Image Description: A stick of upright incense in a bowl on a wooden table. The smoke curls in the shape of a heart against a black background. The title on the image reads: “On Healing Justice & Sacred Activism” with the URLs “lukayo.com” and “patreon.com/lukayo“.
(This article is one of a 5-part series written in the spring of 2017 for a spirituality and social work class.)
Back against the wall, smoke unfurling up and across my body, wreathing my head and sliding into my nostrils. I remember the smell of coconut husk shavings and fire, soothing me as my energy fell into the ground and spiralled upwards. My grounding exercises are tinged with guilt and responsibility, since I had stopped the practice quite frequently in the last two weeks before. I’ve built a new sleep routine, with the exercise, and flossing, and grounding exercise. Issues that have been bothering me throughout the day begin to resolve themselves during the grounding period– not even actively. I watch the thoughts come and go like the flickering images on a screen, moving from confusion that a situation is happening, and then blooming, unexpectedly into a sense of understanding as to the motivation and what it means to me. It also gives me time to pay attention to my aching and ill body.
As I write this reflection, so late that it’s almost morning, I think of Hanh’s (2007) admonishment: “If you don’t know how to take care of your body, how to release the tension in your body and give it permission to rest, you don’t love your body” (Hanh, 2007, p. 48). I grow sad about the revelation that I don’t love my body, because I definitely want to. The truth of the matter, though, is that my actions do not align with my desires, with my wants. This is something that I desperately want to make right. I wonder if I can incorporate it into my grounding exercises, lengthen them from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, by embracing mindfulness through a self-healing. “When you come to an organ or a part of your body that is ailing, you can stay with it longer, using the energy of mindfulness to embrace it and smile to it. This will speed the healing” (Hanh, 2007, p. 49).
I think about the microcosm of my body being a type of balance that needs to be restored, and all the things that need to be transformed for that to happen, within myself, outside myself, and all the social and spiritual communities and environments I inhabit. Similarly, the macrocosm of cultural community, and of society in general, replicating the harm being done to the body by the harm we inflict on all Creation. Baskin (2011) believes “the balance needs to be restored by making the one who caused harm accountable, providing compensation to the person who had been harmed, and conducting healing ceremonies” (p. 153).
These healing ceremonies are what fascinate me, what drives me to my inevitable life’s work, and to the group “Healing Justice Network Toronto” on Facebook. How do we bring the community together so we just don’t restore lives to a broken system, but transform those lives and transform the broken system together? And not just fancy spas and luxurious “spiritual” retreats only accessible to the privileged and rich. These ceremonies and circles should be open to any who want to transform their communities and support the reparation of relationships from harm, for “the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned” (Stevenson, 2015, p. 18). I would even go further– it’s not just how we “treat” them, it’s how we centre them, it’s how we empower them to lead their own movements while we work alongside them.
This subject has been on my mind even more so than usual because I will be on a panel on June 26th called “Alternatives to the Criminal Justice System” from racialized LGBTQ perspectives. My contribution to the panel can be summed up in Stevenson’s (2015) emphatic belief that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” (pp. 17-18). Last summer I was on a similar panel, and I spoke of what it means to rehabilitate oneself, to restore the balance, and work towards transformative and healing justice when you are a person who has done harm. I talked about self-accountability skills and how crucial that is in being accountable to your community. I talked about ways to offer compensation, and ways to make amends. But I did not speak of healing ceremonies. On this new upcoming panel, I think that’s definitely what I want to discuss more of. I want to explore with my fellow panelists and also those who’ve come, the nuances of a survivor-centric politics while trying to practice transformative justice, and what that means for communities that do not have shared accountability lore and traditional customs. I feel like when the queer and trans community tries to implement such processes, that they inevitably fall apart because there isn’t that foundation of trust in a tradition with recognized Elders that can bear the process and have the confidence of the community. That for these processes to be more effective, grounding it in ceremony, in a community-wide consensus on what our values are and who we are asking to embody them, need to be the next steps.
Baskin, C. (2011). Chapter 9: Healing Justice. Strong Helpers’ Teachings: The Value of Indigenous Knowledges in the Helping Professions. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Hanh, T. N. (2007). The art of power. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
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