Tag Archives: philosophy

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.

Dignity & privilege

One of the basic premises of an Earth Ethos, and of indigenous teachings generally, is an innate worthiness of being. It does not depend on behaviour or social status or species; all beings on Earth are of worth. This is the foundation of dignity, whose root comes from Latin for “to accept, to take.” In the previous post I wrote about how acceptance keeps us in the present moment. And when we’re in the present moment in a state of worthiness, we are strong and we are dignified, even if behaviour of another person is not. Privilege, on the other

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hand, comes from the Latin words for “private” and “law,” indicating an advantage, right or priority over another person, group, or even species. In social justice circles there has been a lot of discussion in recent years of privilege related to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, age, citizenship, and disability. I know there are real life impacts for many of us because of social privileges, but our focus on these inequities distracts us from the important work of ensuring that we stand in dignity and see others that way regardless of their behaviour or beliefs. It’s our responsibility to remember that regardless of the domination of certain social stories and world views, there is innate dignity in all ways of being. Stories are powerful because we feed them, even if we do so by fighting.

It does not matter if a person has a million dollar home or a high social status job, being in denial and numb to painful feelings is not a privilege, is it disembodiment, disconnection with self, others, and the present moment. It is a disabled and difficult way to navigate the world. I know this because after numerous efforts to ask for help and protect myself from sexual abuse as a child failed, I dissociated, and did not re-member those experiences until my mid-twenties. My life before that was really hard and confusing. It has taken many years and hard work to build a trusting relationship with myself. I have had to let go of and reform numerous unhealthy relationships including my entire family of origin; I have had to ride out decisions based on that denial and numbness and give myself grace in the process; and I have had to dig deep into my psyche to question foundational stories and beliefs that guided me for over 20 years, and replace them with ones that feel and work better. (Image from here. And like skill, you could rank by social privilege as well.)dignity-cartoon.png

Sometimes it feels like we have no choice, because everyone around us is on board; we feel forced to accept global stories like, for instance, capitalism, or countries and borders, or languages we communicate with. These big stories do privilege certain values and world-views. This is Christmas season. How many of us know that Jesus was not born on this day, and that the Catholic Church repurposed indigenous European celebrations for winter solstice over 400 years after Jesus’s death? (Even a Christian site called www.allaboutgod.com knows this. In fact, many of the so-called Christmas traditions have strange histories. It’s okay to celebrate something on another day, like when it’s your birthday on a Tuesday and you have a party the Saturday before, but it’s less powerful than if you celebrated the actual date. It’s the same with solstice. It would be a lot more powerful if we celebrated winter/summer solstice on the actual celestial days instead of the days chosen for Easter/Christmas depending which hemisphere you’re in.Consider connecting with the powerful celestial energy this solstice and doing something to celebrate our planet regardless of what else you celebrate. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas celebrations with fake snowmen, fake pine trees, fake garlands, and sweaty Santas in summer are farcical. (Image from here.)

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It is of course possible to be dignified in celebrating Christmas; it is meaningful to many people. It is also important to recognise, whether you celebrate it or not, that in society right now Christmas is privileged, and to consciously decide how you want to behave given that social reality. Most of us get time off of work for Christmas, and some of us have to use our vacation to celebrate days that are meaningful to us which are not socially privileged. If you have not taken the time to reflect on what the elements of the modern Christmas celebration mean to you and whether your participation aligns with your values and world view, I encourage you to. How could I get out of this if I wanted to?you might ask. Everyone buys presents, decorates houses and offices, makes certain foods, plays certain music, and expects me to join in. Didn’t anyone ever ask you as a kid if everyone was jumping off a cliff if you would too when you used that sort of logic? Christmas celebrations started to feel empty to me as my sex abuse memories were integrating. Christmas memories from childhood were joyful because my dad spent time doing creative things with me, not because there was deep meaning in the specific activities. I didn’t know why I was busily making and buying things, as I am not a dignityquote2.jpgmaterialist or a Christian, so I told people close to me I would focus on birthdays and important life events, and I stopped. I don’t want to deprive anyone of the joy of giving, but I don’t want to feel burdened receiving what is intended as a gift, so I told people close to me if they want to give me something, I prefer personal notes, meals, time together, and handmade art. I dislike expectations to behave a certain way on a day that is not especially meaningful to me, so Luke and I take short trips just the two of us over Christmas to enjoy Mother Nature instead. This all make it easier for me to stand in dignity because I am accepting me and not playing a victim by gracefully navigating a situation where my way of being is not socially privileged. Cultivating the discipline to deny ourselves that which brings us pain and suffering helps us stand in dignity and experience more joyful abundance.

From a pagan friend: Happy Holidays meme.jpg

The cynicism trap

If you’re reading this, chances are you are someone who walks willingly into uncomfortable feelings and values lessons gained through pain. Thank you. Your presence on the planet makes a difference when you walk such a path. I too have been on a hardcore heart-warrior journey for years with an understanding that energy is trans-form-able. I have trusted that being with and creatively expressing painful emotions is a valuable way to be of service. In some respects, this perception is misguided. Mary Shutan reminds us that certain primal energies related to survival are by their nature quite brutal. They are worthy of being with and expressing creatively, but they are not transformable. Most of us have witnessed a predatory animal stalk and eat its prey. Most of us have physically stood near an animal that humbled us and showed us our place in the food chain. (Who wants to swim near this guy?)

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Most of us have experienced forces of nature bigger than we are, such as tornadoes or flash floods. Some of us have faced homelessness or joblessness and been unsure how our basic physical needs will be met. Experiences like these challenge our individual survival and ask us to stand in faith. I define faith like Christina Pratt as “a liquid state of grace”, a free-fall, a letting go and allowing something bigger to steer us for a while.

seattleIn his famous speech Chief Seattle foretold that the way U.S. settlers were treating Mother Earth was moving us collectively into “The end of living and the beginning of survival.” I find it helpful to think of survival as more complex than fight, flight or freeze. One researcher suggests the following survival strategies: rescuing, attaching, adapting, asserting, fighting, fleeing, competing, and cooperating (Valent, 1995). Knowing that a small proportion of people are controlling physical resources, and that through various ways of looking at inequalities physical survival fears are very real, and that legal systems are maintaining many of these imbalances, I can see why some say that trauma-induced behaviours such as hyper-vigilance are actually evolutionary protective mechanisms to help us survive modern life (Silove, 2007). (Image from Wikipedia.)

Across the planet species are going extinct, human languages and cultures are dying, polar ice caps are melting, and lands are disappearing underwater. In an Earth Ethos, we are all interconnected, so if we didn’t feel pain with those things going on, we wouldn’t be living! I think it is important to accept we live in a time filled with survival struggle energy that it is brutal by nature and often seems to have incredibly unfair impact. Accepting this does not mean that we give up, lose hope, renounce faith, or fall into the cynicism trap by giving up on a healthy, balanced future vision for generations to come. While we may not be able to transform primal survival energy, we can transform cynicism and question ourselves when we or others get caught up serving survival strategies. I say “serving” because, years ago Tom Lake said to me there is a difference between “being of service” and “being a servant.” When we are guided by rigid stories in our minds, we are servants blindly acting them out. Consider the “good person” story. We feel the need to do certain actions and avoid others to prove we are “good,” then we judge others’ behaviour as “bad” and justify acting on our righteous anger by punishing them, which is the basis of our criminal justice system. I find this story incredibly destructive, and I agree with Sadhguru that there are no good or bad people, only miserable and joyful people.

imwithher.jpgWhen we are miserable we are rejecting or rebelling against reality, which is destructive and results in existential crisis. When we are accepting we remain in the present moment, however painful. Many of us understandably feel overwhelmed by the depth of pain on the planet right now, so we numb ourselves with substances such as sugar, caffeine or alcohol; run away to our heads to avoid certain feelings; and seek out “light work” or “positive psychology” to create bubbles of security around ourselves. This is so common that a famous social psychology study published in the 80s suggesting that “overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism…promote mental health” has yet to be refuted. So not only are we serving a story (like being a good or bad person) that doesn’t need to survive, we are avoiding the important responsibility creating a vision for future generations of a world we want them to live in, but the cynicism trap doesn’t even improving our mental health! The medicine I find works best when you catch yourself falling into the cynicism trap is to let go of that cynical vision and move into a graceful free-fall instead, living on faith for a while. The more I stand in faith, the more clearly I see that Mother Earth has a beautiful vision she’s desperately trying to communicate to us when we move through our survival fears and make space to listen and act on her guidance and wisdom. (Image from here.)

Exercise: What survival strategies do you most commonly use (rescuing, attaching, adapting, asserting, fighting, fleeing, competing, and cooperating)? Where are you serving a story that does not need to survive? What is preventing you from letting go of control and standing in faith?

 

 

Governance

Today is 100 years since the armistice to end the “war of all wars,” which as we know did not do so. The word “armistice” comes from “arm” and “solstice,” where “solstice” means to stand still and firm, referring literally to the movement of the sun. You may wonder like me why the word “arm” refers to the part of our body and also to weapons. The etymology is from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root word meaning “to fit together,” referring to joints (Though that doesn’t explain why we refer to big biceps as “guns.”) The fact that we use the same word for our body and a weapon is interesting, and it is worth reflecting how we are embodying armistice today. A Bible study website says arms are “used to denote power” and “the omnipotence of God”, and a site linking body metaphysically with spirit suggests that arms are about “the ‘social embrace’ or how we reach out to other people.” (Image from here.)

Armistice-Signed

In an Earth Ethos, the way we reach out to others says a lot about how we govern ourselves, and how that is a reflection of our inner space (our capacity to be with and hold complexity), our values, character, and spiritual development. I have been noticing more and more how the Western archetype of “king” as ruler in control manifests in everyday life. To quote from a previous post:

“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).

Critical_Thinking_Skills_Diagram

For most of us Westerners, the critical thinking/rational mind (we literally call it “executive functioning”) governs a lot of our actions. This is mirrored in society with complex hierarchies where power is concentrated in people we call “executives” who are higher up the “chain of command” (another military term). An executive is literally executing a vision (another word with a violent double meaning), but what is that vision based on? It’s based on a worldview: how we see ourselves, each other, and how we fit together. This makes up the “dreamtime” as Aboriginal Australians say, or the subconscious as social scientists say. Being governed by rational, executive functioning is destructive, because our human lives are not rational and reasonable. Many of us have faith in a “higher plan”, a destiny or fate to help us make sense of events we can’t understand or otherwise explain. (Image from Wikipedia.)

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We get so caught up in understanding, we lose touch with the ground we’re standing on. We want to know what caused the fire before we put it out and clean up the mess it left. Most of us are taught from a young age to think through our actions and analyse behaviours of others. But if we look at the path a river takes to flow to the sea, we may think it’s crazy and inefficient: it twists and turns, goes over rocks and down waterfalls. Our biggest computers cannot mathematically work out the best path for a river to flow even if we have detailed topographic maps, because our nature is not static enough for to understand. Weather, animals and plants can change topography in an instant, and we might joke about poor meteorology predictions, but it says a lot about science (the study of human knowledge) that we can’t understand the natural flow of earth, air, fire and water. (Image from here.)

carrying

A wise woman friend who has since passed on said to me that “all we humans do is carry things.” We carry ideas, stories, feelings, emotions, spiritual views that frame our worldview, and dreams. Most of us are carrying some stories based on black-and-white, right and wrong, judgmental thinking, which we often refer to as critical thinking. But this critical thinking for many of us has outgrown our ability to remember who we are and remain present in our hearts. How often you “know” what to say, or you have a strong instinct to do something, and you talk yourself out of it, later realising that feeling/knowing was a better path? Our want to know in our heads is plaguing us with doubt for other types of knowing that are really valuable as well. Critical thinking is literally preventing magic and creation from freely flowing in our lives. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Life tested me for many years until I made a commitment to stand for peace. It has cost me a lot of energy emotionally, psychologically, and physically, but spiritually it is my bedrock, and I feel lucky to know that. Each day I learn my limits and practice opening my arms more widely to embrace even more energy with loving compassion and graceful acceptance. Because my dreaming is a world filled with peace where terms for weapons and body parts are very distinctly different.

Exercise: How do you carry armistice? What do you stand for with arms open? What is the bedrock of energy that governs you?

Hope for Change

In Old English, the word hopa, from which modern-day “hope” emerged, meant “confidence in the future.” For me, this requires trusting in natural forces more powerful than I, and a willingness to venture into unknown territory (inside and outside myself) with an open mind and heart. It requires me to set aside what I think I know in order to see what is and will be. Daily contemplative practices like meditation and prayer purify me so that there is space in my world for miracles to occur. In my experience, where I do such practices makes a difference.

hopeflower.jpgAmericans often say, “I went for a walk in nature.” This is crazy, because we are always in nature. A house, a church, an office, a car—these are natural, highly cultivated, environments. A forest, a desert, a seashore, a mountaintop—these are natural, wilderness environments. Think about a spectrum of highly cultivated environments such as New York City, to total wilderness environments such as Alaska, and think about how you feel and behave in different environments. In cities, we tend to cultivate our lives: we carefully groom our faces, clothe our bodies, decorate our houses, cook pre-packaged foods, and schedule our time. In wilderness, we tend to let go and flow more. (Image from here.)

Many of us think that wilderness is meant to be free from human impact. This is simply not so in indigenous cultures. I have heard indigenous environmental advocates say that once there is stronger cultural consensus about respecting wilderness, they will come into conflict with Western environmentalists who want to keep it pristine and virginal. The lyrebird in Australia is famous for mimicking sounds in its environment. In recent years as its environment has been impacted by us modern humans, it has learned not only to the songs of birds and sounds of other animals, but of chainsaws and car alarms. The lyrebird does not judge some sounds as more or less natural, so why do we?

In an Earth Ethos, we humans need to interact with our environment, and in fact we have a sacred responsibility to do so. Taking a few minutes to meditate, pray, or practice mindfulness is a simple way to give back to our environments and express gratitude for all the gifts the natural world gives us. A “sit spot” is a simple contemplative practice for being in wilderness. All that is involved is sitting still in a wilderness environment and being as present as you can. The best “sit spot” is one that you are easily able to access, such as a park or garden near your home or office. Even sitting for five minutes a day makes a difference in how we feel in our bodies and how connected we feel with our wild Mother Earth.

foraging

A Potawatomi elder and academic refers to modern humans as “species poor.” Most of us eat foods and use medicines bought in stores, and if we do grow our own, most of those plants originated in other places. Foraging enriches us by improving our connection with our environment and demonstrating our respect for the land. Indigenous wisdom says that plants emerge to offer the medicine and nutrition we need to survive in a specific environment. A simple practice is to learn some edible and medicinal plants in your current environment, gather and use them. (Image from here.)

organicWhen we change our perspectives, we change the world. When we recognise value in plants and animals in our environments, we act accordingly. Ten years ago few of us knew what “free range”, “grass fed” or “organic” food was. As an increasing number of people saw the destructive impacts of pesticides and other high-yield agricultural practices, collective modern culture began to change. Today, most of us are more aware of what we’re eating than we were ten or twenty years ago. That gives me hope that as we keep growing, more Earth Ethos changes will occur in our lifetimes. (Image from here).

Exercises: Start a “sit spot” practice. Learn to forage in your neighborhood.

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)

exclude

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.

Holiness

Most of you reading this, like me, grew up a Judeo-Christian culture. And like many of you, I experienced conflicts and hypocrisies with aspects of those teachings. One such conflict is with the concept of “The Holy Land.” I have always known deep in my bones that all land is holy land, and that all bodies and beings are holy and sacred and worthy. To elevate a particular place as “Holy” is to demote other places as un-holy or less-holy. Not surprisingly, the etymology of the world “holy” is “healthy” and “whole.” If only one place on Earth is “The Holy Land”, and only about eight million people live there, then by definition, the rest of us 4+ billion people are in exile, cut off from our Motherland, not feeling whole.

adameveThe foundation of Judeo-Christian mythology leaves us unconnected with environments where the vast majority of its followers live. The Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden is not an embodied story connecting humans with nature inside and outside ourselves within a web of life. In fact, the entire Earth has not, for some time in Judeo-Christian culture, been portrayed as a home, as much as a place to endure or get through (Gustafson, 1997). Feeling rejected by the Sacred Feminine, we are collectively convinced we are in exile, and so it follows that many of us live in our heads and suffer from mental illness. (Image from here, altered for copyright from this image.)

Indigenous, Earth Ethos thinking challenges this vision. As Lee Standing Bear Moore and Takatoka of the Manataka American Indian Council say:

If God created the universe and countless universes beyond our own into infinity, it is clear that part of the master plan was to place God’s creatures in a place where everything they see and touch in nature is healing medicine.  What better place to care for the children of Creation?  Therefore, the Garden of Eden is symbolic for the Kingdom of God and it exists as we see it, and live in its midst, both physically and spiritually.   The Mother Earth is part of the Kingdom of God and thus humans and other creatures present in the garden were never expelled, but remain to live and evolve.   Eden is all around us, everything we see in nature and beyond is the garden and Kingdom of God.  We are here and never left. [emphasis added]

So the Christian fundamentalists asking us to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is here now are onto something. repent(Image from here.) 

I invite you to imagine what your life would look and feel like if every land you walked upon was treated like holy land; if every human body you came into contact with including your own were treated like holy land; if every animal and plant you ate, every mineral and stone mined and built into your smartphone and car and house were treated like holy land. Indigenous thinking sees the Earth as the source of life, not a resource to be used for a period of time. The understanding that all land is holy, that all of us are wanted and held by Mother Earth where we are now regardless of our ancestor’s trauma of leaving their Motherland, is incredibly freeing. I first experienced this healing during an indigenous dance-fast ceremony in Colorado following teachings of Joseph Rael. I remember kneeling in front of a tree during the ceremony and weeping with the realisation of how much Mother Earth wanted and cared for me, how much pain I had been carrying disconnecting me from those feelings, and how much pressure that had been placing on other relationships, especially my birth mother.

Years ago I read a book whose central thesis really stuck with me written by Wilhelm Reich, a controversial former student of Freud. Reich said that more than anything, we are truly afraid of pleasure, joy, and the abundance of gifts always in our midst; that we have collectively, in Judeo-Christian/Western culture, grown used to identifying with a fundamental sense of rejection, so that we shy away from profound opportunities for acceptance. I remember too, years ago, reading about the origin and etymology of the word sin:

[T]he most common word translated as “sin” is chait. The “sin” of Adam and Eve was chait, a mistake. People don’t “sin.” People make mistakes. After all, we are human.

sinThis word “sin,” then, was meant to help us humans understand our nature: that we are powerful and able create wonders and also an innate capacity to blunder. What curious creatures we are! We have been believing and embodying an errant, mistaken thought and believing that we are exiled, unworthy, and that our sacred, earthly Mother doesn’t fully love us, and this sin/mistake/confusion has been defining the course of our collective history for multiple millennia, and is still going. If this isn’t Wetiko energy, I don’t know what is! (Image from here.)

Faced with so many reflections around us of our collective disconnection with Mother Earth, our bodies, fellow beings, and elements of our environment necessary for living like our water and air, it helps to have a sense of humour. Here’s a quote from George Carlin:

The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

Exercise: I invite you to re-think the concept of “holiday” and “other” days, and generally how you carry and embody being holy.

Gift Economy

A market economy is based on exchange, how much we owe (based on lack) and are able to earn (based on social judgment). A gift economy is based on faith, how much we share (based on trust) and give away (based on abundance). To me a gift economy has always felt natural. Embodying this Earth Ethos of faith, trust and abundance has been a life-long challenge in a lack-based global market economy. It has taken me many years of barely eking out a living, as well as numerous failed personal and professional relationships, to navigate this philosophical conflict with popular culture. Today, many of the services we call “sharing,” like paying to be in a car pool, are still part of a market economy. Charles Eisenstein is an advocate for a gift economy in modern Western culture, and his description of it is as follows:

Many indigenous cultures embody the philosophy of a gift economy. For the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Canada, the wealthiest people are those who give away resources in a potlatch ceremony, which may be planned a year in advance and last for several days. During the ceremony the host distributes wealth amongst guests, including beaded jewellery, leather clothing, and lavish foods. As Elder Agnes Axu Alfred explains:

“When one’s heart is glad, he gives away gifts. Our Creator gave it to us, to be our way of doing things, to be our way of rejoicing, we who are. Everyone on earth is given something. The potlatch was given to us to be our way of expressing joy.” 

In Papa New Guinea, people work for years to be able to give a moka gift to another person, who then works to gather an even bigger moka gift to give, as explained in the following video:

(The full documentary entitled Ongka’s Big Moka is available here.)

While being part of a market economy is currently compulsory for most of us to survive, there are areas of life where we can embody a gift economy. The first principle of abundant giving is that we have to be filled up ourselves and have extra energy to give. We have all experienced someone brimming with kindness so that we feel it in their presence, and another person clearly intending to be kind only able to offer a sheepish smile. Being honest about what we are capable of abundantly giving helps us avoid being in a space of lack. Whether mentally, spiritually, emotionally, or physically, we can only give to another what we ourselves possess. Once we judge/expect ourselves, saying we “should” embody a certain state of being, we have lost the ability to embody what we intend. A strengths-based perspective is the starting point for a gift economy.

Simple acts of kindness without expectation of anything in return (not even a thank-you) embody a gift economy, as do larger acts like doing pro bono work or volunteer projects. Most spiritual traditions enshrine the philosophy of a gift economy into their teachings, such as Christian tithing or Buddhist dana. Some organisations such as Vipassana meditation centres and Brahma Kumaris talks and retreats operate entirely on participant donation. But I have observed an insidious tendency to create expectations for exchange. A “Suggested Donation” of a specific monetary amount carries an expectation of a specific exchange, and trying to prove you are “a good person”, alleviate guilt, or “create good karma” are lack-based intentions. (The image below is from here.)

abundance

In my experience, embodying a gift economy in modern Western culture requires firm boundaries, strong skills of discernment, compassion and deep self-knowledge. We need to be willing to receive no money or expressions of gratitude from the person we are serving, and to prevent abuse, we need to know when to say no, to stop giving when it is no longer a gift. I call this spiritual social work, and there are an abundance of opportunities for all of us to practice it daily, such as giving compassion to a person criticising our behaviour, empathising with a leader struggling with narcissism, or giving grace to an erratic driver. Instead of judging and placing someone in lack, which then requires us to forgive, we can practice accepting and holding both of us in abundance. In my life, the person in whose presence I felt the most abundance, who was a subsistence farm woman in rural Guatemala who had a condition causing her skin to change colour and peel off her face and body. She had such a strong, vibrant spirit she was emanating light and to be in her presence felt joyful. Though I have had dinner with billionaires, this lady remains the wealthiest woman I have seen.

 

Bridging identities

There is increasingly a movement for recognising non-binary gender and sexual identities. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves bisexual, pansexual, gender non-conforming, etc. There is also increasingly a celebration of multi-cultural identities, which primarily means a celebration of people with different ancestral homelands, traditions, foods, clothing, etc. I see how much relief it brings people to be able to call themselves African-American, Greek-Australian, Russian-Jewish, etc. Something that is very dear to me is a recognition of non-dualist cultural identity.

I see how indigenous and non-indigenous identities evolved from separating the colonised from the most recent coloniser, labelling one as wounded victim and the other as wounded offender. It is important to acknowledge historical trauma and the enduring wounds people carry who experienced colonial dispossession, as well as the wounds of those whose ancestors dispossessed others. I appreciate the modern Australian practice of acknowledging “traditional owners” of a place, though I think stewards would be a more apt word. (I do not know where this image is from and will link it if shown.)

earthhands

We are all humans indigenous to the Earth. We are all indigenous to a land of which we were born; we all have ancestors indigenous to at least one known place, often numerous ones; and we are all in a process of becoming indigenous to a place where we are now living and embodying ourselves and crafting our senses of identity. In fact, I venture that every single one of us on this Earth carries ancestral trauma of being dispossessed of or otherwise removed from a sacred homeland. And we all need support healing these wounds. Despite all of this, I see few people willing to identify as indigenous without being aware of their ancestral connection with a known, existing tribal group. And:

According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.”

If culture emerges from the Earth below, and I, for example, was born of the land we call North America, then my body, and to some extent my identity, is indigenous to that place. I mean no disrespect to people of cultures that have developed more intimate relationships with a place than I; such people, when willing, have much wisdom to share with those of us of born in or living in a place who are still learning how to live in harmony in our environments. If I, for example, live in Australia and am transplanting my body and being in this environment, I am learning how to be indigenous here and to connect with my husband who is of this land. (Image from here.)

Non-Dual-Thinking

I honour spiritual leaders who see people crying out in pain for lack of connection with place and offer basic tools to help us connect. I envision us all remembering that we are one big human family, that we all are indigenous to somewhere and so were our ancestors, and that to claim an exclusive indigenous or non-indigenous identities is to play a social game that perpetuates separation and pain. By all means, claim an identity with a tribe and be proud of it, please. For those of us who cannot do so because such identities were lost touch with long ago in our ancestral lineage, please find a way to hold us in heart and mind as also indigenous, newly learning how to honour the Earth, our collective Mother, where we are placed now and where we have come from. Here is a poem I wrote about the social conflict I experience:

Land bridge

My heart is indigenous
In sync with the seasons
My feet firmly grounded
In Mother Earth below me.

My spirit is indigenous
Interconnected with all that is
Flaming with animist passion
For peaceful coexistence.

My mind is indigenous
Built upon a cosmology
Of communal integrity,
Wholeness and ease.

My soul is indigenous
Ravished with pain
In States of mankind’s
Civilising war games.

My name is indigenous
Given during a spiritual journey
CloudClearer, who helps release
Dis-eased thinking.

I challenge cultural exclusion,
Indigenous and non-indigenous;
Living between identities
I cry out for community.

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.

hopiroadoflife

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.

bryant-mcgill-heart-broken-expanding-love-9q1m

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.