Cardinal Unlearning.

June 3, 2020

Cardinal Unlearning.

May 29, 2023

Uprising was planted into the soil of the United States of America. It seeps into the water, permeates the air, and is ultimately ingested by each body that feeds off its land. The moment of now is simply the result of a harvest planted over 400 years ago.To quell the rage, plant new seeds.

Not long ago, under a mild winter Pescadero sun, I found myself sitting beside a fellow Modern Elder Academy compadre in the MEA garden. The list of perceived differences between the two of us was profound. Almost as profound as the vegetation unapologetically claiming space in the Mexican desert-like soil under our feet.

Though we came from very different worlds, he and I sat in the garden that afternoon as equals. We were two students metabolizing the daily lesson of our MEA experience. With no visible weeds in sight to distract us, we vulnerably excavated the deeply rooted, somewhat calcified, stories of our respective lives.

He shared that he was a white man with everything, and feared the shame that might come upon him and his family if he did not maintain his positive professional reputation. I shared that I was a black woman living in the shadow of a family that came from little, and feared the shame that might come upon me and my family if I did not leave this world “a bit better for my people than I’d found it.”

A perplexing wave of childlike jealousy washed over me. I was unclear which I desired more: to know the experience of my compadre’s wealth, or the ease with which success came to him.

Committed to remaining in the moment -- in my experience, in the garden, and in the conversation -- I invoked a tool inspired by lessons delivered by four of my teachers: Zachary, Anna, MEA’s beloved Saul, and Akaya. The first showed me to the gate of enlightenment through Zen Buddhism. The second and third skillfully guided me, through shamanism, to see more than the present dimension, to trust in the fluidity of time, and to participate in the deepest expressions of love. The fourth taught me to “sit in the river” and allow the lessons to effortlessly flow like water around me.

The tool -- rooted in inquiry and reliant on a commitment to self-honesty and tempered patience -- cleaved a path for me beyond perplexity and toward clarity. In the garden, I silently asked myself the following questions while calling upon the wisdom of ancestors and guides from each cardinal direction:

From the South: To what internal story about my reality am I gripping to so tightly?

From the West: How do I imagine my sense of safety will be impacted if I no longer ascribe to this story?

From the North: To what extent is this story newly constructed, or a reconstruction of a story either of my making or passed along by forces beyond me?

From the East: What is my opportunity for growth and healing at this moment

From the south, a realization emerged that my identity was more rooted in what I did not have than what I did have. It turns out, I don’t so much remember when I first recognized my blackness. Instead, my earliest memories of identity center around not being white.

From the west, I unearthed an unconscious practice of self-othering that had been deeply lodged in my psyche. I began to understand how I, in my black body, had been contorting to fit into environments and communities, rather having the audacity to accept that my surroundings might possibly align to meet me where I naturally am.

From the north, it became clear that I did not want what my cohort member had. What I really wanted was to know that who I am is enough to experience the sense of overarching physical, mental, and spiritual safety that he experiences. What I wanted was the security of knowing that I, in my black body, could live a long, full, and peaceful life.

And from the east, I sensed that my struggle and hope was linked to my compadre’s struggle and hope. A bridge appeared across the valley of difference that had once separated us into the haves of his white ancestors and the have-nots of my black ancestors. If only momentarily, the cacophony of systemic barriers and calcified stories that had afforded generations before him to succeed and thrive and generations before me to only hope to thrive clamored to silence.

In the stillness of the moment, the gift of cardinal unlearning that arose from my inquiry of the four directions afforded me a new level of liberation and a much welcomed lightness. How fitting is it that in MEA’s garden, new seeds of empathy, reconciliation, and healing were planted?

Here are my questions for you. What new seeds are you called to plant through the experience of cardinal unlearning? How might you access the tool of cardinal unlearning in these times to experience a new collective understanding or personal insight?

Masharika Prejean Maddison (MEA Alumna, 2019) is a certified coach and facilitator with LightWell Coaching + Consulting and works primarily with emerging and experienced leaders and teams. She is an endurance runner and has an insatiable penchant for asking questions, studying indigenous energy healing technologies, and exploring the vastness of the world through the eyes of her two young sons.

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