Open Letter to the Hakomi Community

Dear Hakomi Faculty, Board and leadership staff,

My name is Rachael Koeson; I am a cisgender (my gender identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth) white woman living on the land of the Anishinaabe people now known as Grand Rapids, Michigan. I love the Hakomi method deeply. Being a client of this method, then being trained and certified as a Practitioner and now working with clients have been transformative and defining experiences in my life. I have dedicated thousands of hours to this work within myself and with my clients. I am grateful to all who have come before me on this path, for all my teachers in this method and for all of the folks in this community who I have never met but who bring this work into the world. Thank you.

When this method was being developed it was revolutionary because of the incorporation of the body, working in mindfulness and the critical importance of embodied loving presence of the Practitioner/Therapist. I am so grateful for all the folks who chose to see outside of the standard protocols of the day to create something deeply healing and impactful. What I am about to say may feel uncomfortable to hear. I invite you to check in with your body before and during your reading the rest of this piece and find a somatic anchor to help you stay present. Remember that discomfort is not the same as danger but rather can be an important door into something new. I am not saying any of us are bad; I am saying that white folks have been socialized and wounded in such a way that we only see things through certain lenses and have internalized certain core beliefs that, if we can heal from and expand our perspective, we could have an even more positive impact in our world.

Over the last several years many of us have become more aware of the ways that things we may have thought we were “past” are actually very much still here- under the surface- core beliefs about race and gender and sex and society and ability and bodies. The skills I have learned from the Hakomi method have helped me to sit with my own discomfort as someone who has been socialized as white to see things that I am socialized NOT to see- like my own racism, my own transphobia, my own internalized sexism and fatphobia and more. Over the last several years, I have been studying race, racism, whiteness, ableism, gender identities and am now actively incorporating the lens of systemic oppression into my understanding of the world and how I see it.

One piece of that journey has been learning about cultural appropriation and my own internalized white supremacy. I know those words can be loaded and bring up a lot of responses. What I mean by white supremacy is the explicit or implicit bias (unconscious core belief) that whiteness is normal, standard, right and good and everything else is a deviation from the norm and therefore in some way abnormal, wrong, and/or bad. To me, cultural appropriation means taking something from a systemically oppressed people group without having an ongoing, appropriate (read- not white saviorism) and supportive relationship with that group.

Through extensive conversations and learning with Indigenous folks, anti-racist white folks and People of Color I have come to see the use of the word “Hakomi” to be culturally appropriative. I understand that most of us perceive our individual relationship to the word and/or Indigenous practices to be from a genuine place of honor and respect and I don’t doubt that intention. In fact, I know that part of the dominant culture of whiteness is to systematically separate us from our own cultural roots in such a way that we LONG for holistic, earth-based spiritual practices and often turn to those carried by people groups who have been oppressed (and yet still hold those practices). We are socialized to see this as an individual act without an awareness of the larger framework of that behavior or its impacts.

I am taking the time to bring this concern to you because I believe in us, I believe in our individual and collective commitment to the principles of “Hakomi”, including non-violence. I believe that most of us want to be in embodied alignment with those principles. I am asking that as a faculty, board and leadership of the Institute we continue to thoughtfully engage in discussions about the use of the word “Hakomi”. These discussions should include exploring what harm has been done to Hopituh Shi-nu-ma (Hopi) folks by our using this word and what we can do to repair that harm. I am also asking for conversations and processing around how we, as a majority white organization, are perpetuating problematic beliefs regarding race, gender and ability.

I know that this is not the first time discussions of this nature have arisen. I imagine that some of you may think that since there was an exchange of permission about using the name from one Hopi individual that there is nothing here to engage with. I implore you to recall the revolutionary roots of this method and consider that if we do not choose to again evolve to really see and understand our unconscious core beliefs (as individuals and an Institute) this method will not be as relevant or as helpful and healing as it could be if we were to truly invite this healing process to unfold.

The continuation of this process will be long and involved and also worth it. There are many organizations, including Joanna Macy’s The Work that Reconnects (WTR), who have chosen to engage in such a process. Theirs is an example we could follow. The following is taken from a public statement on their website;

“[U]nless it is consciously interrupted and transformed, much of the harmful conditioning of the dominant culture will pervade any social space. The WTR workshops and retreats are no exception. The replication of dominant culture unintentionally happens when facilitators of WTR do not attend to the dynamics of power and privilege (before, during, as well as after a workshop) and when people of marginalized identities are not fully included. The demographics and culture of the WTR facilitation community has historically been privileged and most typically US American white middle or upper middle class, higher educated, able-bodied, and cis-gendered. Thus it is particularly prone to unconsciously replicating interlocking systems and patterns of oppression and perpetuating inadequate diversity and inclusion. It can be very difficult to perceive and dismantle the often insidious ways harm results from structures of oppression recreated in WTR spaces. And yet, nothing brings greater joy, freedom, and intimacy with life than aligning our actions with our most life-enhancing values. Success in our mission is impossible without this shift. Our commitment to the Great Turning within our own consciousness, and our recognition that this is not separate from the transformation of our world, keeps us engaged in and committed to this difficult task.”

We are supportive of ongoing intentional conversations that include folks outside of the Hakomi community on all of these topics, further training for faculty on these topics and introspection for us all on how we are unintentionally perpetuating harm. It is important to us that those conversations honor the reality of oppression for marginalized folks by ensuring that their time, expertise and emotional labor is compensated. We are grateful to you for all the ways you have embodied the Hakomi principles in your lives and work thus far and we ask that you sit with whatever this letter brings up for you and compassionately tend to your responses and then engage in this conversation from a place of curiosity, mindfulness and a desire for the liberation of all. May it be so.

“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” - adrienne maree brown

Sincerely, Rachael Koeson, CHP

A Few Recommended Resources:

Mindful of Race by Ruth King

My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

What it Means to be White by Robin DiAngelo

Dreaming Accountability by Mia Mingus

Desiree Adaway- trainer for Diversity Is An Asset

Michelle Cassandra Johnson - author of Skill in Action and trainer

Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones

Disrupting Systemic Whiteness in the Mindfulness Movement

Radical Dharma - rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Llama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah

On Being interview with Mahzarin Banaji

Biographical information for Lyla June Johnston (who advised me in this process)

Asha Frost article “Dear White Woman who wants to be Like me”

Roots Deeper than Whiteness by David Dean

Full text from The Work that Reconnects (that is quoted above)

rachael koeson