Tag Archives: identity

Warriorship

Blog by Lukas

Are the most prescient ideas and images that come to mind when you think of the word “warrior” all about physical strength, toughness, and violent conflict? I doubt you’re alone. To borrow a trick from Valerie, if you online image search the word “warrior” the first things that come up are virtually all men and related to physical violence, specifically some new television show that evidently involves a lot of arse kicking. The story is similar if you try “female warrior”.spartan-4016133_1280

The technical definition of a warrior in the English language supports this narrow view, being rooted in a French word guerroieor meaning “one who wages war”. Most definitions of warrior relate to waging armed conflict, specifically those who have some kind of specialised role in doing so. (Image from here)

The etymology of the word “war”, however, is much more interesting, seemingly originating with broader concepts that include difficulty, dispute, and hostility. According to  etymonline.com, if you follow the known Proto-Germanic cognates as far back as they go, you arrive at a word that means “to bring into confusion”.

This is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Not least of all because virtually all first-person accounts of war I have read describe some manner of confusion and chaos to a degree that was unexpected to the writer. My flailing fist fights over the years confirm this; and as “Iron” Mike Tyson said: tyson

So if war is to some degree about confusion and chaos, perhaps the true warrior is someone who uses their power to bring these things back into a calmer balance? This then is about a warrior responding to and resolving conflict rather than instigating it, even if it is they who strike first. Without doubt there is a rightful place for violence in this, but also many other elements. Sticking to the realm of the physical, another version of the warrior could be a woman in labour finding her strength and power and calmly birthing just when things were at their most chaotic and the pain most intense. (Image from here)

But if we are to use this warrior concept to its fullest extent, literally and metaphorically, perhaps the most important thing is to apply it across the medicine wheel. So this gives us emotional, spiritual, and mental warriors; any and all ways in which a being can use their strength and power to bring conflict and disorder back into balance.

Note that this bigger version of warriorship does NOT just mean these other aspects of warriorship being in service of physical violence, such as mental energy being devoted to better weapons technology, or emotional quieting and centring that improves fighting ability. It means recognising their deep value to our being in and of themselves and together in balance.

This topic came to me when thinking about men and masculinity in the context of healing and reconciliation between Anglo-Celtic Australians and Aboriginal Australians. If we restrict our thinking about and valuing of warriorship to literal, physical combat, this makes such healing hard, such was the intense lopsidedness of the physical contest.

I don’t think it is controversial to say that in the world of Aboriginal Australians, weapons and warfare were just one part of what made men and warriors in those cultures whole and powerful. The weapons they had been using for millennia more than did the job they were needed for. Europeans, on the other hand, were by 1788 riding a wave of centuries of escalating prowess in using violence, supercharged by technology and in service of greed. Warriorship caused more conflict and trauma than it resolved.

With this fuller version of warriorship comes some understanding of what I as an Anglo-Celtic colonist lack, and what I need for healing. I don’t yet value my heart and spiritual warriorship enough.

warrior-body-paint-ritual-scars-Western-Australia-1923

On both the oppressor/colonist side, and the survivor/colonised side of this ledger is ample reason to grow through helping each other to see warriorship more fully. When we do this we’ll need no self-shaming to see the deep value of the balanced warriorship of Aboriginal masculine culture. We colonists can learn what being a whole mature warrior means, and Aboriginal men can learn to value who they are more fully. Then we can do ceremony to bring the conflict and disorder back into balance. (Image from here)

Exercise: Taking a strengths-based stance, think about how your sacred masculine (regardless of your gender) displays warriorship across the Medicine Wheel.

Exercise for Australians: If you are doing an Acknowledgement of Country (especially when there are only men present), try acknowledging the Aboriginal warriors as well as Elders.

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Trauma & Healing

Blog by Valerie Cloud Clearer

As some of you know, I have been writing a book (or it’s being written through/with me may be more accurate language ), so I have felt less inclined to blog. Today I thought I’d adapt a chapter from the book into a blog, since I haven’t written directly about the Indigenous science of trauma in blog form before. It was my PhD topic (and much of my lived experience), so it has taken many years to be able to succinctly express some of the ideas. I hope it resonates with you.

forgiveyourselfTrauma’s meaning, causes and methods of healing differ by culture and cosmology. In Western science, trauma is typically defined as profound wounding that damages a person’s ability to trust in life and self, resulting in existential crises[1]. Trauma is encoded in brain pathways rooted in fear/terror and disgust/ aversion. Feeling fear is intended to protect us from life-threatening danger, so our nervous systems rev up and prepare for crisis. Trauma causes our nervous systems to activate stress hormones when danger isn’t present, creating flashbacks, emotional volatility, strained relationships, re-traumatising experiences, and severe stress[2]. Primary trauma occurs for a person who directly experienced it, and secondary trauma for family and friends. There’s also intergenerational trauma. A typical Western healing approach is individual counselling, with some alternative approaches including other family members, or integrating art therapy, body work, or EMDR[3]. The underlying idea is that by surviving trauma, we can become more resilient individuals.

In Indigenous science, all disease including trauma is indicative of “disruption in the natural order of humans’ interactions with the spirit world,” such as failure to honour the spiritual realm, failure to honour one’s ancestors, neglecting cultural rituals or religious ceremonies, or losing faith in the Creator[4]. Where Western scientists seek cures of diseases and treatments for trauma, Indigenous scientists view trauma and diseases as potential gifts of healing that can offer important insights about how to live well and bring new wise leadership into a community. Where Western science views a personality or ego as the centre of an individual being, an Indigenous medicine person or ‘shaman’ views a person’s eternal spirit as the centre of being. That is why the heart is at the centre of a medicine wheel, to remind us that we are connected to ourselves, each other, and all of Creation.

In Indigenous science, to try to make trauma ‘go away’ through suppression, denial, or taking drugs (legal or illegal) is denying an important spiritual initiation needed by an individual and their community[5]. Experiencing and healing trauma includes all our relations, human and non-human. Through my Ph.D. studies on Indigenous scientific approaches to healing trauma (which included Indigenous healing ceremonies and apprenticeships as well as Western scientific research), I found four underlying causes of trauma in Indigenous science:

  • Disconnection from the Earth;
  • Unhealed ancestral trauma;
  • Soul loss; and
  • Shaman’s illness.

hardtimeReconnecting to the Earth, healing ancestral trauma, and Shaman’s illness have been covered in previous blogs, so let’s discuss soul loss. In Indigenous science, traumatic experiences propel us into terror and dissociation, creating “soul loss,” meaning that we are no longer fully present in ordinary reality because parts of our spirit have split off, fled, or gotten lost. “Soul” is understood to mean ‘consciousness’.[6] To live with soul loss means we are not consciously whole in the moment, that parts of us are frozen in an unresolved past, causing us to lose energy and feel disorientated, weak, anxious and depressed, and to exhibit signs of mental and emotional illness. We may have internalised punishment or protectively hidden parts of ourselves that were unsafe to express, or internalised poisonous emotions like anger, bitterness, envy, fear, greed, hate, intolerance, pride, rage, resentment and vanity that need to be released [7].

findingyourselfOur task as healers is to allow alchemy to occur so that sh*t we are carrying in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits can instead turn into fertiliser for ourselves and others. By consciously choosing to move into terror and aversion/disgust when we are in a safe space, we can reconnect with lost soul parts. In doing so, we gain knowledge that expands our individual and collective understanding of ourselves and our world. This is seen as the sacred calling underlying a ‘shaman’s illness’. Trauma is seen as a spiritual offering of a huge amount of energy that can redirect us into a new identity like a phoenix rising out of ashes. Indigenous healers are called ‘medicine people’ or ‘shamans’ because through healing trauma we embody medicine by living in a wiser way and offering support to others who are struggling through similar wounds.

We heal by consciously going into our traumatic states in a safe space. We are born being able to express few sounds, and similarly much of the traumatic energy of re-birthing ourselves is preverbal. Indigenous traumatic healing requires us to access profound, primal energies, to re-member ourselves by moving through layers of pain, being with and expressing chaotic, violent, pre-conscious and unconscious energies through visions, bodily sensations and movements, and dream-like states of consciousness outside of a Western cosmology.[8] Trauma gives us the ability to enter into altered states of consciousness, and by transforming that gift from sh*tty triggered experiences of traumatic dissociation into a skilful powerful method of connecting with the ethereal, spiritual, sub- and un-conscious realms, we gain access to profound wisdom and aspects of life that others do not experience.

Exercise: Reflect on a traumatic experience you have had. How did it change your understanding of yourself? Your place in the world? Of life itself? See if you can reflect on a deeper level of consciousness through relaxing into a drum journey.

[1] See e.g. Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[2] See e.g. Kirmayer, L., Lemelson, R., & Barad, M. (Eds.). (2007). Understanding trauma: Integrating biological, clinical, and cultural perspectives, pp. 118-141. Cambridge University Press.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing

[4] Monteiro, N. & Wall, D. (2011). African dance as healing modality throughout the diaspora: the use of ritual and movement to work through trauma. Journal of Pan African Studies4(6), 234-52.

[5] See e.g. Kopacz, D. & Rael, J. (2016). Walking the medicine wheel: Healing PTSD. Tulsa, OK: Millchap Books.

[6] See e.g. Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[7] Nuñez, S. (2008). Brazil’s ultimate healing resource: The power of spirit. In Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[8] See e.g. Culbertson, R. (1995). Embodied memory, transcendence, and telling: Recounting trauma, re-establishing the self. New Literary History, 26(1), 169-195.

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Identity politics

At the heart of the Earth Ethos Indigenous Science Dialogues earlier this year was the issue of identity politics. dialogues.5.2021-1The dialogue of that name was with my friend Shannon Field, a Walbunja woman of the Yuin nation, a traditional owner of the land where Lukas and I currently live, the land his first settler ancestor claimed for himself through the crown of England and in whose name the Australian government is still run today.

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With identity politics at the centre, all dialogues touched on that issue. Anglo-Celtic Australian man Lukas Ringland spoke for the PHYSICAL, sharing his experiences of settler trauma, including the pain of being part of a corrupt social majority. On the Crown’s genocidal survival strategy for ex-convicts, he explained: “The more wild the land was, the more likely it was to be given to an ex-convict, like, ‘you go to war against the Indigenous people.’ So you had this battle for life being fought between newly freed convicts and Indigenous people, and then closer to the centre of the colony you had the higher-ups who didn’t have to participate in that.” (Image from here)

Filipino Australian Ellis Bien Ilas spoke for the SPIRITUAL about the trauma of leaving the Philippines for Australia as a child, and his subsequent complex journey of ancestral healing: “I was literally shaken by an event on July 2, 2015…in the ER with an undiagnosed cardiac condition…I was having symptoms medical professionals can’t explain, and…it was looking back…[realising the date of my event] was my grandfather’s death anniversary, and I [] carry his name…That event was a huge catalyst for my spiritual awakening which occurred here in Sydney, Australia.”

Jewish Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) woman Sara Hudson spoke for the MENTAL about the close-mindedness in Aboriginal governmental policy: “When [the government] could verify [some Indigenous knowledge], they were like ‘Ooh! Okay, maybe there is something to this, because it matched what we found ‘scientifically,’ so therefore maybe we will listen now to these Indigenous knowledge-holders around water.’ This is the crazy stuff –  ‘I only listen to you once we have it verified by our Western scientific methods.'” (Image from the ABC, link unknown)

beautiful handsShona (Zimbabwean) Australian woman Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama spoke for the EMOTIONAL, about her experiences navigating whiteness trauma as an African migrant, the absurdity of Australia’s racial labels (Anglo-Celtic, Indigenous, and CALD – culturally and linguistically diverse), and how invisible she feels because “we have never dealt with the race issue with our Indigenous Australians…[but] the WHOLE THING is based on a system of whiteness…[and] we’re not looking at ourselves and the system that led us to do these things…[and now the definition of CALD is] so broad that the only people not captured by that category are Indigenous Australians!”

At the HEART centre, Walbunja Australian woman Shannon Field spoke about “cultural mining”, how “non-Aboriginal people mine our knowledge, mine our experiences in order to form up views, opinions, politics, positions…but in doing so, not providing us with a legitimate and/or authentic opportunity to have influence on what those outcomes actually are….So basically taking the authority and control of our knowledge into White hands.” She also explained, “For me, what identity politics is, that isn’t always a comfortable topic…as an Aboriginal person with fairer skin…I don’t know if it is called a colour privilege, but certainly there are some biases that are applied in terms of palatability of lived experience for White people taking on a Blak story or Blak history…that fits a narrative of what White people want to see….That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of…[And] while I feel like I personally have had a fairly benign experience as an Aboriginal person, your life as an Aboriginal person is not unpoliticised…your mere existence [is under constant political scrutiny and attack].”

always was always will be aboriginal land | Aboriginal ...This “mere existence” of Aboriginal people as humans worthy of dignity collapses the entire ‘legal’ foundation of the Australian nation. The High Court overturned terra nullius and declared that the Australian lands were inhabited at colonisation, but no treaties have been signed, and the Native Title system designed to return Crown land to Aboriginal control (which often takes decades to do so) is fatally flawed. My heart bled last week when I read these words from Gamilaroi-Irish woman Aimee Mehan: “[O]ur Native Title Act does not give Indigenous Australians the right to refuse development on our ancestral lands…imagine that you are told about the impending trauma to a relative [your land/home]. Now you, together with your extended family, must ‘negotiate’ [the] event. You cannot prevent [it]…you must not only endure the trauma…you must sit month after month at the table to negotiate the future occurrence of it with a tribunal. [Then] imagine watching your close relative’s perpetrator being promoted by the Australian government on the world stage in Glasgow.” Gamiliroi Man Wollumbi Waters added: “All of which triggers the trauma and pain we carry as Aboriginal people, the true caretakers of our sacred lands. We walk with our ancestors every day, as the earth is our body and the water is our blood, and the trees and rocks our brothers and sisters, and this is what we hold on to.” Aimee describes this trauma as part of the #metoo movement from an Indigenous science perspective, with non-consensual boundary-breaking rapes and related actions that violate the vitality of the Sacred Mother, the land. (Image source)

Indigenous Justice & Restorative JusticeWhen I hear transhumanists like Jeff Bezos talk about ‘using up’ the resources of Mother Earth (i.e. destroying our home and source of life) necessitating the colonising of Mars, I cannot understand how we continue to give that insane and destructive a person so much power and control over so many resources. I pray for transformation of our rotting, greedy and destructive collective psychosis towards fulfilling the wisdom of Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr. instead: “The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors” (Quote source, Image source).

Exercise: Reflect on your own lived experience of Identity politics. You may want to listen to the Indigenous Science Dialogues and share to inspire rich, healing conversations with loved ones.

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Estrangement

Blog by Valerie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are Enough

Blog by Valerie

Picture1In social environments, it seems to feel proportionally less safe to be oneself the farther we identify from collective norms and ideals. There is a concept in mathematics called ‘regression to the mean’. It is basically the idea that when you put some ice into a glass of water, the ice will tend to melt and take the form of the water; in essence, it is about assimilating into a collective norm. Yet assimilation is a dirty word for many people, because we want to celebrate our uniqueness as well as being part of a peoples. (Image from here)

Picture2Feeling safe to celebrate our difference depends on culture and context. These social wounds keep us trapped and unable to trust ourselves, each other, non-humans, and Spirit/God/oneness. Our capacities to heal and seek retribution are also based on cultural values and intergenerational traumas. Cultures that are more welcoming of outsiders seem to encourage healing and embracing collective wounds for transformation, whereas cultures that are more exclusionary seem to ‘other’ people and tend towards separation and seeking retribution. Fear of retribution can keep us trapped and unable to trust. It is as if there is a collective trauma belief that says, ‘if we let them in, they will hurt us.’ In my experience with Judaism, and what I am learning are my deeper Sumerian cultural roots, there seems to be a collective belief that ‘we can’t trust anybody.’ My own grandmother told me that as a child, and I asked her incredulously if I couldn’t even trust her. She didn’t answer, just stared at me in silence. Living in this social environment, I never felt safe. In fact, I felt terrified to even take up space. One wrong move could find me terribly punished, kicked out of the group, or worse, judged irredeemable by God. Despite constantly striving to be ‘a good person’, it never felt like what I did was good enough. I got used to feeling terrified that threats of judgment, punishment and retribution were always imminent. I worked hard to learn the rules I might break and the triggers I might set off that would result in my being punished. But I wasn’t in control. My brother had a habit of breaking rules and refusing to admit it, so we would both be punished. This was scary, too, because I didn’t know when the punishment would happen, or how intense it would. It felt safer at times to intensely control and punish myself so that I maintained a sense of autonomy. It also seemed safest to play the part of Narcissus’s lover Echo, to hide my own voice rather than put myself into danger, because I depended on dangerous people and their approval for my survival. It wasn’t safe to be different, much less to celebrate it. (Image: Echo & Narcissus by painter John William Waterhouse

Picture3For most of my life I felt terrified to take up space. I felt like no space was ‘mine’ existentially or practically. For example, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to lock my bedroom door. I used to get dressed in my walk-in closet so I had some privacy and warning if my mother was coming into my bedroom. It took many years into adulthood – and practically ending many formational familial relationships that were untrustworthy just as my grandmother had told me – for me to become trustworthy to myself, be authentic and celebrate my difference, and surround myself with trustworthy and authentic people. By trustworthy, I mean people who say what they mean and do what they say, and when they can’t follow through on something, own it, apologise, forgive themselves, and make amends if needed. By authentic, I mean people who know their core values and practice embodying them in everyday life.

Picture4It is still unsafe for me in many spaces where my values conflict with the collective. But I don’t feel a need to constantly strive towards some central ideal, nor do I feel like it’s me against the world at war. I feel peace in myself for accepting who I am and doing my best to navigate the collective morass, and for cultivating spaces where I, and others, are free to be. In this way, I can embody the knowing that we are enough. (Or ‘good enough’, whatever that means.) (Image from here)

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Indigenous Science Dialogues

Update: All dialogues are now available online on the Earth Ethos YouTube Channel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stories, beliefs & their shadows

Blog by Valerie

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

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

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

new-age

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

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

Belief - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Archetypes of Bullying

Blog by Lukas

In her PhD Justice is Healing: An Indigenous Approach to Sexual Trauma, Valerie describes three main roles in violence: victim, offender, and bystander. In my view, it is vital for us to look at where we play these roles in various aspects of our life, with special attention given to looking at how these energies manifest internally. Internal versions of these energies may manifest in concert with each other, for examples as our psyche offends against itself in its own presence as a bystander.Triad

Often, too, there are pairs of internal-external energies, for example one’s internal bully manifesting as a tendency to blame others externally, or a tendency to blame oneself internally manifesting as a tendency to offend against others. In this way I would see the bystander role as a dissociative state internally, that could manifest as any one of the three on the outside with dissociation from the impact. 

These roles are also evident across social strata, where whole groups of people play different roles, internally and externally, resulting in cultural forms of violence like oppression, domination, submissiveness, and lateral-violence, which is when an oppressed group turns against itself.

This blog came together by thinking about what we can learn from looking at victim-offender-bystander triad on an individual or small group level that might be useful for some of the larger and more intractable societal and cultural issues.

Through lived experience I am deeply familiar with the dynamics of schoolyard bullying so I chose this the small group context to explore. In this case the victim/offender/bystander triad are a substrate — kind of like building blocks but without defined boundaries — from which the archetypical personas emerge. 

The archetypes are as follows:

1. The Ringleader.

ヴェネチアはくらんかい! - 願わくば 背中合わせに 音楽を。【旧館】This is the person with the most social power, both within their group and across groups. The Ringleader commonly lacks classic “excuses” for their behaviour, and usually comes from a relatively “good” and “stable” home. They often evade punishment if teachers don’t go for a full root and branch investigation of bullying, as they are masters at having others do the dirty work. They are primarily driven by a deep-seated greed for power and control, their inner victim being the delusion that this brings fulfilling or lasting joy to life. (Image from here.)

2. The Casual Bully

The Casual Bully has a fairly safe (on the surface!) social existence that enables them to live above the fray most of the time. They’ll participate in the bullying sporadically, usually on those more “zero sum” occasions when to not do so would be testament to supporting the victim. They are usually friends with the Ringleader and have a fear driven desire to remain that way, as it makes them “cool”.  Their inner world is similar to the Ringleader, but for whatever reason they are not as desirous for that level of power, or don’t posses the social skills to get it.  

3. The Bystanders

Similar to the Casual Bully but they aren’t necessarily friends with the Ringleader, or anywhere near as greedy. They are content with a degree of social safety that puts them above the fray, and will stand back almost all of the time. They’ll seldom harass the victims overtly, but may do so in more subtle and insidious ways when it suits them. They won’t support victims (which of course contributes to the victim’s sense of isolation) because this would risk their social standing.

Their inner world can be highly varied, possessing varying degrees of envy of Ringleaders, contempt for Bully Victims, and perhaps even some shame at their own passive support of the social hierarchy.

4. The Henchman

Henchmen are critical to the Ringleader’s power. They are often recognisably disadvantaged. Maybe they came from a struggling home and wear tattered clothing, or maybe they are a bit overweight or have acne. The Henchman will receive an almost constant mild, though carefully executed, stream of bullying from Ringleaders and Casual Bullies. The “carefully executed” part is because a good Henchman will usually posses a weapon even the Ringleader wants to avoid. Maybe they are big and capable of violence, or maybe they just generally have a crazy streak to them that needs careful taming.

J's henchmen - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon ...The Henchmen are the bane of any true bullying victim’s life, dishing out most of the torment at the behest or with the support of the Ringleader. They are often quite dissociated emotionally and act without shame, which is both part of their resilience, and what makes them very dangerous.

Sometimes there is a sense of the Ringleader archetype being totally absent, leaving a hierarchy of Henchmen, where you might have a chief Henchman acting as a Ringleader of sorts. In this case you might think of the true Ringleader being forces outside the school. (Image from here.)

5. The Bully Victim

This archetype has a lot of overlap with the Henchman, but there are some key differences. Henchman are outwardly tougher than Bully Victims, often because their early childhood years or home life were rough. A Bully Victim on the other hand does not have this kind of resilience, weapons, or obvious “excuses”. They often feel intense shame about their predicament.

Bully Victims are often the group those higher up the chain take the most joy from belittling and humiliating. It does not come with the guilt of bullying a Victim, as the Bully Victim is often seen as “having it coming”. 

Pathetic

It can be hard not to see the Bully/Victim as the most pathetic specimen of all. Most people have trouble having compassion for them, including the teachers. They get bullied almost constantly, but have this delusion that there might be a way for them to get on the good side of the Ringleader and rise back up the social 

ladder. Unfortunately this delusion has them humiliating themselves in various ways for the sadistic entertainment of Ringleaders and co. or by bullying someone else, either another Bully Victim or a Victim (see below). The balance of offender and victim energies will often vary over time, giving them moments of seemingly more power and intense falls from social graces. (Image from here.)

6. The Victim

The true Victim has little social power (within the hierarchy) and knows it. They are under few delusions. In your typical school the Victim might come from a minority group or have some kind of obvious physical disability or hardship. Life is hard for the Victim, but on the flip side, their clear-eyed appraisal of their situation means they are likely to form protective bonds with other Victims. With just a little support from teachers (increasingly the case in the modern world), they can be protected, which most schools these days at least have the intention to do. The flip side of a Victim accepting their fate of course can be a willingness to put off the fight when perhaps it was needed, or rely on Helpers (see below) too much for protection. 

The Ringleaders are increasingly careful in a modern school yard not to give Victims direct attention as it is riskier (teachers notice more), and besides, the Victim’s acceptance of their situation means they don’t provide much entertainment. Instead it is the social dynamic setup below the Ringleader that does the job for them. 

On some occasions and perhaps increasingly so, a canny Ringleader will publicly shame a Henchmen or Bully Victim for bullying a Victim as a means of virtue signalling, and deflect attention away from their own sadistic behaviour.

Victims usually have the most contempt and/or pity for Bully Victims, and fear of Henchmen. Wiser victims do know that the root of their ills are people higher up the ladder, but they often don’t know what do about that. Seeing a Bully Victim or Henchman get punished can quench that thirst and give a sense of justice but leave long term insidious patterns inherent within the hierarchy unaddressed.

7. The Helpers

The Helpers are the school yard saviours and are an increasingly common archetype. The Helpers make it their mission to defend Victims from Henchman and love to pick on Bully Victims, who due to their relatively privileged background compared to a Henchman, are low hanging fruit for punishment. Bully Victims are susceptible to intense shame, and often clash with Helpers.
Saviour

A Helper likes to convert Casual Bullies and recruit people they see as Bystanders, and it is usually from the ranks of these groups that they emerge. They might even poke the bear of the Ringleader once in while though not often, as even this can be beyond their fear threshold. Helpers are often blind to the hierarchies within their ranks, and to the ways in which their righteous defense of Victims can be a form of bullying. They are hard on themselves inside, which is of course one of their main motivations for doing what they do. (Image from here.)

8. The Forgotten

Very similar to a Victim, but not as visible. Their predicament often goes unnoticed by everyone, and manifests more as isolation and invisibling.

I spent most of my early high-school years between the age of 12 and 15 primarily as a Bully Victim. I have learnt a lot about my internal world by reflecting on the fact that I can so clearly recall the times when I bullied people, whereas much of the time I spent on the receiving end disappears into a minimising morass. This tells me that I have tended to bully myself inside, terribly, and thus take some of this out on others, but also accept my being bullied as somehow being what I deserve. The more I bullied others, the more I felt “deserving” of punishment, which reinforced my internal bullying, and round and round it went/goes. What I did have was a natural inclination to look holistically at things, which has been both a blessing and an incredible burden in my life. And whilst it did lead to my Ringleaders-in-Chief getting a few literal black eyes, I always received a lot of attention. I was never quiet, whether bullying or being bullied.

Many research papers over the years have sought to understand the impact of school yard bullying on mental health. Some more recent ones showed clearly that compared with people who are more purely offenders and victims, the Bully Victim has the highest correlation with depression, anxiety and ADHD[1] (me on all counts), as well as suicidal ideation[2]. Bullies (Ringleaders, Casual Bullies and Henchmen) and victims also had poorer mental health than people considered “not involved”, but not as bad a Bully Victims. Bystanders, or witnesses to bullying also fared worse than those who supposedly had not witnessed anything, showing that even peripheral exposure to violence can be traumatizing. It also shows me again the extent to which the Helper persona is a self—protection mechanism as much as it is something that comes from deep inner power and benevolence.

The conclusion of the papers was of course for anti-bullying efforts to ensure they give attention to the wellbeing of bullies as well as victims.  When it comes to compassion for “offenders”, this is part of a trend where society seems to be starting with the low hanging fruit of children even if we can’t yet manage it for adults.

Shadow - Wikipedia
In closing, I have found it really enlightening, and indeed fun to apply these archetypes to the various groups and social strata in society, particularly a modern Western colonial one. It is critical to remember that people can embody more than one of these different archetypes as well as the substrate energies (victim, offender bystander) both internally and externally, both visibly and invisibly. (Image from here.)

Exercise: What do you think? Did I miss any school bullying archetypes? What societal groups would you align with which school yard bullying archetypes?

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24920001/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23790197/

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Two-Eyed Seeing: Gift & Privilege

Blog by Valerie

The word gift has a very interesting etymology. I remember being surprised as a child to learn that Gift meant ‘poison’ in German. Turns out it means ‘poison’ in modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish too. The story goes that the proto-Germanic verb geftiz (to give) led to German’s geben (to give), and Gift (poison), the latter coming from dosis (a giving) in Greek (dose in English) being used to describe a portion (potion) of medicine given to a person who is sick. That this supposed medicine came to mean poison perhaps says a lot about how Germanic people felt about foreign medicines being brought in, but anyway.

Fungi - Wikipedia

This dichotomy got me thinking about gifts and how they differ from privileges. The etymology of privilege is from Latin meaning ‘private law’ – it is inherently an individualistic concept. The word privilege sure is thrown around a lot, and I do mean thrown – it often feels like it’s sent to people by throwing a word-spear with a poisonous arrow on the end. I can speak truthfully about painful gifts I’ve received in my life – familial betrayal, sexual violation, maternal abandonment, social rejection – and I can relate to both the English meaning of ‘gift’ and the germanic ‘poison’ meaning. In some parts of our lives we are all called up on to turn shit into fertiliser, to be like bacteria and fungi and allow the natural process of decay to enrich us and create space for rebirth.

The current mainstream social story around ‘privilege’ is to label people with certain perceived privileges from a Western materialist, capitalist, Euro-centric, Judeo-Christian (dare I say white supremecist) worldview, and expect people to be aware of them. From this perspective, I am privileged because I grew up middle class, in the U.S., I have light skin, received high-level formal Western education, have strong English language skills, etc. Yet from my Indigenous East Frisian worldview, this concept is an imposition – the only word that relates to this idea of privilege refers to whose turn it is to go when two people (or wagons) are at a crossroads. And from my Jewish-American worldview, the idea that Jews are accepted as ‘Western’ and ‘white’ is so new it feels incredibly insecure and desperate to consider myself part of that story, and I see many Jews become the neurotic caricatures outsiders expect them to be within a larger Western story. (Woody Allen anybody?)

I find the concept of Two-eyed Seeing by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall is very useful here. It focuses on seeing the strengths of Western and Indigenous worldviews and making space for multiple perspectives and consciousnesses. (Image from here.)

Guiding Principles (Two Eyed Seeing) | Integrative Science

There are different ways that we can practice two-eyed seeing. For example, the Mi’kmaw model sees their cultural worldview and the Western worldview as somewhat overlapping and somewhat distinct, as in this Venn diagram showing room for knowledge-sharing and learning from each other:

twoeyed

Another approach is the Braided Rivers approach that sees Maori and Western knowledges as distinct streams that need to be woven together to create a new system of knowledge based on the strengths of both worldviews.

maoririvers

As Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar said:

A degree of alienation from one’s culture, a deep exposure to other worldviews and even a temporary period of living ‘as others’ may indeed be necessary for heightening one’s perceptions about the culture and society one is born into.

poverty

By all means let’s confront our Western privilege, and while we’re at it, let’s reflect on what we privilege in our lives (and what we want to be privileging). For example, I privilege peace and balance. And when I think about the Western material privilege I grew up with, I also think about the imbalances that went along with it – spiritual desolation, mental illness, and physical and emotional pain – and to rebalance and find peace, my healing journey included many years of renouncing material privilege to strengthen other aspects of my being. The imbalance was a gift, to be sure, but a privilege? I’m not sure. I see that distinction as cultural. In closing, I am reminded of this photo from a small town in the Amazon that encapsulates my two-eyed seeing approach to gifts and privileges (translation: The poverty is in your head and not in your pockets…).

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Our Primal Nature

Blog by Valerie

Right now it’s easy to feel survival fears, to observe deeply ingrained panic behaviours and to hear people talk about ‘these strange times.’ I understand the sentiment, but I think it’s strange that so many of us have become used to unsustainable and imbalanced ways of being; where our grocery store shelves and medical centres rely on supplies shipped from across the planet, where in countries like Australia the government has created a “free market” (more accurately a corrupt gambling scheme) for one of our most precious elements: water; and where ultra-deep sea mining and drilling is going into the Earth’s crust in our seemingly endless exploitations of this planet.

Crocodile and fishCrocodile and fishCrocodile and fishCrocodile and fishimage22Crocodile and fishI’m reminded of a beautiful book called Singing the Land, Signing the Land written by European-Australian researchers in collaboration with Yolgnu indigenous scientists and traditional knowledge-holders. The researchers remind us that in the European Middle Ages, “nature actually was a book to be read, like the Bible, in order to discover God’s purposes. There were ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones’.” And the Yolgnu hold up a very telling mirror when it comes to how they, and their European-Australian counterparts, see the crocodile (which the early Australian-European explorer quoted below mistakenly referred to as an alligator). Consider these two very different views:

I see a crocodile as an animal that is part of me and I belong to him, he belongs to me. It’s a commoness of land ownership. Everything that I have comes from the crocodile. Crocodile, he’s the creator and the land giver to the Gumatj people. In my group of people, and the forefathers, we have always treated crocodile in a way that it is part of a family…Aboriginal people, through thousands of years of living with crocodiles, never have considered that they are dangerous animals. We have always lived with them. They lived their own life and we lived our own ways, as long as there is common respect for each other.–Gularrwuy Yunupil’u

I had stripped to swim across a creek, and with gun in hand was stealthily crawling to the outer edge of the flat where my intended victims were, when an alligator rose close by, bringing his unpleasant countenance much nearer than was agreeable … My only chance of escaping the monster was to hasten back to the boat, and to cross the last creek before the alligator, who appeared fully aware of my intentions…the race began. I started off with the utmost rapidity, the alligator keeping pace with me in the water. After a sharp and anxious race, I reached the last creek, which was now much swollen; while the difficulty of crossing was aggravated by my desire to save my gun. Plunging in I reached the opposite shore just in time to see the huge jaws of the alligator extended close above the Spot where I had quilled the water. My deliverance was providential, and I could not refrain from shuddering as I sat gaining breath upon the bank after my escape, and watching the disappointed alligator lurking about as if still in hopes of making his supper upon me.–John Lort Stokes

(Image from the book, cited as art by Bede Tungatalum, Bathurst Island entitled Crocodile and fish, woodcut).

I was recently listening to an Aboriginal Australian view of the St. George & the dragon myth in which Europeans first saw their animal, primal nature as a scary monster, then attacked and tried to kill it. And then re-enacted that nightmare in the form of colonisation, slavery, exploitation, and all manner of destruction around the world. It reminded me of some of my previous learning about serpents. It is thought-provoking to consider how in Judeo-Christian mythology the serpent enticed Eve into mankind’s fall from Eden, whereas other cultural myths about serpents include:

  1. creation of life emanating from underground and water-dwelling part-human part-snake beings called nagas in Indian and Buddhist mythology;
  2. water, the coming of spring, resurrection and rebirth associated with meso-American winged serpent God Quetzalcoatl;
  3. the Hopi’s annual snake dance honoring serpent God Awanyu celebrating water, fertility, and the arrival of spring;
  4. the rainbow serpent creator God of Aboriginal Australians that controls the water;
  5. Fu Xi and Nu Gua who had male and female heads and snake bodies and created human life in Chinese mythology;
  6. the kundalini snake that animates the body and spirit in Vedic mythology; and
  7. Western medicine’s use of the Asclepius symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff to represent healing based on Greek and Roman mythology.Rainbow serpent and snake

Interesting note for Western culture: Freud cited a fear of snakes as fear of the penis. While many cultures see snakes as wild and potentially dangerous, they are generally highly respected and seen to symbolise fertility, the creation and resurrection of life, springtime, and a connection with water and emotional wellbeing. On the medicine wheel, water is often connected with our emotional life, and since snakes are connected with water, a negative or fearful view of snakes is linked with negative or fearful emotion. (Image from the rainbow serpent link.)

These myths, and especially creation stories and the emotions they evoke are embedded into the foundation of a culture’s collective psyche. When creation stories evoke negative or fearful emotions, these emotions emanate beneath the surface of conscious everyday thought, and other aspects of culture are built on top of them. This is something for those of us carrying Western creation stories to consider. Tyson Yunkaporta points out that in Greek mythology the ouroboros was meant to represent infinity, but “how can this serpent be a symbol of infinity if it will eventually eat itself?” I too find this symbol disturbing and have a visceral memory of someone I was getting to know showing me a silver ouroboros ring she had made, which so repulsed me I must’ve expressed that in my energy because we never met again. I find the symbol to be celebrating sabotage or suicide, but it seems many people feel otherwise! I am trying to understand, for as the authors of Singing the Land, Signing the Land say, “The world is now too well connected to allow the luxury of alienation within one conceptual system.” I hope our current circumstances are helping remind us of this and of our innately interconnected primal nature.

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