What words run common between the climate emergency, the movement for black and indigenous lives and biodynamic craniosacral therapy? Remember, repair, restore come to mind.
All these 're' words presume the unveiling of an original state through seeking beneath, deep down below, to find the before, the beginning, the initial spark. On our way there meeting the stories that conditioned and littered the path with losses, 'uncertain' traumas; ones that left a void for dense shadows to set down tightly within our bodies and our unconscious. Ones that will take much resource-building and resilience, much concerted effort through acts of solidarity and conscious togetherness to transmute on a collective and individual level.
Behind that curtain, at the source, lies the original beauty of our wholeness on Earth, our lost 'Eden'. One that could still be attainable should we choose to hold firmly to its possibility; should we set our focus on such a profoundly healing recovery of the fullness of our being, for people of all colours, genders and backgrounds. We are all relatives going way back to the first black man and black woman.
Remember, repair, restore.
I began a book last November that is something of a pilgrimage to source, to the origins. I have walked with it within me ever since, setting time aside to write, read, and write again.
It has grown a life of its own. One enriched by the many experiences, books and events that have since unfolded. My companions on this journey back.
I don’t know if it happens to you too but whenever I set out on a creative task, the books, poems, essays I read; the films and documentaries I watch; the podcasts I listen to become my relatives. They all bond through sets of common threads that weave and spiral them together, forming a vortex, an energetic DNA.
This also applies when major life and world events become the centre of my attention, the axis around which I spin. The horrific murder of George Floyd and the ensuing worldwide protests deeply rattled and disturbed me. The many articles, essays, podcasts, documentaries I read, listened and watched as a result redefined racism as a system and my white privilege as its central instrument to sit with painfully, and truthfully, for the first time.
Something akin to alchemy takes place when we hold our pain, our anguish, in such a biodynamic way: a transmutation of what was shadow into light, what was traumatic density into pure potency that resonates of hope and a promise of a return to coherent wholeness.
Recognising and embracing is relieving, liberating even! It releases trapped energy. Whereas reactive defensiveness tries to protect by shoring up existing trauma stories that act like dams fragmenting our natural fluidity.
I thought I was not racist. I grew up in a mixed community in France. Some of my best friends were from Algeria and Morocco. I went to Morocco on a school trip when I was 17 and fell in love with the differences: the effortless oneness with nature, the slow pace of life, the unashamed aliveness and chaos of the souk, of the meandering mazes of the scentful kasbah.
I was shocked by the racist talk of some of my friends at secondary school. I was a boarder in an all-girls Catholic institution where nuns were still teaching. One of my friends was a follower of the far right neo nazi National Front party. I tried so many times to reason her. So many debates turned into arguments. We simply could not meet on that subject.
She did not come to Morocco with us. Had she come I thought maybe she would have seen and understood the richness of a culture that is so very different to our own and how difficult, how traumatising it must be for migrants transported in the West to acclimatise and adjust to our fast living, our ruthless and disconnected ways of (not really) living.
Of course like many Westerners, I romanticised my oriental vision and projected my yearning for something other than myself, something that would complete and bridge my insular self-centred occidentalism.
I took Arabic classes. I had fallen in love with Arabic calligraphy. I so loved writing from right to left, following what felt like a more natural flow for my eyes and right-handed writing. I read books about Islam, and was particularly fascinated with Iran, ancient Persia. I bought a gorgeous edition of the Coran, which I dipped into every now and again but never read in full. It has remained on my shelves like a reminder of an otherness, a longing for a different panoply of living, one so sensuous, so vibrant, so much fuller than the one I lived at the time.
All this fed my romantic vision fielding other possibilities: I dreamt of living in a sultan's palace at the time of the Arabian Nights, or as a contemporary of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, or as an astronomer in Baghdad at the time of the Abbasid Caliphate...
It wasn't until I read Orientalism by Edward W Said that I tuned out of my romanticism. But the Orient always nurtured and represented this potent unknown, this well of knowledge and traditions that resonated like home and fascinated my imagination.
Remember, repair, restore
Driven by a thirst for social justice and this unconscious dreaming and longing for wholeness, I have campaigned against the racist undercurrent that runs deep in my native country later on as a college student.
I continued to do so albeit sporadically when I moved to Ireland through my journalistic writings and by taking part in anti racism campaigns and initiatives. But I had never taken a serious look at my complicit participation to systemic racism until I listened to Robin DiAngelo talk about white supremacy, the topic of her book, 'White Fragility'( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45ey4jgoxeU). She clearly explains and demonstrates how racism is not an attitude, "racism is a system, not an event."
It is everywhere for us to see if we decide to engage with it pro-actively and vigilantly.
I am white and have lived in two predominantly white countries: France and Ireland. I have so far avoided to actively perceive my whiteness as the origin of the problem. Just like the biased societies I grew up and have lived in, my being-ness and my thinking were skewed to fit a certain paradigm. I acquiesced to a piecemeal worldview that is truncated in so many ways.
I graduated in history: the study of events from a certain bird's eye view, that conveys a system's main characteristics and highlights its foundations, its prevailing tenets centered around its main white actors, reflecting our reductionist mindset.
I specialised in ancient Greece, ancient religions and medieval history. I remember being fascinated by the crusades: this colonising, imperialistic Christian jihad. We were never taught from the Muslim populations' viewpoint, from the standpoint of Jewish communities who were destroyed and burnt to the ground during the many pogroms along the way to holy Constantinople and Jerusalem.
Our history books are full of our victories as conquerors and good proselytising deeds, justifying the systematic dismantling and destruction of traditional cultures, omitting so many genocides and abhorrent practices. Georges Monbiot wrote a great piece this week on that very subject: https://www.monbiot.com/2020/06/21/lying-in-state/
Remember, repair, restore
I am still and have always been a student in history. Confronted with my white privilege and the white supremacy I am an active part of, I am learning to unlearn and re-member in order to be a more effective repairing agent of restoration and renewal.
Another phenomenon that has been rife is cultural appropriation. In an effort to re-connect with our long lost and forgotten indigenousness, we have imported others' and adapted them to heal our 'lost and angst-ridden' souls, to suit our western paradigm. This has become a business in so many ways that do not ring true with the very core of these practices and traditions that originally stand as gifts and natural spokes in the medicine wheel of indigenous life.
Even my craniosacral lineage, which descends from osteopathy founder Andrew Taylor Still, originates in the appropriation of shamanic indigenous practices. (Read this great piece for more on this subject: https://www.opencenter.org/traditional-american-indian-bodywork/)
There as well there is a need for the teachers of these beautiful practices to remember, repair and restore.
Ireland is one of those rare Western countries that still retains a native indigenous language strongly evocative of the land it emerged from and its spirits. One that resonates with African animism and other aboriginal beliefs.
There is a welcome revival of the ancient Celtic bard tradition of story-telling and a rich well of myths and folklore to draw from.
I have been listening to a podcast recounting these brilliant myths and tales lately and one story caught my eye.
It is called the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne (https://podtail.com/podcast/fireside-1/25-episode-xxiv-the-pursuit-of-diarmuid-and-grainn/)
Grainne ( or ‘sun’ in Irish) is the king’s daughter, and Diarmuid (‘without enemies’ in Irish) the greatest soldier of the Fianna (the clan of wild warriors), in charge of protecting the king.
Both are at the mercy of a key event that struck their past and will determine their fate.
Diarmuid is cursed as a child because of an unfortunate incident that causes his father to inadvertently kill another man’s child. As long as he lives Diarmuid can never pierce the skin of a boar.
Grainne falls in love with Diarmuid as a young girl when she sees him play the ancient Celtic game of hurling.
Later in life the king, her father, asks her to marry the great hero and chief, Fionn mac Cumhaill (interestingly, Fionn means white in Irish, or fair haired).
She reluctantly accepts but in an attempt to see her future husband the night before the wedding, she catches a glimpse of the man she had fallen for years before. Diarmuid is now Fionn's right hand man, his friend and best warrior.
She decides to concoct a plan that will see her literally kidnap her true love Diarmuid, and elope with him.
Grainne uses magic to seduce him away from his leader and her husband-to-be, Fionn mac Cumhaill, and ensure his love for her wins over his sense of duty for Fionn.
For months they hide and flee, never sleeping more than one night anywhere. Eventually Grainne becomes pregnant and develops a craving for the fruits of the Rowan tree. Diarmuid asks its owner, a giant, for permission to pick the berries, but as he refuses, he kills him for his beloved's sake. With senses enchanted they decide to stay there more than one night.
Meanwhile it so happens that Fionn mac Cumhaill requests to have the very same berries brought to him. When he hears of the death of the giant, he knows it can only be Diarmuid’s doing and so decides to go there himself with his son Oisin (little deer in Irish).
They figure that Diarmuid and Grainne will soon come back to taste the fruits again and so they camp under the tree. To shorten the story (which you can listen to in full through the link above), Diarmuid and Grainne meet Fionn and Oisin and assuage Fionn’s desire for revenge by stirring his sense of empathy and reminding him of tragic events that caused him to deeply suffer in the past.
This reconciliation means that Diarmuid can now happily live with Grainne without fear. He returns to the fianna to serve under Fionn. They become friends again and all seems well until one day Fionn, Oisin and Diarmuid go hunting and a wild boar appears.
Unaware of Diarmuid’s curse, Fionn and Oisin leave him to kill the boar. As Diarmuid freezes, under the effects of the spell, the boar attacks and mortally wounds him. He calls for Fionn's help as he lays dying. Since Fionn ate from the salmon of knowledge (another great Irish myth), he can heal anyone who drinks water from his hands.
Fionn runs to a nearby stream to cup water in his hands but as he returns his body remembers the harm caused by Diarmuid's past betrayal, and he lets resentment cloud his mind while the water slips through his fingers.
A second time he goes to fetch water in his hands and a second time water slips away. At this point, his son Oisin puts a blade under his neck and threatens Fionn. This ignites his resolve and raises his consciousness so he rushes back to carry water successfully to Diarmuid’s lips.
But by the time Fionn is back it is too late, Diarmuid is dead. The curse is fulfilled and whether he consciously wished it or not, Fionn’s revenge is complete.
It is such a rich and modern myth, appealing to many of our collective unconscious archetypes and pointing to transgenerational trauma too.
It is quite telling that it is Oisin, the great bard of Irish myth, in other words the one who remembers and is the keeper of stories, that forces Fionn to reach beyond his past wounding to the original purity of his love for Diarmuid.
The craniosacral therapist in me recognises how Fionn’s residual trauma impedes his gift of healing to his most devoted soldier and closest friend, despite his love for him. While Oisin's gesture is a violent awakening, and not one I would be advocating, it is, as in many myths, but a metaphorical tool demonstrating a teaching: one that consciously binds the past to the present and forces a realisation that can lead to repair, healing and restoration.
I could not help connecting this story with what the murder of George Floyd has unravelled throughout the Western world: traumatic historic layers that have served to entrench racism and weave it deeply into the system.
It feels that traumas that lay dormant for centuries added to the many tragedies history has layered since, have arisen to be faced and hopefully healed. But in a great turn, it appears that, we, white people, are more than ever able to realise, listen and reckon with our white privilege and supremacy.
How frighteningly easy it is to take them for granted and settle in the terrain that prevents Whites and BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) from ever being truly equals.
It may be unconscious but it is there lurking in the background. Our lack of vigilance has allowed our conscience and our senses to be lulled and manipulated, taking for granted the lives of so many generations of women and men who greatly suffered simply because their skin colour did not match the prevailing template.
In a brilliant craniosacral podcast Susan Raffo speaks to Ryan Hallford about the "contraction" that has "entrenched" white supremacy. I would highly recommend listening to it. (https://www.craniosacralpodcast.com/episode-143/#more-2418)
They skilfully explore a painful and beautiful reckoning process: one that lets us dive deep within the holding of our hearts and brings us into a wealth of emotions we may have avoided to truly feel precisely because of that contracted containment. These powerful emotions (grief, anger, fear, shame, guilt, love, joy...) are such great teachers, such great portals to break the tight mould of our half-hearted humanity. And they are so needed now to carry through this long overdue healing process.
Susan talks about the tremendous life force that has emerged thanks to these fierce calls for justice. She says this "life force is about connection as opposed to protection", the latter arguably preventing transformative justice.
She suggests that part of the work we, white people, can do is,"To recognise that white supremacy has disrupted our humanity. We do not have access to our full humanity period." This delicate work entails learning to see through "a double consciousness": to bridge this white defensiveness consciousness with anti racism consciousness, so that we"build this capacity"to be more whole and heal in the process.
To achieve this takes great courage and tenacity but it also rewards us with the myriad possibilities of a restored life force, our fuller humanity.
White folks have been in 'flight' mode and survival mode when it comes to race, ever since they fled persecution in Europe to seek 'protection' on Turtle Island (America). The white body has been carrying this 'attachment' to the past, entangled with everything else since, leading to this contraction of our humanity, according to Raffo.
This is a view shared by Resmaa Menakem, a powerful voice on racial trauma and white body supremacy. He is the author of an essential read: My Grandmothers’ Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, that powerfully reveals the physiological imprints left by historical and geographical trauma on all sides. (Listen to him being interviewed by Krista Tippett: https://onbeing.org/programs/resmaa-menakem-notice-the-rage-notice-the-silence/)
He says that, “While we see anger and violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies” —(...) all of our bodies, of every color. You say, “If we are to survive as a country, it is inside our bodies where this conflict needs to be resolved”; that “the vital force [behind] white supremacy is in our nervous systems.”
He speaks about the de-contextualising power of time. “It’s always been there; there’s always been this kind of resonant knowing that something’s there. Because it’s been decontextualized and handed down from my mom, my grandmother, my grandfather, blah blah blah, all the way down, I didn’t have a language for it; but there was a knowing that “This ain’t right.”
(…) Not just that they lived through trauma, but that the angst and the anguish was decontextualized. For my black body to be born into a society by which the white body is the standard is, in and of itself, traumatizing.”
The kind of changes called for and the philosophy behind the movement for Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/) can bring about a well overdue social justice that paves the way for repair and restoration for all of us. Or as indigenous people say, for all our relations.
Indeed, the same acts of vigilance, un-learning and un-wrapping, that same tremendous life force of full blown humanity could heal our relationship with the natural world and our non human friends too.
So many genocides, so many ecocides have supported our unsustainable lifestyles.
It is all of us, homo sapiens, that are now facing extinction.
Unless we build that bridge,
Unless we all go fetch that water
Help each other carry it through successfully
Make sure not a drop slips out
So we can heal ourselves
So we can mend our ways with the world.
Through acts of remembrance, restoration, and repair,
Through building resilience and resolve
We may revive what was lost,
Renew our original contract for life on Earth
And call that Eden another name.