Mindfulness of Culture and Context: An invitation to go deeper into healing.

I've have travelled far and wide and the most significant impact it's had on me that continues to influence is culture. This is a topic I've longed to write on, share and wonder about since I was old enough to think for myself. My studies at University have given me an opportunity to dive a little deeper into writing about multiculturalism and think more widely about my own experience. If it isn't art, language, ritual or history that I am curious about it's the way people speak about concepts that inform their relationship to family, community, environment, career and workplace. My work in holistic counselling is involved in exploring these unseen elements, unpacking assumptions and re-discovering our own innate relationship to wisdom and sense of belonging to something much bigger than the concept of an individual self.


This week I had an insightful and moving lunch and learn session at work on trans-generational trauma with Dr. Carmen, a clinical psychologist and Latakia woman born in the Northern Territory of Australia. After the host of our session acknowledged our guests indigenous ancestors, elders and country Dr. Carmen invited us to acknowledge the wisdom that we hold within each of us too. I was profoundly moved by this invitation as often in my meditations I find myself wondering about ancestors and having talked about this with a dear friend who has spent time documenting and discovering her ancestry in China.

In January I travelled by boat and on foot to the Ngaro cultural site in the Whitsunday at Hook Island (see images). This once-hidden cave is one of the oldest recordings of humans on the Eastern side of Australia and an indigenous connection to ancestry dating back as far as 9000 years. Our family sat in a space created for contemplation here and 14 ears tuned in and listened with wide eyes and head lowered to a recording of a story from an indigenous woman who was native to this area, explaining how the art connected her to ancestors, country and her people's maritime history. It was a humbling and stirring to listen and I felt from her a richness and faithfulness that is difficult to locate in my own culture.


My recent encounters with indigenous culture, being a bi-racial mother and studies at University has left me wondering more deeply about culture, ancestry and in general about our western connection to family and lands of origin. I also wonder if many white folks identify as having trans-generational trauma too? Questions for me arise around the familial impacts of war (not just for soldiers), the assumed power of patriarchal and religious institutions, the oppression and absence of women and diversity in power and the forceful ways our culture has expanded there concept of education, politics and economics across the world.


What existed before we practiced colonialism? If you look like me tracing your indigenous roots is no easy task. I might begin to look at fork lore in my Germanic roots but that is as far as I get in internet searches and books that I can connect to gifts I was sent from lands I thought of as foreign at the time. Only to aware that the elders in my German family are getting older I know my time to connect in person in running out but also complicated by language, estrangement and a complex culture of trauma. In reality there is no one in my family to ask these questions right now. Even when we begin to look back there is so much guilt and shame it is difficult to hold on your own, let alone begin to heal. If anyone reads this and can relate - you're not alone.


It seems our people pretty much wiped out any memory of our own indigenous culture, ancestry and connection to land. I feel like we’ve forgotten and in it's place we carry deep shame and trans-generational trauma that no longer has context or language and has been woven into our society and we call it culture. As a result we’re focussed on the individual success, economic progress of our nations and making our lives painfully easier so that we can pretend we are in control of making our lives better. There is a growing reliance on the medical model of mental health to get us up to speed with this conventional modern lifestyle and we have the middle of the bellcurve to measure our success at doing it. We evaluate our younger generation for having a deficit in skills to cope with the system we’ve created without true acknowledgment of the lack of roots and a strong foundation that can sustain human life. We have a basic assumption this approach is a privilege and superior.

Australian indigenous teachings have many collectivist commonalities to eastern Tibetan approaches which I've been studying for a few years and it too can be traced back to ancient culture. Time I spent living in Japan taught me only too well how the Japanese collectivist culture preserves their indigenous roots in festivals, rituals and lifestyle intrinsically connected to season, spirituality, art, community and cultural identity. But in the west there is a deep disconnection in popular culture from our original lands and even family of origin work seems absent from much of the mainstream offerings in mental health these days with a preference for clinical approaches based on evidence and science. Where is the psyche gone in psychology?


Our origins, wisdom and ancestry live invisible within us all and I was delighted to be given permission to be curious and bring it to mind in the workplace by someone well connected to their own ancestry. Through an inward acknowledgement and wondering together we can re-create new ways of belonging to one another and recognising our shared humanness, need for connection to land and reliance on community to hold us. We can take our healing journeys alongside one another acknowledging our diversity and common ground.


Connecting with indigenous peoples trauma offers us an alliance that can help us acknowledge our own brokenness too and a way to educate ourselves on collectivist culture that exists here and now and generously put ecology front and centre of our economics. This is the dream I am wondering about more as I age and as I come to understand there is a growing awareness of the systems approach to collective healing. At home I craft ritual from the threads my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother shared with me. While it may appears in this article that I am a culture critic I am hopeful humans can grow together and relate authentically. To do this I believe we must look back into our culture and ancestry before we can truly cultivate an authentic mindfulness of the present.

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Thank you, Marion Miller.