I recently participated in a women’s empowerment program at the MacKenzie Art Gallery of Regina. I found it fascinating that my program: Psyche Soma Yoga, was being offered alongside a First Nation’s traditional healing dance presentation, and a Hindu traditional dance presentation. Why did I find this fascinating? Well, the two main-threads I’ve been studying for the past 12+ years have been shamanism and yoga, and my work as a PSYT Facilitator is truly the creative offspring of these two practices. So, it seemed rather perfect that I was unveiling my creative work, at the art gallery no less, alongside the parent-modalities that have inspired it!
Although that feels quite beautiful and synchronistic, I have to admit that I’ve often felt acknowledging the parent traditions of my creative work edgy. There is a lot of current awareness, and appropriately so, around the concepts of cultural appropriation, and due to my study paths, and my cultural background, I’m implicated in this conversation, and thus feel invited to contemplate and respond.
Do I have the right to my work? Who has the right to what traditions? How do I accept and honor the torches that have ignited me, and still embody the deeper truths they have awakened? This blog is an attempt to enter a healing conversation around sacred traditions, and our need to consciously remedy underlying suffering and dissonance surrounding the modern day use of them. This blog is not an attempt to offer a righteous solution, nor to judge, shame, or blame others who’ve previously entered the conversation. Please do read the intention of peace, compassion, and curiosity between the lines and within them.
Although I’ve intensively studied yoga and shamanism, I am not, and never will be, culturally identified as East Indian, Hindu, First Nations, Indigenous, or Aboriginal. Although I know for a fact that I too descend from some, if not many, indigenous tribes people from this planet, Earth, who’ve practiced and inherited their own sacred traditions, I do not currently abide on a piece of land that my ancestors were steadfast custodians of, nor do I have connection to bloodline elders who could possibly impart me my birthright sacred traditions. I am a descendant of immigrants, not only to North America, but also to parts of Europe, and main land Eurasia. I come from a long line of peoples who’ve repeatedly had to flee “homeland” due to war, famine, oppression, and/or other life/soul threatening challenges, for generations. This truth, and the likelihood that so many people on this planet (if not most) descend from similarity traumatized generations, due war and oppression, afford me much compassion to the human experience in general, and especially to those who find themselves orphaned on a life boat void of sacred traditions, unsure of how to start consciously rowing themselves in the direction of the beloved, grace, and the divine.
The first tradition I stumbled on, when starving for the sacred, was yoga. I came across a hot yoga class, and then an Iyengar yoga class, both of which started me on my path of uncovering the light within, which, although thoroughly buried and refracted, was relentlessly beckoning me home. However, no matter how deep I went with yoga, I constantly found it left me adrift when it came time to understanding the spiritual content it so willingly helped unpack. The fact that yoga practiced in the west is oft times denatured from its spiritual roots does not mean its technology is any less potent! My personal story of a disorienting spiritual awakening, from practicing “westernized” yoga, is not an anecdotal anomaly (here I should have good references for material to find on this subject..which I will edit in eventually, have patience). Participating in yoga for the lulu-lemon and long, sleek body, did not serve as protection for me from the firm spiritual nudge it ultimately enabled. And since, the yoga I had access to fell well short of supporting me with integrating and understanding my big spiritual experiences…
The second tradition I stumbled on, when struggling to integrate the spiritual awakening catalyzed by the first tradition I stumbled on, was shamanism. Shamanism was a life saver, and soul saver. As a clearly spiritually intended practice, it helped me land on my feet and integrate my spiritual aliveness. I feel I was especially fortunate to find myself in the company of the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, as the foundation is consciously devised to support westerners and other “civilized” people (aka orphans separated from their bloodline sacred traditions) to wake up spiritually. The foundation teaches de-cultured spiritual technologies, and to learn more about what decultured shamanism is, please read up at http://www.shamanism.org. The practices shared at the Foundation of Shamanic Studies provided me a firm footing not only with my own inner light, but also with means to access wise, and compassionate beings who can further empower my path for collective, individual, and personal help and healing.
In so many ways, the practices of shamanism and yoga are inherently designed to dethrone any living guru or external authority figure. They are designed instead to empower the guru and guiding light within, the yogi or shamanic practitioner are empowered to skillfully navigate the oh-too-common politics of human power-struggle, and as sacred warriors they are ultimately informed by, and embody a direct-line connection to the divine, the light of truth within (which is of course found in every being, animate or otherwise).
Knowing that this is the root of all sacred traditions, to invoke loving kindness, wise compassion, and skillful means in it’s practitioners, I do find some of the rhetoric around cultural appropriation often a disservice to the integrity and intention of the practices the arguments deem to defend, or protect. I think it’s possible that the underlying dissatisfaction and anger these arguments point to has less to do with the cultural-identity of the seekers who engage and employ (or are employed by) them, and more so about the pathology that finds it’s roots in competition, comparison, consumerism, capitalism, and in general the “us vs. them” mentality, which is making us all sick. Is it helpful for us to pick up stones to shame or blame anyone along their path of becoming…the same path we are all on? The deepest truth, spiritual, scientific or otherwise, is that we are all one. We all descend from this planet, this galaxy, this universe, this time-space continuum. Whether we like it or not, we are all related and connected. All lines drawn are continued misperceptions and misconceptions that only fuel further war on ourselves.
My vote is that more and more we enter healing conversations, where we practice the art of sacred listening and mutual respect. Hearing one another’s pain, longing, confusion, clarity, and humanness as catalysts to embody the healing balm of loving kindness we can afford each other. This is achieved with a willingness to learn, grow, and heal as a collective, leaving all of us on each other’s side.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” -Rumi