You are invited to join Earth Ethos in honouring each element of the medicine wheel (earth/physical, air/mental, fire/spiritual, water/emotional) and the heart centre through five dialogues between Indigenous scientists this May.
All dialogues will be facilitated by Dr Valerie Cloud Clearer Ringland, an East Frisian (Indigenous to northern Germany) and Jewish-American woman living of Yuin country with lived experience and a PhD in Indigenous trauma healing.
May 3, Fire/Spiritual: Ancestral Healing with Ellis Bien Ilas, a Filipino-Australian ancestral healer living of Eora country.
May 5, Earth/Physical: Settler Trauma with Lukas Ringland, an Anglo-Celtic Australian (and Valerie’s life partner) healing and living of Yuin country.
May 7, Air/Mental: Weaving Knowledges with Sara Hudson, a Jewish-Pākehā woman living of Darug country using Indigenous and Western knowledges in evaluation and academic work.
May 11, Heart/Cultural: Identity Politics with Shannon Field, a Yuin woman living on country and working in Aboriginal policy.
May 13, Water/Emotional: Confronting Whiteness with Dr Virginia Mapedzahama, a Shona (Indigenous to Zimbabwe) with African Women Australia Inc. living of Wangal land.
Sign up at the Eventbrite page to get the Zoom link or use the Earth Ethos Calendar to click on the Zoom link to participate. All dialogues will be available next day on the Earth Ethos Facebook page.
Please pass on information about this dialogue series with others who may be interested!
The human mind is a story-creating meaning-making machine, and as we get to know our minds better, we uncover beliefs, values, and stories underlying our thoughts and behaviours, and ultimately defining our paths in life. We may be well aware of certain stories or beliefs have impacted us deeply, such as the story of Jesus in the Bible, or paradoxical sayings like “time is money” and “money is the root of all evil”. Yet we may wonder why certain things happen to us, why certain large-scale patterns seem to recur in our lives again and again and be bound up with our sense of identity and our understanding of our placement in the world.
In this section of Mary Shutan’s Body Deva book, she has an exercise called Releasing a Central Myth. When I did it years ago, I uncovered a story from Germanic mythology called Sterntaler (in English, Star Money) that basically amounts to: if you are good-hearted and give generously, life will reward you and ultimately have your back. The dark side to this myth, which resonated with me in childhood and took me a long time to balance as an adult, is the importance of boundaries and discernment about when and how to live this way, otherwise one becomes a martyr. I painted the picture on the left at the time, hung it on my wall a while, then ceremonially burned it to heal any wounds from carrying it in an unsustainable/imbalanced way. As Mary says in a blog post about the concept,
[A]t the base of our being, we have a central myth that propels us into being. We may have many myths regarding ourselves, and although they can in some regard motivate us, they are restrictive energies because such myths tie us to expected behavior and an expected trajectory… Loops primarily come from trauma.
I have found (so far) that I have been carrying two central myths, which are in conflict. This is no surprise given my blood lines, and the fact that in traditional Jewish culture that because my birth mother identifies as Jewish that defines me as Jewish, yet in traditional Germanic cultures, I inherit cultural identity through my father as a woman, and if I were a man I would inherit from my mother. I feel intuitively in my being as though I inherit from my father, and I have had Indigenous elders from other cultures also confirm that they see my moeity as patriarchal. Yet as I wrote in this post, I’ve been unpacking Indigenous roots of Jewishness, which after nearly 6000 years of Biblical beliefs has been a challenge to say the least and involves lots of work in the root chakra. I am doing this shadow work because my inheritance from my mother’s lineage feels destructive and forced upon me, and I want to heal and take responsibility for that part of my life. And, not surprisingly, the central myth that has emerged from my Jewish lineage is a traumatic pre-Biblical Mesopotamian story about intergenerational incest and familial distrust.
I encourage you, if you haven’t already explored this within yourself, to consider reading Mary’s blog and looking at the exercise linked above in her book. Some common central myths to consider that cut across cultures include: the hero’s journey, the damsel in distress, the martyr,might makes right, the American dream, individualism, and any religious or folk/fairy tale stories that resonate deeply with you or that you identify with. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t identify with certain stories; it is to say that it’s empowering to be consciously aware of our central myths so we can hold them fully with their pros and cons/dark and light aspects. This frees us from acting our infinite trauma loops in which we project our central myth(s) onto people and places around us in an attempt to see ourselves. In my experience for myself and witnessing others’ healing, it feels freeing, humbling, and ultimately brings peace as we more deeply understand the influence of ancestral stories on our life’s struggles… (Image from here)
Trauma and addiction are interrelated. I was listening to a talk yesterday by Dr Gabor Mate, a western medical doctor and wounded healer I have a lot of respect for. He said simply, if you can’t fight, flee, or ask for help, your brain dissociates – you freeze to survive. Freezing is meant to be a temporary state we heal from to regain integrity and peace when the survival threat has gone. But what if it isn’t temporary? (Isn’t there a reason Frozen resonates with so many people? Image from here.)
A few years ago, I chose to traumatise myself by going through a PhD program to change my career path. It’s better for me to be a researcher than connected with the legal profession, because I find it easier to work in ways that are aligned with my values. And while I do spend time listening to people and their stories still, but I also still spend quite a bit of time staring at a screens. I do this to maintain relationships with loved ones, to watch something with my partner, or to use US late night TV to process current events with some humour. I don’t feel I can practically avoid these screens. It’s part of my survival, and though I’m working with some people who know how to live off their lands and could teach me things, they can’t even survive fully living that way today. But I feel an addictive quality to my relationship with these screens sometimes. I feel pulled to be on the phone or computer instead of doing creative tasks with my hands or doing something less stimulating like sitting outside and listening to birds. With a father who was a pioneering computer scientist, I started staring at screens in infancy. Watching people in the US cross a busy street staring at their screens without even checking for cars scared me. I used to call out to them out of concern, and a few thanked me and realised the danger but most yelled at me to mind my own business. Thankfully, I’m not in that space with screen addiction, but I still want to work through some compulsive feelings. (Image from here. Why don’t we talk to people around us anymore, or observe the space and relax?)
In the talk I watched yesterday, Dr Mate reminded us that “infants and children are narcissistic, no matter how old they are.” We’ve been witnessing this daily with the behaviour of supposed social leaders in the media, our workplaces, and communities. I agree with Dr Mate that it’s often as simple as this: when we as children feel unwanted, we naturally, narcissistically, think we’re ‘not good enough’, because we are in a phase of life where we are forming an identity. Just one unprocessed trauma that causes a frozen dissociation can persist, even intergenerationally, with layers of addictive behaviours, emotional disregulation, and attachment disorders around it until someone digs into those thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and reaches into that core wound to heal. That is my journey, and perhaps yours too if you’re reading this. So how do we heal? And what if we’re still not in safe environments? Some dangerous, unstable people have a lot of social power right now.
“You want to make people grow? Make it safe for them to be vulnerable.”
-Dr Gabor Mate
Some people seem to spend a lifetime feeling little safety (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and culturally). I count myself among them, though over time that’s been slowly changing for me. Here are three interrelated approaches that work for me:
Acceptance + infinite patience approach – space making for mess, focusing on compassion and accepting the moment without judgement. Lukas and others I know find Buddhist practices helpful with this, and I like to meditate and express myself through art. This is really hard when we’re passionate about something that doesn’t feel okay to accept, like ongoing abuse or something else that goes against our values. (Image from here. I actually meditate lying down but this is such a common image.)
Choose any survival strategy to avoid the freeze – even if that means fighting a big battle or fleeing intimate relationships or familiar environments that will bring great pain and grief into your life and may require you to seek help to process. This can be costly in time and energy and may feel at times like ‘picking your poison’, but it will enable you to be more in integrity and feel more alive. I choose the pain of being alive to the numbness of living without passion. And I choose fighting for change and experiencing isolation over accepting abuse or neglect.
Create safe space – for yourself and others to be vulnerable. Be honest and change what you can, even small things like taking a minute a day to meditate or pray can make a huge difference. Changing our environments, boundaries, jobs, etc can increase our sense of safety. And supporting others to heal and work through things helps us mature and make meaning from our own trauma, addiction, and pain. A third grader may be better at supporting a first grader in learning some things because he’s closer to those lessons. And an adult teacher may be better at other lessons because she embodies more wisdom of lived experiences. Being self aware and honest about our own healing journeys (including seeking wise advice at times) helps us know what space we can safely hold.
That’s survival, isn’t it? Striking a balance between serving our human and non-human kin and keeping alive and well ourselves. And allowing addictions to emerge and heal frees us to be more fully here.
When we grow up feeling like no one’s in our corner, that life is us against the world and we can’t trust anyone, many of us go on a journey as adults of learning how to put ourselves first and practice self-care and fiercely healthy boundaries, as well as learning about personal limits of meaningful sacrifice and resentment-building martyrdom. Sometimes those of us with this wound feel the pain of it so acutely that we can’t focus on much else. We need the wound to heal so badly that we start to believe our needs matter more than others’, and like a baby crying to be taken care of, we often look for external care-taking even as adults, which tends to result in giving our power away and ultimately feeling victimised, reinforcing our distrust wound over and over again. People say when we don’t learn a lesson at a small scale, the universe keeps providing the lesson in bigger ways until we get it or it gets us. When this happens at a large scale, where many people share such a wound that it becomes an intergenerational trauma, entire families, cultures, and communities can collectively reinforce the wound in each other and embed it into social structures. (Image from here.)
There are spiritual lessons in everything, and I’ve been thinking recently about the following teachings of colonialism:
corruption of power – giving us the opportunity to recalibrate how we view, carry and share power and re-order our social structures and governance;
corruption of trust – giving us the opportunity to let go of control within a separated individual identity to flow into a communal and interconnected identity;
corruption of belonging – giving us the opportunity to heal the wound of abandonment by feeling the grief and loss of disconnection from the Earth and allowing us to seek adoption by the country and traditional owners where we live;
corruption of faith – giving us the opportunity to re-place our faith into the creation of new cultures and institutions inclusive of all human and non-human kin to fulfil our special (species-specific, or speci-al) role as caretakers of this planet.
I’ll share a few stories and thoughts about each of these gifts.
Power: When power becomes too concentrated and reaches a human limit, people tend to explode out of their lands like volcanic lava and end up scattered all over the world spreading stories about how they didn’t steal or impose on others, ‘they conquered’ and ‘won’. Any superiority trip (an existential hierarchy) is corrupt, and it seems to me that over successive generations (such as after a colonial land grab), the nature of power becomes apparent to more and more people and passion for social justice activism and Indigenous knowledge revival emerge to re-balance us.
Trust: As a child, I didn’t have anyone around me I could fully trust, and I never felt safe because I wasn’t. I trusted untrustworthy (ill, innocent and/or naive) people as a survival strategy. So I learned trust through experiencing deep betrayal. It has been a powerful mirror of what not to do. Today I’m a highly sensitive person with increasingly fierce boundaries, and I find the fiercer my boundaries, paradoxically the gentler I am with people close to me. Seeing trust as a path and practice, as opposed to a given or a ‘should be’ taught me that it can be learnt and earned. And it showed me that at times I need to extend trust for practical reasons even if it feels dangerous, and at times that I can hold it back to protect myself from painful experiences. (Image from here)
Belonging: More painful than my wound of sexual abuse is my wound of maternal abandonment. I have felt for most of my life like I cannot cry enough to express this profound grief and pain. Lately, though, there are moments where I can hold this gift with awe. Last week I met a Walpiri lawman Wanta Jampijinpa Steven Patrick who has worked for years to share his understanding of Ngurra-kurlu (the home within) with his people and others. He told me the metaphor of Milpirri (see below), a festival he facilitates in the community of Lajamanu in partnership with a dance company in Brisbane every two years: the hot air from their desert country rises up, and the cold air from the sky falls down; as the air mixes, thunderclouds are formed that unite the energy and send lightning and rain to the earth, connecting the hot and cold air (the Aboriginal/yapa country, knowledge and culture and other/kardiya knowledge and culture from overseas). He asked me why so many people who come to his community want to share their culture and knowledge and do not learn from him so they can be adopted where they live and “we can all be Australian.” (Image from here)
Faith: Though growing up I was ostensibly taught to have faith in Western governments and their supposed ‘democracies’, capitalist markets, cleverness of mind, quick-wittedness, physical beauty, and a watered-down version of Jewish law, I steadily lost (or never placed) my faith in those spaces. Instead, I learned to have faith that peace can emerge from any violent conflict; that all trauma be healed; that there is value to experiencing evil, disgusting, and dangerous things. As Dr. Marcus Woolmbi Waters, a Kamilaroi man, wrote in his most recent column in the Koori Mail entitled Let’s not lose sight of who we are: “I am no victim of colonisation…We are survivors, enduring and ancient, who maintain a fight for justice and truth…Yes, our trauma is deep, it is intergenerational, it is historical and resides deeply in the present, but we are not our trauma” (emphasis added). (Image from here)
I am reminded of one of the biggest gifts of colonialism that we are still unpacking: a conscious awareness that we are all one big human family despite our diverse countries, cultures, communities and the conflicts between us, and that we are all in this together, human and non-human, in holy commun-ity. (Image from here) In the immortal words of Johnny Cash:
“The first step in liquidating a people…is to erase its memory…Before long a nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”—Milan Kundera
Whether you are considered “white” or not, I feel confident saying you have been impacted by whiteness trauma, and as this quote suggests, that your people/s likely experienced and perpetrated genocide somewhere in your family line/s. Genocide is an intentional act to destroy a people, and whiteness is an intellectual construction based on traumatic social rejection from & disconnection with Mother Earth, self & cultural heritage, and other people. It was used as a tool by the ruling class to divide the working class, and so is also called “the bribe of whiteness.” David Dean gives a clear and compelling history of the creation and rise of the “white” identity in this article, People who have learned to identify as “white” tend to deny their own complex cultural heritage. Some people even study “whiteness theory” and “white fragility” to try to make sense of the shame they carry and the way this history of European identities being whitewashed and replaced by modern, nationalistic ‘Western’ identities still play out today. For example, did you know that assimilationist policies in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to companies like Ford running mandatory English classes and job training programs that finished with ceremonies in which people clad in traditional cultural clothing walked through a huge ‘melting pot’ then emerged in company uniforms? (Image from here)
David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:
The violent displacement of communities from their traditional lands in order to use that land for profit and create a dependent, exploitable workforce, and
The replacement of traditional cultural identities that valued the welfare of the community and the Earth with a culture of capitalistic, possessive individualism with a social hierarchy divided along racial, gender, religious, and other identities.
As Tyson Yunkaporta points out in his new book, ‘Western’ is not an identity, because by its nature it is in reference to someone or someplace else (presumably ‘Eastern’); it is not inherent. To be ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ is also quite amorphous. I have out of curiousity asked a number of people what it means to them to be ‘Australian,’ and I have gotten one of two answers: (a) I am part of a multi-cultural modern soup, or (b) It means nothing to me, and I am English/Irish/Wiradjuri/Yuin/etc. living on this land we collectively call ‘Australia’.
My view is that whiteness trauma is based on a European history of intergenerational trauma, shame & pain. It was spread by the Romans & other empires dividing and subjugating peoples on their traditional lands; by the violent spread of Christianity through power & force, including the systematic desecration of indigenous & pagan sacred sites; and by horrendously hateful acts such as witch trials, inquisitions, slavery, rapes & genocides. It seems to me that over the last few thousand years, violence, terror & control became normalized as a method of asserting dominant leadership throughout Europe. Multi-generational disconnection with an innately human intimate & reciprocal relationship with the Earth were replaced by a power struggle for whose anthropocentric story is ‘right’, in a might-makes-right model. This led to land ‘discovery’ (i.e. colonisation) and other myths such as when upper class, white-skinned, Christian, land-owning males founded a ‘free’ government for ‘the people’ in the U.S. Ultimately, whitewashing & glomming together of many European peoples and cultures into “Western” expanded to non-‘white’ people, so that today millions of people around the world identify with a colonial nation rather than a traditional culture living within an empire.
Here is a little poem I wrote about my own journey of healing ‘whiteness’ trauma:
Beneath the Roots
Ancestral trauma Has defined me But I kept digging Because I knew My taproot was deeper And drinking in peace Somewhere down there
“The first peoples of this land don’t need statues of our heroes, we have mountains that remind us of our people. We don’t need painted portraits, we have rivers that flow with the stories of our dreaming. Our songs are filled with culture, our language of the land. So we don’t need books. Our history, our connections, our hearts are true to this country.”–Baker, 2017, quoted in Koori Mail, Oct 23, 2019 p. 24