Difficult Times

Late Autumn Color, VTWe’ve moved into late autumn in Vermont. The maples are bare and the oaks are a uniform burnt umber. Most days are gray. Finally, last week, we had a killing frost.

Last weened we moved our office and now we are settling in. The space is comfortable and light filled, a dramatic change from the cave-like atmosphere of our previous office. Several windows face west, providing panoramic view of autumn’s dramatic sunsets.

Saturday evening folks gathered at our home to do ceremony, to remember those who have passed over. We acknowledged the immense debt we owe the Ancestors for making our lives possible, and shared our grief at the loss of those we have held dear. In doing so, we were reminded that we each inevitably face loss, and that loved ones may be present even after their passing.  We also reflect on the reality that just as the Ancestors made our lives possible, so we are the ancestors of those who will come after us. We are responsible to our descendents.

This week we were reminded that we live in challenging times. I found myself tiptoeing around an intense online debate about who is Native. The debate has real world import. Federal aid to tribes is diminishing, even as some tribes experience dramatic rises in revenues due to gambling and resource extraction. As a result of both derivation and wealth, folks fight over who should be enrolled and share the relative wealth.

While North Americans tend to think of Native people as living on reservations, somewhere around 80% don’t. Many people are of mixed heritage, a result of any number of governmental policies and accidents of history. Large numbers of urban Natives lack cultural or language fluency, yet identify as Indigenous. All this sets up favorable conditions for identity conflict, and as with such conflicts seemingly everywhere, nastiness.

The other arena where we noted divisiveness was in our local mental health community. The art therapists appear to have taken to arguing they should be the only ones to use art in mental health contexts. It seems they have forgotten the history of the use of arts in therapy, a tradition rich in contributions and innovation from clinicians from throughout the spectrum of disciplines. I believe one should be very wary about efforts to carve up the commons.

Of course, the real issue is money. Mental health services here are severely underfunded and clinicians are scared. When I first began practicing thirty years ago the field was lucrative, and professional groups attempted to suppress competition to maximize profit. Now the temptation is to hoard and compete just to survive.

The situation is truly difficult. We, collectively, are invited to remember that in difficult times we are better off marshaling our shared resources and living with generosity. I like to believe we can maintain our treasured cultural and professional differences while building strong communities. Divisiveness may be the easier road in the short-term, but comes at a cost too burdensome to bear.

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2 thoughts on “Difficult Times

  1. Hi Michael: So sorry the notion of “scarcity” and “otherness” re. diversity increasingly seems to be running the show.in mental health services, well, all forms of health care. I am so glad to be offering my services on a “dana” basis as a volunteer and have managed to avoid the continued politization and ignorance that seems to be increasingly running the show!

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