Tag Archives: multiculturalism

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)

Thanks-Giving at Solstice

A few months ago somewhere in the outback around Broken Hill, I experienced a spiritual lightning strike inside. Something in me died, an old dream (maybe it was always a lie), and its energy has been emerging from my body in incredibly itchy rashes across my chest, back, face, and shoulders, and grief-laden tears. Sometimes I know certain things aren’t working but am reluctant to call them out or make a change, sitting in doubt and denial and dumbly hoping they’ll work out without conflict. I started to feel, for the first time in my life, like I could fully exist somewhere, and a community started to gently invite me in. Though it was not practical to join them, I can still see some smiles and hope and hear someone asking me to invite her to my housewarming when I move out there next year. It is possible. I’m sure I don’t know. All I know is the sand is shifting under my feet again, and some people and aspects of life I’ve been counting on are disappearing. I’ve been through this many times, and I know my role is to stay centred, be patient, accept the gifts I’m given, let go of that which is not working, and freefall into the unknown with as much grace as I can.

quote.jpgThough much trauma is being acted out in the world right now that is sometimes referred to as ‘white privilege,’ no one is merely ‘white’, and I cringe when I am referred to as such. We all have cultural heritage with gifts to unpack and celebrate. My modern, multi-cultural self includes a body born of Shawnee land carrying earth ethos teachings from my East Frisian roots as well as teachings about existential destruction from my Ashkenazi Jewish lineage, as well as wisdom from Native American, Anglo-Celtic Australian, Anglo-Saxon American, Irish-American, Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian-American, Peruvian, Indian, South African, Buddhist, Christian, Hindi, Aboriginal, and many other beautiful cultures. I saw a quote a few months ago that really resonated and went something like this:

Life was better before colonisation and mass migration, but now it is more beautiful.

I think there is much truth in that, as well as the inset quote a friend sent me. We each have much to celebrate and reconcile within our individual cultural mix. So on December 24, I finished baking some Stollen, sang Godewind songs in German and Platt, told stories and looked at photos to honour my East Frisian paternal ancestors and country.

solstice.jpgTo honour my earth ethos, I celebrated a fiery summer solstice in ceremony with loved ones. (Literally, there were, and are, many fires burning this country.) Sitting around a fire pit in the four directions, we embodied some of my heart’s favourite forms of expression: music, meditation, poetry, and art. Part of our ceremony was a poetic prayer in words & drumming to the Thanksgiving Address gifted to us all by the Haudenosaunee, which brings our minds together as one in thanks for: The people, The Earth Mother, The Waters, The Fish and Other Water Creatures, the Plants, The Food Plants, The Medicine Herbs, The Animals and Insects, The Trees, The Birds and Other Air Creatures, The Winds, The Thunder Beings, Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, The Stars, The Wise Teachers, The Creator, and All Others Who Have Not Been Named. (Image from here of the People thanking Grandmother Moon)

May you enjoy the blessings of the season from Father Sun and Mother Earth whether you have just been through Summer or Winter Solstice.

 

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.

 

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?

 

Guest Post on Anglo-Celtic Australian identity

One of the hardest things about being an Anglo-Celtic Australian is not having a culture that gives deep meaning, context, and guidance to the struggles of my life. The stories of Anglo-Celtic Australian resilience I was fed as child just don’t do the job.

I acknowledge the grit, courage and determination of the first settlers and the diggers, but it all seems built on a foundation of lies, denial and disassociation, the best examples being Terra Nullius, the dehumanising British class system, the occupation of Ireland, and the power hoarding structure of the Church.

Subjugation and shame lie at the heart of so much of what makes us who we are as a collective consciousness. We cling to things like our egalitarianism, but elect a Prime Minister who openly espouses ideas like “a fair go for those that have a go”. It’s bullshit. (Image from here.)

Australia_a-fair-go
Don’t get me wrong. I’m fond of Australia, and Australians. More than fond. For all our peccadillos, I love us. And by us I’m speaking most about me, the Anglo-Celtic Australian. My tribe, my people. My connection to a nebulous post-white Australian multicultural identity feels so often forced, and hidden behind euphemism and untruths. It has to be, because what came before it has not healed enough to make space for anything real to replace it. It’s pure aspiration, often based merely on the fleeting winds of social convention and social shaming.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I endorse being ashamed of who we are. For me this can only lead back around to denial and anger. But of course this shame is there whether we like it or not. It’s something we must heal. Perhaps it’s THE place to start our work; unconditional love and grace for all that went before, warts and all.

What is the alternative? ANZACS, the grizzled farmer, a game of beach cricket next to the barbie, or even our supposed egalitarian cosmopolitan multiculturalism? To me, they just don’t cut it. Smoking ceremonies and welcome to country? Window dressing. There’s just so much flagrant bullshit at the heart of it all. We need more truth.

Here’s a truth. I’m envious of people who identify as indigenous. I envy the power of their stories, their connection to this land, and their feeling of belonging to something real and carnal. My material and societal privilege feel like a big bag of shame that I am supposed to pretend isn’t there. I envy those who can talk about their burden openly with dignity and without ridicule.

If I’m honest, when I look around at most Australians, and within myself (I am in this as much as anyone), I see scared, subjugated and exploited children, without a solid cultural foundation, without real connection to the land. I see bullies, and the bullied. I don’t see a deep sense of purpose and meaning. I don’t see unfettered spirit in flow. I’m sorry if his hurts to read. It hurts to say.

Wrapped up in all of this for me personally is an overwhelmed, listless, elderless masculinity, and an absent relationship with unconditional feminine love as embodied by a relationship to the earth. The feminine in us all of us seemingly seeks so much to be just more masculine.

I wish I knew more about my own ancestors, and their personal stories and struggles, where they came from, and what that really meant for who they were. Why is everything that they are largely forgotten, and mostly not talked about in my family? Why is the richness of their cultural heritage and diversity reduced to “whiteness”? How can I possibly heal from wounds my kin have picked up on their journey, like their pain of leaving tribal indigenous land, if I don’t know anything about them?

It seems to me that one of the greatest injustices in the modern world is the labelling of only some people as “indigenous”. Different people are indigenous to different places, but we are all from somewhere, originally. And building from that, everyone needs the opportunity to becomes indigenous to the place that nourishes and shelters them, physically and spiritually. (Image from here.)

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA[2]

But we’re here now. We have to be indigenous HERE if we’re going to thrive on any kind of deep level. Fortunately, from what I have seen, the original indigenous Australians have nothing but grace and generosity for us Anglo-Celtic Aussies if we’d but commit to truth, and real healing. And that MUST start inside.

I don’t know why I ought to be, and I know reasons why I ought not to be, but I am an Anglo-Celtic Aussie, and I am choosing to be proud of that. I commit to truth and healing. I commit to grounding myself here on this land. I commit to creating for my future ancestors a rich healthy culture that I never had.

Luke Ringland

Walking the talk of a commitment to creating a healthy culture, Luke had an opinion piece published today on gambling addiction.

Existential Wounds

vol-13-1-coverExistential wounds seem to occur more often for those of us with multi-cultural, immigrant, and colonial heritage. When we are (or our ancestors were) forcibly moved, forced to adopt unfamiliar cultural practices of spiritual worship, live in homes and wear clothes of unfamiliar materials, eat foods unfamiliar to our bodies, or were abused or enslaved in some way, we experienced trauma. This trauma often took the form of existential wounding where the very core of our identities, ways of being, and understandings of the world are shaken. It can take many generations and much work to heal such wounds. I recently had an article about indigenous trauma healing published if you want to dive more deeply into that. (Ignore the abstract; they used the wrong one.)

Through generations of carrying existential wounds, we feel ashamed that what our ancestors taught us about the right ways to live and what we learned to honour has been desecrated. We become ungrounded and disoriented and struggle to trans-form and re-form ourselves and our cultures in new places. We feel lied to and know in our bones that something is wrong. We wonder if we’re crazy, if something is wrong with us; we get angry with our families or society and struggle with mountains of conflicts. (This is structural change; re-claiming the body/mind/spirit as one where we are now.) If you are reading this, chances are you feel a calling to do that work! As an example, I always felt disoriented in the Northern Hemisphere. I struggled to orientate and make sense of directions, and when I got my PhD I had the definitive feeling that I was moving backwards, spiralling inwards to the core so I could get to the essence of the existential wound, go through a spiritual death and be reborn again. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere has helped me feel like my life is finally correctly oriented. Yet at the same time, native foods of Australia are unfamiliar to my body. So I gather lily pillies to make jam, eat native figs off of big ficuses when I walk by, and cook up warrigal greens (See images below). I’ve noticed that native foods are unfamiliar to most people here, though, and eating European meats and veggies seems to keep people’s psyches more tied to places across the planet and help them be more willing to mine indigenous land in their own country! (Images from here and here.)

I believe that decolonisation has profoundly positive effects on healing of existential wounds as it helps us feel more whole. While listening to the Mythic Medicine podcast recently I realised a simple way to heal some of our existential wounds is to name and honour the landforms and elementals that raised us, and support us where we now live. Here is mine for where I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia:

I was raised on the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (earth), hilly land with red clay soil and loads of spindly pine trees. The water (water) that I drank and bathed in came from Lake Lanier, a dammed portion of the Chattahoochee River. The winds (air) were unnamed but predominantly flowed from the southwest towards the northeast. Power (fire) came predominantly from a hydroelectric plant that dammed the river. The main spiritual practice (heart) there was Protestant Christian, and in particular Southern Baptist. The largest landform was Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping that extends underground into five states and has a Confederate Memorial carved into it which is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. Other memorable landforms are the network of manmade highways, including a circle around the city with an X of two highways that meet at the centre, and incredibly messy interchanges such as one called Spaghetti Junction that looms large in my memory (see below). A local park called Henderson Lake was a safe space for me, and I walked there regularly (see below). The Creek and Cherokee nations existed on the land before English colonists, and before that were nations of mound-builders which we know little about. (Images from here and here.)

atlantahwy hendersonlake

Exercise: I invite you to download this My Ancestry Exercise that came together when preparing for an ancestral healing workshop a couple months ago. I have my answers on there as an example. It will give you a reflection of what you know about where you come from, and your intuition may answer some questions you didn’t realise you knew! You can add to this exercise an honouring of landforms and elementals exemplified above for the land(s) that raised you, and the land that now supports you!

Healing & Cultural Appropriation

In the previous post I wrote about how complex it is to honour multiple cultural identities, ground ourselves where we are now and honour the ancestors of the land, forgive our ancestors’ mistakes and decolonise our everyday lives. This post is a step further, because cultural appropriation is different in the context of spiritual healing. I have learned through experience what cultural appropriation in a healing context is, and the destructiveness it brings. I have also gained valuable insight, lessons, and tools when some cultural appropriation was being done that added a layer of destruction to the person’s offering. We are human, and our healing work is inherently imperfect. (Image from here.)

appropriationappreciation.png

In my experience, once we are out of crisis, healing within a market economy context is limited. There are different power dynamics, feelings and experience when meeting in a therapist’s office for 50 minutes for $100, and when with meeting a caring community member in a home, or while walking and talking with a friend in a park. As I wrote in a previous post, please RUN AWAY FROM people who say they are fully healed or ascended masters or anything like that unless you want to join a cult, because delusions of grandeur and beliefs around exceptionalism and/or superiority are not conducive to healing. Also from a previous post, keep in mind that:

“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). 

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.

I don’t mean to say we should never participate in a ceremony in an apartment with a medicine from a foreign culture and land. But if we do, let’s do it with awareness and help it be as safe as possible. I ask for my own guidance in a form that resonates with me (either prayer or meditation usually). I acknowledge the limitations of the healing work I am considering participating in and ask if it is right for me. If I get signs and insight to move forward, then I ask what I need to do so that it is in balance. For example, when I offered an ancestral trauma healing workshop earlier this year on land with which I have limited cultural connection, I received guidance to donate participants’ gift economy offerings to an Aboriginal advocacy organisation. I also verbally thanked the ancestors of the land during the workshop for supporting our lives and the healing work.

bodyspirit.png

I will share the following story to offer a contrast of an experience of cultural appropriation with a man who called himself a shaman and worked with indigenous people in the Amazon, Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. He quit his day job to do healing work full time and did so within a gift economy and invited me to participate in a group healing ceremony supported by the tribe in the Amazon. He gave us all a protocol of how to prepare for for three weeks, which I followed. Two days before the ceremony, he said he had new information and changed some things, which I found strange. My husband said he had a bad feeling, but I still trusted the man. I got a sign there was danger ahead, and I felt shaken but kept going. The ceremony changed again the night it took place. At one point, the so-called shaman stood over me menacingly while I was laying on the floor, yelled at me and called me names. I told him I found the behaviour abusive, but I never heard from him again and did not see him after that. When I wrote the couple running a school for shamans in the Southwestern U.S. who recommended him on their website, they said that he had lost his mind, that he was threatening them and they were scared of him, and that putting his information on their website was not an endorsement. I later realised that the tribe was split in their support for his doing that ceremony within their lineage, with their healing tools, away from their land and culture, and that my own cultural heritage was so filled with conflict that I was able to provide the group with a reflection of this problem he was denying. What a messy, valuable lesson he gave me. Here are some less extreme examples of cultural appropriation I have experienced:

  • People charging money for community healing ceremonies traditionally offered within a gift economy or by donation, and/or facilitating ceremonies without integrity:
    • e.g. for a sweat lodge: charging a fixed fee, failing to configure the fire and lodge correctly, failing to honour the land and lineage ancestors, failing to clear the space and clean up the lodge before doing another ceremony
    • e.g. calling oneself a spiritual counsellor in a modern city and charging $100/hour without any formal counselling training or supervision from another counsellor
  • People of mixed cultural heritage identifying with only one ancestral blood lineage,  denying their own complex wholeness, then projecting that dissociation onto others whom they are supposedly offering healing to:
    • e.g. studying curanderoismo healing with someone from rural Mexico and identifying as an indigenous Aztec healer when the person did not know one of their birth parents, grew up in one U.S. state, and lived in another U.S. state.
    • e.g. identifying only as an oppressed African-American, indigenous or Jewish person without acknowledging other blood lineages and cultural heritages

heartheal.jpegI have a lot of compassion for the messiness of embodying Earth Ethos in modern multicultural cities. This is my life! And it is hard, messy work. It’s important to give ourselves and each other grace and trust that we all do our best. For a beautiful story from someone of mixed cultural heritage about honouring all of her complex heritage, read this by Lyla June. (Image from here.)

Since I have learned much of this stuff the hard way, I offer you the following suggestions of what to consider when seeking spiritual healing:

  • Intention & Identity
    • How do YOU see your role and identity in healing work done within the context of a human relationship? Are you looking for practical tools? Emotional support? Plant medicine? Ceremonial healing? A spiritual elder? Escapism? Adventure? Gratification of curiousity about an ‘other’ culture?
    • How does the other person see their role? Do they call themselves a healer or shaman? Do they say they are healing you? Channeling healing energy? Facilitating healing? Holding space? Offering medicine? Helping you connect with your inner higher self? How does the other person identify themself?
  • Cosmology & Culture
    • What cosmology/cosmologies do you embody? What perspectives and beliefs do you want to learn more about and bring into your life? To let go of? How do you relate safely to people with different cosmologies and/or cultures?
    • Is the other person’s cosmology related to (a) specific culture(s) or lineage(s)? How do you relate to the other person’s cosmology? What ancestry does the person have?
  • Place & Form
    • What physical place supports your healing (e.g. a sweat lodge, therapist’s office, church pew, a home, etc.)? Is the place relevant to the culture or lineage on which the work is based, or has it been adapted to your context in some way? What form supports your healing (e.g. talking and listening, music, dance, energy work, laying of hands, artistic expression, etc.)?
    • Where is the person willing to meet with you, and what forms of support are available? How does the person honour multiculturalism, modern places and forms? What cultural and place-based relationships does the person bring? If the person is working within a specific cultural context, how has the person received those teachings?

 

Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

You may have grown up, like me, steeped in multiculturalism in your home and city, eating foods from all over the world, making friends with others of totally different cultural heritages, travelling and living overseas, and honouring multiculturalism in your everyday lives. If you go back a few generations, how many of ancestors of your blood lineage spoke your language? Dressed in clothes like yours? Listened to similar music, or did similar dances or art? Were taught similar stories about the right ways to live? Did formal schooling? Worked indoors? Followed a similar faith tradition? Celebrated the same holidays? Lived on the same land where you live? Ate foods native to the land where you live? The hardest thing for most of us to fully accept is that in order to survive, we and our ancestors all appropriated from other cultures, and had our own cultures appropriated from. All earth beings move and trans-plant. For example, potatoes are native to the Andes, yet we often think of them in relation to Ireland. We are in living in a hopelessly multicultural world. Just think about the fact that one box of tea we buy for $3 is made from leaves grown in India, packaged in China from cardboard made in Bangladesh, then is shipped to England in a barge made in Denmark, and then distributed to our local supermarket chain owned by a German company. How complicated! (Image from here.)

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How do we practically honour the multicultural complexity of one product in our shopping cart?  How do we honour the complexity of our lineages, in terms of relationships with food, place, land, and spiritual traditions?  At what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the 1700s:

I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors…for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices…I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people…[Yet] the land, her spirits…even after all that has happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people…built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about reparations…[that will be] inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories.

If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

I see colonising behaviour all over modern cities today. We talk about ‘gentrification’ when people of traditionally more dominant and resourced cultural groups displace traditionally oppressed groups in the parts of a city where the oppressed groups had been forced to live. I consider this micro-colonisation, akin to the term micro-aggression. What if that’s the only place you can afford to buy a house? Does that mean you ethically shouldn’t? Should people with white skin never move to Oakland, California or to Redfern in Sydney, Australia? I don’t think so. But if you choose to, you have the responsibility to be honest about what is happening, feel the pain of others’ displacement along with the joy of your new placement, make amends and build positive connections with the people and land as best you can.

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Acknowledging the peoples and lands from which traditions emerge is a way to deeply honour ancestors and keep wisdom alive, and allows you to be a cultural bridge in new lands. The respectful intent and humble, teachable spirit with which you approach such activities is the main difference between honouring multiculturalism in our modern world and a the colonial, oblivious, blind, entitled, and greedy and grabby spirit of cultural appropriation. If you are honest about where you stand today and are able to honour your ancestral journey, however many mistakes and sacrifices you and your ancestors have made, you will have a much easier time honouring others’ cultural traditions.

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It also helps to keep in mind how fluid ancestry and identity is. Culture is so much more complicated than just tracing your blood lineage and labelling someone as indigenous or non-indigenous, black or white or brown-skinned. Just because you do not have a known ancestral lineage in Japan, for example, does not mean that you are culturally appropriating if you feel moved to practice aspects of Shintoism, learn to do a traditional tea ceremony, or how to brew your own sake. We multicultural moderns have much more similar journeys to drops of water that are re-cycled around the planet, evaporating from a lake into a cloud and flowing across the sky, falling as rain into a huge ocean, entering a jet stream that crashes as a wave against a rock across the world from where we started, and hanging out in a pool on that rock for a while. I personally think this modern mess we’re in is here to remind us that we’re all one big human family! (Image from here.)

Dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness practices are other great ways to connect with our ancestors, as well as donating time and money, building and tending ancestral altars, spiritual practices to heal unjust power dynamics and colonial wounds, supporting the revitalisation of indigenous languages, connecting with non-human ancestors of land and place, and reconnecting with languages and traditions of your ancestors.

Exercise: Modern people tend to use food and drink as the main tool for connecting with ancestry. Try branching out. If you have Gaelic ancestors, learn a few words and see how you feel speaking them, then put on music and see how your body naturally wants to move to it. You may have some moves burst out that you didn’t know about! Also, imagine how ancestors lived on the land where you are now. Did they used to fish by the river you walk along? Imagine how your ancestors used to live in faraway lands. Did they build a fire in the evening to heat their homes just like you are doing? One study found that just thinking about our ancestors and how they lived is beneficial to us!