Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Learning How Other Cultures Manage Crises
Category:
Mind
"I believe this pandemic can evoke a new kind of spiritual awakening for people."

One phrase emerged strongly this spring: “stay at home.” By now, many of us have had time to reflect on our lives, where we have been placing our attention and how we have been directing our life force. These insights are like jewels shining in the shadows of COVID-19.

For Esalen faculty, human rights photographer and filmmaker Phil Borges, who leads Psychological Crises and Spiritual Awakening, July 17-19 at Esalen, the global pandemic has also been a time to revisit his 2017 documentary CRAZYWISE in which he chronicles how indigenous cultures manage crises differently from the West.

Phil shared his work with Esalen in summer 2019 during a compelling Conversations on the Edge event. In reexamining his work, he leans into his 30 years of creating human rights stories in indigenous and tribal cultures, where he often found that other cultures hold valuable insights for crisis management, whether it be psychological, spiritual or cultural.

"What I’ve seen is that there is a lot of intimacy between individuals in tribal communities," Phil says. "Everybody knows one another. They have to rely on each other’s cooperation and good relationships. We can learn from these cultures because we are naturally wired for that intimacy and connection."

Phil shares more with Esalen News.

Esalen News: What lesson is this time in history attempting to teach us?

Phil Borges: When I take things for granted, whatever I think will always be there, may be taken away—and it shocks me into the realization of impermanence. Being forced to stay in one place and slow down has now allowed me to reflect and realize how fast and frenetic my life was moving. Sometimes when you stay so busy you don’t create time to do that.

In that way, the pandemic brought me a gift. It certainly has been a gift for our planet. I think any crisis, be it personal or societal, offers an opportunity. On a cultural level, the fact that we are not burning fossil fuel right now is a blessing. There are people in China in their thirties who are seeing stars for the very first time. In a way, this is a health-restorative event for the planet.

In terms of relationships with one another, being forced to stay at home with the family and deepening those connections has become possible. COVID-19 has given us more time to reflect. And even if we lost our jobs, perhaps we are given an opportunity to reflect on the importance that job actually held in our life.

What wisdom can we discover from other cultures that have successfully navigated through a crisis, whether it be cultural, psychological or otherwise?

As a whole, our culture is pretty isolated. I say that because I’ve spent 30 years going back and forth between tribal and indigenous cultures and western culture. What I’ve seen in other cultures is how well they rely on each other just to survive because they don’t have daycare centers for their kids, old-age homes for their elders, agribusiness or grocery stores to bring them food.

In traditional cultures, that intimate connection is much stronger. People have a stronger connection to their place on the planet—not just a physical connection but a spiritual connection to the land and their ancestors. We don’t have that as much, but we can learn a great deal from these cultures.

What other insights have you gained from these cultures during your research and filmmaking?

I have interviewed well over 80 individuals in our culture and several shamans in indigenous and tribal cultures who have successfully navigated a psychological crisis. The most important thing I learned was how critical it is to frame the crisis in a way that provides meaning and hope for recovery. For instance, for a young person being told that they have a chemical imbalance in their brain for which there is no cure can be very self-fulfilling.

On the other hand, the young shamans are told the crisis is a “calling” to develop their unique sensitivities that will allow them to be very valuable to the community. I also discovered that small indigenous tribal groups must depend on each other in order to survive. Their survival completely depends on their intimate cooperative relationships.

Is there a particular group or culture that stood out in terms of how they moved through crises?

After the genocide In Rwanda, we sent many mental health professionals to help them recover from their trauma. After a week or two of talk therapy, most of our therapists were sent back home. The Rwandans said,

"It doesn’t help us to just talk about the tragedy. We have to release our pain by singing and dancing together outside, not by just talking to someone in a small room." They realized the trauma is not just held in the mind but embedded in the body and has to be released through the body.

What has filmmaking taught you about humanity?

As a documentary filmmaker, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to interview many people on some of the most intimate details of their experience while navigating their lives.

This was especially true while working on the film CRAZYWISE, which was all about navigating extraordinary states of consciousness. It taught me so much about transcendence, healing and maintaining a healthy psyche. It truly has been, and continues to be, a spiritual journey for me. I believe this pandemic can evoke a new kind of spiritual awakening for people.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Mind
"I believe this pandemic can evoke a new kind of spiritual awakening for people."

One phrase emerged strongly this spring: “stay at home.” By now, many of us have had time to reflect on our lives, where we have been placing our attention and how we have been directing our life force. These insights are like jewels shining in the shadows of COVID-19.

For Esalen faculty, human rights photographer and filmmaker Phil Borges, who leads Psychological Crises and Spiritual Awakening, July 17-19 at Esalen, the global pandemic has also been a time to revisit his 2017 documentary CRAZYWISE in which he chronicles how indigenous cultures manage crises differently from the West.

Phil shared his work with Esalen in summer 2019 during a compelling Conversations on the Edge event. In reexamining his work, he leans into his 30 years of creating human rights stories in indigenous and tribal cultures, where he often found that other cultures hold valuable insights for crisis management, whether it be psychological, spiritual or cultural.

"What I’ve seen is that there is a lot of intimacy between individuals in tribal communities," Phil says. "Everybody knows one another. They have to rely on each other’s cooperation and good relationships. We can learn from these cultures because we are naturally wired for that intimacy and connection."

Phil shares more with Esalen News.

Esalen News: What lesson is this time in history attempting to teach us?

Phil Borges: When I take things for granted, whatever I think will always be there, may be taken away—and it shocks me into the realization of impermanence. Being forced to stay in one place and slow down has now allowed me to reflect and realize how fast and frenetic my life was moving. Sometimes when you stay so busy you don’t create time to do that.

In that way, the pandemic brought me a gift. It certainly has been a gift for our planet. I think any crisis, be it personal or societal, offers an opportunity. On a cultural level, the fact that we are not burning fossil fuel right now is a blessing. There are people in China in their thirties who are seeing stars for the very first time. In a way, this is a health-restorative event for the planet.

In terms of relationships with one another, being forced to stay at home with the family and deepening those connections has become possible. COVID-19 has given us more time to reflect. And even if we lost our jobs, perhaps we are given an opportunity to reflect on the importance that job actually held in our life.

What wisdom can we discover from other cultures that have successfully navigated through a crisis, whether it be cultural, psychological or otherwise?

As a whole, our culture is pretty isolated. I say that because I’ve spent 30 years going back and forth between tribal and indigenous cultures and western culture. What I’ve seen in other cultures is how well they rely on each other just to survive because they don’t have daycare centers for their kids, old-age homes for their elders, agribusiness or grocery stores to bring them food.

In traditional cultures, that intimate connection is much stronger. People have a stronger connection to their place on the planet—not just a physical connection but a spiritual connection to the land and their ancestors. We don’t have that as much, but we can learn a great deal from these cultures.

What other insights have you gained from these cultures during your research and filmmaking?

I have interviewed well over 80 individuals in our culture and several shamans in indigenous and tribal cultures who have successfully navigated a psychological crisis. The most important thing I learned was how critical it is to frame the crisis in a way that provides meaning and hope for recovery. For instance, for a young person being told that they have a chemical imbalance in their brain for which there is no cure can be very self-fulfilling.

On the other hand, the young shamans are told the crisis is a “calling” to develop their unique sensitivities that will allow them to be very valuable to the community. I also discovered that small indigenous tribal groups must depend on each other in order to survive. Their survival completely depends on their intimate cooperative relationships.

Is there a particular group or culture that stood out in terms of how they moved through crises?

After the genocide In Rwanda, we sent many mental health professionals to help them recover from their trauma. After a week or two of talk therapy, most of our therapists were sent back home. The Rwandans said,

"It doesn’t help us to just talk about the tragedy. We have to release our pain by singing and dancing together outside, not by just talking to someone in a small room." They realized the trauma is not just held in the mind but embedded in the body and has to be released through the body.

What has filmmaking taught you about humanity?

As a documentary filmmaker, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to interview many people on some of the most intimate details of their experience while navigating their lives.

This was especially true while working on the film CRAZYWISE, which was all about navigating extraordinary states of consciousness. It taught me so much about transcendence, healing and maintaining a healthy psyche. It truly has been, and continues to be, a spiritual journey for me. I believe this pandemic can evoke a new kind of spiritual awakening for people.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

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