CW/TW: discussion on abuse, cults, oppression
As I share and discuss Homecoming Teachings and cultural attachment (through the cultural somatics Ritual As Justice School), a common theme keeps coming up: many of us do not have the luxury of starting from a place of strong cultural attachment, i.e. what the Homecoming Teachings call a “Centre” that is already built for us. Unlike Elder Malidoma Some in his book Of Water and Spirit, many of us also don’t have an “intact” people or culture that can welcome us back with an initiation ceremony. Many of us, indeed, find that we have to initiate ourselves as much as we look for those who can initiate us into our purpose, our community, our Centre.
On top of that, the work of oppression/cultural/personal demons creates many pitfalls in regards to abusive and cult dynamics. A practice, group, or movement builds what seems like healthy attachment with strong principles, sometimes through creating experiences that feel extremely euphoric, until an individual believes that the only way they can feel connection and belonging is through the practice/group/movement. When there is some kind of “proof” of that, the controlling, coercive behaviour begins to destroy all other attachments except the one controlled by the abuser/cult. Individuals may be able to escape early on if the controlling behaviour is initiated before devotion or loyalty is secured. It’s also possible to escape later if not all other attachments and connections were completely destroyed. In the Homecoming Teachings, this is an example of the work of a Tyrant, usually goaded by community demons (with probable personal and oppression ones as well).
This article will review some suggestions of finding and/or building a Centre/Community, while watching out for abusive/cultish dynamics. These suggestions and ideas are heavily influenced by the works/teachings of Elder Malidoma Some, Elder Blu Waters, Zainab Amadahy, Rhizome Syndigrast Coelacanth Flourishing, Kai Cheng Thom, Mariame Kaba, adrienne maree brown, Resmaa Menakem, Shira Hassan, Tada Hozumi, dare sohei, Larissa Kaul, Starhawk, and my Elders and teachers from the Philippines (such as Apu Adman).
For a review of some of the concepts I touch on, like Homecoming Teachings and cultural attachment theory, you can scroll to the bottom of this article for links.
Finding a Centre
The core of this advice lies in the belief that in some way, through your actions, memories, feelings, and thoughts, you will know or discover your purpose and your values. Perhaps you already have a strong sense of purpose and principle, but if you’re like me, I started out not really knowing or understanding what I believed in and thus how to treat folks well or be treated well. The secondary aspect to this advice is in the Homecoming Teachings– that responsibility and wildness (the cycles of life and death) can teach you your purpose and values. In fact, initiation and self-initiation rely on responsibility and wildness.
First of all, what do I mean by wildness? I mean the cycles of life and death, of what in the world we can control and what lies beyond us, beyond our ken or plan or anticipation, which includes things beyond our control. It is this wildness that reminds us of what we are, it is in these moments we ask ourselves why we should exist in this world, and to what purpose. Initiatory life periods, whether brought about by the wildness outside of ourselves or inside ourselves, demand our focus to make meaning of what is happening, usually out of the suffering that occurs from the uncontrollable and from the loss of death, breakups, disasters, unspeakable tragedies.
When we are confronted with the wildness of existence, if guided in an appropriate initiation container, we then consider or are reminded of our responsibilities. What do I mean by responsibility? I mean whatever anchors us to all of creation, to treat each other well, to make good on commitments made by us and our ancestors to each other, to act like good guests, to make each interaction and relationship an offering or a gift. It is the ability to respond, in the moment, with consideration to the spirit of what is before us, whether it’s “nature” or “technology” or “living” or “dead”. I’m learning, as well, that this may feel “just right”.
So here’s the advice, wrapped up in the following question: In periods of initiation, whether planned or unexpected, when confronted with the wildness of existence, how did you act responsibly, i.e. how did you respond in a way that anchored yourself to all of creation? All those moments, all those decisions, teach you your purpose and your values. Were you courageous? Did you dance? Did you fight? Did you spend time healing the land? Did you receive visions on how to make things better? Were you compassionate to yourself and others? When you have the answer to these questions, write/draw/collage/record them. Keep them close by. I have a notebook (more than one, to be honest) that holds these anchors for me, to review when I forget.
But also I review this information when I need to “find a centre”, when I need to find others like me, those I can call “Community”. These are people that share the same values while honouring and celebrating my purpose. These are people that grasp wildness and embody responsibility, who also have their own purpose that I honour and celebrate. These are people that will work alongside me and heal with me while holding me accountable.
In this day and age, how would you go about finding them? I would suggest gatherings that also share your values and flow with responsibility and wildness, first and foremost. Secondary considerations would be gatherings and events that appeal to your identity, your interests, and skill sets needed to continue expanding your purpose. You could also attend local events and embody your purpose responsibly in the wild– it’s possible that your Community may come find you.
What to watch out for is people or movements or groups that may talk about your values, or acknowledge responsibility and wildness, but their actions show irresponsibility and control, actions that can look like abuse and/or cult-like behaviour. The most common red flag would be promising you power/healing/happiness/peace only through a single figurehead or source, which essentially ignores your responsibility to all of creation if you can only gain “true connection” through the one. It also does not allow for wildness, for there is sickness as well as healing, and sorrow as well as peace, death as much as life, these exist and are cycles, anyone who promises that they can erase all that instead of accepting the reality of existence may also have other grandiose plans of control. The danger truly lies in early warning signs being well hidden and only being alerted when all other support systems in your life have been cut off and you are isolated and terrified. The hope is reconnecting and re-anchoring to as many forms of connection and attachment to the universe as possible, when you have been or are in danger of being abused by those claiming to be Community.
Building a Centre
The considerations of helping to co-organize a community space is even more difficult. I wouldn’t recommend doing it by yourself, and I would highly suggest the above “finding a centre” process first to at least find one or two other living humans to build something with. The next step would be a statement of values, what you all share and believe in, as well as how you embody those values in the world, and how others can hold you to account for those values and for your actions. This statement can be born from rituals and activities together, making group collages and art pieces, group storytelling and shares, a dance circle or communal singing.
After that, I would suggest creating a ritual or building a process together on how to “clear the air”, resolve conflicts, bring things up with each other, give feedback. This may require reflection on everyone’s parts as to their own self-accountability process, how they’ve dealt with conflict in the past, and if there are things in their own life they need to be accountable for, because as you all merge your lives together in building this type of community, their words and deeds will also be joined with yours. What is the dance/boundaries around the past, present, and future in regards to accountability and conflict within your community and outside of it?
Throughout this, I would also recommend ensuring that everyone still connects to their wider support networks, be it plants, animals, their own ethnic communities, the land, their ancestors, and sacred tools/technology. Part of your “Centre” involves all these other communities too, and if you have unhealed work in those areas it will impact everyone else as well. The most pressing example is the one on “whiteness”– for those who don’t have a healthy relationship with their European ancestors, harbour white guilt and/or white supremacy, their attempts to build community with Black folks, Indigenous folks, and people of colour will be fraught with unintentional violence.
These are at least three preliminary steps, but they are so important that I’m just going to present them only. I reflect on my own mistakes in trying to “build a centre” as I’ve written the above guidelines, in hopes it may help other folks as well. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it is perilous to tie up material security when building a centre. The crush of capitalism and existential insecurity during this time may mean people will extend themselves beyond their actual capacity just to secure housing with a collective, and will agree with spiritual/activist/etc values but not have the capacity to actualize that, possibly because they lack the wider support network and healing. The community space you are trying to build cannot be the sole source of healing for everyone involved, it must include the cultivating of other supports, otherwise it is in danger of cult dynamics at most, and at the least, many of people’s “frozen needs” from childhood or their own cultures will be projected onto everyone else and responses may escalate from all the built-up unhealed material, leading usually to a lack of resolution or complete separation. Ideally, your group must have already gone through a conflict, understood each other’s self-accountability process, and developed a group accountability process together before even considering moving into the same household. It is through the wildness of conflict that one can actually discern how responsible you and others can be, how much needs to still be healed so as not to bring in abusive dynamics, and how much everyone has capacity for everyone else’s healing journey.
To be honest, I struggled with completing this article because so much of this will continue to be a work-in-progress. It is the last article I scheduled for 2020 for a reason– these are trying times and finding “community” is a lifelong project because of the unique circumstances we find ourselves in, so different from our ancestors, that we’ll continue to struggle and dream and find our own way within the myriad ways the rest of the world and technology grows alongside (or beyond) us.
Links to Previous Articles & Concepts
- Soul Wounds & Personal Demons
- Community Demons
- Oppression Demons
- Pagliwanag: Homecoming Teachings
- Homecoming to Healer & Protector
- Homecoming to Seeker & Visionary
- Homecoming to Leader & Trickster
- Cultural Somatics (from The Selfish Activist)
Want to have access to the companion video of this article that goes deeper into examples and resources? Become a patron on Patreon for as little as $1/month to support my Elders and healing work among my communities.