By Christine Cruz Guiao
To stand in my power, I remember who I am. I mean, who I really am as a spiritual and soulful being, beyond my political identities: which include all of the complicated entanglements of oppressions and privileges I bear as a 2nd-generation Filipin@-American, gender-nonconforming queer woman.
To work with others to re-discover their spiritual selves, I co-founded Zenyu Healing (Zenyu means “complete healing” in Japanese, a nod to my partner’s ethnic heritage), a grassroots nonprofit organization that serves the holistic health and leadership development of LGBTQI People of Color in Seattle. While we acknowledge that our political, ethnic/cultural, and gender identities are all profoundly important in understanding our status (or lack thereof) in this country, and realizing that those identities can be both limiting and liberating, at our gatherings we draw our primary strength from our souls.
But how do we regain what has been taken away from us by the dominant culture, its teachings and values, its rewards and punishments, its power to define what is “right” and “wrong,” its materialism and neglect of spirit? I want to share some of the simple but powerful decolonizing and re-indigenizing techniques that Zenyu has found helpful in healing ourselves and our communities. I honor and bless my beloved Teachers who have patiently taught me these healing ways—they are too numerous to name but they reside in my heart and my deepest prayer.
1. We honor our ancestors. At all Zenyu spaces, first we introduce ourselves with our name, and where our ancestors are from, whatever ”ancestor” means to us. This practice, taught to me by my beloved Lummi spiritual teacher, Fred Beaver Chief Jameson, orients us in time and space. We acknowledge that despite what the dominant culture tells us — that we are self-made individuals, meaningless blips in history whose only purpose is to work and to consume — we are far more than that. We are the products of the love and wisdom of our ancestors, the beautiful beings who came before us and/or who have loved us into being. They can be biological family members, a 2nd-grade teacher, a childhood animal companion, a beautiful tree or plant that we are connected to, or people who have blazed the path of love and justice with fearless vision and leadership (Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.). Through connecting to these ancestors/progenitors, we honor their love and find hope, strength, and courage. Even if colonization has stolen their names, faces, and histories from us, spiritually we can always connect to them because they live in our blood, their history is inscribed in our DNA.
2. We acknowledge our place in Nature. At Zenyu, profound healing has come from reintroducing ourselves to the natural world through wilderness excursions and retreats. This practice was inspired by my childhood, when I spent many days exploring the glorious Northwest wildernesses with my family. My parents worked tirelessly their whole lives, my dad commuting two hours each way to his government job and my mom working night shifts as a nurse, to provide for us and to also help our family back home in the Philippines. We were lucky to have our Lolo Andoy and Lola Edet (my dad’s parents) to help care for me and my three sisters while our parents were working. Our time together was precious and we always spent it outside, the eight of us camping, clamming, fishing, crabbing, and canoeing. When I was 6, waking up after a night of making s’mores and listening to my Lola’s stories, in the dewy early morning I would see a campfire already burning and my beloved nanay (mother) looking so content preparing breakfast, smiling at me as if all the toil of her hard life had dissipated overnight. “Ang sarap matulog sa labas”, she said to me, which means “it feels delicious to sleep outside!” And my mom knew innately that Nature heals us – makes us whole because we are back in our true home, in deep and intimate inter-relationship with All Living Things. Our modern first-world materialist lifestyles have hypnotized us into forgetting that for 99% of our history as humans on this planet, we were not alienated from the natural world. Recognizing our interconnectedness helps us to reframe everything else in our lives, including our work in social justice movements. It expands our capacity for forgiveness and compassion, qualities that we so desperately need if we are to heal the core issues at the root of many injustices in our time.
3. We create our own relationship to Spirit. At Zenyu, we take back our power from oppressive religious institutions by creating spiritual but non-religious rituals and ceremonies that honor our unique needs as a community. As LGBTQI folks, many of us have had difficult, sometimes traumatizing, experiences in the religious communities we grew up in, with some folks being shunned or isolated for their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Throughout human history, ritual has been used as a way of creating meaning, of reframing the hardships and mysteries of life in a bigger perspective. Instead of relying on religious institutions with histories of oppression and control, we tap into our boundless creativity by making stuff up! After the devastating though unsurprising verdict in the George Zimmerman case, we (black, brown and white allies) gathered together as a community and held a grieving ceremony to honor the lives of Trayvon Martin and all the black and brown children who are the victims of racial profiling and violence. Powerful somatic exercises allowed us a rare moment to fully explore and express the deep rage and sorrow we felt at this injustice; doing this in community transformed frustration into collective power.
At the core of Zenyu’s work is our recognition that it is in relationship that we are wounded, and it is in relationship that we heal. The intention behind everything we do is to build spirit-centered community. We begin most of our spaces with exercises that ground and center us into our bodies, followed by a one-on-one sharing with someone that we don’t know that well. Each of us takes equal time reflecting on questions meant to elicit deep exploration into our selves, our values, our relationships, etc. This simple sharing immediately opens us up into a more heart-centered space, and it is in this place of openness and trust that we can more fully heal.
“Complete healing” is achieved together, not alone!