Tag Archives: identity

Social belonging

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The etymology of the word “belong” is “together with” or “related to.” It’s a tribal concept. Years ago I worked with a shaman who said human nature is tribal, not national, by which he meant, the colonialist social experiment of countries would naturally devolve into tribes. These days I agree with this. Places like the US are too diverse and too big to be governed by anyone but a strongman holding it together through control. Before colonisation, Native Americans had governance structures of inter-tribal councils where power was not concentrated in one person but in a diverse group of elders that needed to reach consensus on contentious issues, and tribes had their own internal governance structures on top of that. But these days, what is a tribe? I like this definition, that in when we’re in our tribe, we feel normal and accepted. A clan is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a tribe, and a family is a more tightly bonded sub-group within a clan. A community is made up different tribal members and is formed either out of necessity (such as living as neighbours), or shared interest (such as attending the same school or church). (Image from here.)

I have been a member of communities my whole life, but experiences with tribe, clan and family have been much more recent. The most memorable time I felt part of a “family” was a few years ago right before an indigenous dance ceremony with a group of people I had never met before. I had an “aha” moment sitting in a kitchen watching people buzz about preparing things for the ceremony and savoured that feeling so it would imprint in me and I would remember it. As a “black sheep” it took me a while to realise that for me family is based on feeling, and that being born out of intertribal conflict literally creates “bad blood” that I’ve needed to reconcile in order to survive. My tribe is scattered across the planet, and that’s okay. And many members of my tribe are invisible, ancestral spirits.

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An experience I have often is “whitewashing,” where people look at me and immediately assume that I am a Christian of Anglo Saxon colonial background (though I have no Anglo Saxon blood that I know of, and I was not raised as nor do I identify as Christian). Growing up in the American South, I had a friend whose parents were Jamaican who similarly grew weary of being referred to as African American. We really project a lot of identities onto people without realising. Someone said if you really want to change the world, be mindful of your own projections, and boy do I agree with that. Even then, a projection and an internal felt sense of belonging are not remotely the same thing. (Image from here.) I am reminded of an experience in a sweat lodge where a Tiwa woman said she had been hoping there was no “white blood” in her family because the karma of that energy was so hard to deal with, but that a DNA test had shown she had some European ancestry. I said a prayer during that lodge: May all our intertribal conflict remind us that we are one big human family. May we celebrate our diversity and enjoy healthy boundaries. Aho. A cactus may appreciate a water lily, but they can’t survive in the same environment, so why would they go against their nature and try? Some of us must be in the wrong place physically, or else we would not have so much conflict in our communities. Sometimes we’re so used to being malnourished, it takes a while to imagine what it would be like to really flourish.

I’ve been reflecting on genocide, where one tribe has an overgrowth of the psycho-spiritual Wetiko virus convincing them that they are existentially better than another tribe so they set about violently trying to prove this by removing the “other.” If energy cannot be created or destroyed, when a tribe is killed, where does that energy go? I realised it emerges as ancestral trauma within the dominating tribe in successive generations in an attempt to reconcile the conflict from the inside out. Many of us who feel we were born into the “wrong” family, tribe, culture, body, etc., are bearing this diversity.pngkarma of humanity out. It’s all over the place: it’s conservative Christian parents confronting their prejudice with an LGBT child; a Southern Baptist who falls in love with a Catholic; a strong patriarch with a young daughter wiser than he is; a mother who worked so hard to break into the corporate world whose daughter wants to stay at home with her kids. Over and over again I see situations in which that which we judge, hate or reject is presented to us in an even more intimate way so that we learn to love and accept it. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Where, when and with whom do you feel belonging? What does it feel like? Next time you feel lonely, isolated or alienated, be with the “longing” for that aspect of yourself and explore why you feel that. What part of you feels rejected and why? What do you need to feel more present and whole in that space?

Nourishment

Like all natural beings, each of us has a unique nature. The word “symbiosis” comes from two Greek roots: to live + together. Biology recognises six types of relationships, but I see the following three:

  • Mutualism (& Commensalism & Neutralism) – mutual benefit (though it may not be clear how)marigoldhiss
    • bees pollinating flowers
    • algae & fungus forming lichen
    • mammals eating fruit and dispersing seeds
    • a squirrel living in a hole in a tree
    • a bird hunting for insects while a hog digs up the ground
  • Parasitism – one benefits, one is harmed
    • kudzu grows up a tree, blocking its light and knocking it down
    • a mosquito, tick, leech or tapeworm takes blood from its host
  • Competition (& Predation) – one benefits, one faces loss (or death)
    • male gorillas fighting for dominance
    • a cat killing a mouse

(Image: Some of you may recognise our former cat Marigold and question whether pet cats are mutualism-based relationships.)

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Relationships nourish us, or not. Sometimes our relationships are based in part on shame. Through trauma-bonding in childhood we may have learned to associate nourishment with aspects of parasitism or competition. It took a long time for me to leave parasitic and predatory relationships involving members of my family of origin, as I kept working to transform them into mutualism ones, and it didn’t work. Sometimes our natures do not align for mutualism relationships. We’re all familiar with stories of someone who had “pet” bear, or snake, or wildcat that turned on them one day. I’m reminded of the Aesop fable of the frog and the scorpion:

aesop

We tend to place value judgments on the categories, but there’s nothing wrong with the nature of a scorpion needing to sting. We have these types of relationships in our lives, and through knowing our nature and being strengths-based and having healthy boundaries, we create conditions where we’re more likely to flourish. For example, I’m not competitive by nature, but occasionally I get caught up wanting to be right. This is a sign that I am not accepting myself, that I am in shame/judgment/punishment and am attempting to prove my worth and fight for my right to survive in that context. It is either an area of transformation, or a place to protect myself from and avoid as it is not healthy space for me. Parasitic relationships I can tolerate in small amounts and need to avoid on a larger scale. It’s one thing for a mosquito to take a drop of blood now and then; it’s another for twenty mosquitoes to be taking blood at once. (It’s one thing for a co-worker to ask you to listen to a sob story once a week, and another thing to be married to someone who plays a victim every day for months on end.)

Exercise: Think about some important relationships and contexts in your life. What nourishes you spiritually? emotionally? psychologically? physically? What do you see as your nature (it may change in different contexts), and how do you accept it?

Questioning Cosmology

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

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

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

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

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

Bridging identities

There is increasingly a movement for recognising non-binary gender and sexual identities. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves bisexual, pansexual, gender non-conforming, etc. There is also increasingly a celebration of multi-cultural identities, which primarily means a celebration of people with different ancestral homelands, traditions, foods, clothing, etc. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves African-American, Greek-Australian, Russian-Jewish, etc. Something that is very dear to me is a recognition of non-dualist cultural identity.

I see how indigenous and non-indigenous identities evolved from separating the colonised from the most recent coloniser, labelling one as wounded victim and the other as wounded offender. It is important to acknowledge historical trauma and the enduring wounds people carry who experienced colonial dispossession, as well as the wounds of those whose ancestors dispossessed others. I appreciate the modern Australian practice of acknowledging “traditional owners” of a place, though I think stewards would be a more apt word. (I do not know where this image is from and will link it if shown.)

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We are all humans indigenous to the Earth. We are all indigenous to a land of which we were born; we all have ancestors indigenous to at least one known place, often numerous ones; and we are all in a process of becoming indigenous to a place where we are now living and embodying ourselves and crafting our senses of identity. In fact, I venture that every single one of us on this Earth carries ancestral trauma of being dispossessed of or otherwise removed from a sacred homeland. And we all need support healing these wounds. Despite all of this, I see few people willing to identify as indigenous without being aware of their ancestral connection with a known, existing tribal group. And:

According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.”

If culture emerges from the Earth below, and I, for example, was born of the land we call North America, then my body, and to some extent my identity, is indigenous to that place. I mean no disrespect to people of cultures that have developed more intimate relationships with a place than I; such people, when willing, have much wisdom to share with those of us of born in or living in a place who are still learning how to live in harmony in our environments. If I, for example, live in Australia and am transplanting my body and being in this environment, I am learning how to be indigenous here and to connect with my husband who is of this land. (Image from here.)

Non-Dual-Thinking

I honour spiritual leaders who see people crying out in pain for lack of connection with place and offer basic tools to help us connect. I envision us all remembering that we are one big human family, that we all are indigenous to somewhere and so were our ancestors, and that to claim an exclusive indigenous or non-indigenous identities is to play a social game that perpetuates separation and pain. By all means, claim an identity with a tribe and be proud of it, please. For those of us who cannot do so because such identities were lost touch with long ago in our ancestral lineage, please find a way to hold us in heart and mind as also indigenous, newly learning how to honour the Earth, our collective Mother, where we are placed now and where we have come from. Here is a poem I wrote about the social conflict I experience:

Land bridge

My heart is indigenous
In sync with the seasons
My feet firmly grounded
In Mother Earth below me.

My spirit is indigenous
Interconnected with all that is
Flaming with animist passion
For peaceful coexistence.

My mind is indigenous
Built upon a cosmology
Of communal integrity,
Wholeness and ease.

My soul is indigenous
Ravished with pain
In States of mankind’s
Civilising war games.

My name is indigenous
Given during a spiritual journey
CloudClearer, who helps release
Dis-eased thinking.

I challenge cultural exclusion,
Indigenous and non-indigenous;
Living between identities
I cry out for community.

Relationships & identity

Relationships form our sense of identity; when we are part of relationships that feel fulfilling and wholesome, we feel magnified collaborating with people around us. Life feels like it’s growing constructively, for even when something is ending, it feels like a natural process of decay before a rebirthing. When we feel connected with the plants we eat, air we breathe, and animals that are our companions, we feel grateful for the gifts the Earth gives so we can be here as humans on Earth, and we are moved to express our gifts too, and willing to sacrifice some pleasures and experience some pains for the betterment of the whole. When we know who we are, that we are timeless, small eternal sparks of much bigger-than-us cosmic energies, then we feel connected with our heart centres. When our hearts are open and we are loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, we know that though each being is an individual expression of something unique and beautiful, there is something relating us all to each other and keeping us inter-dependent while we are here. When we are traumatised or wounded, we lose touch with that sense of being whole. Sometimes, for people like me, it happens when we are so young, and the people around us are so deep in that wounded state, that we grow up quite confused about our identity. We think we are daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, teachers, or some other role that we play. Rather than experiencing a clear mind at ease, we are lost in a torrent of psychic burdens that we move through, only to discover again and again a new way we have been confused and our mind has tricked us, losing connection and feeling isolated and broken again. It is becoming increasingly common to label personalities as narcissist or codependent. In an Earth Ethos perspective, it might be visualised through the Medicine Wheel like this:

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Parts of ourselves that are over-developed tend to be arrogant, bullying, on insecure ground, larger-than-life, and take on more than our fair share, more than we can hold with integrity; these parts we tend to be term narcissistic. Parts of ourselves that are oppressed or suppressed, bullied, victimised, and survive by seeking approval or taking care of others at our own expense tend to be termed co-dependent. We have both parts in our lives if we are out of balance, and if we identify as the co-dependent/victim and see a number of people playing the role of the narcissist/bully, that is a sign we have dissociated from our own narcissistic behaviour. This does not mean we are necessarily bullying other people without realising it; it may be that we are bullying ourselves, carrying negative self-beliefs, and allowing other people to disrespect us. The relationships in a Medicine Wheel framework might look like these Venn-like diagrams:medicinewheeldrawings2

The middle diagram is human, not ideal, because part of being here is acknowledging that we all have rough edges and boundaries in the way we can connect. I call it “trauma-bonding” when we are in relationships based at least to some extent on our wounds. This means there are dynamics of the relationship that are volatile, painful, and scary, with behaviours feeling explosive or implosive. It is helpful to remember that trauma is “acted in” and “acted out,” meaning when we feel attacked, we can implode, turning inward and developing a negative self-image and/or negative connection with a Higher Power, and/or we can explode, reinforcing a sense of being offensive and unworthy by creating that reflection through our behaviour’s impact on others. Many of us are familiar with this idea through the cycle of violence. (Image from: https://study.com/academy/lesson/cycle-of-violence-theory-diagram.html)

cycle of violence

Another way to visualise this is the victim-offender cycle, another infinite loop of pain. (Color image is a painting I did.)

Enemy'Aggressorcycleofviolence

At their core, these cycles show the same thing: that we do not know who we are, we do not feel whole, we are acting out of and identifying with wounds. When we hurt another being, we hurt ourselves; violence begetting violence is ancient wisdom. Our minds are so good at tricking us, at getting us to forget that all is connected and engaging in us versus them thinking that we have an entire criminal “justice” system based upon it! It is a testament to our ability to experience independence that we have gone so far in this direction. It is a testament to our ability to experience inter-dependence to become increasingly honest about the destructiveness of trauma-bonds and wounded relationships, whether with ourselves, with others, or with our understanding of an exclusive, rather than inclusive, God-head.

I’ve been through a lot of trauma and pain in my life, and harder than healing 15 years of incestuous sexual abuse has been healing the trauma-bond I had with my birth mother. It is a deep grief to realise that one trauma-bonded with one’s mother, and that she did the same with her mother and on up the ancestral chain, and that violence is the foundation of her identity and the basis of at least one foundational relationship, with the sacred feminine, Mother Earth. It can be hard, too, when we experience narcissistic abuse to realise that we are worthy of respect, and the person we experience that with may or may not have a trauma-bond as the foundation of all of their relationships. Sometimes reflections and experiences are so painful, we need a space to come to terms with the “shit” and to turn it into fertiliser. If we do not look for what we are missing, are unwilling to receive hard feedback and examine our own rough edges, we tend to identify as victims, because that is a more socially acceptable role.

Our narcissistic parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of humbling experiences, disappointed expectations, and seemingly childish, selfish behaviours and “why-me” picked-on feelings. Our co-dependent parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of abuse, disrespect, not feeling good enough, and being oppressed, suppressed, in our heads and disconnected from our bodies. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to hold compassion for all of these parts of ourselves and others we are intimate with, while ongoingly maintaining healthy relational boundaries, even when it triggers others to go around the cycle of violence. It is hard to watch people we care about suffer the pain of the cycle of violence, but we are of no help if we remain there with them reinforcing the confusion in us both. It takes courage, trust and faith to let go and allow ourselves and others to be on a journey of remembering that who we are is undyingly eternal and innately whole.