Tag Archives: wholeness

Reciprocity & the Resentment-Denial Dance

This week I am moving through some grief. I had known that a friendship would end had been observing it fade away for a while, and I was hoping it would just fade and drift gracefully into nothingness, but that was not what occurred. Not only was there a calling out of disrespectful behaviour that resulted in denial, blame, and spite being projected onto me, but following that was additional denial about the state of the relationship. I felt resentment that my former friend was so in denial that she needed me to explicitly spell out that we had already co-created the ending of our relationship, and this resulted in even more blame and spite being projected onto me. What a mess of pain we were in.

It reminded me of Torres Islander writer Nonie Sharp‘s concepts of mateship and in-mateship, where in-mateship creates feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, denial. She says that the very presence of superiority creates shame, and a fear of shame causes people to oscillate between seeking revenge and prestige, resulting in psychic bullying, social violence, and denying reciprocity; if you judge someone as an inmate, you control & define social and existential boundaries. I see this as narcissistic…

lotusIn processing this resentment, I realised that when there is a lack/denial of reciprocity in a relationship, we dance between resentment and denial — resentment within the person who feels stifled/unseen because the other person isn’t holding them in wholeness, and lack/denial/not good enough within the other person who feels cut off from their wholeness (and may or may not want to heal that rift inside themself). Those of us who live with an Earth Ethos embody a knowing that we are all interconnected, and we are not lost playing out myths of superiority and inferiority based on existential judgement.

In some people’s minds I “cut off” this friend, but I have not experienced this. I can no more cut her off than I can cut off the air I breathe; she has become part of me and the space she has in my heart and mind will remain throughout my life in a linear sense of time, and is always there in a nonlinear sense of time. Thoughts and feelings related to her will emerge, and I will pray and send love and feel pain whether we are actively engaged in our relationship or not. It was and it is, and through time and space relationships move through various forms, or trans-form.

Reciprocity is a core Earth Ethos value. As Potowatami writer Robin Wall Kimmerer says:

In the old times, individuals who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counselled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished… It is a terrible punishment to be banished from the web of reciprocity, with no one to share with you and no one for you to care for.

My view is that such punishment/banishment on a mass scale underlies the current mainstream Western culture and results in the extreme levels of narcissistic wounding we are witnessing. Aboriginal writer Tyson Yunkaporta explains:

In Dreaming stories, Emu is often a narcissist who damages social relationships. These stories teach us about the protocols for living sustainably, and warn us about unsustainable behaviours. The basic protocols of Aboriginal society, like most societies, include respecting and hearing all points of view…Narcissists demand this right, then refuse to allow other points of view…They destroy the basic social contracts of reciprocity (which allow people to build a reputation of generosity based on sharing to ensure ongoing connectedness and support), shattering these frameworks of harmony with a few words…They apply double standards and break down systems of give and take until every member of a social group becomes isolated, lost in a Darwinian struggle for power and dwindling resources that destroys everything…

Australian Indigenous Astronomy: July 2011Yet in Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the Emu is so highly regarded that people traditionally organised their lives around following the wisdom of the Dark Emu in the sky, which is the constellation of darkness within the Milky Way. The image is from here and shows the Dark Emu during one season of the year, and corresponding rock carving honouring the Emu in Sydney.

Something that I continually find challenging in embodying reciprocity is moving through a world where so many people around me believe in individuality and are lost in saviour complexes that convince them they are working for the collective good. I live on land my ancestors are not indigenous to, and I do not yet know what lands my mother’s family is interconnected with. And when I move through the dance of denial and resentment in an intimate relationship, it helps to remember that once I fully see the Dark Emu I will be wiser and more capable of orienting myself in my centre; and as this unfolds, it helps to have compassion and keep strong in my convictions of the worthiness of this healing journey, as Rumi reminds me. Wuradjuri healer Randal Ross said that we don’t realise how free we are until we see that freedom disintegrate; and I feel that correspondingly, those of us who have been abused and denied are re-membering how free we are through calling it out with compassion and creating healthy, whole lives in the midst of collective wounding.

Exercise: Consider this Robin Wall Kimmerer quote and how you might apply it in your life: “Restoration is imperative for healing the earth, but reciprocity is imperative for long lasting, successful restoration… We restore the land, and the land restores us…The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart…For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend[] on it.”

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.)

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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.

Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Existential Wounds

vol-13-1-coverExistential wounds seem to occur more often for those of us with multi-cultural, immigrant, and colonial heritage. When we are (or our ancestors were) forcibly moved, forced to adopt unfamiliar cultural practices of spiritual worship, live in homes and wear clothes of unfamiliar materials, eat foods unfamiliar to our bodies, or were abused or enslaved in some way, we experienced trauma. This trauma often took the form of existential wounding where the very core of our identities, ways of being, and understandings of the world are shaken. It can take many generations and much work to heal such wounds. I recently had an article about indigenous trauma healing published if you want to dive more deeply into that. (Ignore the abstract; they used the wrong one.)

Through generations of carrying existential wounds, we feel ashamed that what our ancestors taught us about the right ways to live and what we learned to honour has been desecrated. We become ungrounded and disoriented and struggle to trans-form and re-form ourselves and our cultures in new places. We feel lied to and know in our bones that something is wrong. We wonder if we’re crazy, if something is wrong with us; we get angry with our families or society and struggle with mountains of conflicts. (This is structural change; re-claiming the body/mind/spirit as one where we are now.) If you are reading this, chances are you feel a calling to do that work! As an example, I always felt disoriented in the Northern Hemisphere. I struggled to orientate and make sense of directions, and when I got my PhD I had the definitive feeling that I was moving backwards, spiralling inwards to the core so I could get to the essence of the existential wound, go through a spiritual death and be reborn again. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere has helped me feel like my life is finally correctly oriented. Yet at the same time, native foods of Australia are unfamiliar to my body. So I gather lily pillies to make jam, eat native figs off of big ficuses when I walk by, and cook up warrigal greens (See images below). I’ve noticed that native foods are unfamiliar to most people here, though, and eating European meats and veggies seems to keep people’s psyches more tied to places across the planet and help them be more willing to mine indigenous land in their own country! (Images from here and here.)

I believe that decolonisation has profoundly positive effects on healing of existential wounds as it helps us feel more whole. While listening to the Mythic Medicine podcast recently I realised a simple way to heal some of our existential wounds is to name and honour the landforms and elementals that raised us, and support us where we now live. Here is mine for where I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia:

I was raised on the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (earth), hilly land with red clay soil and loads of spindly pine trees. The water (water) that I drank and bathed in came from Lake Lanier, a dammed portion of the Chattahoochee River. The winds (air) were unnamed but predominantly flowed from the southwest towards the northeast. Power (fire) came predominantly from a hydroelectric plant that dammed the river. The main spiritual practice (heart) there was Protestant Christian, and in particular Southern Baptist. The largest landform was Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping that extends underground into five states and has a Confederate Memorial carved into it which is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. Other memorable landforms are the network of manmade highways, including a circle around the city with an X of two highways that meet at the centre, and incredibly messy interchanges such as one called Spaghetti Junction that looms large in my memory (see below). A local park called Henderson Lake was a safe space for me, and I walked there regularly (see below). The Creek and Cherokee nations existed on the land before English colonists, and before that were nations of mound-builders which we know little about. (Images from here and here.)

atlantahwy hendersonlake

Exercise: I invite you to download this My Ancestry Exercise that came together when preparing for an ancestral healing workshop a couple months ago. I have my answers on there as an example. It will give you a reflection of what you know about where you come from, and your intuition may answer some questions you didn’t realise you knew! You can add to this exercise an honouring of landforms and elementals exemplified above for the land(s) that raised you, and the land that now supports you!

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.)

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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.

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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?

 

Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

You may have grown up, like me, steeped in multiculturalism in your home and city, eating foods from all over the world, making friends with others of totally different cultural heritages, travelling and living overseas, and honouring multiculturalism in your everyday lives. If you go back a few generations, how many of ancestors of your blood lineage spoke your language? Dressed in clothes like yours? Listened to similar music, or did similar dances or art? Were taught similar stories about the right ways to live? Did formal schooling? Worked indoors? Followed a similar faith tradition? Celebrated the same holidays? Lived on the same land where you live? Ate foods native to the land where you live? The hardest thing for most of us to fully accept is that in order to survive, we and our ancestors all appropriated from other cultures, and had our own cultures appropriated from. All earth beings move and trans-plant. For example, potatoes are native to the Andes, yet we often think of them in relation to Ireland. We are in living in a hopelessly multicultural world. Just think about the fact that one box of tea we buy for $3 is made from leaves grown in India, packaged in China from cardboard made in Bangladesh, then is shipped to England in a barge made in Denmark, and then distributed to our local supermarket chain owned by a German company. How complicated! (Image from here.)

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How do we practically honour the multicultural complexity of one product in our shopping cart?  How do we honour the complexity of our lineages, in terms of relationships with food, place, land, and spiritual traditions?  At what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the 1700s:

I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors…for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices…I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people…[Yet] the land, her spirits…even after all that has happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people…built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about reparations…[that will be] inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories.

If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

I see colonising behaviour all over modern cities today. We talk about ‘gentrification’ when people of traditionally more dominant and resourced cultural groups displace traditionally oppressed groups in the parts of a city where the oppressed groups had been forced to live. I consider this micro-colonisation, akin to the term micro-aggression. What if that’s the only place you can afford to buy a house? Does that mean you ethically shouldn’t? Should people with white skin never move to Oakland, California or to Redfern in Sydney, Australia? I don’t think so. But if you choose to, you have the responsibility to be honest about what is happening, feel the pain of others’ displacement along with the joy of your new placement, make amends and build positive connections with the people and land as best you can.

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Acknowledging the peoples and lands from which traditions emerge is a way to deeply honour ancestors and keep wisdom alive, and allows you to be a cultural bridge in new lands. The respectful intent and humble, teachable spirit with which you approach such activities is the main difference between honouring multiculturalism in our modern world and a the colonial, oblivious, blind, entitled, and greedy and grabby spirit of cultural appropriation. If you are honest about where you stand today and are able to honour your ancestral journey, however many mistakes and sacrifices you and your ancestors have made, you will have a much easier time honouring others’ cultural traditions.

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It also helps to keep in mind how fluid ancestry and identity is. Culture is so much more complicated than just tracing your blood lineage and labelling someone as indigenous or non-indigenous, black or white or brown-skinned. Just because you do not have a known ancestral lineage in Japan, for example, does not mean that you are culturally appropriating if you feel moved to practice aspects of Shintoism, learn to do a traditional tea ceremony, or how to brew your own sake. We multicultural moderns have much more similar journeys to drops of water that are re-cycled around the planet, evaporating from a lake into a cloud and flowing across the sky, falling as rain into a huge ocean, entering a jet stream that crashes as a wave against a rock across the world from where we started, and hanging out in a pool on that rock for a while. I personally think this modern mess we’re in is here to remind us that we’re all one big human family! (Image from here.)

Dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness practices are other great ways to connect with our ancestors, as well as donating time and money, building and tending ancestral altars, spiritual practices to heal unjust power dynamics and colonial wounds, supporting the revitalisation of indigenous languages, connecting with non-human ancestors of land and place, and reconnecting with languages and traditions of your ancestors.

Exercise: Modern people tend to use food and drink as the main tool for connecting with ancestry. Try branching out. If you have Gaelic ancestors, learn a few words and see how you feel speaking them, then put on music and see how your body naturally wants to move to it. You may have some moves burst out that you didn’t know about! Also, imagine how ancestors lived on the land where you are now. Did they used to fish by the river you walk along? Imagine how your ancestors used to live in faraway lands. Did they build a fire in the evening to heat their homes just like you are doing? One study found that just thinking about our ancestors and how they lived is beneficial to us! 

 

Cultural Shadows & Reflections

Our lives are an endless series of resolving tensions, or reconciling polarities. We navigate this process based on stories, beliefs, and spiritual tools we’ve learned, which differ by culture. Culture arises from the Earth below, and for the majority of us who come from immigrant, slave, refugee, or forced migration lineages, our sense of culture has been disconnected from land(s) of origin. This creates cultural shadows and reflections, which are different things.

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Think about a reflection from a lake: if the surface of the water is clear and still, the reflection maintains its form and colour, but size may be distorted by angle of perspective, uneven water surface, if we are bigger than the body of water reflecting us is able to show., and by warmth of the water – just look at the difference of the reflection of the trees from water and ice.

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Now think about a shadow: it distorts form, colour, and size. So it is a rather messy reflection of blocked light. The way shadows work, the closer we are to the source of the light, the larger the shadow appears. Placement and perspective have a huge influence on us, from how we see ourselves to how we survive in different environments.

Survival is primitive, root chakra, grounded energy. All Earth environments have a unique nature, which is why I agree with the perspective that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. This is nature; we all know that Earth environments and human cultures are diverse. We would aboriginalland.jpegnever expect someone from Northern Europe to have the same culture as someone from Australia. But when a bunch of people with Northern European ancestry move here (many unwillingly), what does that mean for the culture of the people and place now living on land we call Australia?

Most of us today are experiencing such a cultural transition. We are reconciling polarities of disorientation and loss as we let go of what does not serve us anymore, and trying to ground ourselves where we are. The lived experiences of our ancestors, the myths and teaching stories our elders have passed down, and collective wisdom that has allowed our lineages and tribes to survive has reached limits. Coming from cultures that are disconnected from the Earth where we live now, unpack a lot of shadows. Some of us fret about sustainability yet cling to old cultural stories and ways of being, while others seek to adapt and grow by learning through diversity, taking risks and trying new things. We seek new cultural forms to ensure the survival of our lineages and tribes, which requires sacrifice and risk. (Image from here.)

shadowbookWe literally become bridges between the land and cultures of our ancestors and a new land and culture. Our wild and crazy human journeys allow landforms like mountains and lakes, and trees that have been grounded in one place for centuries to travel vicariously through our reflections and learn what we’ve seen and experienced. What rich gifts we bring when we allow ourselves ground in a new environment. (Image from here.)

What drives us onward through the pain? What makes us want to endure the challenges of reconciling such vast polarities of energies in order to survive? It’s an innate, profound joy and gratitude that we are alive and embodied. And if we are open and humble enough, we can learn a lot about how to survive in our current environments from indigenous elders in person and in spirit. See if you can allow the Aboriginal elder’s joy in the video below to spark a memory of never feeling lonely because you are so connected with your environment and nourished by Mother Earth. 

If we remain shut down, overwhelmed, and closed to connecting with our new environments, we miss opportunities to ground polarities and transform ourselves, and instead become stories of fallen civilisations or evolutionary dead ends.

The Red Road

The concept of the Red Road comes from Westerner’s attempting to understand the way indigenous cultures of North America structure their lives and see the world, though I havehopiroadoflife heard people who identify with a North American tribe use the term too. (If you are not familiar with the concept of a medicine wheel, read this post first.) Consider the example of the Red Road from the Hopi who live in the Southwestern U.S. Look at the medicine wheel is in the centre alongside da Vinci’s re-drawing of the Vitruvian man. The belly down to the feet maps onto the lower world coloured in black which represents Mother Earth, the sacred feminine. I estimate the proportion of the Red Road in this lower world is about 80%. This means focusing 80% of our time and energy on standing up for our values, exploring the mystical side of life, and nourishing and expressing our creative energies. 

vitruvian.pngLiterally, this means keeping our hips open, our legs strong, and our bare or grounded feet firmly planted on the Earth. We talk about having our carbon footprints, but what about our physical ones? I practice walking so respectfully and gently that I imagine my feet are kissing Mother Earth with gratitude with each step. My respect is shown through wearing flat, primarily leather-soled shoes, as well as through the act of stepping. Consider how to walk silently and softly with fox walking, and compare those movements with how you normally walk through the world. (Here’s another video to help you practice fox walking.) Aside from yoga or pilates classes, I find most of us pay very little attention to how we physically move through the world. To be honest, I cringe when I see people walk in stiletto-like heels because it looks to me like they are stabbing Mother Earth. I also feel pain when people are very heavy-footed, because it looks like they are punching Mother Earth with each step.

Metaphorically, as one indigenous scholar describes it:

Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.

The path of the Red Road is mostly felt and sensed, and includes the mystery, magic, and miracles that arise through following signs and seeking synchronicities. It is more bottom-up than top-down, more grassroots than executive-led. Someone who walks the Red Road is more likely to be described as determined than headstrong. It reminds me of the Lakota morning prayer ‘Today is a good day to die”, which embodies living fully in the moment. In such a state, we harbour no regrets and are able to even let go into physical death if that is what is asked. It is being so attuned that there’s little to think through, life magically and consistently emerges and we are so allowing that living is like watching beautiful flowers blossom over and over again.Indigenous-Flag-RS.jpg

 

There is wisdom in the colour red, with some universal meanings present across cultures, such as: primal and sexual energy, blood and ancestry, fire and passion, and physical earth or clay. I am reminded of the colours of the Australian Aboriginal flag, with red representing Mother Earth, black representing Aboriginal people walking on Her, and the sun representing the creative life-giving energy connecting the people and the land. (Image from here.) I am similarly reminded of a current affairs story in Canada of an indigenous minister who resigned due to unethical political pressure from the prime minister, and another minister who resigned in solidarity. I find it apt these women chose to dress in black and red together as they took this historical stand. (Article about it and image from here.)

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Exercise: Regret is a grief about something left undone. When we are em-bodied there is nothing to re-member because we are living in the moment on the Red Road. Think of a regret. Is that dream still viable and important to you? If so, can you take a step towards fulfilling it and make a commitment to continuing on that path? If not, can you make time to grieve the loss of the dream and let it go, perhaps through some sort of ritual, so you can move on and allow new creative energy to flow?

Peace Circles

earthethospeacecircle“Stories are medicine…embedded with instructions” that guide us about how to live our lives (Estés, 1997). Practices of talking circles, or peace circles, have emerged within many cultures throughout known human history, though most modern Westerners don’t understand underlying cosmological foundations of these practices, which come from indigenous cultures. The talking circle is a metaphorical life tool of the medicine wheel. Being aware about what we are doing allows metaphor to bring ceremonies like talking circles to life (Rael, 1998). It is no mystery why, in Australia for example, when people with indigenous ancestry facilitate yarning circles, a type of talking circle, it feels different than when Westerners do. I learned why while working for a decade in the field of restorative justice. When we encouraged people to put altars in the middle of their circles, I had quite an aha moment when I saw what people were using to metaphorically represent the heart centre. “A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998).a

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time. (Image is a screenshot from an online gallery of Amazonian-Andean artist Juan Carlos Taminchi of ayahuasca visions.)taminchiartThe depth of relationships, and the experiences, feel quite different to participants. Similarly, instead of peace circles as a tool to help control behaviour or improve the way people speak and listen to each other as is common in westernised restorative justice practices based on a Judeo-Christian worldview, an Earth Ethos peace circle is an opportunity for a communal spiritual experience based on an indigenous cultural cosmology. Because of the intentional use of metaphor, it ought to feel different to participants (and certainly does to me) than simply sitting in a circle (or around a table where we are blocked from connecting with each other physically) and passing around a talking piece. Many indigenous peoples use oral traditions to preserve cultural wisdom. Verbal repetition and physical embodiment of teachings keeps them pure (Rael, 2015). An important aspect of any medicine wheel ceremony, including a peace circle, is purification or cleansing, opening participants’ hearts for sharing wisdom as a community. Purification is often symbolised through the use of smoke, or smudging.

ent.jpgHealing of, and prevention of, dis-ease requires ceremony. Ceremony is an important human practice connecting the visible material/physical world with the invisible, spiritual world. Life feels empty and unsatisfying when we do not do enough ceremony, and ceremonies are most powerful done regularly and intentionally in community (Rael, 1998). Disease in indigenous thinking is caused by natural and supernatural forces, where natural forces include things like cold air, germs, or impurities in food and water, and supernatural forces include things like upset social relations between people, with ancestors, or other beings such as spirits of the traditional custodians of a place (Sussman, 2004). (Image is a depiction of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s land spirits called the Ent, a tree spirit) Western concepts of unconscious or subconscious drives are similar to indigenous concepts of such spiritual forces (Holliday, 2008). When we focus our energy on cultivating healthy invisible environments based on values such as acceptance, non-judgment, inclusivity, compassion and empathy, we help purify our own hearts and the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm. Indigenous thinking teaches that our social reality is based on a fundamental understanding of life in which humans are interconnected with all of nature, and by participating in an Earth Ethos peace circle, we literally embody Mother Earth together by sitting in a circle with an altar at the centre honouring the interconnected web of life we are part of. If you’re in Sydney and want to join a monthly Earth Ethos peace circle, please contact me for more information.

The cynicism trap

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

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

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

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

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

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