By Don Trent Jacobs
The dominant cultures of the world today are free falling into an abyss. But they continue to hold on to the misperceptions that caused them to lose their balance in the first place. An over-emphasis on competition, material wealth, power and a relative disregard for children, community and the environment has caused too many of us to forget our universal connections in both the visible and the invisible realm.
Yet there is hope. Native Americans are beginning to reclaim their understanding of life's interconnections. This understanding, i.e. this "primal awareness," can help us all if we pay attention.
The primal perspective that once belonged to all Native Americans can complement western views by making us more aware of how we can learn to live in harmony. It tells us that learning is based on conscious beliefs, unconscious or co-conscious information, and on experience. True holistic learning can only occur when we are fully aware of the potential "programming" taking place when we are unconsciously influenced by four major influences. These include ideas we have about our fears, our sense of authority, and the influence of words and of Nature.
"Primal awareness" assumes that all learning is essentially spiritual in that it addresses at some level the deep questions about who we are and what our role in the world is. It exists when we know that the positive or negative repercussions of life's experiences are a direct result of making choices that put us in or out of touch with our higher selves.
Indigenous people know the importance of such conscious and "co-conscious" perceptions. They know that we have access to an almost unbelievable panorama of experiences beyond the five senses alone. Rara-muri Indians, for example, can feel whether a plant is poisonous or not and have the ability to become almost invisible by concentrating on blending with their environment. They can imagine what a particular animal looks like by listening to its sound. Using natural empathy, they can know what an animal is thinking. They use dreams in ways that allow for meaningful connections between their sleeping and waking hours. This recognition of more than just observed reality keeps them in tune with important influences most people are unaware of.
There are a variety of specific ways to develop our primal awareness of the forces that transform us and move us toward positive or negative paths. By realizing that the following exercises are gifts from primal cultures, we can offer thanks to these cultures. Combining this recognition and gratitude with the discipline to do the work will make a wonderful difference in the world.
* One of the powerful tools used by Native Americans to achieve deeper levels of awareness is the vision quest. Vision quests usually involve spending at least one full night sitting in a remote sport in Nature with the intent to receive some communication from the Spirit world. If you are not ready for a wilderness event, start out by finding a place that feels powerful and sit there just before sunset. Listen to the afternoon move toward evening and watch the day turn to night. As the sky darkens, relax and tune into the world with all you senses. Allow boredom and anxiety to come and go. Notice your connection to sounds, animals, and sights. It is not necessary for a full-blown "vision" or daydream to come to you. Inner visions will, however, enter your unconscious and emerge to your awareness when you least expect it.
* Practice self-control by using concentrative states as often as possible. It is easier to start with physical control and work toward emotional control. For example, see how long you can stand under an ice cold shower without being bothered while at the same time praying for someone. This is a long way from a sun-dance, but the combination of controlling your reaction and praying for another can have a powerful effect nonetheless.
* Reflect on all of your experiences, especially those you feel intuitively may help you grow. Learn from your fears and study whatever habits you have that relate to them. Share what you learn from your experience with a friend or group of friends with whom you share a common bond.
* For ten minutes each morning, sit quietly and give thanks to the great and mysterious Spirit for your health. Then pray for your relations, the two-legged, the winged ones, the crawling ones and the four-legged. After praying, just notice what thoughts come into your mind and let them go until the next one enters, then do the same. Practicing silence focuses awareness on the dynamic nature of reality and away from dogmatic attachments to beliefs. This in turn can stop negative and destructive reactions to conflicts in our lives. I once observed a young Raramuri boy sitting and concentrating in this way from sunrise to sunset. He was training to be a shaman.
* Plan a day in the wilderness or in a park. Walk slowly with your head up and your eyes looking toward the horizon. Try to notice things passing on the fringes of your vision. Be aware of everything and every movement. Mark off a small square foot of ground. Study it for as long as you can. When you think there is nothing left you have not noticed, look for five more minutes and see if you were wrong.
* Find an object with a shadow and focus on the shadow instead of the object, imagining that it has as much importance as the object.
* Get in touch with different colors and observe how they make you feel.
* Practice developing your intuition constantly. If the phone rings, hesitate before answering and ask yourself, Who is calling me? Or what is this about? The intuitive world of the Native American mind is a powerful alternative to the analytical world of the western mind.
* Whenever a problem in your life arises, consider how the following four influences relate to both the cause and the solution: What FEARS are involved and how can you use them constructively? Whose AUTHORITY is determining your beliefs and how can your own authority change this? What WORDS have guided you and how can you use new words to find a healthy solution? Have you gone into NATURE in any way to concentrate and listen for a solution or have you avoided such opportunities?
In addition to such personal perspectives for walking "the red road," i.e., the balanced road, Native Americans also have given us the gift of true education for our children. Although many reservation schools have been forced to accept dominant culture's linear, authoritarian and unconnected curriculum, grassroots Indian education movements are returning to traditional approaches that educate "the whole person." For example, at Oglala Lakota College, the education department's mission statement is: "To graduate highly-qualified, professional, motivated, committed teachers who possess and teach Wolakota in a multicultural, changing world."
OLC graduates will hopefully become leaders in "character education" and will be able to embed the following Wolakota factors into courses across the curriculum: Well-ness, visible and invisible interconnections, courage, caring, integrity, critical thinking, intuition, fortitude, community and ecology. Considering that few if any non-Indian colleges currently have such a program, and in light of the problems facing today's young people in schools across the county, such a return to traditional Indian education could offer a model for everyone.
Although Native American people enjoy philosophy, they generally do not attempt to boil their primal awareness down into categories or formulas as I have tried to do with what I refer to as "the CAT-FAWN Connection." However, I believe the western world will benefit from a simple mnemonic that will help people remember those primal forces that cause us all to learn to make choices. Fear, Authority, Words (including music) and Nature (including art and dance) are the primary influences that continually are available to trigger the concentrative states through which we learn. (Concentration Activated Transformation=CAT). If we are aware of their influence and interpret them appropriately, our transformations will represent the application of reason, intuition and courage. Such applications keep us mindful of our surroundings and experience, and allow us to realize our individual potential. Being mindful and in the process of expressing positive potentiality actualizes our innate tendencies to seek and embrace truth, love, justice and freedom, through which we transcend overly egocentric concerns and reach a position of centeredness that keeps us in harmony with all of our relationships to all things.
* This is from "PRIMAL AWARENESS": A True Story of Survival, Transformation and Awakening with the Raramuri Shamans of Mexico. Proceeds from the book go to help the Raramuri who are being murdered by drug traffickers so their cornfields can be used for growing opium poppies. Don Trent Jacobs, Ph.D, Ed.D., is the Chair of Education at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He is of Creek and Cherokee ancestry. (See Book Review on page 7)
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