Tag Archives: identity

Stories, beliefs & their shadows

“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…

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/

 

Two-Eyed Seeing: Gift & Privilege

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.)

ACHH | Two-Eyed Seeing

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…).

 

 

 

Our Primal Nature

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 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.

Healing Whiteness Trauma

“The first step in liquidating a people…is to erase its memory…Before long a nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”—Milan Kundera

Whether you are considered “white” or not, I feel confident saying you have been impacted by whiteness trauma, and as this quote suggests, that your people/s likely experienced and perpetrated genocide somewhere in your family line/s. Genocide is an intentional act to destroy a people, and whiteness is an intellectual construction based on traumatic social rejection from & disconnection with Mother Earth, self & cultural heritage, and other people. It was used as a tool by the ruling class to divide the working class, and so is also called “the bribe of whiteness.” David Dean gives a clear and compelling history of the creation and rise of the “white” identity in this article, People who have learned to identify as “white” tend to deny their own complex cultural heritage. Some people even study “whiteness theory” and “white fragility” to try to make sense of the shame they carry and the way this history of European identities being whitewashed and replaced by modern, nationalistic ‘Western’ identities still play out today. For example, did you know that assimilationist policies in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to companies like Ford running mandatory English classes and job training programs that finished with ceremonies in which people clad in traditional cultural clothing walked through a huge ‘melting pot’ then emerged in company uniforms? (Image from here)

fordschoolmeltingpot

David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:

  1. The violent displacement of communities from their traditional lands in order to use that land for profit and create a dependent, exploitable workforce, and
  2. The replacement of traditional cultural identities that valued the welfare of the community and the Earth with a culture of capitalistic, possessive individualism with a social hierarchy divided along racial, gender, religious, and other identities.

As Tyson Yunkaporta points out in his new book, ‘Western’ is not an identity, because by its nature it is in reference to someone or someplace else (presumably ‘Eastern’); it is not inherent. To be ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ is also quite amorphous. I have out of curiousity asked a number of people what it means to them to be ‘Australian,’ and I have gotten one of two answers: (a) I am part of a multi-cultural modern soup, or (b) It means nothing to me, and I am English/Irish/Wiradjuri/Yuin/etc. living on this land we collectively call ‘Australia’.

My view is that whiteness trauma is based on a European history of intergenerational trauma, shame & pain. It was spread by the Romans & other empires dividing and subjugating peoples on their traditional lands; by the violent spread of Christianity through power & force, including the systematic desecration of indigenous & pagan sacred sites; and by horrendously hateful acts such as witch trials, inquisitions, slavery, rapes & genocides. It seems to me that over the last few thousand years, violence, terror & control became normalized as a method of asserting dominant leadership throughout Europe. Multi-generational disconnection with an innately human intimate & reciprocal relationship with the Earth were replaced by a power struggle for whose anthropocentric story is ‘right’, in a might-makes-right model. This led to land ‘discovery’ (i.e. colonisation) and other myths such as when upper class, white-skinned, Christian, land-owning males founded a ‘free’ government for ‘the people’ in the U.S. Ultimately, whitewashing & glomming together of many European peoples and cultures into “Western” expanded to non-‘white’ people, so that today millions of people around the world identify with a colonial nation rather than a traditional culture living within an empire.

Here is a little poem I wrote about my own journey of healing ‘whiteness’ trauma:treechakras

Beneath the Roots

Ancestral trauma 
Has defined me
But I kept digging
Because I knew
My taproot was deeper
And drinking in peace
Somewhere down there

To heal from whiteness trauma, I have found many helpful approaches, including: honouring ancestors, grounding, re-defining tribe & belonging, bridging multiple identities, healing power dynamics, and healing existential wounds. The following quote is a humbling reminder of what our indigenous minds carry somewhere inside of us from an Australian Aboriginal culture more recently colonised:

“The first peoples of this land don’t need statues of our heroes, we have mountains that remind us of our people. We don’t need painted portraits, we have rivers that flow with the stories of our dreaming. Our songs are filled with culture, our language of the land. So we don’t need books. Our history, our connections, our hearts are true to this country.”–Baker, 2017, quoted in Koori Mail, Oct 23, 2019 p. 24

- Tree Annick Racines du Ciel

(Image from here, by artist Annick Bougerolle)

Outliers

Most of us are familiar with outliers from mathematics, as illustrated by this image:

Mad Hatter Lewis Carroll Quotes. QuotesGram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always felt like an outlier. Outliers can be inspiring leaders, and can also be absolutely crazy. Most outliers, in my experience, embody a bit of brazen madness that carries us outside the mainstream. Others have written about the challenges of honouring a multi-cultural identity, and of digging deeply into their roots to claim their full identities. I will write about something else. About the outlier as a leader and a madman.

To me, leadership must create an opening, which shows that it is alive. It may open someone up to joy or to pain, open up space between people or open up connection, but it creates opportunities to become more fully embodied and alive. Much of what we call leadership I feel leads us to dead ends. A leader unwilling to step aside and help someone else into their place, who clings to their standing, is not a leaders but a childish dictator in my

eyes. Leaders know there is always somewhere else to go. To me, true leadership is a pioneering into unknown, lost, forsaken, and forgotten spaces. Aboriginal scholar Tjanana Goreng Goreng defined sacred leadership as people:

  • Embodying humility & being a model of respectful behaviour;
  • Leading through bottom-up empowerment & mentorship;
  • Sharing wisdom, holding initiation rites, and sharing culture in layers when people are of a strength of character;
  • Who are chosen by a community, not self-selected;
  • Carrying specific knowledge, lore, beliefs who ensure the safety & security of the teachings.

Ultimately, the difference between an outlier who goes mad and one who becomes a leader is one who is able to move beyond personal self-interest and live with a heart of service. This means balancing self-care with asking for support and taking risks, sometimes putting oneself purposely into trauma or danger, but not to the point of becoming a martyr and building resentment. It can be a challenging line to walk. It requires very high personal standards along with loads of compassion for self and others. It can be isolating and incredibly fulfilling. Instead of being outraged about whatever stupid action Trump did this week, I was in awe to learn that fish underwater sing the water and reefs awake at dawn, just like birds on land.

I have struggled to connect with many people around me, and I’ve worked really hard to understand Judeo-Christian, Western, and Anglo worlds. But I don’t innately understand them, and they don’t innately understand me. There must be something that makes each of us feel like an outlier, even in a small way. What if we focus on enjoying that breadth of our diversity, on learning from each other, and on exploring the outer limits of our inner worlds? We may just find, like these side-by-side images of Western microscopic art and Aboriginal Australian art that we outliers are redefining social structures in ways that align with Mother Earth better and can inspire others through our own leadership into owning our outlier statuses. (Image: Gum leaves under a microscope & Gathering Bushtucker painting)

Gum Leaf and Gathering Bush Tucker.

 

My Jewish experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthly nourishment

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

Tyson Yunkaporta

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Mueller Shutan

Earth Ethos child development

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

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

childdevelopment.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Medicine for Rooting Down and Healing Burn Out

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

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

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

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

relationshipwheel

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

 

The power of denial

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

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

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

Illuminated Living: Burying Your Head In The Sand

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

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

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

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

Cloud Clearer Calendar 2019.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

File:Pink sunset.jpg - Wikimedia Commons