Jews’ Indigenous Roots

Lately I have been working to ground some of my Jewish wounds through relating biblical stories to Indigenous cultural stories of that part of the world; my own intuition, lived experience and knowledge of archetypes and patterns in Indigenous science; and some western research such as archaeological findings. This post is to share some knowledge that I hope you will find interesting and of service as Judeo-Christian culture has had, and continues to have, a huge impact across the planet.

  • Ancient Jews honoured a male god and female goddess (and an ancient serpent creator)
    • Evidence in written texts at the time and archaeological evidence indicating that for two-thirds of the time the temple in Jerusalem existed (before it was destroyed and re-formed into what is now known as the Wailing Wall), it contained an altar for a male god (Yahweh) and a female goddess (often called Asherah), and that the goddess altar was removed and re-instated repeatedly until ‘the cult of Yahweh’ won out. Then the temple was destroyed. (See e.g. The Hebrew Goddess). There is similar evidence that for about a third of the time the temple existed there was an altar for a serpent creator being. Consider this about Asherah:
      • “Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel; it was only after the exile that worship of Yahweh alone became established, and possibly only as late as the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC) that monotheism became universal among the Jews.”
  • Ancient Jews used a medicine wheel (which Christianity integrated)
    • Biblical references of an ancient medicine wheel are described in Ezekiel and further symbolised in Christianity by the four evangelists Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. Here’s a quote from one of the Wikipedia articles linked above:
      • “The animals associated with the Christian tetramorph originate in the Babylonian symbols of the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the ox representing Taurus; the lion representing Leo; the eagle representing Scorpio; the man or angel representing Aquarius. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements of, respectively Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The creatures of the Christian tetramorph were also common in Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian mythology. The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists as the tetramorph…” (Image from Wikipedia is a 13th century Cluniac ivory carving of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the creatures of the tetramorph).
  • Ancient Jews saw human nature as a struggle
    • You know the story: because Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good & evil, they were kicked out of paradise. But did you know that there was a cherub with a flaming sword placed in the East (the direction symbolised by man and water) to block human access to the Tree of Life still at the centre of sacred garden? So we’re our own worst enemy…
    • I invite you to compare some images: Tree of Life by Gustave Klimt (where are the roots?), an image of the Tree of Life (called Yggadrasil in Norse mythology) by Friedrich Heine, and an Assyrian carving of the Tree of Life (roots?)

Note: the fruit representing human’s ‘sin’ isn’t specified literally as an apple in the Bible, but became an apple by integrating a Greek myth about Hesperides. I suppose any sweet fruit could be symbolic of the human struggle to endure pleasure and pain, but a red apple seems like a juicy sexual symbol since we all have red blood and we women have a small round clitoral pleasure spots that could be likened to ripe apples…

Reflecting on all of this, I am reminded of an essential feature of the primordial goddess archetype across Indigenous cultures: her nature embodies positive and negative attributes. Sometimes Mother Nature rages and spews volcanic ash over the lands where we live – and then out of that ash grow healthy plants that we can eat after some rain, sun, and time. The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is illustrated beautifully in this collection of cultural myths about the wild side of our feminine nature.  I see it as our job as humans to hold these aspects of our nature with both compassion and awareness. Where I live, for example, there are deadly crocodiles and snakes and other creatures. In order to survive, I need to accept that this land is not necessarily safe. I need to be able to live with danger. And to thrive, I need faith that safety still exists whether I am experiencing it in a given moment or not – that if I see a crocodile and adrenaline pumps through my heart and sends me running, I can come back to a feeling of safety again – and trust that there is something meaningful about such a terrifying experience. It’s not gone forever. (It’s like the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics.) Struggling to hold such paradoxes is to me, essential to being human.

Grounding these Jewish myths in context, while also remembering that a lot has been lost in translation – for example, the Hebrew word ‘shalom‘ which means peace, wholeness, harmony, well-being and hello/goodbye (a beautiful greeting & farewell!) is simply translated into English as ‘peace’ which doesn’t do it justice – is helping me hold my Jewish ancestors and our traumatic history more fully, and helping me access deeper compassion for Judeo-Christian/Western thinking and ways of being generally. Indigenous cultural roots are embedded in everything in the Bible – even the word ‘Eden‘ is from a Sumerian word meaning ‘plain or steppe’, which then became an Aramaic word meaning ‘fruitful, well-watered.’ Water is particularly precious when you live in a desert, and once we Jews were no longer living of our traditional country, we seem to understandably have lost connection with the goddess/sacred feminine aspect of being. In exile, we still have the stars in the sky above (the masculine aspect), so it makes sense we’ve leaned on that to survive and tried to retain some knowledge about how to live well with other earthly creatures in the Bible.

As a final note, I link Wikipedia often because it is open access, and I give thanks for such knowledge that is freely shared (the modern way), as well as secret spiritual knowledge shared in a specific way at a specific time with specific people often through a gruelling ordeal of initiation (the traditional way). Shalom!

Cry of the White fella

A poem by Lukas

Our position of dominance hides our shame and pain.

I see those white fellas who show up with their engrained sense of superiority manifesting as ignorance, hate and prejudice.

I see saviour types who subjugate their own pain under the yoke of guilt, forever seeking to unburden themselves of their shoulds: “This genocide should never have happened”; “They should have what I have now”; and most insidiously “With all that I have, I should be happier”.

And finally, I see those disassociated souls who seem perpetually determined to view things from a distance that renders things invisible. But of course that’s nonsense. To be numb does not mean the wound is not there.

I am and have been all of these white fellas. Just last week I cycled through two of them in the space of a few minutes. This panorama of experience is my blessing.

CharliesCountry I see us all suffering under the weight of unbridled intellect, greed and injustice. I see us all suffering from this ungrounded world we’ve created, oppressor and oppressed alike. The surface powerful and the surface powerless. And the other types of power, more hidden, mysterious.

We need to work together. We need to learn and grow together. We need to put down our shoulds with their biases and prejudices and take stances of openness.

We need to start with ourselves.

White fellas can start with simple questions: Do my feet really rest on solid ground? Does expansive and peaceful wisdom flow through me, or am I really just afraid and ashamed almost all the time?

I have the luxury of knowing that I am not alright. I read through a list of things to “help” the black fellas and there is not one thing that I myself don’t need also. I feel deep in my heart, mind, bones and spirit that in some form or another, I too need that medicine. All of it. I too need healthy connections with body, emotions, kin, community, culture, country, culture, law and spirit. 

I feel like a man looking upon an oasis with an overwhelming thirst the world does not recognise. It sees abundant hydration everywhere I tread my privileged white feet, while I see poison and trickery.

lukasgiftpainting

I never, ever, want to engage in a project to help only “them”, whoever “they” may be. That is fraud. How can someone so in need of help himself engage in anything but an exchange?

And so to their medicine needs to be my medicine, being as it is so deeply rooted in the earth where I now live. And the flexibility and grandeur of my people’s medicine, the laser-like linear time beam of problem-solving intellect, can do better work when anchored to the side of a mountain not roaring around ungrounded like the wind.

Addressing addiction

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.)

Fear is not a disease. We don’t have to fear ‘fear’. | EFT ...

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?)

Digital media use and mental health - Wikipedia


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:

Love and the Cosmic Pulse | Theosophy Watch
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

On Indigenous Science

Doing science with awe and humility is a powerful act of reciprocity with the more-than-human world.

— Robin Wall Kimmerer, Potowatami scholar

A blog by Valerie

Most of us when asked what ‘science’ is will start to think of beakers and men in lab coats doing chemistry experiments. However, that is a limited Western perspective on studying and cataloguing knowledge within a controlled environment. The root of the Latin word ‘science‘ is ‘to know’, which comes from an older root word meaning ‘to cut/split.’ This is why a Western scientist when trying to gain knowledge about a butterfly will likely describe the environment of its capture, then kill and preserve one to do things like measure its wing dimensions, look at parts of it under a microscope, document the patterns on its wings, and label it with a Latin title. This is a way to gain knowledge through cutting or splitting the butterfly from its environment.butterfly

In Indigenous science, we do not aim to gain knowledge through separation and examination in isolation with such an individual focus. We instead want to study the butterfly in its environment, and it might take a while, a year or more, to observe patterns of behaviours and direct relationships a butterfly is part of. For example, we may observe that the butterfly pollinates certain flowers that the bee does not tend to favour. We may observe that the butterfly blends very well against one tree, but is very visible against another tree, and this may tell us something about where its chrysalis is likely to be hiding. We may learn about cultural lore of an important butterfly dreaming site on country. And we may feel awe when a butterfly flutters by or, if we’re lucky, feels safe enough to land on our hand. We may feel inspired when reflecting on the butterfly’s lifecycle that is filled with immense physical change to make a change in our own lives, or to appreciate immense change we have been through ourselves. (Image from here)

Indigenous science offers us a different lens, a holistic perspective, for building and testing knowledge. Most of us are aware of the Western calendar with four seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall) and the equinoxes and solstices that mark celestial moments in an annual cycle. But many Indigenous cultures celebrated seasons specific to their country and its cycle of life. Here is a representation of the Jawoyn seasonal calendar from the land where we currently live around Katherine, NT:

jawoyncalendar

In nomadic or empire-building cultures where people travelled a lot, especially by boat, it made sense to mark seasons by celestial moments. But in Indigenous cultures where people developed deep relationships with a place where they experienced belonging, it made more sense to mark seasons by weather patterns, plant and animal movements and food sources. This included marking times of year to avoid certain foods too, like no fishing of barramundi during their breeding season out of respect. (For those of you in Sydney, here is a D’harawal seasonal calendar explaining six seasons of that country.)

Considering the opening quote, I find that Western science may be done with awe, maybe even humility, but rarely reciprocity with our non-human kin. And for those of us living off of our traditional country, I find it helpful to keep in mind what Kenneth Jacob of Wellesley Islands, Queensland explains:

Our law is not like whitefella’s law. We do not carry it around in a book. It is in the sea. That sea, it knows. Rainbow knows as well. He is still there. His spirit is still watching today for law breakers. That is why we have to look after that sea and make sure we do the right thing. We now have to make sure whitefellas do the right thing as well. If they disobey that law they get into trouble alright.

I leave you with the following principles of Indigenous science to consider, based on work by Oneida-Gaul scholar Apela Colorado:

  • Nothing is objective
  • Non-humans are included in research
  • Research is done as a ceremony
  • Time is nonlinear & cyclical
  • Privileges relationships
  • Holistic, draws on all senses (spiritual, emotional, physical, psychic)
  • Healing, ends with feelings of peace, balance, vitality
  • At the end, we have not transcended but are more fully present and embodied
  • Humour and light-heartedness are important to the process

allindig

Gifts of Colonialism

a blog by Valerie

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.)

TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Colonial Mentality

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.

Mahatma Gandhi Quotes Power | das leben ist schön zitate

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)

Will There Be Faith? | Peg Pondering Again

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:

Accepting Rejection

Blog by Valerie

Through my first formalised human spiritual teacher Tom Lake, I learnt how to describe a core teaching that defines my path: unconditional love and acceptance. However, English is a challenging language filled with binaries. When I explain my worldview as animist, I am instantly confronted with the binary shadow of inanimate, which is a concept at existential odds with animism and not something I want to retain. Similarly, when reflecting on acceptance, rejection seems to be at odds. How do we conceptually accept rejection when it emerges in our lives, and what do we do with it? We seem to like to talk about boundaries in Western culture lately, which I’ve previously written about. But rejection isn’t always a boundary issue in my experience. Rejection could be a call for healing a part of ourselves we have denied and the need to open ourselves up to change, or it could be used to reject what we are currently accepting and stand for something different. It is this latter definition I will reflect on today. th (474×307)

Experiencing rejection, or the need to reject something or someone, tends to feel unpleasant. Much has been written about gentler speech, saving face, and ‘not taking it personally’, whatever that really means, because all experiences are both personal and universal in my world, and that keeps my sense of self engaged without feeling deflated and inflated in an existential crisis state. Rejection, like feeling or experience, can be approached with curiosity and playfulness. Giving rejection might seem the easier than receiving or witnessing it because it comes with more agency and control, but it isn’t pleasant to know our words or actions are likely to bring up pain in another person, so many of us choose to avoid confrontation. We might reject someone by ‘ghosting’ them and not calling or writing back; or we might say we want to move on and ‘break up’ or otherwise express our need to change the boundaries and dynamics of a relationship.

Seed Ways Internally, when we have rejected a part of our ‘self’, we might need to sit with painful feelings such as anger and mistrust and rebuild a relationship, for example, with an aspect of our inner child who was judged as ‘lazy’ and felt ashamed about it. When we become our own parents, we can teach that part of our self that resting and going slowly is something we value and are sorry they were judged and shamed for it. As we can start enjoying resting and being lazy, we accept and move through feelings of shame and thoughts of judgment and whatever else we took onboard as a child, allowing healing to occur for a wounded part of our self. While accepting our ‘self’ and all these feelings, we are rejecting the previous teaching (lazy = shameful, unworthy, etc.). In this way, we can find ourselves on a path of rejecting what we’ve thought of us as our core self – including culture, identity/self, family/blood, sexuality, etc. (Image from here.)

For me, accepting my self has involved ongoing rejection of foundational teachings and experiences from my childhood and allowing my sense of self to heal and be redefined. The path I was set up on was a literal dead end, tragic and painful. There was no way for me to survive but to accept that for what it was and go on a journey of allowing that old world to self-destruct, land on a solid yet rocky foundation of rubble, and start rebuilding in a better way. I have found that the accept myself/reject past teachings process has become less dramatic and intense over time, at least through my experience, but not necessarily through outsiders’ witnessing of my journey. th (474×147)

When I think about what I was taught and forced to accept to survive as a child: a slave mindset, abusive environment, neglectful family, a community in collective trauma and denial – no wonder I have rejected this world! Something wise and vital inside me knew there was more, and if I could see glimpses of it in my inner world (like in dreams at night, stories my dad told, and in moments of peace in the wilderness), then I knew it could emerge outside of me, and I wanted it. Turns out the path towards that healthful state has involved rejecting a lot of what I don’t want and affirming my faith in a vibrant state of being that I do want. And holding concepts as paradoxes is the best way I’ve found to navigate the trickiness of the English:

To continue walking this path of unconditional love and acceptance I have needed to ongoingly act in ways that affirm how much I love and accept my vitality and that I place trust in the universe/Great Spirit bigger than myself. This has required moving through a lot of shadowy spaces filled with trauma, terror, disgust, pain, denial, betrayal, grief, loss…which has shown me new spaces of beauty, resilience, awe, gratitude. I am in awe, actually, of how far off track my Jewish ancestors were from well-being and how many generations have survived in a state of perpetual intergenerational trauma, and I know they are not unique given what is happening on the planet lately.

melon seeds transformed into sacred fertility mandalaLike everything else in the universe, knowledge cannot be created nor destroyed, it can just only change form. Indigenous knowledge ‘destroyed’ or ‘lost’ lives in shadows, the subconscious, and can be re-accessed in meditative/altered/visionary states of being through ceremony and ritual. Recent work done by WISN is a good illustration of this wisdom emerging through dreaming (videos: intro, 1, 2, 3 & 4) before it comes into physical form through us. Accepting the wisdom of such collective dreams helps participants affirm that they are not alone and crazy in what they are seeing and is a step towards rejecting the hellish collective reality most of us are currently navigating. By accepting a nonjudgmental rejection of dis-ease, we celebrate a journey towards vitality and affirm that wellness is both the birthright and natural state of us human beings. These days when I go for something and experience rejection, I feel pain and also excitement, because I know there must be something even better to go for that I didn’t imagine before.  (Image from here.)

Stories, beliefs & their shadows

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

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

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

new-age

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

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

Belief - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sacred Feminine

 

Springtime Cottonwoods, Dunes, and Medano Creek | NPS ...In 2016 I danced a healing ceremony on Tiwa country in view of their Place of Emergence (now the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, U.S., image from here.) It was the height of summer when we arrived, easily 40C, and a few people were already hard at work building a sweat lodge. Below are my photos of the bones of the lodge, including a medicine wheel made especially for the ‘crown’ facing the heavens (as you can see in the lodge’s shadow), as well as a photo of me. 

When I started writing this blog, it was the winter solstice where I now live, and two days ago marked the Aphelion here, when the Earth is farthest from the sun on its elliptical orbit. (In the other hemisphere you had summer solstice and the Periphelion where you were closest to the sun.)

During the ceremony, which was near summer solstice, it was stinking hot during the day and quite intense to be dry fasting in the desert. But the altitude meant that it cooled down at night, so in the morning when we woke at sunrise with chants and prayers of thanks as Grandmother Moon set and Grandfather Sun rose in the sky, it was pleasantly cool out. Without giving away more than is respectful, I can share that the ceremony started with a sweat lodge, then took place in a dance arbour with a small, resilient tree at the centre. There was drumming and chanting and dancing (and dry fasting as I mentioned), and sleeping outside for a few nights. During this dance I had the most profoundly sacred feminine healing experience of my life, and as I’m writing this, I’m realising that it’s significant that took place around summer solstice, when in my medicine wheel the sacred masculine is at its height of power.

Trail and Park Reviews: Zapata Falls, Frozen Glacial ...The desert strips away all that isn’t necessary, and like the bones of the sweat lodge, shows us what we are made of. During the ceremony I witnessed layer upon layer of trauma and grief being stripped from me. This was not new, but something I had been going through for some years. But when I found myself falling to my knees at tree in the centre of the arbour, I felt something different. I felt how deeply that tree, that country and those people loved me, and how very wanted I was by Mother Earth. I hadn’t realised how disconnected from my inherent worthiness I had been, and I cried tears of gratitude for the gift of knowledge reminding me of this. I felt quite weak at that point and soon after completed the dance, breaking my fast with a cup of mint iced tea. The next couple of days were filled with play, including hiking the sand dunes and finding oases to swim in the desert, such as an icy cold waterfall (Image of Zapata Falls from here) and a natural spring pool where I rented a swimsuit for $1. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I guess a few people show up in the desert surprised to find a natural spring pool and want to swim too!

When I left the desert after this experience, I felt raw and shaky, yet stronger in my body than I had been in this lifetime. And everywhere I went I kept seeing people who hadn’t yet connected with the Sacred Feminine and didn’t seem to know their worth, or how much we are all loved by Mother Earth, even as our behaviours and lifestyles wound Her. It helped me see the depth of wetiko in the world, and it helped me find my way to people who are as grounded as I am and consciously aware of the depth of pain and disconnection we are all in with our modern city living. It takes time and effort to integrate these teachings into our daily lives, and as one of Tiwa Elder Beautiful Painted Arrow’s (Joseph Rael’s) students shared in a recent blog, Joseph reminds us in his new book that “You have to go through separation before you can go through reunion” & “If everything is considered holy you are always in training.”

cleanupyourmess

At the winter solstice, where we connect deeply with the darkest light of our being, the light from which all coloured and bright light (and life) emerges, I remember this healing experience. And I give thanks for the Sacred Feminine, Mother Earth, and all mothers within and without. I give thanks for all the work I’ve put in so far to bring that knowledge fully into being in my world, and give thanks for the humility of how much work is still needed, mirrored in moments of trauma, pain and shadow emerging stronger than that sacred knowing of the worthiness of it all. Of every struggle. Here’s to us wild and crazy humans, and to Mother Earth who’s always supporting us whether we realise it or not. And to continuing to clean up our messes to show Her that we know how valuable we all are and that we want to honour that by living well. (Image from here.)

Wishing you a meaningful solstice season, whichever hemisphere you’re living in, and deepening of your conscious connection with the Sacred Feminine over the coming months.

The Archetypes of Bullying

Blog by Lukas

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

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

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

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

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

The archetypes are as follows:

1. The Ringleader.

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

2. The Casual Bully

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

3. The Bystanders

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

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

4. The Henchman

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

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

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

5. The Bully Victim

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

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

Pathetic

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

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

6. The Victim

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

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

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

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

7. The Helpers

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

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

8. The Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Two-Eyed Seeing: Gift & Privilege

The word gift has a very interesting etymology. I remember being surprised as a child to learn that Gift meant ‘poison’ in German. Turns out it means ‘poison’ in modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish too. The story goes that the proto-Germanic verb geftiz (to give) led to German’s geben (to give), and Gift (poison), the latter coming from dosis (a giving) in Greek (dose in English) being used to describe a portion (potion) of medicine given to a person who is sick. That this supposed medicine came to mean poison perhaps says a lot about how Germanic people felt about foreign medicines being brought in, but anyway.

Fungi - Wikipedia

This dichotomy got me thinking about gifts and how they differ from privileges. The etymology of privilege is from Latin meaning ‘private law’ – it is inherently an individualistic concept. The word privilege sure is thrown around a lot, and I do mean thrown – it often feels like it’s sent to people by throwing a word-spear with a poisonous arrow on the end. I can speak truthfully about painful gifts I’ve received in my life – familial betrayal, sexual violation, maternal abandonment, social rejection – and I can relate to both the English meaning of ‘gift’ and the germanic ‘poison’ meaning. In some parts of our lives we are all called up on to turn shit into fertiliser, to be like bacteria and fungi and allow the natural process of decay to enrich us and create space for rebirth.

The current mainstream social story around ‘privilege’ is to label people with certain perceived privileges from a Western materialist, capitalist, Euro-centric, Judeo-Christian (dare I say white supremecist) worldview, and expect people to be aware of them. From this perspective, I am privileged because I grew up middle class, in the U.S., I have light skin, received high-level formal Western education, have strong English language skills, etc. Yet from my Indigenous East Frisian worldview, this concept is an imposition – the only word that relates to this idea of privilege refers to whose turn it is to go when two people (or wagons) are at a crossroads. And from my Jewish-American worldview, the idea that Jews are accepted as ‘Western’ and ‘white’ is so new it feels incredibly insecure and desperate to consider myself part of that story, and I see many Jews become the neurotic caricatures outsiders expect them to be within a larger Western story. (Woody Allen anybody?)

I find the concept of Two-eyed Seeing by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall is very useful here. It focuses on seeing the strengths of Western and Indigenous worldviews and making space for multiple perspectives and consciousnesses. (Image from here.)

ACHH | Two-Eyed Seeing

There are different ways that we can practice two-eyed seeing. For example, the Mi’kmaw model sees their cultural worldview and the Western worldview as somewhat overlapping and somewhat distinct, as in this Venn diagram showing room for knowledge-sharing and learning from each other:

twoeyed

Another approach is the Braided Rivers approach that sees Maori and Western knowledges as distinct streams that need to be woven together to create a new system of knowledge based on the strengths of both worldviews.

maoririvers

As Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar said:

A degree of alienation from one’s culture, a deep exposure to other worldviews and even a temporary period of living ‘as others’ may indeed be necessary for heightening one’s perceptions about the culture and society one is born into.

poverty

By all means let’s confront our Western privilege, and while we’re at it, let’s reflect on what we privilege in our lives (and what we want to be privileging). For example, I privilege peace and balance. And when I think about the Western material privilege I grew up with, I also think about the imbalances that went along with it – spiritual desolation, mental illness, and physical and emotional pain – and to rebalance and find peace, my healing journey included many years of renouncing material privilege to strengthen other aspects of my being. The imbalance was a gift, to be sure, but a privilege? I’m not sure. I see that distinction as cultural. In closing, I am reminded of this photo from a small town in the Amazon that encapsulates my two-eyed seeing approach to gifts and privileges (translation: The poverty is in your head and not in your pockets…).