I love the Hakomi Method too Much to Keep Using the Name "Hakomi"

My name is Rachael Koeson. I am a white cisgender woman writing from land that has been stolen from the Anishinaabe people and is now called Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am committed to a life of working toward anti-racism and addressing systemic oppression in myself, with my clients and in my community. I am still learning and have more questions than answers and I also know that even as I fumble it is important for me to speak on these complex issues.

The Hakomi Method has been profoundly transformative in my life. Hakomi helped me become keenly aware of the limited ways I perceive the world and my place in it, offered missing experiences in mindfulness and helped me practice and integrate new, more nourishing choices. It brought me so much new awareness and confidence in my connection to my intuition and allowed room for embodied self-compassion. Because it is so meaningful to me I decided to invest many hours and resources into becoming trained and certified to become a practitioner and support this work with others.

I am devoted to the principles of the Hakomi method- Mindfulness, Mind-Body-Spirit Wholism, Non-Violence, Unity and Organicity and strive to embody them. The process of becoming certified to be a Hakomi Practitioner is, in it’s most basic sense, the chance to explore how to embody these principles in our life and work as often as possible. The certification process also supports us to get intimately acquainted with what gets in the way of our ability to embody these principles as an individual practitioner so we can be aware of that in our work and continue to get support to be present to those sticky points.

The wisdom of the Hakomi method’s underpinnings in systems theory, focusing, the foundation of integrating the body and mindfulness into the process and the importance of being witnessed and supported by someone in a state of loving presence are all crucial to how I do my work now. I am deeply grateful for the teachers I have had in this method, namely Lorena Monda, Greg Johanson, Morgan Holford and Cedar Barstow, and the founders and teachers who came before who have paved the way for my learning and the lineages of healing modalities and perspectives that informed their work. I value and appreciate the Hakomi Institute, the many Hakomi faculty, therapists and practitioners in the world who I know as well as those whom I have never met. Our shared commitment to the principles of Hakomi and embodying active compassion and healing bind us together in the purpose of ushering in a more peaceful world.

I love the Hakomi method and all of my teachers and fellow practitioners so much that I am bringing some challenge; I am so devoted to what we can offer the world that I am taking the time to lean in and explain ways that we are not living up to our ideals. This is both a statement of why I am moving away from the use of the word “Hakomi” and also a call in to other folks in the Hakomi community who may be interested in engaging in this discussion more intentionally.

I am uncomfortable with the use of the word “Hakomi” to describe what I do since I do not feel I am embodying the principle of non-violence if I use a word that comes from a tradition (Indigenous Hopi people) that I am not actively in connection and relationship with or supporting in a direct, substantive way. The word “Hakomi” came to one of the founding members of the method in a dream. After investigation they learned that it was a Hopi word that means “where do I stand in relation to these many realms” or more succinctly, “who am I?”. One of the members of the founding group, David Winters, received oral permission from a Hopi elder, Chief David, to use this word to describe the method. Upon the publication of the first book about Hakomi, permission had not yet been granted according to Ron Kurtz, the method's founder and the book's author.

If you are involved with Hakomi in some way (particularly if you also live in a white body), what I am saying may feel uncomfortable. I invite you to check in with your body before and during your reading the rest of this piece. Find some place in your body that feels good, nourishing or neutral. Explore and anchor in that and use it as a place to return and check in with when you notice activation and let your nervous system settle before reading more. Remember that discomfort is not the same as danger but rather an important door into something new. Using the tools of mindfulness and somatic resourcing, we can encounter this potentially challenging perspective with more curiosity and openness. Please take a moment now to do this. I have written a longer piece on the importance of making space for discomfort and more specific tools that you can read here.

Hakomi is a lyrical word with a fitting meaning to the work of the method. There are many aspects of this story that are lovely, including the reception of a word with great meaning through the dream world. However, there are also aspects of the broader context that complicate this history and that are troubling to me. I have been deeply engaged in learning around the topics of anti-racism, anti-oppression and am a white person committed to unweaving my own embodied white supremacy. I see some problems with my personal use of this word to describe my practice. I have been in consultation with several folks, both indigenous and white folks who identify as anti-racist who share my concerns about the way we have taken on this word.

It may be helpful to introduce some of the ideas of the “characteristics of white supremacist culture” as named by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones. Many of these characteristics get in the way of our hearing and integrating ideas that challenge our way of being socialized to see the world. So please pause when you notice activation and be curious about which of these characteristics may be getting in the way. Again, dear reader, you are not a bad person, but you (and I and all of us) have been raised in a culture deeply impacted by the social construct of race and we are not immune to those impacts, no matter how much work we have done.

Characteristics of White Supremacist Culture:

  • Individualism – white people seeing ourselves as individuals without a racial identity or membership in a racial group that has any bearing on our lives.

  • Defensiveness – this is part of “white fragility” or an inability to handle the discomfort of racialized tension/discussion. “Because of either/or thinking (see below), criticism of those with power is viewed as threatening and inappropriate (or rude).”

  • Paternalism- “Those with power often don't think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions.”

  • Binary thinking- things are either/or, good/bad, right/wrong, with us/against us

  • Power Hoarding- “those with power feel threatened when anyone suggests changes in how things should be done in the organization, feel suggestions for change are a (negative) reflection on their leadership”

  • Fear of Open Conflict - “When someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person for raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem.”

  • Objectivity- the belief that there is such a thing as being objective

  • Right to Comfort - “the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort”

  • Perfectionism- “making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong”

Above quotes are from Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones. You can read more here

Within the United States, the Hakomi Institute has been and is a primarily white organization. As white folks in the United States we have been socialized into a white supremacist, sexist, and colonialist culture. My working definition of white supremacy is a system in which whiteness (particularly cisgender, male whiteness) is considered normal, standard, right and good and every other identity is a deviation from that norm. As humans socialized into a racist and sexist society we cannot escape from internalizing the messages of those systems.

Take a break to breathe, notice your body and stay curious here. You may notice that you are feeling attacked or like I am saying you are not a good person. This is a function of the system which sets up a racist=bad/not racist =good binary. Robin DiAngelo is extremely helpful in her detailed explanation of this response, please read her work to learn more. She helps us understand that our internalized racism and sexism are the inevitable results of living in a culture where every aspect of our lives is saturated in those oppressive systems and therefore not an indictment of us as either good or bad people (binary thinking).

One aspect of being socialized into white supremacy with a history of colonialism is to see things we like and take them as our own without thinking of the social location we hold or the history at play. In this context of the use of the word “Hakomi”, I do not believe that anyone set out to cause harm. I also know that in this context the impact on marginalized people is more important than the intention of folks with more privilege. And thus, the story of finding a name that appeals and carries the robust social capital of coming from an indigenous culture that has been historically deeply oppressed is problematic and not in alignment with my commitment as a Hakomi Practitioner to embody non-violence.

There are several aspects of this that are concerning if we want to live into the value of non-violence. Indigenous peoples in the United States (and nearly everywhere) have suffered (and continue to suffer) physical and psychological violence at the hand of European (white) colonists and settlers. Although I don't imagine any white folks reading this would intentionally cause physical or psychological harm to an indigenous person, we can't (as white folks) disconnect ourselves from the very real historical and ongoing damage that has been enacted along lines of race with white folks being the oppressors. I invite you to check in to see if the idea of individualism may be playing into your reaction and if so, bring some mindfulness and self-compassion into that experience so you can stay present to this information.

Part of the oppression of indigenous people has been the very intentional and active process of stripping them of their cultural practices, including language. To this day children of indigenous families are separated from their parents through racist policies, indigenous women are murdered and going missing at alarming rates and many indigenous people live in abject poverty after having their land and culture stolen from them as part of the genocide that was the “founding” of this country. I assume that anyone reading this agrees that this is horrendous and would want no part in continuing to oppress an already oppressed group.

I'd like to share a small example that may bring some of this to light. I was recently at a consignment store looking for a new outfit to wear to an upcoming conference. I saw one that I liked. I was in a hurry but the colors were nice, I liked the feel of the fabric and it fit comfortably. I bought it and left. When I got home and looked at it more closely I noticed the fabric had a distinct indigenous pattern. I had to work with this for a few minutes. I liked the dress, I had paid for it already, it fit well, I didn't really have time to get something else and I wanted to wear something new- I wanted to keep it and wear it. I also felt embarrassed for not noticing this pattern sooner and had to offer myself some compassion there. While all of this was happening I also connected with a knowing that it wasn't mine to wear. That, as a white person who shows up in the world as part of a history in which white people have taken what they want without regard to how it is impacting others, I knew wearing this particular dress would not be in alignment with my values. Also, there are lots of other options available to me. Not wearing this one dress did not mean I didn't have any clothes to wear. I found a solution to this small instance by gifting the dress to an friend who is indigenous and could enjoy it and wear it in alignment with her own cultural connection. The fact that a company likely owned by white people produced this dress for a largely white audience is a larger issue and one that my small act does not address.

The explanation of Cultural Appropriation that rings most true to me is the act of taking something from a marginalized culture without having an active and appropriate relationship of support toward that culture. Another definition of cultural appropriation is “the taking of cultural expressions, symbols, ceremonies, intellectual property, and ways of knowing from another culture for our own self-expression or use, while stripping them of their deeply rooted cultural identity and significance.” - Ana Oian

Another way of describing this dynamic is, “using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege.” - Jarune Uwujaren

Essentially, we as members of a primarily white organization, are able to benefit professionally and financially from the perceived social capital of using an indigenous name without having a long-term and responsible relationship of support with the culture from which the name came from. This is the crux of my concern. I have been supported to come to this conclusion with the help of conversations with other folks who have pointed these ideas out to me and for that I am deeply grateful. I have been particularly informed by my conversations with Lyla June Johnson, an indigenous musician and artist. Lyla also pointed out that the Hopi people do not accept money for their medicine and that within a capitalist system my use of a word that comes from an oppressed cultural group as a part of the way I make money is even more problematic to me. I don't have all the answers and I am also making the step to describe my current struggle with how to relate to a word, method, organization and group of people that mean so much to me while challenging some aspects of that method that I believe are not in alignment with our stated principles.

I don't know exactly what the next steps are and am fumbling through this process as best I can, seeking input, critique and offering myself compassion when that feedback is hard to hear. For myself, I will begin shifting my language for my private practice (new business name, new website) and encouraging the Hakomi Institute and my fellow practitioners and therapists to consider how we can be in conversation toward being in more alignment with our values. I hope that more conversation comes and know that these discussions should include input from a diverse group of folks from outside of the organization to help us see the things we are socialized not to see and offer input on ways to make this right.

May the words and ideas expressed here find open ears and willing hearts and minds. Thank you for taking the time to read them.