I mindfully held my glover needle as I pushed it through the soft leather. A glover needle has a triangular shaped end with 3 sides of sharp blade enabling it to pierce through the thick material – a good tool to have if you are hand sewing leather. I was at a workshop hosted by the Indigenous Wellness Centre in Guelph, Ontario. There were about 20 participants, some white, some indigenous. We were making medicine pouches.

This was the table with all the supplies to choose from.

“Do you have any suggestions on how I can fix my drum?” I asked the facilitator while we were sewing. I had made a medicine hand drum – my first – and I hadn’t stretched the skin tight enough across the frame. Now that it had dried, no sound came from it when struck. She recommended I put wet towels over it to soften the skin, but not to get the wooden frame wet. Then I could remove the skin from the frame, re-soak it and re-stretch it.

As we spoke I began sharing that I had just moved from New Zealand back to Canada and was experiencing big learning challenges as I learned more indigenous ways. I said to her I had just learned that medicine drums are considered to be the grandmother and my other hand drum (the one someone gave me years ago) I had left in my truck over the last 12 months of travel. The heat of the cab baked the drum and it wouldn’t sound anymore – I had been asked if I would treat my grandmother like that and leave her in the car to overheat. I also told the facilitator about the time I had been invited to attend a sweat lodge ceremony (it would be my first and I was so excited) but then was told I couldn’t come because I had a glass of wine the day before and no alcohol was to be consumed 4 days before attending a ceremony.

“The learning curve has been steep for me,” I said. Then I told her my great grandmother was indigenous. I don’t know why I said that, maybe in an attempt to create some kind of commonality between us.

During this chat she politely kept bringing the conversation back to how to fix my drum, the new one I had just made and hadn’t stretched enough. She made no comment on anything else. Then she moved on to speak with another participant.

During our speaking I was aware that I hadn’t made any connection with her. In fact it felt like the opposite. I drove home reflecting deeply. I tried to put myself in her shoes but how could I? I hadn’t experienced residential schools and the horror that came with that; the destruction of my culture what I believed in and what I held dear and the impact of this on my family. I hadn’t experienced racial prejudice because I was white.

I tried to imagine if I had experienced those things and was listening to a white settler talk about how hard things were for them because they were challenged with so much learning, I think I would feel furious. And then, still imagining myself coming from this background, how tedious it would be to hear countless white settlers say they have some distant relative who is indigenous, as if that says something to me.

I think I would feel indignant, invisible and with no desire to connect.

As my reflections percolated inside me and I returned to my own perspective, for a few seconds I wanted to crawl in a hole and pretend the conversation never happened. Then I spoke gently but firmly with myself, “Oh no you don’t. You come back out and deal with this.”

“Dear Jennifer, I want to apologise for some things I said….” I sat down at my computer and wrote to the indigenous woman who facilitated the medicine pouch making workshop. I shared with her my reflections. I didn’t know what else to do. After all, we are both human and if in being human we can’t apologise, what else is there?

I finished the letter with, “No reply is necessary, expected or hoped for.” I realised if she felt she had to reply that would mean more emotional work for her to just interact with me. I wanted to take away all obligations. I pressed the “send” button.

She replied in an hour and a half. She said my letter had brought her to tears and that this was precisely the work for each of us to do – to reflect deeply on the impact of our words and our actions on each other.

My eyes teared as I read her reply. How courageous it was for each of us to reach out in the not knowing – not knowing how the other would respond and to keep our deep determined compassion alive for one another.

In the world of spiritual and personal development we talk about LOVE being all we need, and that is true – but the vehicle for that love is the digging deep to reflect on our own impact on others and to clean things up. That is true love. True love isn’t about being nice.

True love is about getting dirty wading in the water of our own shadow to bring to consciousness what has been unconscious or denied, to claim it as mine and take ownership of the ripples it has caused. True love takes courage…and it is what keeps me alive.

LOVE is all we need.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this conversation.

I love you.

Leanne XO