As a newbie to permaculture, and an old hand at personal growth, the matter of decolonizing has really piqued my interest. It is easy for me to picture the nature of the colonization process in our physical world: people coopting land and resources, including human lives and cultures in the interest of imposing their own vision of what is right and good, usually with strong undercurrents of control and domination for personal or tribal gain of the colonizer and to the detriment of the colonized.
Applying this now obvious and disturbing tactic to realms within and between ourselves brings a density to the consideration that is staggering at first. It takes the work of personal growth from a redesign project involving ideas and feelings and memories and possibilities, to a process of decolonizing, of reclaiming an original, authentic state that has been captured, exploited, programmed and rebranded by forces both outside ourselves and within ourselves, from the internalized oppressor.
While the field of psychotherapy, the currently ruling modality in the industrialized world for addressing the range of malaise in our felt mental and emotional worlds, uses a rich lexicon of concepts of intrusion into the natural state for understanding the root cause and cure for our ills, there is a sense of virtual as opposed to embodied experience as one moves through the process of healing unseen inner wounds.
From an exploration of early childhood experience and trauma, to faulty learning and acquired concepts, to lack of care and appreciation for authentic being, to sociocultural inculcation of control mechanisms to keep society working from a systems perspective, the avenues open to us for identifying causality leave us with a less than satisfying experience of grabbing the situation by the horns, so to speak, and correcting it.
Including somatic components into the work, such as art or movement, for example, is often helpful in concretizing the unseen and frequently nightmarish world of inner and outer imprisonment, and allows for a more tangible result as we examine our art, or journals, or other altars of healing. But, I am left to wonder what could be possible as we delve deeply into the metaphor of decolonization from the standpoint of embodied, rather than virtual reality.
I preface my thoughts on the matter by saying that I sense the oneness of our living, that while there are different textures to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual expressions we reveal, there is at the same time a weaving together of a fabric of life that is inextricably interrelated and provides a rich and fertile and pliable substance that is both the canvas and the created art upon the canvas. The threads cannot be separated out without damaging the integrity and health of the fabric, of the life. In this sense, it is impossible to deal strictly with thoughts, feelings or behaviors; yet, there are doorways in each of our chambers of living that allow entry into the whole, as if through a resonant hologram. As we use the doorway of embodied reality, we have access to different processes and awarenesses.
It is a popular belief in our very mental society that thought is the core of everything and shapes our conceptualization of reality. In contrast, there are other points of view that ask how our external circumstances might impact our perceptions. For example, linguists Ed Sapir and Ben Whorf (207–219) proposed that language shapes and limits our thought processes and we define ourselves and the world by our capacity for language. For example, if you never learned a word for snow, it is almost impossible to conceptualize what such a thing might be or to take action relative to snowness.
While there is controversy about these paradigms, research indicates there is validity to both points of view, which leads me to ask, why not explore the less traveled road at this point in time? Why not examine how our colonized experience affects our thoughts and beliefs and feelings about ourselves, others, and the world? It is a door that is not often opened in our personal growth domain, and is actually quite a mind-bender.
Just for fun, I did a quick search on inner and outer reality, and while I saw many articles about inner reality shaping outer reality, I did not see anything about outer reality shaping inner reality. In the field of psychology, behavioral psychology makes an argument that behavior is paramount, with inner reality being nebulous at best, not a viable place to effect change. This theory posits that by changing dysfunctional behavior to more functional behavior, all will be well; however, what to do with the inner reality that people most definitely feel, even if they have no words for it, or can articulate it?
I propose the risky venture of trying to change our colonized circumstances into circumstances that support freedom and authentic expression. Pretty radical, and riddled with issues, no doubt. Take, for example, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Republic Book VII, 365–401). Plato dialogued with his students about a people who lived chained in a cave and all they could see were shadows. They took the shadows to be real, and when somehow liberated from the chains and the cave, the sight of daylight and people seemed nightmarish, like an awful unreality. They did not have the inner structures or concepts to understand their captivity or their ensuing freedom.
So, how do we approach decolonization in a reasonable, viable manner that will not cause distress and shock to the liberated aspects of self or community? For starters, I think we need to take it slow, and with a lot of planned buffering, and a fairly good idea of our purpose.
In defining decolonizing, and implicitly, colonizing, as a permaculture novice, I arrive at these notions about what colonization of self might include:
· coopting the sacred self for the purposes of production for the ruling sociocultural pattern
· programmed scripts about the value of self, according to assigned social role
· injunctions for attempts to break out of the programmed matrix
· devaluing of individual authentic expression and support for socially prescribed responses
While the fields of cultural and social psychology address the role of societies and cultures in identity development, the emphasis is on adaptive functioning for survival within a social grouping. More recent thought and research includes issues of social justice and marginalization of identified outgroups, but on the whole, the matter of all individuals being held captive by a colonizing force goes largely unaddressed.
From a systems perspective, psychologist Carl Ratner proposes in his book, Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind (322), that in order to understand oppression, it is necessary to consider macro cultural factors, such as political ideology. All of these approaches shed light on aspects of colonization, but the express matter of decolonization of personal and social systems is not directly addressed.
Keeping in mind everything we know about human function, health and distress, and how sociocultural patterns intersect with individuals, we can easily see that releasing patterns of colonization, or decolonizing, is likely to be challenging. From the discomfort caused as a result of straying outside of the prescribed borders of the tent, to the lack of awareness of things beyond the tent, to the lack of skills necessary for living an authentic life, the road to decolonization is likely to be fraught with difficulty.
That being said, understanding these factors can provide a roadmap for the process.
· increasing awareness of sociocultural and political patterns
· skill building in stepping outside our comfort zones
· support and validation of authentic expression that is not rooted in production mentality
· developing sensitivity to the felt sense of outer reality, not just ideas and feelings
With these resources in place, we can carefully select manageable chunks of visible terrain to address, such as taking a look at the way we schedule or overschedule our lives, our scripts for relationships and community vs isolation, communications patterns, consumer habits, health and nutrition choices, and many more.
There is plenty of food for thought here, as they say! It is helpful to place a process in relation to other processes, to see the differences and similarities, and to get our bearings for the adventure!
Plato. The Allegory of the Cave, in Rouse, W.H.D., editor, The Republic Book VII. Penguin, 2008.
Ratner, Carl. Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Whorf, Benjamin. Science and linguistics, in Carroll, J.B., editor, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. MIT Press, 1956.