The Responsibilities of Belonging
By Jesse Wolf Hardin, aka Lone Wolf Circles
IN-DIG-E-NOUS: adj. 1) Occurring or living naturally in an area; native. 2) Intrinsic, innate.
One does not take as good of care of a place when they imagine they are only visiting. In this age of constant migration, the best hope for the suffering environment may lie in people of every race and culture settling down and committing to a place that speaks to them, heeding the implorings of its spirit and tending to its needs. The survival of a myriad of other species and perhaps the future of humanity as well, may hinge on the degree to which we are able to set aside our habits and assumptions, as conscious participants, learning what it means to be native again.
This does not in any way detract from the uniqueness and essential gifts of the remaining land-based tribal peoples, whose primal perception becomes all the more important as our modern society reels out of control, out of balance both ecologically and spiritually. In their land-specific stories we can help recover our lost awareness of place, the feeling of being home.
The knowledge of how to live in balance, in a sustainable way, already exists in the ways of the ancient ones of every continent. The information is all too often lost along with the unraveling of tribal customs, with time tested skills and informed insights vanishing as fast as the lands appropriated for development. As our existences and enterprises become increasingly commercial and controlled, our pleasures ever more vicarious, our sense of both culture and place perverted or absent, as both our schedules and our thoughts race ever faster, we can still turn to those who have lived here, and loved here the longest.
Turn to the Indian elders, placed peasants, Hispanic dirt farmers with their knowledge of weather and wild foods, nomads still following the reindeer and the seasons, the Kayapo and their jungle pharmacy. We must turn to them, not in order to emulate or simulate, but in a respectful search for the evidence of truths we might then employ in our own lives, families and societies.
For all the differences in the world views and cosmologies of indigenous peoples, there are certain qualities they generally share in common. From the Saami of the northern edge of Scandinavia to the Australian Aborigine, primal perception is likely to include the following tenets:
1) The Earth is alive, with an awareness and consciousness that responds to all its parts, including us. There is great overlap, and cause and effect, between the physical and ethereal or symbiological worlds.
2) Life is inspirited and thus sacred with an innate, intrinsic value. Since the planet and all that is on it, or within it, is held to be alive, it follows that the Earth in its entirety is sacred. As rocks and the lichen that feed on them, the trees and the rain that drips down them, all creatures and all people are vested with spirit, meaning and purpose.
3) All elements of the sacred whole are interconnected, code-pendent, related at the deepest levels. At the root of all trouble is the illusion of separateness, a disease which must be guarded against from birth until death. Since there is no “other,” all beings are hurt by the dishonoring or degradation of any one.
4) Humans are gifted with an additional cognitive ability that places them not above the rest of creation, but in a position of advanced responsibility. Humanity is here to listen to and provide for the plants, animals and waters that in turn nourish, instruct and house us.
5) Everything is a message, and all that happens to us, good and bad, is a valuable lesson.
6) All truths, and all people are tested, and it is through these that we earn our blessings, prove that we are qualified.
7) True power requires the complete, painful dissolution of the societal self, of the ego, and a total remaking according to the designs of place and Spirit.
8) Such designs exist for all things, according to a greater rhythm, pattern or will.
9) All things happen in cycles, and all energy and life seeks to circle — to return to its migrational origins, to spin in the grass before settling down nose to tail. All there is is an eternal now, rolling over in place like a salmon, exposing in turn each of its sides Summer to Fall, Winter to Spring, first night and then day. Humankind, too, turns in place, sequentially offering up the face of an anxious infant, a tempestuous teen, a focused adult, a grandfather or crone.
The primal mind isn’t just for the seekers of a few tribes, a state of mind available to the tranced-out Ladakh, the Kogi or the Shuar. It is, rather, a region or capacity of the instinctual human body, accessible by even the most predisposed of us. It surfaces during love making, while crossing the slick head of a waterfall, in the presence of enraptured children, whenever circumstance and surprise have delivered us most fully into our sentient bodies. At these times the Earth reveals itself as unquestioningly sacred, imbued with the numinous. Even the most mundane expressions of inanimate Nature appear alive, and one can sense movement in patterns of fiber and the grain of mineral and wood. We find ourselves in the timeless now, the eternal bodily and psychic engagement with the present, a part of an interconnected universe that unfolds and contracts in cycles. Even if only for the shortest period of time, we jettison words for reality, symbol for touch, and know the world through our primal minds. We feel more alive, complete, tested and worthy. And we are. Honored to be. Honored to be here now.
We become more and more indigenous to the degree that we reside in our primal minds, in place, in the bosom of the land, in the lap of the moment. Becoming: coming to be, learning how to really be, coming onto and into one’s self. In re-becoming native, we recreate a contemporary culture, community, vocabulary, spiritual practice, and finally a history true to our mixed-blood ancestry and the urgent and trying times at hand. Along with our grounding comes an almost forgotten humility. We can look to the first “two-legged” peoples to inhabit this continent for guidance, but we must also each establish our credibility directly with the land. We need to own our deepening connection. We must stand up for the fact that we too belong — while respecting the ways of those peoples who showed respect to these places long before us.
In time we may come to recognize being native as a condition of relationship, of sensitivity, engagement, reciprocity and allegiance. To survive, those facing the tests of the next century will have had to learn to be placed. And they’re likely to be of ever more mixed blood. They will be the descendants of Shona and Aborigine, Mongol and Semite, Hispanic and Cree, and they will have learned respect. They will be the proud inheritors of the affections of Aphrodite, the temperance of Chuang-Tzu, the resolve of Odin and Ogun, the determination of the Berserkers and the spirit of Crazy Horse. No matter where they’re situated, they’ll have survived because they came to know and manifest themselves, completely and unapologetically, as indigenous.
And this alone will have brought them a great peace.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is a wilderness restorationist, eco-activist, acclaimed teacher of Earth-centered spirituality, and author of “Kindred Spirits: Sacred Earth Wisdom” (Swan•Raven & Comp-any, (800) 366-0264. Wolf and Loba share a riverside sanctuary where Wolf offers men’s quests and intuitive counsel, and Loba hosts women for quests, wild-foods gathering and preparation, and special resident internships. Contact The Earthen Spirituality Project, Box 516, Reserve, NM 87830 or visit their website at www.concentric.net/~earthway
Return to the July/August Index page