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Ants, tribes, and my Corsican roots

I am not sure if I can remember very precisely but I am pretty sure it all started with ants. I must have been 2 or 3 years old. I somehow became really fascinated by those little creatures.

In Corsica, where I spent my long summer months exploring the magical “maquis” those wild dry, and dense bushy forests, we have one of the largest ant species in Europe, those large black bulky ants. They are big enough so you can see their eyes, fur, fingers, and more.

I was so fascinated by their committed way of life that I later started to read any book I could find on them and got to know them quite well. What mesmerized me the most was their secret community life, most of it out of sight under the ground. From practicing farming (raising animals, making compost, planting/harvesting crops), to burying their dead, to their scent-communication and dedication to their assigned tasks for the benefit of the community.

It was magic in front of my eyes and I often drifted into awaken dreams of communicating with them with a specially designed scent-communication machine, some kind of human-ant translator I wanted to build.

I was witnessing in their ways what I would later know as belonging, the root of a strong community.

I kept discovering that unconscious weaving of community thread in my endless love of Forest. There in the presence of the standing ones, some deep sense of harmony and peace would be my medicine, my doctor when in need of quiet and inner harmony that was already lost in our cities.

Always in search and awe, I apparently spent my whole childhood “lost” with my eyes on the ground looking for the small miracles, or at night eyes up to the sky amazed at the dark skies and stars that were still visible 40 years ago before night light pollution had taken most of the dark places on Earth.

The absence of technology made us rely on each other in a way more concrete and essential way than it is today. In village life, everyone knew each other and helped each other. When the time of the grape harvest came every year, the whole village would gather and help the farmer in exchange for a few bottles of wine, and some wonderful evening of shared community meals and a good laugh, old stories heard again and again from the elders and a sense of a good accomplished day in togetherness.

We needed each other as much as you needed me and I needed you.

The evening was spent on the doorstep, sitting on a chair watching the small street life, passing skinny dogs and cats, playing children, groups of elders “redoing the world” in their talks, and the mentally challenged free and safe to walk around under the watch of the village. The attention was not taken away yet by a giant flat and cold screen in the living room. We had each other, and that was enough to provide entertainment.

What was key to the village life, and the tribe life, was this sense of belonging to a place and to its inhabitants from birth to death. I knew I was in inter-dependence because it was my daily experience in every single aspect of my life. I knew all the dreams, ideas, and actions of the tribe were weaved and kept the coherence and longevity of togetherness. I was safe because we created that safety together. It is not that the place was safe, it was that the individuals were safe. That belonging and community were based on the safety of all. Women, elders, children, and disabled or challenged individuals (terms that did not exist at the time).

Was it perfect? No. Indeed, individuals and sometimes families were known to be more “problematic” with some bandits and less trustful individuals. But even there, even with them, some sense of belonging was still present and you would see the bandit giving a hand to the priest to rebuild the roof of the church. Maybe their fear of God was strong enough to not say no to the priest or to God!

In today’s world, there is often a deep search for most individuals of that sense of belonging and safety. It often translates into radical idealism or behaviors leading to cultish belief, conspiracy theories, fringe religious belief, or “spiritual tribalism and verbiage” giving each other some sense of recognition and approval. Many have flown the nest of their families or “village” to join those “spiritual villages” in search of deeper connection and harmony.

One of the reasons we flow away to those places is in that search of ancient wisdom, of elders and teachers. As the society we live in does not often provide healthy & wise elders who carry ancient wisdom, and as the same society does not have any rites of passage, most adults’ bodies carry a young child inside who has not processed its tantrum and rage. Many spiritual psychologists now recognize that those are the main problems of our western world: unprocessed childhood wounds, lack of healthy (emotionally & mentally) adults, loss of wise elders, disconnection from Nature, and lack of tools to work safely the depth of our shadows.

So, we fly away in search of all this.

Indeed, not everyone has flown away. We are talking about a very often privileged colonial mindset community that has the means to live without much income in often holiday-like locations infused with sun, tropical fruits, and local cheap labor making life more affordable than at home. Most often if not always those migrations have increased the pressure for the local people making their lands and homes so expensive they cannot keep living their traditional way of life. You find this in Bali as in Peru, in Mexico or Costa Rica, in the Caribbean’s and in the Philippines, pretty much everywhere a plane can fly…

Living in those privileged islands, fed by luxurious yet cheap food due to local poor and/or underpaid labor, life can seem easier for a little while, until the system cannot support anymore such lifestyle.

It would take a hard awakening to courageously venture right out of those golden jails and to become self-accountable when discovering poverty, hunger, prostitution, and the vast amount of pollution and waste created by such an increase of population onto an infrastructure unable to cope with such demand. It would also take great courage of choices to dedicate some of that time to volunteering and supporting the needs of the local children, elders, and community.

Like in the matrix most will not choose the red pill, the blue pill brings fewer questions and can justify any lifestyle and belief system.

The interesting elements I feel are more disturbing are the accumulation of accessories, words, and rituals taken from traditional/tribal cultures while living a lifestyle that could not be further away from the values and systems of those cultures. Beyond just cultural appropriation there is a colonial mindset of taking vs. giving, of entitlement vs. obligations, of knowing vs. humbleness. Give it a year-long pandemic with some restrictions to protect the most vulnerable (the one right outside those communities and in service of it), and you immediately see not only the lack of belonging within and without, the deeply buried unprocessed white rage, and the abandonment of the golden statements “we are one / we are love” for a “me me me” raging point of views.

The crack in the matrix always revealed how strong the matrix was. The cracks can be disease, environmental catastrophe, political shifts, shaking of belief systems, etc. That is when we see how strong the community really is.

Was the spirituality deeply rooted and embodied or an escape into alternate realities?

Was there a true belonging or a “theatre staged” belonging?

Was the village going to come together to survive?

Will the “we” prevailed over all the “me”?

Very often we can find those great spiritual warriors, not in those “islands” but on the frontline of defending forest, protecting water & lands with their life, actively involved with NGOs defending immigrants or victims of abuse, working with the underprivileged communities, and loudly denouncing injustices even in the face of very oppressive power. Putting their life, wellbeing, and safety on the line for causes greater than themselves. All of that for the community, for the tribe, and for the next 7 generations. Like the ants.

This brings me back to the land of my ancestors, Corsica. And to the ants, where this all started.

What I loved to do to those ants’ colonies was to take a stick and destroy a little part of their work, or to put a log on one of their highway routes. A crack in the matrix out of their control.

Instead of going at each other, arguing why it happened or who to blame, their immediate reaction was/is to restore the colony (community) harmony. Each one using their unique skills to support the community. Each one not only belonging with each other but with themselves. The builder is rebuilding. The cleaner is cleaning. The soldier is defending. The food caretaker is saving the harvest. The nurses are moving the larva. Etc.

They have understood that their survival relies on the strength of the community and therefore dedicate their life to it instead of a “what about me” attitude.

When it comes to human beings, we could indeed say that our societies and communities are more complex due to the fact that each individual has “free will” and so many options/ways to act and behave.

We can choose to do good. We can choose each other. We can step out of blame. Or not.

Maybe sometimes we do choose for the sense of recognition or approval that will come from it. Maybe often our choices are deeply influenced by a colonial-white mindset. Maybe often our choices come from highly privileged bodies and social status. If we do not recognize that, we will keep excluding many and create a false sense of belonging, leading to a weak or even fake sense of community, a fake sense of safety.

It is not for me, as a white man, to talk on behalf of BIPOC. Yet it is my duty to listen to those voices. To educate myself. To ask and be open to hearing what can I do better. To witness where my privileges (just as being white) impact the way I do things. To see if & how I and we can better include each other, belong with each other, and create communities that are truly empowering and inclusive for ALL.

The question can be: “Is anyone excluded, weaken or threaten by any of my behaviors?”. The question of individual and group safety needs to be asked. In turning my prayers towards the “other” I can open surprising discoveries and often unsettling reality checks.

Ultimately knowing that we have each other’s is probably the greatest gift of belonging.

Yet that knowing will often be tested by a crack (or earthquake!) in the matrix.

This pandemic has revealed this in profound ways. As the climate changing already does and will increasingly do by increasing the stress on the resilience of all living systems. As the rarefaction of essential resources (like clean water) will reinforce even more.

In turning our listening to Nature, ancient ways of living, and ancestors, we might be able to learn “new ways” through the old ways. We might discover that the community of the forest has learned to live in perfect harmony for millions of years.

Other mammals and insects have learned to thrive in a balanced way with each other and their environment. That plenty of native communities all over the world have the keys to our survival and to a better way of living and relating.

If we pause for a minute our idea of knowing, voluntary step into not-knowing, we might discover an infinite field of new knowledge readily available all around us, and within us. Buried under the mud of our society. Like a precious gem waiting to be unearthed.

Now I will return to my garden. To the land. To the forest. I will return to my slower life. To my breathing body. To the mystery of the ants and the stars. To the mystical waves of Spirit. To that ancient river of knowledge that keeps my heart beating and my soul wondering.

I will seek. I will listen.

I will unlearn so I can learn.

I will bow on this Earth.

I will kneel to the ground.

I will kiss this eternity that lays in the soil.

I will remember what it means to be Human.

As the more human I am, the more Divine I am.

With love,

Angell Deer

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