Tag Archives: identity

My Jewish experience

A few weeks ago I was watching a couple of rabbis and their wives driving around Australia looking for Jewish people. They said throughout history Jews have been hunted down by persecutors, so now they’re hunting down Jews to bring them back into the religious community. When they came across a few young men at Uluru who said they were Jewish, they outfitted them with yarmulkes and tefillin, prayed with them, danced the hora, and said, “Be proud to be Jewish.” That remark stung, because I rarely feel that. I’m deeply disgusted that since its inception, the largest number of UN resolutions on an issue has been against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I’m deeply disgusted by how many Jewish people identify as victims while remaining in denial about their own offending. I’m deeply disgusted how little regard many Jewish people have for Mother Earth, and how often this results in over-the-top consumerism. And I’m deeply disgusted that in the name of belief, people mutilate their baby boys a few days after birth through circumcision while rarely reflecting on modern knowledge of the neurological consequences that sets into motion. (I have a short article on that coming out soon.)

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I have spent over 30 years wrestling with my Jewish identity, trying to understand it and what it means to me. I have studied Eastern European Jewish folklore, the Yiddish language, the mitzvot, and sacred stories in the Bible. I have celebrated holy days, braided challah for Shabbat and charoset for Passover, done a bat mitzvah, adopted a religious name, and even visited Israel on a birthright trip that resulted in a stalker showing up across the country at my door afterwards which the rabbis leading the trip denied was an issue. At its core, my Jewish experience has involved studying and then freeing myself from a cult of belief forced upon me that embodies profound harshness and righteous judgment along with coping through humour. This judgment has been a tough way for people to uphold morals and values, some of which I agree with. And living nearly 6000 years waiting for a messiah is a long time to keep hoping and stubbornly stick to the same story that he’s coming, and he wasn’t Jesus. You need a strong sense of humour to uphold that cosmic joke!

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But the way I’ve been taught to embody Jewishness feels fundamentally faulty. Rather than try to prove I’m a worthy person and feel like a failure, I’ve decided to think that worthy as I am. Rather than shame others’ behaviours, I focus on accepting what I feel ashamed about and speaking out with passion when I also have compassion. Rather than guiltily force myself to follow Jewish norms that feel wrong or abusive to me, I’ve set boundaries with people in my family that have resulted in my being socially shamed and having to abandon people I care about to avoid being abused.

My Jewishness has been so profoundly painful and dysfunctional that it required me to learn how to engage in practices of purification. I celebrate my ancestral resilience; we’ve collectively suffered and survived a lot of shit. And while I have compassion for acting quickly to survive traumatising situations, when we’re no longer desperate I believe we’re responsible for reflecting on our past actions and making amends for ourselves and our ancestors. Jesus, the Jew, definitely preached this. I’m proud of many Jewish people I know for being heart warriors, standing with those who are downtrodden and keeping cultural beliefs and practices alive that matter to them. But mostly I’m profoundly disgusted by and even ashamed of my Jewishness, and it’s been quite hard to be honest about that. So many of the beliefs and stories given to me I’ve found to be based in fears, lies, and mind games. I think there must be something more to the Jewish identity than being a people whose story begins with slavery and involves worship of a judgmental masculine sky god. I visited Israel and did not feel a Pachamama presence there, nor do I feel that biblical stories reflect my creator or people’s story fully. 

23 of the Funniest Religious Memes/Cartoons | Cartoon, God ...Resilience is especially necessary when one’s path is based on existential judgment and conditional love. Without an earth ethos grounding us in our bodies, environments, and communities, we can’t experience unconditional love. And the Jewish identity I inherited is completely ungrounded–it is not even connected to Israel. Outsiders may laugh at Jewish neuroticism in a Woody Allen film, but I grew up with such people failing to take care of themselves or me, convinced there was something wrong with them that doctors’ pills could fix, and never satisfied no matter what they achieved. Having lived intimately with this addiction, abuse, and neuroticism, I’ve come to see it as based in self-betrayal, self-hatred and self-abandonment. I don’t know what set my ancestors on Jewish paths many generations ago. I know some of the traumas they and I have been through, and I feel that staying on the Jewish diaspora path has served to make our traumas bigger. For example, my grandmother told me as a child that I can’t trust anyone, and I asked with surprise, What about you?! It’s a much harder road to judge, confront, and forgive than to just accept in the first instance. I thank my Jewishness for this hard learned lesson. My current path is one of accepting unconditionally. I don’t feel this aligns with my Jewishness, so I seek to uncover what lies underneath that for me. I’m moved to close with this quote from someone else who has dug beneath the roots of her inherited identity:

Freedom is uncomfortably unknowing yourself and a willingness to keep coming undone — Zen Buddhist nun and queer African American, angel Kyodo williams

Earthly nourishment

All Law-breaking comes from that first evil thought, “I am greater-than,” that original sin of placing yourself above the land or above other people.

Tyson Yunkaporta

The above quote is the definition of “unsustainable” to me. I see this wisdom enshrined in the biblical story of the Tree of Knowledge that some of our ancestors were advised not to eat from before their curiosity and the trickiness of a snake got the better of them and taught them this lesson. I facilitated a workshop last weekend for healing professionals called “Space for Spaceholders” in order to create space for their nourishment. The embodied metaphor for nourishment that came to me was the placenta. The placenta is responsible for nourishing and protecting babies in the womb. It connects the mother to the baby by supplying blood through the umbilical cord to the developing child, secretes hormones that are required for pregnancy and for preparing the mother’s body for breastfeeding, and provides babies with antibodies of for protection for the first few months of their life.

The placenta is a symbol of a sacred life support system. There are so many cultural beliefs, stories and practices that honour this primal nourisher. Many Aboriginal Australians see the placenta as a person’s hologram that provides a map for their life. It is buried in the Earth to provide direction for the person once they reach puberty. The Navajo (Diné) in the Southwestern US bury the placenta in sacred ancestral ground so the person grows up with a strong cultural identity. Similarly, among the Maori in New Zealand the words for “land” and “placenta” are the same. In Hmong culture in Laos, people believe that a spirit will wander the Earth and not be able to join their ancestors in the spirit world without returning to the place their placenta was buried and collecting it, so it is the same word as “jacket” in their language. In Korea and China, many people burn the placenta and keep the ashes, then sprinkle them into a person’s food when they are sick to provide profound nourishment. In Indonesia the placenta is seen as a person’s older sibling or twin, and in Iceland as a person’s guardian angel. The Ibo of Nigeria and Ghana treat the placenta as the dead twin of the live child and give it full burial rites. And the Baganda of Uganda believe that the placenta is actually a second child. Not only is it the child’s double, but the placenta also has its own spirit that resides in the umbilical cord.

And then there’s modern Western culture that incinerates placentas in hospitals without honouring them whatsoever. This says a lot to me about the depth of desecration and unsustainable thinking that has permeated our lives. Thinking about honouring the tree of life, did you realise the art in the image above was a placenta print?

We miss so much when we are in a space of separation… A couple of months ago I symbolically reclaimed my placenta and its connection to Mother Earth. I used a work of art that symbolised my placenta and ceremonially thanked it and planted it in the Australian bush. It was a simple act and its effects have been gently rippling through my life ever since. About five or six years ago I took a short course in Vedic astrology. Reading the map of the stars and planets for the place and time I was born, the teacher told me that my life was never going to work until I was in my 30s after I went through a huge transition. She showed me a split in certain energies that would not align until then in my life. I felt moved, like she had given me permission not to blame myself for things being so difficult. And after symbolically planting my placenta recently, I came across the following quote that sums up how I see things today:

For many years I sensed my own darkness, my own Otherness, and the many ways in which I am an outlier in this world. I thought this was what was wrong with me. It took me a long time to recognise that this is what I have to bring to this world.

Mary Mueller Shutan

Earth Ethos child development

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

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

childdevelopment.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Medicine for Rooting Down and Healing Burn Out

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

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

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

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

relationshipwheel

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

 

The power of denial

Denial literally means “saying no” to something, but we tend to think of it in a negative way. We say things like, “He’s in denial” when someone’s not accepting a truth. Here’s a concerning example of Reagan talking about Native Americans:

We’ve done everything we can [stop residential schooling & child removals] to meet their demands…Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us [they all became citizens by 1924]…Some of them became very wealthy because some of those reservations were overlaying great pools of oil, and you can get very rich pumping oil. And so, I don’t know what their complaint might be.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the current president had said this. What I struggle to see is why so many Americans are surprised about what Trump says when this shit has been going on for ages. It’s not new unless you’ve had your head in the sand! (Image from here.)

Illuminated Living: Burying Your Head In The Sand

But denial can be a positive and empowering act. We can deny a lie and re-claim what is real and true. It’s enlightening to see how often we perform during the day, and to choose consciously when to please people with the status quo (“I’m fine, and you?” and when to deny the expected social dance and be a truthful disrupter (“I’m sad today, my mom’s sick”). When we are flow-ers, our experiences feel embodied and full, and memories are centred in our hearts, without head-spins or image/sound loops, body aches or numbnessPsychedelic flower by djzealot on DeviantArt. When notice those, we need to accept the pain/dissonance of the experience and decide how to respond. And our responses can be so inspiring and powerful, like a Lakota woman called Blackowl describing her free birth at Standing Rock:

Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways. At one time, we were forcibly sterilized…[We] have become so disconnected from our bodies and our roles as a result of the mainstream colonial culture…[but my daughter] will know where she came from, that she came from very strong women who all stand behind her wherever she goes. I definitely felt those strong spirits near us when she was born.

We are all trying to survive and navigate dehumanising social systems today, and many of my ancestors were complicit in this de-humanisation. I am too sometimes. It seems to me that exceptionalism and greed are foundations of colonisation. So many of our ancestors were tricked or forced into leaving the safety and security of their homelands, and ended up at the mercy of leaders filled with abstract promises and entitlements. If we can decolonise these lies and griefs by seeing through them with compassion and expressing our feelings, how much more centred, peaceful, and grounded will we all be?

One way that I am denying exceptionalism and de-colonising is by creating a calendar that is a mix of Frisian (Germanic), Ashkenazi pagan (Slavic), and modern celebrations that are meaningful to me, my ancestors, and are seasonally appropriate for the land where I live now (no fake snow in the summer for Christmas, please!). Through developing this calendar I learned so much, felt moments of deep resonance in my body, and peace in my mind. For example, I realised that all my ancestors followed lunisolar calendars (I love moon ceremonies), and my Frisian ancestors considered sunset the start of day (I’ve been a lucid dreamer since childhood and find the subconscious space much more powerful for healing and insight than waking life).

Cloud Clearer Calendar 2019.jpeg

This act of denying the colonial Christian calendar is especially important to me, because the Gregorian calendar has never felt like my calendar, and the years and months and days I write to communicate with others have never made intrinsic sense to me. It’s no wonder, because they don’t come from my culture! (Check out this previous post with about calendars if you want to learn more.)

Wiradjuri language - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaDenying oppressive cultural stories frees not only you, but your ancestors, the lands, and indigenous people and their ancestors connected to the land where you live.  A few hours outside of Sydney, Australia in Wuradjuri country (green on the map):

When you look across the river you can still see the remains of the Aboriginal camps…all these highways that criss-cross the landscape, they are following Aboriginal trails. It’s not as if an explorer blazed through the wilderness. They just followed a track. Churches — both Catholic and Protestant — were built on Bora Rings which were sacred dance and initiation sites…Goonoo Homestead was a sacred area. It’s a bend in a river and that’s where the Wiradjuri all camped. A squatter came along and built his house there.

File:Baiame Wiradjuri.jpg - Wikimedia CommonsThough churches and houses were built on their sacred sites were intended as acts of dominance and genocide, they ensured that those sacred places survived as sites of worship. Today Wuradjuri people are going back to those places and re-membering their language and culture:

You have to be in that one spot to actually know the ways of thinking around the naming of that area…All the Aboriginal history has been eradicated, the scar trees have gone. But several waves of white or non-Indigenous history has also been eradicated and that’s what’s really interesting. But the land remains, the trees are coming back. A lot of scrub is coming back — prickly pear and god knows what else — but the beauty of the land remains. And it’s such a beautiful country.

Many people don’t realise that patron saints of cities or groups of people were often people who killed local shamans and sages, desecrated sacred sites, and forcibly converted people. This happened throughout Europe and the Middle East, and spread across the world. I once asked an African American pastor how he had reconciled his faith with the fact that Christianity was forced onto his ancestors during slavery. He hadn’t yet thought about it. It’s no wonder to me that we are filled with so many survival fears! The more we heal these denials, the more powerful our faith will become, and the more peace and truth we will embody. There’s nothing wrong with Christian; there is something wrong with ignorance, intolerance, and avoidance. May reading this inspire you to deny a lie and more fully live in truth tonight.

File:Pink sunset.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

 

Boundaries & integrity

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

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

Boundaries and Confidentiality - ppt download

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

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

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

TOO BUSY FUNNY QUOTES image quotes at hippoquotes.com

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post on Anglo-Celtic Australian identity

One of the hardest things about being an Anglo-Celtic Australian is not having a culture that gives deep meaning, context, and guidance to the struggles of my life. The stories of Anglo-Celtic Australian resilience I was fed as child just don’t do the job.

I acknowledge the grit, courage and determination of the first settlers and the diggers, but it all seems built on a foundation of lies, denial and disassociation, the best examples being Terra Nullius, the dehumanising British class system, the occupation of Ireland, and the power hoarding structure of the Church.

Subjugation and shame lie at the heart of so much of what makes us who we are as a collective consciousness. We cling to things like our egalitarianism, but elect a Prime Minister who openly espouses ideas like “a fair go for those that have a go”. It’s bullshit. (Image from here.)

Australia_a-fair-go
Don’t get me wrong. I’m fond of Australia, and Australians. More than fond. For all our peccadillos, I love us. And by us I’m speaking most about me, the Anglo-Celtic Australian. My tribe, my people. My connection to a nebulous post-white Australian multicultural identity feels so often forced, and hidden behind euphemism and untruths. It has to be, because what came before it has not healed enough to make space for anything real to replace it. It’s pure aspiration, often based merely on the fleeting winds of social convention and social shaming.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I endorse being ashamed of who we are. For me this can only lead back around to denial and anger. But of course this shame is there whether we like it or not. It’s something we must heal. Perhaps it’s THE place to start our work; unconditional love and grace for all that went before, warts and all.

What is the alternative? ANZACS, the grizzled farmer, a game of beach cricket next to the barbie, or even our supposed egalitarian cosmopolitan multiculturalism? To me, they just don’t cut it. Smoking ceremonies and welcome to country? Window dressing. There’s just so much flagrant bullshit at the heart of it all. We need more truth.

Here’s a truth. I’m envious of people who identify as indigenous. I envy the power of their stories, their connection to this land, and their feeling of belonging to something real and carnal. My material and societal privilege feel like a big bag of shame that I am supposed to pretend isn’t there. I envy those who can talk about their burden openly with dignity and without ridicule.

If I’m honest, when I look around at most Australians, and within myself (I am in this as much as anyone), I see scared, subjugated and exploited children, without a solid cultural foundation, without real connection to the land. I see bullies, and the bullied. I don’t see a deep sense of purpose and meaning. I don’t see unfettered spirit in flow. I’m sorry if his hurts to read. It hurts to say.

Wrapped up in all of this for me personally is an overwhelmed, listless, elderless masculinity, and an absent relationship with unconditional feminine love as embodied by a relationship to the earth. The feminine in us all of us seemingly seeks so much to be just more masculine.

I wish I knew more about my own ancestors, and their personal stories and struggles, where they came from, and what that really meant for who they were. Why is everything that they are largely forgotten, and mostly not talked about in my family? Why is the richness of their cultural heritage and diversity reduced to “whiteness”? How can I possibly heal from wounds my kin have picked up on their journey, like their pain of leaving tribal indigenous land, if I don’t know anything about them?

It seems to me that one of the greatest injustices in the modern world is the labelling of only some people as “indigenous”. Different people are indigenous to different places, but we are all from somewhere, originally. And building from that, everyone needs the opportunity to becomes indigenous to the place that nourishes and shelters them, physically and spiritually. (Image from here.)

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA[2]

But we’re here now. We have to be indigenous HERE if we’re going to thrive on any kind of deep level. Fortunately, from what I have seen, the original indigenous Australians have nothing but grace and generosity for us Anglo-Celtic Aussies if we’d but commit to truth, and real healing. And that MUST start inside.

I don’t know why I ought to be, and I know reasons why I ought not to be, but I am an Anglo-Celtic Aussie, and I am choosing to be proud of that. I commit to truth and healing. I commit to grounding myself here on this land. I commit to creating for my future ancestors a rich healthy culture that I never had.

Luke Ringland

Walking the talk of a commitment to creating a healthy culture, Luke had an opinion piece published today on gambling addiction.

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

catholicaltar.jpg

I am delighted to hear from people having success working with ancestral altars and have been asked to write more generally about altar and shrine practices. I will also talk about power objects. Starting with etymology, “altar” is from a Latin word for “on high” (like altitude) and refers to honouring and worshipping great gods through sacrifice, usually by burning something and sending smoke up towards the heavens. “Shrine” is one of those mysterious words of unknown origin that refers to a sacred case or box (like the ark of the covenant) for keeping holy papers or other powerful spiritual objects. Shrines honour the spirit of a person, event, or ideology. The way we tend shrines is by leaving offerings. Altars are interactive, working spaces of worship where we ask for insight and guidance. We often create blended shrine-altars where we both leave offerings, as well as ask for insight and guidance. Most churches and temples are such blended spaces, where people leave incense, flowers, or candles with gratitude to figures like Jesus,

shrineofrememberance.jpgBuddha, and Krishna, and where people also sit in contemplation and pray for insight and guidance from those figures. I find it helpful to be intentional about these differences in my own life, but maybe blended spaces work for you. Ultimately, we build relationships with figures, ideas, events, places, and energies, and those relationships work best when we both give and receive, and do not always ask or give with the expectation of immediately getting back… (Images: Altar of St Michael’s Church in Munich, Shrine of Remembrance for the War Dead in Melbourne)

There are three types of altar practices that I use in my daily life: an ancestral altar, a personal altar, and a body altar. My introduction to a personal altar practice came from the mesa program. The personal altar for me, is medicine wheel-based, because that is my cosmology. It is a cloth on a flat surface next on my night table to represent the medicine wheel and provides a personal reflection for me. My husband who gravitates more towards Buddhism has an altar built on a footstool that is in three vertical layers. Yours might be Christian or Daoist; it depends on where your spirit feels most at home. Out of respect for my privacy and current altar work, I am posting a photo of my altar from 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it looks like and to explain some of the symbolism.

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Following a medicine wheel path, in the centre is the heart, where I have power objects of rocks and crystals representing core beliefs I was working with at the time, including rose quartz for unconditional love and acceptance, a fossil for honouring ancestors, a small glass globe for honouring Mother Earth and right placement, and two clear quartz crystals for clarity and courage. In the north (mental) realm which in my medicine wheel is white, there is a feather and a small angel figure to connect with my personal power animal (egret) and my highest thinking (angel). In the east (spiritual) realm which is yellow is a candle in a glass with UT Austin written on it as I was pouring my spirit into my PhD program at the time. In the south (emotional) realm which is red is a shell that was in my parents’ house growing up where I burned offerings to clear those emotional bonds. And in the west (physical) realm which is black is a young girl to represent my inner child being held by a crystal to represent Grandmother Moon and a salt lamp to represent Grandfather Sun.

All of the items on the altar are power objects, meaning they are imbued with energy and meaning, and I put them on and take them off the altar with care and ceremony. Power objects can be anything that we feel drawn to or has meaning for us, from a candle to a cross to a rock we pick up off the ground. Sometimes the meaning is clear to me when I place an object on the altar, and sometimes the meaning becomes clear over time and begins mysteriously. At times I am moved to break open power objects to free trapped energy (which I find creates ease for my body and relationships that do not need to break instead), and at times I pass the objects on to other people, bury them, burn them…it depends what feels right and what insight comes to me in visions and dreams.

The body altar practice is how I start each day. It was inspired by a practice Cristina Pratt mentioned of using her body as the centrepiece of the medicine wheel, followed by most elements of the body prayer which I learned from kundalini yoga teacher Carolyn Cowan (see below).

These days Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon are outside of the borders of my personal altar, and Grandmother Moon carries slips of paper I regularly print with inspirational notes and quotes to set my daily intentions. So each morning from my bed I reach for some of Grandmother Moon’s wisdom, take it in, and place the slip of paper on my altar. (I regularly burn the slips of paper when it feels like the right time to ground this wisdom into my life.) Then I get up and do a body altar practice. I stand facing the east and ground my feet by imagining roots extending into Mother Earth. I reach my left arm out to the side and thank Grandfather Sun, and reach out my right arm to thank Grandmother Moon. I raise my arms up to thank Father Sky, and bend to touch the ground to thank Mother Earth, then place my hands on my heart to honour my interconnection with all beings. I then honour each of the four directions with breath, movement, voice, and intention, and then extend my arms out and twirl to honour my boundaries and human limits. I then do a movement to bring energy up from the Earth below and into my life for the day and thank the ancestors of the land where I am and of my lineages and past lands of connection. And I end with an embodied prayer of unconditional love and acceptance through the Body Prayer above (minus lying prostrate on the floor).

Each evening before bed I pray at my personal medicine wheel altar. Behind the altar on the wall are images of my totems, moiety (paternal line) and heart-language (Frisian), so that that I honour them daily. Many days I am moved to leave offerings at my ancestral altar which is more of a shrine for me and a working altar for my husband at the moment. Some days I leave offerings at a tree altar in our garden (such as bits of food with thanks for Mother Earth’s bounty and with awareness that non-human beings in our garden also need to eat!). Some days I bring offerings to a tree grove in a nearby park whom I have asked to support an upcoming ritual. Offerings are a complex subject for a future post, so I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought at the moment!

Exercise: What altars and shrines are in your life? What do you intentionally want to cultivate? To let go of? What meanings do some power objects in your home have? Which ones might be useful to let go of, destroy, bury, flush, or pass on to someone?

 

Existential Wounds

vol-13-1-coverExistential wounds seem to occur more often for those of us with multi-cultural, immigrant, and colonial heritage. When we are (or our ancestors were) forcibly moved, forced to adopt unfamiliar cultural practices of spiritual worship, live in homes and wear clothes of unfamiliar materials, eat foods unfamiliar to our bodies, or were abused or enslaved in some way, we experienced trauma. This trauma often took the form of existential wounding where the very core of our identities, ways of being, and understandings of the world are shaken. It can take many generations and much work to heal such wounds. I recently had an article about indigenous trauma healing published if you want to dive more deeply into that. (Ignore the abstract; they used the wrong one.)

Through generations of carrying existential wounds, we feel ashamed that what our ancestors taught us about the right ways to live and what we learned to honour has been desecrated. We become ungrounded and disoriented and struggle to trans-form and re-form ourselves and our cultures in new places. We feel lied to and know in our bones that something is wrong. We wonder if we’re crazy, if something is wrong with us; we get angry with our families or society and struggle with mountains of conflicts. (This is structural change; re-claiming the body/mind/spirit as one where we are now.) If you are reading this, chances are you feel a calling to do that work! As an example, I always felt disoriented in the Northern Hemisphere. I struggled to orientate and make sense of directions, and when I got my PhD I had the definitive feeling that I was moving backwards, spiralling inwards to the core so I could get to the essence of the existential wound, go through a spiritual death and be reborn again. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere has helped me feel like my life is finally correctly oriented. Yet at the same time, native foods of Australia are unfamiliar to my body. So I gather lily pillies to make jam, eat native figs off of big ficuses when I walk by, and cook up warrigal greens (See images below). I’ve noticed that native foods are unfamiliar to most people here, though, and eating European meats and veggies seems to keep people’s psyches more tied to places across the planet and help them be more willing to mine indigenous land in their own country! (Images from here and here.)

I believe that decolonisation has profoundly positive effects on healing of existential wounds as it helps us feel more whole. While listening to the Mythic Medicine podcast recently I realised a simple way to heal some of our existential wounds is to name and honour the landforms and elementals that raised us, and support us where we now live. Here is mine for where I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia:

I was raised on the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (earth), hilly land with red clay soil and loads of spindly pine trees. The water (water) that I drank and bathed in came from Lake Lanier, a dammed portion of the Chattahoochee River. The winds (air) were unnamed but predominantly flowed from the southwest towards the northeast. Power (fire) came predominantly from a hydroelectric plant that dammed the river. The main spiritual practice (heart) there was Protestant Christian, and in particular Southern Baptist. The largest landform was Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping that extends underground into five states and has a Confederate Memorial carved into it which is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. Other memorable landforms are the network of manmade highways, including a circle around the city with an X of two highways that meet at the centre, and incredibly messy interchanges such as one called Spaghetti Junction that looms large in my memory (see below). A local park called Henderson Lake was a safe space for me, and I walked there regularly (see below). The Creek and Cherokee nations existed on the land before English colonists, and before that were nations of mound-builders which we know little about. (Images from here and here.)

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Exercise: I invite you to download this My Ancestry Exercise that came together when preparing for an ancestral healing workshop a couple months ago. I have my answers on there as an example. It will give you a reflection of what you know about where you come from, and your intuition may answer some questions you didn’t realise you knew! You can add to this exercise an honouring of landforms and elementals exemplified above for the land(s) that raised you, and the land that now supports you!

Healing & Cultural Appropriation

In the previous post I wrote about how complex it is to honour multiple cultural identities, ground ourselves where we are now and honour the ancestors of the land, forgive our ancestors’ mistakes and decolonise our everyday lives. This post is a step further, because cultural appropriation is different in the context of spiritual healing. I have learned through experience what cultural appropriation in a healing context is, and the destructiveness it brings. I have also gained valuable insight, lessons, and tools when some cultural appropriation was being done that added a layer of destruction to the person’s offering. We are human, and our healing work is inherently imperfect. (Image from here.)

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In my experience, once we are out of crisis, healing within a market economy context is limited. There are different power dynamics, feelings and experience when meeting in a therapist’s office for 50 minutes for $100, and when with meeting a caring community member in a home, or while walking and talking with a friend in a park. As I wrote in a previous post, please RUN AWAY FROM people who say they are fully healed or ascended masters or anything like that unless you want to join a cult, because delusions of grandeur and beliefs around exceptionalism and/or superiority are not conducive to healing. Also from a previous post, keep in mind that:

“A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998). 

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time.

I don’t mean to say we should never participate in a ceremony in an apartment with a medicine from a foreign culture and land. But if we do, let’s do it with awareness and help it be as safe as possible. I ask for my own guidance in a form that resonates with me (either prayer or meditation usually). I acknowledge the limitations of the healing work I am considering participating in and ask if it is right for me. If I get signs and insight to move forward, then I ask what I need to do so that it is in balance. For example, when I offered an ancestral trauma healing workshop earlier this year on land with which I have limited cultural connection, I received guidance to donate participants’ gift economy offerings to an Aboriginal advocacy organisation. I also verbally thanked the ancestors of the land during the workshop for supporting our lives and the healing work.

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I will share the following story to offer a contrast of an experience of cultural appropriation with a man who called himself a shaman and worked with indigenous people in the Amazon, Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. He quit his day job to do healing work full time and did so within a gift economy and invited me to participate in a group healing ceremony supported by the tribe in the Amazon. He gave us all a protocol of how to prepare for for three weeks, which I followed. Two days before the ceremony, he said he had new information and changed some things, which I found strange. My husband said he had a bad feeling, but I still trusted the man. I got a sign there was danger ahead, and I felt shaken but kept going. The ceremony changed again the night it took place. At one point, the so-called shaman stood over me menacingly while I was laying on the floor, yelled at me and called me names. I told him I found the behaviour abusive, but I never heard from him again and did not see him after that. When I wrote the couple running a school for shamans in the Southwestern U.S. who recommended him on their website, they said that he had lost his mind, that he was threatening them and they were scared of him, and that putting his information on their website was not an endorsement. I later realised that the tribe was split in their support for his doing that ceremony within their lineage, with their healing tools, away from their land and culture, and that my own cultural heritage was so filled with conflict that I was able to provide the group with a reflection of this problem he was denying. What a messy, valuable lesson he gave me. Here are some less extreme examples of cultural appropriation I have experienced:

  • People charging money for community healing ceremonies traditionally offered within a gift economy or by donation, and/or facilitating ceremonies without integrity:
    • e.g. for a sweat lodge: charging a fixed fee, failing to configure the fire and lodge correctly, failing to honour the land and lineage ancestors, failing to clear the space and clean up the lodge before doing another ceremony
    • e.g. calling oneself a spiritual counsellor in a modern city and charging $100/hour without any formal counselling training or supervision from another counsellor
  • People of mixed cultural heritage identifying with only one ancestral blood lineage,  denying their own complex wholeness, then projecting that dissociation onto others whom they are supposedly offering healing to:
    • e.g. studying curanderoismo healing with someone from rural Mexico and identifying as an indigenous Aztec healer when the person did not know one of their birth parents, grew up in one U.S. state, and lived in another U.S. state.
    • e.g. identifying only as an oppressed African-American, indigenous or Jewish person without acknowledging other blood lineages and cultural heritages

heartheal.jpegI have a lot of compassion for the messiness of embodying Earth Ethos in modern multicultural cities. This is my life! And it is hard, messy work. It’s important to give ourselves and each other grace and trust that we all do our best. For a beautiful story from someone of mixed cultural heritage about honouring all of her complex heritage, read this by Lyla June. (Image from here.)

Since I have learned much of this stuff the hard way, I offer you the following suggestions of what to consider when seeking spiritual healing:

  • Intention & Identity
    • How do YOU see your role and identity in healing work done within the context of a human relationship? Are you looking for practical tools? Emotional support? Plant medicine? Ceremonial healing? A spiritual elder? Escapism? Adventure? Gratification of curiousity about an ‘other’ culture?
    • How does the other person see their role? Do they call themselves a healer or shaman? Do they say they are healing you? Channeling healing energy? Facilitating healing? Holding space? Offering medicine? Helping you connect with your inner higher self? How does the other person identify themself?
  • Cosmology & Culture
    • What cosmology/cosmologies do you embody? What perspectives and beliefs do you want to learn more about and bring into your life? To let go of? How do you relate safely to people with different cosmologies and/or cultures?
    • Is the other person’s cosmology related to (a) specific culture(s) or lineage(s)? How do you relate to the other person’s cosmology? What ancestry does the person have?
  • Place & Form
    • What physical place supports your healing (e.g. a sweat lodge, therapist’s office, church pew, a home, etc.)? Is the place relevant to the culture or lineage on which the work is based, or has it been adapted to your context in some way? What form supports your healing (e.g. talking and listening, music, dance, energy work, laying of hands, artistic expression, etc.)?
    • Where is the person willing to meet with you, and what forms of support are available? How does the person honour multiculturalism, modern places and forms? What cultural and place-based relationships does the person bring? If the person is working within a specific cultural context, how has the person received those teachings?

 

Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

You may have grown up, like me, steeped in multiculturalism in your home and city, eating foods from all over the world, making friends with others of totally different cultural heritages, travelling and living overseas, and honouring multiculturalism in your everyday lives. If you go back a few generations, how many of ancestors of your blood lineage spoke your language? Dressed in clothes like yours? Listened to similar music, or did similar dances or art? Were taught similar stories about the right ways to live? Did formal schooling? Worked indoors? Followed a similar faith tradition? Celebrated the same holidays? Lived on the same land where you live? Ate foods native to the land where you live? The hardest thing for most of us to fully accept is that in order to survive, we and our ancestors all appropriated from other cultures, and had our own cultures appropriated from. All earth beings move and trans-plant. For example, potatoes are native to the Andes, yet we often think of them in relation to Ireland. We are in living in a hopelessly multicultural world. Just think about the fact that one box of tea we buy for $3 is made from leaves grown in India, packaged in China from cardboard made in Bangladesh, then is shipped to England in a barge made in Denmark, and then distributed to our local supermarket chain owned by a German company. How complicated! (Image from here.)

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How do we practically honour the multicultural complexity of one product in our shopping cart?  How do we honour the complexity of our lineages, in terms of relationships with food, place, land, and spiritual traditions?  At what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the 1700s:

I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors…for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices…I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people…[Yet] the land, her spirits…even after all that has happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people…built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about reparations…[that will be] inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories.

If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

I see colonising behaviour all over modern cities today. We talk about ‘gentrification’ when people of traditionally more dominant and resourced cultural groups displace traditionally oppressed groups in the parts of a city where the oppressed groups had been forced to live. I consider this micro-colonisation, akin to the term micro-aggression. What if that’s the only place you can afford to buy a house? Does that mean you ethically shouldn’t? Should people with white skin never move to Oakland, California or to Redfern in Sydney, Australia? I don’t think so. But if you choose to, you have the responsibility to be honest about what is happening, feel the pain of others’ displacement along with the joy of your new placement, make amends and build positive connections with the people and land as best you can.

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Acknowledging the peoples and lands from which traditions emerge is a way to deeply honour ancestors and keep wisdom alive, and allows you to be a cultural bridge in new lands. The respectful intent and humble, teachable spirit with which you approach such activities is the main difference between honouring multiculturalism in our modern world and a the colonial, oblivious, blind, entitled, and greedy and grabby spirit of cultural appropriation. If you are honest about where you stand today and are able to honour your ancestral journey, however many mistakes and sacrifices you and your ancestors have made, you will have a much easier time honouring others’ cultural traditions.

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It also helps to keep in mind how fluid ancestry and identity is. Culture is so much more complicated than just tracing your blood lineage and labelling someone as indigenous or non-indigenous, black or white or brown-skinned. Just because you do not have a known ancestral lineage in Japan, for example, does not mean that you are culturally appropriating if you feel moved to practice aspects of Shintoism, learn to do a traditional tea ceremony, or how to brew your own sake. We multicultural moderns have much more similar journeys to drops of water that are re-cycled around the planet, evaporating from a lake into a cloud and flowing across the sky, falling as rain into a huge ocean, entering a jet stream that crashes as a wave against a rock across the world from where we started, and hanging out in a pool on that rock for a while. I personally think this modern mess we’re in is here to remind us that we’re all one big human family! (Image from here.)

Dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness practices are other great ways to connect with our ancestors, as well as donating time and money, building and tending ancestral altars, spiritual practices to heal unjust power dynamics and colonial wounds, supporting the revitalisation of indigenous languages, connecting with non-human ancestors of land and place, and reconnecting with languages and traditions of your ancestors.

Exercise: Modern people tend to use food and drink as the main tool for connecting with ancestry. Try branching out. If you have Gaelic ancestors, learn a few words and see how you feel speaking them, then put on music and see how your body naturally wants to move to it. You may have some moves burst out that you didn’t know about! Also, imagine how ancestors lived on the land where you are now. Did they used to fish by the river you walk along? Imagine how your ancestors used to live in faraway lands. Did they build a fire in the evening to heat their homes just like you are doing? One study found that just thinking about our ancestors and how they lived is beneficial to us!