Anxiety Online

By | December 14, 2016

 

I have longtime friends and associates who I’ve always known to be kind and thoughtful. Yet something happens to them at times when they are on Facebook, Twitter, or e-groups. They become bullies. They shame and troll. They criticize and judge. I see the tendency in myself. What comes over us that makes us objectify others, see them as one-dimensional, and define them by their worst mistakes? What is this cyberspace curse?

Let’s start with a definition of terms:
Trolling – posting deliberately inflammatory, offensive, or provocative statements to elicit a charged response. Usually done in a cynical or sarcastic tone, to sow discord or start arguments. Also known as baiting.
Shaming – causing someone to feel inadequate, inferior, or embarrassed by comparing with self, others, or an ideal. Objectifies and one-dimensionalizes. Typically done by ideologues to those who don’t match up to their belief systems or expectations.
Bullying – repeated use of aggression, force, or influence to abuse, intimidate, dominate, or manipulate. There is a real or imagined power imbalance. Often practiced by those with mental disorders.

When we can’t look into each other’s eyes, we don’t know how our words affect others.
This makes the issue of cyberabuse hard to address, and sometimes even to identify. Here are the two basic guidelines to follow when working with both abusers and those affected:
1. Listen closely and empathetically. For those affected, this is a very personal issue, so rather than coming from objective perspective, we must gain a deep sense of what they are experiencing.
2. Refrain from rating or comparing. To recipients, trolling is trolling and shaming is shaming. Being more or less shamed or bullied is irrelevant to them.

The core reason for taking these debasing practices at face value is that they hold one point in common—they cause stress. More often than not, this stress becomes chronic, as most perpetrators are persistent. Unresolved chronic stress morphs into trauma. For those already traumatized, these practices are a regular post-traumatic stress trigger.

Cyberabuse becomes such a serious matter for the recipients because of their vulnerability:
– They are typically alone and have no support.
– They have no way to adequately convey their feelings.
– Their online communities may have no clue as to what they are experiencing.
– They become susceptible to a host of coping mechanisms, including substance abuse, depression, and suicidality.

To Own It, We Need to Feel It
“But that’s not me!” Was my first reaction after reading over my newly finished definitions for trolling, shaming, and bullying. To be more specific, it was my ego that reacted. And I’m glad he did, because it caused me to reflect and realize that cyberabuse was my personal issue as well, as I’ve been on both the giving and receiving ends.

As well, I came to realize that I needed more than definitions to personalize this issue with people who had healthy (I’d insert a ☺ here if it was in my vocabulary) egos like mine. So I asked a couple of my therapist colleagues how I might help people see their roles as perpetrators without coming across as…well…trolling, shaming, or bullying.

One of them thought definitions were too academic and distancing. “Approach it on a feeling level,” she said, “and people will relate.”
Another concurred, saying that the easy way to tell when someone—including himself—is bullying, trolling, or shaming “is when they are being a prick.” Now that’s getting right down to a feeling level.
Someone else told me that being shamed feels like being the victim of identity theft. Another person said the hardest part is feeling objectified. Being bullied, said another, is like experiencing life on fast-forward, out of control. Everything starts spinning; you can’t get grounded. Trolling causes someone else to feel disrespected and worthless.

The Shamer’s Edge
Shaming is so unnerving because the shamer strikes from the fantasy platform of how idealistic people pretend life to be, which leaves the shamed person alone to struggle with how complex we really are (Monica Lewinsky: ‘The Shame Sticks to You like Tar’ by Jon Ronson in The Guardian, April 16, 2016).

Identify It When It’s Happening
Here are the common indicators that I notice when shaming, trolling, or bullying is occurring. Someone is:
– Talking down to a person.
– Labeling, marginalizing, or building a case.
– Not addressing someone by name.
– Using only you statements.
– Pushing an agenda and not listening.
– Picking an argument.

Take Responsibility
In researching this topic, I have come across a number of solutions. The most effective and far-reaching ones involved taking personal responsibility, whether it was for one’s own actions or another’s. When I become aware of the dynamic and take responsibility for my role in it, I create options. I can desist from engagement, work to change its trajectory, or seek professional help.

From the perspective of avoiding or eliminating chronic stress, I recommend these two self-empowered approaches:
1. Create empathy. In the same way that we find it easy to gossip about someone not present, we get caught up in the cyberspace curse. Whenever we are posting or texting (or receiving a message) and something doesn’t feel right, we can imagine that we are connecting with a close friend or lover. Right away we should be able to tell whether we are addressing (or been addressed as) a person or a concept (‘You Want to Know What They’re Writing, Even If It Hurts: My Online Abuse’ by Homa Khaleeli, in The Guardian, April 15, 2016). If this is still not clear, check the indicators I just listed.
2. Create a new narrative. Whenever there is cyberabuse, there is an imbalance of power, status, or values. This creates competing narratives, which are obvious with aggressors, and they can be disguised with enablers or passive victims. When we can take personal responsibility, we can write our own narrative, which either puts us on equal—and relationally responsible—footing in the relationship, or terminates the relationship (Lewinsky – The Guardian, 2016).

And Take Action!
Cyberabuse does not dissipate on its own, even if the actual abuse stops. Like paper trails, cyber trails persist. Even more, they are easily available to an ever-widening audience. And memories continue to evolve the story. Create a new, self-empowering narrative and your story is less likely to come back and haunt you. 

Creating Cyberabuse-Free Communication
With trolling, it is important to avoid arguing, which is one of the troller’s favorite weapons. On top of that, the dynamics of internet discourse provoke arguing. Exchanges are often fast, one-dimensional, and not well thought out, which makes them subject to misinterpretation and encourages contention and reactiveness. In the words of Darsh Singh, an alternative investment portfolio manager, “The internet is the worst place to argue with people—it’s a wasteland in terms of logic and thoughtfulness.” (‘You Want to Know What They’re Writing, Even If It Hurts: My Online Abuse’ by Homa Khaleeli, in The Guardian, April 15, 2016)

With shaming, I follow the advice of the native elders I apprenticed to when I was young: accept shame and criticism with gratitude, then look for the grain of truth in it. Monica Lewinsky, who may be the most shamed person in the past twenty years, echoes the elders when she says, “Integrate the experience, the faster the better.” There is a very practical reason for the immediacy: survival. “Shame sticks to you like tar,” says Monica. If we try to escape the shame, we get shamed for that (Lewinsky – The Guardian, 2016). The alternative to action? Chronic stress—and maybe trauma—with all of the debilitating aftershocks.

With bullying, some people try to either squelch it or defend themselves by being the bigger bully. This is sure to backfire, as it sanctions bullying and increases the stress load on all involved. Instead, we can recognize that bullies (along with many who accept being bullied) are wounded and externalizing their pain on others in an effort to find some relief. It then becomes possible for us to relax our defensive-aggressive boundaries and take responsibility by empowering ourselves with the two approaches we just covered: create empathy and create a new narrative.

We all need a safe haven. When we head home at the end of the day, we look forward to being with those who will listen to our story. We want to be in caring, supportive company, where we can unwind and recharge for our next venture out.

Many of us find this compassionate community on the internet. When we no longer feel safe going there—going home—it can feel as though we have been abandoned. When those we trust and care for start to criticize and belittle us, it can sting as intensely as if we were being skinned alive.

Alone we are lost. Together we can create the home that calls us back.

Understanding Our Core Nature Through the Three Archetypes

By | November 16, 2016

4822121599_97585d692c_bWe can understand the intertwined experience of the archetypes the same way we understand the harmony of organs within an organism. Our eyes are the Guardian; our hands, the Nurturer; and our mouth, the Communicator. Each serves a distinct role, and yet there may be times when we communicate with our eyes or see with our hands. Meanwhile, the role of the archetypes in our clan or community can be understood through the metaphor of the senses: the Guardian is sight; the Nurturer, touch; and the Communicator, voice. The archetypal role is fluid and interchangeable, although the purpose served by each role is very specific. For example, even if we are seeing with our hands, we still identify the experience as one of seeing.

Understanding the archetypal energy resonating in you can help you access part of your core self—the base of your healing. When you can better recognize your own archetypal energy, you can also better understand how to enter into relationship with others. With that in mind, below we will examine each of the three archetypes up close.

Guardian Archetype
Guardians have the ability to keep perspective, to organize, and to lead. They know how to put people into the right place. They are charismatic and other people are naturally inclined to follow them. They are also able to represent their people or certain interests and often serve as message bearers and emissaries.

Contemporary culture has exaggerated the role of the Guardian to a permanent character trait or position. In reality, it is much more dynamic. Leadership in the old way was based on the people deferring to a particular individual in a particular instance, and so it had more to do with contextual characteristics like knowledge, competence, skill in a particular area, etc. rather than simply aggression or entitlement.

Many of the people to whom we ascribe characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) would be apt for the role of the Guardian in hunter-gatherer cultures. ADD symptoms, such as the inability to stay focused on one thing or follow through on something, are actually desirable Guardian characteristics. The Guardian’s role is to keep tabs on what is going on all around the camp; however, if he gets lost in a project, things could slip by his attention. His role is to notice things that need doing, so that other people can follow up on them. That keeps him free to continue scouting and being on watch.

Guardian behavior is also often seen in organized team sports—with their fast-paced action, competition, and need to maintain perspective on multiple moving targets. In our present culture, team sports are often the only place people still have access to Guardian-like training and a clan-based mentality.

Nurturer Archetype
Nurturers naturally seek to create space around them that supports soul-to-soul communication and connections that go beyond a person and into the realm of ancestral relationship. Just being in the presence of a Nurturer can often feel like being in sacred space or enveloped in maternal energy. These individuals serve their clan by preserving and healing interpersonal bonds—they are the figures that hold the clan together and ensure its long-term survival.

In the old times, I imagine Nurturers were the people who “recognized” the new members of the clan and could “see” how they would come to serve within the clan. They also would have been ideally suited with helping their people in the choosing of mates, something I think we underestimate the value of in today’s culture.

Although a Nurturer may not demonstrate the sharp aggression of a Guardian or Communicator, she or he may nonetheless be assertive. At the root of this archetype is sensitivity or the ability to perceive and respond with a nurturing intent. Even if temporarily clothed in aggression or assertiveness, the Nurturer’s role is one of softness.

The archetype of the Nurturer figures strongly in interpretations of the archetypes through gender. The question then becomes whether you have the brain of a “nurturer” or a “provider”. Now, although nurturing is providing and providing is nurturing, we can consider them distinct roles, with nurturing associated with the female and providing associated with the male.

Behavioral gender differences are common throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. In only a tiny handful of animal species are male and female offspring raised differently, yet virtually all of them display specialized gender behaviors. Humans are one of those few species who tend to give gender-specific attention to their children. Yet we need to be careful about assuming that we have a nurture-vs-nature situation here—it could theoretically just as well be nurture magnifying nature.

Generally speaking, the evolution of gender roles goes something like this: women are generally the gatherers and men are the hunters; with women being oriented to the hearth and men drawn to scouting. With our early domestication, women turned to gardening and men to herding. The next stage found women spinning and men handling the draft animals. Setting aside the question of male and female capacities, what we know is that men and women served distinct evolutionary roles. In terms of our core nature, the gender roles are not in a hierarchy—much like the archetypes, they simply reflect our personal energy and the ways we may best serve our community.

Gender is a key factor in how our minds evolved and function, so it ought to be considered in recognizing who we are as psycho-emotional beings, and thus how it might also have affected our woundedness. With that said, it is only one factor and is not wholly deterministic, even though the archetypes are typically viewed as gendered: with Nurturers as females, Guardians as males, and Communicators as male. In actuality, the archetypal energies can manifest in a person of any gender.

Communicator Archetype
Plenty Coup, Chief of the Crows, is remembered for his ability as a leader to create consensus, maintain perspective on options, and for the loyalty of his people even in the midst of detractors and criticism. Each of these accomplishments speaks to his archetypal energy as a Communicator.

In our culture it is common to see Communicator energy warped into its raw form, aggression, which can then be channeled into power addiction, deception, demagogy and control. This aggressor energy is used to keep our hierarchical system running. Strong aggressors are most likely to make their career up to high positions in politics, economy or church. They are the most “successful” in our society.

In Traditional cultures, the Communicator mirrors the needs of the group, whatever they might be. She stands simultaneously at the fore and in the background. She knows that in order for the clan to flourish, all of individuals in the clan need to be flourishing. When complacency settles in, the Communicator injects chaos into the mix and in that way serves the precursor to change.

A small change orchestrated by the Communicator can send a ripple through the group that brings forth a transformation, so it is important that every ear be attuned to the Communicator’s conducting. Although either Guardians, Nurturers, or Communicators can sniff out what is out of balance and needs to be addressed, it is the Communicator who usually initiates the corresponding action.

The contemporary and traditional understanding of the Communicator stems from the two kinds of
aggression that exist. The Latin roots of the word ‘aggression’— ad and gredi—basically mean stepping forward. In regular usage, the term has two definitions:
Someone who attacks.
Someone who initiates a course of action.

Contemporary culture most often associates aggression with only the antagonism of the first definition. Traditional cultures, however, more often use the second (which in common parlance you might describe as assertiveness). Initiating a course of action depends on good communication. It depends on the ability to hear all the perspectives and see all the needs of the circle and from there discern what the circle needs and where it needs to go. Whereas Guardians will be more much cautious and skeptical, as their role is to be on alert for where the clan is vulnerable, Communicators are confident. They must be, in order to effectively lead the clan on a particular course of action or to negotiate on its behalf with another clan.

The three archetypes—the Guardian, the Nurturer, and the Communicator—are not concrete roles, but rather “patterns of energy” that emanate from our limbic system. Each of us exhibits an energy pattern that corresponds to one of the archetypes. Our archetypal energy provides us with an indicator of the role we may play to best serve our community.

To Listen is to Honor

By | September 26, 2016

The following is an excerpt from my latest book, Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and PlantsTo learn more or to order your own copy, visit my Amazon.com page here

Wolf CommunicationI learned to connect with animals nonverbally when I went to live with Wolves. At first, I thought we spoke different languages, as I couldn’t understand their words, and they were lost with mine. Initially I thought I could train them to recognize some of my words, as I did with my dogs. However, the more I got to know the Wolves, the more I saw how complete they were already, and the more I felt like an outsider. Making them join my world by learning my language just didn’t seem right—I realized that I would be demeaning them by implying that my language was superior to theirs. I humbled myself before them and began listening instead. 

Although I learned many of their words by listening, I soon realized that I was still missing something. I began to notice that their communications went well beyond the few words they used. Ever so gradually, I grew more sensitive to the silent voice on which they often relied.

What a revelation it was to be immersed in a world of sharing that was not voice reliant but instead based on intuition. Had I insisted on word-based communication, I would have only stymied my reawakening. And I would likely have drawn the conclusion that Wolves were simple creatures, capable of only basic communication.

A few years ago I learned about a young woman who spent her early childhood locked away in a corner of her house. She had learned only the rudiments of spoken language, so when she was found and rescued, the social welfare team put great effort into getting her verbal skills up to speed. 

Because of their focus, it took them awhile to recognize that she could communicate very well without words. If only they could have listened at the onset.

To listen is to honor. Every human, animal, plant, and supposedly nonliving entity has something to teach us, and as soon as we recognize this we can start to truly listen. When we listen to Nature without a goal or objective, we learn amazing things and cultivate new relationships. Along with that, we gain new insights regarding our place in the Hoop of Life.

Has Kombucha Gotcha?

By | August 12, 2016

A recent stroll past the beverages section of my local natural foods store revealed five brands of kombucha in twenty-five plus flavors. In addition, there was kombucha soda pop—six or seven kinds. At the deli counter, I noticed kombucha on tap—eight flavors. Yet all I had to do to discover this latest health food craze was take a peek in our school’s glass recycling bin. Yep, mostly kombucha bottles.

For fifty years I’ve watched food fads rise and fall. First it was whole-wheat, which turned out to be just as high-glycemic as white. Then there was soy, until we learned that it packs estrogen. More recently, we have probiotics and coconut oil, even though the former turned out to be no better than eating foods that support healthy gut flora, and the proliferation of plantations producing the latter are destroying precious jungle.

But kombucha seems different. The health claims are taller—it’ll cure everything from terminal cancer to a bad date. And its adherents possess a conviction that reminds me of friends who believe in Sasquatch and aliens living amongst us. I had to know more about this latest miracle elixir.

A tad of research revealed that kombucha is a yeast-bacteria ferment of sweetened green or black tea. It contains the common by-products of fermentation, which includes acetic (vinegar), oxalic, and lactic acids. Nothing special there.

A little more poking around brought up evidence of glucaric acid, which is normally found in fruits and vegetables. It is said to aid in liver detoxification. And the acids in general can reduce the bloated feeling frequently gotten after eating starchy foods. Still, this could hardly account for my comrades downing bottle after bottle at nearly four bucks a crack—especially considering the thin stipend we all lived on.

It turns out that kombucha contains around 1-1½ % alcohol (about 1/3 of what beer contains), around half of the caffeine found in green or black tea, and residual sugar. Could these three ingredients be working synergistically to create the burst of energy and euphoric feeling that people experience? Perhaps these mood-altering and stomach-settling effects—along with effective advertising—contribute to kombucha’s addictive nature and its reputation for having healing properties. Whatever the case, this fizzy sweet-and-sour potion has become the drink of choice for many of my new-age friends.

I must report that along with kombucha’s real and imagined health benefits, I came across these cautions:

  • Prolonged use may lead to liver damage and allergic reactions.
  • Oxalic acid is known to bind with calcium, which makes it unavailable for assimilation.
  • Acetic acid (vinegar) can destroy red blood cells, and it is an irritant which depletes digestive enzymes.
  • Lactic acid, typically a waste byproduct of overextended muscles, must be metabolized by the liver, which robs the body of energy.
  • When yeasts enter the digestive system, they set up a climate conducive to viruses.

I doubt that the occasional bottle of kombucha is going to cause any harm. Aside from the above, my main concern for those who consume it regularly is the risk of creating a false sense of well-being. The kombucha high may either mask health issues or divert attention from them. It can also serve as a substitute for the proper diet and lifestyle practices that foster organic health and support core healing.

The Probiotics Gold Mine

By | July 15, 2016

Yogurt, a great source of probiotics, is a boon to health because it helps establish healthy intestinal flora, right? The same is true of kombucha and other cultured foods, isn’t it? And how about probiotic capsules with billions of live cultures and dozens of strains?

This is what the food industry would have us believe, as they profit tremendously from this long-standing and mushrooming health fad. They want us to continually consume these products, thinking that they are essential to our health, or at least an important contributor. It turns out that there are two holes in their treasure ship, and either one is big enough to sink it:

Number 1: Prebiotics

Foods that support the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which are called prebiotics, work just as well as probiotics. Consuming foods that are high in fiber and fat, and low in starch and sugar-based calories, have the same effect on our intestinal flora as probiotics, without the side effects that come with their consumption. All dairy, for example, has naturally-occurring growth hormones and antibiotics that stress the immune system. They work well for growing cows, but not mature humans The energizing effect from most cultured and fermented foods comes from the sugar, alcohol, vinegar, caffeine, and/or other stimulants they contain.

Number 2: Damaging Diet

Probiotics allow us to live on the typical Western diet without gaining weight. Many people comment on how good they feel since they’ve started to eat yogurt or drink kombucha on a regular basis: They feel light, and they’re able to maintain a good figure. Yet in the long run, they end up suffering from the deleterious effects of their diet that probiotic consumption masks. This is not the case with prebiotics, which in and of themselves constitute a healthy diet.

Those who have not yet stoned me as a heretic ask the inevitable question: “Where, then, do we get healthy gut bacteria from?” The same place we’ve gotten it from before designer foods and costly pills came on the scene. For millions of years, we’ve had a source that provided many more strains of gut flora than could ever be packed in a pill. It was custom-designed for each individual and his/her specific living environment. To top it off, it was free and fun to consume. Okay, enough teasing—it’s nature.

Next question: how do we get nature into our gut? Here’s the fun part:

  • Sit on the ground, play in the dirt, garden.
  • Touch rocks and plants, climb trees.
  • Spend time around animals.
  • Eat raw food, washing it only when necessary.
  • Hug people, hold hands, make love (yep, we are nature).

We often suppress these rich, local sources with our hygiene practices. Hyper-cleanliness, along with antibacterial soaps, alcohol-based sanitizers, and household cleaners are the big culprits. Instead, use vinegar, castile soap, bicarbonate of soda, and lemon juice. And let’s not overlook what may be the most ubiquitous suppressant of healthy gut functioning: stress.

There’s one more source that gave our ancestors a constant stream of intestinal flora: wild water. Hold a glass of clear pond or creek water up to the light and you will see a plethora of tiny organisms. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: put a drop under a microscope and prepare to be wowed. I don’t know that there is any better source for gut colonizers other than another animal’s gut.

However, DO NOT start drinking living water until the source has been thoroughly tested for pathogens and contaminants—and until you have been instructed in the proper protocol for introducing it into your diet.

It might appear that my primary motivation for this piece is to burst the you-need-us bubble that the health food industry has created. Even more so, I want to say that we typically don’t need to do anything extra to maintain our health when we reconnect with nature. This includes our psycho-emotional health as well. We have a tremendous innate capacity to maintain our wellness. All we have to do is break our codependent relationship with “health” food and return to an interdependent relationship with the land, water, plants, and animals—with nature.

Inspiration #3: How Idealism Keeps Us Sick

By | July 6, 2016

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with my therapist colleague, and this awareness is another one of the reasons why.

Ideals can play an important role in guiding our lives. At the same time, ideals can keep us crippled and dysfunctional. I see people-me included–hiding behind relationship ideals when we don’t want to admit our pain or inability to resolve differences. We hold ideals up as banners for action when we are unsure of ourselves and need justification for what we do. We use ideals to impassion and motivate us when it doesn’t come spontaneously from within. Even when we lack a reason for being, we can adopt a fill-in ideal.

When I ascribe to an ideal and feel threatened or criticized, I often find that the best defense is to be offended. I then don’t have to speak in the first person: you are talking to my beliefs, not me. I don’t have to acknowledge my feelings, and I don’t have to get in touch with my own truth or express it. Does this mean that I think holding ideals is not a good thing to do? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Yet, I will tell you what I have found to be helpful for myself, and what I have seen work for others, whether or not they are idealists:
*       Own your own stuff.
*       Don’t self-flagellate.
*       Don’t dump on others.

 

I know, to be real is easier said than done. Yet, if we can sucker up to who and how we are and then move on, we have broken the spell of disconnectedness, both from self and others. Even more so, we have created an oasis of consciousness-idealism’s kryptonite. As like begets like, we are sure to encourage more awakening around us.

The Time Has Come

By | June 27, 2016

Several of us just came in from a great wilderness training run – we bore enough irritation (a slightly twisted ankle, some scratches) to know that we were pushing our edge, but not too much that it derailed us. The experience is a metaphor for the way I’ve lived my life, and it has brought me to a tipping point.

With sixteen years of training and experience, Abel has become quite the skilled and competent guide. Along with that, Lety’s essential involvement and the dedicated support of Susan and OdeMakwa (who are in training) have allowed me to get more engaged in what I am called to do. Over the past several weeks, I’ve reached around 2 million people on radio shows, I just returned from a TV filming in Boulder CO., a summit appearance is coming up, a publisher just asked for my next three books (we usually have to pitch them), we’re publishing five new books this year and have multiple video projects going, we just got a major donation for the Brother Wolf Sanctuary, our Natural Resources Committee got a grant for reintroducing wildflowers, the school is a flurry of new activity, and all signs indicate more of the same.

It’s time for me to get an assistant. Even with Jules on outreach, Nan transcribing, Andrew editing, Thorn in the office, Fox and Coyote on construction, and several others playing vital roles, we see that I need more editorial, book promotion, communication, scheduling, and whatever-else-comes-up help. We want someone who is bright, energetic, outgoing, dedicated to healing the wounds of civilization-and most importantly, likes to have fun! If this is you, or if you can recommend somebody, I/we would be tickled to hear from you*.

But before I sign off, I want to express my deep gratitude for everybody who has been a part of our success in bringing the Old Ways back to light. We did it as a Circle – all of you present and past staff, Seekers, volunteers, friends, and lovers. We are family. And let us all take a moment to honor the Elders of many nations who have guided us every step of the way.

*To apply, please email a cover letter and your resume to volunteer@teachingdrum.org.





 

Inspiration #2: Be vulnerable? Maybe not

By | June 20, 2016

This is another one of the awakenings I had during the unbelievable afternoon I recently spent with a fellow therapist.

How often have you heard people encouraging someone to be vulnerable, meaning to put down your guard and be open? Although it made sense to me, I felt uneasy about it, as though there was some inherent contradiction. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Clarity came during this unique sharing with the therapist. I realized that it is only from ego (i.e. self-protective) perspective that being open equates with vulnerability. From a fully functional perspective, to be open is to be aware and perceptive, which helps us be strong, centered, and open to support. Does this sound like being vulnerable? To me, it is quite the opposite.

The person who is guarded and shut down is actually the vulnerable one. She often ends up being overlooked, unfulfilled, and frustrated- i.e., victimized. Opening up is being engaged and in your power, which can greatly reduce vulnerability. The next time someone asks me to be vulnerable, I’ll tell him, “Thanks for the suggestion, but I’d rather leave my vulnerability behind and instead be strong and fully engaged.”

Inspiration #1: How To Tell Real From Faux Feelings

By | June 14, 2016

I just spent most of the afternoon with one of the trauma therapists with whom I work. It was a magical time-the synergy kept sending chills up our spines. I’ll share with you the bursts of awakening that came to me during that sharing.

A number of Native languages have no version of the verb “to be”. Curiously, nearly all professional writers shun the verb and its variations: I am, you are, he is, and so on. They consider it to be passive, and I suspect this is why it is not popular with Native people, who lead active, engaged lives. The issue with writers-and I propose that you and I make it an issue as well-is that the verb to be lures us into the glad/sad/mad trap.

Let’s take “he is,” which means next to nothing in and of itself. One is naturally drawn to ask, “He is what?” Let’s fill in the blank: “He is angry”. The rational mind would say, “Well, that’s expressing a feeling. What’s wrong with that?” The only problem is that it’s not a feeling-it’s an assessment. Using this form of expressiveness is one of the pitfalls many aspiring writers fall into, as it quickly separates amateurs from professionals. Instead of the passive assessment “He is angry,” an accomplished writer, Native person, or anyone who wishes to truly express feeling would say something like, “He leaned forward, clenched his fists, and gave a wicked scowl.” Now, that conveys feeling! Notice how we just went from observation to immersion, from safe detachment to, well, feeling, becoming impregnated with the visceral energy of the scene. This is how rich and real our emotional sharing could be.

My conclusion: For a feeling to be truly expressed, it cannot just be labeled; it must be felt.

The Final Healing

By | May 26, 2016

Dementia is typically viewed as mental decline—the irrevocable disintegration of cognitive capacities that terminates with death. From our cultural vantage point, this makes perfect sense, and I am not here to deny or refute it. Rather, I would like to present an alternative reality: Dementia is the final healing journey, where the person becomes demented, i.e. enters trance, in order to free his essence of trauma memories. In this way, he lightens and purifies himself for the next step of his journey, his passing over.

The dementia journeyer is the consummate shaman: fully empowered and innately knowledgeable of the process. To enter the demented state, he passes through the same three stages as do others engaged in Trance Trauma Release:

Stage I  Memory Loss.
With contemporary somatic based approaches to trauma therapy, the first step is to shed the story that is attached to the trauma memory. When a trigger brings our trauma memory to surface, we generally experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This activates the story of our traumatizing experience that we have consciously attached to our trauma memory. The story tells the who, whatwhen, where, and why. It typically contains elements based on the actual experience and elements that are constructed from imagination, the power of suggestion, and cultural elements. The story needs to be shed in order to progress with trauma release. For the dementia trancer, this is accomplished through memory loss.

Stage II  Losing the Self.
How we define ourselves is a combination of how others perceive us, how we wish to be perceived by others, and what we have constructed around ourselves in order to subsist. Some of this is functional and useful, and some of it is dysfunctional and hurtful, both to self and others. But none of it is truly us. We are constructs, braided together from these elements by our egos, to give us semblance of sentient beings. This “self” must disintegrate, and all the remnants need to be shed, in order for our authentic self to emerge. After the shedding, our naked self appears as though materializing from the mists. He is typically kind, generous, and sociable. Longstanding feuds are forgotten, and the boundaries of established relationships are dissolved. He is himself—nothing more and nothing less. And to him, everyone else is the same.

Stage III  Dancing out the Poison.
Deep in trance, with no memory and no sense of self to deny, suppress, or distort the bare-boned trauma memory, the person in dementia trance, enacts the final release—the ultimate cleansing. He may come across as violent, bitter, and/or antisocial, but it is not him. It is the poison. He is dancing it out, cleansing his soul to make it unburdened and nimble for whatever is to come.