How to Heal a Turtle

Applying the healing principles on the larger scale.

Healing from the inside out appears to be a more successful model than chemical intervention from without.


Indigenous Healing by Rupert Ross covers a lot of the journey from wanting to help, to understanding how. The experiences Ross describes (many are anecdotes from the people he’s met and worked with, others from Ross’ direct experience) point to a system quite different from the one administered by the Canadian Government. The key points here for me, were to heal together (individual, family, community), but only when people are ready. You can’t resolve the conflict you have with an abuser if the abusive relationship persists. Transformation from both (or all) parties is necessary. No one gets a free pass. It’s hard work, and very rewarding.

the Globalization of Addiction by Bruce K. Alexander describes addiction (although he points to many different social ills, his focus is addiction) as a result of psycho-social isolation (feeling isolated from one’s family, society). Our current social model of competition and individualism pushes us to forego our healthier social instincts to join the free-for-all of competitive materialist acquisition. What he discovered as an antidote is social art projects, whether theatre, visual arts, or any of the other creative means of expression.

Mothers of Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming and Recovery is a collection of portrayals of indigenous motherhood in various parts of the world, and how their experience and attitudes present us with a better way forward. An important assertion here is that we aren’t given enough time to heal. It’s not like time is in short supply, so why be so stingy with it?

Group Therapy

So what’s the way forward? Listening to the voices that have already started on the path. It’s slow going, but progress is undeniable.
I think that we can learn much from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is generally a modification of one’s behaviour to help with the healing from mental/emotional trauma. Canada, and Turtle Island, is full of people suffering in environments that are hostile to us. The way ahead is to transform our disposition. CBT allows us to do so as individuals (it’s work).
In essence, it is a matter of recognizing your emotional reactions to certain triggers, to stop when they swell up, let the surge pass, then respond. I think of it as three interacting parts: the physical body (reflex), the emotional body (react), the mental body (respond).
For example:
you cough unexpectedly (reflex)
you smell something foul and squint your face and say “ew” (reaction)
you realize someone farted, realize it’s not a health risk, and make a joke to diffuse the situation (response).
The last is the part we can adjust: how to respond. If we react emotionally, as I often encounter with myself and others, then you never know what ephemeral outburst will erupt. Could be anything. Responding according to the specific context of the situation is the civil way forward.
It’s important not to suppress one’s emotional reaction. Emotions protect us as much as reflex does. It sets us up for action – do I need to fight, flee, flirt? and the context determines how to act – play-fighting, bow out politely, keep doing whatever brings a smile out of that special someone.
CBT works for individuals, but can it work for groups? Oh, indeed, it really can. But how?
Recontextualize our relationship to the world. Instead of seeing opposites, make a conscious effort to think about them as complements. How does that change how you feel about it?
Instead of two opposing sports teams, we could see them as necessary to each other. One team doesn’t make for much of a league. Yet that seems to be the ultimate goal with our particular interpretation of competition. The last man standing, so to speak. There are any number of other ways of looking at it. The teams and individuals compete for glory, money, bragging rights, to push themselves, to get better at their sport, for the pleasure of the Creator, and so on. Really, the only competition you need is with yourself from yesterday. Do better than that person, in whatever incremental way. Be kind to yourself, and stay perfectly unhappy. How you define self-improvement is entirely up to you. Others can help push us beyond our limits, and show us of what we are capable.
So suddenly cutthroat competition is transformed to collaborative self-improvement. Both the result from a competitive environment. I didn’t teach myself to juggle to be a performer, I continue to do it because it’s fun, and it allows me to improve in reaction time, nerve function, reflex, better understanding of gravity and air friction, and it gets people to smile.
In terms of our shared culture(s), how can we transform our opposition into collaboration?
Well, here’s the calendar, now all we need are the stories to go with it.

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