Tag Archives: indigenous

Being & Doing

When walking the medicine wheel in everyday life, we choose where to place our focus. The lower world, the invisible, felt world of Mother Earth is a metaphor for our state of being. Out of our state of being arises action in the physical, visible world of Father Sky. By focusing on our deepest values, we feel more solid, like a tree with a strong foundation in the Earth. By focusing on specific actions and situations, we feel more like an individual leaf that may be tossed about by a breeze. treebg

Using the Medicine Wheel as a metaphor for our life path shows us how this works. The concept of the Red Road and Black Road is distilled from numerous traditional tribal teachings of indigenous cultures of North America. The illustration below suggests how to walk the Red Road. Imagining a line drawn across the Medicine Wheel below shows that on the Red Road the majority of our focus is on the lower world of Mother Earth, on letting go. This means we are focusing on embodying our deepest values, such as compassion, empathy, grace, and kindness. It means we are regularly purifying ourselves individually and in community so that we deepen our ability to remain present. It also means that we trust that all of us on this planet are of innate value, that the Earth wants us here because we are being supported to live right now, and that we have gifts to share. Sometimes it takes leaps of faith to be willing to trust that we are valuable. We may get caught up in proving our worth through our intellect or actions. Most of us carry stories from the Old Testament of a God that asked us to do good actions to prove that we are worthy of living another year. When we are behaving this way, we are walking on the Black Road. We are focusing on actions and outcome, often justifying means that conflict with our most cherished values to reach certain ends, because we feel scared, overwhelmed, or confused.

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Many indigenous languages focus on action verbs and vowel sounds to embody this Red Road path. In this kind of thinking, there are fewer labels and fixed ways of being. I am not a noun called “Valerie” or “Cloud Clearer,” I am “Valerie-ing” and “Cloud Clearing” in every moment as I flow through the world. The avoidance of labels like “right” or “wrong” gives us space to exist no matter how we behave, or where we place our focus. Yet, if we choose to be on the Black Road, there are consequences. For example, if we don’t tell the truth, we are in a state of being untrustworthy and create shame. In modern Western culture, we often feel an expectation to have an opinion or respond to a question with an answer. We even talk over each other in spirited debates. On the other hand, to show respect for each person’s place, many indigenous cultures traditionally practiced deep listening in silence, only responding after more silence once the person finished speaking, to show that their words were considered first.

To walk the Red Road has much in common with A Course in Miracles. What we can dream up on our own pales in comparison to the miracles that can occur when we truly let go of resistance and allow our lives to flow. Sometimes we are so full of emotion, stories, and unprocessed past experiences, that what we need most is to create space. Crees teach seven ways of releasing negative emotion: crying, yelling, talking, sweating, singing, dancing, and praying (Ross, 1996). We also need practices to help us return to and retain states of being that we prefer. In my life, meditation is an invaluable daily practice in this regard. In meditation, I listen to my inner voices, practice compassion, honesty, and letting go, and create space so that miracles may occur.

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Exercise: Our hearts are for-giving and for-getting. What are you giving and getting in this moment? If it is painful, remember that you already survived it, and feeling it fully, expressing and releasing the emotion, is a courageous and freeing choice to let it go. May you enjoy the flow.

Confronting Colonialism

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.–Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Indigenous writers describe colonialism as “a violation of the psychological womb” and  “a great rupture with the Mother [Earth]” (Cervantes & McNeill, 2008). Colonialism has spiritual roots in our ideas about the meaning of life, our nature and place in the world. In Judeo-Christian culture the Earth is often seen less as our home, and more as a place to endure. An Earth Ethos sees the Earth as the source of life from which resources are continually re-cycled around, not a temporary playground for us to use for a period of time. The Earth’s health is reflective of our human health. In Australian aboriginal languages, “land” means “everlasting spirit” or “source of life” (Atkinson, 2002).  To say “I’m going for a walk in nature” shows our modern Western alienation with the Earth and the place where we live. Cities are highly cultivated environments, and a forest is wilderness, but both are aspects of nature–we cannot escape nature except in our own trickster minds!

You know how when you walk into a room, and you can feel that people were just arguing in there? You feel some funny energy in the space. Similarly, places carry trauma and violent energy that reflect into our bodies and psyches, though we are not as conscious of this. We may not be aware that 100 years ago there was a massacre on land where a school is today, and we may wonder why that school has such problems, when a school a few blocks away does not. This is why art and ceremony on land of traditional cultural significance are vital to healing. “The land under each tribe’s feet is the [spiritual] source of its culture,” and is we are responsible for giving back to the Earthfrom which we came (Kimmerer, 2016). An aboriginal elder recently taught me that the night sky and the Earth in that place are exact mirrors of each other, and to live intimately with a particular place on Earth, we learn from our ancestors in the sky.

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Research on trees planted for commercial gain that are of the same species and lack connection with a network of older trees has found that they do not communicate well, and that they compete with each other more and suffer more ill health than when they grow wild in forests (Wohlleben, 2016). In cities full of commercial culture we often similarly experience spiritual lack. We spend a lot of time in rooms and vehicles shaped like rectangles, struggling to feel deeply connected with and nourished by our manufactured environments. We seek distraction (literally un-grounding, a loss of traction) and use substances such as alcohol, caffeine and marijuana that numb uncomfortable feelings or stifle unwanted thoughts in our minds.

According to indigenous thinking, colonisers previously experienced a trauma of disconnection from intimate, reciprocal relationships with their land of origin, and conquering and privatising land is a re-enactment of this trauma (Smith, 2005). Some indigenous cultures describe a psycho-spiritual virus as the root of this trauma. TheAnishinaabe in Canada describe Windingo as a hungry, destructive force that is never satisfied and even eats its own kind (Kimmerer, 2016). The Ojibway refer to Wetiko, “a cannibalistic spirit who embodies greed and excess…an autoimmune disease of the psyche… [in which] the immune system of the organism perversely attacks the very life it is trying to protect” (Levy, 2014). The Zar spiritual disease in northern Africa is described similarly (Monteiro & Wall, 2011). In indigenous Asian cultures, a poison in the mind makes us forget who we are, manifesting as anger, desire and ignorance (Kakar, 1982).

The understanding expressed across the world by such stories is that we humans naturally carry some destructive energy. It is part of nature to create and destroy. Just look at a volcano: it both births new land and destroys existing land. When we regularly purify ourselves, this natural destructive, cannibalistic energy does not grow out of control. But when this destructive energy grows too large, it penetrates our spiritual beliefs. Then we forget who we are, feel disconnected from ourselves, each other and the Earth, and engage in destructive behaviours. I have read an indigenous elder describe that when colonialists first arrived in his ancestor’s community, the amount of such a psycho-spiritual virus that those few men were carrying completely overwhelmed the entire community. We may frame this destructive energy as diseases such as smallpox and syphilis, or behaviours such as raping and pillaging, but the spiritual root of these is considered that destructive, cannibalistic energy.

Purify your Heart(1)Psycho-spiritual purification exercise: Reflect on a relationship where you are trying to make another person see your point of view, or trying to control their behaviour and tell them what to do. What is stopping you from living your own life, and letting them be who they are? What are you avoiding or denying in your life by focusing on them, or on controlling your environment? What do you need to be more nourished right now?

 

 

Healing Unjust Power Dynamics

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Through a Shipibo elder of the Amazon I learned that about 90% of the thought-loops that circulate our minds are not based in ego, but in ancestral trauma. I learned through Dakota Earth Cloud Walker that ancestry is defined in three ways: blood lineage, ancestry of place, and personal karma. Personal karma refers to past, present and future versions of ourselves, and all of the complex identities we take on during our lifetime (or multiple lifetimes if you see things like that). Blood lineage is the most common way we think about ancestry, reflected in a family tree. Ancestry of place includes places where the people in our family tree lived, as well as where we have lived and live now. (Shipibo art.)

Places imprint themselves into us, and we imprint ourselves into them in human-and-environment interaction. If our ancestors lived for generations by the ocean, we may feel a connection with the sea even if we grew up inland by a mountain. Like walking into a room where someone’s had an argument and it just doesn’t feel right, when there is discordant energy in a place, we can feel it, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Most of us from countries like the U.S. and Australia carry traumatised and discordant ancestral energy. Most of our ancestors disconnected from their homelands because they were feeling persecuted, or lacked material or social support. Feeling forced to leave a place where your family has called home is itself a traumatic experience; just look at modern-day refugees. And indigenous populations who were already living in the “New World” found themselves traumatised by the behaviour of the immigrants. (Ancestral tree image.)

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Unhealthy power dynamics set into motion through colonialism still drive modern culture, and though we talk about racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormatism, from an Earth Ethos perspective, we do little to address the root causes of these social diseases. Disease in most indigenous cultures is understood to be caused by both natural and supernatural forces. Natural forces include causes such as cold air, viruses and bacteria, and food or water contamination. Supernatural forces include wounds in social relationships between people who are living or with ancestors, as well as wounds in relationships with other beings such as spirits of a particular land or place (Sussman, 2004).

According to science, energy is neither created or destroyed. According to most spiritual and religious traditions, energy, or spirit, exists eternally regardless of physical presence. Ancestral trauma circulates in our psyches and plays out in our culture today. It is based in large part on unjust power gains of one group putting themselves over another. Healthy power dynamics requires honouring and valuing everyone through power-with, not power-over relationships. In healthy power dynamics, hierarchy is never based on a value judgment of any person’s role, skin colour, gender, etc. being better than another’s. Through an Earth Ethos lens, all people have gifts, and to make a value judgments or even comparisons of gifts is wrong.

ancestor-healing

Sometimes even when we are aware of our biases, we struggle to let them go see the world differently. In order to heal some unhealthy power dynamics, I offer the following exercise, which came to me after working with an ancestral healing exercise from Mary Shutan:

Close your eyes and visualise yourself and someone you feel out of balance with. Set the intention for a healthy power dynamic between you. Breathe. You may feel some energy entering or leaving your body, and in your third eye you may see energy exchanging. You may also do exercise between yourself and a place, an event, or even a group of people. (African ancestral image.)

Earth Ethos: an embodied philosophy

An Earth Ethos considers healing to be synonymous with justice. This philosophy is based on indigenous wisdom, where “indigenous” refers to cultures grown in connection to specific places such as aboriginal tribal members, as well as more generally a holistic worldview honouring the interconnection of all beings and viewing life as cyclical (Cervantes & McNeill, 2008). An Earth Ethos is evident in beliefs and practices of cultures around the world, and is being resurrected in modern Western culture through the work of indigenous peoples who share wisdom with non-members, as well as modern people who work to integrate such teachings and ways of being into modern life. Whoever you are, you were born of and on the Earth and are indigenous to some land and lineage(s).

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Understandings of justice grow out of cultural cosmologies. In indigenous cosmologies, there is no fall from grace in Heaven, no exile from abundance in the Garden of Eden, and no criminal action of eating a forbidden apple that a God has used to punish us humans. Because humans are firmly established in a particular space and time based on cultural mythology and birth, from an indigenous perspective, there is nothing to prove and no nature to discover. It is inherent (Rael, 1997). While feminism has challenged patriarchal perspectives, we still needed to challenge anthropocentric (human-centric) and ethnocentric perspectives in Western culture. We need to experience empathy with our entire human family and with all beings, to remember how to live in reciprocity with the Earth, deeply honouring our source of human life and re-evaluate core aspects of our cultural and individual identities (Ohiyesa, 2001).

The Western concept of authority is out of balance. Former philosopher Alan Bloom said, “The West is defined by its need for self-justification and to discover nature, and both philosophy, whether religious or secular, and science reflect this human quest to know nature (1986). Sharon Venne, a Cree lawyer said of First Nations that: “Our sovereignty is related to our connection to the earth and is inherent” (1999). Former Menominee activist Ingrid Washinawatok agreed that “Europeans relegated sovereignty to only one realm of existence: authority, supremacy and dominion. In the Indigenous realm, sovereignty encompasses responsibility, reciprocity, the land, life and much more” (1999).

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In Western culture the Earth is often portrayed as a place to endure, whereas an Earth Ethos sees the Earth as the source of life, not a resource to be used for a period of time. The Earth’s health is intimately connected with and reflective of human health, because the Earth is a living Mother supporting us all. To consider a rock or tree as non-living or non-sentient places humans at the centre of the universe and devalues everyone. This results in “war to determine whose anthropocentric view is most valid” while “the earth and all its inhabitants []suffer” (Gustafson, 1997). Our bodies are made of the soil of this planet, and we are all united in our hearts. An Earth Ethos sees minerals, insects, plants, animals and other beings not only as ancestors, but as wise life forms that can teach us humans how to live in harmony with the rest of nature, since they have successfully survived on Earth a lot longer than we have. We humans are the new species on the block, and an Earth Ethos acknowledges with humility that as a species we are out of balance and in need of healing.