I felt like root vegetables

Two weeks ago I spent an entire week in a conference for a government program serving Native American tribes. Recent legislation has allowed me to work more closely with this tribal program but I find the timing more than coincidental.

At the beginning of each conference day and before each shared meal, an elder or a spiritual leader gave a blessing. I was deeply moved by one blessing in particular. We were in a conference session on culture – specifically, how tribal culture affects the implementation of this government program and those who benefit from it. This particular blessing was reserved until the end of the session. I’ll say more about it in a bit.

During the session I, an outsider, was able to listen to members of many different tribes, mainly in California, discuss what makes them who they are: their values, customs, beliefs, traditions and practices. I listened to discussions about how natives growing up in urban settings experience finding their way back to the tribe and the cultural traditions, learning their language, finding their place. There was a discussion about the influence Native American culture has had on the culture at large. In that discussion, I got an answer to a question I’ve wondered about for a long time – why I can’t find much written about Native American spirituality that is particularly helpful. The answer is that their spirituality is regarded as so sacred that it is only passed down within the tribe to those who are entrusted with the responsibility of not teaching it to anyone who may use it with less than pure intentions. It is an oral tradition, passed down at the feet of the elders who are highly regarded and respected for their wisdom — it is not written in books.

The blessing after that session went something like this:

Great-grandmother, great-grandfather and all the ancestors upon whose shoulders we stand, it is your collective wisdom that has brought us to this place, to this time, to this day in this room. We carry with us the wisdom of the ages that propels us forward and calls us home. Be with us as each of us goes about our tasks to serve our families-our tribes, to preserve our traditions, to learn to live in two worlds at once. Help each one in the room today who is in the process of finding his way home.

Just hearing him call upon his ancestors and acknowledge them as still quite present and involved in their lives sent chills down my spine. I’ll try to explain why as I go along.

I think “collective consciousness” is too much of a buzz word right now to fully express what I felt but, for lack of better words, I’ll use those. I felt a tremendous sense of single-mindedness that was rooted in something good, pure and timeless. I felt like root vegetables. I felt like something ran deep and anchored these people – both like they were a part of something, and that this something was part of them, a part of their very selves that they could not avoid. I felt like there was truth all in the room – if not mine, someone’s, and it was real. I believed the spiritual leader who said that he couldn’t agree immediately when asked to come and participate – that he needed time to ponder what he was to say because if he had nothing to say, there was no point in speaking. I believed the sign that came to him, an eagle feather. In his tradition, the person speaking to a group holds an eagle feather and as long as they hold the feather, they are required to speak truth. I believed that this eagle feather coming to him while he sat in the mountains contemplating his decision was indeed his sign to come. And I felt grieved.

I felt the weight of history. I felt the bleeding severed ties to my anchors. I felt lost and robbed. I felt distant and flighty. I felt like the disembodied feather floating around, landing for a while and floating away again. My people are a tribe in Africa – somewhere, with traditions and stories and a spirituality that explains their connection to All That Is. My people are a tribe in America – somewhere, with a secret understanding of All That Is that has been passed down from our ancestors. My people are among the faeries on the Emerald Isle -somewhere, with stories and encounters and interactions with a world we can not see. I come from spiritual peoples-but history has robbed me. All I have ever heard, my entire life, is the tradition of those who oppressed my peoples, on three different continents. I was raised with the tradition of a people who used their spirituality, rather their religion, as a sanction to enslave and oppress.

I felt cheated. I felt like I was handed a processed cheese food instead of the self-sustaining wisdom to produce my own real cheese.

I grew up in a faith that says that connecting with (cavorting with) the spirit world was the devil’s work. I find that so strange though when I read the accounts of Jesus’s conception and birth. Everyone was talking to helpers from the other side – and no one thought it strange. My peoples are three cultures with deep roots in spiritual places I am starting to feel fine exploring. I want to sit with elders in my tribes and ask them about the way of understanding oneself as a spiritual being having a human experience. I want to hear from those who believe that life after leaving the body is more than going to heaven or hell based on your behavior, or your proper baptism, or belief in the right savior. I want know the wisdom of nature – what is right under my nose that can heal what baffles modern scientists? I want to understand what it means that I felt the presence of all those ancestors the leader called upon that day for guidance. But who do I ask?

I can probably narrow my Native American ancestors down to two possible tribes. I have no clue about where my African ancestors are from. I have never heard anything at all about my Irish family beyond my grandfather that gives any hope of finding a connection.

Who are your people? I was dumbfounded at that question when asked. The asker was completely sincere. It was her way of showing that I mattered. Who are my people? To know the answer, I can only imagine, would sustain that rooted feeling – that sense of root vegetables that I had in that room that day.

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5 thoughts on “I felt like root vegetables

  1. Have you ever considered writing a book? Your writing just flows so easily – it is just like reading a good book. Just a thought… I agree, it would be nice to have a sense of self through my ancestral heritage.

    @ Lashawn

    Yep. I plan to write — just as soon as I slow down and find my quiet place in the mountains. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I can only write when it hits me –if it doesn’t flow from within, I don’t usually bother at all.

  2. I’ve always kidded that I was a mutt, not really one thing. I have always felt cheated by that. Most of the people from both sides of my family have been in America since the colonies, but I know nothing about my family history before then. There are so many transitions, Irish marrying Spanish marrying Native American, marrying German…it’s a mush.

    I know for a fact that my ancestors are primarily Scottish, Irish, English, and German. I know that the Scottish side came from the clan McPherson, but that’s it. I know next to nothing of my great-grandparents…it’s sad. I sometimes feel like I have no roots.

    But, I know my soul is old and there are certain things/traditions that I feel drawn to like there are chains pulling me. I believe in faeries 100%. I believe in many Celtic and Norse traditions. I feel close to the earth and nature. Like I sometimes get the urge to claw the ground and curl up in the hole.

    But I have no people. That’s what I believe. I’m trying to find my people. I think that’s my life’s journey. Because I have no roots. No stories or legends or sense of belonging.

    Great post. You got me crying, not that’s it’s hard to get me crying these days, but the post really affected me.

    @ Debbie

    I was reading about old souls last night. I also think you are one. You introduced me to faeries and saredtexts.com took it from there. Thanks.

  3. “Who are your people?” was a common question back in the day in the south, most likely heard when a young man came to visit a young woman. My grandfather used to say it.

    I posted about this same void in my life some time ago. It is an orphan-like feeling to not really have the answers. I know that my people were likely part of the Caddo nation. Otherwise, I don’t know anything. Africa and pre-colonization America is where my roots are.

    I also have expressed that I don’t understand the dichotomy between the Christian world and the spirit world. Christians are some of the spookiest people I know, yet I know that many would be appalled at my interest in the supernatural.

    A fellow root veggie…

    @ Katrice

    NOW I want to go back to your grandmother’s house in the woods to “see” what’s/who’s there! Amazing the difference a year or two makes.

  4. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  5. Oh, my. America used to pride itself on being a melting pot, whether as refuge or forced immigration, in which people of many diverse backgrounds married and had children of mixed bloods.

    In my view, such blending has always been a good thing representing progress, a world in which children of all colors and backgrounds are equally beautiful and equally treasured. But the flip side of this idealized world is that many of the individual cultures have been lost. As people assimilated, the oral histories have evaporated so that children can no longer recite their geneologies of generations past and don’t even know which distant shores their ancestors came here from.

    And that is sad and painful because without knowing who our people are, we cannot truly know who we, ourselves, are. We have all sacrificed a lot for acceptance. Perhaps growing comfortable with the spirit world is the only way we can ever learn the answers to the mysteries that we are.

    @ Heartinsanfrancisco

    And, after all, isn’t that who we really are anyway? Spirits having a human experience?

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