Quillwood Podcast

QP2: Dancing with the Cannibal Giant, with Sherri Mitchell

January 02, 2022 Eric Garza Season 1 Episode 2
Quillwood Podcast
QP2: Dancing with the Cannibal Giant, with Sherri Mitchell
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of the Quillwood Podcast, host Eric Garza talks with Sherri Mitchell, a Penobcsot attorney who speaks and teaches around the world on issues of indigenous rights, environmental justice, and spiritual change. She is the author of the book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, and talks with Eric about the Wabenaki legend of the Cannibal Giant, the connection between overconsumption and trauma, and waking up to the pervasive grief of patriarchal colonialism, among other things.


  • 00:00 - 02:23 — Introduction
  • 02:23 - 07:50 — Origins of the Cannibal Giant story
  • 07:50 - 10:41 — Demonstrating the truths we see in our lives
  • 10:41 - 14:43 — Trauma and people’s susceptibility to consumerism
  • 14:43 - 20:24 — Helping people wake up to the impacts of consumerism
  • 20:24 - 25:11 — The connection between depression, anxiety and grief
  • 25:11 - 30:05 — How trauma is cumulative
  • 30:05 - 33:46 — Sherri’s approach to healing collective trauma
  • 33:46 - 39:18 — The wounds we carry from patriarchal colonialism
  • 39:18 - 48:56 — Amplifying emotional intelligence
  • 48:56 - 50:56 — Exploring our inner landscapes
  • 50:56 - 52:59 — Episode wrap-up

Links and Resources

Support the show

Eric Garza: Welcome to the Quillwood Podcast. I am your host, Eric Garza. Today’s journey starts back in late 2018 when I attended a workshop that was formative to my thinking about the roots of today’s social and environmental crises. It was facilitated by a Penobscot attorney named Sherri Mitchell. She is author of the book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change. We connected afterwards, and in February of 2019 we recorded a conversation on her book and on her work. I originally aired that as part of another podcast, but I feel inspired to rerelease that audio as part of this podcast because it feels so timely and because it dovetails so well with the mission of Quillwood Academy, with which this podcast is closely associated.

Before I share Sherri’s and my conversation, know that this episode is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Through Quillwood I offer courses, reading groups, and workshops to help people just like you learn to navigate the changing world in which we live. I just added the first offerings of 2022. The first one will be a reading group around the book Tao Te Ching, which is a Chinese philosophy book associated with Taoism. That starts in January. I have had a long relationship with this book, and I have read many different translations. It is a formative book for me, and also one whose philosophy helped me lift myself out of mental health issues that I experienced when I was in college. The next reading group will start in February of 2022, and it will revolve around Sherri’s book Sacred Instructions. Know that part of the revenue that I get from that reading group will be donated to an organization called the Land Peace Foundation, which was founded by Sherri Mitchell and supports indigenous land reclamation in the Northeast. Both of these reading groups will discuss their respective books over several meetings. They will take it slow, and also create space to build community among participants. If you want to learn more about either of these reading groups, or sign up, visit the Quillwood Academy website at quillwood.org. You can also sign up for Quillwood’s email list there, so you can stay abreast of other offerings as their registration opens up.

With those plugs out of the way, join me in welcoming to the Quillwood Podcast, Sherri Mitchell. 

Eric: Sherri Mitchell, welcome to the podcast.

Sherri Mitchell: Thank you for having me.

Eric: First of all, I wanted to start by congratulating you on your first book, Sacred Instructions. I finished reading it maybe a week or so ago and it was pretty powerful. So really amazing that you were willing to put that together and give that to the world.

Sherri: Well, it’s an honor for me because it’s an introduction to some of the teachings that I’ve had the incredible privilege of being able to access in my life. And so to be able to share those teachings, or at least the introduction to those teachings, with others has been a profound honor for me as well.

Eric: As I was reading through the book one of the things that really, really captivated me – and I’ve read other people make allusions to this idea from different native traditions – but fairly early on in the book you talked about the cannibal giant, and I’m not going to try to pronounce it in your native language because I  suspect I’d do a pretty good job of butchering it, but I’m curious, I’d love for us to talk about that for a while and where that idea came from and exactly what it means.

Sherri: Well, the story of the cannibal giant or a Giwakwe is an ancient story. So trying to determine exactly where it came from could be problematic. We know that it is a traditional story within our territory amongst the Wabenaki tribes that has been passed down for generations. So it’s a very, very old story. And our stories also tell us that this is not the first time that we have been participants in this type of life. So our stories tell us that human beings have been seeded here on this planet four times, and that each time we have failed to harmonize our beings with the rest of creation and with one another in a way that allowed us to continue our life on this planet. And so now we’re attempting to find that harmony once again.

And so the story of Giwakwe comes down through all of the iterations of life that we have experienced here on this planet. And the story tells us that Giwakwe sleeps deep in the forest and remains there asleep until he hears a very specific cry of the Earth Mother. And this cry of the Earth Mother informed Giwakwe that human beings are consuming faster than she can produce and harming her faster than she can heal. It’s a call of desperation and help. And so at that time, Giwakwe rises up and begins to play a song that lulls humanity into this false sense of security so that they continue to move faster and faster and consume more and more until they actually consume themselves off the planet so that Mother Earth can restore herself and heal from the damage that has been done by humanity.

And we are told that the only way for us to be able to escape that inevitability is for us to wake up. And when we wake up and start taking responsibility for the ways that we’re living upon Mother Earth, Giwakwe will go back to sleep. And so that story is something that generations of our people have known and have told. And we’re seeing that at this time that we’re living in the cannibal giant is indeed awake. That he is dancing humanity into this false sense of security. People think that if they can still go to the grocery store, if they can still go to McDonald’s, if they can still shop at Walmart, that things are okay, that they can have these illusions of comfort providing them with this false sense of security that blinds them to the true state of our world. And so when we look around at the society that we’re living in, it’s easy to see that people are engaged in this dance with the cannibal giant where they’re looking to easy access, to consumable goods as being an indicator of their safety and status within the world, when in fact that very act of engaging in those types of transactions as leading to the extinction of species, to the destruction of our ecosystems, and to the elimination of the possibility of sustained life on this planet.

Eric: It is a powerful… I’ve heard that articulated in other ways. A book I read a while ago, but I’ve read several times since is Columbus and Other Cannibals, by Jack Forbes, who has a similar idea, although it’s not quite the same. I think about the way that you formulated this cannibal giant, and the dance of the cannibal giant, and it’s easy to see how relevant that is to the modern world. And although I can envision how I started waking up to some of these realities, I find it really challenging to find ways to connect with some other people and to start the process of waking others up. Are there particular methods that you’ve used that have been particularly successful waking other folks up?

Sherri: Well, I think that in many ways we as individuals are incapable of waking someone else up. And so the best thing for us to do is to just demonstrate through the way that we live our lives the truths that we’re uncovering as we’re waking up. And those who are interested in engaging that process on their own, those who are being called from deep within them to wake up, will naturally gravitate towards us and will seek the teachings and will seek the understandings that we’re developing as we’re growing and waking up.

And so I think that to say how do we wake other people up is perhaps a bit misleading. I think that what we really need to do is to become fully awake so that we’re shining a light on all of the things that surround us and shining a light with the way that we live our lives in the world. And people will be attracted to that light. And people who are sleeping… You know, when we’re sleeping in our beds and the sun comes shining through our windows onto our eyes, we tend to wake up. And so by living our lives in a way that is in alignment with the rest of creation, by living our lives in a way that honors and has compassionate awareness for the struggles that others are suffering and meeting them in that way in the work that we’re doing, living our lives in ways that allow space for others to enter into our sphere of understanding is equivalent to the sunlight shining on the eyes of those who are sleeping. And so we don’t necessarily wake them up in a sense that people think about How can I convince someone else to do this? We wake them up by shining that light so brightly that they can’t help but wake up from the force of it.

Eric: I think that’s certainly a more mature way of looking at it than the way that I originally articulated it. You and I first met in person at a workshop that you led in Vermont about ancestral trauma. And I wonder what relationships there might be between people’s susceptibility to consumerism and materialism and all these things that are associated with this cannibal giant, what the relationships are between people’s susceptibility to that and trauma of various sorts.

Sherri: Well, I mean, the correlation is direct. It’s not even something that has to be examined too deeply to see the correlation. Consumption is as a placebo for the pain that we’re all experiencing as a result of our shared history of trauma and violence. And so if we can convince ourselves that things are okay because we’re able to have access to things that bring us a very short term, illusory sense of comfort, then we can continue to ignore the deeper pain and the deeper alarms that are going off within our being that tell us that the ways that we’ve been living in relationship to one another and the harms that we’ve been causing one another, the harms that are continuing to be imposed on certain populations of people, don’t impact us. But if we were to be left without access to those things, the pain that we’re all feeling, the trauma that we’ve all shared and experienced, that we carry in our bodies, that we carry in our psyches, that we carry in our hearts, that influence the way that we see one another, that influenced the way that we operate within the world, all of those defenses to that pain would start to crumble. And so consumption has become a numbing medication for the true depth of pain that we’re all carrying as a result of the way that we have been living in relationship to one another throughout history.

And so I, I think that it’s easy for us to understand that when we start really thinking about the way that people have to have every new gadget that comes along, that they have to have all of these specific comforts in order to feel okay, that they are medicating themselves against something. And so it’s not any different than any of the other types of self-medication that people engage in, whether it be with drugs or gambling or sex or whatever addiction people turn toward. Consumption is an addiction that has plagued the entire society for a long, long time. And it’s certainly being used as a medication to distract us from the deep wounds that we’re all carrying.

Eric: I have a friend and a colleague who studies ecological economics and he’s looked at all of this in the context of hormones and neurotransmitters and he and I’ve had some great conversations about how people’s consumption patterns can trigger, for example, like norepinephrine or dopamine and give people this little fix, which does exactly what you’re talking about. It covers up this background level of anguish that they’re trying to hide from. And as long as they can keep a steady stream of these little hormone fixes coming they can get by from when they wake up in the morning until when they go to sleep.

You mentioned how this helps people to ignore a lot of the harms that go along with consumption. And I guess that’s something that I’d like to dwell on for a bit. And certainly all kinds of harms we can think of in terms of environmental harms and social harms and huge amounts of inequality in the world today. And certainly there are a decent number of folks who are becoming a lot more aware of that. And some of those people are willing to connect those harms to people’s consumptive patterns, but certainly not all people. I’m tempted to ask for advice on how to make that connection more clear to people, but again, recognizing that we can’t make people necessarily wake up to things.

Sherri: I think that piece that you just mentioned where we talk about suffering and consumption being a medication that helps us to avoid feeling the suffering, but also looking at it and it’s reverse correlation to consumption actually creating the suffering. That it is the consumptive habits of people in the developed world that are leading to the suffering of so many. And so we see that our consumptive habits are causing us to create wars in parts of the country where industrial leaders want access to the resources that are available in that territory and distorting the stories connected to the impetus for those wars and claiming that it is somehow noble and just when it really amounts to nothing more than wanting to increase profitability and to have a less expensive access to the things that they need to continue to create consumptive goods.

And so the correlation goes both ways. And I’m also recognizing that we are deeply interrelated and interconnected on not only theoretically and in some ways philosophically and theologically, but in regard to quantum physics that we are connected through entanglement in ways that most people don’t even begin to understand. And so we all are formed out of the same pool of matter that makes up all life. And what quantum entanglement tells us is that any matter that is once connected physically can never be disconnected energetically. And you know, I take that a little bit further and say energetically and spiritually. And so when people are suffering as a result of warfare that’s engaged in for the benefit of industrial actors who wish to access natural resources, or as I like to call them the sources of our survival, then we have an impact of that violence that occurs as a result of that in our bodies that we don’t have a name for, that we can’t track and we can’t trace.

When we see images of this Syrian toddler washed up on the beach who has died in his family’s attempts to reach safety, we can look at the image and we can say, That’s terrible. And then we can turn around and start eating our dinner again. But it doesn’t end there. Even though consciously we believe that it ends there because there’s a visceral response in our body that may crop up a month later in panic attacks in the middle of the night that we don’t understand. When species are going extinct and the grief, the immense grief, experienced by the last of a species, is being experienced as that species is dying off, we experience the pain of that grief in our bodies, but we can’t trace it or name it. And so we’re connected in these really deep ways.

The indigenous understanding of the web of life teachings is connected to that depth of knowledge. It’s not just that if you take more, it means that I have less, but that we are really deeply connected energetically and spiritually in ways that does not allow us to forever escape the consequences of our collective behavior, within the creation of life. And so when we start to understand the depth of that wisdom, when we start to understand the depth of our connectivity to one another and to the rest of life, we start to realize how the impacts that we’re experiencing as societies and as a species on this planet are deeply tied to the impacts that we have created for other elements of life, and then that radically changes the way that we live our lives. It radically changes the way that we place our feet upon the earth, how we engage other people, how we interact with other species. And I think it all begins with that foundational understanding of that deep level of interconnectivity.

Eric: Yeah. And it also seems it has a lot to do with people’s sensitivity to all those different sources of grief that you’re talking about. In the United States, and I imagine this is true throughout much of the “developed world”, there’s a definite increase in depression and anxiety. And I wonder a lot if that has to do with that background level of grief that is there is starting to bubble up above the ability of people to medicate it out of existence. And we’re just starting to be forced to feel some of this. And of course some of us, I put myself in this category, choose to make myself more sensitive to feel this as a motivating force in my life. And I’m sure that other folks do that as well.

Sherri: I think that what’s happening around the world is nothing that’s really new or immediately new. It’s new in the larger scheme of life, within the last couple of hundred years, in regard to at least a hundred last 150 years in regard to industrial destruction of the planet. But warfare, conquest, domination, patriarchal, colonialism, all of these things have been going on for millennia. And so there has been experiences of that pain that has been immediate for those who are experiencing it. And in the past when people were having severe anxiety and depression, it wasn’t talked about. We didn’t talk about the depression. We didn’t talk about the anxiety. We didn’t talk about the restlessness that people felt within them 50 years ago, in some instances even 25 years ago. In some places of the world, they’re still not talking about it.

But that’s being discussed on a much broader scale today. And so people used to be institutionalized or isolated if they demonstrated any impacts from the sensitivity or the resonance of the harm that was being done. Also, with the creation of more destructive weapons, the level of destruction that has been possible has led to more large-scale impacts for people on the ground. Certainly the destruction of the environment has amplified and intensified and expanded in the last a hundred years. And so I think that there’s an amplification of those impacts. There’s also greater discussion about the symptoms associated with those impacts. Also, there is accessibility to actually see images of the things that are happening around the world that was not possible before. And so the collective energy, the collective emotion that rises up in response to that, we’re all collectively experiencing this increase in emotional energy that’s going out as a result of seeing these things.

So it’s a resonance issue. It’s a vibrational issue that as more and more people are becoming aware of and experiencing an emotional response on some level, whether they’re conscious or not conscious of it. It’s sending a vibration out to the collective whole and we’re all experiencing that and becoming more vocal about the things that we’re feeling. And I don’t know that people are more or less sensitive to it. I think that people are medicating themselves to varying degrees, but we’re all capable of actually feeling those sensations in our bodies. Maybe some of us live in families where we don’t discuss it. Maybe some of us have been trained to suppress it. Maybe some of us have been trained to medicate it. But that doesn’t mean that others aren’t feeling it. Maybe they’re just not consciously aware of what those feelings are connected to or they have been separated from their capacity to be able to engage the emotions that they’re feeling within their bodies. But they’re still there and they’re still registering.

Eric: Another part of that too though I wonder about is if this resonance or this energy that you’re talking about, if this is cumulative? Because you’re certainly right in that this has been going on for at least in our current “civilization’s” iteration, thousands of years. But I’m just imagining what kind of destruction had happened. I live in Burlington, Vermont, in Abenaki territory, what had been Abenaki territory, and if I had been standing in this spot in the year 1800 the cumulative destruction would be very different than it is today, with that extra 200 years of colonization. So I guess that’s the question I’ll toss out there. Do you think that this is cumulative, and whether or not that makes a difference in how challenging it is for people to ignore this?

Sherri: Well, I’m going to tell you a story that I think will actually illustrate this perfectly. I moved to Boulder, Colorado at one point in time in my life to work for a big indigenous rights law firm that was located in that area. And it’s a beautiful area. And I lived in a residential neighborhood where I felt I would be relatively safe. And I started almost immediately feeling that I was in danger. I could feel the presence of some violence in the atmosphere around me that I couldn’t put my finger on. I took the time to meet all of my neighbors to see if there was something that came up for me with any of them, that might be warning me to any potential danger of violence associated with those individuals. And I wasn’t picking anything up. But almost the whole time that I lived there, I felt almost this homicidal violence in the energy there.

So I finally had the opportunity to sit down with two native elders who are from that area and ask them what happened here that’s causing me to feel this violent energy imprint. And it turns out that that area is the location of one of the most recent massacres of Native American people in the United States. And so less than a hundred years ago, there was a really horrific massacre of Native American peoples that lived in that territory. And so I started thinking about that and as I was thinking about that, I hauled out a map and I looked and the territory where the massacre took place in that region, you’re going to find Columbine, Littleton, and Aurora, which are locations of three mass shootings in the United States. And so when we talk about the cumulative effect and the ongoing impacts of violent imprints in the energy field in the land on which we stand, I think that’s a clear illustration of how devastating those impacts can be years later if we don’t become consciously aware of them and clear the energetic vibration that has been imprinted into that place.

And so a large part of the work that I do is in involving clearing the spiritual contract, the energetic imprints that have been perpetuated across this country since the founding of this land, when the first agreements that were made here on this land were forged in blood as those who came here sought to eliminate the lives of those who were the original inhabitants of this land. And so the genocide of native American people here in the United States and in Canada. And so when we start to think about the correlation between historical violence and contemporary violence, I think that that experience that I had in Colorado was a perfect example of how that trans transfers through time.

Eric: Yeah. And I haven’t traveled extensively throughout the state of Vermont or the Northeast because I actually don’t own a car, but I’ve definitely visited places that just being there and walking through areas… And I’ve had this happen actually on the Lake, on the shores of Lake Champlain sometimes, just being there makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And I wonder where that is from. And your story illustrates that well also, and it inspires me… You mentioned that some of the work that you do involves figuring out ways to clear that energy and I wonder if you’d be willing to talk about what that looks like or what kind of work exactly that is.

Sherri: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about that, in general terms. The work that is happening through my writing and my teaching is certainly connected to that, in order to make people aware of the connections between historical trauma and contemporary violence. Also the deep need for healing our collective wounds. The work that is being done through the healing turtle Island gathering where we’re bringing people together from all corners of the world to sit in ceremony with one another and to renew their sacred contracts with one another as human beings and to renew the sacred contracts between human beings and the rest of creation is part of that work. We bring people together for a ceremony, and people have come from all over the world to participate in that ceremony for that purpose and then are carrying that work back to their home territories and engaging in various different activities that are facilitating the work of ensuring that healing and that awareness continues to be shared.

So those are the things that I do. I speak and I teach all over the world as well and support the work of others who are doing the same types of things. And I think that we all have our own ways of contributing, and those are the ways that I’ve been contributing to helping to address those deep wounds and to bring forward opportunities for healing, for us to sit together and to acknowledge the wounds that we each carry rather than trying to amplify one wound over another and provide space that allows us to show up with all of our wounds exposed without them being poked at or prodded and find out that we can exist with one another and be safe even though we carry these wounds. So we don’t have to continue to deny them. We don’t have to suppress the wounds. We don’t have to try to medicate them away. We can allow the pain of that to rise and to take its natural course and to leave our bodies so that it’s no longer influencing the way that we see one another and creating all of these masks and obstructions to our vision.

There’s a lot involved in that work and I’m not going to talk about the specific ceremonial practices that are involved in that work, but just in a general terms it’s encompassed in pretty much everything that I’m doing in the world right now.

Eric: Yeah. And you talked about wounds and I wonder if by wounds you’re talking about ancestral trauma or historical trauma?

Sherri: That is actually part of it. I think that it’s a big part of it for all of us and to recognize that there isn’t anybody that has been involved or alive who has not been impacted by the violence and trauma that’s been experienced here on this planet.

And that’s not only because of those deep interrelatedness and entanglement connections that we have, but also because you can’t commit violence against another without your psyche being damaged. You can’t experience trauma without your psyche being damaged. And you can’t witness trauma without your psyche being damaged. And everybody on the planet falls into one of those three categories. And so one of the things that I’ve been talking about lately, and it’s in the book, is that we can’t be part of any exclusionary practice and not be impacted by it psychologically. And there’s a lot of studies that confirm that those who are excluded have some deep psychological impacts, and some of that goes back to the lack of evolution of our primitive brain where we see exclusion and isolation as being connected to a certainty of death.

And also you can’t exclude others without having deep psychological impacts that are sometimes even more pervasive. And so we are seeing evidence of those psychological impacts playing out on the global stage right now because we have had a dominant cultural expression in the white, patriarchal colonialism that has been for a very, very long time, an entire society that’s based on exclusion of others. And we have all kinds of groups who have been excluded. And so the report just came out recently that said that all of the extremist killings that occurred in the United States in 2018 were connected to right-leaning white nationalists conservative groups. And what that tells me is that these individuals are experiencing the psychological impacts of being part of the dominant exclusionary group. And now that there is a movement toward inclusion, they’re having cognitive dissonance and are lashing out in violence as a result of the reality that their group may not be the default in the future.

The correlation between that level of violence amongst that particular demographic and the reality that we’ve just put the most diverse Congress in history in place is not a mystery. And it tells us that the impacts on those who have benefited from the exclusion of others, those who have been by default entitled to certain privileges within the society as a result of the exclusion of others, this whole discussion about building a wall is about exclusion of others from having the benefit of living a life of dignity. And so when we look at that from a spiritual and a philosophical level, it’s just so clear to see that our president is really illustrating for us the fear based connection that is happening in the world as a result of this larger movement of inclusion and a respect for intersectionality and an intention of bringing more voices into the public sphere. That the symbolism of him wanting to build this big wall to keep others out is a reflection of the white male terror over not being the default in the future. And I think that we all need to look at that and start to recognize that this is an opportunity for us to see what’s underlying all of the stories that we tell. And I think that the symbolism of the wall is really a clear indication of what’s underlying the story that Mr. Trump is attempting to tell the public.

Eric: Yeah, yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head with that analysis. I’m white appearing, but my dad and his family immigrated from Mexico when they were quite young, back in 1947. My dad had fairly dark skin. His mother was mostly native, so she had very dark skin and it is fascinating to me and scary to me to listen to this kind of rhetoric around building the wall as you say, but also recognizing that so much of what is driving that rhetoric comes from a place of fear and the people have held on to, the people who are advocating for this have held onto those ideologies for so long that they can’t even seem to recognize their fear for what it is anymore. They’ve just been so divorced from the, maybe just divorced from empathy more generally. They have really struggled with maintaining enough self-empathy to be able to recognize the roots of their own emotions.

Sherri: I think that somebody had posted something about this Ted talk I think it was where someone was claiming that we need to improve the educational system so that people are smart enough not to vote for characters like the current president. And I think that’s an oversimplification and distortion of the truth because there were a lot of educated people who voted for Trump. And what was really missing, and what is evidently being demonstrated more and more, is a level of compassionate awareness and emotional intelligence. So we don’t need to make people more book smart in order to make sure that they vote the way that we want them to. What we need to do is we need to amplify emotional intelligence, emotional maturity in the population because we’ve been conditioned to want to have instant gratification. We’ve been conditioned to never want to feel uncomfortable. We’ve been conditioned to avoid our pain at all costs. And all of those things have made us emotionally immature. And there’s also the glorification of youth, which is a denial of the wisdom of age. And so you have this combination of complex factors that are leading to a society that is shortsighted and lacks empathy and compassionate awareness and that is essentially immature. And so those are the things that we need to address in order to be able to really shift the trajectory that we’re on.

Eric: Yeah. I finished my doctorate in 2011 and one of the things I talk to students about, as well as a lot of other people about it, is that despite all those years in school – and I believe you have a JD so I’m sure you’ve spent a good chunk of time in school as well – formal schooling, learn plenty of book stuff, but not much focus on, like you say, developing emotional intelligence or other forms of intelligence besides that very specific type. And it shows in society more broadly, our lack of emphasis on that. And I’ve invested a lot over the years in workshops outside of the academy that have helped me develop a little bit more emotional intelligence. And that’s certainly a place I’ll invest a lot more time and effort in. And the payoff is big in the sense that it helps me understand what’s going on a lot better. But I will also say that living in a world where not a lot of people have that emotional intelligence, it also turns me into something of an outsider. Which is not bad I guess, but it can definitely make for some awkward conversations.

Sherri: Yeah, I think there are some really clear examples in the society that emphasize this fact. The fact that the majority, if not all of the domestic violence that occurs is the result of someone’s inability to be told No, someone’s inability to be rejected. A lot of the stalking and killing of women is associated with men who were never taught that they can’t have everything that they want. They were never taught to be okay with somebody telling them No, and being rejected in that way. And so when we think about the devastating impacts of a lack of compassionate awareness and a lack of empathy, a lack of emotional maturity and intelligence, we can really trace that to a lot of problematic behaviors that are being displayed on the planet today. And so we have to become our own advocates in relation to our desire to seek that type of awareness and intelligence.

And we don’t always have the same lived experiences as those who are having incredibly difficult and challenging lives. And so maybe it’s hard for us to have a true understanding of what they’re going through, but we can develop the capacity to have compassionate awareness that it’s not the same as our reality. And so there’s a lot of work for us to do in regard to developing our maturity as a society and developing the capacity for compassionate awareness and then hopefully empathy and the ability to manage our emotions in a way that doesn’t lead to us harming others because we’ve been caused to feel something that’s uncomfortable.

Eric: Yeah. Your example of domestic violence is one that really touched a chord with me. I’ve never been directly involved in any kind of domestic violence issue, but I have close friends who’ve been victims of that. And it seems to me looking at those scenarios that in these cases the perpetrators were all men, but a lot of those men, you framed it as not being able to handle being told No, which I think is certainly true, but maybe at a deeper level it’s not being able to hold the sadness that comes from rejection. They have a certain level of emotional brittleness that doesn’t leave room in them to recover from something like that. And so their only option is to lash out, and like you said, regardless of how we frame this we can see that same pattern playing out with the oil companies hiring mercenaries to remove indigenous people from a place so that they can gain access to oil reserves or a logging company doing the very same thing so that it can illegally log some section of forest. Just people who cannot handle being told no.

Sherri: Well, I mean, I think that we said the exact same thing. And I think that’s absolutely true that their inability to hear and to accept No is rooted in their inability to handle the emotions that arise when rejection is before them. And it’s not just oil and gas companies hiring mercenaries to go in and to eliminate any opposition. We look at what’s going on with Venezuela right now and we see that the new ambassador from the US to Venezuela is somebody who’s been charged before and who is notoriously known for being the leader of death squads. And so it’s our government that’s also engaged in those same activities. And all of those things are an outcropping of our inability to be able to manage and deal with our pain, and an outcropping of this spiritual illness that is called the illusion of separation. And so our belief that we are not connected to others in the real deep ways that we truly are connected and that we’re not dependent on other lives for our own wellbeing. That we’re not dependent on the wellbeing of Mother Earth in order for our own survival to be insured. The disconnection and the lack of awareness, conscious awareness, I think everybody’s aware on some level, but the conscious awareness of being able to put those things together is leading us to a number of converging crisis points.

Eric: Yeah. That thread is one I feel like we could follow for another hour, but I do want to be conscientious of our time, and as we get ready to finish up, I’m curious if you’ve got any final thoughts you’d like to share.

Sherri: Well, I think that the most important thing that we can be doing right now is to be exploring our own inner landscape. Looking at where our thoughts were formed, our beliefs were formed, attitudes were formed. Being really interested in observing the things that crop up into our minds automatically, the voices in our head, those people who have shaped and formed our being and making the choice not to react to those things, but to sit with them and try to become acquainted with those figures that exist within your mind, with the beliefs, with the attitudes, with the ideas that you have, with the triggered reactions that you get to certain experiences so that you can develop this compassionate awareness for your own being so that you’re not suppressing and oppressing aspects of yourself, so that you can learn to make space for all aspects of your being to be at home within you.

And then consciously choosing which aspects you want to be in the lead, which aspects are you going to allow to drive the vehicle and finding space for you to exist in wholeness. And once you do that, then you can make space for others to exist in the same way around you. And I think that’s really important work for us all to be doing right now. And I think that if we are doing that work, then we’re going to draw toward us others who are interested in joining us in that process.

Eric: Yeah. Beautifully stated. Do you have a web presence or social media presence you’d like to let my listeners know about?

Sherri: I do. I have a public Facebook page. It’s facebook.com/sacredinstructions. And I also have a web page that can be found at sacredinstructions.life. And the name of the book is Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change.

And on my website right now, I’ve just posted, I’ve been asked to be so many places in the last two years that it’s just been impossible for me to keep up with the travel demands. And so one of the things that I’ve been trying to do to make some of these teachings more accessible to others is doing courses, webinars. And so I’m doing a series of courses, webinar courses that are related to concepts in the book. And the first three of those are now available on demand on my website.

Eric: Great. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Sherri: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much Eric, for inviting me.

Eric: Again, I am very grateful for Sherri Mitchell for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to record this episode with me a couple of years ago. Even though we recorded a while ago it still feels incredibly timely. If you enjoyed this episode, you will love her book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, published by North Atlantic Books. And you will probably also enjoy the reading group I am offering through Quillwood Academy on her book. There is a lot of depth to this book, and I think it is one of many books that are best explored in community with others so that we can learn together.

This is Eric Garza signing off. Walk softly, and take good care.