Decolonize

The landscape in my head has colonists in it, looking out over the rolling hills with a productivist grasping that turns every tree into timber and every meadow into pasture, every field into rows of farmland, as far as the eye can see. The colonists in my mind see bodies and can understand only labor, see minds quick and alive and can find no expression of wonder but to enslave to their own gain.

They arrived without my consent and settled in my thoughts, through my eyes, in my blood and genes. There is a vicious rationalism and Puritanism that scratches at my thoughts, the willful demand that the world stop moving, that everything be held still, orderly, ready to be put to my own device, utterly dominated. They landed on the shores of Turtle Island and I came in tow, history dragging my bones across the sea, to murder the inhabitants of this incredible place, their blood in the earth mingling with that in my veins before I was even born. And discontent with the fecund earth my forebears chained the bodies and minds and lives of Africa to the terraforming of this continent in their own image, that of a distant God and a supremacy of Whiteness, until the blood and sweat and suffering and countless enslaved lives became the very productivity of the soil, the land itself, seen as the natural right of Whiteness to receive the generative capacity of the enslaved bodies and enslaved land in kind. The eyes and minds of dark-skinned bodies still alert and bright and looking at me today, right now in this moment, in faces that need only for me and mine to step the fuck aside, and let them live. Needing not my leadership or my brilliance but the silence of my certainty, the stilling of my constant trained domination, lending where asked and when requested my support and as much my absence.

But my own mind is colonized, too. The valuation of rationalism and scientism, the quiet calm of authority that I know I can retreat to if need be, the intellectualization that keeps me both distant from and infatuated with the majik of the immediacy of the real and lived world.

I have always been fascinated by majik. And I can see that in many ways it was not other than an alienated longing for communion with the living, dynamic, awake-and-wild world. But I only knew how to view it as something other than myself, distant, something unapproachable, that required some intermediary of the “other”, whether cultural or historical or religious. I will suggest that it is this divorcing from the immediacy of our living, breathing, moment-to-moment lives – the majik that I mean no metaphor by – that has characterized the intellectual-cum-historical alienation and terror that has driven the need for domination and control by me and mine in heteropatriarchal Whiteness. This is not a disconnected account from a Marxist historical-materialism, because I believe they are movements into history of the same disconnect.

I have been watching a series on the Daoist and shamanic origins of Chinese Medicine – my first graduate degree is in anthropology of shamanism, and I am an acupuncturist by training and current profession, and understanding these roots help me better understand my own medicine. But what has struck me over and over is how resonant much of the way these practices are with shamanic systems worldwide, with how near-fit they are, from tracing of sigils in the air to using whistling and songs to the manner of divination, from using an egg to trap evil energy and remove it from a patient to the misting a patient with blessed herbal water from the mouth of the healer – they show up everywhere, in so many different parts of the world that I cannot help but say to myself “Look! Again!”

And I have seen these work and I have recognized their profound possibilities. But then comes a mind of doubt, a resistance and a hesitation, a stepping back to a critical stance that I have celebrated as a kind of anchoring, a reasonableness that I have been taught and enculturated to believe shows a maturity, a stance of analysis that I have been led to believe is necessary to… and here the teachers fall silent and shamefaced. Necessary to what? The only answer is “to not be like them”, to retain the critical distance and cultural power afforded us by the Whiteness of our thinking. To generate theories and conceptual structures that will serve to both isolate us from “these others”, from their lives, and to shore up our own cultural-power derived from the accolades of our fellows at our intellectualization.

Because it is here we fall apart and fail. Our structures of ideas cannot help but be organized by our more fundamental and necessary Belief that we are separate from the world, from Life, from the way we perform, practice, and act. That there are discernible Truths somewhere “out there” that stand still and certain. We are infatuated with our processes, our Scientism not other than Colonialism given new clothes, bleached clean of its long histories of racism and complicity with violence and oppression. Our colonialism still that authority we grant ourselves to draw the lines that include or exclude forms of knowing, the gatekeeper of what is possible and what is not, and what we will allow within certain coded boundaries for real and unreal. Just because a materialism and scientism has become our Belief does not reduce the Protestant and Puritanical infatuation with adhering to “Belief” that so fully orders our lives and experience. By giving such primacy to what we “believe” to be possible and real, we have allowed the Protestant and Puritan character of an always-evolving colonialism to mark the whole of our intellectual history, a needless neuroses forever circling the security of Belief, where our only ability to engage with a living experience is to decide that we do believe, do not believe, or conditionally set aside our belief structures for a time, waiting to take back up our critical stance again at the end. Even the value of any laudable empiricism has been set back centuries now by a fixation on forcing experience to fit belief, rather than allowing that ontology itself is fluid, and that the rules that seem to shape aspects of experience are emergent from particular forms of organization and activity far more than they are absolute rules that transcend the historical and lived. It is the purity of our souls in the Protestant sense, that our salvation is by the unyielding faith in our beliefs and our incorruptibility in the face of other experience, that still structures our participation with those aspects and elements of the dynamics of life that do not fit neatly into categories of right or wrong, of true or false. Scientific replicability may have replaced God, but our hearts are still Puritans looking for salvation.

But there is nothing of belief in magik. To paraphrase a Zen saying, the Great Way has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing. And majik has nothing to do with anything separate from right here, right now, in the dynamic and extraordinary unfolding of our immediate and lived lives. Trace a sigil and whisper a spell, walk in the forest, or make a phone call to a friend, drive to the store and get groceries – everything immediately alive. Never a moment that was not humming filled to overflowing with majik and possibility.

We thought that finding the right beliefs was a prelude to living fully, completely, to finally being aligned with the “right” way of being in the world. We thought that our epistemologies were our ethics, we thought that our existential doubts were the crux of what made us special, even human. And when we Whites found other ways of being in the world, other folx living in radically different ways, with questions of their own developed from histories and embodiments marked by different ecologies and organizational styles and strategies, we could not even recognize their “humanity”, because our “humanity” had become so entangled with the quivering doubt and fear that a no longer immanent God had left us, wondering where our hearts and souls and spirits had gone. We demanded Faith to cover this chasm of doubt and separation that has left such a rent-open-hole in the hearts of Whiteness when God was nowhere to be found. When the crying out of doubt and despair was not echoed by others on these new shores, the despair that characterized our very experience of ourselves – that demanded Faith to if only for some moments salve the wound – was the only way we could recognize “humanity” at all, and in the absence of that despair-as-Faith we saw no brothers, no sisters, but only creatures without souls.

And so we set about enslaving bodies and etching our own despair into their flesh and living spirits, simultaneously using their bodies to carve up this living, breathing earth, which were carved with whips and chains in kind. The economies were about power, and the policies were designed to arrange power – it is not a material analysis that I am avoiding, done better and more fully by many others, but rather to ask the question about the why’s of power, of what is the broken thing, the diseased need at the core of domination, colonialism, imperialism. I cannot ask it fully or completely, and I cannot answer the history. But what I can point to is where the answer echoes for me where I was raised, with what I was taught, and how the world looked to me, how it was structured for me, and the deeply broken places in me that would have justified almost anything to escape.

What then does decolonization look like? Because this is my own responsibility now. There is no one else to do it, no one else’s labor I can take hold of and turn to my own device. My history as a slaveholder can and will never have another life to claim, and the mind of the slaveholder must die in kind, slain by the hand of those who have suffered and never relented, the unstoppable force of the Black bodies and lives who shake free the chains of my own fear, cowardice, and weakness. My history as a patriarch, who can demand labor of the women if no one else, is likewise spent, exhausted and failing from its own corrupt premises, broken asunder by the brilliant resistance and expressions of unflagging life of the minds and bodies of womyn who would not allow such a tiny cage to hold them. And so while I must listen, to allow the dynamic life of this decolonization to flow over and through me, to listen to voices that the colonist in my head has always failed to hear, my own decolonization is not their responsibility and does not belong to them to do for me.

I live on Turtle Island. My blood flows with its rivers and its streams, my breath is that of the wind in its trees, my bones that of the stones that are likewise its own. If I am ever to decolonize, it must first be by stopping the imperialist project in my own heart, it must be by dismantling the deep belief that, if I go elsewhere, find another land or another people, my freedom will be given to me by labor they have already done, or can be made to do. I cannot but live on Turtle Island, and I cannot but survive from the earth that is stained with the blood and sweat of those that me and my kind have enslaved, tortured, and murdered outright by the millions. I am a settler and I cannot escape that. I am a colonist and I cannot escape that. This is my home, too, now. There is nowhere else for me to go. And so the question is how do I come home, to this place, to this land, with this history.

But to do so, I have to wake up. I have to see THIS WORLD as it is. And so I have to expressly and without reservation finally simply say, with no caveats and no dissembling or intellectualization. I have seen the spirits. I have heard the stones, I have listened to the trees, I have sung my own deep song down into the ground and had it vibrate back from the earth into my body. I have witnessed the dynamic life that flows moment to moment in us, as us, through us, beyond words and beyond time or space, but never separate from and always completely filling up and emptying out, overflowing and unmaking, each space, each moment. It shames my face to give it any name, to speak a word to describe, and yet I must acknowledge it somehow. The world breathes in and out with me, as me. I have never taken a single breath. Lungs full and heart beating. I am the dirt moving. This is majik, this is LIFE itself, full and complete. Nothing else to find, nothing else to hope for. If you say GOD I will point back to this and ask where, and if you say NO GOD, I will point back to this and ask where. You want the mystical, I will trace a sigil in the air and I will place my hands on your body and I will pray with strange words. To whom? Does it matter? You want the material and practical and we will strike stones together for a spark, and we will together be Prometheus.

This is the beginning of my decolonization. To wake up. To see there was never any great chasm, no abyss, no heart separate from the whole world to be torn asunder by doubt and despair. That I am the dirt, moving. Nothing else to be. No great ideal to manifest, no world to conquer, no Divine Plan to implement, no great vision to make real, no final word from any voice to say “This is the direction forward, and all else must stand aside” – for therein lies the root of all fascism. Life is already alive, manifesting, unfolding, becoming. I could never stop it, control it, or direct it. It was not mine to control. The colonialist in my thinking demands that it be chained and harnessed, that it be turned to productivist ends, that one day it might tell a grand story of my triumphs, that history might justify me. And the raw force of Life dismantles, dashes asunder, the absurdity of any such claim, not even noticing it, not even turning its head to ignore it, as it vanishes in a gust of wind, snatching a half-heard bit of nonsense from a mumbling dreamer’s lips.