Tag Archives: relationships

Stories, beliefs & their shadows

“The story owns the storyteller.”–Traditional wisdom shared by the Nhunggabarra people (western NSW, Australia)

Like all biased humans, I am predisposed to see certain things whether they are strongly there or not. For example, I was raised with a deep belief that ‘people are good’ which came into conflict with evil/inhumane, abusive/betraying and neglectful/denial behaviours I experienced from adults around me. I turned ‘seeing the good’ into an art form of magnification of certain elements of someone’s character and minimisation of others so my life could fit that story, because the story was so foundational to my sense of self, safety, path in life, etc. A related one was ‘Family is always there for each other’, referring to family by blood or marriage, and it too proved very destructive for me.

In general, stories grounded in absolutes are dangerous. They can create self-hating fanatics like me who feel worthless and resentful and get abused and mistreated again and again because I was convinced that the ‘good’ was there if only I worked harder to see it and it was my family so I couldn’t leave anyway. What a trick to intertwine my existence with stories keeping me stuck in situations trying to teach me the shadow of the story and show me that it wasn’t true. And what a trick it would’ve been to convince myself of the opposite in reaction – that people are untrustworthy and you can’t have faith in anything good ever happening. Thankfully I didn’t oscillate into a cynicism trap, but many of us do. (Image from here.)

new-age

What I find to be New Age trickery is the idea that if a character trait isn’t present you can just ‘see it anyway’ and manifest it, and what I find to be Western scientific/atheistic trickery is the idea that if it isn’t there it never will be and you better accept that and take a pill to replace it or become dependent on some kind of therapy for the rest of your life. For example, I was told by Western doctors that I would need to be on thyroid hormone all my life (I was on a swine substitute for 3 years) and that I’d never be able to eat gluten again (I was off it 15 years until I woke up one day knowing my body had healed). But my mother, brother, aunt, cousin, grandmother, etc. have all been taking thyroid replacement hormone for many years. Of course we are each unique, but a belief that we need a pill can prevent something from healing that might shift our need for the medicine. It’s important to discern when we are and aren’t helpless, and in my opinion it’s rarely wise to believe in Western medicine, though using its tools may be a wise option. (Image from here.)

Maybe you know of Louise Hay’s famous book You Can Heal Your Life. Her diagnosis for stomach pain, which I used to have a lot of in my life, is: Holds nourishment. Digests ideas. Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new. I definitely got some value in approaching underlying beliefs that were creating psychological, spiritual and emotional blocks connected with my stomach; the metaphor of digesting ideas and feeling nourished resonated with me at a time I was deep in pain and seeking non-physical empowering approaches to healing. However, I also used her positive psychology ‘self-love’ approach to try to brainwash myself into believing I could manifest my own safety when I actually was in a lot of physical danger. I remember driving around repeating the phrases she suggested in her book for hours, how much work it was to keep up the story and its resulting facade of safety, and how the facade ultimately cracked and I really crashed. (Image below from wikipedia page on belief).

Belief - Wikipedia

When such stories have owned me, I’ve often suffered accordingly. But that isn’t to say that we should give up our beliefs. Beliefs can be incredibly enriching, create cultures and communities, and bring deep meaning into our lives. I think we need self-awareness of our beliefs to help us carry wise ones and to let go of those based in trauma and denial/lies. Today I listened to a story of a woman who felt deep shame about her grandfather’s actions during WWII which no one in her family would discuss. She went to Germany and read archives to learn he had been an S.S. officer and what he had done. She made a list of people he’d hurt and went into the Polish countryside to visit some of the places and people, and said:

A turning point in the work arrived when one of my grandfather’s victims, a ten-year-old child back then, looked me in the eye and told me that it wasn’t my fault, I hadn’t done anything. In that moment, the door of my room of shame opened a crack to let in a slim ray of light that showed me the way out…Survivors have sometimes told me about the enduring shame that comes from continuing to live when close family perished in the Nazi death machine. In turn, their descendants relate the impact of silence generated by the previous generation’s feeling of shame.

She said confronting the shame of her grandfather’s past and her families’ denial of wrongdoing has transformed her into carrying the past with honour and compassion as a responsibility instead of with shame and guilt as a burden. She also said it helped her heal an eating disorder. This woman’s experience aligns well with my own. What she didn’t say was that it probably also helped her eating disorder to heal by eating foods that felt better in her body or something else more physical and pragmatic as well.

Image may contain: water, outdoor and nature, text that says ""Ancestral healing means we inherit not only the blessings but also the unpaid debts of our ancestors. This means that most people of European lineages have a moral obligation to participate in cultural repair, work for racial justice, reparations, and being part of the change.' DR. DANIEL FOOR ANCESTRAL MEDICINE"

When we consider our beliefs and how they create biases, blind spots and shadows, we are wise to reflect on the entire medicine wheel, seek wise counsel in material, spirit and visionary forms, and be self-aware. These days I carry a belief that ‘life is always here for me’. This came to me some years ago and I choose to continue to believe it because of the trust, faith, safety, and security it gives me. I realise it biases me towards moving into traumas, pains, etc that I might try to avoid if I had a different belief, but I feel that such experiences are inevitable and that this belief is highly protective and predisposes me to resilience rather than feeling victimised or hard done by. I find it helps me avoid the ‘why me?’ question many of us ask when ‘something bad happens’.

I find the trick of being able to heal one’s life is resolved by allowing healing thorough brutal self-honesty and fierce embodiment of one’s truth so as to release conflicting relationships; then, from a space of self-acceptance when I perceive others to be sitting in denial, for example, compassion naturally emerges in me. Ultimately I don’t think that we’re not nearly as helpless nor as powerful as we are often led to believe…

The Archetypes of Bullying

Blog by Lukas

In her PhD Justice is Healing: An Indigenous Approach to Sexual Trauma, Valerie describes three main roles in violence: victim, offender, and bystander. In my view, it is vital for us to look at where we play these roles in various aspects of our life, with special attention given to looking at how these energies manifest internally. Internal versions of these energies may manifest in concert with each other, for examples as our psyche offends against itself in its own presence as a bystander.Triad

Often, too, there are pairs of internal-external energies, for example one’s internal bully manifesting as a tendency to blame others externally, or a tendency to blame oneself internally manifesting as a tendency to offend against others. In this way I would see the bystander role as a dissociative state internally, that could manifest as any one of the three on the outside with dissociation from the impact. 

These roles are also evident across social strata, where whole groups of people play different roles, internally and externally, resulting in cultural forms of violence like oppression, domination, submissiveness, and lateral-violence, which is when an oppressed group turns against itself.

This blog came together by thinking about what we can learn from looking at victim-offender-bystander triad on an individual or small group level that might be useful for some of the larger and more intractable societal and cultural issues.

Through lived experience I am deeply familiar with the dynamics of schoolyard bullying so I chose this the small group context to explore. In this case the victim/offender/bystander triad are a substrate — kind of like building blocks but without defined boundaries — from which the archetypical personas emerge. 

The archetypes are as follows:

1. The Ringleader.

ヴェネチアはくらんかい! - 願わくば 背中合わせに 音楽を。【旧館】This is the person with the most social power, both within their group and across groups. The Ringleader commonly lacks classic “excuses” for their behaviour, and usually comes from a relatively “good” and “stable” home. They often evade punishment if teachers don’t go for a full root and branch investigation of bullying, as they are masters at having others do the dirty work. They are primarily driven by a deep-seated greed for power and control, their inner victim being the delusion that this brings fulfilling or lasting joy to life. (Image from here.)

2. The Casual Bully

The Casual Bully has a fairly safe (on the surface!) social existence that enables them to live above the fray most of the time. They’ll participate in the bullying sporadically, usually on those more “zero sum” occasions when to not do so would be testament to supporting the victim. They are usually friends with the Ringleader and have a fear driven desire to remain that way, as it makes them “cool”.  Their inner world is similar to the Ringleader, but for whatever reason they are not as desirous for that level of power, or don’t posses the social skills to get it.  

3. The Bystanders

Similar to the Casual Bully but they aren’t necessarily friends with the Ringleader, or anywhere near as greedy. They are content with a degree of social safety that puts them above the fray, and will stand back almost all of the time. They’ll seldom harass the victims overtly, but may do so in more subtle and insidious ways when it suits them. They won’t support victims (which of course contributes to the victim’s sense of isolation) because this would risk their social standing.

Their inner world can be highly varied, possessing varying degrees of envy of Ringleaders, contempt for Bully Victims, and perhaps even some shame at their own passive support of the social hierarchy.

4. The Henchman

Henchmen are critical to the Ringleader’s power. They are often recognisably disadvantaged. Maybe they came from a struggling home and wear tattered clothing, or maybe they are a bit overweight or have acne. The Henchman will receive an almost constant mild, though carefully executed, stream of bullying from Ringleaders and Casual Bullies. The “carefully executed” part is because a good Henchman will usually posses a weapon even the Ringleader wants to avoid. Maybe they are big and capable of violence, or maybe they just generally have a crazy streak to them that needs careful taming.

J's henchmen - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon ...The Henchmen are the bane of any true bullying victim’s life, dishing out most of the torment at the behest or with the support of the Ringleader. They are often quite dissociated emotionally and act without shame, which is both part of their resilience, and what makes them very dangerous.

Sometimes there is a sense of the Ringleader archetype being totally absent, leaving a hierarchy of Henchmen, where you might have a chief Henchman acting as a Ringleader of sorts. In this case you might think of the true Ringleader being forces outside the school. (Image from here.)

5. The Bully Victim

This archetype has a lot of overlap with the Henchman, but there are some key differences. Henchman are outwardly tougher than Bully Victims, often because their early childhood years or home life were rough. A Bully Victim on the other hand does not have this kind of resilience, weapons, or obvious “excuses”. They often feel intense shame about their predicament.

Bully Victims are often the group those higher up the chain take the most joy from belittling and humiliating. It does not come with the guilt of bullying a Victim, as the Bully Victim is often seen as “having it coming”. 

Pathetic

It can be hard not to see the Bully/Victim as the most pathetic specimen of all. Most people have trouble having compassion for them, including the teachers. They get bullied almost constantly, but have this delusion that there might be a way for them to get on the good side of the Ringleader and rise back up the social 

ladder. Unfortunately this delusion has them humiliating themselves in various ways for the sadistic entertainment of Ringleaders and co. or by bullying someone else, either another Bully Victim or a Victim (see below). The balance of offender and victim energies will often vary over time, giving them moments of seemingly more power and intense falls from social graces. (Image from here.)

6. The Victim

The true Victim has little social power (within the hierarchy) and knows it. They are under few delusions. In your typical school the Victim might come from a minority group or have some kind of obvious physical disability or hardship. Life is hard for the Victim, but on the flip side, their clear-eyed appraisal of their situation means they are likely to form protective bonds with other Victims. With just a little support from teachers (increasingly the case in the modern world), they can be protected, which most schools these days at least have the intention to do. The flip side of a Victim accepting their fate of course can be a willingness to put off the fight when perhaps it was needed, or rely on Helpers (see below) too much for protection. 

The Ringleaders are increasingly careful in a modern school yard not to give Victims direct attention as it is riskier (teachers notice more), and besides, the Victim’s acceptance of their situation means they don’t provide much entertainment. Instead it is the social dynamic setup below the Ringleader that does the job for them. 

On some occasions and perhaps increasingly so, a canny Ringleader will publicly shame a Henchmen or Bully Victim for bullying a Victim as a means of virtue signalling, and deflect attention away from their own sadistic behaviour.

Victims usually have the most contempt and/or pity for Bully Victims, and fear of Henchmen. Wiser victims do know that the root of their ills are people higher up the ladder, but they often don’t know what do about that. Seeing a Bully Victim or Henchman get punished can quench that thirst and give a sense of justice but leave long term insidious patterns inherent within the hierarchy unaddressed.

7. The Helpers

The Helpers are the school yard saviours and are an increasingly common archetype. The Helpers make it their mission to defend Victims from Henchman and love to pick on Bully Victims, who due to their relatively privileged background compared to a Henchman, are low hanging fruit for punishment. Bully Victims are susceptible to intense shame, and often clash with Helpers.
Saviour

A Helper likes to convert Casual Bullies and recruit people they see as Bystanders, and it is usually from the ranks of these groups that they emerge. They might even poke the bear of the Ringleader once in while though not often, as even this can be beyond their fear threshold. Helpers are often blind to the hierarchies within their ranks, and to the ways in which their righteous defense of Victims can be a form of bullying. They are hard on themselves inside, which is of course one of their main motivations for doing what they do. (Image from here.)

8. The Forgotten

Very similar to a Victim, but not as visible. Their predicament often goes unnoticed by everyone, and manifests more as isolation and invisibling.

I spent most of my early high-school years between the age of 12 and 15 primarily as a Bully Victim. I have learnt a lot about my internal world by reflecting on the fact that I can so clearly recall the times when I bullied people, whereas much of the time I spent on the receiving end disappears into a minimising morass. This tells me that I have tended to bully myself inside, terribly, and thus take some of this out on others, but also accept my being bullied as somehow being what I deserve. The more I bullied others, the more I felt “deserving” of punishment, which reinforced my internal bullying, and round and round it went/goes. What I did have was a natural inclination to look holistically at things, which has been both a blessing and an incredible burden in my life. And whilst it did lead to my Ringleaders-in-Chief getting a few literal black eyes, I always received a lot of attention. I was never quiet, whether bullying or being bullied.

Many research papers over the years have sought to understand the impact of school yard bullying on mental health. Some more recent ones showed clearly that compared with people who are more purely offenders and victims, the Bully Victim has the highest correlation with depression, anxiety and ADHD[1] (me on all counts), as well as suicidal ideation[2]. Bullies (Ringleaders, Casual Bullies and Henchmen) and victims also had poorer mental health than people considered “not involved”, but not as bad a Bully Victims. Bystanders, or witnesses to bullying also fared worse than those who supposedly had not witnessed anything, showing that even peripheral exposure to violence can be traumatizing. It also shows me again the extent to which the Helper persona is a self—protection mechanism as much as it is something that comes from deep inner power and benevolence.

The conclusion of the papers was of course for anti-bullying efforts to ensure they give attention to the wellbeing of bullies as well as victims.  When it comes to compassion for “offenders”, this is part of a trend where society seems to be starting with the low hanging fruit of children even if we can’t yet manage it for adults.

Shadow - Wikipedia
In closing, I have found it really enlightening, and indeed fun to apply these archetypes to the various groups and social strata in society, particularly a modern Western colonial one. It is critical to remember that people can embody more than one of these different archetypes as well as the substrate energies (victim, offender bystander) both internally and externally, both visibly and invisibly. (Image from here.)

Exercise: What do you think? Did I miss any school bullying archetypes? What societal groups would you align with which school yard bullying archetypes?

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24920001/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23790197/

 

Facts in Right Relationship

Philosophising by Lukas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alienation & Judgment

I was perhaps one of Earth’s most alienated of beings, and by that I mean that I did not sense belonging here. My cultural context was such that I had no sense of relationship with my earthly and cosmic habitat…Earth/Nature itself was devoid of real consequence; it was human activity upon it that was of consequence…but even then they had to control its waywardness with sprays and fertilizers. It was a big dead ball of dirt…from which we would be saved by ‘God’ eventually…Here in the South Land, the supernatural Christian drama of God and Jesus was completely unrelated to place. It was a particularly cerebral religion, and in that sense barren – devoid of ceremonial recognition of the fertile Earthbody.–Dr. Glenys Livingstone

She goes on to describe how when she was growing up in Queensland, Australia, her schoolbooks from the northern hemisphere showed the moon phases in mirror image to the moon here, the path of the sun was described as clockwise from east to west which is not how it travels here, and the seasonal celebrations were out of whack with fake snow in the middle of summer for Christmas (that still happens and weirds me out!).

Wetiko – Cognitive Infiltration of the Third Kind | Zero Hedge

I see this on individual and societal levels. It seems to be a common form of wetiko, the psycho-spiritual virus of supremacy common in colonialism, some cultures and religions. In our bodies and by our nature, it’s SO much easier to live in sync with the seasons, be present in our environments, accept experiences without judgment. So why don’t we? I feel that as a whole we have become alienated with aspects of ourselves and our environments. Because this is so painful, rather than face those wounds and work through them, we deny, avoid, and dissociate. When we feel hurt we: (1) say we forgive but carry resentment around instead, which becomes an emotional bomb that detonates at an unexpected time, (2) don’t say anything, resulting in resentments, passive-aggressive behaviours, and ‘faking it’, and (3) take some space to try to manage our own emotions without confronting the conflict, but the conflict keeps occurring in a painful holding pattern.

5 Most Effective Conflict Management Styles (+When To Use ...

If I try to let something painful go and can’t, or if I feel like I need to address something in the moment so it doesn’t get bigger, my approach is to directly, honestly, bring it up with the person. I don’t ever intend to judge, and if someone does experience me as judging, I want to be told. If someone does something that hurts my feelings and I care about the relationship, I will either let it go or tell them. And if I do something that hurts someone, I need them to let it go or tell me so we have the opportunity to work through the pain and maintain integrity. Conflict creates opportunities to deepen intimacy, to heal, and to learn about ourself and someone else. I accept that navigating conflicts is part of being human. (Fodder for another post: Do you know your conflict style(s) ala the image above from here?)

What I find, though, is that we can know someone for a while, even a few years, and the first time we express annoyance, or say we feel disrespected or hurt, and directly, respectfully, confront a conflict, the other person does (1), (2), and/or (3) to avoid being honest. This prohibits intimacy and integrity and destroy relationships. I saw this behaviour in a new light this weekend through a relationship with a friend. I realised the way she identified as Christian is grounded in her human family, not the Earth, which placed humans hierarchically above the rest of nature. Even though she talked with me about my cosmology, expressed interest in indigenous healing, and was struggling with painful and deep patterns of narcissistic abuse. In my experience, narcissism can only heal through re-orienting ourselves into a holistic worldview.

holistic

There is a pattern to the universe and everything in it, and there are knowledge systems and traditions that follow this pattern to maintain balance, to keep the temptations of narcissism in check. But recent traditions have emerged that break down creation systems like a virus, infecting complex patterns with artificial simplicity, exercising a civilising control over what some see as chaos. The Sumerians started it. The Romans perfected it. The Anglosphere inherited it. The world is now mired in it.–Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta

He goes on to say:

Narcissism is not incurable…Entire cultures and populations recovering from this plague have been left like orphan children with no memories of who they are, longing for a pattern they know is there but can’t see…There are so many adolescent cultures in the world right now, reaching for the stars without really knowing what they are. Adolescent cultures always ask the same three questions. Why are we here? How should we live? What will happen when we die?

But if everyone around you sees the world through the lens of human supremacy except for one person (like your weird friend Valerie), are you willing to believe that person? In my experience, it takes a courageous person who’s ready for a new form of freedom, and even when we ask for something and it’s handed to us, sometimes we can’t see it and still reject it. I find it really painful watching people get so close only to give up and destroy their relationship with me through disrespect and existential judgment. I know they’ll get another opportunity, or two, or three, to heal the wound, but not with me. I use honesty and directness to maintain fierce protective boundaries…

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.

Deep Grounding/Earthing

I’ve written about ways to integrate earthing/grounding into everyday life, but what’s come up recently is how to take that to a deeper level through ritual or ceremony. If you are an immigrant, or your ancestors were within the last 7 generations (depending how you define a generation), then your connection with land is energetically split between the land where you live, the land(s) of your blood ancestry, and land(s) where you have lived or otherwise feel a strong connection with. Indigenous people who are deeply connected with specific lands and places have a strength and purity of connection with the land that is quite powerful. As one Anglo-Australian writer put it:

In my own experiences with original Australians who are deeply connected to country, I have felt that they are so grounded it’s almost as if the land itself is listening to you, through them.

For those of us who do not have such a depth of connection with land where we live, we can still drop into spaces of earth energy flowing through us when we’re deeply grounded wherever we are. This work heals the places we live now, as well as places we’re connected with through our ancestry. Given all the wars and violence on land in Europe, for example, we can help heal that land from America or Australia while not asking it to physically support us.

There are many rituals and ceremonies to deepen our relationship with the Earth. Here are a few that I have found to be powerful tools:

  • Create an outdoor altar and leave offerings of gratitude to the Earth, a tree, stream, rock, landform, tree grove, tree stump–the options are endless.
    • You can symbolically bury power objects to represent something you wish to heal or ground an energy in your life. You can also hang prayers on ribbons or flags or with chimes or bells so the wind spreads your prayers far and wide. Buddhist prayer trees use wind in this way. buddhistprayertree
    • Note: A maypole is an outdoor altar, and so is an outdoor Christmas tree, but once you cut or pot it and bring it inside, you are honouring a tree for giving you its life, which is different to you being generous and honouring the Earth. (Images are from uncredited images on pinterest, and from here.) 
  •  Without creating an altar, you can build a relationship with a place, tree, rock, etc.
    • Pick a place you regularly visit and start to build a relationship. Like building a relationship with a person, this requires giving of yourself and takes time.
    • For example, there is a grove of trees in a park near my home that I felt drawn to a couple months ago. Once a week or so, I go say hi. I either literally say hello to each tree, nod and direct my gaze at each one in turn, or stand at each tree and put my hand on the trunk and take a breath. I stay there for a while and meditate to see what messages and insights they want to share with me, and I psychically share some messages or prayers with them. I also leave offerings, such as flowers or crystals at their base or tucked into their bark, or I do a dance or sing a song, or I leave something of myself that is useful such as my urine or or spit, which brings me to the next example.
  • Share of your body with the Earth, a tree, plant, rock, etc.
    • Sharing may involve simply dancing barefoot) outdoors. Your feet drumming into the Earth and your body performing for a place is a beautiful way to do a ritual or ceremony to deepen your connection with a place. You can try deep breathing to start, let go, and see what movements the Earth inspires your feet to do. You can add in chanting or drumming, but I suggest starting simple so you don’t get lost in your head and stick with a state of flow.
    • Your “waste” is literally fertiliser to many earthly beings. Your urine creates nitrogen-rich soil. Giving your spit may sound strange but with intention, it is a way to physically leave a piece of yourself, and can feel like a better energetic exchange if you are, for example, taking a piece of bark or leaves from a plant or tree.
    • bloodroseI have heard of many magick menstrual rituals, but I prefer to honour the Earth by giving my blood to a flowering plant. This is a very powerful ritual women can do to ground menstrual energy as well as connect with the Earth. (Sorry, guys!) I have also heard of some fertility rituals where men ground their semen and symbolically plant their seeds in the Earth, but I have not tried this myself for obvious reasons! (Image from here.)
  • Do a burial ceremony in the Earth.
    • If you want to do something by yourself, or feel like trying a less intense ceremony, do a lower body burial ceremony.
      • First, choose a place for the ceremony, and ask the land if it’s okay to plant yourself there.
      • If it feels okay, then dig a hole big enough to plant your feet, or your feet and lower legs, into the Earth. Make sure you are barefoot so you feel what it is like to be grounded in that way, and pick a spot where you feel comfortable standing for a while like a tree or plant in the soil.
      • Try keeping your eyes open and closed, or do the ceremony at sunrise or sunset so you can experience the difference in natural light.
      • Do the ceremony somewhere with a view in the wilderness, and somewhere more urban like in your backyard, or in wet and sandy soil, and see how you feel being planted in different environments.
        • Last year, I received dream visions and moved to facilitate this ceremony at a sacred site whose traditional custodians welcome non-Aboriginal people to access the place respectfully, and it felt like ceremony to welcome my husband back home to Australia.
    • If you are called to do some deep body and Earth healing, an incredibly powerful ceremony is a full body burial. This is a death/rebirth ceremony that is timed with the cycle of the moon and ideally takes place at night. For this ceremony, you do need someone to support you. It is physically not possible nor safe to do alone. (Read this for one man’s experience.)burial.jpg
      • First, you and your support person/facilitator choose a place for the ceremony, leave offerings, and ask the land to support your healing. You may get a vision of a place to do the ceremony, or you may do it somewhere practical like a backyard.
      • Once you commit to the ceremony, you and your support person will start to receive guidance around timing and how to prepare yourself and the land. (Image from here.)
      • The day before or the day of the ceremony, you will dig a hole that is almost as big as a grave/cradle for your whole body, piling the dirt to one side.
      • When it is time for the ceremony, you will want to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and are a bit tight, unless you are okay with insects crawling underneath them! I have done this once wrapped in a blanket lying in the grave/cradle with dirt over me, and I have done it once just in clothes with dirt over me. I prefer the latter, because it feels more intimate.
      • Your support person will sit behind you so you do not see them, but they are able to watch you and hold space, and get you a drink of water, a hat or tissue if you need something like that. There may initially be prayers or music played for you, but most or all of the ceremony will be silent so you can go deep within yourself.
        • The first time I did this ceremony in the U.S., it was a very cold winter night with a waning moon (so emotions could be released/a death ceremony). Initially, I got images of my ancestors from Germany who had been fighting in World Wars, how many people they saw die, and how many of them died on the land. It was painful, and I cried. I then got images of my Jewish ancestors fleeing for their lives while their houses were being burned. It was scary, and my body shook and felt cold. Finally, I got images of Native Americans being slaughtered on the land where I was doing the ceremony. It was sad. My heart was heavy, and I sent them prayers. I lay underground for hours until my whole body was cold and numb and it felt like I was done. It was so deeply healing —  I had no idea I was carrying so much in my body even after years of doing other intense healing ceremonies!

Exercise: Inspired by this post, do something new to deepen your relationship with the Earth and the places around you!

 

 

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

catholicaltar.jpg

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.

altarmay2017

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 & 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?