Imagine a world where an uneasy feeling in the heart might be caused by the restless spirit of a body buried without proper ceremony in the ground where we are walking. Or how in sleep we might be claimed by a dream and given knowledge we are bound to withhold or share. Or the calls of birds or the rippling waters of a creek might at any moment form into a song that contains a message or power.
It is, simply, a world where everything interacts and everything has power, and our modern rules of cause and effect don’t apply; where plants have dominion, animals have dominion, trees have dominion — as do wind and water and clouds and spirits; where the dead are always present to guide us or afflict us, and neither time nor distance protects us from the power of our enemies.
Aligning Ourselves with the Rules of Life
Only right behavior and proper action can shield us from the forces that are swirling everywhere around us, and only respectful observance of the rules of life can assure us and those we love of a safe passage through this great intricate web of interconnected meaning.
If we listen carefully, abide by the rules we have been taught, and learn the lessons from the world around us, we can align ourselves with those powers and use them for ourselves.
A mother, by feeding her child the eggs of the meadowlark, can claim the meadowlark’s power of eloquent speech for that child. A boy or girl, just on the edge of puberty, can undertake a vision quest to meet a spirit guide — a person, an animal, a power of nature — that remains with them forever, to be called upon and commanded for use when needed in battle or to serve the good of the people.
A child on a vision quest who sees the morning star gains the power to foresee events; one who encounters the fish hawk can see into the body and cure illness; a sighting of a rock wren bestows the power to handle serpents; a child who sees a fog can control the weather.
With each of these powers goes responsibilities, and failure to meet those responsibilities or to show proper respect for what you have been given can result in that power turning on you.
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An Interconnected Web of Spirits
Living in this great interconnected web of spirits whose powers cross the boundaries between species, and even the very line between the living and the dead, you learn to be less afraid of death than of a life poorly lived. At death you merely cross over into a different realm of the vibrant, interconnected universe.
But a life poorly lived can doom you and all your family to unimaginable misfortunes at the hands of those forces that you have insulted or shown disrespect, and those forces can follow you across the gossamer line between this world and the next.
So your task in life is not to dominate, but to understand; to learn the rules of the universe and come into right relationship with them. Then, and only then, will the Creator’s favor be upon you and the powers of the world available and at your command.
A New Power?
Now, imagine that in a clearing or a field you are suddenly confronted by strange men of strange appearance and strange habits who have power far beyond any you have imagined — beings who have been granted the power of calling the sunlight into a piece of glass to bring forth fire; who have been shown medicines that can heal a man unable to walk, a woman unable to see, a child with a broken arm, a person with great sickness in the stomach.
How favored, then, would you believe these men to be, who have guns more powerful than the bows that had been shown to you by the Creator and cures more powerful than anything your medicine men possess?
With your openness to the world and your belief that all things have been placed on the earth by the Creator and that mastery over the earth reveals favor in the Creator’s eyes, would you, too, not have seen these men as more than just another tribe, but perhaps as the bearers of a truth greater than any that had been shown you and any other people you had ever encountered?
Mine or Yours?
These new people have a strange way of living, where all is divided into “mine” and “yours.” They begin taking your land, telling you that you must leave the place where the Creator put you and change the way you live.
They do not understand your families, your way of sharing, your relationship to the Creator, your way of raising children and honoring the elders, or what constitutes the right conduct of life.
They cannot understand that silence before speaking is the sign of a composed and reflective mind, that interrupting another is an act of deepest disrespect, that children are to be raised in a certain way and elders are to be treated in a certain manner, and that the correct ceremonies must be performed to keep your life and the earth in balance.
They do not see the world as a place to be listened to and observed; where the dead are present to you at all times; where the powers of the animals, the trees, the rivers, the clouds can be granted or withheld; where everything is a message, everything is a lesson, everything is a story set down by the hand of the Creator, not to be used or abused, mastered or dominated, but to be understood and honored in the prescribed way.
You try to avoid these people or accommodate them, but your heart is troubled.
They are driving you from your homes, your way of living, your way of honoring the Creator. They take from you whatever they want and insist that their way should govern all your dealings with them. They do not use their language to speak from a pure and clear heart, but to twist the truth and get their own way.
From Giving to Taking...
More years pass. These new people are everywhere. They are a people of demands, who understand nothing of giving but everything of taking.
Honor, respect, humility, and all the values taught you by your elders are of less importance to them than constant labor to acquire earthly goods and power.
They live for the future and have no concern for the past. Everything is about what they can become and what they can obtain, not about responsibility to the place from which they came.
They fear death more than they fear a life poorly lived, and they are interested in the land only for what it can give to them rather than for how it speaks to them.
By sheer force of numbers these new people have begun to impose their will on you. They make you move from your homes, they put a price on everything, they build their lives around ownership and make agreements they do not keep.
They care little about your ways, but insist that you follow theirs. Their earthly skills and power seem to overwhelm your traditional ways and power.
Little By Little, Your World Is Fracturing
No one knows what to do. The newcomers have taken your land. They have taken your homes. They have taken your food and your god and your way of life.
The values taught by your ancestors, the values you were taught to live by, the values in which you believe — humility, service, compassion and kindness toward the weak, generosity, reserve, and a sense of personal decorum — have no place in this new land where everyone seeks to rise above every other and the weak are left at the mercy of the strong. You and the truths of your ways are forgotten in your own land.
Your grief runs to your very core. You cannot live in the old way; you do not wish to live in the new.
The ghosts of the old ways still speak, but their voice is fading. In your heart and in your world, they have almost ceased to exist.
Come Forward To Today
You see the ways of the newcomers beginning to fail. Their faith in the future has caused them to ignore the lessons of the past. Their belief in the individual has caused them to lose touch with the ways of the Creator.
Their concern with the human has deafened them to the voices of the other creatures and of the very earth itself. Their love of freedom has made them blind to responsibility.
The memory of your ancestors and the ways you were taught have kept you strong, though wounded.
You know that the way of power and ownership, of “mine” and “yours,” is not a good way to live. It is a way of domination, and domination does not care for the weak or give voice to the voiceless.
It seeks not to serve, but to be served.
It causes life to be out of balance.
From Confusion... to Clarity and Wisdom
You sense a growing confusion in the newcomers, who now are in almost full possession of the land that was once yours.
You know that the newcomers are good people, who, like you, love their children and wish to live in a world of peace and kindness. But their way, the way that runs so deep in their understanding, has betrayed them. It has caused them to act in ways that stand against the laws of creation.
You wish to help them and guide them, to share the lessons the elders taught you. But you were trained to speak softly and to offer counsel only when it is sought. And they do not seek your counsel, because they see only the wreckage of your lives or the illusions of who they imagine you to be.
You ask the Creator for the wisdom and patience to wait. You look to the ancestors, who told you to hold fast to the old ways. You try to keep the fires of the old beliefs burning in your hearts.
But in the deepest place in your spirit, the place of wounds and hope, you know that the earth is speaking, and that the time has come to listen to all of her voices.
You can only hope that for the sake of your children, and all the children of the world, that your voices, so long silenced and ignored, will be among those that are heard.
For that time, you and all the children of the earth are waiting.
©2016 by Kent Nerburn. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.
For three decades author Kent Nerburn who has been called one of the few writers who can respectfully bridge the gap between the Native and non Native cultures has lived and worked among Native American people Voices in the Stones Life Lessons from the Native Way is a unique collection of his encounters experiences and reflections during this time It opens with a poignant narrative of the American historical experience as seen through Native eyes followed by twelve chapters that each offer insight into a specific aspect of the Native understanding of a life well lived
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About The Author
Kent Nerburn is an author, sculptor, and educator who has been deeply involved in Native American issues and education. He holds a Ph.D. in both Theology and Art. He has edited three highly acclaimed books on Native American subjects: Native American Wisdom, The Wisdom of the Great Chiefs, and The Soul of An Indian. Kent Nerburn is also the author of Letters To My Son, a book of essays written as a gift to his son; Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder which won the Minnesota Book Award for 1995; Simple Truths: Clear and Gentle Guidance on the Big Issues of Life; A Haunting Reverence: Meditations On a Northern Land, Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life and Native American Wisdom. Visit his website at www.kentnerburn.com.
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