Tag Archives: healing

Estrangement

Blog by Valerie

Estrangement is something we rarely talk about, and to be out of active relationship with one’s family of origin feels very stigmatised and taboo. Even after many years of accepting this reality for myself, I still feel vulnerable to social judgment and shaming about it. It’s a common and innocent question to ask someone about their family, and it’s often easier for me to say a little about them and not mention I’m estranged if I don’t know the person well. But it hurts, and it contributes to feeling the absence of my family constantly, which is especially hard during holidays and important life events.

How family members cope with estrangement - Chicago TribuneIt may help if I share a bit about my experience. When I came out to my family as an adult about being sexually abused by an uncle, that entire side of my family rallied around him. Some stopped speaking to me, others sent me nasty messages saying that I must be mentally ill, one tried to act like I hadn’t said anything then lost touch when I wasn’t willing to be invisibled anymore, and after five years of silence one wrote me to say the family had treated me unfairly, then didn’t respond to my reply and request for a relationship. The other side of my family was already very fractured before I came out about the abuse. A couple tried to pretend nothing had happened, one told me they’d be there for me on my healing journey but instead distanced themselves and one eventually admitted that it was too painful to be in relationship with me and ended it. Another blamed someone outside the family for abusing me, and when I wasn’t having that, started denying that I had been abused, lying to me and behaving increasingly hostile and aggressively, causing me to end things. That was the only relationship I ended myself, and even though it was an abusive lost cause, it still felt devastating and wrong to walk away from the last remaining family member in my life. (Image from here)

#estrangement | Simple reminders quotes, Betrayal quotes ...I was raised to hold family sacred, and so processing the initial childhood betrayals, followed by the adult estrangements, has been incredibly painful. It felt like a sudden orphaning that was out of my control, a genocidal loss of everyone I deeply knew, had learned to rely on and share my life with. I am still in touch with one friend from childhood, one from middle school, and my nanny’s daughter who knew me as a baby. Though I am not close with them, it feels quite precious to me that they are still in my life and knew me when I was young. My husband and a few friends have walked with me through my estrangement and have met some of my family members, but hearing stories and seeing photos isn’t the same as having witnessed me as a child in the context of my family and seeing how far I’ve come as an adult.

The Ladies Coach: How To Deal With Family Estrangement ...In every culture there are structures of kinship linking us with an extended family, and in Indigenous cultures, our kinship networks include humans and non-humans. Western kinship networks were severely weakened after the fall of the Roman empire when the Catholic Church greedily: (1) expanded the definition of incest marriage prohibitions to include even your sixth cousins (!), (2) criminalised polygamy, and (3) discouraged remarriage and adoption – all of which resulted in redirecting property and inheritance away from families and into the Church’s coffers. This devolution of kinship and focus on the nuclear family arguably created the foundation for individualism, civil society, and democracy (reference). European languages changed as well, so that separate terms for paternal and maternal relatives disappeared, as did different ways of referring to blood relatives,  in-laws, and ‘spiritual kinship’ created by baptisms and sacraments (e.g. godparents) (reference). My understanding is that Indigenous pagan Germanic cultures like the Frisians encouraged cousin marriages, which wove families together within a tribe – a group of people connected by kinship through marriage and interbreeding (reference). It is also my understanding that a man’s brother was meant to be a second father to a man’s daughter in pagan Germanic cultures, and so on a spiritual level, that man abusing me feels even more devastating. In most cultures there is a sacred reciprocity within the cycle of a parent raising a child, and then a child supporting a parent in their old age. I feel I have been denied this experience, and I feel a loss and grief about it, which I put into spiritually supporting my family in a way that feels okay to me. (Image from here)

#estranged, #estrangement (With images) | Toxic family ...It is a big deal to estrange, and I have counselled people who have told me they were considering it that it’s like the guy who got stuck in a crevice while rock-climbing and had to saw off his arm to survive – it’s drastic and changes your life forever, and sometimes just has to be done. There’s little accurate Western scientific research about estrangement, with studies in the US citing 10-40% of people having experienced it. Estrangement has certainly given me a lot of resilience, space, strength, independence, fierce boundaries and some humility. In terms of humility, I have a limited threshold for projections of family expectations and game-playing, which has resulted in separating myself from my husband’s family. I don’t expect people who know and care about me much less than my own family to dig as deeply into themselves and reflect on their behaviours as I need in order for them to be ‘family’ to me.

As with any loss, my experience of estrangement has created opportunities for a lot of self-knowledge and spiritual growth. It has given me the time and desire to do gift economy work supporting people’s healing, as well as community-building, knowledge-sharing, and our other humble activities through Earth Ethos. If I had family obligations and relationships taking up my time and energy, I would not be able to serve in this way. So you can thank my family for estranging from me, as it has gifted these insights to you today. And if you know anyone who is estranged, don’t assume that their situation can, will, or should change.

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Conflict resolution & animism, part 2

This blog builds on part 1 from a few weeks ago, which started by reminding you that in animism, it’s not only not expected, but against our own nature to play nice with certain beings and energies. Earlier today I heard the following story:

cyclistsThree cyclists were riding down a neighbourhood road when an older guy in sports car drove by and yelled, “Get off the road, assholes!”. Of course, cyclists are legally allowed to be on the road. The female in the group gave him the middle finger, angering the driver more and he turned his car towards her, then veered onto another street and into a carpark of a private club. She almost fell off her bike, scared and filled with rage. She blasted through the private club gate past the security guard while her fellow cyclists followed and called the police. You might be thinking that she was trying to get the driver’s plates, but she already got a photo of that. When he stepped out of his car she screamed in his face how wrong his actions were and how terrified she felt. He pushed her out of his way, and she raged even more and threatened to press charges for touching her. By this time her companions had gotten through the security gate. The security guard initially threatened to call the police and report the cyclists for trespass, but changed his mind when he saw the scene. Police arrived and explained to the driver that cyclists are allowed on the roads as much as he is, and told the cyclists they can’t charge the driver with anything but simple battery for pushing her because he veered his car away and didn’t hurt anyone. No one was happy with this outcome.

What a mess. Something to keep in mind with animism, and indigenous understandings of justice in general, is that they don’t necessarily align with Judeo-Christian morality. This may be the heart of why so often people feel things that happen are unfair or that ‘nice guys finish last’, because we are mentally programmed to expect rewards when we are ‘good’, whatever that means (often obedience to social norms it seems).

Five basic approaches to conflict resolution are: collaborating, compromising, accomodating, avoiding, and competing. In the story above, the woman and the driver are both competing. I lionthink about a lion competing to be king of the hill – they’re getting their fight on. chameleonThe security guard started out competing but then accommodated the cyclists, represented by a chameleon changing its colours to fit the situation. The other two cyclists are collaborating with their friend, like a school of fish sticking together, and the police officer is fishcompromising by offering to charge the driver with something since the cyclists want him to be punished. Compromise is represented well by a zebra with its dual-coloured stripes. zebra

What we don’t have in this scenario is anyone avoiding conflict, which I think would have been the wisest option. There were many missed opportunities for the cyclists to avoid escalating the conflict and potentially endangering themselves further. Let’s represent avoiding with a turtle who can stick its head in its shell. turtle

If the cyclists had been growled at by an actual lion, they likely would not have tried to compete but would have done their best to avoid escalating the conflict. And if one of the cyclists had decided to angrily provoke the lion further, the other cyclists would have been less likely to collaborate and more likely if she got hurt to tell her that she had asked for it. Other than a sense of moral outrage and upholding of social norms, why do we behave so differently with people who exhibit threatening lion energy than with actual lions? One reason is when something is really important to us, we feel called to be warriors and stand up and fight. Some things – like protecting our family – feel worth dying for, and it can be too hard to live with the guilt and shame of knowing we didn’t try to stand up for our values. Another reason is that we are reacting in autopilot and have a tendency to compete when we feel threatened. If the reason is the latter, we can work on creating self-awareness and space to make more intentional decisions about addressing conflicts.

conflictWhen we do choose to avoid a conflict, it helps to be aware of the Cycle of Indecision: ‘I feel bad. I should do something. Nothing will change. I gotta let it go. But I feel bad…’ I find when I avoid a conflict but over time it keeps coming up inside me, then I do need to do something to address it. That may involve talking to someone, creating art to express my emotions and tell my story, doing something ceremonial to keep the energy flowing without endangering myself, or finding a passion to advocate out in the world. For example, if I have a conflict with someone close to me, I tend to try to collaborate and talk it through when we are both less emotionally charged. But when I have a conflict with someone I don’t trust to collaborate with, I often write them a letter, leave it on my altar, and burn it so that the energy gets sent out in spirit.

Notice that no one in the story above was happy with what the police officer offered as a compromise to try to appease everyone and follow the law he’s working with. This is because of a common conflict resolution issue – people conflating positions with interests. The cyclists’ interests are (likely) being safe and respected while on the road, but their position is they want the driver to be punished for yelling at them and veering his car at the woman, but they may also have an interest in revenge. positioninterestThe driver’s interest is (likely) not being criminally charged and being able to express anger that cyclists are not riding single file (which they don’t have to). Maybe he has an interest in trying to change that law or have cycling lanes built on the road so he doesn’t have to share, or maybe he’s just interested in expressing anger, but his position seems to be ‘get out of my way’. We’d need to talk to everyone to unpack their underlying interests and potentially resolve the conflict in a more mutually beneficial way, but that’s not the job of the police officer. That’s something we could do through an Earth Ethos peace circle if everyone was open to collaborating and had been prepared to come together with open hearts and minds. In peace circle processes we use deep listening, open questions, I-statements, reframing emotionally charged language, and other tools to make it easier for people in competitive positions to feel safe to open up and connect with others. Because lions tend to be lonely, dangerous creatures – with only one male on top of the pride, he’s always scared of being bested by another and losing everything. Sometimes conflicts in our lives are like that, are all or nothing, but usually they needn’t be. We just can’t see another way. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Reflect on how you tend to approach conflicts. Maybe you tend towards different approaches at home or at work or with your kids or partner. Think about a recent conflict you were in with someone. How did you want to approach that conflict? What was your position in the conflict, and your underlying interest(s)? What about the person you were in conflict with? 

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Flailing into freedom

Poem by Lukas

All around me

And inside me

Flailing

Flailing across the medicine wheel

But only the fix-it mental mind in charge of change
Leading our growth.
Ideas, always ideas.
Never just isness

Always the changing sky with its fast moving clouds

Never the rock, or the mountain or the tree.
Never the deep time of timeless ancestors
Or the inherently clear sky
The all, oneness.
Unknown to us.

IMG20210622090000

Our recent generations so scarred
The very notion of old, grounded wisdom
Gone, abandoned and unknown
Admonished
Disrespected
“Primitive”
Always new ideas.
Evidence based ra ra ra.
Ideas that must fit together like bricks
A shape absent in nature
For sale.

Sometimes we need a wall.
A mentally engineered structure.

Sometimes this kind of thinking is a gift.
But most often our very logic is our prison.
Don’t try and trick me with your rationality
Don’t tell me about your evidence
Don’t scale-up, export and expand
Don’t show me a widget for saving the world.
Don’t try to sell me anything.

Please just connect with me
Connect with the earth.
Connect with your heart.
Connect with spirit.

Be with things as they are. IMG_20210610_091412
Messy.
Painful.
Joyful.
Blissful.
Dark as well as light together.
Alive.

Where could we go and flow if this was our way of being?
Of course I can’t tell you rationally.
There’s no map.
No blueprint.

These building blocks are not square.
But just letting this mystery wash over me feels like peace.
Freedom.
(Photos by Valerie)
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Faith, hope & trust

Blog by Valerie

Talking with a few people this week, it seems timely to share my perspective on these concepts and how I work with their energies. Though there can certainly be overlap between them, I hope clarifying the way I think about and hold these is helpful for your own thinking.

  1. Faith

I experience faith as a big, deep energy. Words that relate closely faith for me are ‘reliance’, and ‘belief.’ I experience existential fear to be a flip side of faith. When I have discerned that the fear I feel is existential and not due to being in imminent danger, I lean into faith and practices that support me to maintain and heal it. I am relishing this Michelangelo quote of late, reminding myself to have faith that everything happens at the right time. 

michaelangelo quote

Where we place our faith can have huge consequences for our life experiences. For example, if I place my faith in getting THIS JOB I applied for, that is setting myself up for a big crisis if I don’t get the job, or if the job doesn’t work well for me. If I instead place my faith in something bigger like ‘the right job finds me at the right time’, then if I get the job I may breathe a sigh of relief, and if I don’t, it will likely be easier to accept and wait for something better.

I have found that placing faith blindly leads us to be let down, and even lose faith in faith altogether, leading people towards nihilism. You can live in nihilism if you want, but having spent time there and with people who are choosing to be there, I found it too bleak and painful. If placing faith in certain things supports me to live a more fulfilling life and embody my core values (peace, play & passion), then I will do so. I think the below quote is a good warning sign for loss of faith altogether, and I think it often comes with over-placement of faith into things, then experiencing existential crises, and not knowing how to work with faith in other ways so giving up on it entirely instead.

disbelief in magic

My view is that faith ought to be grown through an iterative process. We place faith in something (I suggest starting with an affirmation that feels good, like ‘Life is always here for me’ or something to that effect), then we see how it feels to live with faith in that space, and when it is challenged whether it would feel better or worse or neutral to place more faith there or elsewhere. Placing faith in life always being for my benefit has been very beneficial for me – so that even when hard things happen, I look for the lesson in letting go and the space for new support and adventure that is seeking to come through. Placing faith in this also ensures that I limit identification as a victim. Even when I AM victimised in some way, I do not take it to an existential level, because I choose to place faith in there being an important teaching (or two or three or twenty) in my experience of victimisation. 

Faith, for me, is something we build through an iterative process over time that supports us to navigate the mysteries of life.

2. Hope

obama-hope-shelter-copyI see hope as a more fleeting, softer and elusive energy laced with personal egoic desires. I might choose to have faith that the right job will come to me at the right time (which will likely require me to do a bit of work putting myself out there), and if I feel excited about a particular job I just interviewed for, I may HOPE that will be the one that comes through. This is why I found the energy of Obama’s Hope & Change campaign less exciting than many people. I feel like many people placed FAITH in his presidency resulting in meaningful change instead of HOPE, and thereby set themselves up for huge disappointment (Image from here.)

Hope is a smaller, lighter, more specific energy that I associate with words like ‘wish’ or ‘desire’. The best way to use of hope is to express more specific desires and wishes without expectation or attachment to results.

3. Trust

Trust, like faith, is a big energy for me. Where faith relates to my interactions with the unknown, trust relates to the constants in life that I can rely on, things ‘I know’. Trust relates to truth for me. I trust that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. Trust for me, is a ‘knowing,’ which can be something we just have or find within ourselves. In Buddhism people refer to ‘transmission’ of certain ‘knowings’, meaning that if you find a ‘truth’ within yourself you can project that into someone else when they are open and receptive to it and awaken that truth in them. 

One of my mother’s favourite phrases was ‘Trust but verify’, which to me means there is no trust at all, by design. When I expect not to be able to trust, there is no room for trust to grow. But if I start by being willing to doubt myself about this, then I am open enough for some hope, and then maybe some faith to come into my life. And faith can become trust as we learn that we can rely on certain things. I grew up feeling that life was hard, and that someone was always out to get me (that was true! I was being abused!). But as I grew up and moved out on my own, I dared to hope life could be better than that. Then I dared to place faith in the idea that life was always for my benefit and there was a positive purpose to all the pain and trauma I’d been through. At first that was an idea, but then I started to see it and experience it more and more. Over time my faith was challenged, and still I kept being able to come back to that idea, and over time it has become a truth for me. I am now able to trust it. And when I met someone who doesn’t have that knowing, I can see  them because of the journey I have been on.

As I stay true to myself – by being authentic and following through on my words with actions (even inside the little agreements I make to myself in my own mind – I am able to build trust with myself and be a trustworthy person. That allows me to build trust with another person, even someone who has struggled to be around trustworthy people. Sometimes I don’t follow through on my word, or my words run away with me and I have to chase them and either apologise and make amends or do things I would rather not or at a pace that is not very smart. But in moments when I  am able to help awaken other people from a myth that they are an eternal victim in their own life, that no one and nothing is trustworthy, then I experience the gift of that journey, which helps makes the painful betrayals I’ve been though feel worthwhile.

4747714-James-Baldwin-Quote-Trust-life-and-it-will-teach-you-in-joy-and

 

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Befriending our fear

Blog by Valerie

“You can never conquer fear, it’s always going to be there…Walking in beauty involves encountering fears, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and getting beyond them, so we can have joy, happiness, confidence and peace in the four areas of our being.” — Wally Brown, Diné (Navajo) historian/lawman

Fear is a challenging energy for us humans to be with, and we often use its influence on us to justify actions we otherwise would not allow. It may be tempting to remain in denial and avoid deepening our understanding of our primal nature, but that limits our ability to enjoy fulfilling lives and realise our deepest dreams. In my blog about addressing addiction, I shared some tools I use for facing fears and increasing my sense of safety. It’s one of life’s beautiful paradoxes that we can learn to be safe with our fears.

fairyfireHere’s an example from my life lately. Our new home is being heated by a fireplace (image to the right). The first few weeks we stayed here, I woke up during the night coughing and struggling to breathe. Being unable to breathe properly feels incredibly scary and triggers survival fears very quickly. At first I thought the house was too dusty (it was), and I did deeper and deeper cleanings. That helped a bit, but I was still struggling. Then I realised the fire was emitting such a dry heat that I needed more moisture in the air, especially at night when I’m not drinking much liquid. So I started using a spray bottle to fill up the room with moisture before I went to sleep. That helped, but was not enough. As I kept waking up with coughing fits, I practiced breathing through it and being with the fear, and my mind and body started to feel more peace as the realisation settled that yes, this was scary, but it did not mean I was dying.  As a next step, I have put up a DIY humidifier consisting of a wet towel hanging from the ceiling which slowly evaporates over about 24 hours. And now I’m sleeping through the night without a coughing fit. But I noticed today when I swallowed water and it went down the wrong pipe, though my body was dramatically coughing to expel the liquid, my mind was relaxed in the knowing that this was not going to kill me, and my emotions remained steady with just a bit of embarrassment that a friend was visiting and worrying seeing what I was going through.

When I first started waking up in the night with coughing fits, I told Lukas it felt like I was drowning and I kept getting images of gasping for water in my mind. As a young child my parents told me a story of how I almost drowned in a baby pool once, so it’s possible that embedded a deep fear in me that was coming up now. In general, I have been processing a lot of survival fears since we have settled into a new home. Practically, it’s somewhat insecure with a month-to-month lease agreement, but it’s more secure than nomadically moving around and finding a new place to stay every week or two which we were doing the first half of this year. It’s exciting to move around that much, and we learned to live very simply and minimally, and to enjoy daily pleasures of being by the beach, in the bush, cooking with limited tools and ingredients, and snuggling under the covers with hot tea and TV.

fearmoneyquoteIt also takes a lot of energy to be in survival mode, to watch your savings drain, and maintain faith and trust that you will settle again at the right time and place. Each time I have been on that journey alone or with Lukas, the eventual landing has been better for me and us, and this is no exception. I feel so much safer for all the fear I have faced over the last year of not having our own space, that now we are resettling into this house, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to be borrowing this for a while. I know none of these earthly spaces are ‘mine’ in an ownership sense. (Image from here) And part of how Lukas and I honour that knowing is by:

  1. Renouncing the buying of land that in our eyes is all Aboriginal sovereign land, and avoiding playing the role of colonists buying intergenerationally stolen land;
  2. Having immense compassion for friends and community who choose a different path of buying land, as facing survival fears is a very personal journey;
  3. Taking time to get to know the country we’re on by paying our respects to important landforms, learning some words in traditional language, building respectful relationships with Traditional Owners who live here; and
  4. Waiting for the synchronicity that led to Lukas’s new work and our settling into a new home; ensuring we do not force ourselves onto the country and that we feel welcomed to settle and become part of the dreaming of this particular paradise.

ringland signFor 7th generation colonial settler Lukas, renouncing ‘owning’ of property is a lifelong path of facing fears and healing from ancestral ‘taking’ of land. When we visit Ringland’s Bay and the other areas around Narooma named after his ancestor, a ship captain buried in style in Bermagui Cemetery, we feel connection with place and pain. When we are with Traditional Owners who are our friends and talk about projects to facilitate healing people and country, it makes our journey into the pain and fear feel very worthwhile.

fearquoteIt’s so empowering to have enough space with our fears to act instead of react, and to be able to discern which feelings of fear are life-threatening (there’s a gun, get out of there!) versus which ones may feel life-threatening but can be healed (that person’s judging me, which hurts and feels socially scary, but their judgment isn’t going to kick me out of society, so I need to protect and comfort myself). It makes this famous quote make sense to me, and is inspiration to continue befriending our fears (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), especially with covid creating limitations in the physical world and opportunities for us to be more intimate with our inner worlds. (Image from here)

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Indigenous Science Dialogues

You are invited to join Earth Ethos in honouring each element of the medicine wheel (earth/physical, air/mental, fire/spiritual, water/emotional) and the heart centre through five dialogues between Indigenous scientists this May.

All dialogues will be facilitated by Dr Valerie Cloud Clearer Ringland, an East Frisian (Indigenous to northern Germany) and Jewish-American woman living of Yuin country with lived experience and a PhD in Indigenous trauma healing.

May 3, Fire/Spiritual: Ancestral Healing with Ellis Bien Ilas, a Filipino-Australian ancestral healer living of Eora country.

May 5, Earth/Physical: Settler Trauma with Lukas Ringland, an Anglo-Celtic Australian (and Valerie’s life partner) healing and living of Yuin country.

May 7, Air/Mental: Weaving Knowledges with Sara Hudson, a Jewish-Pākehā woman living of Darug country using Indigenous and Western knowledges in evaluation and academic work.

May 11, Heart/Cultural: Identity Politics with Shannon Field, a Yuin woman living on country and working in Aboriginal policy.

May 13, Water/Emotional: Confronting Whiteness with Dr Virginia Mapedzahama, a Shona (Indigenous to Zimbabwe) with African Women Australia Inc. living of Wangal land.

Sign up at the Eventbrite page to get the Zoom link or use the Earth Ethos Calendar to click on the Zoom link to participate. All dialogues will be available next day on the Earth Ethos Facebook page.

Please pass on information about this dialogue series with others who may be interested!

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Lived Experience Knowledge

lovepain

Blog by Valerie

There is immense power in embodying healing through lived experience. As I work in facilitating & healing spaces, I feel it is important to be open about parts of my journey. If you want to learn more about my personal lived experience journey, please read on.

My healings, awakenings and navigations of grief and loss have been quite intense. I am the child of two lineages steeped in trauma and conflict: an Ashkenazi Jewish-American mother whose ancestors fled pogroms in Eastern Europe to the U.S. in the late 1800s, and an East Frisian father, an Indigenous northern German man who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, and bonded to a lapsed Catholic Anglo-Celtic-American nanny as a mother. I was born on Shawnee land in Ohio, U.S., and from infancy until age 15 was sexually abused by an uncle who may be my biological father. My maternal bond to my nanny created resentment and jealousy for my mother, and a cross-country move separated me from my nanny, creating another layer of abandonment wounding. As my father was the first in his family to move off country, I inherited his abandonment of country wound, in addition to that of my mother’s family which for Jewish people is extensive.

I grew up primarily in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., a city with a history of genocide, slavery, civil rights, and immense racial tension for over 300 years. It was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and is home to the largest Confederate Memorial in the U.S. as well as being ceded Cherokee land that was the start of the Trail of Tears. Most my community was heavily Christian, and I lost many childhood friends who failed to ‘save me’ from being Jewish. 

Throughout childhood I had problems with my digestive and hormonal systems, and from ages 18 to 33 I endured intense physical health challenges, with my digestive, hormonal and nervous systems dis-functioning and shutting down. My body was so full pain, trauma, and loss, I could not digest or hold what I had experienced in childhood, nor be present in my environment. I did not know myself. I had poor boundaries and was almost entirely enmeshed in codependent and abusive relationships, including with my family of origin. I experienced my parents’ relationships as domestic violence and grew up with a lot of mental illness and intergenerational trauma impacting me and my family, though people denied it.

nightskyBecause of an interest in justice and meditation, I was pushed into law school, though the Western legal system is not my idea of justice at all. Determined to be of service, I spent years doing pro bono and low-paid work around the world with a focus on child advocacy, community building, and conflict resolution. In India I drafted a law to criminalise child sexual abuse that passed in 2012; in South Africa I led a small non-profit focused on community building and did conflict resolution with a rural Zulu communities; in Australia I worked with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, which ultimately led to a Royal Commission and systemic reform; and in Peru I worked with an inner-city restorative justice program. During this period of my life though I had already been through a lot of healing, I was still in spiritual crisis and had multiple near death experiences. Something in my life needed to dramatically shift as I was numb to dangerous situations.

sterntalerI met my life partner Lukas in Australia in 2011. Our journey to be together has been hard work, which has helped us both to realise our worth. We travelled South America to be together when my Australian visa ended, and I finally felt safe and distant enough from my family of origin for repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse to emerge. It was like a cork full of chaotic energy popped open and challenged my mind’s ‘knowns’. My life started to make more sense as dissociated and lost soul parts emerged in an intensely painful and dramatic awakening process. As I healed, every family of origin relationship and many others with close friends and trusted mentors faded away. The period of most profound grief and loss I weathered was when my father, nanny, and best friend all died within seven months, my husband moved across the country for work, and the professor I moved across the world to do my Ph.D. with behaved abusively and unethically, causing me to change the direction of my work from restorative justice and conflict resolution to Indigenous trauma healing and to founding Earth Ethos.

In my healing journey I have re-membered the medicine wheel, altar practices, totemic relationships, cultural lore, and ancestral healing practices. I have participated in plant medicine ceremonies in the Amazon; done a 10-day silent meditation retreat; danced three dry-fasting Native American knowledge-sharing healing ceremonies; apprenticed in sweat lodge-keeping; studied Indigenous grounding, movement, music, ritual and ceremony as medicine; and learned some wilderness, survival and first aid skills. I earned a Ph.D. in social work through doing three interrelated research projects on indigenous trauma healing focused on sexual trauma. 

For most of my life I have lived in denial about my value and worth, and it’s been a continual series of blessings to be freed of wounds and re-member who I am and why I am here. Through trauma healing and spiritual awakenings I have been on a journey of becoming free. I have learned to courageously speak my truth, embody sovereignty with dignity, and live interdependently with respect for all beings. My cosmology, identity, and placement continue to become clearer as I adopt and am adopted by the land, peoples, and ancestors of Australia. I find myself in flow navigating life through Indigenous Science. Though I am very far from ancestral lands, increasingly I feel, for the first time in this life, that I am centred and at home. I am grateful for all I have been through that has made me who I am and enables me to support others on their healing journeys.

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Central Myths

Blog by Valerie

The human mind is a story-creating meaning-making machine, and as we get to know our minds better, we uncover beliefs, values, and stories underlying our thoughts and behaviours, and ultimately defining our paths in life. We may be well aware of certain stories or beliefs have impacted us deeply, such as the story of Jesus in the Bible, or paradoxical sayings like “time is money” and “money is the root of all evil”. Yet we may wonder why certain things happen to us, why certain large-scale patterns seem to recur in our lives again and again and be bound up with our sense of identity and our understanding of our placement in the world.

sterntalerIn this section of Mary Shutan’s Body Deva book, she has an exercise called Releasing a Central Myth. When I did it years ago, I uncovered a story from Germanic mythology called Sterntaler (in English, Star Money) that basically amounts to: if you are good-hearted and give generously, life will reward you and ultimately have your back. The dark side to this myth, which resonated with me in childhood and took me a long time to balance as an adult, is the importance of boundaries and discernment about when and how to live this way, otherwise one becomes a martyr. I painted the picture on the left at the time, hung it on my wall a while, then ceremonially burned it to heal any wounds from carrying it in an unsustainable/imbalanced way. As Mary says in a blog post about the concept,

[A]t the base of our being, we have a central myth that propels us into being. We may have many myths regarding ourselves, and although they can in some regard motivate us, they are restrictive energies because such myths tie us to expected behavior and an expected trajectory… Loops primarily come from trauma.

I have found (so far) that I have been carrying two central myths, which are in conflict. This is no surprise given my blood lines, and the fact that in traditional Jewish culture that because my birth mother identifies as Jewish that defines me as Jewish, yet in traditional Germanic cultures, I inherit cultural identity through my father as a woman, and if I were a man I would inherit from my mother. I feel intuitively in my being as though I inherit from my father, and I have had Indigenous elders from other cultures also confirm that they see my moeity as patriarchal. Yet as I wrote in this post, I’ve been unpacking Indigenous roots of Jewishness, which after nearly 6000 years of Biblical beliefs has been a challenge to say the least and involves lots of work in the root chakra. I am doing this shadow work because my inheritance from my mother’s lineage feels destructive and forced upon me, and I want to heal and take responsibility for that part of my life. And, not surprisingly, the central myth that has emerged from my Jewish lineage is a traumatic pre-Biblical Mesopotamian story about intergenerational incest and familial distrust. story

I encourage you, if you haven’t already explored this within yourself, to consider reading Mary’s blog and looking at the exercise linked above in her book. Some common central myths to consider that cut across cultures include: the hero’s journey, the damsel in distress, the martyr, might makes right, the American dream, individualism, and any religious or folk/fairy tale stories that resonate deeply with you or that you identify with. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t identify with certain stories; it is to say that it’s empowering to be consciously aware of our central myths so we can hold them fully with their pros and cons/dark and light aspects. This frees us from acting our infinite trauma loops in which we project our central myth(s) onto people and places around us in an attempt to see ourselves. In my experience for myself and witnessing others’ healing, it feels freeing, humbling, and ultimately brings peace as we more deeply understand the influence of ancestral stories on our life’s struggles… (Image from here)

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Cry of the White fella

A poem by Lukas

Our position of dominance hides our shame and pain.

I see those white fellas who show up with their engrained sense of superiority manifesting as ignorance, hate and prejudice.

I see saviour types who subjugate their own pain under the yoke of guilt, forever seeking to unburden themselves of their shoulds: “This genocide should never have happened”; “They should have what I have now”; and most insidiously “With all that I have, I should be happier”.

And finally, I see those disassociated souls who seem perpetually determined to view things from a distance that renders things invisible. But of course that’s nonsense. To be numb does not mean the wound is not there.

I am and have been all of these white fellas. Just last week I cycled through two of them in the space of a few minutes. This panorama of experience is my blessing.

CharliesCountry I see us all suffering under the weight of unbridled intellect, greed and injustice. I see us all suffering from this ungrounded world we’ve created, oppressor and oppressed alike. The surface powerful and the surface powerless. And the other types of power, more hidden, mysterious.

We need to work together. We need to learn and grow together. We need to put down our shoulds with their biases and prejudices and take stances of openness.

We need to start with ourselves.

White fellas can start with simple questions: Do my feet really rest on solid ground? Does expansive and peaceful wisdom flow through me, or am I really just afraid and ashamed almost all the time?

I have the luxury of knowing that I am not alright. I read through a list of things to “help” the black fellas and there is not one thing that I myself don’t need also. I feel deep in my heart, mind, bones and spirit that in some form or another, I too need that medicine. All of it. I too need healthy connections with body, emotions, kin, community, culture, country, culture, law and spirit. 

I feel like a man looking upon an oasis with an overwhelming thirst the world does not recognise. It sees abundant hydration everywhere I tread my privileged white feet, while I see poison and trickery.

lukasgiftpainting

I never, ever, want to engage in a project to help only “them”, whoever “they” may be. That is fraud. How can someone so in need of help himself engage in anything but an exchange?

And so to their medicine needs to be my medicine, being as it is so deeply rooted in the earth where I now live. And the flexibility and grandeur of my people’s medicine, the laser-like linear time beam of problem-solving intellect, can do better work when anchored to the side of a mountain not roaring around ungrounded like the wind.

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Addressing addiction

Trauma and addiction are interrelated. I was listening to a talk yesterday by Dr Gabor Mate, a western medical doctor and wounded healer I have a lot of respect for. He said simply, if you can’t fight, flee, or ask for help, your brain dissociates – you freeze to survive. Freezing is meant to be a temporary state we heal from to regain integrity and peace when the survival threat has gone. But what if it isn’t temporary? (Isn’t there a reason Frozen resonates with so many people? Image from here.)

A few years ago, I chose to traumatise myself by going through a PhD program to change my career path. It’s better for me to be a researcher than connected with the legal profession, because I find it easier to work in ways that are aligned with my values. And while I do spend time listening to people and their stories still, but I also still spend quite a bit of time staring at a screens. I do this to maintain relationships with loved ones, to watch something with my partner, or to use US late night TV to process current events with some humour. I don’t feel I can practically avoid these screens. It’s part of my survival, and though I’m working with some people who know how to live off their lands and could teach me things, they can’t even survive fully living that way today. But I feel an addictive quality to my relationship with these screens sometimes. I feel pulled to be on the phone or computer instead of doing creative tasks with my hands or doing something less stimulating like sitting outside and listening to birds. With a father who was a pioneering computer scientist, I started staring at screens in infancy. Watching people in the US cross a busy street staring at their screens without even checking for cars scared me. I used to call out to them out of concern, and a few thanked me and realised the danger but most yelled at me to mind my own business. Thankfully, I’m not in that space with screen addiction, but I still want to work through some compulsive feelings. (Image from here. Why don’t we talk to people around us anymore, or observe the space and relax?)

Digital media use and mental health - Wikipedia


In the talk I watched yesterday, Dr Mate reminded us that “infants and children are narcissistic, no matter how old they are.” We’ve been witnessing this daily with the behaviour of supposed social leaders in the media, our workplaces, and communities. I agree with Dr Mate that it’s often as simple as this: when we as children feel unwanted, we naturally, narcissistically, think we’re ‘not good enough’, because we are in a phase of life where we are forming an identity. Just one unprocessed trauma that causes a frozen dissociation can persist, even intergenerationally, with layers of addictive behaviours, emotional disregulation, and attachment disorders around it until someone digs into those thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and reaches into that core wound to heal. That is my journey, and perhaps yours too if you’re reading this. So how do we heal? And what if we’re still not in safe environments? Some dangerous, unstable people have a lot of social power right now.

“You want to make people grow? Make it safe for them to be vulnerable.”

-Dr Gabor Mate

Some people seem to spend a lifetime feeling little safety (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and culturally). I count myself among them, though over time that’s been slowly changing for me. Here are three interrelated approaches that work for me:

  1. Acceptance + infinite patience approach – space making for mess, focusing on compassion and accepting the moment without judgement. Lukas and others I know find Buddhist practices helpful with this, and I like to meditate and express myself through art. This is really hard when we’re passionate about something that doesn’t feel okay to accept, like ongoing abuse or something else that goes against our values. (Image from here. I actually meditate lying down but this is such a common image.)
  2. Choose any survival strategy to avoid the freeze – even if that means fighting a big battle or fleeing intimate relationships or familiar environments that will bring great pain and grief into your life and may require you to seek help to process. This can be costly in time and energy and may feel at times like ‘picking your poison’, but it will enable you to be more in integrity and feel more alive. I choose the pain of being alive to the numbness of living without passion. And I choose fighting for change and experiencing isolation over accepting abuse or neglect.
  3. Create safe space – for yourself and others to be vulnerable. Be honest and change what you can, even small things like taking a minute a day to meditate or pray can make a huge difference. Changing our environments, boundaries, jobs, etc can increase our sense of safety. And supporting others to heal and work through things helps us mature and make meaning from our own trauma, addiction, and pain. A third grader may be better at supporting a first grader in learning some things because he’s closer to those lessons. And an adult teacher may be better at other lessons because she embodies more wisdom of lived experiences. Being self aware and honest about our own healing journeys (including seeking wise advice at times) helps us know what space we can safely hold. 

That’s survival, isn’t it? Striking a balance between serving our human and non-human kin and keeping alive and well ourselves. And allowing addictions to emerge and heal frees us to be more fully here.

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