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Listening through a decolonised ear

Philosophical reflections from Dionne St. Hill, on the power and the liberation of African and Asian Centred therapeutic practice.

The recent total solar eclipse offered us an opportunity to remember parts of ourselves we may have forgotten.

From the moment the partial eclipse first appeared on Earth, to its final glimpses before disappearing thousands of miles away, there was a sense that the impending darkness offered an opportunity for something bright and intangible to push through and shine again.

The celestial show which dazzled the world for about 5 hours, offered those of us who are African, Asian, and Indigenous, a connection to our forgotten past, a meander along a solar pathway to a time before enslavement and colonisation, a trip on a divine time machine to customs, culture, and lands long stolen and appropriated.

In Black, African and Indigenous cultures there has always been a rich tradition of divinatory practices around astrological events. Rare phenomena in the sky were considered signs from heaven and many of our ancestral practices are designed around the stars.

“Throughout history, Black people’s engagement with astrology has been multifaceted’ writes Marlissa Collier, ‘with enslaved ancestors using the sky to navigate life – from seasons and planting cycles to planning uprisings, rebellions, and underground paths to freedom.”

But now, many of us feel stripped of our magic, those spiritual and reflective navigation tools, that orientate us, liberate us, keep us safe and guide us home; the place where those around us, feel like us.

The psychological and physical violence of Colonialism – ‘the act of kidnapping, removing, extracting and taking without permission of land and peoples’ – left many of us holding a sense of being in solitary confinement with sacred rage as the only emotional companion. A core feeling that is exacerbated when we look up and feel the vastness of the sky and the depths of continuing injustice.

‘Colonialism thrives on isolation, denial, confusion, historical and interpersonal forgetfulness and separation’ writes Jennifer Mullan in her book Decolonizing Therapy.

There is a divinity embossed in an invitation to connect and remember. As I watched the slow movement of the eclipse, the clouds, the shadows and the brilliance of the glowing ring of light, my imagination was stirred.

My eyes remained open, but I dreamt of an orb filled with all our ancestral gifts of wisdom, ritual, feeling, magic, mystery, and healing; offerings and inheritance that have been suppressed over time. Perhaps everything we need to create and honour our commitment to decolonisation.

The magic of the interplay between darkness and light, in those hours of anticipation and awe, captured the illusion that darkness can swallow the light whole

As we heard how the length of the total solar eclipse, at points along the path, depends on the viewing location, reflections on the insidious and brutal amalgam of control and dehumanisation, named as slavery and colonialism, moved through time, space, darkness, and light.

As a Black woman therapist committed to holistic and creative healing from an African and Caribbean centre, I must move many times; not only so I can see better, but more importantly hear better. My relationship with trauma in all it’s, at times, overwhelming permeations is at the heart of my emotionally, spiritually and ancestrally led therapeutic work.

I have adjusted my hearing and my sight so I can see through a decolonised lens and listen with an aid that supports hearing and healing.

My emotional and psychological vantage point is deeply grounded in Ancestral wisdom, experience and African and Black holistic psychological theory.

This outlook recognises that just like the constellations of the stars, the sun and the moon, we are beautifully and magically emmeshed and so worthy of love and liberation as we navigate the entanglement of oppression.

Our ancestors taught us to see ourselves in each other through the guidance found in African philosophical principles.

Ubuntu tells us – ‘I am because you are, I am because we are’ and Sawubona reminds us, we are not alone – ‘I see you and your ancestors, and you and your ancestors see me’. These invitations to deep witnessing and attendance invite us to communicate and explore the beauty of helping each other and the wonder of sharing a journey of discovery together.

There is a powerful urgency and activism wrapped up in healing, but it is not a race to the last viewing location. Our healing is a gift that we can offer ourselves. We deserve the time, space, learning and reflection our decolonisation and healing requires:

Colonisation is the core wound – the separation from home’ writes Jennifer Mullan, “the loss of Home means a disconnect from one’s primary place of connection, and perhaps safety.”

That’s why decolonised therapeutic practice is so key to our healing, grounding and liberation. As we heal, we shift from abandonment, masks and gags to liberation and empowerment.

We are informed, not defined by a legacy of pain and we transcend the eclipse of oppression and trauma when we decolonise our minds and our ways of being. After all, psychology means ‘study of the soul’ and emotional and psychological decolonisation is the essence of our soul.

Decolonisation disrupts the lie that power always corrupts; we can take the power found in decolonisation and breathe life into the parts of us that have been oppressed and underestimated, then invite activism, protest, and purpose in.

“There is a systemic and purposeful process to colonisation; writes Jennifer Mullan, “if we aren’t actively dismantling it, we are perpetuating it,’.

So, when we look up, around and within, and commit to decolonising our emotional, personal, and professional touchstones, we perhaps begin to move, from a total eclipse of ourselves to the glowing centre of our souls.

—– Previous Blog Posts

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