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.)
I watched the incense unfurl, twisting and coiling in beams of sunlight, my gaze intent on the shapes, my mind a two-fold step– I followed the movement of smoke and used it as a means to cleanse myself of the incessant chatter of thoughts. When thoughts came to me, I watched its movement as I did the incense. I observed the twirling and contracting of ideas and my body’s responses. I noticed the sharp pains and dull aches, the quivering fears and brisk bullet-points of things-to-do, the observations of observations. While images wafted into my consciousness, gentle chants of “I am here, I am witnessing” or a single violet flame or the feel of my wooden staff (crowned with tourmaline and black wire), any or all of these grounding techniques returned my attention to my being, my wholeness, my Self. My body-focused prayers of Dignity, Community, Ancestry, Legacy, and Commitment began each 10-minute period of reflection, silence, and meditation. I carried meaning with me like the staff I held in my hands. The chant of ulililang kaluluwa, galang kaluluwa, bathala, bathala, bathala was the sacred meaning-making of the coconut smoke that wreathed my body. My attention and meditation a silent chant; the flow of life within and without like wisps of coconut incense.
This daily practice reminds me of who I am. My trauma — my soul wounds — sometimes spread through my body, mind, and spirit like a poison, fracturing my wholeness, yanking my behaviour into incomplete performances against threats long vanished. Rage, terror, grief– these cords that pull me to and fro, mindless and in agony, refusing to let me rest, dream, care, or seek comfort. But when I do this daily practice, a practice combining ancestral teachings, energy healer training, and an exercise given to me by my somatics trauma counselor, I am whole again. My soul wounds are given some time to heal. I am reminded of what I am before the wounding, beyond the wounding. I am shown what still remains after destruction and loss. From this point of stillness and meaning, I move through the world connected and compassionate and myself. From this seed, I can grow.
Canda and Furman (1999) write about three steps regarding our responses that are part of being in reflective silence (p. xxiii). Remen (1999) discusses “healing the shadow of a culture” through rituals of grief and gratitude (pp. 38-44). Kumar (2004) introduces concepts of nourishing soil, society, and self from the teachings within the Bhagavad Gita (pp. 74-82). To me, these are all connected. My Commitment to Justice, Protection, Nurturing– they must first grow in reflective silence. Understanding my responses interpersonally and to systems of oppression can be a step towards connection and compassion, or towards the cultural shadow of mastery and control. For my own growth, I aim to redirect myself to the former when I notice that I am responding mechanically to the latter. So often in social (justice) work, it becomes more of the righteous and who is in control instead of healing, education, nourishment, and transforming our responses beyond the familiar subroutines of oppressive dynamics.
It is a dream of mine to heal cultural shadows with rituals that honour loss and celebrate what we have in life. Influenced by the work of Renee Linklater’s (2014) Decolonizing Trauma Work book, I have already begun the outlines of what it means to work with the cultural traumas of my own people, the Bikol people in the diaspora and in the homeland, and of the various Filipino diasporic peoples within the settler colonial state of Canada. It occurs to me, when reading Remen’s work, that there are complicated intersections of wounding– that a Filipino doctor will have the wounding of the medical culture as well as the colonization of the Philippines on her spirit. A disabled trans Bikol poet, like myself, must handle the woundings of medical culture in a different way (the receiving end of the power dynamic as opposed to a medical professional’s institutional power), but still share the wounds of colonization, while having different wounds specific to cissexism/transphobia, and the Bikol people within the larger context of the Philippine islands. As a wounded healer, Remen’s words has given me new insight, like the first time I read of the individual symptoms of soul wounds (what allopathic Western science calls “trauma”). Now I can see the variety of cultural wounds that exist. I begin to feel the connections, the swelling tide of compassion inside, the nourishing desire for rituals to heal, to grow, or just to witness such grave and vast losses.
Kumar connects the Gita’s teachings to my own Bikol ancestral teachings, of the interconnectedness of all things, similar to the Bikol word bawi, which can mean debt and connection to the land, the spirits, the dead, all living things, each other. A parabawi, one of my many ancestral gifts and modes of healing, is the person who mediates between their communities debts to the rest of the world, be it plant, animal, ancestor, deity, or the spirits within themselves– mistakenly sometimes only seen as a simple exorcist. But my training as a parabawi, my understanding of bawi, teaches me that we must nourish and replenish and give back, through offering and right relationship, what we take every day through our mere existence. Critical social work is just another mode of the healing that is part of my heritage and the service I delight in, that I have a responsibility to administer, that I know is part of how I give back. I am stimulated and inspired by the examples Kumar outlines– it spurs the urge to plant trees while having more sleep and solitude retreats and fasting. My heart responds to these road signs along my path to transformation and healing. From that inner peace, I hope to give forth compassion. From that return to wholeness, I hope to offer guidance to others on their own healing, on their own return to a whole self.
Canda, E. R., and Furman, L. D. (1999). Spiritual diversity in social work practice: the heart of helping. New York: Free Press.
Kumar, S. (2004). Soil, soul, society. In You are therefore I am: A declaration of dependence (pp. 74-82). Totnes, England: Green Books.
Linklater, R. (2014). Decolonizing trauma work: indigenous stories and strategies. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.
Remen, R. N. (1999). Educating for mission, meaning and compassion. In S. Glazer (Ed.), The heart of learning: spirituality in education (pp. 33-50). New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
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