Tag Archives: identity

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! 

 

Cultural Shadows & Reflections

Our lives are an endless series of resolving tensions, or reconciling polarities. We navigate this process based on stories, beliefs, and spiritual tools we’ve learned, which differ by culture. Culture arises from the Earth below, and for the majority of us who come from immigrant, slave, refugee, or forced migration lineages, our sense of culture has been disconnected from land(s) of origin. This creates cultural shadows and reflections, which are different things.

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Think about a reflection from a lake: if the surface of the water is clear and still, the reflection maintains its form and colour, but size may be distorted by angle of perspective, uneven water surface, if we are bigger than the body of water reflecting us is able to show., and by warmth of the water – just look at the difference of the reflection of the trees from water and ice.

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Now think about a shadow: it distorts form, colour, and size. So it is a rather messy reflection of blocked light. The way shadows work, the closer we are to the source of the light, the larger the shadow appears. Placement and perspective have a huge influence on us, from how we see ourselves to how we survive in different environments.

Survival is primitive, root chakra, grounded energy. All Earth environments have a unique nature, which is why I agree with the perspective that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. This is nature; we all know that Earth environments and human cultures are diverse. We would aboriginalland.jpegnever expect someone from Northern Europe to have the same culture as someone from Australia. But when a bunch of people with Northern European ancestry move here (many unwillingly), what does that mean for the culture of the people and place now living on land we call Australia?

Most of us today are experiencing such a cultural transition. We are reconciling polarities of disorientation and loss as we let go of what does not serve us anymore, and trying to ground ourselves where we are. The lived experiences of our ancestors, the myths and teaching stories our elders have passed down, and collective wisdom that has allowed our lineages and tribes to survive has reached limits. Coming from cultures that are disconnected from the Earth where we live now, unpack a lot of shadows. Some of us fret about sustainability yet cling to old cultural stories and ways of being, while others seek to adapt and grow by learning through diversity, taking risks and trying new things. We seek new cultural forms to ensure the survival of our lineages and tribes, which requires sacrifice and risk. (Image from here.)

shadowbookWe literally become bridges between the land and cultures of our ancestors and a new land and culture. Our wild and crazy human journeys allow landforms like mountains and lakes, and trees that have been grounded in one place for centuries to travel vicariously through our reflections and learn what we’ve seen and experienced. What rich gifts we bring when we allow ourselves ground in a new environment. (Image from here.)

What drives us onward through the pain? What makes us want to endure the challenges of reconciling such vast polarities of energies in order to survive? It’s an innate, profound joy and gratitude that we are alive and embodied. And if we are open and humble enough, we can learn a lot about how to survive in our current environments from indigenous elders in person and in spirit. See if you can allow the Aboriginal elder’s joy in the video below to spark a memory of never feeling lonely because you are so connected with your environment and nourished by Mother Earth. 

If we remain shut down, overwhelmed, and closed to connecting with our new environments, we miss opportunities to ground polarities and transform ourselves, and instead become stories of fallen civilisations or evolutionary dead ends.

Shaman’s Illness

Many indigenous cultures have a concept of a “shaman’s illness,” which is simultaneously a traumatic ego-death and initiation in the form of a spiritual crisis. Modern people experiencing shaman’s illness may have multiple traumatic (often near-death) experiences, which can be physical, mental, and/or psychological, as well as spiritual. Such experiences create opportunities for a person to see the world in a new way. A shaman’s illness brings intense experiences that destroys life as a person knows it and shatters previous identities and ways of being that the person was attached to. The gifts of such a brutal illness are an awakening of a huge amount of energy that can be redirected from being destructive or dissociated into being healing and empowering. As a person heals and allows a new identity to be created, the person rises like a phoenix from ashes of a fire and is reborn into carrying a wound as a medicine for others (Pendleton, 2014).

phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes.jpgI have witnessed many people experiencing a shaman’s illness. When people reject or resist it, they usually end up dissociating the destructive energy and becoming very challenging externalising personalities (like narcissists or sociopaths), or internalising the destructive energy and creating diseases such as quickly metastasising cancers. I have witnessed multiple people do both of these things. When people accept the calling of the illness, there are different speeds of doing so, which impacts the way the illness plays out in a person’s life. I have seen some people slowly accept that they are experiencing shaman’s illness over many years and bit by bit change their paths so that over time more aspects of their lives are working. Some (including myself) dive directly into the fire and allow our lives to become incredibly chaotic as our identities are re-forged and often become overwhelmed at the amount of emotion that needs to be processed and the whirlwind pace of life changes that occur. (Image from here.)

Seeing the world in ways that are outside one’s mainstream culture and being sensitive to feelings and experiences that others are blocking or numb to is a big responsibility and often triggers feelings of rejection, social/cultural alienation, doubt, confusion, fear, shame, deep grief, and anger. Learning to pace oneself is part of the journey, but if you are resisting the illness, your life will keep getting harder. What I see often is that the illness brings up such intense feelings of loss of control that people find it hard to “let go and let God” and are unwilling to allow their lives to flow into mess and chaos required for healing. I have received messages a few times that I will be kicked off the planet if I did not take make certain choices, and I have seen others similarly forced to face primal survival fears. The following are keys I’ve found to accepting a shaman’s illness:

  1. Faith in a guiding force/God/divine intelligence/Higher Power bigger than us;
  2. Trust that whatever comes into our lives is meant to help us;
  3. Willingness to experience death;
  4. Following signs, synchronicities, and symbols in dreams and everyday life; and
  5. Finding tools to ground intense energies and forms to express dark emotions.

angrylovingpeople.jpgIt is helpful, but not necessary, to seek support from someone who has been through similar things. Such people can give you compassion and empathy, guiding wisdom, and tools to process wounds and express energy. But it’s vitally important not to delude yourself that any human is a fully healed Jedi-master, all-knowing figure. If someone says they are, then RUN AWAY FROM THEM, because that person is dangerous and delusional and is on a path of becoming a cult leader or something else you don’t want to be involved with. It is important to think of illness and healing as processes, not finite endpoints. When someone says they have “healed” a wound as intense as sexual abuse or parental abandonment, I am suspicious; and when someone plays power games, disrespects, or in any way puts me down, then I know that person is ill and cannot support my healing anymore. I have no tolerance for these behaviours, even when people are unaware. I either change my boundary and create space or make someone aware of their transgression, and if they then don’t own it and work through it, I’m done with the relationship. (Image below from here.)

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I do this because I have learned through my own shaman’s illness that setting fierce boundaries shows that I value my life and my energy, and that I do not need to prove my worth by battling (e.g. convincing, power playing, manipulating, etc.) anybody. Most people who justify harmful and dangerous behaviours are carrying unprocessed primal survival fears. I rarely feel afraid of dying, though. In some ways it would be easier than being here and going through all the trauma my body is still carrying. Working with my shaman’s illness so that I become a medicine person instead of sick or dissociated is a journey of experiencing alchemy, of metaphorically turning dirt into gold as my darkest experiences become fertiliser for the growth of beautiful flowers in myself, others, and the environment. Mircea Eliade says a shaman is a “healed madman,” and Rumi says, “In their seeking, wisdom and madness are one and the same.” If you’re reading this, maybe like me, you can relate to these.

Dignity & privilege

One of the basic premises of an Earth Ethos, and of indigenous teachings generally, is an innate worthiness of being. It does not depend on behaviour or social status or species; all beings on Earth are of worth. This is the foundation of dignity, whose root comes from Latin for “to accept, to take.” In the previous post I wrote about how acceptance keeps us in the present moment. And when we’re in the present moment in a state of worthiness, we are strong and we are dignified, even if behaviour of another person is not. Privilege, on the other

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hand, comes from the Latin words for “private” and “law,” indicating an advantage, right or priority over another person, group, or even species. In social justice circles there has been a lot of discussion in recent years of privilege related to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, age, citizenship, and disability. I know there are real life impacts for many of us because of social privileges, but our focus on these inequities distracts us from the important work of ensuring that we stand in dignity and see others that way regardless of their behaviour or beliefs. It’s our responsibility to remember that regardless of the domination of certain social stories and world views, there is innate dignity in all ways of being. Stories are powerful because we feed them, even if we do so by fighting.

It does not matter if a person has a million dollar home or a high social status job, being in denial and numb to painful feelings is not a privilege, is it disembodiment, disconnection with self, others, and the present moment. It is a disabled and difficult way to navigate the world. I know this because after numerous efforts to ask for help and protect myself from sexual abuse as a child failed, I dissociated, and did not re-member those experiences until my mid-twenties. My life before that was really hard and confusing. It has taken many years and hard work to build a trusting relationship with myself. I have had to let go of and reform numerous unhealthy relationships including my entire family of origin; I have had to ride out decisions based on that denial and numbness and give myself grace in the process; and I have had to dig deep into my psyche to question foundational stories and beliefs that guided me for over 20 years, and replace them with ones that feel and work better. (Image from here. And like skill, you could rank by social privilege as well.)dignity-cartoon.png

Sometimes it feels like we have no choice, because everyone around us is on board; we feel forced to accept global stories like, for instance, capitalism, or countries and borders, or languages we communicate with. These big stories do privilege certain values and world-views. This is Christmas season. How many of us know that Jesus was not born on this day, and that the Catholic Church repurposed indigenous European celebrations for winter solstice over 400 years after Jesus’s death? (Even a Christian site called www.allaboutgod.com knows this. In fact, many of the so-called Christmas traditions have strange histories. It’s okay to celebrate something on another day, like when it’s your birthday on a Tuesday and you have a party the Saturday before, but it’s less powerful than if you celebrated the actual date. It’s the same with solstice. It would be a lot more powerful if we celebrated winter/summer solstice on the actual celestial days instead of the days chosen for Easter/Christmas depending which hemisphere you’re in.Consider connecting with the powerful celestial energy this solstice and doing something to celebrate our planet regardless of what else you celebrate. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas celebrations with fake snowmen, fake pine trees, fake garlands, and sweaty Santas in summer are farcical. (Image from here.)

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It is of course possible to be dignified in celebrating Christmas; it is meaningful to many people. It is also important to recognise, whether you celebrate it or not, that in society right now Christmas is privileged, and to consciously decide how you want to behave given that social reality. Most of us get time off of work for Christmas, and some of us have to use our vacation to celebrate days that are meaningful to us which are not socially privileged. If you have not taken the time to reflect on what the elements of the modern Christmas celebration mean to you and whether your participation aligns with your values and world view, I encourage you to. How could I get out of this if I wanted to?you might ask. Everyone buys presents, decorates houses and offices, makes certain foods, plays certain music, and expects me to join in. Didn’t anyone ever ask you as a kid if everyone was jumping off a cliff if you would too when you used that sort of logic? Christmas celebrations started to feel empty to me as my sex abuse memories were integrating. Christmas memories from childhood were joyful because my dad spent time doing creative things with me, not because there was deep meaning in the specific activities. I didn’t know why I was busily making and buying things, as I am not a dignityquote2.jpgmaterialist or a Christian, so I told people close to me I would focus on birthdays and important life events, and I stopped. I don’t want to deprive anyone of the joy of giving, but I don’t want to feel burdened receiving what is intended as a gift, so I told people close to me if they want to give me something, I prefer personal notes, meals, time together, and handmade art. I dislike expectations to behave a certain way on a day that is not especially meaningful to me, so Luke and I take short trips just the two of us over Christmas to enjoy Mother Nature instead. This all make it easier for me to stand in dignity because I am accepting me and not playing a victim by gracefully navigating a situation where my way of being is not socially privileged. Cultivating the discipline to deny ourselves that which brings us pain and suffering helps us stand in dignity and experience more joyful abundance.

From a pagan friend: Happy Holidays meme.jpg

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:

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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.