[Introductory note: this post goes in different directions – it is part of a wider process in which I’m grappling with what it means to be (r)evolutionary – that is, to nurture the evolution that is the base of revolution. My mind and heart are overflowing these days with many different perspectives, snapshots and stories of what being (r)evolutionary might mean in practice. Today, I’ve let myself write without caring too much about creating a well-crafted piece of writing. In other words, today I’ve given myself permission for a bit of a wander and a ramble…I hope you enjoy meandering with me…]
I’m here in the house where I grew up – a suburb north of Chicago. Today is Thanksgiving Day. I like this holiday – notwithstanding the history of it. I like it because I have learned over the years the importance of expressing gratitude, the importance of learning to spot treasure in even the darkest of places and give thanks for it. I like it because it centers around cooking and eating together – one of my favorite activities. At the same time, the history of this holiday is important to me. People here in the USA don’t agree on the history – different people adhere to different stories. The other day, Tana posted me two rather different stories, both claiming to be the Truth…Truth About Thanksgiving: Brainwashing of the American History Textbook and The Real Story of Thanksgiving. One story reminds us of the genocide of Native Americans that took place when this country was founded. The other seeks to educate us on how the story of the pilgrims is a lesson in why socialism is bad for people (I know, I know – fodder for a post of its own).
Yes, genocide. On Monday, I was on a train from Lamy, New Mexico to Chicago. I was chatting with a passenger who lives in Las Conchas, New Mexico and is a tour guide. He mentioned that the number of Navajo people killed in detention at one point was greater than the number of people killed in the Holocaust. Of course, the Navajo peoples are just one of many tribes/nations that have been diminished. Some people might respond to this by saying that it was not systematic killing – as it was in the Holocaust. It was circumstantial, i.e., the Native peoples couldn’t withstand the germs brought by the foreigners. People might argue, I’m sure, that blankets which spread disease were given as gifts with sincerity, not with intent to murder. This might be true. Even if it is, this doesn’t mitigate the impact of the beliefs and attitudes prevalent at the time that declared Native peoples to be savages (and therefore inferior, sub-human), that deemed it okay drive nations of people from the land they inhabited, that sold the idea of an authority bestowed upon the pilgrims to conquer people and land – a belief that would turn into the doctrine of manifest destiny.
I write this while not wanting to feed into the romanticization of Native peoples (which is a very broad umbrella for diverse communities/nations of people). Yes, the cultural/spiritual practices of Native peoples around the world generally are deeply connected to a relationship with the planet in which human beings are seen to be of the land and with the land rather than being the land’s master. Yes, this is in contrast to the Calvinist pilgrims and how most of us now relate to what we call the natural environment. At the same time, it would be wrong to portray Native peoples and their traditional ways of life as a lost idyll. As long as we human beings have existed, we have fought, murdered and abused each other – including within/among so-called Native nations. That such practices occurred among Native peoples, however, does not somehow justify their murderous treatment by colonizers. Nor does it eradicate the fact that around the world, among those people we call ‘Natives’, exists ancient wisdom that has the power to restore us and the planet.
We are in need of ancient wisdom. This wisdom is a mixture of spiritual and material know-how, e.g. mysticism and specific agricultural, medical and social practices.
No matter who we are, our ancestors have participated in abuse and violence. They and we have felt pain and suffering. Driven by pain, rage and fear, we have sought either to blame our selves or blame others. We have blamed and then punished our selves and others.
We have sought to forgive and be forgiven – as a route to diminishing the pain and suffering.
In contemporary times, we seek to comfort ourselves – and we (particularly in the industrialized north/west) have created cultures of material greed in order to provide this comfort. We soothe ourselves with stuff. We allow ourselves to be overtaken by addictions of all sorts to try and numb the pain and to relinquish ourselves of responsibility for the suffering we create within and without.
We are experiencing on-going pain and suffering rooted in unhealthy relationships with land, spirit, our selves and each other.
I am writing this in the suburbs of Chicago where I was born and raised. After twenty years of being based outside USAmerica, I have recently made Santa Fe, New Mexico my home-base. This is the first time I have lived in close proximity to communities of Native peoples in USAmerica. I’ve known for many years of the on-going oppression of Native peoples here. Since my short time in New Mexico, I have been reminded of what I have learned before: young people in Native communities have higher than average rates of drug and alcohol addiction, diabetes and suicide. The USAmerican federal government repeatedly broke land treaties made with native peoples. Across the country, the lands that were once sources of sustenance for Native peoples have been/are being destroyed to feed our endless consumption. Practices such as the building of dams, fracking for oil and gas extraction, coal mines etc. do not simply wound the earth – they wound all its creatures, including us. They particularly bring harm to the people living in their proximity.
Pain and suffering.
I could continue weaving in and out of so many different stories – stories of on-going violence, betrayal and oppression. I could come at them from many different angles. I can show you how the oppressed was once the oppressor and how the oppressor was once the oppressed.
I could point my finger to blame and to castigate, over and over again.
I have a sense, however, that to do this wouldn’t be very helpful in the long run. Or at least it won’t be if it isn’t tied to some wider commitment. Commitment to what? Particularly in the industrialized north/west, we are a slowly-dying people. By this I mean, that we have become disconnected from our spirits. Spirit simply refers to our life force – that which makes us come alive (from latin – spirare or french – esprit).
Sure, anger and rage make us come alive – but in a way that is ultimately degenerative and not life-sustaining. We can allow anger and rage to give us a jolt, put fire in our bellies, but then we must let the anger and rage move through us and morph into conscious creativity rooted in love (the practice of indiscriminately nurturing well-being). Far from making us passive, this movement into conscious creativity empowers us.
If we truly value life, we will commit to restoring (to bringing back to health and strength) ourselves and the planet.
I recently attended a native Deer Dance at Tesuque Pueblo just outside Santa Fe. The dance took place in the pueblo plaza. It was open to the public, provided you did not take pictures. When the portion of the dance we witnessed finished, my friend (a visiting artist from Palestine) and I were invited to have lunch in a local home right on the plaza. This is part of the tradition – homes are opened up and people are fed – a manifest of the spirit of generosity. At the time, it was explained to us that they say anyone who witnesses a ceremonial dance receives healing. Previously, I had heard that we ‘non-Natives’ tend to unaware that ancient and sacred dances/ceremonies continue to be practiced among Native peoples. What is core to these dances/ceremonies are prayers for to restore and health the planet and all creation.
As I understand it, from the time their populations were decimated, Native peoples around the world have continued to sing, dance and pray for us all – for the oppressed and the oppressor. Unlike the conquistadores, however, these prayers for salvation are not rooted in beliefs of superiority/inferiority that are in turn rooted in fear, insecurity and self-loathing.
When people ask me “Why did you come to New Mexico?” I say: “The land.” In the past few years, I have come to believe that I am of the earth. The earth is, literally, my mother. My bones, my blood, my body – were all created from the earth and when I die, my physical self will return to the earth, only to be re-integrated with the elements of air, earth, water and fire and recycled again and again and again. Knowing this, I am both comforted and horrified.
I am comforted by this sense of connection with all creation. In recent years, I’ve been struggling with harmful levels of anxiety. I instinctively knew that to alleviate my self of this – to step out of fear – I needed to spend more time among mountains, rivers and trees, in the sun and under the stars – be in the company of my natural family, as it were. I followed this instinct and reaped the benefits – the comfort, the relief and the freedom.
I am horrified by the way we routinely treat our mother, our life source and our natural family.
On this thanksgiving day, I am grateful for all keepers of ancient wisdom around the world who continue to dance, sing and pray for the planet and all creations – these people are trying to breathe new life into us. We cannot leave it to them alone, not while we go about our daily business as though some external force will redeem us whatever we do. That’s not good enough. We cannot keep poisoning and punishing the planet, our selves and each other and think that all we need to do is ask for forgiveness, pray, try to innovate and all will be well.
Life and how we live together is a collective creative process. If we want to live together differently, we have to change how and what we create together. We change when we step into awareness of who and how we are being in the present moment and then take action to be different.
I am, you are, we are all responsible for each other’s well-being and for the health of the planet. We are all responsible for what we create – or rather, we can choose to take responsibility for what we create. Time to wake up and step into responsible action – so that we in the present and our future generations might feel what it is to be humans being alive rather than humans being dis-spirited, hollow men and women living wasted lives in wasted lands.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.