Healing Ourselves, Healing the Planet: A Journey Off the Map

Look here. I have found an old willow branch,  fine and rich in its redness,
curved at the end like an old staff. This willow remembers the ancient question,
the one that lies behind the irreconcilable juxtapositions we are charting.
Whose land is this anyway? it begs.
– Chellis Glendinning

Today is Monday, October 4. For the past three days, I have been driving across the United States, from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Dubuque, Iowa. Today, we will make the last leg of the journey to Chicago.

As we drove, we followed much of the old “Oregon Trail,” a route that thousands of immigrants to this country took to cross the continent on foot and in wagons searching for a better life.

A distance which took those immigrants arduous months, took us only days to cross, and at speeds they never could have imagined. Some would call that “progress.” However, as we rode, I was reading Off The Map, a book by the ecofeminist activist and psychologist, Chellis Glendinning (1999).  Its subtitle is: “An Expedition Deep into Imperialism, the Global Economy, and Other Earthly Whereabouts.” As she makes a journey of her own, Glendinning calls into question much of what we take for granted in our 21st Century world.  She exposes the pain and injury done to indigenous peoples already at home in this country prior to the invasion from the east.  And, as she relates her own journey of healing from the personal trauma of imperialism, she offers recommendations for all of us who struggle to live with the fallout of the legacy we have inherited from the actions of our ancestors.

Just outside the border of the casino-filled city of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a place of rugged mountains, canyons, and echoes of the past. We walked a trail through a dry stream bed to the side of the canyon wall, where we viewed petroglyphs and pictographs, two forms of rock art made so many thousands of years ago no one knows what they really mean. Their presence on the rocks is part of the reason the area is preserved as a “public” park controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It is a place now for “tourists” to move through, and not the peoples who created on the darkened faces of the mountain wall  mysterious scrappings that seem to depict trees and fish, or who left their haunting, red-clay-colored handprints on the smooth lighter surfaces of the wind and water-washed canyon rocks.

As Glendinning notes, it is very hard for our generation to navigate the juxtapositions of our reality, especially now as we daily are forced to “wake up” from an imperialist past by the real dangers to all life on our planet now becoming evident.  She poses the question for us:

The question becomes: who are we, you and I? Colonized or empire? Oppressed or perpetrator? Manipulated, duped, or fully aware? Am I Irish or English? Are you Russian or Jew?….We, too, are twisted and hurt by the system that aims to rule the world; we are the wounded shuffling among the racks of corporate suits. And yet, where is the place for expression of our pain? Our power? Such query remains unresolved (156-157).

We are a generation, suggests Glendinning, struggling to “ride the waves with one foot in a canoe and one foot in a tall ship.” The path toward healing, if we are to avoid becoming so stretched by our dual lives we fall into “the icy rage and drown”, is through a territory dark as night and not yet mapped. It will be made step by step into places not yet traveled.  And, it will take, she says, “a bigness of spirit’; a “maturity of psyche”; and the ability “to hold unresolved issues like grizzly bears within the soul” (162).

Though there are not yet answers, Glendinning suggests a few values to take with us on the journey: humility, sovereignty, respect, healing, passion, responsibility, and sustainability.

After driving nearly 1,600 miles in three days, my body feels as though it is still in motion, even while I sit here at this computer.  However, having entered during that journey into the compelling life story of healing offered by Glendinning, I feel a little closer to knowing where I am going.

Glendinning.C. (1999). Off the map: An expedition deep into empire and the global economy. Boston: Shambala.

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