Blogs written by and for ACA Members.

Find our member blogs by member name here!

Mar 13, 2023

Mindfulness and Indigenous Wisdom: Wings of the same bird

As a researcher, I have taken on a quest to examine my cultural myths to find connections with spiritual beliefs that inform our positive and negative behaviors. We, homo sapiens, are funny creatures—perhaps the most amusing on planet earth. We have a mind that can be incredibly creative and infinitely destructive. Mindfulness and indigenous wisdom invite us to become aware of our creative and destructive patterns and our need for connection with everything that exists. Without this attention, we can get lost in the conundrum of solving the problems our "sophisticated" mind creates. Mindful awareness puts us back in touch with the web of interrelations in which we are nested. When practicing Mindfulness, we discover that everything has a function and a purpose.

I was born in a small village in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic. The absence of electricity and other modern commodities made room for life to be lived more fully. My hometown had a touch of magic and oddities that lured my mind into creativity. The stories of benevolent and malevolent spirits roaming around, such as the Galipote, a ghost-like creature reigning over the dark borders of the night, fascinated and disquieted my mind. As a small child, I felt curious and frightened by the presence of the Galipote, this supernatural being so alive in my people's minds. I remember walking with my parents and siblings in the night, heart pounding and eyes wide open, looking to catch a glance of the Galipote. To me, the creature was as real as the air I breathed.

My people protected themselves from the Galipote by wearing an ázabache, a small hand clenched into a fist with the thumb sticking up between the index and second fingers. This amulet was made of malleable material, including coral, wood, ivory, jet, and gold. The Galipote myth speaks of men and women who could turn themselves into animals to disguise and trap their prey. These tricksters also have the power to turn into inanimate objects, such as tree trunks and stones, and could transfer their consciousness to an animal or object. The belief holds Galipotes as violent, cruel, mischievous, and beings with tremendous strengths. They are invulnerable to weapons, except for the palo de cruz or palo santo. The palo, when cut on Good Friday, becomes a lethal weapon for the Galipote. It is noteworthy that Good Friday is a Christian holiday within the Holy Week. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary, which suggest the European twist to the myth.

If a Galipote becomes a dog, it is called a Lugarú. This word comes from the French loup-garou, which refers to the werewolf of universal lycanthropic legend. If the Galipote turns into a bird, it is called a Zancú. The myth has flavors of European magical tradition with some African and Taino elements. The Galipote is said to suck children's blood at night and is believed to be capable of engaging in sexual activities with them. Some believe he/she can become invisible to do their deeds freely.

A woman in my hometown was believed to be able to turn into a Zancu or bird to scare those who went by her house, a humble hut standing on a small hill. Whenever I invoke the memory of this woman, I go back to the power of language and imagination to create openings, new venues, and ventures for us to make sense of what we don't understand or to create spiritual frameworks on which to lean. The legend of the Galipote is a call to respect any mystery we cannot decipher. It also reminds us of our wholeness, that innate ability to house good, bad, and the in-between. Indigenous wisdom accepts that we are flawed creatures with vulnerabilities and virtues and that we must learn to see beyond our faults, to see the opportunities they open for us.

Colonialism, and its Christian bible, brought the idea of perfection, of attaining it to enter the kingdom of God. The concept of original sin implies that we are imperfect, and somehow, by punishment or penitence, we can bring ourselves back to perfection. If misinterpreted, this belief can create self-aversion or the idea that we have disposable parts of ourselves, contrary to indigenous wisdom, which sees imperfection as parts to tend to with compassion and kindness. Imperfections are part of the whole. In Buddhist psychology, we make ourselves incomplete whenever we aim to destroy or eliminate a part of us. Our wholeness is not the absence of problems or pain but the integration of all—the positive, the negative, and the neutral. We can use imperfections to practice self-compassion, thus alleviating unnecessary suffering.

Mindfulness and indigenous wisdom, like the elements, air, fire, water, earth, and ether, are threaded across cultures and times. The concept of being whole persons made up of physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual parts and interconnected to the earth, and everything that is, including family, communities, nations, trees, birds, and animals, permeates across nations that embrace either Buddhism or any other indigenous wisdom. This wholistic view keeps us together in a web of multiple realities, or what Arturo Escobar calls Pluriversality. On that web, we find racism, colonialism, and its virtual displacement, and of course, there is togetherness, love and empathy in the mix. There are also the scars and wounds of historical events. In our pluriverse, there is trauma and the healing or antidote. Mindfulness and indigenous wisdom are two wings of a bird. Both call for observing a loving presence that embraces all, unconditional positive regard, and love for all beings, sentient and non-sentient.

We must recognize the trickster within, so we know what to do to comfort it, to find out what that trickster wants from our Authentic Self. Our Authentic Self is calm, wise, and can speak the language of the land; it knows how to decipher the stories murmured by our ancestors. When practicing Mindfulness, we fine-tune our senses and hear the sweet whispers of silence with the same intensity our ancestors heard it.

We are living in a wounded world. When we treat our inner Galipote with respect, we acknowledge our imperfection, our humanness. Homo sapiens' sense of entitlement and superiority has caused most of the world's calamities. An ongoing practice of mindful awareness of our connection with all can help us restore the land, the sky, the air, the rivers, and the mountains around us that have suffered because of our unfounded sense of superiority and entitlement; in doing so, we restore our wellness. Mindfulness creates a sympathetic resonance with all that is, leading to a compassionate connection with ourselves and all. Mindfulness implies we are present, in the here and now, without judgment and with the utmost acceptance of what is. A sustained Mindfulness practice has the potential to bring forth healing, both personal and collective. Understanding and adopting legends, myths, and other cultural markers as the blueprint of wholeness is part of restoring our inner capacity for resilience and well-being.

Marianela Medrano is a counselor and Dominican writer living and practicing in Stamford, CT. She writes poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction; with publications including essays and four books of poetry.

    Load more comments
    Thank you for the comment! Your comment must be approved first
    New code
  1. Join/Renew NOW!