art by Katherine Bell McClure
“I’ve been considering the phrase ‘all my relations’ for some time now. It’s hugely important. It’s our saving grace in the end. It points to the truth that we are all related, that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. The most important word is ‘all.’ Not just those who look like me, sing like me, dance like me, speak like me, pray like me or behave like me. ALL my relations. That means every person, just as it means every rock, mineral, blade of grass, and creature. We live because everything else does. If we were to choose collectively to live that teaching, the energy of our change of consciousness would heal each of us–and heal the planet.”
I am first generation Canadian. My parents were both born and raised in Portugal. Along with my extended family on both sides, they came to Canada to escape the Revolution and mandatory military conscription (for men at the time). Over the years, my parents have shared with me how hard it was to arrive in a new country as young adults with little English and a very different worldview, in some ways, than that of the mainstream Canadian culture of the time. My parents learned English, joined the workforce, and adopted some mainstream Canadian ways that were meaningful to them. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the things about Portuguese culture that they valued and held tight to: the language, the spiritual and cultural traditions, the importance of family and community living.
Even though I was born in Canada, Portuguese is my first language. I became more fluent in English when I went to public school in kindergarten. However, I attended Portuguese school on Saturdays to learn to read and write. I was aware from a very young age that I had to learn how to walk between two very different worlds: the very individualistic values of the mainstream Canadian society and the community values of my heritage. This was–and still is, to an extent–a delicate dance for me because I hold values in both camps: I value my individual expression and free will, while also seeing the importance of seeing myself as part of a complex matrix of life. I don’t see these two orientations towards living as dichotomies any longer. I actually see them feeding into one another quite naturally when we don’t put them on a polarized scale where one is more important than the other. As always, nature provides us with good illustrations of how these two co-exist.
Animals are who they are: a tiger does not pretend to be a horse, for instance. Animals live from their true nature, the essence of who they are. They also know the importance of cooperation. Ecosystems are a great example of this. The Canada geese in our neighbourhood have a choice of many ponds to feed at and raise their young. This year, I noticed that they moved their feeding spot despite the fact that there was still a good food supply for them. It turns out that the geese are great conservationists; they left their territory to allow it to recover from their years of use. An elder also recently reminded me that geese take turns being the leader when they are flying so the birds who fly behind have an easier time traveling. Similarly, we know that when predators are reintroduced into environments from which they’ve been absent, they restore balance to the ecosystems. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, the ungulate population decreased, therefore allowing the plants and trees to flourish again. Not only do animal species know how to conserve, but different animals provide the checks and balances needed for most species to flourish. Thankfully, life is tenacious!
We are individuals with our own life paths but we are living in a relational field of energy where what we do, say, and think impacts everything else in connection with us and vice versa. We are individuals within the unified matrix of life. The question is not: Do we choose our individualistic notions above those of community? Westerners often cling to individualistic doctrine out of fear of losing their “rights.” And although we must be vigilant not to give over our rights as sovereign beings, we simply couldn’t survive alone; we depend on communities of all kinds to thrive. We see the environmental, social, human, and psychological destruction that happens when people live only from their individual needs, wants, and desires– when they forget that they are not alone in the universe. The important question in my mind is: How do we use our Spirit-given gifts to add to the collective energy of the communities we travel within (including the ecosystems we live in)? Being committed to community living is like a marriage where there will be rough patches but what is important is that we continue to face towards each other to find ways that everyone’s needs are met to some extent most of the time.
Sometimes this means that we must put aside some of our desires so someone else in need can receive more support. One community I am a part of operates in a consensus model. Coming to a general agreement that works for folks is harder the bigger the group gets, though not impossible. Similar to the geese, everyone leads at different times in this group and everyone’s voice has the possibility of being heard. I am more successful in my intimate relationships today in my forties because of my participation with this community model. I’ve learned to see where there is need in my community and give up some of my “wants” so that others might receive benefit. For example, folks have different personal financial budgets and while we have an agreement to meet each year for professional growth, we’ve had to be mindful that we don’t meet in a location each year that causes financial strife for our members. With some creative thinking and adjustment to the community agreements regarding attendance, we’ve come up with a solution that everyone can live with. Is it ideal in that everyone gets everything they want or need all the time? No. However, it does minimize the negative impact the previous system was having on the lives and well-being of some of our members.
This is what the phrase “all my relations” means to me. It entails that we think about ourselves not as contained individual planets floating around aimlessly in a lonely solar system, rather that we are in a continuous, collective dance with the other sentient beings in the universe. Though we stand in our own circles, we have a responsibility to life and to doing the least amount of harm possible. This is challenging as human beings because we all do harm to some extent in order to survive: we hunt, we forage, we take down trees to build homes, we use natural resources to fuel our cars and heat our homes. It comes down to basic Systems Theory: When one part of the system (including families and communities) changes, the whole system has to change by default. Ironically, the stronger we stand in our own inner medicine wheels as individuals, the better advocates we become for issues that imperil the health and well-being of our communities. When we know who we are and what we value, we are more likely to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. This is what creates true change in the world. I dedicate this article to all my relations. May we continue to evolve in co-creation with Spirit.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com