Please take a look at the next drawing.
What do you see?
Is it that for you these lines are just random patterns of shades and lights? Do you see an old person or is it a young person? Are you able to see both at the same time or none of them? Are they part of one another or are they even the same person seen through the lens of time?
Given my cultural background, when I looked at this drawing, the first thing that came to my mind was the image of a young woman, looking sideways exposing the left part of her neck. But then later, seen from another perspective, the chin of the young woman could be also the nose of an old woman. Or the left eye of the old woman could be the ear of the young woman. Let me say first that the way my life has been shaped in a predominantly patriarchal world, is making me assume that both of them are women –which clearly could be incorrect. The point I’m trying to make is that if I wasn’t paying enough attention, I would be missing completely the old person.
And that’s exactly what’s happening with the Western Syndrome: many of us who live influenced and immersed in it, are completely missing, disregarding and belittling the wisdom and power of the indigenous ways of knowing that reminds us how to deeply love and how to be connected in (comm)unity.
Bear with me to share a striking example of how I came to finally realize about “not seeing the old woman.”
For almost a year, Unitierra Califas –which am part of– has been involved in a monthly seminar, hosted through the magic of the electronland via videoconferences, where close to ~20 different groups from all over America –from the parts of the Planet we call Argentina, Colombia, Perú, Mexico and the U.S…. and yes, America, or better, Abya Yala, is not a country but a continent ;-)– have been engaged in discussions of what we call, “Other Political Horizons: The End of Patriarchy, Capitalism, the Nation-State and Formal Democracy.” Each month the elder, Gustavo Esteva, whose love pulled all of us together, holds space to have a discussion around a particular theme. It could be from patriarchy, to a black feminist manifesto, to neoliberalism, to education, to health, to housing, to social control of technology, to food practices. In these discussions we not only share insights around the problems of the totalitarianism of corporate capitalism death machine, but also the enthusiastic nature of the beautiful world our hearts know is possible and the alternatives that have been already joyfully existing for a while.
Health or No Health
In a particular month we were digging deep in the domains of health. Or so we thought. We were given to study and reflect a few readings (one of them Ivan Illich’s analysis of the crisis of the health care system and the dangers of alternative medicine: Twelve Years After Medical Nemesis). As the different groups were sharing their collective reflections, many of us were stopped in our tracks by this insight that was reported later in our monthly summary:
“A central line of reflection opened when Valiana and Victor [two indigenous folks from the Southern and Northen parts of the Planet we call Mexico] made us see that there are no words in Maya [South] and Rarámuri[North] to refer to what we commonly call ‘health’ or ‘disease’. They said that, in any case, that condition was not an individual affair or was not related to a physical or mental state of a person: rather, they were disturbances of harmony in relationships in the community, whether between people or other living or non-living things, that could or may not manifest in the condition of any given person. The question offers very different angles of analysis, which we need to continue to explore. Among other things, it shows us the limitations of our current language, constructed and conditioned by the dominant regime. The path of emancipation will have to go through the construction of a new language.“
Let that land for a moment and, if you don’t mind, am going to read this paragraph again because it still captures me with deep amazement…
It is not that the Mayan and Tarahumara/Rarámuri peoples don’t have words for “health” or “disease”, rather, their culture have a very different worldview. Sister Valiana explained further with an example:
“When we, Mayan people, experience the death of a child –inside or outside the womb– or any other situation that is affecting the community, a ceremony is offered. In this ceremony, the whole community gathers and goes from home to home to offer Saká –which is a drink made out from corn, honey and sacred plants connected with life and fertility. The sacred beverage is offered to start healing. The community uses this word “to heal”, because something is happening there, and it is not a family or a person’s issue but it is a matter that embraces the entire community. We go from house to house to offer it. Then the ceremony continues to be held by the whole community but now the beverage is offered to the earth, to the animals and, not only to that, we Mayan People feel that there are other people taking care of the mountains, and rivers, and the winds that surrounds us. And thus, the special drink is offered to them too, because if we don’t do it, we know we are doing something wrong, we know we’ve been ungrateful with all that is.
So, if we know we are fighting among ourselves or something intense is happening, we also feel compelled to offer this drink not only to the earth, to animals, to the rocks, to the air, to the cenotes (sacred fresh water holes), but also to the things that even though we cannot see, we know we must be in harmony with. We call these energies, people who take care of us, who are always present and whom we should revere with cyclic/recurring ceremonies, otherwise, the lack of this acknowledgement will affect the entire community as well.”
What happened to me after being hit with this realization –a culture where there are no words for health, disease, and not even words for government and democracy!– was the experience of this feeling as when I saw the “old woman” for the first time in the drawing. In an insightful deep and loving conversation with our beloved Dr. Poet Sri Shamasunder –who is the cofounder of HEAL and was the midwife of using this drawing of the two women– I shared with him how I no longer can hold only the perspective of the “young woman” Western Syndrome perspective where there are words for health and disease. Now, sometimes I’m experiencing one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both “images”.
I thought I was way ahead on the learning curve to decolonize my mind, little did I know how radical and rooted in love and community many Indigenous People still are nowadays. What a humbling experience this is!
Remembering to Deeply Love and Unlearning the Ways of the Western Syndrome
Perhaps to be even clearer with this clash and coexistence of world views, let’s take the “first person in the drawing”, in the form of a question:
1. How is that elder Rafael got sick with pneumonia?
and the “second person in the drawing” in this other question:
2. How is that the community got sick with pneumonia in elder Rafael?
It seems to me, that the Western Syndrome lens is operating in the first question, as it alludes isolation and suggests that is not “my problem”. A more extreme case of Western Syndrome will even say: “He should know better and get some warm layers. Poor elder Rafael.” With a second way to acknowledge the interconnected and interdependent web of life, though, my heart feels alive, fills with love and abundant active hope and possibility. It encourages me to be engaged and acknowledges my responsibility in the matter. The wellbeing of elder Rafael is part of my wellbeing and the wellbeing of all.
What is the difference between these two questions and where do they intersect? What does it mean to have an authentic dialogue of wisdoms?
There are different ways to heal and have dialogue around it. It means we require to go beyond our conditioning of language and images. How do we keep a dialogue with people and cultures where there are no words for “health” and “disease”? What are we talking about when we talk about a disease? What does it mean when someone tells us that certain perturbations in the relationships of community could be manifested as huracanes or as pneumonia?
If elder Rafael has pneumonia the first question then is why the community got sick of pneumonia in elder Rafael. It is not that we are holding the thought that there’s a sick individual with a specific disease, rather it is the entire community who is sick in elder Rafael.
This is the world and reality, regardless if we are aware of it or not, in which we live: we are a tapestry of humanity and we are further weaved with the biosphere.
The challenge is, how can we organize an effective dialogue between these two different cultures? How can we imagine a form of social organization where these radically different views –which cannot be reduced one from the other– are in practical, concrete and continuous dialogue and are part of the forms of relationship of everyday life in all aspects?
None of these questions have a clear answer. We cannot say “because A, therefore B, here’s the concrete answer to this question.” It is more about reasons for reflection, because they are very broad issues.
All of the sudden, this other question makes so much sense: Why is that the Earth Community is sick with this madness in uncle Donald Trump?
In her article Revolutionary Suicide(2013), black Christian Rev. Lynice Pinkard gave us some hints:
“Through its inception, [the government imposed in the part of the Planet we call] the U.S. has served as an immune system for capitalism, one that not only protects it from outside threats (worker uprisings, for example, or Communism), but from internal ones as well. In fact, one of the government’s primary jobs is to protect capitalism from its own excesses. […] The fact that women, slaves, and materially poor people had no voting rights was not a historical oversight. The entire purpose of the new nation was to protect the property rights of materially wealthy, white men.
The government [imposed in the part of the Planet we call the U.S.] has repeatedly proved its willingness to protect capitalism above all other things. […]
We have seen how government and law have been made to serve the perpetuation of global capitalism, and we have also noted how the state –the organization of the military, the police, and the criminal justice system– will discipline our bodies through force and coercion if we challenge capitalism too directly. But equally powerful are the fortresses of civil society that sit next to the state: all of the religious, legal, educational, and cultural institutions that discipline our minds and emotions and mediate supremacist hegemonies through socialization and consent.”
At times it looks as if we are too obedient to follow white supremacy. There are undocumented and unafraid folks organizing to embody dignity and respect, but also there are people who ask us “But what do we do over here? We are documented and afraid”. Part of the answer is that we are already part of a movement that is awakening the Earth in unprecedented ways. No silly papers or passports or visas can take away this fact and the ultimate reality that, right now, we are the Earth herself.
Have you think about this: What does it mean to have papers endorsed by the most destructive empire that has ever existed in the history of humanity, so destructive, that the people in charge of it are willing to put in risk the future of their own children? I’d have no problem burning/destroying all such documents –of course in a environmentally friendly way– and the same goes for all the documents issued by all the governments imposed in all parts of the Planet. If there is a disease now –other than the main one of patriarchy followed by that of white supremacy– preventing us to spark our planetary immune system to eradicate capitalism, it is the so called Nation-State. And now let me turn the table around: do _you_ have papers? And how is that such papers bring security, peace and freedom of mind and heart? Security of what? We absolutely don’t need to give up our personal and collective peace and freedom.
To heal and healing, within this context, take new meanings. One that moves from nouns to verbs. A direct engagement with our capacity and intrinsic power to heal ourselves individually and as a Planetary Community. Perhaps the dis-ease is already too spread all over the Earth to be composted with more care. It seems as though we, the collective being who is the Earth, need to suffer some more, until we reach a point where suffering is unnecessary.
Which are the emancipatory roles of the so called professions (like doctors, lawyers and school teachers, to name a few) that seem to be oppressive by nature as they are now heavily infused with patriarchy, arrogance, lack of humility and capitalism? No doubt, the people causing this hurt and pains are hurting themselves as well. The world view manifesting “Why is that the Earth Community got sick with this madness in uncle Donald Trump?” now is clearly related with the ways we, women, men and non-binary-gender people, perpetuate patriarchy and how we keep cooperating with unethical institutions and our hesitation to be fearless, joyous, compassionate and full hearted human beings.
It is proven that hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people, and loved people love people. There are unnumbered examples of human beings who committed heinous crimes and who later, have recovered, healed and became a positive force loving, uniting and bringing harmony –including many _many_ former CIA agents, the latest one been brother Ed Snowden.
As a recovering sexist and recovering left-brainer , I tremendously appreciate to have examples of identified male brothers who are recovered from these sickening ways of engaging with the world, but also deeply inspired by courageous female sisters and non-binary gender people and children who stand up, don’t put up with oppression, and express this other reality in clearer and gentler ways to move towards living in a post-patriarchal world.
This will require all our personal, group and planetary ways of healing transcending the oppression of indigenous people, black, immigrants, women and queer folks. It has to come from the motivation of our self-love, the respect and reverence for this glorious Earth. As brave wise elder and former Black Panther sister Ericka Huggins says: “Love is an expression of power and we can use it to transform ourselves and the world.” To be living in a healing Planet it means to understand that instead of conceiving the word “security”, we replace it altogether with respectful relationships with all sentient beings, where there are plazas, and natural building villages formed by homes; where neighbors are embedded in a Beloved Community; where everything is a bit more circular; and where borders turn organic: lakes, mountains, oceans, deserts, forests, rivers; where the center of it all is life. And if life is the center, of course women have to be playing a major role as they have been doing/being it in all spheres of our lives. Many of us had already lived in such spaces. These are spaces where we all can hold space for compassion, understanding, healing and an ecology of joy.
My two biological grandmothers have transitioned from the young lady to the old lady to even being dissolved again back to the Earth. My two biological grandfathers have experienced the same fate. And like them, there are so many ancestors (and plantcestors!) who have given their lives for us to live and continue this ~ 13.7 billion year old story of love. Their essences of all of them live strongly in me today, they are saying: “to heal today, we ought to disobey with Great Love.”
Not only undocumented, but _proudly_ undocumented and unafraid,
Fruitvale, Oakland, California, Earth. November 20th, 2017.
PS: ** Forgive me for using one of the two languages that I know of: one the colonial Spanish and the other the imperialist English… good luck verbally communicating the holistic reverence for life Pancho! 😉