow energy tends to meander and take us into the unexpected and the unknown. We get surprised by “randomly” running into an old friend, rather than seeing that as a natural experience we could be choosing to make more space in our lives for. When we let go of controlling the “how” of our dreams and visions, and even let go of some of our dreams and visions altogether, we make space for flow to emerge. We experience interconnectedness in an organic way, and through the feelings of pain and pleasure of fulfilled and unfulfilled desires, something more precious starts to emerge: an understanding of a purposefulness to our journey, and a peaceful acceptance of the messy reality of being human.

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Flow Exercise: A simple practice is to regularly block off some time where you do not schedule anything or have any plans. Keeping some time sacred to allow flow energy to emerge demonstrates a commitment to making space for miracles. You then spend that time relaxing as best you can and doing whatever organically arises. You may be surprised to find yourself getting in the car and seeing where you end up. You may also do things that you do most days, but in a different sequence or at an unexpected time, or in a slightly different way than you’re accustomed to. When we honour flow energy in our lives, traumas that arise may seem less intense, because our psyches become used to the unexpected. Give it a try!

 

Confronting Colonialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Healing Unjust Power Dynamics

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

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

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

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

ancestor-healing

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

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