The Sacred Balance
Moving into Elderhood can be such an exciting time. I’m finding that volumes of learning, research and life experience (all those decades~!) are now fitting together with a clarity that has evaded me until now. Each stage of life brings extraordinary gifts, but pausing at the plateau of “growing old” can be rich with appreciation. (Breathe~! Stay humble, and don’t forget to stretch.) Cutting through the materialism and distractions of modern life, I feel incredibly blessed to hold direct transmissions from the land, in forms that fit into categories of animism, ecopsychology, ancient knowing, plant spirit medicine, and enchantivism, which is the weaving together of our personal mythologies with the magic of the wild. Next to the land itself, teachings from Indigenous Elders, wisdom keepers, activists and other Wise Souls have been my greatest mentors and advisors.
Whether our primary work is in social justice, direct action, spiritual growth, wilderness quests, ceremony, rites of passage or connecting to the Ancestors, the threads of right relationship run through everything we do. Starting with our own hearts and minds, it’s an ongoing mission to unpack the thoughts and behaviors that are not really ours, but arise from exposure to the systems of Euro-Empire. Establishing right relationship with ourselves and healing our inner process (our “neurodecolonization”) can be an incredible challenge, when faced with the white hetero-patriarchal capitalist overculture. We have been separated from the external world, there are strict boundaries around the way we think, sense and feel, and with the emphasis on the “head” rather than the heart, our knowledge is supposed to come from intellectual prowess and cognitive ability. Too much thinking! We have been taught to ignore our intuition, and the incredible amount of wisdom we receive from our own bodies.
To aid us with our inner transformation, Indigenous Knowledge (IK) from a myriad of sources teach us other important ways of knowing that have been left out of the equation. The Anlo-Ewe of Africa hold a concept of seselelame,¹ or knowledge “perceived through the sensations of the body.” A wide range of psychic, intuitive, kinesthetic, sexual, and emotional sensations and feelings are all examples of seselelame. So much of what we know about the world can be felt in the inner realms, and understood by our internal knowing! There are no boundaries between the self and nature in indigenous and pre-colonial epistemologies, and this vital intra-connection is on the rise again today. We are channels for energy, and have always been in the flow!
Learning from the timeless and multicultural model of the “medicine wheel,” I have noticed that we move through the roles of Warrior, Visionary, Healer and Teacher on a regular basis.² In the north, the warrior is the leader, where we take a stand and engage with the issues that matter; in the east, we live our authenticity and express that truth as visionaries and seers; in the south we pay attention to the knowledge of our hearts for the benefit of all beings; and finally in the west, we are open both to spontaneity and wisdom, and pass our teachings and epiphanies on to others. Each direction has an amazing energy that is integral to the whole, and as we move through the cycle we continue to refine the special aspects of each role.
Also sourced from the “medicine wheel” or “four directions” model found in both ancient and modern societies, assigning aspects of the human experience into 4 quadrants is among the most important foundations we can take up as a life-long practice. Watching the youth of today struggle, and folks of all ages and demographics experience trauma, distress and alienation, it is empowering to know that balance, or right relationship, can be achieved by understanding the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual aspects of self. Shifting or weaving through the 4 quadrants is not an exact discipline – sometimes circumstances are beyond our control – and yet it is comforting to know that other possibilities and potentials exist. When we find ourselves dwelling too long in emotional territory, we can make an effort to use our critical thinking skills and sort out the variables, and when we are over-intellectualizing, we can take time for bodily regimes and pleasures. And what we think or feel might be a mental or emotional disturbance, may actually be a prompting from our own inner mystic, or the innate spiritual potential for magic, myth and meaning we all hold. Our “higher selves” guide our heart, our heart is informed by our mind and vice versa, and the natural sensate wisdom of our bodies can be an unfailing guide.
As we look beyond our own empowerment and healing, we can focus on moving from the “Me” to the “We,” and look to right relationship and sacred balance with our Ancestors and Earth Community. We have ancient models to follow, and yet it is simplistic to suggest we can renounce ourselves completely as modern people. We are moving both forward and back, and as we consider the beauty and timelessness of pre-colonial worldviews, many themes and lifeways³ can be encouraged and embraced, both for ourselves and our kinship groups.
The Earth Our Mother
The world is a place of sacred mystery, and our relationship with the world is rooted in a profound respect for the land and all life. Humans are not above creation but part of it, and we flourish within the boundaries of the Sacred Circle. We are informed by the land and our bond to a particular landscape, and in this animist universe we are connected to the plants, creatures, elements and earth spirits that dwell there. The love of the land and our community is the only true wealth we have – we are part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us.
Patterns of Ancestral Mind
By reclaiming our place within (not above) Earth Community we organically find ourselves practicing a cyclical thinking that is based on spirit connectivity, natural processes, creativity and peace, rather than singularity, ownership or dominance. When we are physically grounded and embodied our restless mind fades, and we find ourselves vibrant and present in a field of mindfulness and awareness. We begin to perceive time as a spiral, and are more connected and empathic with others. Our learning is purely experiential, as we are empowered to acquire knowledge at our own pace in our own way, and overall self-identity is based on our own experience and self-reflection. Being a part of earth-emergent community allows us to hold an “everyday” sense of mystery, wonder and awe, and all of our intelligences are combined to fulfill our holistic potential as a “true human being.” With ancestral or ecocentric mind as the foundation, the collective is able to integrate self-discovery, wisdom and responsibility.
Reciprocity with the Land and Each Other
Our existence is sustained by expressions of gratitude such as ceremony and prayer, as we unconditionally give thanks for all life and the elements that make life possible. We are in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth, as everything we need to live a good life comes from the land, and our activities are intertwined with the seasons and cycles of nature. When we embody these principles and have respect for all beings through ceremony and prayer, the cosmic balance is upheld and restored, and the survival of the community ongoing. The reciprocity of maintaining good relationships with each other and all beings is a shared collective value, and our Elders and mentors teach us and model to us the virtues of wisdom, bravery, generosity and selflessness that guide us in these interactions. It is our responsibility to hold the role of our teachers in the highest regard, and to ensure that the generations following also become Wise Elders, and continue to pass on their values and wisdom.
Reclaiming and practicing ancient ways of knowing hold great promise for navigating our most difficult passages and life transitions, either alone or with guides and mentors. Surrounded by narcissism and other forms of infantalization, trained to compete and embrace the “cult of the individual” over the needs of the collective, we continue to be impacted by Empire. And yet, as modernists, let’s not be too hard on ourselves! Learning to relinquish our western thinking and put the “we” ahead of “me” that is at the heart of decolonization is an ongoing (and life-long) process. By reclaiming our inner life, the wisdom of the body, the magical and the mysterious, ancestor veneration and the wheel of life, we are finding holistic patterns and building earth-rooted identity. And cultivating right relationship with ourselves and others allows us to join the worldwide circle of ecological community. In the end, these are the ethics that will translate into sustainable societies and well-being for all, as we maintain the sacred balance of Earth Community for the generations yet to come.
- Kathryn Linn Geurts, Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community, University of California Press, 2002
- Angeles Arrien, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary, HarperOne, 1993
- Pegi Eyers, Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, Stone Circle Press, 2016