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Finding My Way Home: A Story of Becoming Indigenous

By: Maria Eduarda Souza
Participant of Becoming Indigenous 2015/2016

As a young woman who grew up between the sea and the forest I am completely in love with nature. It moves, inspires and challenges me. It was no surprise when I became an environmental researcher advocating for indigenous rights and the Amazon in Brazil. My deep love for the forest drove me to investigate and protect it. I feel I belong there, amongst what's real. In the forest there is so much to feel. I can hold the beauty of nature with me wherever I go, allowing it to teach, guide, and help me grow. 

After six years of a profound relationship with the land and the indigenous tribes in the Brazilian Amazon my life was changed. Although I felt grounded and had a deep sense of knowing, the space around me was collapsing. My country doesn't honor and respect traditional people or the sacred forest and rivers we are blessed to have in our land. The human community uses the free gifts and services of the earth and turns them into commodities. As an activist I felt hopeless, as a woman, I felt attacked and as a daughter of the Earth I felt lifeless. Facing the growing chaos I felt like a hostage in a society that does not support Life.

I was filled with news of tragedies and horrible actions taking place all around the world, especially close to home. From corruption to destructive food systems, cyclical consumption felt like a viral disease. As a speaker, in schools, universities, TEDX and other events, raising awareness seemed impossible, our research and presentations were not changing anything. I was filled with separation and anguish; I was being fed seeds of destruction. My actions were not moved by love, they were pushed by rage and dissatisfaction. Perhaps, part of my fear was a reflection of our collective time and space. And after six years of work I felt useless, I started to become extremely angry nurturing a limited version of my masculine side, the warrior archetype. Last year, 2015, I finally acknowledged that I was feeling lost and disconnected from my bones so I took some time to think, to learn, to feel, and most importantly, to heal.

I knew that if I truly stop, nature would heal itself so I joined the Becoming Indigenous courses at Schumacher College expecting some calm and peaceful classes around indigenous wisdom and classic anthropology. But the truth is that I began to explore Earth-based spirituality. Throughout the course I started to understand what it means to be human, what it means to be part of the collective, to be part of the earth, of the creation. 

According to my South African teacher Colin Campbell of short course, Bones of Ritual,  to be human is to sing, dance and pray. So I danced, sang and prayed. I experienced rituals and the healing gift of sacred ceremony, the threshold between worlds. I discovered that when we pay tribute to important life events through ceremony, it reminds us of how intimately connected we are with the Great Mystery and nature, and helps us be at peace with the inevitable changes that life brings. With Pat McCabe I learned about the ancestral wisdom of women's intuition and gained amazing strength; from Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook and my mentor, Linda Delormier, I was opened to intimacy and vulnerability. And with Bayo Akomolafe I learned how our bodies matters. We were deeply guided by our teachers and course conveners. Our classmates became more than friends, we created a tribe and our beautiful facilitator Tilley kept us all together the whole way through.

At first I wanted to understand everything that existed outside myself, all of the cultural aspects and history around shamanism, but all of my teachers pointed inward. When my resistance to this direction ended, my trek to outward understanding turned into a journey of Self-understanding. As I immersed myself in studying different traditions, I discovered a familiar knowing in European and North American shamanism and its teachings on honouring Mother Earth. 

When I left the course and returned to my country I investigated Shamans and Brazilian healers and I found a deep sense of home in "curandeirismo". It’s far from blind faith; it is related to confidence and trust, more than to belief. My Becoming Indigenous investigation is always and forever in motion.

Getting a deeper understanding on Earth-based spirituality transformed my whole being. It shifted my perspective to view the Earth as the Mother, the one who gives us life and nourishment and brings insight and wisdom. The course immersed us in exercises that strengthen our minds and hearts for the struggle ahead. I discovered that when I allow myself to walk an authentic spiritual path what shines through is the wisdom of my own experiences. Connected to the cycles of the Earth, I learned to honor light and dark, beginnings and endings, male and female, birth and death, the natural cycles. Everything is included; all is sacred. 

Practiced by people all over the world, from Native American tribes to African Shamans to modern-day scientists, Earth-based spirituality is the understanding that an idea means nothing without a corresponding step towards action. Therefore, the Becoming Indigenous course is full of practices that are designed to put us in touch with our divine self and act from a place of love.

As part of the Becoming Indigenous course we spent one week at Embercombe, joining The Journey program. Guided by Mac McCartney, Tina and Kanada we held a circle that said 'YES' to personal truth and authenticity, as a woman I pushed through my self-doubts and claimed my path. From old projects to starting a new career, from clearing stuck parental patterns to starting a new relationship, from healing sexual trauma to reclaiming passion for life, I thrived. I started to feel completely different. I found myself experiencing the world with different eyes.

All these experience rise to the surface as writing this report and blessings of strength fill my body and spirit recalling them. The awareness that learning takes place not just in the head but in the heart. 

Becoming Indigenous is a wisdom course; it operates from the perspective of cosmology and spirit which are integral to ancient traditions across the globe. Our program does not settle for knowledge alone. Becoming Indigenous offers us both theory and practice. It is a spiritual course, requires spiritual work. It heals and it gives us hope. Our practices go beyond the boundaries of belief, for it is a process of attaining a 'knowingness' through the experience of doing.

The archetypes of maiden, mother, and crone and the different aspects of the Goddess inspired me to begin to love myself as a woman, rather than trying to be more like the male God and people (mostly men) who were held up as role models and guides.

I am aware of the tragedies that are happening out there, but now I allow myself to grief. I am not changing the world, I am changing myself. I know that to embrace my spiritual power I must be aware of the workings of Shadow. And for the first time I felt the true pain of Mother Earth. I discover a new way of walking the sacred path, carrying grief as an invisible cape that is always with us. I choose to be mindful, to see things as they are, to be fully present and to manifest right thought and right action. I am learning to be conscious, recognizing my responsibility and power to manifest peace through right relationship with all the family of life.

Now, looking back at my whole journey, adding together six years of ardent study and activism, I was able to integrate my personal experiences from the Brazilian Amazon with the core teachings from North American, European and African wisdom into my everyday life. I found a powerful balance while living in Shona Island in the West Coast of Scotland with my Becoming Indigenous classmate and dear friend, Florence, while we were practicing our teachings. We have also brought Schumacher practices such as storytelling into our everyday life and community. Together with other women we are now reading and studying The Women Who Run With Wolves, exploring the different archetypes of the female psyche and how we can nurture our intuition and contact the wild women within. As woman, I crave for a female reflection of the Divine, and a spirituality that empowers me to connect to our natural gifts of intuition, healing, and building community, I am grateful that the course initiated me on this journey.

Becoming Indigenous gave me the courage to authentically root myself and marry the warrior and the goddess within me and to claim my Life and create positive change. I am now a Sacred Activist dedicating myself to Earth Reconnection, raising awareness through hope, not only research, facts and data. I am aware of my privilege and duty to serve as a caretaker of this planet, honouring the Earth as a living being and sowing seeds of abundance and harmony for the next seven generations. I also want to support a new generation to enter their own journey of inner transformation through a work that combines the wisdom of many traditions into one beautiful path.

My talks and articles were already drastically changed. I write monthly to a very popular environmental blog in Brazil, Autossustentavel Portal, and the feedback has been astonishing. People understand this new language; they are open to changing their stories. When returning to Rio de Janeiro, my home town, I offered circles to friends and colleagues that have worked with me in the past. Our circles encouraged a conversation about our own personal grief and our disconnection with Mother Earth. I proposed inquiries around separation and integration and almost all of my colleagues said they lived in deep fear, and anxiety and despair moved their action. Together we came up with practices that can help us move through these feelings. I feel alive knowing that I can nurture hope. When offering my experiences I am manifesting my inner transformation.

My intention is to continue to investigate and learn more about Sacred Activism. I now understand how my past work in Brazil was perpetuating the problem that I was trying to solve. Only actions with a profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness, rooted in truth, wisdom and compassion will be able to shift and create change. Now I am a Sacred Activist, I yearn to inspire and give hope, especially in times of chaos, marrying a grounded spiritual vision with a pragmatic and practical action. I continue searching and investigating how ecology and spirituality can learn from each other and the reciprocity between these ancient knowings.

In Brazil the practice of Sacred Activism is not yet known or very common, but urgently needed. I wish to prepare myself and be able to offer workshops to organisations, campaigns and activists whom I've worked with in the past. My hope is to inspire my country to fall back in love with Mother Earth and communicate our cause from a place of compassion and truth. I also plan to return to the Amazon and indigenous communities in Brazil, but this time wholeheartedly, not in search of something pre-stipulated. From my wide network as an activist, speaker and writer, I want to awaken people for the sacredness of the earth instead of scare people about what's happening. I long to explore the connection between ecology and spirituality so I can bring the indigenous cosmology and ways of being into practice. Integrating matter and spirit, masculine and feminine, self and others. I am planning to design workshops that will offer young students and mature activists the opportunity to rediscover hope, the notion that we can change ourselves and the global community.

I am very honoured for the vote of confidence Schumacher gave me. I’ve learned and grew, I experienced such joy, even in the most painful moments. I am forever grateful to Schumacher College for giving me the opportunity to join the Becoming Indigenous course and honouring me with the bursary. I feel very blessed and I pledge to take the knowledge and this learning forward, sharing humbly and creating actions that will bring abundance and harmony.

About Schumacher College

Schumacher College feels like the perfect match for Becoming Indigenous. Radical practices, bold inquiries with an exciting integration between academic institution and a community environment. Schumacher is for the open minded, the ones who are interested in collective action, personal transformation and nature-based education. From community work to Earth Talks, from growing our food to composting, the whole place pulses with life and encourages us to live in a different way. At the Old Postern the piano meets the beat of the drum. Our days begin with meditation, morning meetings, singing, dancing or stretching. On the weekends there is no desire to leave the school, we all gather around the fire and tell each other stories, sing, talk and organize our own workshops. Having the Red Woods as our backyard turns a simple walk between classes, or during an assignment, into a wonderful adventure.

During my residential period I made friends from all around the world, we talked about social justice, culture, sustainability, economy, politics, relationship, ecology, nature… The quality of the conversation is breathtaking. We questioned ourselves on how to care and continue living. We found each other. Schumacher brings together people who care. I believe we all have work to offer, everyone contributes to the whole, but each person experiences the whole individually. During our circles and conversation I was able to comprehend how each of us is unique. Schumacher community taught me how to overcome despair and rage, the feeling of social injustice to finally act from a place of love.

Cooking and growing our food is a special part of Schumacher College, as Satish Kumar says, the heart of Schumacher is in the kitchen. Our meals are truly special. I remember during lunch noticing that I knew the name of everyone sitting in the dining room. We had cooked for 63 people that day. That knowing moved me and made me feel part of a true community.

Schumacher library holds immense possibilities. It shares groundbreaking knowledge and put into words ideas that our hearts and bones can understand. I witness transition, sustainability and ecology being treated with the utmost respect and depth. I glimpsed at authors such as Charles Eisenstein, Joseph Campbell, Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, James Lovelock, E.F. Schumacher and others. All that knowledge was liberating. I spend many hours investigating and researching in the library. And when winter came I cuddled around the fire place with a book or some strings and weaved sacred objects. From dreamcatchers to necklaces, headpieces to medicine bags. I was always creating and working with my hands. I experienced the community support and interest and I rediscover the joy and value of making things.

Schumacher College is a truly unique environment with a fascinating atmosphere. It is a place for curious and creative minds. Surrounded by skillful volunteers, leading thinkers and activists of our time we are all guided into a New Story and way of being.