Looking inside ourselves and at our colonial past to move toward healing
By Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer
When Canadian society talks mental health, we hover above the surface. We perch on the tip of the iceberg. We #BellLetsTalk and raise money for mental health initiatives. Except what responsibility do we undertake at a daily level?
One thing is for sure: most Canadians don’t talk mental health and colonization. Unless we are intimately affected by intergenerational violence, we don’t seem to see a linkage between our bloody roots as a country and our crumbling spirits. Yes, spiritually, we are crumbling. Without the capacity for understanding, appreciating, and really being with the people around us—we are at odds with our deepest truths.
Allow me elaborate. In this social system, we spend approximately the first twenty years of our lives in institutional education. The hallways and classrooms of these buildings hold no place for authenticity, spirituality and connection as human beings. Instead, cliques and exclusive groups run rampant and you guessed it – bullying begins young. Although, truthfully, the term “bullying” has always irked me; in school it came across as a cheesy trademark meant to cover the administration’s failure to address the seriousness of the abuse that actually occurs.
It needs to be said: our understanding of interpersonal abuse and self-abuse is lacking. We lack spiritual connection, direction, and wisdom. In the age-old adage, we hurt others when we are hurting. This pain is exacerbated by the fast-paced nature of our consumerist society. We are taught not to trust ourselves. What is intuition? We only know Google. We search for answers outside ourselves, exclusively. We are taunted by advertising to buy, to be better, to look better, and to feel accepted by a dysfunctional world. As J. Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
In my eyes, the answer lies, in part, through an understanding of our roots as a colonial nation.
It’s early October and I am sitting around a campfire speaking with a good friend of mine. He motions to the fire, telling a story of when colonization came in and stripped Indigenous people of their cultural practices. As he speaks, I feel the story’s reverberation to the present moment. Canada’s foundations have been dependent upon smothering the spirituality and harmony of Indigenous people. Our lives here are precariously structured on the genocide of communities who already knew the way to guide each other. They knew how to see the Earth as sacred and valuable, how to work together, and to practice connection through ceremony and drumming.
After settler colonialism ravaged Canada’s First People, it continued to ripple so that it affected every one of us in its wake. Colonization is greedy. It is painful. While we sit by the fire, my friend explains that colonization jolted people from living in their spirit to their mind. It divided the body and mind until disease, addiction, and suffering was unavoidable. It tossed spirit in the garbage. It re-directed our aspirations from the human connection and the truth to the soul-killing depths of power, money, and greed.
The effects of our greedy, material-fueled society have translated into suffering for everyone. In the attempt to be secure in the material sense, we are all overflowing with stuff – with toys and distractions. These distractions do little in the face of a spiritual and mental health crisis. That’s because they aren’t what we need. We need to re-connect with ourselves, deeply, and with each other.
I am a settler colonialist by ancestry. I have self-righteously lived on this stolen land for a long time and have never been exposed to Indigenous methods of healing and living. My family has existed here, in nice houses, with nice things, for generations – not once finding an inkling of need to explore the true meaning of connection to this land and its Indigenous traditions. Finally, after an invitation to a sweat lodge ceremony last year, my ignorance was cracked open. In the sweat lodge ceremony, we focused on the plight of the little boy and little girl. This refers to our essential self, our spirit. Painful experiences have slowly buried our true self and nature. This has created a collection of broken, spiritually disconnected people who then go out in the world to hurt others, in an unconscious tirade to stay un-hurt.
Oh boy – are we ever hurting. Caught up in the hamster wheel of capitalism, we learn to fill our voids, our lack of self-awareness, with material things. This leaves us empty, aching, and unhappy. Luckily, transforming collective mental health is not limited to the accessibility of pharmaceutical western medicine. Collective mental health can be improved through a renewed understanding of the powerful human spirit. By connecting to others on this deep level and by acknowledging the roots of our violent past, we can start to heal as a community.
We need to look inside, but also around us, at the people we can reach. We need to acknowledge suffering and to take seriously the teasing, taunting, and pain in social institutions. This pain is not ‘just a phase’, it will continue into adult lives. While anti-bullying campaigns are common in elementary and high schools, institutionalized education is not equipped to tackle spiritual disconnection.
Where are people supposed to go when they feel hopeless? A 1-800 number hardly suffices when we have built patterns of suffering deeper than a simple conversation. Where are people supposed to find solace when our material society has constructed concrete walls between our spirits? Our conversations about mental health are severely lacking. To find transformation and healing, we must take an honest, deep look at our history as people. To understand our foundations as a collective group is to discover the truth that lies underneath a superficial society. Taking back power of our spiritual side, it is possible to access deeper meaning and deeper connection. The colonial, capitalist structures in place are not the framework for healing. We must look inside ourselves, and then at one another, in order to see the intrinsic connection that holds us together.