Native American Mindfulness: All My Relations

by | Jun 4, 2015

Leslie Gray“I’ve noticed that many people say that everything is connected,” said psychologist Leslie Gray at a recent workshop on Shamanic Counseling – a method of adapting indigenous healing practices to modern urban circumstances in an effective and vital way. “But they don’t live like we’re connected.”

Ever since she said this in a recent workshop, I’ve found myself mulling over her observation. How would it look if we actually lived like we are all connected to everything? How would we treat our elders? The natural world? The homeless?

How would we live if we thought of all things – people, plants, animals, the oceans, the forests, all living things – as our relatives?

Recognizing and honoring those relationships are central to Dr. Gray’s vibrant blend of Western psychology and Native American healing wisdom.

Focus: Shamanic Counseling

A woman of Oneida and Powhatan descent, Dr. Gray had never imagined walking the path she now walks. Then came the accident, described in a 2009 feature article in The Sun,

She was completing a fellowship at Harvard University and following a traditional path toward a doctorate in clinical psychology when she suffered a neck injury in a car accident. After eleven different orthopedic specialists failed to relieve her pain, she took the recommendation of a Native American friend and sought help from a Cherokee shaman — a traditional healer — who was able to lessen her suffering. Having experienced firsthand the power of indigenous healing, she began studying it while she completed her doctorate. This dual path has helped her become a mediator between Native American and Euro-American worldviews.

We are so honored that Dr. Gray will be returning to Portland this August to teach Shamanic Counseling at our Still Moving Yoga studio. This Level 1 course introduces new ways of interacting with clients in a counseling relationship and covers

  • Expanded journeys.
  • Preparation of the healer and the healing space.
  • Preparation of the person seeking healing.
  • Listening and seeing shamanically.
  • Case studies.
  • Feedback and getting results.

Below, we share excerpts from some of Dr. Gray’s writings posted on the site of the organization she founded, the Woodfish Institute. They exemplify her insights into First Nation worldviews, how they apply to psychology, and – most importantly – what we can learn to address the environmental challenges facing us today.

“All My Relations”

My purpose tonight in speaking is to suggest that the re-inclusion of the ancient world view expressed in the American Indian statement “all my relations” is precisely our greatest hope for the future, ecologically and psychologically.

No one escapes the daily recitation of the facts of planetary destruction in the media. They are voluminous.

Forming “an Empathetic Relationship with the Earth”

Psychologists know that reality is dependent on our perception of it. Therefore we must appeal to people compassionately and positively or they won’t change. But the field of psychology has its own tragic flaw. It has remained exclusively focused on human beings and their relations with one another.

Regardless of theoretical orientation—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanist, or transpersonal the focus has been on human beings.

The consequences of this anthropomorphism for psychology have been at the very least that it seems to have made itself irrelevant to the central question of our time, whether life itself will remain sustainable. Another consequence is that there is no model of mental health which includes the natural world.

Indeed, many leading edge thinkers are coming to the conclusion that it is only through the formation of an empathic relationship with the Earth that we will survive. This is what eco-psychologists are saying.

“Ecology Needs Psychology and Psychology Needs Ecology”

If visitors from another planet came here and were to read the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Four, the one that has the diagnostic categories required, where you pick the particular flavor of disturbance that you diagnose someone with if you are a psychologist (and which is required by all insurance companies, even if you are going for just a couple of visits), they would possibly conclude that you could raise a human being in a broom closet as long as there was a mother and a father inside there. The DSM-IV has exactly two references to the natural world—seasonal-affective disorder and the other is bestiality.

I really see both these problems of ecology and of psychology as world-view problems. Both fields are acting as if they are not related to each other. Indeed the slogan of the eco-psychology movement has become ecology needs psychology and psychology needs ecology. I think at its best, eco-psychology says that you can’t have sanity without a sane relationship with the natural world.

“A Shift of Consciousness”

Eco-psychology proposes a shift of consciousness from the atomistic to the synergistic. For example, Theodore Roszak says in his book, Voices of the Earth, “Eco-psychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being. The term synergy is chosen deliberately. The contemporary ecological translation of the term might be that the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet.”

Eco-psychology can be described as an attempt to bring the rest of the social sciences into line with the insights of modern physics about interconnectedness. These insights are often described as a new paradigm. A new paradigm? It seems to me that this paradigm is the paradigm of the oldest psycho-spiritual cosmological system there is—shamanism. The shamanic world view is perennial. It has been acknowledged continuously for forty thousand years and continues to be so by the more than three hundred million indigenous peoples in the world today.

“Everything that Is, Is Alive”

This perennial indigenous world view is powerfully stated in the Chuckchee saying, “Everything that is, is alive.” In a universe of living things intimately related the biosphere is our family. In this family are ourselves, the two-legged, the four-legged, the creepers, crawlers, rock people, the plant people, the tall-straight people, the rolling hills, the grasses, the cloud people, planets, starry nation, galaxies, all my relations. And this family has values, family values.

I think that to restore our personal and collective sanity we need to get back on track, to rediscover a universe of living beings intimately related: the biosphere as our family. This family has values: respect for life, harmony with nature’s cycles, gratitude, balance, and above all, reciprocity — don’t take anything without giving something back. This is the key. Reciprocity with Being underlies indigenous cures.

Shamanic Counseling, Level 1, will be held August 8 and 9, 2016 at Still Moving Yoga in Southwest Portland. This retreat is open to all, though those with limited or no training in journeying to drumming must take the 2 hour review class the evening of August 7. Leslie will also be back for another workshop in September, 2016. Click here to contact us and be put on the notification and earlbird registration discount list

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