Welcome to The Me-First School of Global Healing

A blog dedicated to exploring the experience of healing in all domains

February 22, 2020

woman in nest

I’m white.
Racism doesn’t affect me, does it?

I’m going to take a moment to write about a fairly new venture of mine, which I’ve been calling Whole Heart Whiteness. It has arisen in the context of the work I’ve been doing in Baltimore (and soon also in NYC) around healing interracial injury and pain. Most of that work, by invitation, has been with people of color. Now I am realizing how important it is for me to be taking this vital and life-giving work back to white-skinned people.

Whole Heart Whiteness—a version of Whole Heart Connection especially for white-skinned people—is an opportunity to learn body-based skills and practices that allow us to explore important conversations about racism in a healing and generative way.

One of the biggest challenges that white-skinned people usually face in engaging such a difficult and painful topic as racism is that we expect it to be painful. Often we brace ourselves—we get ready for the blow. No matter what your skin color, notice if there is any bracing in your body right now as you read this post. It’s not bad, it’s not wrong—don’t judge it, and especially don’t disconnect from it. Be compassionate with yourself, so that you can begin to settle into heart space.

One of the most important tasks facing us as we engage to end racism is that we need to take some time to create a healing context before we even get into difficult subjects—so that we can engage the situation with our most brilliant and healthy selves.

NASA Earth Rising Over Moon

It starts with making ourselves at home. What does it mean, what does it take, to make ourselves at home together, or even on the planet at all?

We all have different backgrounds, different stories of how we got here. Whether we are immigrants, whether we are refugees, whether we were taken on slave ships, whether we invaded or were invaded, we are a collection of people not feeling at home.

On a very intelligent website called White Awake, there is a linked article about Qallunology, the study of non-indigenous people—their characteristics, habits and cultural patterns. Check it out when you finish this post!

The word “qallunology” is from an Inuit word “qallunaaq” or plural “qallunaat.” A qallunaaq is anyone not living non-indigenously. There are many predictable patterns in non-indigenous cultures. They have many predictable characteristics and qualities in common.

Human Diversity

The word “qallunaaq” is not a skin color thing, though loosely it means a white person. There are (a few) white-skinned people who are actually living indigenously and thus not considered to be qallunaat, and people of many colors who are not living indigenously, who are therefore considered qallunaat.

Why is this a useful word? In the same way that speaking explicitly about whiteness helps us realize that we are not generic—only some of us are white—just so, identifying that we are living non-indigenously as part of a non-indigenous culture allows a startling view of what else is possible: “Oh, I’ve been living non-indigenously!” This new awareness opens up a doorway to what we already know inside: “Oh, I could be living indigenously in my own life, in my own body.”

Slatted Wood Pathway

Would you like to take a few first steps together in that direction? It begins with making ourselves at home in our native country, which is our own body. Whole Heart Whiteness starts here, with the experience of home-coming inside of ourselves—and so does Whole Heart Connection for People of Color.

What I discovered while working with people of color to unlearn racism is that so many white people have no idea what they’re missing out on—like for example truly learning what it feels to be at home in ourselves, before even attempting to create home together.

This is one small example of the many different levels of body awareness that are facilitated in Whole Heart Whiteness work and Whole Heart Connection for People of Color. There is so much long-awaited healing that is waiting to be awakened in us. It is crucially and joyously important for us to start learning to make ourselves at home in our own bodies—in order to be competent to engage vitally important subjects like racism.

There are no less than four different WHC classes coming up in the next few months. One is an intro for everyone, and the others are caucused for people of color or white-skinned people healing interracial injury and pain. I am so passionate about the healing that is already coming out of this work; you’ll hear more about it from me in future posts.

Find the White Awake article on Qallunology here.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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February 13, 2020

Middle-Aged White Woman

Teaching Asian Medicine

Is it cultural appropriation for Westerners to practice Chinese medicine? How about Westerners teaching Chinese medicine? How about innovating new practices, new perspectives, new Western adaptations or sub-modalities that owe their origins to Chinese medicine?

These are important questions, and they must be ongoing questions. It seems likely that the short answer is that yes, this is cultural appropriation—but then, having made this determination, what is our next step? Surely it is not for all Westerners to stop receiving, practicing, and sharing Chinese medicine. How do we engage that which our culture did not create in a way that is respectful and generative, as a gift rather than a theft?

There are many pathways to explore in this conversation and the most important consideration is that we have begun the conversation at all, rather than taking it for granted.

Below is an article that pertains to these questions. The article is an adapted transcript from an introduction to my Whole Heart Acupuncture series.

Click here for more about the upcoming WHA series

Click here to listen to this post and other posts relevant to WHA as audio

Whole Heart Acupuncture

Welcome to Whole Heart Acupuncture. I don’t think it’s possible to talk about Whole Heart Acupuncture without saying something about the dialectical process that, in Five Element Theory, is recognized as the domain of the Wood Element. In order to understand the dialectical process and the Wood Element, let’s consider the number three, which is the number associated with the Wood Element. The number three is also associated with vision, which is appropriate because this is a visionary attempt.

Close one of your eyes, if you would, right now as you look at these words. Just look with one eye, and then—without moving your head—switch to the other eye. Then switch back. Try it again a few times. Go back and forth between one eye and the other, just often enough to get a sense of how they’re different. Because they are a little different, right? They’re not exactly the same. You’ve got these two different frames, from the two different eyes. Which one of them is correct?

Vision has a particular meaning in Five Element Theory, as part of the Wood Element. We can have sight with one eye, but it takes two eyes to have vision. When there is more than one eye, something amazing happens. We have something called perspective. We have depth perception.

Why? Because this eye sees it this way because it’s here. And this other eye sees it this other way because it’s there. This-eye-here can’t see the view from there, and this-eye-there can’t see the view from here.

The location of the eye gives rise to the view. That view is the sight from one eye: “This is what I see from where I stand.” But vision requires another eye saying, “I am standing over here—and this is what I see from over here.”

I am one eye, standing here. Any other eye, by virtue of standing somewhere else, will see the same creation from a different angle, and therefore see something different. That’s why vision is associated with the number three. There’s my view from where I stand—and that’s one. There’s your view from where you stand—and that’s another one. When they are brought together, what arises is a crazy dynamic dance, a wild creative flow that generates depth perception, perspective, and the creation of a new capacity to see in a visionary way that neither eye alone could see. That’s the new “one” that arises from the two different eyes.

We can go to war over our different views, or we can have a new collaborative creation. It’s exciting. It’s a challenge. It’s also exactly what it takes for me to have the nerve to teach a course on acupuncture.

I do a lot of thinking about what it means to be a middle-aged Western white woman who has been studying Asian medicine for more than 30 years now. It’s been 33 years, so I’m not a complete stranger to this work. But I grew up in the United States of America, so I am saturated with a viewpoint that is not Asian. I have done my best to incorporate an Asian viewpoint in my understanding of this medicine, to learn to see from the other eye, but this will never be more than partial. The first step is for me to acknowledge that partiality, to be aware of my own eye. This makes it possible to engage with the humility and the rightful ownership of making a contribution to a collaborative process.

In simpler terms: I cannot claim to represent an Asian viewpoint. I also cannot claim, about what I’m teaching, “Oh yeah I came up with this myself!” I must give credit to the sources. It would be arrogant for me to claim indigenous viewpoint in my teaching. It would be equally arrogant not to claim over-the-top levels of indebtedness to the origins; that would be pure cultural appropriation. How to engage that line in a creative and life-affirming way, so that in no way do I deny that this is a middle-aged white woman from America talking right now?

The value of this two-eyed awareness is that the moment I say, “I am a Westerner,” I am claiming this as heritage, resource, and responsibility. It frees me to say, “In the presence of knowing that this eye is a Westerner’s eye, I make room for another eye—for its legitimacy, and for it to take up 50% of the dialogue, neither to dominate nor to be dominated. The minute I say “middle-aged white woman” I make room for “not white not woman not middle-aged” by claiming what I am as a point of contrast.

I ask that for all of us, for whatever relationship it is that we have to this medicine, whatever our particular heritage, whatever our particular place of standing right now, to acknowledge openly: this is where we stand; this is where our eye is looking from. We are learning about something that is the result of many, many collaborations, many, many people learning from their elders, who took from various traditions, and then said, “Okay from where I stand, here’s what I bring to that collaborative mix.” Over time, the vision is changed, and the vision is changed, and the vision is changed and changed again.

That’s my introduction to the two-eyed dialectic that this course is all about: An invitation not to be dominated by the material (I am nothing; I have to do everything just as I have been taught), nor to appropriate arrogantly (Who cares what they did with it. I’m doing this with it, and I’ll call it whatever I want).

With or without our inevitable evolutions, it’s hard to know what to call it anymore. Even what we called, “Chinese medicine” is not really entirely Chinese medicine. It’s collaborative East Asian medicine. It’s human medicine that owes tremendous debts to the Asians who did the heavy lifting to work this out. Then a bunch of us Westerners came along and said, “Wow! That is so cool! Can we get in that sandbox and play too? Can we play fair and nice with the toys, not steal, and not bonk each other on the head?”

What you’re going to be getting in Whole Heart Acupuncture is the view from where I stand. My hope is that, at all times, you will never believe a word that I say is true—that you will instead say, “Wow! That’s how it looks from where Thea Elijah stands. Will I take that as the word from the other eye? Does it open my eye? Does it call my eye to a different witnessing, to a different noticing?” This inevitably leads to something new being created.

So, that’s what this middle-aged Western white woman is doing, teaching something that she calls Whole Heart Acupuncture.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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January 27, 2020


The Me-First School of Global Healing


Many of my students are familiar with what I call the “Me-First School of Global Healing.” For those of you who have never heard this phrase before, what does it mean?

The Me-First School of Global Healing is two things. First, it is an embodied set of principles which I will detail at greater length below. Second, it is an actual healing school which I hope to be able to offer to serious students beginning in 2022. I’d like to begin this blog series with a good look at both the principles and the practicalities of a Me-First School of Global Healing, because that is the framework for everything that I say, and everything that I do, with my life.

The Me-First School of Global Healing is a practice of what I call Perennial Medicine. Perennial Medicine is a type of healing that includes many traditional healing modalities with certain beliefs, structures and characteristics in common. For a fuller exploration of the principles of Perennial Medicine, please enjoy either the audio version, or the written transcript:

The Perennial Medicine (audio and transcript)

What does “me first” mean, in the context of global healing? Let me first say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I spend hours or days or years just working on myself before I pitch in and start helping the world to become a healthier place for everyone.

Me-first global healing is a practice of connectedness. How I am, how I live, and even how I am feeling in a given moment affects everything and everyone around me—and vice versa. It’s a feedback loop that is operative all the time. It’s the basis of ethics and ecology: the awareness of impact, and the willingness to be impacted.

This may actually be a new practice for many of us! We live in a culture that is reductionistic, which means that we are adept at studying the differences between things, rather than the connections and commonalities between them. We may live in a habit of separation and compartmentalization, such that we don’t even think about the impact of our simplest moments, such as throwing out a plastic bottle or smiling at a cashier.

This is unfortunate, because when we realize how profoundly impactful we are, we can be intentional and deliberate about becoming a source of healing all the time—on a me-first basis—so that it is nourishing and fulfilling rather than draining and depleting.

Did you know that, just standing on line at the supermarket, we can ground, open, breathe, and affect the health and well-being others in line around us? Using simple practices, not only can we personally get a re-charge and re-alignment by the time we reach the checkout counter; by resonance, those around us can heal, too. This is just a tiny, easily understood example of practices that can affect whole groups in simple ways.

Gan Ying is the Chinese term for this; it’s translated as “resonance.” It refers to the way that we affect each other, just by our state of being. Settled nervous systems offer an invitation to other nervous systems that may have even forgotten that settledness was possible, whether on line at the grocery store, or in the treatment room, or on the front lines of a civil rights initiative. Entrainment, which we see when birds flock up or fish form schools, is also how humans form basketball teams and jazz bands. Information is shared through the “Group Heart,” a place where resonance is magnified.

Whole Heart Connection work (click to visit the WHC Archive) is a foundational example of me-first healing through Gan Ying and entrainment in the Group Heart. It is a me-first practice. This means that the practitioner does not do anything “to” any other person. The practitioner embodies the note or vibration of healing in their own body, and makes heart connects with the other person, leaving them free to respond naturally. When healing is offered, it is most natural for others to respond with a “yes,” but there is no force, no dominance, no colonization involved.

If it’s a “no,” that’s an opportunity for the healer to re-consider what they were offering. For instance, in the Living the Elements work (click to visit the 5E Archive), which is based on the Five Elements, we learn how to “sound the note” of each Element. We make each energetic offer, and we see which offer may be uninteresting to the other person, and which offer is medicine. Because we have done nothing more than set an example and offer an invitation, there is no possibility of injury or transgression; we are interacting from the highest level of personal integrity and not asking anything of the other person without their active consent.

And yet, as WHC and LTE students can attest, the results are profound. When we have practices that allow us to “sound the note” of health in very specific ways in various life situations, we make a difference while also nourishing and healing ourselves.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting more about my latest explorations and discoveries in all of the domains relevant to the Me-First School of Global Healing, such as:

Chinese Medicine (and other Perennial Medicines)


Living the Elements

Whole Heart Connection

Social and Ecological “Justice”

Seasonal Healing

Personal Healing

…and the many ways that they are all connected by deep roots in changing times.

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