Tribe is Tribe

Foundations

M

iracles, tribe

I was in an import store shopping for my best friend’s birthday a few weeks ago. I had found a piece of jewelry that I knew she would love and as the store owner was ringing me up I was explaining to her that my bestie is originally from Iran and that while this piece is not from her home country she would still love and appreciate it.

The store owner interrupted me though and simply said, “She’ll love it because tribe is tribe.” Tribe is tribe. She said it with all of the confidence and clarity of a woman who has spent that majority of her life among and within tribes.

Tribe is tribe.

I know that in our never-resting news cycle the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio that occurred at the beginning of the month are old news for most of us. They have left, as all mass shootings have since 2011, their fingerprints all over me though and are still fresh.

As I fielded emails from people asking if I was alright and checked on my own set of family and friends with El Paso connections, I kept hearing that woman’s voice in my head – tribe is tribe.

And I wasn’t sure why but I knew it was important. Then I took a walk down one of my favorite streets where an Acequia was full of water and running at force and I remembered. What I remembered was a psych class I took about a hundred years ago.

We were studying mental health in indigenous populations and I learned that one of the indigenous populations found in New Mexico and Arizona – the Navajo People – have a very specific way of looking at mental illness (and many physical afflictions too). The understanding is that while one person in the tribe may show symptoms of illness, be it mental or physical, the entire tribe is actually afflicted and that any healing that is worth a damn will address not just the individual who is obviously ill but the entire tribe.

I have been marked by every mass shooting since 2011 because that is the year I had my first baby. And that is the year when I found myself worrying about everything: leaving out a tiny piece of something that the baby could choke on, losing him to SIDS, speeding cars, and falling shelves, and…going into a public place where my child could be shot and killed, or I could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a mother or my husband could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a father. 2011 is when I started taking it personally.

Every time I packed lunch for my little one to take to school I would lay down a prayer that my baby and every baby child would be protected from a bullet, that today would not be a day a mass shooter came to a school, a place of worship, a place of work, or a place of fun. Now that I no longer make his lunch I pray that prayer every morning.

And because my babies are beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed, boys, I also pray that they are never the ones holding a gun aimed at someone else’s baby – because the statistics indicate that my boys fall into the category of the ones most likely to commit a mass shooting as well as most likely to commit suicide with a gun.

I don’t go into politics in my work or my writing. I remember sitting in hard-backed pews at the Baptist church and resenting the hell out of a preacher who had the audacity to tell me who to vote for. Dressing up that unique kind of tyranny in the “New Age” trappings of incense and crystals don’t make me feel any better. I believe our founders knew what they were about when they separated church and state.

However, for better or for worse, I am a spiritual teacher and writer and as such, I have a community of people who look to me for moral guidance. When the bullets start to fly I am asked to give words of comfort, clarity, and wisdom. To be clear: this is a task that I in no way feel adequate to, but it is also one that has been laid on my shoulders by nature of my work. So this is what I say: Tribe is Tribe.

And the killings and the killers are part of our tribe. There are many people in our tribe who are ill, who are hurting, and who are sick, but at the end of the day, all that really means is that our whole tribe is hurting, is ill, and is sick. Any remedy that further separates us from each other is no remedy at all and any attempt to bring some of the tribe together while leaving others out in the cold has failed before it even begins.

In 2011 I joined a special club, a tribe within a tribe, of parents who send their children to school every day praying that today won’t be the day that their child’s classroom door bursts open and guns begin shooting. We pray that today won’t be the day our babies are shot, today won’t be the day our babies are killed.

But this is not just my club, my tribe, or my problem. Tribe is tribe. This is everyone’s problem. The fact that bulletproof backpack sales have gone up 300% before the 2019-2020 school year begins is not my problem or the problem of my other parent friends, it is also my Republican uncle’s problem, my Progressive mother-in-law’s problem, and it is your problem too. Because tribe is tribe.

Every baby that dies and every person who thinks they can solve their problems with a gun pointed at someone else is everyone’s problem, the only way to address it is together, most especially together with the very ones you don’t want to deal with. You know, the difficult members of the tribe who look different and talk different, the ones that make you uncomfortable, the ones you’d rather not talk to.

You know Miracles, the inverse is also true. If one person commits to healing, to betterment, to living a life of integrity and justice and kindness then the tribe as a whole is blessed by that too. One of my favorite stories to illustrate this comes from the Jewish tradition.

It is the tale of the Tzadikim-Nistarim – the hidden righteous ones. They are 13 people who, through consistent right action, uphold the entire world and make life possible for all. My favorite part of this story is that these righteous ones are hidden even from themselves.

Meaning that it could be you, it could be me, it could be any of us. Because what one of us does touches all of us. Because tribe is tribe. And because there is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be, but right here, with everyone else.

Here is a version of the prayer that I pray over my babies on a daily basis, feel free to work with it in your own life if it speaks to you.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

But They’ll Say I’m Crazy

Foundations

M

iracles,

Blessed Full Moon in Virgo – the sign of sovereignty as well as physical and mental health. It is no coincidence that these qualities go together. Sovereignty is a certain kind of self-sufficiency. Without physical and mental well-being, self-sufficiency is diminished. In more extreme cases, the self-sufficiency that goes with sovereignty is altogether undermined. Physical and mental well-being are difficult topics to approach, not only for Sacred Artists but most people, because they strike at the roots of who we are and how we live, here and now.

When it comes to physical health there are the normal types of resistance. Perhaps the largest one is that it’s expensive. But even more, finding a good doctor – one who is not only competent, but who you feel really knows you, and can work with you – is actually hard. Finding a good alternative health practitioner is even harder. It takes time, and it takes energy. In magical work, there are a number of situations where the first piece of advice to a would-be client is that they need to go see a trained medical practitioner, a doctor….stat. They may need to have their blood pressure assessed, their cholesterol checked; they may need a healthier sleep regimen, or they may need to look into effective alternative treatments to over-prescribed drugs. None of these things sound remotely magical and yet – believe me – they make a HUGE difference in the magic we make and in the magic we seek out. Perhaps the greatest secret to magic (ready?) is that it lives where we would least expect it, and it is on the side of optimization, of taking care what you have already and bringing out its deepest hidden potential, tapping into the power currents that already lay sleeping inside of every part of our ordinary lives. In the middle of the mess is the shining one. So if you want more magic in your life, the starting point is clear: begin with a strong dose of self-care.

By far the biggest resistance I encounter around physical health check-ups is that they expose things that we would rather keep hidden away, unseen, undisclosed, and undiagnosed. I understand. There is no one who would rather curl up with her cats and children and be left to her own devices than me. And yet, it is also true that our relationship to the unseen translates across the board. Meaning that you cannot be in right relationship with the aspects of the unseen and the liminal that are spiritual if you are ignoring the unseen parts of your home, your family, or your own physical body. They are all of a piece. This is not to say that our ability to make magic and live enchanted lives is over if we have physical limitations. If that were the case there would be no magic to speak of! Rather, it is to say that it is the relationship we have with those limits, with the things we would rather not look at, that determines in large part what kind of enchantment we can experience every day.

And, as true as this is for our physical bodies, it is even more true for our mental health. For this is where the relationship between soulful seekers and health becomes particularly dicey – in the mental arena. Why? Because so many of the things we do and so many of the experiences we have can be and have been, branded as crazy pure and simple. For all of the advances that we have made when it comes to mental health, for all of the research that shows us that “healthy” behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are not so much divided from unhealthy ones by a sharp line but rather are found on opposing ends of a large and vast spectrum, the fear of being branded crazy, insane, and a kook runs widely and deeply through our community.

Chances are you have had special experiences that no one talks about openly, that you yourself don’t even know how to talk about openly. You feel alone, but you are not alone. Countless people have, around the world, and throughout human history, experienced things that today we do not talk about for fear of being branded “weird”. Often these experiences come unannounced at night during sleep, or when we are grieving, or when we fall in love, or in many other moments during waking hours. All of these moments touch upon the sacred, but our present habit of mind discounts and forgets them – sees past them, turns the other way.

I sometimes refer to my work as “normalizing” the so-called weird experiences we all have. What we take to be normal and what is in truth normal are out of whack, need to be brought back into alignment or right relationship. Because the experience of the sacred is a common human experience, perhaps another way to describe what I do in the Sacred Arts is about “communalizing” these experiences. I’m not a mental health professional, but I don’t have to be in order to know that most people feel connected to the dead in one way or another; most people have had experiences where they simply know things are so, most people have felt themselves move between the worlds at one point or another.

These are all common examples of Sacred Arts practices that we do not talk about and we do not teach our children about because we don’t want to be seen as crazy. And so, another generation of Sacred Arts knowledge is lost, and we have to cast ever further back into our lineage to find the people and teachings that spoke about these things openly and frankly. Our old ones usually will. They have nothing to lose in a society that often equates the aging process with going soft in the head. Our children will speak openly because they have not yet learned to censor themselves or conform to the current trend of societal norms. But in between the old ones and the children is a great swath of people who simply pretend that a good chunk of their experience actually never happens. That is until they talk to someone like me. Then the gloves come off and the sharing gets real and I am able to say, ah yes, so you have experienced this too? The relief at knowing that we are not alone, that we are not “crazy”, is so absolute that it is not surprising to find people moved to tears.

However, this begs the question about mental illness and really all illness, all imperfections. They aren’t really the kinds of things that you either have or you don’t in most cases. Mental disequilibrium, for instance, is something any of us can slip into and out of, from time to time. So what about those of us who have normal, magical and liminal experiences AND suffer from anxiety or depression or schizophrenia or limited range of motion or cancer or chronic pain or some other limitation – then what? Can we not make magic? Should we simply accept that some people can have enchanted lives but not everyone? Not us? If you believe the magazines and the Instagram accounts, what we often see is that magic is equated to perfection. So there is a message: in order to make magic, you have to be perfect. There are other messages too: in order to make magic you have to be rich or you have to be poor, you have to be a certain color, you need to be a lady or a dude…we have all seen the categories that are more noticeable for all that they exclude as opposed to those that they include.

It is thoughts like these that make me love, love, LOVE, my friend and student, Esmé Wang’s new book, the Collected Schizophrenias. Esmé is known and beloved to some in our community and to others, her name might be brand new. She is an award-winning fiction writer who also happens to suffer from a chronic illness and schizophrenia. Esmé is lovely. She is always beautifully put together. She went to Yale. She has great taste in luscious red lipsticks. She loves her dog and her husband. She writes beautiful, true, words and she teaches people around the world how to work with their limitations. She also suffers from one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses out there. Esmé doesn’t get to worry about whether she is called crazy or not – that’s already happened. What Esmé does get to do and what she does beautifully every single day is getting to decide how to live with ALL of the parts of herself, including the stuff she would rather not see or deal with or think about. Over the years I have watched her show up, make use of the Sacred Arts, and stand in her own sovereignty. She is one of the sanest, most talented, and most dedicated people I know. I was honored that Esmé included a chapter about our work together in her book (the final chapter, entitled Beyond the Hedge), but I am more excited about the book as a whole because it does what the best books do – it tries to understand something complicated – in this case, mental illness – from the inside out. That is a worthy task, one that can benefit our entire world and one that is especially of good use to our community of soulful seekers. I think Esmé’s book has teachings for all of us who have ever deceived ourselves about our experiences on the shaky grounds of “but they’ll say I’m crazy.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Maybe that too is a part of real sovereignty.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.