Tag Archives: indigenous spirituality

We Are Not Alone

It seems clear that the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus is amplifying a pre-existing condition; the pandemic of fear and anxiety that has already spread across the world. In times of crisis, we tend to look to the established powers to help guide and support us. These powers – local, regional, national and international –are formed through political processes and informed by the various methods of scientific inquiry. A difficulty we now face is that both our political and scientific thinking is dominated by an old paradigm of reality that may have reached the point where it can no longer be effective.

Something that the modern political and Western scientific mind fails to take into consideration is that we humans are not alone. I’m not simply saying that we have community among and with other humans; but that as humans, we are part of a much larger family of beings that also have a say in the future that is unfolding. I’m speaking of the jaguars and lions, elephants, geckos, condors and eagles, whales and dolphins, to name just a very few of the multitude of animal creatures. There are the rainforests, boreal forests, tulips, banisteriopsis cappi, and mushrooms of the plant world. There are the great mountains and oceans. There is Mother Earth. And there is a multitude of tiny bacteria and viruses all over and inside everything. Who is to say that they don’t have a say concerning the future?

Indigenous people worldwide, including the ancestors of Europeans, saw not only life, but consciousness, intelligence, in all that is listed above. Only in the last several centuries have humans, especially in the West and North, considered humans to be the only intelligent life form on Earth. During this period, using that very special human intelligence, we have brought ourselves to the brink of self destruction while also destroying myriads of other life-forms. Now, just as it seems the our situation couldn’t get any scarier, some tiny agent from the natural world comes along and is shaking the very foundations of our civilization. Broadway is shut down. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey – down. Concerts, schools, community gatherings – down. Gatherings to protest what is going on – down.

Nature works in mysterious ways Her wonders to perform, (to paraphrase from the Christian hymn). Are we going to start paying attention to Her more respectfully, more intelligently, more empathically? Or are we going to continue down our fear-based and arrogant pathway, trying to control what is infinitely more wise and powerful than us? She could dispense with us with a giant hiccup. She wants us here, or we’d have been gone long ago.

Beliefs, (which form the cognitive basis of our paradigm of reality) die hard. But pressure and pain from forces outside ourselves are sometimes a catalyst for reconsidering what we think is true. Quite a few years ago, I led a group of folks on a wilderness quest in the high desert of Southern California. On the first night, after we had all settled some distance apart, each under his or her tarp, a fierce lightning storm struck. There were Joshua trees and pinion pine scattered like lightning rods all around us and we were surrounded by ridges of stone. The lightning struck every few seconds and the roaring thunder was constant, seemingly interminable. In the morning it was quiet and we shared our experiences of the night. Even the professed atheists confessed to praying during the night to something or someone that in that brief moment seemed to really be there protecting us. There is an old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I’m not predicting what will happen. I don’t know and I’m ok with that. Maybe this one moment of worldwide fear will turn out to be a bump in the road. Maybe it will be a catalyst for positive social, economic and political change. But I do sense an awareness growing in us as people that goes beyond the political ideologies that justify and perpetuate so much human conflict. I feel it in myself. As I let go of my sense of certainty and open to the counsel of the life all around me with a humble and open heart, two things shift: I feel the possibility that this will all turn out ok; I recognize that in this moment, I am OK.
There is and will be pain, and it behooves us all to pay attention, be wise and help those in need. At the same time, for our own sake and for all life, there is a need to step back and open to a new frame for seeing what is happening on Earth. We need to stop treating nature like a tinker toy or as a simple child that knows not what s/he needs. She is more than what we are in our little body/mind selves; she is wiser and more powerful. Perhaps there is a blessing in disguise of “social distancing.” We will take time with nature in the quiet and solitude that allows us to listen to Her, ask for guidance, and align our lives with the family of life.

Through the Buckskin Curtain – Embracing Indigenous Spirituality

b270cec1dc134cceb98f25795c1da365 The intense struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by Native Americans, highlights the original and continuing “sin” of the United States of America, the genocidal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of this land and the centuries of betrayal of agreements. But it also offers us a possible pathway for the rectification of many of our present dilemmas, moving us to be guided by the wisdom of indigenous spirituality, respecting and honoring the sacredness and intelligence of the natural world.

 

The encampments at Standing Rock alongside the Cannonball River that feeds the Missouri have brought together a multi-cultural movement that recognizes the leadership of Native American tribal elders and activists from over 300 Indian Nations. They have come together in a non-violent and spiritually centered movement for protecting the water and land. They have specifically defined their actions as protective rather than as protest. From their spiritual perspective, the true function of the Warrior is to protect, whether in reference to the body, the community, the nation, or the planet.

 

Stepping back from the particulars of this struggle to protect the land and water sacred to the Lakota Sioux and stop the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, it is important to recognize the significant inclusion of the indigenous spiritual attitude with social justice and environmental activism. This wider and deeper view of the human relationship with Spirit and Nature, e.g., calling attention to the sacred fire, sacred water, sacred sky, sacred Mother Earth, not just in words, but in the way we feel and the way we move about, is transformative and infectious. It holds keys to the healing power needed to shift humanity from the destructive trajectory we seem locked into.

 

How we as individuals and as groups of social justice and environmental activists learn from these ancient ways that are connected to Mother Earth herself, needs to be made very conscious. It will not be helpful (in fact it is disrespectful) to mimic the practices of Native Americans. But we can learn to re-awaken what is indigenous (innate) in all humans, the mutual and respectful sense of holiness in Creation and Creator, whether we currently experience them as distinct or as One. This sensibility has been covered over by a radical over-emphasis on the rational, logical, thinking-mind devoted to technological control of our environment and ourselves. What is being called forth is a heart-centered and holistic way of being and relating, one of communion-with rather than control-over.

 

Through the centuries of subjugation, native peoples have passed along the practices, stories and songs that sustain this consciousness in each region and on each continent. We immigrants have the opportunity to listen to them and hear the resonant tones of our own indigenous ancestors calling from within, finding our own pathways towards a balance of the elements of the web of life. Along the way, it’s important that we not confuse embracing “indigenous spirituality” with exploiting or coopting the objects, rituals and ceremonies of specific tribes or peoples. Native Americans are understandably very sensitive to this abuse. In “Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit,” Lou Bendrick points out that, “Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have ‘suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian ‘wannabes,’ hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled ‘New Age’ retail stores and … pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony ‘sweatlodges’ and ‘vision quest’ programs …’”

 

On the other hand, I personally know a number of White, Black and Latino women and men who have submitted themselves to decades of rigorous, disciplined education under the guidance of Native American elders and have been sanctioned to practice and teach certain aspects of those traditions. In my interview with Tom Pinkson, (see Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths), he describes his initial passing through the buckskin curtain when he began studying and being tested by a Native American teacher which led up to his decade-long apprenticeship with Huichol shamans in Mexico. Ken Cohen, also interviewed in Crossing the Boundary, studied intensively for many years with his teachers, Keetoowah, Rolling Thunder and Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, and was initiated and adopted by a tribal clan. These two, and quite a few other White (in this case, Jewish) men and women, respectfully entered into a relationship with indigenous spiritual teachers and tribes and only practice and teach what they have been given permission to share.

 

Though few will feel called to cross that boundary so deeply, by embracing an indigenous spiritual outlook the environmental and social justice movement is shifting the very mindset in which it has viewed the problems and solutions it addresses. We are finding ourselves gazing up at the sky, sitting by the sacred fire, getting down on our knees and kissing Mother Earth as we face those of our brothers and sisters who have forgotten what they have lost, forgotten what they’ve forgotten.

 

For more information see the Standing Rock Sioux Nation website: http://standwithstandingrock.net/

 

A personal observer’s account of the activity at the encampments: Mark Johnson’s, “Standing Rock #NoDAPL. It’s not so complicated, But it is complex.” http://clbsj.org/news/2016/11/23/standing-rock/

 

A deep mythological/archetypal/political view, “History in the Making at Standing Rock.” By Paul Levy: http://www.awakeninthedream.com/standing-rock/ 

 

A look at the growth of the indigenous spiritual focus in the environmental movement: “The growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet.”https://thinkprogress.org/indigenous-spiritual-movement-8f873348a2f5#.u1q1rzood

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