You Belong

(The following is taken from 'You Belong - A Call for Connection' - by Sebene Selassie (p 19 -21)

'Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands have a unique tradition of sailing referred to as "wayfinding." When Europeans colonised these islands, they recognised that people across thousands of miles of open ocean shared heritage. These indigenous people explained to Europeans that, yes, they traversed the thousands of miles between the islands of the South Pacific (and perhaps as far as South America). They did this on their large, open boats (think Moana) by connecting deeply to everything around them - to the elements, the animals, the sky, the ocean, and the spirit world. This seemed impossible to the European navigators and scientists. Clearly the people are primitive. How could they travel all that way without written language, maps, instruments, external navigation tools, large ships, and a Christian God? Why, we ourselves had all those things and still got lost!  The Europeans settled on a theory that these natives must have accidentally drifted thousands of miles between islands (eye roll). It wasn't until the 1970's that Western disbelief was finally publicly discredited and way finders were recognised as expert sailors and navigators. But Europeans did not only not believe the way finders, they banned them from practicing their culture of way finding (though the communities secretly kept it alive). With colonisation came epistemicide....

'Epistemicide is the killing of knowledge. It refers to the wiping out of ancient ways of knowing. There was a rationalist/scientific paradigm within European Enlightenment that spread from the hard sciences to the social sciences and into the humanities. This worldview rendered nonscientific knowledge systems invalid. I believe epistemicide is a primary reason we as moderns have lost our sense of belonging...

(Science) is still only metaphor - words and numbers describing realities that are indescribable (time is an illusion!)... Science today (and for some time now) wields power. And science itself tells us that power makes us less likely to take on the perspectives of other people - it's shown we pay more attention to those we deem powerful... Power is wielded by those who master language and argument as well as access and resources...

All language is metaphor .. Some of it is complex. Some of it is simple (and poetic). All of it, as the Zen Buddhists say, "fingers pointing at the moon." We can call it a spirit realm or the energy patterns, but we will still  have a hard time rationally understanding the myriad things that form the mystery and wonder of belonging.'


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Building calm


In times of duress we can help ourselves build a core of calm to strengthen our resilience to better cope with challenging times.


The following is taken from Rick Hanson's online Wednesday meditation series.


'Brain tips for deep calm' (24/09)


1. Take a minute every day to focus on really calming the body, for example through making long exhalations.Take 3 breaths where the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation (3 secs: 6 secs). Simply breathing into the diaphragm reduces anxiety as can focusing on the eyes, and the space between the eyes.  The parasympathetic nervous system is being primed to soothe and calm the body. This kind of breath practice and visualising focus for a minute at a time can help build trait relaxation - neurologically we are hard-wiring new ways of being.


2. Grounded in research on memory and learning - we have discovered the benefit of knowing where we are and what is okay about it. This goes back to our rodent ancestors - often related to what they were smelling. The capability of the brain for place memory - focusing on and highlighting where you are is calming.

This is especially the case if there is trauma history. Ask: 'What is ok in the place where you are?". Whatever is going on outside - and the place may not be perfect - but what is okay about it? When there's inner insecurity and shakiness, we can still literally 'know our place'. From the conceptual this can become embodied. This knowing comes from a very ancient part of our brain where self-protection is key.


3. We can gain calm through relatedness ... thinking about people important in our lives... looking at photos of family members ... or reminding ourselves of those people who serve as examples to us .. teachers, mentors, spiritual guides.

Having a sense of community and identification with others can both soothe and strengthen.


4. Deep within us there is be an animal vitality, a sense of fundamental resilience where we can draw upon a core of strength and grit that remains when all else is down. A feistiness, determination that we can draw on at moments of huge challenge. This is deep visceral knowing we can remind ourselves about.


These are simple ways to build resilience in our minds and bodies. 






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How Not to Lose Heart

"The reason we often start to go downhill with losing heart is that we allow ourselves to get hooked by our emotions. We may get justifiably enraged against the government or the corporations or the boss - whoever seems to be obstructing justice. But whatever the circumstances, once we get worked up in a major way, we lose our effectiveness. We lose our skill to communicate in such a way that change is really possible. We lose our ability to do the one thing the is most often within our reach - to uplift ourselves and the people we encounter. When we get hooked - when we get really angry, resentful, fearful, or selfish - we start to go a little unconscious. We lose our payu - our awareness of what we're doing with our body, speech, and mind. In this state, it's all too easy to let ourselves spiral downward. The first step in pulling yourself up is to notice when you're going unconscious. Without doing that, nothing can get better for you. How could you change anything if you're not aware of what's going on?"


"The overall point here is that the way not to lose heart is to realise how everything we do matters. It can go either way. If we go toward defensiveness, closing down, and unconsciousness, we add those elements to a planet that already suffers enough from such tendencies. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to feel our vulnerability, if we sit up tall when we want to collapse and refrain from striking out when we're provoked, we are having a positive effect on the larger world. Maintaining our own confidence and well-being benefits our family and our workplace and everyone we communicate with. Happiness is contagious.

When more of us learn to trust our basic goodness, society will get stronger. This doesn't mean there won't be hard times. It doesn't mean the polar icecaps won't melt and the water in the oceans won't rise. But it does mean there will be a lot of resilient people who will never give up on humanity and will always be there to help others. It does mean that when things get rough, it will bring out the best in people, rather than the worst. If we learn how not to lose heart, we will always find ways to make important contributions in our world."


Extracts from 'Welcome the Unwelcome' (chapter 7) by Pema Chödrön (2019) 


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Good Practice

"When something is painful, stressful, or upsetting, try to slow down to observe your reactions to this suffering. Ask yourself if you are downplaying or denying the parts of life that are hard for you. See what happens if you simply name your reactions to yourself, such as,"This is tiring ... that hurts... I'm a little sad ... ouch." Along with this basic acknowledgement, try to have feelings of support and compassion for yourself.

Be aware of now you might be adding suffering to your day, perhaps rehashing resentments in your mind or getting stressed about truly little things. It's really useful to be interested in how you make your own suffering. And when you see yourself doing this, slow down and see if you can make a deliberate choice to stop fuelling and reinforcing this add-on suffering. old habits may take a while to change, but if you make this choice again and again, gradually it will become a new good habit.

From time to time, consider how a particular experience could be changing your brain bit by bit, for better or worse. When you know this is happening, how might it shift the way you approach different situations?"


From 'Neurodharma' (chapter 2) by Rick Hanson (2020)

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Does it matter? Part 3

“ The idea is for us to become more and more aware of what we’re doing, and more and more aware that our actions have consequences. Examining our behaviour to see whether it’s polarising is an extension of the question “Does it matter?” Once we see what’s at stake - not just for ourselves, but for our surrounding environment and for the planet as a whole, which suffers so much from polarisation - we are naturally motivated to apply payu, heedfulness. We can gradually refine our payu so that it’s present at more subtle levels of our behaviour, beginning with our words.”

(from Pema Chödrön’s ‘Welcome the Unwelcome’ p24)


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