Healing Ancestral Lineages with Daniel Foor
Daniel is a teacher and practitioner of practical animism who specializes in ancestral and family healing and in helping folks learn to relate well with the rest of life. His recent ancestors are settler-colonialists to Pennsylvania and Ohio from England, Germany, and Ireland. He is a doctor of psychology, marriage and family therapist, amateur naturalist, life-long student of earth-honoring traditions, and the author of Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. Since 2005 Daniel has guided ancestor-focused trainings, community rituals, and personal sessions throughout North America. Training as a therapist, living in other cultures, and immersion in different lineages of ritual all inform his kind and non-dogmatic approach to ancestor and earth reverence. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. For more information on Daniel's trainings to come please visit his website here.
Today on Explorations in Psychotherapy, we are welcoming. Dr. Daniel Foor. Dr. Foor is a teacher and practitioner of practical animism who specializes in ancestral and family healing and in helping people learn to relate well with the rest of life. He is a Doctor of Psychology, marriage and family therapist, amateur naturalist, lifelong student of earth honoring traditions and the author of Ancestral Medicine Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. Since 2005, he has guided ancestor focused trainings, community rituals, and personal sessions throughout North America. His recent ancestors are settler colonialists to Pennsylvania and Ohio from England, Germany, and Ireland. He lives with his wife and daughters in the blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, traditional Homeland of Cherokee peoples.
Lexi Rothman: Daniel, thank you so much for joining us today.
Daniel Foor: It's great to be here. Thank you.
Aníbal Henriques: Daniel, thank you so much for having us. Your book is such a nice challenge to our traditional Eurocentric, positivist and empiricist models of mind used to disconnect from everything, not so real as the visible and touchable present or our physical bodies and their needs. So, many congratulations for putting up such as a spiritual and epistemological challenge and solution in such difficult times as we are living now globally. How do you find your book and its spiritual suggestions are being welcomed by the public?
Daniel: Good, I think. I'm busy. There's a lot of interest in the Ancestral Healing work. And I think there are a lot of factors to that. I think a big one is that folks who have, for whatever reasons, ended up down lineage from cultural disconnection or a disconnection from frameworks that situate humans in a larger web of kinship with the ancestors, the plants, the animals, the land, the spirits, the deities, when we're born into a condition like that, where we don't have a framework for those other kinds of relationships, I think it's a natural instinct to want to come back into connection, especially when we observe that some others are enjoying those relationships. And we see that ecologically and culturally, a lot of the ways that we're moving in the world, aren't working that well. And it is natural also to wonder, how did things get off track? What, in my own Ancestral Lineages lead to this severing or break from a more relational way of moving in the world into a more reductionistic way. And in that sense, there is a lot of interest in reclaiming our ability to relate with the ancestors and with which, when I'm speaking to them, I mean fairly specifically the human dead and the ones who were previously incarnate, but who are not right now or the extended body or a consciousness of our species as it exists in the present. So, the souls or the spirits, or the consciousness of the larger species of which we're embedded, which is one, it's not the only entry point, but it's one great entry point to come back into relationship with the rest of life. And there is a lot of folks who are already doing that, who weren't born into it, better have learned it and are reclaiming that, nonetheless. And there is a much larger demographic of people who are really curiously fetishizing that outside the window of the restaurant, they're looking in and they're like, that looks interesting. I think I want that. I intellectually like it, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to officially openly participate in it. But I see a lot of people walking in and out of the restaurant and I'm hungry and I'm not sure what to do. Yeah.
Lexi: Well, given that the majority of our listeners are therapists, and you're a Doctor of Psychology as well as a marriage and family therapist, would you share your view on how taking an animist approach to the understanding of an alleviation of human suffering would differ from the approach that has been taken by traditional largely Eurocentric models of psychology?
Daniel: Sure. I think for one, there's two differently, legitimate ways to use the word psychology. One is to refer to the field per se, that grows out of a Eurocentric background, but it's not inherently limited to that forever. And is increasingly diversifying in having to confront international realities and trying to articulate their understandings that are not inherently Eurocentric, et cetera. And then there's the more general use which must recognize the Eurocentric Psychology is but one regional psychology and that there are traditional African psychologies and Aboriginal psychologies and Chinese psychologies and indigenous Indian cosmologies and psychologies. And so, if we use it in, which is ultimately a more humble use of the word psychology, and say there are already many different psychologies we can be curious, what are the features of Eurocentric psychology when placed alongside or in a collegial conversation with these other often older pre-existing psychologies, which continue to change and be dynamic in their own right. And when we do that, we notice that personhood, which is where we think of relational intimacy...If I say to your listeners, who are your most important relationships, the most people tend to reach for other living humans, or maybe humans who have passed in some way, but there's not an automatic assumption that that includes mountains, spirits, the dead, certain deities, et cetera. Yet, for most of the earth and most of human history, the way that humans conceptualize their own existence is in a relational web or a network of others that are not limited to just other living humans. So, we include the ones I mentioned, the dead and et cetera. And, in so far as psychology has interested in sort of our inner life, but also the psychodynamics or the, just the dynamics between us and others, the relational field that we live in. Those mountains have their own psychology. Rivers and ancestors and deities have their own psychology. And there are different, the interesting psychodynamics between humans and the plants and the animals, spirits, et cetera. And so, in that way, Euro, euro American, let's say, you know, white people, relatively recent psychology has created and unconsciously replicated anthropocentric, a human centric, a human supremacist assumption that only humans have full personhood. And that reinforces loneliness and isolation for one. And the correct of the antidote is to say that psychology at its essence is not limited to humans, that the birds and the trees and the stones have their own psychology that is in conversation with us.
Lexi: So, the traditional, maybe Eurocentric models, aren't even taking into account that perhaps there are influences on our suffering or even help for our healing to come from the other than humans or the land.
Daniel: Oh, for sure. And so, in that way, it to say it in a generous way, the model of reality is fundamentally incomplete. What is good about psychology and the psychology I trained in a marriage and family therapy, even progressive models like IFS, Psychosynthesis, voice dialogue, parts models. There is a tremendously important wisdom about how living humans relate with other living humans and with themselves that's critically important. And it's just incomplete. And what's interesting about it as the insights that come from that depth inquiry often apply to the dynamics between humans and other than humans when I, or other than incarnate humans. When I guide people through ancestral reconnection with their own ancestors, if someone has a lot of really insecure signs of codependent, “Am I okay? Are you okay?” Like anxious underlying energy, they'll tend to bring that same baseline way of relating to their relationship with their ancient ancestors or with the land or whatever. And so that, you know, it's a exporting of our suffering to other meaningful relationships, but it also means that there are new opportunities for having an emotionally corrective experience or a different kind of thing happen in a different kind of attachment or secure bond that may not easily be possible with other living humans.
Lexi: That's really interesting what you just said, because several times over the course of starting to get familiar with your work, I feel like my eyes have been open to something that I was unaware of, and it just dawned on me that I don't think I have considered that possibility that we carry some of the ways that we relate to other humans, to the ways that we relate to the land or to our ancestors. I'm feeling like that's a new piece for me
Daniel: In English, the language that I've encountered. And I, there's a debt of gratitude to Graham Harvey, who was a British pagan scholar. And, then the people he in turn has learned from like Irvin Hollowell and Ojibwe people, but the is the language of personhood, and it might be different in Portuguese or Russian or any other language trying to articulate animism in a common way. But in English, at least, we tend to contrast people and objects. And when I say interpersonal relationships, I'm saying that not all people are human. And so, if you're relating with an ancient Greek goddess or with the plants that grow in your home, those are plant people, they are deity people. And in that way, there are fraught relationships. So, the ones that can include projection and all kinds of, you know, tangled up things, but they can also include relational intimacy that translates into our everyday life and into other relationships
Lexi: On this relational piece, I had noticed in studying your work that very interesting parallel between IFS therapy and your description of both ancestor work and animism in the sense that they're all highly relational, which is all what you're talking about now. You were saying that, you know, essentially what matters is not just thinking about the trees, for example, in IFS thinking about the parts of our internal systems, but actually coming into direct connection in relationships with them, asking questions, actually waiting to hear the answer from them instead of imposing our views and these respectful intimate connections build trust and facilitate healing. So, I appreciate you having spoken to the idea of the relational nature of the work that you do.
Daniel: There's no center of an ecosystem and there's no fundamental center to us, as I see it. We could say I'm coming into relationships with these parts of me. But what you're also saying is the I, that speaking has hijacked the center in that moment, where is positioning itself as the normative objective Self, whereas from the perspective of every other Self it's also the center. And so, in that way, we're asked in honest therapy or animist ethics to have ability to shift perspectives and to ideally empathically understand the perspective of many different voices or community members. So, yeah.
Aníbal: Daniel, for didactic reasons, can you tell us what is this ancestor reverence that your book and your work is trying to repair and also what is ancestral connection and ancestral healing?
Daniel: Yeah, of course. So, many, but not all cultures on earth give some consideration to the ongoing relationship between the living and the dead and of those who do in some form or another, which is most cultures, there are a lot of common elements. And the common elements that I have observed that I hold as cross-cultural enough to build a methodology upon are there are five, one, is that something continues after the death of the body or some things plural. There is some of that consciousness is not only the physical body and that the dead are not all equally well or healed in the spirit. Just being, not incarnate, doesn't make you wise and kind and loving. It just means you're not incarnate anymore. So, in that way, the condition of the dead reflects that of the living. Some living folks are quite troubled, and others are quite loving and integrated, and the dead can change. So, even if they're not at peace that can shift just like with the living and we can communicate with them, that can be solicited, intentional communication, or it could be a spontaneous communication that they initiate through dreams, or you might be a devout atheist and suddenly you have like dead people communicating to you, which is terribly inconvenient and ego-dystonic and unpleasant for your worldview. And so, you have to figure out what to do with it. You can push it away or try to make sense of it. But communication is normal between the living and the dead. It happens. And then, inside inherently helpful any more than communication between the living. And then finally, the level of impact between us and the ancestors is really substantial. And we can bring that conscious, and in that way, work with it, and it's not inherently helpful or harmful. And it's, as I say it, at least it's not optional, it's structural. And just because it's not conscious, again, doesn't mean it's harmful. Some people enjoy a lot of blessing and support in their life from the ancestors. They don't frame it in that way and that's fine. Their life just is working. And so those are some underlying principles, but then in practice, I try to keep the methodology or the how to go about it, pretty sparse so that people can find their own style within that. But one principle when focusing on healing work with blood lineage ancestors, which is a much more narrow focus within the larger terrain of relating between the living in the dead. When we go with that focus, which is a lot of what I'm teaching is the lineage-based healing work with blood lineage ancestors. One of the core principles is that we call on those who are already healed and well and whole in spirit and we ask them to bring about the healing. So, I'm not in any instance asking others, nor am I personally seeking to relate directly with those among the dead who are still troubled and those who are still working things through. We are asking the elders of the lineage, those who are already in a vibrant, loving condition, even if it means they're much older before remembered names and before what we associate with our recent ancestors, we ask those ones as a collective force to step in and shift things and heal them up.
Lexi: I love the idea of that collective aspect to healing. Sometimes we spend so much time as individuals efforting so hard on a personal level to try to make big changes and healing in relationship and connection.
Daniel: It's true. The way I've worked and encourage people to work in realms of ritual are just coming back into relationship is not through primarily through personal effort, but through making a connection with the powers that will bring the healing or the quality that are needed. Yeah.
Lexi: And there is a parallel there, I think to IFS for so many times, we have hardworking manager, parts of us that are trying to figure things out, solve things, make things work. And when those parts are able to step back and open space, it seems that something much greater happens and...
Daniel: Yeah, like that.
Lexi: There are parallels here. And how might, how have you seen that, working in a healing way, with those in our blood and family lineages who are no longer incarnate, how can that help us? How can that help our clients?
Daniel: Well, there are layers to that. On a most immediate level, if the dead who are troubled are a source of interference or an intrusive problematic energy in our lives, then helping them to get the peace that they need to kind of bring immediate relief to anything from a physical ailment, to a mental, emotional distress, to a misfortune in your life. So, if the dead who are troubled are up in your space, it's functionally anywhere from a deep possession to energetic clearing or a lifting of a cloud of turbulence around your space. Beyond that, having healing with the ancestors tends to bring more clarity about life purpose and our gifts. We see that a lot of the challenges, but also blessings that were down lineages from our connected to our destiny and our path. So, we can get more clear about what we're here to do, the ability to actually carry that out, the guidance, the protection, the usable energy in backing can be increased by relating with them. A sense of belonging can be enhanced. A lot of folks who don't have a real sense of rooting and anchoring here on the earth in a specific way that respects their cultural origins and all of the complexities of that. So, it was good for a sense of belonging. When we're born into systems of oppression in one way or another, whether we're down lineage for more of the trouble or more of the enacting of trouble, being identified with and in relationship with blood lineage ancestors positions us to participate more effectively in the repairs, as we can say, yeah, I understand I’m part of this group, there is a obligation to participate and some kind of structural change and repair because of that. So, belonging comes with responsibilities, and with that there's a chipping away at the extreme individualism that a lot of people, at least in the United States, and I think that applies in other places, are conditioned into. It’s isolating, it's confusing, it's psychologically unhealthy and relating with the ancestors is a corrective for that. Yeah.
Aníbal: Daniel, you just said you use the term ancestor more narrowly to refer to those souls who are well in spirit. In that usage ancestor is a kind of compliment. It refers to an inherited or acquired status and contrasts with ghosts, the trouble dead, or those who are not yet ancestors. So how do we differentiate between an ancestor and a ghost?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it's, I can respond to, and it's important in responding that when we're describing someone in status of not yet ancestor, which in English the word ghost can capture that valence. It can have an edge of judgmentalness to it, and it's not the spirit of it. So, the most generous way that I know to refer to the dead who have not yet arrived at the status of ancestor is just the, not yet ancestors, as it holds out the vision of them arriving there. But think of the death of the body as a kind of rite of passage that doesn't really complete until the one who has passed has been received into or accepted by the larger collective body or wisdom of the dead. And in that way, the ghosts they’re are still dying, they’re still in process, even if it's been years, like they are still, they haven't arrived to their new condition yet. And some attributes of ancestors as distinct from those who are not yet arrived at that, are that the dead who are healed and well, and generally safe to relate with, although they might be intense, tend to function more as a group consciousness or a group energy, they tend to be more in touch with the spectrum of qualities as love and wisdom and kindness and humor and levity. That there's a sense of just radiance and goodness about them. And the ones who are still troubled often, we recognize that energy, this is characterized in say Christian mythologies of the post-death experience of how purgatory heaven, aside from the heavily moralistic aspects of that. If we think of them as different states, there are many flavors of suffering in hell or in purgatory. And in that way, the dead who are still confronting the choices of their life, or who are just in a state of confusion, we can sense it. Like we can sense it from the living. When someone's really in touch with love and kindness and is an ethical person, there is a kind of quality of energy to that. And when it's something other than that, then, well, something often feels a bit off. And I don't share that with judgment. It's just an important function of engaging in any kind of relationship to have discernment and just dying doesn't automatically generate wisdom.
Lexi: You mentioned this a bit earlier today, but I just wanted to follow up with it a little more that all of us humans are descended from people who are at one point were earth honoring and in conscious respectful relationships with the other than humans on our planet. But you were saying at some point in history, different times for different Lineages, there was a break and we began to inflict a tremendous amount of harm on this planet that sustains us. And we're seeing a lot of the consequences of this with many more to come, unfortunately, but how would you describe the connection between the ancestral work and the healing of our planet?
Daniel: Well, I tend to be hard on the histories of European colonialism because my own ancestors participated in the occupation and genocidal harms toward indigenous peoples in the Americas and enslaved African peoples, and I mean not so super directly in my own lineages, but nonetheless, I mean, European settler colonialists are implicated, and that said, bad behavior toward others and empire and enslavement of people and occupation of land is not limited to some Europeans who enacted that, that's a behavior that has been played out by a lot of human groups, toward other human groups, all over the earth for a lot of history. And at this point, it is imperative of course, that as many people as possible to start shifting the systems that are so harmful toward the earth and toward other humans, and those systems are upheld in a lot of ways by the ghosts, by the troubled dead, by the ancestral difficulties that haven't been metabolized. Those are the ones who drained up the systems in a lot of ways, whether it's white supremacy or patriarchal sexist systems, or, you know, et cetera, we could detail the kinds of cultural troubles. And once a person chooses to engage in service up and or transform those systems, and I think it's very important to keep a focus on the systems and on the structures and not just on arriving at the correct view, that's fine. But if the systems don't change, then you don't really get the structural changes we need. So, when we endeavor that you come to see that the systems have their own guardian spirits, they have their own homeostasis, they have their own kind of sentients or spirit. There are people in a way, and anyone who's actually tried to protest oppression directly, or has it been bitten by those systems directly knows that. And the people, while we're speaking all over the earth who are being imprisoned or poisoned or killed directly by standing up to oppression, are...they are trying to impose the very real spirits energy, is people that are those troubled systems. And is it likely to go a bit better when we have ancestral backing and guidance? I think so, there's not, there's no magical antidote. I'm not suggesting to people who are being beaten down by police or being shot at protests are not spiritual enough. Certainly not saying that, but the troubles are deep and the, the need to address them is urgent. Yeah.
Lexi: Troubles are deep and... something I appreciated that, I hope I'm interpreting correctly from what I know of your work is, you know, there's so much out there there's so much work to be done, it can be overwhelming for people. Sometimes they can shut down and do nothing, but there's a piece of this working with the ancestors and I think in good psychotherapy too, that helps us really connect to who we are. What do we have to offer in our unique ways, and then engaging in doing that and in some way contributing, but it was definitely a new perspective for me, even though I think I, I live in it, but I don't think it was in my conscious awareness that these gifts passed down from the ancestors are part of why we each can do what we each can do. That's special here...
Daniel: I see it that way. Yeah, it is overwhelming. If we try to just take on all of it, because it's not, it’s not effective for one, and if we want to be effective, we need to really, just very specifically be ourselves and to, to do our specific self very well, and to hold that piece very, very passionately and effectively and sustainably if possible. And if we're not clear what that is, then trying to get clear about it is a good focus. Alright, we'll have more sort of a spiritual backing, I guess you could say, if we're doing specifically what we're here to do, and we might like what that is. If we happen on the ego level to feel good about what that is, bonus, but you might find what you're here to do is quite unpleasant. And in that way, there needs to be a gradual surrendering or a, almost like a breaking of the ego to, entrain to the demands of the soul. And that's harder, but you feel better after you're dead if you do it that way, but it's a, hopefully when we make the investigation, we find that we actually enjoy our destiny, but either way...
Lexi: And we can really feel like we've lived with some purpose and meaning.
Aníbal: Daniel, your book strongly asserts four assumptions. One - consciousness continues after death. Two - not all of the dead are equally well, three – the living and the death can communicate, four - the living and to the death can strongly affect one another. So, those are strong assertions. Can you elaborate more on one of those, for instance, the first one consciousness continues after death.
Daniel: Yeah, for sure. And I, you know, I alluded to them further earlier, I sometimes add the fifth - the dead change. And I see it as a correlate of the not all of the dead are equally well, and also they change, but the first that something continues after the death to the body, what I would add first is that any system that I've found real nourishment from whether it's a Yoruba traditions or (..) cosmology, or (…) traditions from my own ancestry, a little bit of involvement in Lakota traditions or Jewish mysticism, like many traditions, different traditions around the world recognize that the soul is a convergence of more than one thing, there's more than one essential aspect or a part of the soul and the multiple soul framework, and there's not just one of them, of course, allow us for the possibility that some aspect of what we are returns as a reborn or as reincarnates and some other aspects of what we are don't do that, or they settled into the earth or whatever it might be. And some aspects of what we are that return might follow the bloodlines and others might not. And they might be the source of what people report as past life memory from other times and places. And so, there are more than one storyline happening at once, which I find very congruent with parts models like IFS. And additionally, the way that time has conceived of in a linear fashion, and a lot of, at least modern Western cultures, is not necessarily how it is spoken up in a lot of traditional cultures. And so, when we say something continues after the death of the body, we could also say that we're made of patterns or stories, which recreate in different forms or octaves or expressions throughout many lifetimes. And these underlying patterns or stories or narratives are well for one they're tenacious. They can include both troubles and blessings. And when we try to resolve intergenerational troubles, it is part of why we reached for the intergenerational blessings or antidotes to those troubles. But the story is, they do a strange thing to, in our experience at a time when we see that a story from 150 or 1500 or more years ago is suddenly recreating in our lives. And is this kind of the same moment in time, I'm in the same pattern. What do I do with this pattern now? How do I shift the pattern? Because we can transition out of it, but if it is still there, it's still going to germinate next lifetime or in a lifetime of my great grandchildren and have I really done the deep healing. So, consciousness is multiple, time isn't linear and the idea that we're this individual self is really suspicious, where made of a lot of different ingredients. Yeah.
Lexi: That's great. That you were saying kind of brings to mind that in IFS we work with what we call legacy burdens. So, these include these constraining negative feelings, beliefs, patterns that are passed down through a generational lines in our cultures. And we find for us, for our clients, when we're able to release these burdens from our systems, clients can experience real shifts in how they perceive the world, how they navigate it thereafter, it seems very congruent with what you're talking about in one, we do talk about the gifts or the heirlooms that we also have from our lineages, our culture. But I've never heard it expressed the way you just did in terms of that these gifts, these blessings are the antidotes to the burdens
Daniel: Sometimes in therapy. And I have a ton of respect for therapists of all sorts, even though I also give them a hard time as a part of having done my time to get my licenses and get a PhD that I can give other psychology people a hard time. And one of the things that people unknowingly do sometimes is that clients who will come up with a lot of real earnest desire to transform what are clearly intergenerational troubles or toxins, whether it's a legacy of sexual abuse or addiction or a disconnection or whatever it might be. And the therapist sometimes would be like, great, let us proceed to transform those collective level of troubles with a personal level skills and tools. I mean, it might not be said so outright, but the disadvantage of that as someone who's also ritualist or primarily ritualist, is that you're setting someone up for failure. You're asking them to transform the momentum, which proceeds them without having a similarly strong antidote or a momentum. So, we need a collective level of blessings and we need to understand, to access that there needs to be a sense of belonging or participation or seeing ourselves as part of a bigger system. And if the harms have come from one's ancestry, recent family, let's say, it’s often the case, it is important to not just abandon the structure that is family, but to go older and bigger than just the recent ones. So, the, the healed already whole well energies that are also part of that bigger ancestral system can contain and surround and transmute the toxins that the individual client experienced. If you don't do that, then the abandoning of the structure of family, it's kind of like, Oh, there's love over here, but family is a mess. I mean, great take in the love wherever you can get it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but if you don't somehow reclaim family from the harm that has defined it, understandably, then there'll be a lack of belonging that goes unaddressed. And so, working with blood lineage ancestors in particular has the potential to reclaim one's place in lineages and in family in a way that is, makes the harms that someone experienced, even if they are intergenerational, there's still bracketed, there is still contained, there is still not allowed to define all of one's lineages through all times and space
Lexi: Makes a lot of sense. I'm just sitting here. My brain is processing so fast, but I'm seeing so many parallels with how we work with the internal world in IFS to what you just said. Kind of alluding to what I was saying earlier about sometimes we have these parts that feel like they are alone, that there are independent entities trying to effort and make things okay and fix things and cope with trauma and all of that. And when we go in experientially and we allow them to notice, you know, what else is there? The whole of the system, the Self-energy, what's beyond that, because when they stepp back, we often have so much more access to what's beyond us, and we feel an interconnection with everything around us and how helpful that is for the parts to know you are not alone in this. And while some therapists, I imagine may be really open to this idea that clients can engage in ancestral healing work, where they can connect with benevolent guides or be impacted by negative energies or hazardous forces. Obviously, this is not part of the worldview of every therapist, but I think what's interesting about being a therapist is kind of doesn't matter, regardless of what we may believe personally, there's tremendous diversity among our clients. So sometimes therapists will be faced, I think, especially when we're working with experiential models, rather than more cognitively based models, we will be faced with a client who suddenly finds themselves in connection with something who is not them, you know, a guide, an ancestor, a negative energy. So, I was wondering if you can give us a sense of how, if this happens in our sessions, how might we be present with this in a helpful way while also clearly acknowledging our limitations?
Daniel: Well, yeah, that's a, it's a big set of questions, really. There's no substitute for training in how to guide ritual process or relating with the dead. It's as involved as relating with the living. And, and so it is important to recognize one's limitations in general, aligning with what is healed and whole, and, you know, just instinctual alignment with what is fundamentally good, will help us to help a person without the training to navigate through a lot of tricky situations. But there are hazardous spirits and powers and forces and everything happening in the physical observable world and in the news has a subtle, energetic, or unseen compliment to it. And so, the torture and the abuse and the really predatory behavior that humans are enacting toward one another also has a so-called spiritual or unseen compliment. I think that psychology in general as a field has unfortunately internalized, to a large degree, the desire to be accepted along criterias of empirical science. And as a so-called soft science sometimes feels like it's trying to prove itself relative to things like chemistry and physics and biology. And so, the need to seek acceptance in that way will sometimes the people to feel afraid to do what really serves a client in the moment, or to legitimize their experience of relating with the spirit, something like that. But, you know, I have a license from the state of California to work with a human psyche, if people get licensed as a mental health professional, they have some permission to work with mental, emotional, and to a degree, because it's not compartmentalized spiritual health. And so, in that, I just, I encourage a very pragmatic approach that people would be open to whatever works. If you're trying to indoctrinate your client's with a certain materialistic ideology, we'll check that, that's inappropriate and it's your job as a healer to care for someone's soul and their whole being, and to activate the capacities within them that are self-corrective, and that know how to do that already. And in that way, you do whatever works. And, one other thing I saw this when doing my doctoral research is on the use of shamanic healing methods in a clinical mental health setting. And at least at the time, the American Psychological Association was fine with the idea of referring a client who's a native American to a traditional healer. Okay. A good start. But what if the native American traditional healer is also a clinician? What then? Or what if someone is not a native American but relates with the spirits in the ancestors or whatever? What if they're a person who just talks to the dead? Is that okay? Or are we fetishizing an animist view, a world where there are spirits and things like that onto native peoples? So, if we're doing that, then that's a subtle problematic kind of racism.
Daniel, you say modern psychology tends to be skeptical about or even pathologize individuals who claim to talk with the spirits of the dead, you just said it. This is unfortunate as most contact with the ancestors, whether real or imagined, doesn't have nothing to do with psychosis. So how do we distinguish talking with spirits from psychosis?
Daniel: Yeah. A lot of times it's pretty straight, is pretty obvious in the sense that you can notice how that's functioning in a person's life. Is it causing distress? Is that causing upset? Does it seem ungrounded? Is it functioning...is it causing clinically significant distress? You know, it's not that simplistic because sometimes someone could actually be having a psychotic process and it's not yet causing distress, but it's sort of a strange behavior. And, to be clear, not all traditionalist or people in the, or whatever, automatically accept on face value, the claims of individuals who are relating with the gods or the spirits or whatever, there needs to be a track record that shows that a person is actually sort of getting results or that there's a grounded, functional reality to it. That one's life gets better because of it or the, you know, the test is in the results in some ways. And being actually in an active psychotic process, having a psychotic break, something like that usually is accompanied by all kinds of other symptoms of distress or are not functioning well in one's life. And that does happen. It does happen where people make claims that they’re relating with the dead or whatever. And, it's part of some other process, which is not, not healthy and not serving them and would benefit from even medication or whatever it might be. But in a lot of ways, it is a test of whether or not it’s working for the person and their life. And if someone is having, occasionally, someone may have a legitimate contact from the dead or some other power, a deity, whatever it might be, and it's very incongruent with their sense of self, and that gap is what's causing the distress, and so, it's a, it's a worldview distress, rather than some other kind of problem with it. And in that way, normalizing it and helping them to have a framework can lower the level of distress. And it also matters what, who they're in contact with, If someone is in touch with their really loving, supportive, nurturing ancestral grandmothers, that is very different than being in touch with the troubled ghosts who are massacred in the land, were you and your family live. So, it depends who a person is reporting, being in contact with. Yeah.
Lexi: Slightly similar, but one question that can arise for those who do believe that consciousness continues in some form after death, that we can continue to relate is the question of, you know, what is me and what is not me. So, especially for those of us who have subscribed to a model like IFS that appreciates the natural multiplicity of the mind and all of these diverse ways that our parts can manifest, is there some helpful way for people to differentiate between a part of them, let's say that carries the energy and the behavioral tendencies of a deceased parent versus actually being in connection with that deceased person in real time?
Daniel: Yeah, I understand, the me, not me question is one that has a very deep, fundamental, mystical roots. There is no a quick way to navigate through the, just the contemplation on self and other and the others or not you in many ways are the grounding when you get into inflated or super expanded spiritual states and it's like, okay, great, and what about these others? What about the suffering? This is also your body. You're also the one doing it. Why are you doing that? Come back. And so, there's that. Often people benefit from opening up a bit more and recognizing the aspects of themselves that are like the animals, the plants, the elements, the other than humans, et cetera. And so, I think there tends to be a bit of a sort of this iterative back and forth process of strengthening your sense of self for integrating new things, and then coming into people, human or otherwise who challenge those assumptions, and then breaking down your sense of what you are having to flex or learn new things, and then getting more integrated again, and then having a challenge again. And so that is good to normalize that process. And yeah, we need a healthy sense of self to navigate the world. And there needs to be a sense of being flexible about it and recognizing the most horrific things we can conceive of live in the space of our own heart. That's the only safe place to put evil is like within our own heart and psyche
Aníbal: Daniel, how active are you becoming now offering these perspectives to the psychotherapy field or beyond?
Daniel: Yeah, I did a thing last fall that I really enjoyed for the first time in probably a decade because I worked with a therapist and all of that, but mostly I've been teaching about ritual arts and in a more broad way, but I finished my PhD in 2009, but then last fall I started an online course and, you know, begins again in the spring, called animus psychology, where I tried to succinctly and somewhat experientially transmit what I've been learning about the intersections of psychotherapy, psychology and animus to values and ethics, including with ritual, but not only with ritual. And it was great, was well received, and if I had more time, you know, I'm a dad, I have two daughters, and busy with teaching, try to not work all the time, I would be happy to dive even further into that intersection, but I hold out hope for the field of psychology to gradually incorporate the respect for the personhood of the other than humans and to recognize in that way that the psyche is not only human, culture is not only human, culture arises also from the earth and if we want to articulate a more sustainable and like perennial and intelligible to indigenous peoples sense of what we are, and a sense of self, psychologies of the self, then we need to include not just the existence of, but the voices and the wisdom of the other than humans in our very sense, fundamentally of what we are. And like, if I were to say, hey, it's problematic to act like white people are better than non-white people. That's not a super controversial thing to say these days, I would hope. And, yet I'm saying that supremacy in another form, which is to say that humans are more people than the animals, the plants, the rivers, the mountains, that same kind of human supremacy. It's the same pattern really. And I'm saying it's as problematic. And the people who have always been living from that stance are like, “hmm mm, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's kind of what we'd been saying in for a long time”. But yeah, I recognize that human supremacy leads to the massive extinction of other beings and climate change and all of the things, the catastrophe that we're inflicting upon ourselves. And yet psychology relegates that to religion or spirituality or a superstition, that's colonialist, racist, arrogance. And that's the part of psychology that needs pro-actively challenged and uprooted. So, in that way, I have a fierce condemnation of the perpetuation of that kind of arrogance. It's ecologically and psychologically destructive and the field of psychology perpetuates it.
Aníbal: Exactly. Such an inspiring conversation. Thank you so much for all of that you gave us today.
Daniel: Yeah, for sure. It's a, it's a delight and I know I am and ending out a little bit of a fierce note there, but I would just underscore that coming back into relationship with the others is also a delightful and accessible and learnable for anybody, yeah.
Lexi: It’s something actually that I'm so glad you actually got that fierce about it because I wanted to actually express some personal gratitude to you. I, in reading your work just over the last week and a half, I feel like so many seeds have been planted in me. Some of them have begun to germinate and I noticed something, it brought me some grief yesterday, but I'm sitting with it. I went to pet one of my cats and I realize as I was reaching out, because I felt like petting them, that I had never had a conscious intentional practice of seeking consent from this other than a human being in my life. Do they want to be scooped up and cuddle? Do they not? I know it may sound small to some people, but the grief in me was I clearly unconsciously had bought into that idea that humans are in some ways superior. So, if I wanted to pet my cat, I could pet my cat and I stopped myself. And the words of Maya Angelou came to me, just, you know, do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better do better. And I felt a lot of gratitude for you because I feel like you've helped me to know better and now it's my responsibility to do better. So, I thank you for that.
Daniel: You’re welcome, that’s beautiful.
Aníbal: Daniel, it was a joy to be here with you and Lexi, and I hope we can keep meeting and share our work and our lives. Thank you so much.
Daniel: Thank you so much.
Lexi: Thank you, Daniel.
Recorded the 13th April 2021
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu