Tag Archives: knowledge

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 Sacred Feminine

 

Springtime Cottonwoods, Dunes, and Medano Creek | NPS ...In 2016 I danced a healing ceremony on Tiwa country in view of their Place of Emergence (now the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, U.S., image from here.) It was the height of summer when we arrived, easily 40C, and a few people were already hard at work building a sweat lodge. Below are my photos of the bones of the lodge, including a medicine wheel made especially for the ‘crown’ facing the heavens (as you can see in the lodge’s shadow), as well as a photo of me. 

When I started writing this blog, it was the winter solstice where I now live, and two days ago marked the Aphelion here, when the Earth is farthest from the sun on its elliptical orbit. (In the other hemisphere you had summer solstice and the Periphelion where you were closest to the sun.)

During the ceremony, which was near summer solstice, it was stinking hot during the day and quite intense to be dry fasting in the desert. But the altitude meant that it cooled down at night, so in the morning when we woke at sunrise with chants and prayers of thanks as Grandmother Moon set and Grandfather Sun rose in the sky, it was pleasantly cool out. Without giving away more than is respectful, I can share that the ceremony started with a sweat lodge, then took place in a dance arbour with a small, resilient tree at the centre. There was drumming and chanting and dancing (and dry fasting as I mentioned), and sleeping outside for a few nights. During this dance I had the most profoundly sacred feminine healing experience of my life, and as I’m writing this, I’m realising that it’s significant that took place around summer solstice, when in my medicine wheel the sacred masculine is at its height of power.

Trail and Park Reviews: Zapata Falls, Frozen Glacial ...The desert strips away all that isn’t necessary, and like the bones of the sweat lodge, shows us what we are made of. During the ceremony I witnessed layer upon layer of trauma and grief being stripped from me. This was not new, but something I had been going through for some years. But when I found myself falling to my knees at tree in the centre of the arbour, I felt something different. I felt how deeply that tree, that country and those people loved me, and how very wanted I was by Mother Earth. I hadn’t realised how disconnected from my inherent worthiness I had been, and I cried tears of gratitude for the gift of knowledge reminding me of this. I felt quite weak at that point and soon after completed the dance, breaking my fast with a cup of mint iced tea. The next couple of days were filled with play, including hiking the sand dunes and finding oases to swim in the desert, such as an icy cold waterfall (Image of Zapata Falls from here) and a natural spring pool where I rented a swimsuit for $1. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I guess a few people show up in the desert surprised to find a natural spring pool and want to swim too!

When I left the desert after this experience, I felt raw and shaky, yet stronger in my body than I had been in this lifetime. And everywhere I went I kept seeing people who hadn’t yet connected with the Sacred Feminine and didn’t seem to know their worth, or how much we are all loved by Mother Earth, even as our behaviours and lifestyles wound Her. It helped me see the depth of wetiko in the world, and it helped me find my way to people who are as grounded as I am and consciously aware of the depth of pain and disconnection we are all in with our modern city living. It takes time and effort to integrate these teachings into our daily lives, and as one of Tiwa Elder Beautiful Painted Arrow’s (Joseph Rael’s) students shared in a recent blog, Joseph reminds us in his new book that “You have to go through separation before you can go through reunion” & “If everything is considered holy you are always in training.”

cleanupyourmess

At the winter solstice, where we connect deeply with the darkest light of our being, the light from which all coloured and bright light (and life) emerges, I remember this healing experience. And I give thanks for the Sacred Feminine, Mother Earth, and all mothers within and without. I give thanks for all the work I’ve put in so far to bring that knowledge fully into being in my world, and give thanks for the humility of how much work is still needed, mirrored in moments of trauma, pain and shadow emerging stronger than that sacred knowing of the worthiness of it all. Of every struggle. Here’s to us wild and crazy humans, and to Mother Earth who’s always supporting us whether we realise it or not. And to continuing to clean up our messes to show Her that we know how valuable we all are and that we want to honour that by living well. (Image from here.)

Wishing you a meaningful solstice season, whichever hemisphere you’re living in, and deepening of your conscious connection with the Sacred Feminine over the coming months.

Facts in Right Relationship

Philosophising by Lukas

Across the globe an increasingly dominant worldview sees reality as ultimately physical. There are various expressions of this worldview in Western philosophy, including:  logical positivismempiricismphysicalismscientismnaturalism and causal closure. I would sum them up as follows: the only true reality is physical and material, and direct observation using the scientific method arranged into cohesive logic is the only way we can “know” and thus make statements about what is meaningfully and objectively “true.” The highest form of expressing a true statements is one that results in a “fact”, something that is “proven” true by evidence.

Linear Thinking vs Cyclical Processes: Changing Mental ...There are some been some big dissenters. Pragmatist philosopher William James, popular with a lot of Western Buddhists, asserted that something can only be said to be objectively true if there is subjective value to that being so. This is often misunderstood as saying something is true if it is subjectively valuable to someone, which is not the same. Commenting on the subjective value of truth itself, his idea of “radical empiricism” asserts that any philosophical worldview is flawed if it stops at the physical level and fails to explain how meaning, values and intentionality can arise from that. (Image of cyclical & linear thinking from here)

There is no doubt that Western science is physically powerful, and this power seems to validate the worldview underpinning it. On a social level, Western science delivers great physical control into the hands of they who dominate physical resources. What we are left with is a very powerful confirmation bias that minimises the importance of other ways of being, and of experiencing and knowing reality. Far from seeing this kind of thinking as our saviour, I consider it responsible for much of the deepest suffering in the world today. Considering the medicine wheel, we have traded a lot of physical comfort and knowledge for much greater insecurity in emotional, psychological and spiritual realms. To me, the very existence of facts, and Western scientific epistemologies more broadly, can only ever be tools that exist in a complex relationship with subjective experiences that defy physical description. Core to understanding our experiences is an understanding of that which is meaningful in our lives, including how we materialise that meaning, both of which are based in values and worldview. Wise application of values can help us place logic and objectivity into proper relationship with our experiences.

Confirmation Bias in 5 Minutes - YouTubeHowever much one tries to be “objective”, behind all science lies priorities and values, and this affects what ends up being considered real or true. Values inform priorities which help us develop meaningful goals as well as guide us how to err when faced with the inevitable uncertainty of complex systems. And, hard is it can be, values help us remain undistracted and unattached to the vicissitudes of life, and prioritise process over outcomes. By asserting the primacy of process, I am not rejecting consequences in favour of pure deontological “moral” frameworks. Rather, I am stressing that such frameworks are, amongst other things, methods for deciding how we ought err in uncertainty, to be used in combination with thought processes reliant on logic.

The wisdom, or dare I say the “truth”, of our values can be observed pragmatically over time and space in ways that are supra-rational as well as rational, relational and subjective as well as objective. Such dualities and the potential for them to be paradoxical are, I believe, intrinsic to the human experience. Their relationship to one another does not need to “make sense” intellectually. Subjectivity and supra-rationality are not antithetical to science or empiricism. Buddhist science is based on experience-based enquiries into the nature of mind and consciousness, and Indigenous science is based on people learning themselves and their land through subjective and relational ways of being. Whom would you rather ask questions about the nature of mind, a Buddhist lama or a cognitive scientist? And whom would you rather ask questions about sustainable land management, a Western-educated ecologist or a local Indigenous Elder? Your answers to these questions says a lot about you and your worldview.

Positivism Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...I think the most dangerous application of logical positivism, particularly when applied to complex social and ecological systems, is the predictive theoretical model. In modern society, it is often used instead of intuitive wisdom, Buddhist science, or Indigenous science to complement or replace Western scientific observation. A model, like anything, is ultimately uncertain, and decisions have to be made about what to assume and how to err. To demonstrate my point I am going to use to examples that come from a relatively closed and simple system, aeronautical engineering. I say “relatively”, because despite the ability of physical science to predict things like aerodynamics and metallurgy with a high degree of accuracy, when building an aircraft there is no “best” design, only “best effort” at matching design and engineering to values and priorities such as safety, fuel economy, speed, capacity, manufacturing cost, etc. The advantage of this field is that theoretical models can usually be tested, preferably before people fly on the plane! But not always.

Example 1.
A380 engineers used theoretical models to ascertain the wing strutting they hoped would meet wing strength certification regulations. Models were tested with wing stress tests (weights literally placed onto the wings), which determined that they needed to improve the struts. They added extra struts, thus increasing the weight of the aircraft and reducing fuel economy. This, along with incorrect modelling of the aviation market, led to a beautiful, safe, unprofitable plane. But the value of placing safety before profits shone through, and not a single person has died on an A380. (Image from here.)

Travel

Example 2.
Boeing wanted an updated fuel-efficient 737 model to compete with Airbus’s A320 NEO. The 737 has slightly shorter landing gear than the A320, and thus could not accommodate the latest generation of super fuel efficient turbo fan engines, which have a large diameter. To create a whole new airframe (the core of an aircraft) is a lot more expensive and time consuming than an incrementally new model, so the engineers were asked to “make it work.”

They ruled out re-designing the landing gear because it would be too heavy, bad for fuel economy. They changed the way the engine was positioned on the wing, but this altered aerodynamics and made the plane prone to stalling in certain circumstances (when close to the ground). To compensate, they installed software that would take control of the plane’s elevators and aggressively point the nose of the plane down in the event of a low altitude stall. This system took its cue from a single sensor.

You might think that such a system would require extra pilot training, but this would have raised the effective price of the plane, and Boeing were keen to sell it to budget airlines in the developing world, and besides, the system would only run in the background, and in the event of a failure could be disabled the same way pilots had been trained with other Boeing planes. The American regulators, by now more or less run by ex-industry workers with vested interest, approved the plane to fly.

We know what happened next. Two sets of pilots were so scared that their plane was trying to crash them into the ground that they were unable to work out that the problem was an automated system they knew how to shut down. A lot of people died as a consequence.

Disregard for consumer safety and the law - Product Safety ...There are numerous errors of logic identifiable in Example 2 without questioning values too deeply, and these should not be ignored. But I think those errors were proximate causes of flawed values. The aeronautical engineering profession must be based on a deeply held commitment to safety above profit. They, and their regulators, should err on the side of safety. I cannot help but think that government backing of the A380 project — considered a public interest project — had something to do with the values underpinning their decision-making. The risk of producing an unprofitable plane is not as catastrophic to the public purse as it might be to a purely private enterprise. But it also has something to do with the physical nature of the wing test showing a “fact” playing into biases in the Western world. Feelings of unease in the pit of Boeing engineers’ stomachs that I am confident was there were too easily rationalised and discounted within a worldview that puts physical knowing — or its poorer cousin, physical modelling — on a pedestal. (Image from here.)

My commitment to living a process- and values-driven life is why the Australian government’s response to the Corona virus did not align with my values, even if I am grateful for the outcomes we have had so far. In March I saw them erring based on certain values and priorities, but that was not at the centre of societal dialogues. Discussions about values seem increasingly missing in favour of myopic searches for evidence of “fact” or inter-group conflict. What I seek is dialogue based in values that utilise facts once people see and trust where each other is coming from. When we see someone like Trump acting the way he does, it is tempting to malign his refusal to listen to “facts.” But this is only part of the story. The problem for most of us is that we do not like Trump’s values. As physical “facts” continue to gain power both in terms of physical change in the world and as a dominant worldview, dialoguing on values will only become increasingly important. Facts are not the solution to bad leadership, and an increased emphasis on evidence-based “facts” can quickly become a vehicle for even greater trickery and corruption.