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Trampling mental health
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And I came home to the news of Sinéad O’Connor.
All of the themes of the last couple of weeks seem to point to healing, spirituality, and creativity — my personal holy trinity.
So this post is going to braid these themes together and I’ll be jumping back and forth from Sinéad to Spain, and from politics to personal healing, and spirituality. They are all interwoven, so please bear with me…
Sinéad’s position, since the beginning of her public platform, was that the abuse of children by the Catholic Church created a scourge that destroyed families, homes, and relationships on both the personal and societal levels. She made clear connections between the private and the public…because that connection is inextricable. Because it is all one organism. We are all one organism. What happens on one level sends out ripples into all of the other levels. Sometimes creating tsunamis.
In Spain, I visited the Alcázar of Segovia, the royal palace, where the king and queen of Spain issued funds and orders to colonize almost half the world, which led to the wiping out of entire cultures, languages, peoples.
I also visited the Iglézia de la Vera Cruz, a temple of the Knights Templar, where the forbidden worship of the feminine, the divine mother, secretly flourished, guarded by knights who were willing to fight to the death, to protect spiritual secrets and mysteries from the “uninitiated”, or those who might use such knowledge for personal gain.
The connection at that time, between the religious/spiritual and the political, i.e. power-holders and decision-makers, was obvious and unmistakeable. Religion and colonization worked hand in hand to consolidate global wealth and political might.
That religious past still plays a strong role in many parts of the world (can we say “U.S. politics”?), including Spain. From my brief stay, I was able to recognize some of the same right-wing talking points I’ve seen in the U.S. in Spanish attitudes, values, cultural and artistic production, and in the political tug-of-war between parties (there was a national election while I was there, which ended in a 50/50 split between the left and right, with the far right losing ground, but not enough for the progressive left to win a majority on its own).
Based on every interview I’ve seen with Sinéad, the lock-step march of political power and religion was also true in Ireland when she was growing up. She eventually became an ordained Catholic minister because she felt that, according to this interview, if she was going to criticize something, she was saying she could do it better, so that’s what she did, or at least attempted to do.
She also aligned herself with oppressed peoples everywhere, including BIPOC folks, and supported us with her actions, not just her words.
If you read my last post, you’ll know that I went through an airport thing in Madrid where race may or may not have been a factor (my money’s on “may”). According to this Guardian article, Spain definitely has a race problem. The Brazilian football (soccer) player, Vinícius Júnior, endured odious racist taunting and slurs during his visit to Spain, but many of the people of color there are very clear that this is a systemic problem and not just a one-time incident:
“If you’re a white person and you’ve never experienced it personally, you don’t believe in racism,” said Galindo, who is white. “Until you spend a lot of time with kids of colour – especially African kids – you don’t realise just how often things happen to them, one after another. And it’s not just someone saying something on the pitch.”
She pointed to a recent trip when some of the younger dragons were taken to a museum. Although all the children stood on the museum’s lawn, the only one called out – twice – by a security guard was a boy of African heritage.
“People are talking now about whether or not Spain is racist,” said Galindo. “I’m Spanish and I love my country and I don’t want that to exist here. But you can’t try to isolate it and say, ‘No, this only exists in football’.” […]
“Spain is obviously a racist country,” [Syrian journalist, Okba Mohammad] said. “There’s institutional racism but there’s also racism because of the lack of anti-racist education. There are a lot of people who are racist without knowing it, or people who are racist because they want to be racist.”
For all the outcry over Vinícius, he added, the abuse could have been directed at any black or non-white player.
“My problem is with the reaction, because there are a lot of people who are suffering racism every day and who haven’t been afforded this kind of institutional, social or media reaction,” said Mohammad.”
The “power over”, dominate, conquer, invade, annihilate approach is what colonization was founded on. Maintaining power over others creates a kind of disdain for vulnerability, which is what Sinéad embodied, fully.
Aside from some of the personal connections I feel with Sinéad (we were both survivors of religious clergy abuse, sexual abuse, and we were both — I still am — mothers who were abused by our own mothers), Sinéad was a walking heart, beating her drum and demanding justice for the oppressed. She was not confused about where her allegiance lay – it was always with the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed.
She ripped up her mother’s picture of the pope on TV, she shaved her head as a middle finger to patriarchal beauty ideals, and she painted Public Enemy’s logo onto her skull to show support for rappers who were being ostracized at the awards.
She explored Hinduism, Rastafarianism, and Islam in her search for a connection to holiness, the sacred, the soul life…God.
She held on fiercely to everything she was being taught to hate. Her woman-ness, her girl-ness, her vulnerability, motherhood, a spirituality unfettered by control and domination.
In the Canary Islands, there is a memorial to those who refused to succumb to the colonizing Spaniards. They threw themselves off of the highest rock (possibly Roque Nublo), choosing death over losing/selling their souls. The memorial depicts indigenous men and women fighting — resisting without doubt — for what they considered holy, rather than carrying the poison of their abusers into future generations.
Sinéad talked openly and honestly about mental health, but she also made a distinction between mental illness and trauma responses. Trauma responses to colonization don’t make you mentally unhealthy. Colonization, however, can certainly make one mentally unhealthy.
Those of us struggling with the after-effects of abuse and trauma are not mentally unwell – we are trying to survive. We are trying to digest the undigestible. That is what is creating our responses of avoidance, rage, pain, addiction, anxiety, panic, and all the other symptoms that come with being wounded without a support network to help a person heal from those wounds.
In the same way that we talk about how women and girls can “prevent” rape, rather than how men and boys can stop raping, the conversations we have are more about mental health resources for oppressed peoples, and less about systems and policies that oppress. For instance, how mentally unhealthy is it to enslave other humans and call it economic progress? To take everything from an entire nation, hoard it in one’s own home, and then lock out those you stole it from and call it “border control” or “national security”?
How is that mentally healthy?
Spain, and many other European nations (not to mention the U.S. and Canada) stoke fears of “illegal” immigration and yet…colonization is exactly that.
Here’s an idea for the colonial powers and their allies: Return to the colonies everything you took, by way of pillaging, appropriation, theft, manipulation and deceit, and I guarantee you there will be no more “illegal immigrants” on your shores.
But that is not the conversation we are having. The conversations we are having are whether there should be a Black mermaid, or whether “illegal” immigrants should be allowed access to healthcare.
What myopia. We are the same organism, trying to kill off half of itself. None of us will survive if half of us don’t. There is no such thing as “survival of the fittest.” Ninety-five percent of the people propel this machine for the top five percent. We are inter-dependent. We will not survive without each other.
This is another form of trauma. Of mental illness. Thinking that your only path to survival or success is to kill off any form of “competition”. And anyone can be that competition. Your friends, your family, your own self (if you listen to the success gurus telling you to “get out of your own way” by ignoring your emotions).
Trampling on others is a form of mental illness.
Sinéad screamed that until the very end. As did the indigenous Canarians.
The following is a quote from an open letter Sinéad wrote to Bob Dylan, where she describes her perspective on what happened at his tribute concert. She was being booed on stage and Kris Kristofferson was sent on to remove her. Instead, he hugged her and said, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
She said, “I’m not down” and continued to belt out War, by Bob Marley.
Here are her words, addressed to her hero, Bob Dylan:
The third and final time our paths crossed was on that infamous evening at your tribute concert in Madison Square Garden, an evening which heaved with consequence. In the week or so before that show I had done an incendiary acapella version of a Bob Marley (the other 'Bob') song called War on Saturday Night Live. I changed some words and made it about child abuse instead of racism. And at the end of the song I tore up a picture of the then Pope, JP2. […]
So I walked on stage that night and half the audience cheered and the other half booed. Was it the Saturday Night Live fallout or had I just totally made the wrong wardrobe choice?
Seriously though, backstage afterwards, you looked at me confused as if to ask me what I had done to upset people so much. Instead of singing I Believe in You, as planned, I had screamed out the Bob Marley song instead. But it felt appropriate for me to scream while I had the chance. And I knew, if you understood, you wouldn't mind that I used the stage you gave me to stand for the God you also gave me. I hope your questions from that night have since been answered for you by the various revelations concerning the spiritual condition of the catholic church. In God's wide world. If I had simply sung I Believe in You that night my voice would have been drowned in the noise of the opposing spiritual forces in the room.
I had to do what I did in Madison Square Garden. Even if it meant being treated like a mental case for years after.”
Both Sinéad and those indigenous Canarians, the Guanches, refused to trample on the vulnerable – women, children, the soul, the spirit, the earth, nature – in the pursuit of greed and individual self-fulfillment or aggrandizement.
They died for the right to be sovereigns of their own souls.
Rest, gentle souls, in peace and power and guide us into the calming waters of healing and wholeness.
This full moon, I wish for you, dear readers, healing and wholeness and the strength and courage to sit in the discomfort of unflinching inner self-reflection — at things you may not like about yourself, that you have ingested from the outside, from your environment. And, I hope for you a metabolizing of these poisons that we’ve all ingested from the systems that have been created outside of us, and that don’t really benefit any of us.
Here is to collective change through inner healing and growth and wisdom.
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