Tag Archives: relationships

Spirit baby birth story

IMG-20220515-WA0000Recently Lukas and I welcomed our daughter into this wild world. We won’t be posting any photos of her to protect her privacy, but here is one of us with her in my womb. More people are becoming familiar with the concept of a spirit baby (often through this book I haven’t read), and I wanted to share about our experience. One definition is: “A spirit baby is the consciousness of a baby waiting to be born to you and your family. Long before incarnation, spirit babies connect with the parents who will most likely facilitate the learning experiences they need to have in their next life.” 

Years ago when we were living in the U.S. and I was going through some intense childhood trauma healing, for the first time in my life I couldn’t imagine having a child. I was in so much pain that I thought I might need to just process that this lifetime, because I felt determined not to pass it on to a child of my own. And soon after I let go of having a child, a spirit baby came to both me and Lukas in dreams. We compared how she looked and felt confident that it was the same little girl, and I accepted her visiting us as a message that we would have a daughter in the future and told her we weren’t ready yet and needed help to be ready to parent her. 

Knowing she was coming to us and that we would get through whatever relationship challenges we had (and there were some big ones) helped us find the strength and stamina to work through things. Over seven years she came to us a number of times in dreams and meditations, and we felt like she was guiding us as well. She told me her name and showed me where she’d be born if we stuck with the path we were on (which we didn’t), and showed us a way out of at least one tough situation. When we moved last year to Yuin country, I did a lot of nesting. I felt that she was coming sooner than we would find ideal, as we hadn’t been here long enough to build community, but I trusted she knew what she was doing. I felt the moment I became pregnant, and I knew it was her spirit. 

IMG_20220617_195036And I got messages from her throughout the pregnancy; for example, I knew to honour the placenta with a burial ceremony, but she wanted a lotus birth. That means the umbilical cord isn’t cut, the baby and placenta separate when they are ready. According to Western science, blood from the placenta finishes flowing into the baby between 10 minutes to an hour after the placenta is birthed. This is why delayed cord clamping is becoming more popular in hospitals. But spiritually, my body grew the baby and the placenta – her twin and primal nourisher – and for many hours after her birth I felt that she was being energetically nourished by the placenta and didn’t even need me for hours during her early transition. She and her placenta twin held onto each other for 10 days. I sewed a special bag to carry the placenta in and made a mixture of salt and herbs to dry it out. It was logistically a bit tricky to handle the placenta with the baby, and we had to choose clothes and swaddles that allowed them to still be connected, but it was what she wanted. She and her placenta chose when to let go; we didn’t intervene.

Similarly, I chose to birth at home and breastfeed, which I felt this was important to the baby also. I wanted to heal from my own experiences and give her the most peaceful, supportive start in this life that I could. Throughout the pregnancy, the birth, and postpartum, I simultaneously bonded more deeply with my daughter and my husband, and continued to process my own early childhood and grieve and let go as stuff arose.

Play the Hand You're Dealt : Life Lessons from Solitaire - positively ...Sometimes it’s tough to accept that the best gift we can give is to prevent the passing on of painful experiences and confused projections – and not by withholding or denying, which just buries the energy – but by expressing, grounding and processing it. Sometimes I grieve that my inheritance requires me to remove toxins as best I can to clear the way for future generations. I’d rather be planting seeds and tending to beautiful healthy eco- and social systems to pass on instead, but that isn’t how most of my energy is spent. How fortunate I am that this spirit baby picked me to be her mommy, and on some level of consciousness, I trust she understands the state of things, the world she’s been born into, and that we’re doing our best.

Forgiveness

Here is another chapter from the book I am writing. I hope you enjoy! Blog by Valerie

Ho'oponopono Blog en Español de Mabel Katz Archives ...Some years ago while working with practicing Jews and Christians, I realised the underlying process many of them were continually going through: judge an act as righteously right or wrong, confront moral failings within oneself and others, then forgive and let go by giving anger to God or Jesus. The depth of potential existential judgment is so intense (e.g. eternal damnation and social ostracisation), that it can be very hard for people to acknowledge ‘wrong’ behaviours. I have experienced numerous instances of trickery of someone intending to forgive and let go (or deciding to avoid an issue), resulting in hurtful and confusing passive-aggressive behaviours. Often the underlying issue emerges years later after so much resentment has built up and trust eroded that the relationship becomes very hard to repair. (Image from here)

I was taught this judgmental process by Jewish family members, and had it reinforced by community members while growing up. I am thankful that another process was also taught to me by some Frisian ancestors: the process of accepting. I became consciously aware of this process as an adult when I worked with Tom Lake (now retired), who founded the International School of Shamanism on the foundational process of ‘unconditional love and acceptance.’ Belle Noir Magazine | Big. Beautiful. You.: Fearless ... Though it may at times seem more painful in the moment, I find loving acceptance brings me immeasurably more ease and peace than judging. I then discern what, if anything, I need to say or do when I experience hurt or realise I have caused hurt in another being. I remember Tom saying to me once that even when he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, if someone tells him that his actions have hurt them, he chooses to apologise because it is not his intention to hurt anyone. I appreciate the humility in that, and that it also helps hurting hearts to remain open to an ongoing relationship. (Image from here)

A common misconception is that a process grounded in acceptance means we make excuses for concerning behaviours. That is not my experience at all. In fact, working among Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory, I heard lamenting from many community members about how Western ways have eroded their traditional forms of justice and created more intense and seemingly never-ending conflicts. In many Indigenous Australian cultures, when someone broke a traditional law, a member of the aggrieved family would ceremonially spear a member of the offender’s family. This ceremony created an opportunity for everyone to accept what happened, because the aggrieved party could admit wrongdoing and face a consequence that would then restore their social place in the community, and the offended party could act as a channel for spiritual retribution. This is referred to in English as ‘payback.’ The spearing could hurt or kill someone, or it could miss them altogether, and the outcome was accepted as the will of the spiritual realm. Once the ceremony was done, the issue was let go, and relationships were restored.

Feud (TV series) - WikipediaNow that the Western justice system has criminalised the payback ceremony, many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory struggle to reach forgiveness with their Indigenous science of justice. I heard about someone who had been in prison for years as ‘Western justice’ who was released and immediately had to face spearing if he wanted to see his family and community again. I heard about family members of an offender being beaten up until someone agreed to be speared in place of the offender in prison. I heard about decades-long violent feuds involving multiple generations where many people didn’t even know how the feud had started, but no one felt justice had been satisfied. I even heard about someone trying to sue someone else for using sorcery against their family as payback instead of spearing. It’s a mess. (Image from here)

Whether a spearing ceremony resonates with you or not isn’t the point; the point is, it was working for these peoples for many thousands of years. Their shared understanding of the world, its laws, and the intervention of the spirit realm supported people to admit and face consequences for ‘wrong’ acts and then reach a space of collective forgiveness and letting go of the issue. For me, such a justice process accepts that being human inevitably includes engaging in some ‘wrong’ acts. In traditional Indigenous justice processes, it was very rare that anyone was seen as unredeemable, and even if they were, it tended to be seen as someone’s spirit being overcome by a disease such as Wetiko rather than a failure of their individual moral character. We are all influenced in our sense of self by stories and projections from others, and I encourage you to consider how you feed this in the following exercise.

Exercise: Reflect on someone you dislike and feel some aversion towards, whether it is someone you know or a historical figure like Hitler and fill in the blank: He/She is  _________. Consider the meaning of saying someone ‘is’ a trait such as ‘evil’, or ‘too selfish’. Is that their identity in your eyes? Do you judge it? How might you be hurting them, and yourself, by holding these stories and projecting that onto them?

♥ De Coração a Coração ♥: HO'OPONOPONO E UM POUCO MAIS....Though we may not be able to ceremonially heal with the people who hurt us or people we have hurt, we can do spiritual ceremonies on our own to change the way we hold people and what we project. Shifting our perspective requires us to hold paradox and avoid binary and judgmental thinking. In traditional Hawaiian culture, people use “Ho’oponopono, the traditional conflict resolution process…[to] create a network between opposing viewpoints…that allows dualistic consciousness to stand while becoming fully embodied by the ecstatic love of Aloha”[1]. In Hawaiian science, illness is caused by breaking spiritual law and requires the offender, aggrieved, and their entire families to forgive themselves, each other, and seek forgiveness from the spirit realm before the illness can heal[2]. The traditional Ho’oponopono ceremony has been adapted for outsiders to practice forgiveness by Hawaiian kahuna Morrhah Simeona and her student Ihaleakala Hew Len[3]. Though these teachings have been criticised as being New Age-y and deviating from traditional teachings, I find one of the basic elements useful and include it as part of the exercise below. (Image from here)

Forgiveness exercise

Ground and centre yourself and create sacred space. Bring to mind someone who has hurt you. Imagine that person’s face and see them saying the following to you in your mind’s eye: “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” If it feels okay, imagine saying the same phrase back to them. Be with any feelings that arise.

Next time you feel hurt by someone, take some time alone and then do some eye-gazing and say these four sentences to each other. Notice how you feel.

[1] Colorado, A. (2021). Woman Between the Worlds: A call to your ancestral wisdom. Hay House, p. 128.

[2] Veary, N. (1989). Change we must: My spiritual journey. Institute of Zen Studies.

[3] Vitale, J., & Len, I. H. (2007). Zero limits: The secret Hawaiian system for wealth, health, peace, and more. John Wiley & Sons.

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Discernment

Here is another chapter from the book I am writing. I hope you enjoy! Blog by Valerie

As Diné (Navajo) historian and lawman Wally Brown says:

You can never conquer fear, it’s always going to be there…Walking in beauty involves encountering fears, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and getting beyond them, so we can have joy, happiness, confidence and peace in the four areas of our being.

By ‘getting beyond’ our fear, Wally is referring to developing discernment. Fear is a challenging energy to be with, and it’s one of life’s beautiful paradoxes that we can learn to be safe with our fears, creating space and understanding about how and when to act even when we feel terror flowing through us. In Western culture, we talk about emotional intelligence (EQ) and mental intelligence (IQ), but rarely about physical or spiritual intelligence. Physical intelligence is related to our relationship with our environment, as well as our own body. And spiritual intelligence has to do with our capacity to hold paradoxical energies, our ability to access altered states of consciousness, and skilful use of Indigenous science data.

twopathsI am using the word ‘discernment’ instead of ‘judgment’ because ‘judgment’ is often linked with negativity, but ‘sound judgment’ is similar to skilful ‘discernment.’ I think of discernment as a muscle more than a practice, because it inevitably gets regular workouts through our life experience, so we are wise to work out the muscle so it’s in good shape to navigate inevitably testing moments in our lives. Discernment is grounded in our desire to uphold core values, and will help us to strengthen our boundaries. One of the best ways to work out this muscle in everyday life is through the following exercise. It is easiest to do this exercise when you have a conflict, challenging emotion or thought loop to work through. It is most powerful when done in the moment of heightened fear response, if you are able. (Image from here)

Is-it-mine Exercise:

Reflecting on a recent experience of fear and other intense thoughts and/or feelings. When you have an instance to work through, go into that energy and ask yourself ‘Is it mine’? Breathe through any discomfort and await a deep inner response. You may hear an inner voice, or have a feeling or a sense of knowing, or you may see an image that clarifies this question.

If you realise that it isn’t yours, that it is ancestral trauma or projection from someone else, set an intention to let it go, and ask your wise inner self for guidance about how to do that.

If you realise that at least some of it is yours, ask yourself, ‘What percent of this is mine?’ Set an intention to let go of what is not yours, and ask your wise inner self for guidance about how to do that. For what is yours, you may wish to ask your inner wise self what the underlying fear, belief, or myth is, and any guidance about working through it. You may also wish to ask your ancestors for guidance with this or seek wise counsel from people you trust.

In Western culture, black-and-white thinking abounds in terms of apportioning responsibility. We are either guilty or innocent, or we share the blame 50-50. It is very hard for most of us to apportion responsibility outside of that 0-100 or 50-50 framework. Yet most real-world conflicts are complex, involve multiple parties, and each bears some proportion of responsibility. Carrying some responsibility is part of having some power, and taking responsibility for where we have power doesn’t excuse others from destructive behaviour. For example, as young woman, I sometimes wore tight clothes and short skirts. Though I understand the importance of wearing what makes one feel good, I did not feel good nor empowered having to process so many men’s sexual projections (and women’s jealousy projections) while walking around town.Defend Your Back End: Gender, Blame, and the ... I felt deeply uncomfortable, as it triggered wounds of previous sexual violence. So I started modifying my outfits, pairing a tighter top with a longer skirt, and carrying a sweater or wrap to cover up when I felt overly exposed. I still experienced some uncomfortable projections, but those choices helped me feel good about what I was wearing as well as empowered to protect myself from many uncomfortable projections. I did not feel responsible for the projections other people were making, but since I seemed to be triggering people, I felt some responsibility to protect myself. Perhaps in an ideal world we would all be so self-aware that I wouldn’t have needed to deal with such projections, but that was not my reality. I have since grown to more deeply value modesty and to embed that into my values. (Image from here)

Another way to strengthen our discernment muscle is embodied in that story: try something and see how it works, then adjust as need. Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who had been in an abusive relationship for a long time, and he said that one of the most empowering things he did to heal was to give himself no longer than a day to make a big life decision, and no longer than an hour to make a smaller life decision. By holding himself to these timeframes, he limited his anxiety about making the ‘right’ decision, increased his empowerment about making a decision himself, and increased his discernment muscle (as well as his ability to give himself grace) by experiencing how well his decisions turned out. EvenTake the first step | ”.. and your mind will mobilize all ... when something went really poorly and didn’t turn out how he had hoped, he said he felt a sense of pride that it had been his decision and knew he would learn from it. This strategy may not work for you, but the underlying idea is empowering for our discernment muscle. Sometimes we over-think, over-analyse, or over-consult others for advice, and the best thing to do is take a step in a direction and await feedback from the universe, then adjust and await feedback again, through an iterative process that can also strengthen our discernment muscle. (Image from here)

teepeeAll discernment relies on some foundational knowledge. When we are confused, lost, or tricked, we have poor information with which to discern what to do. This is another reason why grounding and centring practices are so vital. If we think about it in terms of intelligence, if I don’t have much physical intelligence about my environment, I won’t have much to go on when trying to discern where to set up camp. I will have to rely on knowledge from other environments, but I may learn the hard way that camping near a stream kept me close to water but that the water level rose more than I expected, or that the trees providing shade had branches that easily snapped in heavy winds. This is where local Indigenous knowledge is so valuable. (My photo from Austin, Texas Pioneer Farms)

Exercise: Do you know how to survive a few nights in the wilderness environment where you now live? Could you find and/or build shelter, get water, make fire and otherwise keep yourself warm, and forage for food? If not, empower yourself with some knowledge and connect with the Indigenous ancestors (living and ancient) of those lands.

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Warriorship

Blog by Lukas

Are the most prescient ideas and images that come to mind when you think of the word “warrior” all about physical strength, toughness, and violent conflict? I doubt you’re alone. To borrow a trick from Valerie, if you online image search the word “warrior” the first things that come up are virtually all men and related to physical violence, specifically some new television show that evidently involves a lot of arse kicking. The story is similar if you try “female warrior”.spartan-4016133_1280

The technical definition of a warrior in the English language supports this narrow view, being rooted in a French word guerroieor meaning “one who wages war”. Most definitions of warrior relate to waging armed conflict, specifically those who have some kind of specialised role in doing so. (Image from here)

The etymology of the word “war”, however, is much more interesting, seemingly originating with broader concepts that include difficulty, dispute, and hostility. According to  etymonline.com, if you follow the known Proto-Germanic cognates as far back as they go, you arrive at a word that means “to bring into confusion”.

This is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Not least of all because virtually all first-person accounts of war I have read describe some manner of confusion and chaos to a degree that was unexpected to the writer. My flailing fist fights over the years confirm this; and as “Iron” Mike Tyson said: tyson

So if war is to some degree about confusion and chaos, perhaps the true warrior is someone who uses their power to bring these things back into a calmer balance? This then is about a warrior responding to and resolving conflict rather than instigating it, even if it is they who strike first. Without doubt there is a rightful place for violence in this, but also many other elements. Sticking to the realm of the physical, another version of the warrior could be a woman in labour finding her strength and power and calmly birthing just when things were at their most chaotic and the pain most intense. (Image from here)

But if we are to use this warrior concept to its fullest extent, literally and metaphorically, perhaps the most important thing is to apply it across the medicine wheel. So this gives us emotional, spiritual, and mental warriors; any and all ways in which a being can use their strength and power to bring conflict and disorder back into balance.

Note that this bigger version of warriorship does NOT just mean these other aspects of warriorship being in service of physical violence, such as mental energy being devoted to better weapons technology, or emotional quieting and centring that improves fighting ability. It means recognising their deep value to our being in and of themselves and together in balance.

This topic came to me when thinking about men and masculinity in the context of healing and reconciliation between Anglo-Celtic Australians and Aboriginal Australians. If we restrict our thinking about and valuing of warriorship to literal, physical combat, this makes such healing hard, such was the intense lopsidedness of the physical contest.

I don’t think it is controversial to say that in the world of Aboriginal Australians, weapons and warfare were just one part of what made men and warriors in those cultures whole and powerful. The weapons they had been using for millennia more than did the job they were needed for. Europeans, on the other hand, were by 1788 riding a wave of centuries of escalating prowess in using violence, supercharged by technology and in service of greed. Warriorship caused more conflict and trauma than it resolved.

With this fuller version of warriorship comes some understanding of what I as an Anglo-Celtic colonist lack, and what I need for healing. I don’t yet value my heart and spiritual warriorship enough.

warrior-body-paint-ritual-scars-Western-Australia-1923

On both the oppressor/colonist side, and the survivor/colonised side of this ledger is ample reason to grow through helping each other to see warriorship more fully. When we do this we’ll need no self-shaming to see the deep value of the balanced warriorship of Aboriginal masculine culture. We colonists can learn what being a whole mature warrior means, and Aboriginal men can learn to value who they are more fully. Then we can do ceremony to bring the conflict and disorder back into balance. (Image from here)

Exercise: Taking a strengths-based stance, think about how your sacred masculine (regardless of your gender) displays warriorship across the Medicine Wheel.

Exercise for Australians: If you are doing an Acknowledgement of Country (especially when there are only men present), try acknowledging the Aboriginal warriors as well as Elders.

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Identity politics

At the heart of the Earth Ethos Indigenous Science Dialogues earlier this year was the issue of identity politics. dialogues.5.2021-1The dialogue of that name was with my friend Shannon Field, a Walbunja woman of the Yuin nation, a traditional owner of the land where Lukas and I currently live, the land his first settler ancestor claimed for himself through the crown of England and in whose name the Australian government is still run today.

photo

With identity politics at the centre, all dialogues touched on that issue. Anglo-Celtic Australian man Lukas Ringland spoke for the PHYSICAL, sharing his experiences of settler trauma, including the pain of being part of a corrupt social majority. On the Crown’s genocidal survival strategy for ex-convicts, he explained: “The more wild the land was, the more likely it was to be given to an ex-convict, like, ‘you go to war against the Indigenous people.’ So you had this battle for life being fought between newly freed convicts and Indigenous people, and then closer to the centre of the colony you had the higher-ups who didn’t have to participate in that.” (Image from here)

Filipino Australian Ellis Bien Ilas spoke for the SPIRITUAL about the trauma of leaving the Philippines for Australia as a child, and his subsequent complex journey of ancestral healing: “I was literally shaken by an event on July 2, 2015…in the ER with an undiagnosed cardiac condition…I was having symptoms medical professionals can’t explain, and…it was looking back…[realising the date of my event] was my grandfather’s death anniversary, and I [] carry his name…That event was a huge catalyst for my spiritual awakening which occurred here in Sydney, Australia.”

Jewish Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) woman Sara Hudson spoke for the MENTAL about the close-mindedness in Aboriginal governmental policy: “When [the government] could verify [some Indigenous knowledge], they were like ‘Ooh! Okay, maybe there is something to this, because it matched what we found ‘scientifically,’ so therefore maybe we will listen now to these Indigenous knowledge-holders around water.’ This is the crazy stuff –  ‘I only listen to you once we have it verified by our Western scientific methods.'” (Image from the ABC, link unknown)

beautiful handsShona (Zimbabwean) Australian woman Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama spoke for the EMOTIONAL, about her experiences navigating whiteness trauma as an African migrant, the absurdity of Australia’s racial labels (Anglo-Celtic, Indigenous, and CALD – culturally and linguistically diverse), and how invisible she feels because “we have never dealt with the race issue with our Indigenous Australians…[but] the WHOLE THING is based on a system of whiteness…[and] we’re not looking at ourselves and the system that led us to do these things…[and now the definition of CALD is] so broad that the only people not captured by that category are Indigenous Australians!”

At the HEART centre, Walbunja Australian woman Shannon Field spoke about “cultural mining”, how “non-Aboriginal people mine our knowledge, mine our experiences in order to form up views, opinions, politics, positions…but in doing so, not providing us with a legitimate and/or authentic opportunity to have influence on what those outcomes actually are….So basically taking the authority and control of our knowledge into White hands.” She also explained, “For me, what identity politics is, that isn’t always a comfortable topic…as an Aboriginal person with fairer skin…I don’t know if it is called a colour privilege, but certainly there are some biases that are applied in terms of palatability of lived experience for White people taking on a Blak story or Blak history…that fits a narrative of what White people want to see….That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of…[And] while I feel like I personally have had a fairly benign experience as an Aboriginal person, your life as an Aboriginal person is not unpoliticised…your mere existence [is under constant political scrutiny and attack].”

always was always will be aboriginal land | Aboriginal ...This “mere existence” of Aboriginal people as humans worthy of dignity collapses the entire ‘legal’ foundation of the Australian nation. The High Court overturned terra nullius and declared that the Australian lands were inhabited at colonisation, but no treaties have been signed, and the Native Title system designed to return Crown land to Aboriginal control (which often takes decades to do so) is fatally flawed. My heart bled last week when I read these words from Gamilaroi-Irish woman Aimee Mehan: “[O]ur Native Title Act does not give Indigenous Australians the right to refuse development on our ancestral lands…imagine that you are told about the impending trauma to a relative [your land/home]. Now you, together with your extended family, must ‘negotiate’ [the] event. You cannot prevent [it]…you must not only endure the trauma…you must sit month after month at the table to negotiate the future occurrence of it with a tribunal. [Then] imagine watching your close relative’s perpetrator being promoted by the Australian government on the world stage in Glasgow.” Gamiliroi Man Wollumbi Waters added: “All of which triggers the trauma and pain we carry as Aboriginal people, the true caretakers of our sacred lands. We walk with our ancestors every day, as the earth is our body and the water is our blood, and the trees and rocks our brothers and sisters, and this is what we hold on to.” Aimee describes this trauma as part of the #metoo movement from an Indigenous science perspective, with non-consensual boundary-breaking rapes and related actions that violate the vitality of the Sacred Mother, the land. (Image source)

Indigenous Justice & Restorative JusticeWhen I hear transhumanists like Jeff Bezos talk about ‘using up’ the resources of Mother Earth (i.e. destroying our home and source of life) necessitating the colonising of Mars, I cannot understand how we continue to give that insane and destructive a person so much power and control over so many resources. I pray for transformation of our rotting, greedy and destructive collective psychosis towards fulfilling the wisdom of Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr. instead: “The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors” (Quote source, Image source).

Exercise: Reflect on your own lived experience of Identity politics. You may want to listen to the Indigenous Science Dialogues and share to inspire rich, healing conversations with loved ones.

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Estrangement

Blog by Valerie

Estrangement is something we rarely talk about, and to be out of active relationship with one’s family of origin feels very stigmatised and taboo. Even after many years of accepting this reality for myself, I still feel vulnerable to social judgment and shaming about it. It’s a common and innocent question to ask someone about their family, and it’s often easier for me to say a little about them and not mention I’m estranged if I don’t know the person well. But it hurts, and it contributes to feeling the absence of my family constantly, which is especially hard during holidays and important life events.

How family members cope with estrangement - Chicago TribuneIt may help if I share a bit about my experience. When I came out to my family as an adult about being sexually abused by an uncle, that entire side of my family rallied around him. Some stopped speaking to me, others sent me nasty messages saying that I must be mentally ill, one tried to act like I hadn’t said anything then lost touch when I wasn’t willing to be invisibled anymore, and after five years of silence one wrote me to say the family had treated me unfairly, then didn’t respond to my reply and request for a relationship. The other side of my family was already very fractured before I came out about the abuse. A couple tried to pretend nothing had happened, one told me they’d be there for me on my healing journey but instead distanced themselves and one eventually admitted that it was too painful to be in relationship with me and ended it. Another blamed someone outside the family for abusing me, and when I wasn’t having that, started denying that I had been abused, lying to me and behaving increasingly hostile and aggressively, causing me to end things. That was the only relationship I ended myself, and even though it was an abusive lost cause, it still felt devastating and wrong to walk away from the last remaining family member in my life. (Image from here)

#estrangement | Simple reminders quotes, Betrayal quotes ...I was raised to hold family sacred, and so processing the initial childhood betrayals, followed by the adult estrangements, has been incredibly painful. It felt like a sudden orphaning that was out of my control, a genocidal loss of everyone I deeply knew, had learned to rely on and share my life with. I am still in touch with one friend from childhood, one from middle school, and my nanny’s daughter who knew me as a baby. Though I am not close with them, it feels quite precious to me that they are still in my life and knew me when I was young. My husband and a few friends have walked with me through my estrangement and have met some of my family members, but hearing stories and seeing photos isn’t the same as having witnessed me as a child in the context of my family and seeing how far I’ve come as an adult.

estrangementhealingIn every culture there are structures of kinship linking us with an extended family, and in Indigenous cultures, our kinship networks include humans and non-humans. Western kinship networks were severely weakened after the fall of the Roman empire when the Catholic Church greedily: (1) expanded the definition of incest marriage prohibitions to include even your sixth cousins (!), (2) criminalised polygamy, and (3) discouraged remarriage and adoption – all of which resulted in redirecting property and inheritance away from families and into the Church’s coffers. This devolution of kinship and focus on the nuclear family arguably created the foundation for individualism, civil society, and democracy (reference). European languages changed as well, so that separate terms for paternal and maternal relatives disappeared, as did different ways of referring to blood relatives,  in-laws, and ‘spiritual kinship’ created by baptisms and sacraments (e.g. godparents) (reference). My understanding is that Indigenous pagan Germanic cultures like the Frisians encouraged cousin marriages, which wove families together within a tribe – a group of people connected by kinship through marriage and interbreeding (reference). It is also my understanding that a man’s brother was meant to be a second father to a man’s daughter in pagan Germanic cultures, and so on a spiritual level, that man abusing me feels even more devastating. In most cultures there is a sacred reciprocity within the cycle of a parent raising a child, and then a child supporting a parent in their old age. I feel I have been denied this experience, and I feel a loss and grief about it, which I put into spiritually supporting my family in a way that feels okay to me. (Image from here)

#estranged, #estrangement (With images) | Toxic family ...It is a big deal to estrange, and I have counselled people who have told me they were considering it that it’s like the guy who got stuck in a crevice while rock-climbing and had to saw off his arm to survive – it’s drastic and changes your life forever, and sometimes just has to be done. There’s little accurate Western scientific research about estrangement, with studies in the US citing 10-40% of people having experienced it. Estrangement has certainly given me a lot of resilience, space, strength, independence, fierce boundaries and some humility. In terms of humility, I have a limited threshold for projections of family expectations and game-playing, which has resulted in separating myself from my husband’s family. I don’t expect people who know and care about me much less than my own family to dig as deeply into themselves and reflect on their behaviours as I need in order for them to be ‘family’ to me.

strengthtoletgoAs with any loss, my experience of estrangement has created opportunities for a lot of self-knowledge and spiritual growth. It has given me the time and desire to do gift economy work supporting people’s healing, as well as community-building, knowledge-sharing, and our other humble activities through Earth Ethos. If I had family obligations and relationships taking up my time and energy, I would not be able to serve in this way. So you can thank my family for estranging from me, as it has gifted these insights to you today. And if you know anyone who is estranged, don’t assume that their situation can, will, or should change.

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Conflict resolution & animism, part 2

This blog builds on part 1 from a few weeks ago, which started by reminding you that in animism, it’s not only not expected, but against our own nature to play nice with certain beings and energies. Earlier today I heard the following story:

cyclistsThree cyclists were riding down a neighbourhood road when an older guy in sports car drove by and yelled, “Get off the road, assholes!”. Of course, cyclists are legally allowed to be on the road. The female in the group gave him the middle finger, angering the driver more and he turned his car towards her, then veered onto another street and into a carpark of a private club. She almost fell off her bike, scared and filled with rage. She blasted through the private club gate past the security guard while her fellow cyclists followed and called the police. You might be thinking that she was trying to get the driver’s plates, but she already got a photo of that. When he stepped out of his car she screamed in his face how wrong his actions were and how terrified she felt. He pushed her out of his way, and she raged even more and threatened to press charges for touching her. By this time her companions had gotten through the security gate. The security guard initially threatened to call the police and report the cyclists for trespass, but changed his mind when he saw the scene. Police arrived and explained to the driver that cyclists are allowed on the roads as much as he is, and told the cyclists they can’t charge the driver with anything but simple battery for pushing her because he veered his car away and didn’t hurt anyone. No one was happy with this outcome.

What a mess. Something to keep in mind with animism, and indigenous understandings of justice in general, is that they don’t necessarily align with Judeo-Christian morality. This may be the heart of why so often people feel things that happen are unfair or that ‘nice guys finish last’, because we are mentally programmed to expect rewards when we are ‘good’, whatever that means (often obedience to social norms it seems).

Five basic approaches to conflict resolution are: collaborating, compromising, accomodating, avoiding, and competing. In the story above, the woman and the driver are both competing. I lionthink about a lion competing to be king of the hill – they’re getting their fight on. chameleonThe security guard started out competing but then accommodated the cyclists, represented by a chameleon changing its colours to fit the situation. The other two cyclists are collaborating with their friend, like a school of fish sticking together, and the police officer is fishcompromising by offering to charge the driver with something since the cyclists want him to be punished. Compromise is represented well by a zebra with its dual-coloured stripes. zebra

What we don’t have in this scenario is anyone avoiding conflict, which I think would have been the wisest option. There were many missed opportunities for the cyclists to avoid escalating the conflict and potentially endangering themselves further. Let’s represent avoiding with a turtle who can stick its head in its shell. turtle

If the cyclists had been growled at by an actual lion, they likely would not have tried to compete but would have done their best to avoid escalating the conflict. And if one of the cyclists had decided to angrily provoke the lion further, the other cyclists would have been less likely to collaborate and more likely if she got hurt to tell her that she had asked for it. Other than a sense of moral outrage and upholding of social norms, why do we behave so differently with people who exhibit threatening lion energy than with actual lions? One reason is when something is really important to us, we feel called to be warriors and stand up and fight. Some things – like protecting our family – feel worth dying for, and it can be too hard to live with the guilt and shame of knowing we didn’t try to stand up for our values. Another reason is that we are reacting in autopilot and have a tendency to compete when we feel threatened. If the reason is the latter, we can work on creating self-awareness and space to make more intentional decisions about addressing conflicts.

conflictWhen we do choose to avoid a conflict, it helps to be aware of the Cycle of Indecision: ‘I feel bad. I should do something. Nothing will change. I gotta let it go. But I feel bad…’ I find when I avoid a conflict but over time it keeps coming up inside me, then I do need to do something to address it. That may involve talking to someone, creating art to express my emotions and tell my story, doing something ceremonial to keep the energy flowing without endangering myself, or finding a passion to advocate out in the world. For example, if I have a conflict with someone close to me, I tend to try to collaborate and talk it through when we are both less emotionally charged. But when I have a conflict with someone I don’t trust to collaborate with, I often write them a letter, leave it on my altar, and burn it so that the energy gets sent out in spirit.

Notice that no one in the story above was happy with what the police officer offered as a compromise to try to appease everyone and follow the law he’s working with. This is because of a common conflict resolution issue – people conflating positions with interests. The cyclists’ interests are (likely) being safe and respected while on the road, but their position is they want the driver to be punished for yelling at them and veering his car at the woman, but they may also have an interest in revenge. positioninterestThe driver’s interest is (likely) not being criminally charged and being able to express anger that cyclists are not riding single file (which they don’t have to). Maybe he has an interest in trying to change that law or have cycling lanes built on the road so he doesn’t have to share, or maybe he’s just interested in expressing anger, but his position seems to be ‘get out of my way’. We’d need to talk to everyone to unpack their underlying interests and potentially resolve the conflict in a more mutually beneficial way, but that’s not the job of the police officer. That’s something we could do through an Earth Ethos peace circle if everyone was open to collaborating and had been prepared to come together with open hearts and minds. In peace circle processes we use deep listening, open questions, I-statements, reframing emotionally charged language, and other tools to make it easier for people in competitive positions to feel safe to open up and connect with others. Because lions tend to be lonely, dangerous creatures – with only one male on top of the pride, he’s always scared of being bested by another and losing everything. Sometimes conflicts in our lives are like that, are all or nothing, but usually they needn’t be. We just can’t see another way. (Image from here.)

Exercise: Reflect on how you tend to approach conflicts. Maybe you tend towards different approaches at home or at work or with your kids or partner. Think about a recent conflict you were in with someone. How did you want to approach that conflict? What was your position in the conflict, and your underlying interest(s)? What about the person you were in conflict with? 

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Flailing into freedom

Poem by Lukas

All around me

And inside me

Flailing

Flailing across the medicine wheel

But only the fix-it mental mind in charge of change
Leading our growth.
Ideas, always ideas.
Never just isness

Always the changing sky with its fast moving clouds

Never the rock, or the mountain or the tree.
Never the deep time of timeless ancestors
Or the inherently clear sky
The all, oneness.
Unknown to us.

IMG20210622090000

Our recent generations so scarred
The very notion of old, grounded wisdom
Gone, abandoned and unknown
Admonished
Disrespected
“Primitive”
Always new ideas.
Evidence based ra ra ra.
Ideas that must fit together like bricks
A shape absent in nature
For sale.

Sometimes we need a wall.
A mentally engineered structure.

Sometimes this kind of thinking is a gift.
But most often our very logic is our prison.
Don’t try and trick me with your rationality
Don’t tell me about your evidence
Don’t scale-up, export and expand
Don’t show me a widget for saving the world.
Don’t try to sell me anything.

Please just connect with me
Connect with the earth.
Connect with your heart.
Connect with spirit.

Be with things as they are. IMG_20210610_091412
Messy.
Painful.
Joyful.
Blissful.
Dark as well as light together.
Alive.

Where could we go and flow if this was our way of being?
Of course I can’t tell you rationally.
There’s no map.
No blueprint.

These building blocks are not square.
But just letting this mystery wash over me feels like peace.
Freedom.
(Photos by Valerie)
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Conflict resolution & animism, Part 1

“One of the things that I notice quite a bit is that people who tend to be attracted to Animism (and Shamanism) are often good-hearted people who wish to be kind to everyone and everything…Part of an Animistic practice would be reclaiming that wild within ourselves– the parts of ourselves that can defend ourselves and our homes, that can take action, that can pounce and prey and track and growl. And can do those things without guilt and without the type of moral apprehension that modern spiritual circles tend to be so riddled with. It is easy to be shamed into being a really, really good person that everyone and everything can run over and treat like a doormat [as] ‘nice’ or ‘spiritual’ or ‘being the better person’. This has little to do with nature, or with Animism, and more to do with a spiritual culture that is out of touch with its inner and outer wildness, animalistic instincts, and darkness.”–Mary Shutan

I have been seeking lately to more fully embody a balance between the sacred feminine and masculine. To me this means the following: sacred masculine energy is the individual aspect of my identity. This energy is seeking to celebrate diversity and is willing to say hey, I am here and ought to be treated well, and I am allowed to take up space. Sacred feminine energy is the universal aspect of my identity. This energy is seeking places of connection and is willing to give generously to facilitate intimacy. Whether my characterisations as sacred masculine and feminine energies resonates with you or not, hopefully the importance of these energies being honoured and in balance is relatable.

I have done a lot of training, professional and personal work in conflict resolution. It has been important for my survival, and I learn a lot through conflict. When our relationships enter into conflict, we either grow closer or farther apart as a resolution unfolds, sometimes dramatically so. Relationships that have been built over years may end in an instant when a lie emerges.

I find it helpful to keep the following in mind: 

  • perspectiveWe all have different perspectives. It helps to find space and respect for another whose view strongly conflicts with ours by carrying a bit of doubt about what we ‘know’. For example, if we ‘know for a fact’ that Covid exists and others deny this, we can avoid placing ourselves into judgment and remind ourselves of things we didn’t believe until we experienced them for ourselves or trusted something that didn’t work out well for us.
  • We are not meant to closely collaborate and connect with everyone and everything. It is dangerous for a frog to be intimate with a snake. The same goes for us with certain people, places, etc. We are responsible for setting boundaries and protecting ourselves.
  • notthereWe all have blind spots and project things that aren’t there. Awareness of blind spots and wounds allows us to better protect ourselves and know when we need wise counsel. When one songbird spots a predatory bird in the forest, their outcry helps birds, mice, and others know to duck under cover. Knowing whom to listen to, why and when is helpful. I’ll take on western medical advice from a doctor, but I will not take on advice about my spiritual life (such as a statement like ‘that wound will never heal’).
  • unclearWe all see things unclearly and with a distorted lens sometimes too. Awareness of these limitations can be empowering. Our greyhound Chloe has such a strong prey drive she projects potential prey onto wind lifting up a blanket. Hope can be a powerful trickster.

When dealing with intense emotions, we tend to have go-to strategies. Knowing our tendencies empowers us to choose which ones to use in when. This, like anything, takes practice. Common approaches with some of their pros and cons include:

  • minimisemaxMinimising or maximising – distorting reality into being bigger or smaller than it is. Some people tend towards one or the other, and others swing between catastrophising and bravado. Maximising can help us notice hidden emotion we may have not been aware of, and minimising can be helpful to get through danger or pain but isn’t sustainable. Swinging creates drama and is often quite painful.
  • bypassBypassing or avoiding – actively or passively choosing to evade something or someone. This can be wise especially if there is danger to protect ourselves from, but may be a trick that comes back to bite us and can limit opportunities for intimacy and growth.
  • fixitProblem-solving or fix-it mode – this may be practically helpful but risks being emotionally damaging as it tends to come from rejection or lack, of not accepting our pain in the moment and judging someone or something as inherently wrong or broken.
  • validateEmpathise or validate – affirming our shared humanity and showing care can be helpful, but may not be fully honest and not build trust or allow us to learn tough lessons.
  • inquireInquire or try to understand – curiousity helps us learn and see each other more clearly, but it risks inflaming someone in crisis. When a house is burning, we first need to put out the fire and then investigate why it happened. Focusing on why first can be damaging.
  • reflectAcknowledge or reflect – Similar to validating but more passive, can be useful when we are not emotionally charged to provide a more neutral mirror to someone or go within and look at what we can learn from the situation. Repeatedly going within to do our own reflecting can limit our intimacy with others who may feel like we keep running away.

Exercise: Which strategies for dealing with intense emotions do you tend to use for yourself? With others? Do you use different ones at home and at work? Which strategies do people close to you use, and which ones work best for you?

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Stories, beliefs & their shadows

Blog by Valerie

“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…

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