Western Guilt Culture
It was a hot, humid evening in the Amazonian jungle of Peru. The date marked the shortest of the year in the Southern Hemisphere: the Winter Solstice of 2011. I was sitting on a pillow at the edge of my mattress, which was one of twenty-three in a circle covering the floor of the Maloka. The Shipibo Maestras and Maestros (female and male “Shamans”)were still in the centre of the Maloka singing the group Ikaros (healing songs) – soon they would break apart and work with us one-on-one.
Listening to the enchanting orchestra of unknown heart warming melodies, I sit in half-lotus waiting for the medicine to come into my awareness. As sounds of the other participates purging begin to chime into the Ikaros, I remind myself to maintain my presence and refocus my attention on the healing at hand. Bring your awareness inside. All of a sudden, from the depth of my gut, rises a rippling shockwave of emotion that cripples my heart and causes an outpouring of tears. I cannot recall ever having experienced this emotion with such intensity, nor had I realized that I have been carrying it within me for so long. Yet here it was, the burdening heavyweight from the past: guilt.
Before I continue, I would like to express the extreme difficulty in conveying a feeling through words. As a noun, guilt is defined as the “fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime”. To “make someone feel guilty, especially in order to induce them to do something” is guilt used as a verb. When I looked up guilt feeling, it was said to be the “remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offense, real or imaginary”.
These definitions touch on the feeling of guilt and provide for a foundation for my use of the word, however I encourage you to get a sense of my use for the word as you read the rest. <3
During this particular Ayahuasca healing ceremony, I was shown that a major source of my own guilt had built up from the sense of having had an abundant life, while simultaneously learning of the massive individual and global suffering. How could I deserve such a life while millions of children die of starvation every day? Why was my life free from physical abuse while so many families are destroyed from it? The response: I must hide this from others and play it small so that I do not stand out and potentially make other people feel bad.
Such guilt is a pandemic of our collective culture as we all begin to learn of the exploitation and degradation of this planet required to maintain our own consumeristic ways of life. As we are conditioned to identify with a particular culture or ideology, we are also identifying with that culture’s stories and histories – beautiful and horrific. Identifying as a “white male” carries with it hundreds of years of oppression, conquest, exploitation, and fear. These wounds carry in our collective memories just as our individual wounds are carried in our bodies until they are cleared and healed. We are here for our ancestors, to heal past patterns. What if we got as excited about being from Earth as we did when our favourite sports team won a game? I could see it now – walking down the street you see someone walking the other way and as you pass you give them a high five because they are from Earth too!
We are a culture of manufactured guilt – “manufactured” because we create it and carry it around with us. The shadows of our stories of history, our current global exploitation, the food we eat, the way we spend our money, what we do in our free time, and any other indulgence we are told we “should not” be indulging in. Throughout our lives we are told what we should and should not do from other people (with good intentions of course!). How many people like to be told what to do? Change has to emerge from within the individual, not forced upon them by another. Taking action with guilt as a motivator is to take an action from a fear based perspective.
Speaking for myself, it has been an ongoing process to remove guilt from my diet. Too often I would be eating something, and in the back of my head was the thought, “this is not healthy for me” – what is that doing to the food I am ingesting? The idea that I “should not” be eating something went so far as to create an unconscious “act of rebellion” within me that pushed me to choose sugary treats when I might not have otherwise. I’m going to eat this because I was told I shouldn’t. This is where the idea of giving myself complete permission to eat whatever I wanted became an important step to understanding my relationship with food. I had to internalize my food “guidance system” rather than have it be based on what other people tell me is good for me.
Releasing and Moving Forward
As for the guilt I was carrying regarding my life situation, I have since learned two valuable lessons. One, is that we all have our suffering and pains to heal. I heard it put nicely once that we either have blind spots or sore spots. The people who experience the trials of hunger, poverty, abuse, etc. are working through the sore spots – they are quick to identify. The people who are not encountering such apparent challenges are needing to identify and heal blind spots – pains we need to uncover, like my guilt. Of course I imagine these two categories as a continuum, not a discrete “either or”.
The other lesson is that there is no need to feel guilty about something you experience just because others might not get to as well, least of all if it is something loving and beautiful. If you have had a magical experience then you absolutely deserved it! It is your job to share that light with the world! There is too much darkness and fear in the world’s stories today, people need to hear, see, and feel the love in your stories!
Share the Beauty!
Share your story of inspiration, magic, beauty, and triumph! Give yourself permission to experience and appreciate whatever it is you are doing in each moment. Let go of the critical voices that say you shouldn’t be doing that or you can’t do this. When we let go of our tendencies to control our desires because someone else said we should, we take back our decision making will power by being free to discover consequences for ourselves. When our minds are not occupied by thoughts of what we “should be doing”, we are free to be fully present to the moment, and in that presence we learn to trust our own internal life compass.