Last year at this time I was at Sundance. About 99% of people I have mentioned Sundance to assume I mean the film festival. I struggle to continue after that, except in the vein of pointing out how deeply the appropriation of “Indian” is in the western culture–so deep that it’s unconscious by now. Partly First Nation peoples had to hide their sacred ceremonies in order to keep them alive at all. But mostly the cultures of several continents of various peoples have been so successfully absorbed into the mainstream that the majority of people these days don’t have any clue how ignorant they are.
They’re so ignorant they don’t even know they’re ignorant.
So where to begin? Usually I begin & end in the same place, with simply clarifying that long before Sundance was a film festival, it was–and is–the ultimate First Nation ceremony. And I rarely go beyond leveling out that ignorance because beyond it I am also relatively ignorant. Even though I was there last year, supporting a dancer, & I have my own stories to tell of what I experienced & witnessed, even then I am woefully ignorant. And even if I were less ignorant, there is only so much I can tell anyway without betraying the sacredness of the ceremony by prattling on about it. Sundance is something that can only be experienced.
Just because I see something, hear something, or am taught something, does not mean I know it. I’ve come to fully respect repetition & reiteration as the main means of coming-to-know anything. I consider myself slow in this regard. While I am quick to comprehend with my mind, I feel laboriously slow in integrating that comprehension into the fibers of my being. I’ve come to trust this, and “trust the longer journey” is a reminder that I give to myself, & to students, as often as it’s relevant.
Trusting a longer journey requires taking a wider perspective. It means our vision extends beyond what seems to satiate us right now & takes into account the endless vistas of our ancestors &, all going well, our descendants. Perhaps this is part of the cause of our current crisis as a species–we’ve made our own place on this planet precarious because we’ve failed to look back far enough at where we’ve come from.
I don’t mean retelling history as we’ve been told it.
I mean knowing the patterns as we’ve become them.
Only when we can see a thing can we determine what to do with it. As long as you’re unconscious of the parasites in your system, you’ll only feel the effects of them & never be able to clear yourself of the source of your deterioration. You can not let go of what you don’t even know you’re holding onto in the first place (another phrase I say often to students in the process of cultivating awareness). Once you know you are harboring parasites, then you can either choose to continue feeding them or you can take every means possible to starve them off & purge them out. It’s the same with the patterns of behavior we so glibly title as what’s “always been that way”, whether it’s our own personalities, our families, or humanity as a whole.
People seem to take some sort of perverse delight in saying humanity has always been violent & reckless, or whatever else it is that they want to avoid changing. They shrug & say it’s all-ways been that way so it will never not be that way & we might as well just resign ourselves to it.
And this is why I reckon it’s hard for me to get on the yoga mat, a battle my friend Kara-Leah calls mat resistance, & that I face every single time without fail. Even after 17 years of regularly showing up for myself on the mat, I still have to do battle to even get to the mat in the first place. Why?
Because I will have to face myself in all my glorious denial & defeatism. My body is honest. It is like the earth–a record of our time here–only a more particular record to me and what I’ve done with my own little piece of earth, this body.
At this point in our evolution as a species I think we could safely add Denial to our list of skills. We may not have wings of our own, or even waterproof fur pelts, but we do have denial. It will keep us safe & warm as the raging storms of the repercussions of our past actions roll in.
Or will it?
As a young child with the pure heart that all young children have, I was devastated by the destruction all around me.
Children are closer to the ground. They see the minutia. They are also wired to receive everything around them & amplify it outwards, like speakers to the sound system.
In a crowded grocery store at the peak point of the day, when the adults are anxious & exhausted, the wailing vocal expression of what they are unsuccessfully trying to suppress in themselves will burst out through their as-yet-uncivilized children. Often the adults are embarrassed by this, but perhaps it’s because they themselves would wail at full volume too, if only they could.
Children could be some of our greatest gurus if only we’d bend our knees & get closer to the ground, for it would require a humility akin to prayer to realize that they mirror us.
What I found down there close to the ground was a lot of dead animals & this was the main source of devastation for me. Where I grew up there were numerous hunting seasons. (Vegan Trigger Warning for this next paragraph.) While some of this meant food for folks, the majority of it was for fun, something I still cannot fathom. One of my babysitters had an abattoir out back–a cold cement house hung with glassy-eyed deer carcasses that fueled my nightmares & became part of my inability to ever consume red meat. The delusion of human sovereignty extended beyond hunting seasons into roadkill. Boys, mostly boys, would boast about purposefully running over animals in the road, instead of slowing to avoid them. My neighbor, whose lifestyle would best be described as being plucked straight from the Deliverance film (though we lived a few states north of West Virginia), bragged to me once about smashing the heads of the kittens their cat had newly delivered. And then dumping their lifeless bodies into their septic tank. This boys’ mother had no teeth, their house smelled of piss & they kept chickens and roosters in the many, many dead cars on their front lawn, which is what my bedroom window faced onto. For me, each carcass on the road, each kitten in the tank, each hunter driving by with a rifle rack, each visit to the plastic-wrapped grocery store with its gut-wrenching smell of dead meat laced with horrified blood, was a death that I mourned. It seemed to me, as a child, I was often crying. Crying for the plight of the animals.
Or the fruits & vegetables. One year (maybe I was 11?) I boycotted my favorite fruit–grapes–because they were being grown with pesticides that destroyed the workers & the very land that supported them.
So, maybe you can begin to see that for me (& I imagine for you too) it’s been very, very difficult to even know where to begin in this world. I’ve too often given up & resigned myself to being part of the problem, only to become debilitatingly sick–literally unable to run away & unable to breathe, forced to face what I did not want to see.
The levels of devastation on this earth are so accepted, so normalized, that we’d have to overthrow very nearly everything as we know it just to get down to some bedrock truth. How do we see what we don’t even realize we don’t see? By being willing to be destroyed, as we know ourselves to currently be, by all that we open our eyes to. And then by having the courage & the strength to begin again, daily.
this is how I pray–by waking up, showing up, facing up,
bending down, touching ground, allowing sound
how do you pray in your day,
in your own way?