Tag Archives: justice

Peace Circles

earthethospeacecircle“Stories are medicine…embedded with instructions” that guide us about how to live our lives (Estés, 1997). Practices of talking circles, or peace circles, have emerged within many cultures throughout known human history, though most modern Westerners don’t understand underlying cosmological foundations of these practices, which come from indigenous cultures. The talking circle is a metaphorical life tool of the medicine wheel. Being aware about what we are doing allows metaphor to bring ceremonies like talking circles to life (Rael, 1998). It is no mystery why, in Australia for example, when people with indigenous ancestry facilitate yarning circles, a type of talking circle, it feels different than when Westerners do. I learned why while working for a decade in the field of restorative justice. When we encouraged people to put altars in the middle of their circles, I had quite an aha moment when I saw what people were using to metaphorically represent the heart centre. “A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998).a

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time. (Image is a screenshot from an online gallery of Amazonian-Andean artist Juan Carlos Taminchi of ayahuasca visions.)taminchiartThe depth of relationships, and the experiences, feel quite different to participants. Similarly, instead of peace circles as a tool to help control behaviour or improve the way people speak and listen to each other as is common in westernised restorative justice practices based on a Judeo-Christian worldview, an Earth Ethos peace circle is an opportunity for a communal spiritual experience based on an indigenous cultural cosmology. Because of the intentional use of metaphor, it ought to feel different to participants (and certainly does to me) than simply sitting in a circle (or around a table where we are blocked from connecting with each other physically) and passing around a talking piece. Many indigenous peoples use oral traditions to preserve cultural wisdom. Verbal repetition and physical embodiment of teachings keeps them pure (Rael, 2015). An important aspect of any medicine wheel ceremony, including a peace circle, is purification or cleansing, opening participants’ hearts for sharing wisdom as a community. Purification is often symbolised through the use of smoke, or smudging.

ent.jpgHealing of, and prevention of, dis-ease requires ceremony. Ceremony is an important human practice connecting the visible material/physical world with the invisible, spiritual world. Life feels empty and unsatisfying when we do not do enough ceremony, and ceremonies are most powerful done regularly and intentionally in community (Rael, 1998). Disease in indigenous thinking is caused by natural and supernatural forces, where natural forces include things like cold air, germs, or impurities in food and water, and supernatural forces include things like upset social relations between people, with ancestors, or other beings such as spirits of the traditional custodians of a place (Sussman, 2004). (Image is a depiction of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s land spirits called the Ent, a tree spirit) Western concepts of unconscious or subconscious drives are similar to indigenous concepts of such spiritual forces (Holliday, 2008). When we focus our energy on cultivating healthy invisible environments based on values such as acceptance, non-judgment, inclusivity, compassion and empathy, we help purify our own hearts and the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm. Indigenous thinking teaches that our social reality is based on a fundamental understanding of life in which humans are interconnected with all of nature, and by participating in an Earth Ethos peace circle, we literally embody Mother Earth together by sitting in a circle with an altar at the centre honouring the interconnected web of life we are part of. If you’re in Sydney and want to join a monthly Earth Ethos peace circle, please contact me for more information.

Questioning Cosmology

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Stories are great teachers. They help us give meaning to events, teach core values, and inform our understandings of social order and individual identity (Engel, 1993). We each carry stories, personal mythologies, that form our core values and beliefs, help us understand our place, and guide us on our path. The concept of empathy, of deep listening and heartfelt storytelling, is central to oral-based cultures, and even in cultures that privilege the written word, such practices are considered deeply sacred, like the Catholic Confessional, or an important part of daily life, like meeting a friend or family member for a chat/yarn. (Free use photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

In practice, empathic listening, and the safe sharing stories, is limited by the cosmologies of participants. When we share a story with someone, and that person is in a state of being in denial/judgment about what we are saying, we experience rejection/lack. When we receive this reflection, we tend to feel shamed. And especially as children, or because we feel fear of being exiled from our family/tribe/community, we carry this shame in our own hearts and minds, fuelling feelings of low self-worth. Rejection is a deep pain to process, a lack of feeling whole. And most of us have inherited much of this due to ancestral trauma. An Earth Ethos suggests that those of us who are involved in violent behaviours, in whatever role (victim, offender, or bystander), carry elements of shame in our very senses of identity (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013; Sawatsky, 2009). This shame, often referred to as “sin” creates feelings of lack of worth and dissociates us from fully being present. We fear social exile, and rightly so, because without connection with other people, it is hard to live. (Image from here)

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When I did research with sex offenders, I heard a lot about the depth of social shame they felt. I heard about some men who were disturbed by sexual thoughts of children and were too terrified to seek help until they acted on it, and others who did seek professional help and were reported for abuse they had not committed. I felt an intensely painful energy in the space of social stigmatisation where so many of these people and their family members and friends, these fellow humans, live.

compromiseI encourage you to connect with your own cosmology and question rejecting/violent statements/thoughts like “He should have known better”, or “It serves her right.” Such words indicate an internalised denial/judgment and fuel shameful, painful feelings inside you, the person you are speaking/thinking about, and our collective culture. Even when we believe/think something is wrong, we can still hold that aspect of our cosmology with compassion and respect. These words are pointers to places of yourself that could be further explored, unpacked, and transformed. Dangers and fears come in many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Watching an interview with someone who has killed another person, for example, may trigger emotion you are carrying and show aspects of your cosmology that could be shifted from judgment or denial/lack into compassion and empathy, and gratitude that you did not need to learn such a lesson the hard way. (Free photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

Exercise: Reflect on how many compromises you make in the name of “social harmony”/fear of change, and when it is important to you to go against the grain. See if you can connect with an aspect of your own humanity that is unfamiliar, like your “inner prostitute,” “inner abusive parent,” or “inner murderer”, and be with the discomfort that comes up in order to hold people in that space, and yourself, in more compassion and gentleness.

Relationships & identity

Relationships form our sense of identity; when we are part of relationships that feel fulfilling and wholesome, we feel magnified collaborating with people around us. Life feels like it’s growing constructively, for even when something is ending, it feels like a natural process of decay before a rebirthing. When we feel connected with the plants we eat, air we breathe, and animals that are our companions, we feel grateful for the gifts the Earth gives so we can be here as humans on Earth, and we are moved to express our gifts too, and willing to sacrifice some pleasures and experience some pains for the betterment of the whole. When we know who we are, that we are timeless, small eternal sparks of much bigger-than-us cosmic energies, then we feel connected with our heart centres. When our hearts are open and we are loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, we know that though each being is an individual expression of something unique and beautiful, there is something relating us all to each other and keeping us inter-dependent while we are here. When we are traumatised or wounded, we lose touch with that sense of being whole. Sometimes, for people like me, it happens when we are so young, and the people around us are so deep in that wounded state, that we grow up quite confused about our identity. We think we are daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, teachers, or some other role that we play. Rather than experiencing a clear mind at ease, we are lost in a torrent of psychic burdens that we move through, only to discover again and again a new way we have been confused and our mind has tricked us, losing connection and feeling isolated and broken again. It is becoming increasingly common to label personalities as narcissist or codependent. In an Earth Ethos perspective, it might be visualised through the Medicine Wheel like this:

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Parts of ourselves that are over-developed tend to be arrogant, bullying, on insecure ground, larger-than-life, and take on more than our fair share, more than we can hold with integrity; these parts we tend to be term narcissistic. Parts of ourselves that are oppressed or suppressed, bullied, victimised, and survive by seeking approval or taking care of others at our own expense tend to be termed co-dependent. We have both parts in our lives if we are out of balance, and if we identify as the co-dependent/victim and see a number of people playing the role of the narcissist/bully, that is a sign we have dissociated from our own narcissistic behaviour. This does not mean we are necessarily bullying other people without realising it; it may be that we are bullying ourselves, carrying negative self-beliefs, and allowing other people to disrespect us. The relationships in a Medicine Wheel framework might look like these Venn-like diagrams:medicinewheeldrawings2

The middle diagram is human, not ideal, because part of being here is acknowledging that we all have rough edges and boundaries in the way we can connect. I call it “trauma-bonding” when we are in relationships based at least to some extent on our wounds. This means there are dynamics of the relationship that are volatile, painful, and scary, with behaviours feeling explosive or implosive. It is helpful to remember that trauma is “acted in” and “acted out,” meaning when we feel attacked, we can implode, turning inward and developing a negative self-image and/or negative connection with a Higher Power, and/or we can explode, reinforcing a sense of being offensive and unworthy by creating that reflection through our behaviour’s impact on others. Many of us are familiar with this idea through the cycle of violence. (Image from: https://study.com/academy/lesson/cycle-of-violence-theory-diagram.html)

cycle of violence

Another way to visualise this is the victim-offender cycle, another infinite loop of pain. (Color image is a painting I did.)

Enemy'Aggressorcycleofviolence

At their core, these cycles show the same thing: that we do not know who we are, we do not feel whole, we are acting out of and identifying with wounds. When we hurt another being, we hurt ourselves; violence begetting violence is ancient wisdom. Our minds are so good at tricking us, at getting us to forget that all is connected and engaging in us versus them thinking that we have an entire criminal “justice” system based upon it! It is a testament to our ability to experience independence that we have gone so far in this direction. It is a testament to our ability to experience inter-dependence to become increasingly honest about the destructiveness of trauma-bonds and wounded relationships, whether with ourselves, with others, or with our understanding of an exclusive, rather than inclusive, God-head.

I’ve been through a lot of trauma and pain in my life, and harder than healing 15 years of incestuous sexual abuse has been healing the trauma-bond I had with my birth mother. It is a deep grief to realise that one trauma-bonded with one’s mother, and that she did the same with her mother and on up the ancestral chain, and that violence is the foundation of her identity and the basis of at least one foundational relationship, with the sacred feminine, Mother Earth. It can be hard, too, when we experience narcissistic abuse to realise that we are worthy of respect, and the person we experience that with may or may not have a trauma-bond as the foundation of all of their relationships. Sometimes reflections and experiences are so painful, we need a space to come to terms with the “shit” and to turn it into fertiliser. If we do not look for what we are missing, are unwilling to receive hard feedback and examine our own rough edges, we tend to identify as victims, because that is a more socially acceptable role.

Our narcissistic parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of humbling experiences, disappointed expectations, and seemingly childish, selfish behaviours and “why-me” picked-on feelings. Our co-dependent parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of abuse, disrespect, not feeling good enough, and being oppressed, suppressed, in our heads and disconnected from our bodies. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to hold compassion for all of these parts of ourselves and others we are intimate with, while ongoingly maintaining healthy relational boundaries, even when it triggers others to go around the cycle of violence. It is hard to watch people we care about suffer the pain of the cycle of violence, but we are of no help if we remain there with them reinforcing the confusion in us both. It takes courage, trust and faith to let go and allow ourselves and others to be on a journey of remembering that who we are is undyingly eternal and innately whole.

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.