Spirituality & Cultural Appropriation- my humble attempt to share my experience and understanding

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

Before I get into the topic, I want to emphasize that the opinions, perspectives, beliefs and experience you are about to read are mine and mine alone. I do not and will not speak for another being - human, plant, animal, etc. One of the most precious gifts I continue to give myself every day (it is a practice) is my own sovereignty. As a witch and natural healer, I do my best to afford that gift to all beings I come in contact with, which is why I don’t see it as my place to speak for or make decisions for another being, human or otherwise. With that disclaimer out of the way, this topic has been on my mind for years and I have never shared my feelings publicly until now. Like most of my deeper writings, this share was prompted out of me. I tend to not write unless I am inspired to write for a reason, either because someone has asked me to share my perspective or because Spirit has asked me to in a teaching/leadership setting. I don’t enjoy the vulnerability of laying my soul on the table but here I am anyway because it is important to do so… I feel it is important that we ALL do so. I will come to the table again and again to have the uncomfortable conversations. I acknowledge that these writings are reflective of how I feel in this moment, and that my perspectives will change with time, experience and understanding. Yesterday I shared my own experience around the topic of care-taking versus gate-keeping when it comes to plant spirits. It was a rather short writing and was meant as a just-below-surface-level thought to 1) share my own experience on the topic and 2) possibly inspire deeper introspection from the reader. At the end of the day I received a private message from someone I respect, who came to me directly to disagree with what I had shared. This person presented the perspective that my writing had come off as “shaming anyone who has concerns” (about how plant spirits and plant medicine are being worked with) and that my perspective “waters down the voices of the people that this work (plant spirit and medicine) comes from”. They continued with “what I see are people of color voicing their concern about the trend of plants in general being watered down and whitewashed” and “in most POC traditions there are gatekeepers”. After some time of going back and forth, each of us sharing our perspective, I knew that this conversation was too big for texting. This is so much bigger than the two of us or all of us put together because this conversation must have its roots in the autonomy of all beings, in all directions of time and space. Although my original care-taking writing was not specifically addressing the topic of “gate-keeping” across cultures or even what “gate-keeping” means throughout various cultures, I can completely understand and see how cultural perspectives have a place in the conversation. The topics of ego, fear, projection, responsibility, separation, culture, plant beings, human beings, unity, sovereignty, individual trauma and healing and collective healing are just a few relevant and necessary aspects of this important conversation. I can’t present my feelings on any one of these topics without it being rooted and connected with all the others, so here goes. A client came to me a few months back and expressed his grief, fear and absolute feeling of emptiness for his spiritual practice. He explained that the avenue of expression for his spirituality was constantly being questioned, invalidated and criticized to the point that he didn’t feel safe expressing himself in the ways that felt most authentic to him. The issue at hand is that he felt most drawn to a cultural expression that was not related to his own ancestral lineage this lifetime (I won’t be going into how the belief of past lifetimes impacts this topic because the end approach/solution is the same regardless). I took the time to explain to him that the draw or attraction he felt towards these specific spiritual practices was not a draw to the practices themselves, but a draw to the truth, love, resonance, and Spirit within the practice. Just as you and I have a physical body that looks special and has a unique personality, this ego and body are the vessel for the truth within. The tools, rituals, ceremonies, prayers, etc. are the vessels for the truth within, not the truth itself, and these vessels were created by a specific culture for their own use, to connect with Spirit. These tools and rituals were the result of human connection with the divine. I explained to him that his attraction was to the truth within it all, and that there are many paths that lead to truth- not just the one he happened to feel drawn to. When we find a sacred practice that was created by someone other than our self, the least we can do is make sure the other person is OK with us borrowing their practice and taking it on as our own. Obviously this is where a lot of pain resides for the collective, based on all the harm that has been caused(past and present included). This story is so important right now because at this time in the human experience, for many, if not all, we are healing on deeper levels than ever before. Not only are we doing the work to heal ourselves, but in that process we are realizing that part of our trauma is rooted in ancestral trauma. We can’t fully move forward into a new future if we don’t address our past. The topics of cultural wounds, appropriation and harm caused (past and present) are necessary conversations for our individual and collective healing on an ego level (when I say ego, I mean personality, no negative connotations associated). It is my current understanding that while the topics of difference, separation and wrongdoing are vital on the human ego level, on the spirit level we already understand the beauty of diversity and the importance of unity; and they can and do exist at the same time. It is our greatest lesson and possibly our greatest challenge to hold both, spirit knowledge and ego lessons, as equally valid and worthy of expression and discovery. So, for our friend in the story, taking the ego and spirit into consideration at the same time and holding space for both to be fulfilled, I encouraged him to continue connecting with the truth at the core of his practices, while also considering how he might shift what his practice looks like so that he can aid in the healing of the collective wounds. Who knows, he may have even found a deeper resonance once he was able to connect with practices and tools that were rooted in his ancestral lineage. Ultimately, whether he chooses to aid in the collective healing or not is up to him. It is the individual's responsibility to come to the awareness in alignment with personal healing and to come to the awareness in alignment with collective healing. I know this is frustrating for many people. When another person knows that they could help or heal a situation, and they choose not to, it hurts. When another person does not take responsibility for their actions in the way we want them to, it hurts. On the deepest most unified level IT HURTS! Yet, I can not force your hand anymore than you can force mine. This is where faith, trust and grace come in... or witchcraft, depending on how you roll. Now, when there are sovereign beings other than yourself involved in a spiritual practice or cultural practice, how we evaluate the situation must shift. These beings include but are not limited to spirits, plants, animals and any one who possesses their own form of consciousness. This is where my writing on gate-keeping comes in and for the sake of keeping it somewhat simple, I am only going to discuss plant beings/spirits but the same sentiments can mostly be applied to all sovereign and conscious beings. My opinion is that an embodied being with its own form of consciousness can not be owned and does not belong to any one culture. Yes, there are specific plants that have a long standing relationship with specific cultures. Yes, within those cultures there were, are or may have been people who served as the main line of communication between human and plant. Those plants chose to be a part of that relationship. Those plants chose to work with the shaman, witch, medicine man or woman. The plants are not lifeless vessels that had no say in the relationship. The plants are not puppets to use and maneuver how we see fit. In many ways, I think the plants had more to do with initiating the relationship with humans than the other way around, but that is a topic for another day. No culture owns a plant. No culture owns a spirit. No one person speaks for a plant or spirit in a way that is applicable to all humans. It is the human being who assumes ownership. It is the human being who projects fears. It is the human being who appoints themselves gatekeeper and then lives up to the immense responsibility of such a position, or falls short. Always check your projections and question whether you are speaking for yourself or attempting to speak for a spirit who already has a voice of their own. I try to remember that even in the face of suffering and unimaginable harm, all the beings that we see as “unable to speak for themselves” ARE speaking for themselves, but in some cases we are too busy speaking for them, to see and hear their teachings. We live in a time, for better I think, where individual humans have the potential to be in a place of direct connection with the divine, through the living Earth around us, without the need of a middle man. And, it is still important to consider those who may abide by the necessity or appropriateness (what is culturally appropriate) for such a “gatekeeper”. Again, I see the importance in holding both experiences as valid and valuable.

Here are a few practices I am working on in my own life- 1. Am I taking responsibility for my own actions and am I willing to hold myself accountable, to the collective, for the impact my actions have? 2. In every situation, what is the most loving action I can take?

3. Am I willing to follow through on that loving action? Why or why not? 4. Am I willing to forgive myself when I fall short of the most loving actions? 5. Am I aware, able and willing to take an active role in healing collective wounds, to the best of my ability? 6. (Revisit #4 again) 7. Am I willing to show up again and again, with an open mind and an open heart? In conclusion, if you are implementing or investigating any of the above questions in your life, you are most likely doing your best (and will know if you aren’t doing your best). It isn’t for me or anyone else to tell you how to show up. In fact, you couldn’t show up as anything other than who and where you are, even if you tried. Give yourself grace in the process. This human experience is a journey and all of the twists and turns we take as humanity is necessary and valuable, all of them. Even when a situation appears too dire, too deep, too painful or too complicated we are still exactly where we need to be, individually and collectively. Show up for each other in solidarity while also holding the space for each individual to show up where they are in their journey. Take responsibility. Be accountable to the collective. Let that process unfold, in all of its messy glory, as it will through your one-of-a-kind experience. My deepest thoughts and feelings on these topics, as of this moment, is this... there is space on this amazing planet of creation for ALL of our experiences to be true, real, valid, valuable and necessary, all at the same time- and not in a "spiritually bypassing" type of way, but from an authentic space of showing up and doing the work, whatever that "work" might look like in any given moment. Thanks for reading. I hope that you will feel safe to share your thoughts and feelings on these topics and I welcome you to. I apologize in advance if this writing does not feel complete, or completely coherent. This topic is huge and personal and messy at times, I did my best. UPDATES & EDITS: I intend to add on to the original writing as time goes on, but will add on in separate paragraphs from the original work. I will also share resources along the vein of these topics and feel free to comment with resources you have found beneficial to your personal growth as well. Our Knowledge is Not Primitive- Wendy Makoons Geniusz

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