Tag Archives: healing

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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Gifts of Colonialism

Blog by Valerie

When we grow up feeling like no one’s in our corner, that life is us against the world and we can’t trust anyone, many of us go on a journey as adults of learning how to put ourselves first and practice self-care and fiercely healthy boundaries, as well as learning about personal limits of meaningful sacrifice and resentment-building martyrdom. Sometimes those of us with this wound feel the pain of it so acutely that we can’t focus on much else. We need the wound to heal so badly that we start to believe our needs matter more than others’, and like a baby crying to be taken care of, we often look for external care-taking even as adults, which tends to result in giving our power away and ultimately feeling victimised, reinforcing our distrust wound over and over again. People say when we don’t learn a lesson at a small scale, the universe keeps providing the lesson in bigger ways until we get it or it gets us. When this happens at a large scale, where many people share such a wound that it becomes an intergenerational trauma, entire families, cultures, and communities can collectively reinforce the wound in each other and embed it into social structures. (Image from here.)

TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Colonial Mentality

There are spiritual lessons in everything, and I’ve been thinking recently about the following teachings of colonialism:

  • corruption of power – giving us the opportunity to recalibrate how we view, carry and share power and re-order our social structures and governance;
  • corruption of trust – giving us the opportunity to let go of control within a separated individual identity to flow into a communal and interconnected identity;
  • corruption of belonging – giving us the opportunity to heal the wound of abandonment by feeling the grief and loss of disconnection from the Earth and allowing us to seek adoption by the country and traditional owners where we live;
  • corruption of faith – giving us the opportunity to re-place our faith into the creation of new cultures and institutions inclusive of all human and non-human kin to fulfil our special (species-specific, or speci-al) role as caretakers of this planet.

I’ll share a few stories and thoughts about each of these gifts.

Mahatma Gandhi Quotes Power | das leben ist schön zitate

Power: When power becomes too concentrated and reaches a human limit, people tend to explode out of their lands like volcanic lava and end up scattered all over the world spreading stories about how they didn’t steal or impose on others, ‘they conquered’ and ‘won’. Any superiority trip (an existential hierarchy) is corrupt, and it seems to me that over successive generations (such as after a colonial land grab), the nature of power becomes apparent to more and more people and passion for social justice activism and Indigenous knowledge revival emerge to re-balance us.

Trust: As a child, I didn’t have anyone around me I could fully trust, and I never felt safe because I wasn’t. I trusted untrustworthy (ill, innocent and/or naive) people as a survival strategy. So I learned trust through experiencing deep betrayal. It has been a powerful mirror of what not to do. Today I’m a highly sensitive person with increasingly fierce boundaries, and I find the fiercer my boundaries, paradoxically the gentler I am with people close to me. Seeing trust as a path and practice, as opposed to a given or a ‘should be’ taught me that it can be learnt and earned. And it showed me that at times I need to extend trust for practical reasons even if it feels dangerous, and at times that I can hold it back to protect myself from painful experiences. (Image from here)

Belonging: More painful than my wound of sexual abuse is my wound of maternal abandonment. I have felt for most of my life like I cannot cry enough to express this profound grief and pain. Lately, though, there are moments where I can hold this gift with awe. Last week I met a Walpiri lawman Wanta Jampijinpa Steven Patrick who has worked for years to share his understanding of Ngurra-kurlu (the home within) with his people and others. He told me the metaphor of Milpirri (see below), a festival he facilitates in the community of Lajamanu in partnership with a dance company in Brisbane every two years: the hot air from their desert country rises up, and the cold air from the sky falls down; as the air mixes, thunderclouds are formed that unite the energy and send lightning and rain to the earth, connecting the hot and cold air (the Aboriginal/yapa country, knowledge and culture and other/kardiya knowledge and culture from overseas). He asked me why so many people who come to his community want to share their culture and knowledge and do not learn from him so they can be adopted where they live and “we can all be Australian.” (Image from here)

Will There Be Faith? | Peg Pondering Again

Faith: Though growing up I was ostensibly taught to have faith in Western governments and their supposed ‘democracies’, capitalist markets, cleverness of mind, quick-wittedness, physical beauty, and a watered-down version of Jewish law, I steadily lost (or never placed) my faith in those spaces. Instead, I learned to have faith that peace can emerge from any violent conflict; that all trauma be healed; that there is value to experiencing evil, disgusting, and dangerous things. As Dr. Marcus Woolmbi Waters, a Kamilaroi man, wrote in his most recent column in the Koori Mail entitled Let’s not lose sight of who we are: “I am no victim of colonisation…We are survivors, enduring and ancient, who maintain a fight for justice and truth…Yes, our trauma is deep, it is intergenerational, it is historical and resides deeply in the present, but we are not our trauma” (emphasis added). (Image from here)

I am reminded of one of the biggest gifts of colonialism that we are still unpacking: a conscious awareness that we are all one big human family despite our diverse countries, cultures, communities and the conflicts between us, and that we are all in this together, human and non-human, in holy commun-ity. (Image from here) In the immortal words of Johnny Cash:

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Accepting Rejection

Blog by Valerie

Through my first formalised human spiritual teacher Tom Lake, I learnt how to describe a core teaching that defines my path: unconditional love and acceptance. However, English is a challenging language filled with binaries. When I explain my worldview as animist, I am instantly confronted with the binary shadow of inanimate, which is a concept at existential odds with animism and not something I want to retain. Similarly, when reflecting on acceptance, rejection seems to be at odds. How do we conceptually accept rejection when it emerges in our lives, and what do we do with it? We seem to like to talk about boundaries in Western culture lately, which I’ve previously written about. But rejection isn’t always a boundary issue in my experience. Rejection could be a call for healing a part of ourselves we have denied and the need to open ourselves up to change, or it could be used to reject what we are currently accepting and stand for something different. It is this latter definition I will reflect on today. th (474×307)

Experiencing rejection, or the need to reject something or someone, tends to feel unpleasant. Much has been written about gentler speech, saving face, and ‘not taking it personally’, whatever that really means, because all experiences are both personal and universal in my world, and that keeps my sense of self engaged without feeling deflated and inflated in an existential crisis state. Rejection, like feeling or experience, can be approached with curiosity and playfulness. Giving rejection might seem the easier than receiving or witnessing it because it comes with more agency and control, but it isn’t pleasant to know our words or actions are likely to bring up pain in another person, so many of us choose to avoid confrontation. We might reject someone by ‘ghosting’ them and not calling or writing back; or we might say we want to move on and ‘break up’ or otherwise express our need to change the boundaries and dynamics of a relationship.

Seed Ways Internally, when we have rejected a part of our ‘self’, we might need to sit with painful feelings such as anger and mistrust and rebuild a relationship, for example, with an aspect of our inner child who was judged as ‘lazy’ and felt ashamed about it. When we become our own parents, we can teach that part of our self that resting and going slowly is something we value and are sorry they were judged and shamed for it. As we can start enjoying resting and being lazy, we accept and move through feelings of shame and thoughts of judgment and whatever else we took onboard as a child, allowing healing to occur for a wounded part of our self. While accepting our ‘self’ and all these feelings, we are rejecting the previous teaching (lazy = shameful, unworthy, etc.). In this way, we can find ourselves on a path of rejecting what we’ve thought of us as our core self – including culture, identity/self, family/blood, sexuality, etc. (Image from here.)

For me, accepting my self has involved ongoing rejection of foundational teachings and experiences from my childhood and allowing my sense of self to heal and be redefined. The path I was set up on was a literal dead end, tragic and painful. There was no way for me to survive but to accept that for what it was and go on a journey of allowing that old world to self-destruct, land on a solid yet rocky foundation of rubble, and start rebuilding in a better way. I have found that the accept myself/reject past teachings process has become less dramatic and intense over time, at least through my experience, but not necessarily through outsiders’ witnessing of my journey. th (474×147)

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Stories, beliefs & their shadows

Blog by Valerie

“The story owns the storyteller.”–Traditional wisdom shared by the Nhunggabarra people (western NSW, Australia)

Like all biased humans, I am predisposed to see certain things whether they are strongly there or not. For example, I was raised with a deep belief that ‘people are good’ which came into conflict with evil/inhumane, abusive/betraying and neglectful/denial behaviours I experienced from adults around me. I turned ‘seeing the good’ into an art form of magnification of certain elements of someone’s character and minimisation of others so my life could fit that story, because the story was so foundational to my sense of self, safety, path in life, etc. A related one was ‘Family is always there for each other’, referring to family by blood or marriage, and it too proved very destructive for me.

In general, stories grounded in absolutes are dangerous. They can create self-hating fanatics like me who feel worthless and resentful and get abused and mistreated again and again because I was convinced that the ‘good’ was there if only I worked harder to see it and it was my family so I couldn’t leave anyway. What a trick to intertwine my existence with stories keeping me stuck in situations trying to teach me the shadow of the story and show me that it wasn’t true. And what a trick it would’ve been to convince myself of the opposite in reaction – that people are untrustworthy and you can’t have faith in anything good ever happening. Thankfully I didn’t oscillate into a cynicism trap, but many of us do. (Image from here.)

new-age

What I find to be New Age trickery is the idea that if a character trait isn’t present you can just ‘see it anyway’ and manifest it, and what I find to be Western scientific/atheistic trickery is the idea that if it isn’t there it never will be and you better accept that and take a pill to replace it or become dependent on some kind of therapy for the rest of your life. For example, I was told by Western doctors that I would need to be on thyroid hormone all my life (I was on a swine substitute for 3 years) and that I’d never be able to eat gluten again (I was off it 15 years until I woke up one day knowing my body had healed). But my mother, brother, aunt, cousin, grandmother, etc. have all been taking thyroid replacement hormone for many years. Of course we are each unique, but a belief that we need a pill can prevent something from healing that might shift our need for the medicine. It’s important to discern when we are and aren’t helpless, and in my opinion it’s rarely wise to believe in Western medicine, though using its tools may be a wise option. (Image from here.)

Maybe you know of Louise Hay’s famous book You Can Heal Your Life. Her diagnosis for stomach pain, which I used to have a lot of in my life, is: Holds nourishment. Digests ideas. Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new. I definitely got some value in approaching underlying beliefs that were creating psychological, spiritual and emotional blocks connected with my stomach; the metaphor of digesting ideas and feeling nourished resonated with me at a time I was deep in pain and seeking non-physical empowering approaches to healing. However, I also used her positive psychology ‘self-love’ approach to try to brainwash myself into believing I could manifest my own safety when I actually was in a lot of physical danger. I remember driving around repeating the phrases she suggested in her book for hours, how much work it was to keep up the story and its resulting facade of safety, and how the facade ultimately cracked and I really crashed. (Image below from wikipedia page on belief).

Belief - Wikipedia

When such stories have owned me, I’ve often suffered accordingly. But that isn’t to say that we should give up our beliefs. Beliefs can be incredibly enriching, create cultures and communities, and bring deep meaning into our lives. I think we need self-awareness of our beliefs to help us carry wise ones and to let go of those based in trauma and denial/lies. Today I listened to a story of a woman who felt deep shame about her grandfather’s actions during WWII which no one in her family would discuss. She went to Germany and read archives to learn he had been an S.S. officer and what he had done. She made a list of people he’d hurt and went into the Polish countryside to visit some of the places and people, and said:

A turning point in the work arrived when one of my grandfather’s victims, a ten-year-old child back then, looked me in the eye and told me that it wasn’t my fault, I hadn’t done anything. In that moment, the door of my room of shame opened a crack to let in a slim ray of light that showed me the way out…Survivors have sometimes told me about the enduring shame that comes from continuing to live when close family perished in the Nazi death machine. In turn, their descendants relate the impact of silence generated by the previous generation’s feeling of shame.

She said confronting the shame of her grandfather’s past and her families’ denial of wrongdoing has transformed her into carrying the past with honour and compassion as a responsibility instead of with shame and guilt as a burden. She also said it helped her heal an eating disorder. This woman’s experience aligns well with my own. What she didn’t say was that it probably also helped her eating disorder to heal by eating foods that felt better in her body or something else more physical and pragmatic as well.

Image may contain: water, outdoor and nature, text that says ""Ancestral healing means we inherit not only the blessings but also the unpaid debts of our ancestors. This means that most people of European lineages have a moral obligation to participate in cultural repair, work for racial justice, reparations, and being part of the change.' DR. DANIEL FOOR ANCESTRAL MEDICINE"

When we consider our beliefs and how they create biases, blind spots and shadows, we are wise to reflect on the entire medicine wheel, seek wise counsel in material, spirit and visionary forms, and be self-aware. These days I carry a belief that ‘life is always here for me’. This came to me some years ago and I choose to continue to believe it because of the trust, faith, safety, and security it gives me. I realise it biases me towards moving into traumas, pains, etc that I might try to avoid if I had a different belief, but I feel that such experiences are inevitable and that this belief is highly protective and predisposes me to resilience rather than feeling victimised or hard done by. I find it helps me avoid the ‘why me?’ question many of us ask when ‘something bad happens’.

I find the trick of being able to heal one’s life is resolved by allowing healing thorough brutal self-honesty and fierce embodiment of one’s truth so as to release conflicting relationships; then, from a space of self-acceptance when I perceive others to be sitting in denial, for example, compassion naturally emerges in me. Ultimately I don’t think that we’re not nearly as helpless nor as powerful as we are often led to believe…

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The Sacred Feminine

Blog by Valerie

Springtime Cottonwoods, Dunes, and Medano Creek | NPS ...In 2016 I danced a healing ceremony on Tiwa country in view of their Place of Emergence (now the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, U.S., image from here.) It was the height of summer when we arrived, easily 40C, and a few people were already hard at work building a sweat lodge. Below are my photos of the bones of the lodge, including a medicine wheel made especially for the ‘crown’ facing the heavens (as you can see in the lodge’s shadow), as well as a photo of me. 

When I started writing this blog, it was the winter solstice where I now live, and two days ago marked the Aphelion here, when the Earth is farthest from the sun on its elliptical orbit. (In the other hemisphere you had summer solstice and the Periphelion where you were closest to the sun.)

During the ceremony, which was near summer solstice, it was stinking hot during the day and quite intense to be dry fasting in the desert. But the altitude meant that it cooled down at night, so in the morning when we woke at sunrise with chants and prayers of thanks as Grandmother Moon set and Grandfather Sun rose in the sky, it was pleasantly cool out. Without giving away more than is respectful, I can share that the ceremony started with a sweat lodge, then took place in a dance arbour with a small, resilient tree at the centre. There was drumming and chanting and dancing (and dry fasting as I mentioned), and sleeping outside for a few nights. During this dance I had the most profoundly sacred feminine healing experience of my life, and as I’m writing this, I’m realising that it’s significant that took place around summer solstice, when in my medicine wheel the sacred masculine is at its height of power.

Trail and Park Reviews: Zapata Falls, Frozen Glacial ...The desert strips away all that isn’t necessary, and like the bones of the sweat lodge, shows us what we are made of. During the ceremony I witnessed layer upon layer of trauma and grief being stripped from me. This was not new, but something I had been going through for some years. But when I found myself falling to my knees at tree in the centre of the arbour, I felt something different. I felt how deeply that tree, that country and those people loved me, and how very wanted I was by Mother Earth. I hadn’t realised how disconnected from my inherent worthiness I had been, and I cried tears of gratitude for the gift of knowledge reminding me of this. I felt quite weak at that point and soon after completed the dance, breaking my fast with a cup of mint iced tea. The next couple of days were filled with play, including hiking the sand dunes and finding oases to swim in the desert, such as an icy cold waterfall (Image of Zapata Falls from here) and a natural spring pool where I rented a swimsuit for $1. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I guess a few people show up in the desert surprised to find a natural spring pool and want to swim too!

When I left the desert after this experience, I felt raw and shaky, yet stronger in my body than I had been in this lifetime. And everywhere I went I kept seeing people who hadn’t yet connected with the Sacred Feminine and didn’t seem to know their worth, or how much we are all loved by Mother Earth, even as our behaviours and lifestyles wound Her. It helped me see the depth of wetiko in the world, and it helped me find my way to people who are as grounded as I am and consciously aware of the depth of pain and disconnection we are all in with our modern city living. It takes time and effort to integrate these teachings into our daily lives, and as one of Tiwa Elder Beautiful Painted Arrow’s (Joseph Rael’s) students shared in a recent blog, Joseph reminds us in his new book that “You have to go through separation before you can go through reunion” & “If everything is considered holy you are always in training.”

cleanupyourmess

At the winter solstice, where we connect deeply with the darkest light of our being, the light from which all coloured and bright light (and life) emerges, I remember this healing experience. And I give thanks for the Sacred Feminine, Mother Earth, and all mothers within and without. I give thanks for all the work I’ve put in so far to bring that knowledge fully into being in my world, and give thanks for the humility of how much work is still needed, mirrored in moments of trauma, pain and shadow emerging stronger than that sacred knowing of the worthiness of it all. Of every struggle. Here’s to us wild and crazy humans, and to Mother Earth who’s always supporting us whether we realise it or not. And to continuing to clean up our messes to show Her that we know how valuable we all are and that we want to honour that by living well. (Image from here.)

Wishing you a meaningful solstice season, whichever hemisphere you’re living in, and deepening of your conscious connection with the Sacred Feminine over the coming months.

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