Tag Archives: power

Power, Force & Corruption

Building on some previous posts about power objects and healing unjust power dynamics, I realised it would be wise to define power and related terms. Energy is defined in physics as the ability to do work, and spiritually I have been taught that work is worship. The ways we work/worship result in beautifully diverse e-motion (energy in motion) reflecting our culture, values, and worldviews. Power is the strength of our work over time. We can use a lot of strength to express a lot of power in an instant by screaming, or we can repeatedly use a little strength and practice our singing for a few years to build a powerful voice.

yallforceWhen energies interact, we get a force, which is a relationship or co-creation. When we think about forces of nature, like a tornado, we can feel awestruck by the immense power of energy the elements of air (wind) and water can co-create. The Force in Star Wars aligns with good/evil, right/wrong binary thinking, so I find it helpful to consider force on a spectrum:

Trust/Acceptance ←——→ Conflict/Struggle ←——→ Traumatic Aversion/Repulsion

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Forces can change direction depending on emotions expressed. For example, your dog ripped the head off your child’s baby doll. You feel angry (TraumaticAversion/Repulsion), give your dog an annoyed look, and yell, “NO! Bad boy!” Rover looks upset, lowers his head and seemingly expresses remorse (Conflict/Struggle). You sigh, pat him, and take the baby doll head from him to see if you can repair the doll (Trust/Acceptance). From an Earth Ethos perspective, forces that place us in traumatic aversion/repulsion are opportunities to experience profound death/rebirth energy, which often results in a process of struggling to let go and experiencing internal and/or external conflicts, and resolves when we are able to sit in trust and acceptance.

In the example above, if we had come home and seen the dog and laughed, we would have started with emotions of acceptance and trust and had a much easier time. Our initial response and our power to resolve a trauma or conflict into acceptance defines our character. We’re probably all familiar with the famous Lord Acton quote about all power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely; I don’t find that to be true. Some of the quotes below I find to be more accurate. As I see things, we are humans, we are not God/Spirit/Creator/The Force. We can suffer from a psycho-spritual virus that deludes us into believing that we are alimghty Gods/Creators instead of humble human co-creators. This is when abuses of power occur, when we try to live above, or be stronger than, something or someone else.

 

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I have witnessed moments in which multiple organsiational leaders become corrupt, when the power flowing through their beings overwhelms their strength of character and their moral compasses fail. In that corrupt space we put ourselves above social agreements and laws of nature. I see this as a lack of grounding with deep-rooted judgments and traumas surfacing that are seeking healing. I feel that it brings shame to us all when corrupted people remain in leadership roles while lost in Traumatic Aversion/Repulsion forces. This seems to happen less in social systems with simpler or no hierarchies, and affecting a limited number of people and resources. When I consider the strength of character necessary for someone to wield the power available in certain roles such as being CEO of Amazon or President of the US, I think we are incredibly foolish and insanely ambitious to imagine that one human can embody that much power while carrying values such as grace and humility. To me, indigenous structures of governance with layers of leadership councils who unanimously share decision-making reflect much more wisdom about the nature of power than individual kings, emperors, presidents or CEOs.

Our collective delusions about human’s place in nature has resulted in the social system of capitalism we know is very destructive (well described in this article). At the root of these individual and collective beliefs and behaviours I see existential judgments and wounds that can be healed. We can re-member our connections and acknowledge God/Creator/The Universe/The Force/Nature/ Energies much bigger than us, experience humility and awe, and become more grounded to allow deep healing. Magic is possible:

In that real place the knowledge and the power comes from the ancestors to heal bones through touch within a few minutes, to heal the environment, to travel to the stars. If we are not in this reality, we are not in our indigenous mind.–Apela Colorado

Exercise: Contemplate these quotes about magic and nature and how they apply to your life. Where in your life can you enter into a state of acceptance, or ease towards such a state?

 

 

 

 

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

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I am delighted to hear from people having success working with ancestral altars and have been asked to write more generally about altar and shrine practices. I will also talk about power objects. Starting with etymology, “altar” is from a Latin word for “on high” (like altitude) and refers to honouring and worshipping great gods through sacrifice, usually by burning something and sending smoke up towards the heavens. “Shrine” is one of those mysterious words of unknown origin that refers to a sacred case or box (like the ark of the covenant) for keeping holy papers or other powerful spiritual objects. Shrines honour the spirit of a person, event, or ideology. The way we tend shrines is by leaving offerings. Altars are interactive, working spaces of worship where we ask for insight and guidance. We often create blended shrine-altars where we both leave offerings, as well as ask for insight and guidance. Most churches and temples are such blended spaces, where people leave incense, flowers, or candles with gratitude to figures like Jesus,

shrineofrememberance.jpgBuddha, and Krishna, and where people also sit in contemplation and pray for insight and guidance from those figures. I find it helpful to be intentional about these differences in my own life, but maybe blended spaces work for you. Ultimately, we build relationships with figures, ideas, events, places, and energies, and those relationships work best when we both give and receive, and do not always ask or give with the expectation of immediately getting back… (Images: Altar of St Michael’s Church in Munich, Shrine of Remembrance for the War Dead in Melbourne)

There are three types of altar practices that I use in my daily life: an ancestral altar, a personal altar, and a body altar. My introduction to a personal altar practice came from the mesa program. The personal altar for me, is medicine wheel-based, because that is my cosmology. It is a cloth on a flat surface next on my night table to represent the medicine wheel and provides a personal reflection for me. My husband who gravitates more towards Buddhism has an altar built on a footstool that is in three vertical layers. Yours might be Christian or Daoist; it depends on where your spirit feels most at home. Out of respect for my privacy and current altar work, I am posting a photo of my altar from 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it looks like and to explain some of the symbolism.

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Following a medicine wheel path, in the centre is the heart, where I have power objects of rocks and crystals representing core beliefs I was working with at the time, including rose quartz for unconditional love and acceptance, a fossil for honouring ancestors, a small glass globe for honouring Mother Earth and right placement, and two clear quartz crystals for clarity and courage. In the north (mental) realm which in my medicine wheel is white, there is a feather and a small angel figure to connect with my personal power animal (egret) and my highest thinking (angel). In the east (spiritual) realm which is yellow is a candle in a glass with UT Austin written on it as I was pouring my spirit into my PhD program at the time. In the south (emotional) realm which is red is a shell that was in my parents’ house growing up where I burned offerings to clear those emotional bonds. And in the west (physical) realm which is black is a young girl to represent my inner child being held by a crystal to represent Grandmother Moon and a salt lamp to represent Grandfather Sun.

All of the items on the altar are power objects, meaning they are imbued with energy and meaning, and I put them on and take them off the altar with care and ceremony. Power objects can be anything that we feel drawn to or has meaning for us, from a candle to a cross to a rock we pick up off the ground. Sometimes the meaning is clear to me when I place an object on the altar, and sometimes the meaning becomes clear over time and begins mysteriously. At times I am moved to break open power objects to free trapped energy (which I find creates ease for my body and relationships that do not need to break instead), and at times I pass the objects on to other people, bury them, burn them…it depends what feels right and what insight comes to me in visions and dreams.

The body altar practice is how I start each day. It was inspired by a practice Cristina Pratt mentioned of using her body as the centrepiece of the medicine wheel, followed by most elements of the body prayer which I learned from kundalini yoga teacher Carolyn Cowan (see below).

These days Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon are outside of the borders of my personal altar, and Grandmother Moon carries slips of paper I regularly print with inspirational notes and quotes to set my daily intentions. So each morning from my bed I reach for some of Grandmother Moon’s wisdom, take it in, and place the slip of paper on my altar. (I regularly burn the slips of paper when it feels like the right time to ground this wisdom into my life.) Then I get up and do a body altar practice. I stand facing the east and ground my feet by imagining roots extending into Mother Earth. I reach my left arm out to the side and thank Grandfather Sun, and reach out my right arm to thank Grandmother Moon. I raise my arms up to thank Father Sky, and bend to touch the ground to thank Mother Earth, then place my hands on my heart to honour my interconnection with all beings. I then honour each of the four directions with breath, movement, voice, and intention, and then extend my arms out and twirl to honour my boundaries and human limits. I then do a movement to bring energy up from the Earth below and into my life for the day and thank the ancestors of the land where I am and of my lineages and past lands of connection. And I end with an embodied prayer of unconditional love and acceptance through the Body Prayer above (minus lying prostrate on the floor).

Each evening before bed I pray at my personal medicine wheel altar. Behind the altar on the wall are images of my totems, moiety (paternal line) and heart-language (Frisian), so that that I honour them daily. Many days I am moved to leave offerings at my ancestral altar which is more of a shrine for me and a working altar for my husband at the moment. Some days I leave offerings at a tree altar in our garden (such as bits of food with thanks for Mother Earth’s bounty and with awareness that non-human beings in our garden also need to eat!). Some days I bring offerings to a tree grove in a nearby park whom I have asked to support an upcoming ritual. Offerings are a complex subject for a future post, so I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought at the moment!

Exercise: What altars and shrines are in your life? What do you intentionally want to cultivate? To let go of? What meanings do some power objects in your home have? Which ones might be useful to let go of, destroy, bury, flush, or pass on to someone?

 

Healing Unjust Power Dynamics

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

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

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

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

ancestor-healing

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

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