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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Always Welcome

I have spent the last couple of weeks turning over in my head all of the possible next steps I can make right now to get from where I am to the life I really want.  It has required some soul searching and prioritizing (which inherently includes sacrifice, I admit), but I think I’ve reached some decisions. The first question I needed to answer for myself was: Lex, what is your top priority, your highest purpose?

My top priority is to walk the life path I believe I am here to walk.  I have a really good idea about what that is, and it involves a life’s work in holistic health and healing.  I want to open a wellness center that provides helpers, community and guidance for those who are done with being sick and tired and are ready to choose a life of optimal health in mind, body and spirit.

Someone once told me that if you want to really know what a person’s priorities are, look at her checkbook.  Well, if my checkbook is any indication of my priorities, my top priority is my privacy, following at a distant second is my personal health and wellness.  Third would be the duties and obligations I can’t avoid and bringing up the rear would be preparing for the life I want.

I have sat with those priorities in perspective for a couple of days now to see how I really feel about them.  I have concluded that, while I enjoy my privacy, it is not the most important thing in my life and, since it is not the most important thing, the lion’s share of my resources should not be going to supporting it’s position at the top of the list.  Preparing for the life I want involves several trainings and certifications before I am ready to open the wellness center.  I can’t afford any of them while attempting to maintain my current lifestyle.  Something has to give.  It has taken some soul searching and meditation to arrive at my decision — I am going to move home with my parents for a while.

I am trying not to see it as a step backwards.  In this culture we value independence to a fault, I think.  Other cultures live in or come to this country with an appreciation for living in community, as it affords them the opportunities to meet their collective and individual goals.  Americans, I believe, are so consumed with this image of being “on your own” and “having your own” that most of us have nothing to show for it other than “being on one’s own”, whatever that means.

I figure, for the money I’ll save by living at home, I can have at least 2 certifications under my belt by the end of the year.  In January I start my holistic health practitioner training so, by July, when it ends, that will be 3 trainings in the pocket.  I’ll be ready to open my wellness center by the end of 2009.  If I stay out here paying rent and all the additional living expenses, all I’ll have by the end of 2009 is more lost time when I could have been building my future.

Am I deluding myself to believe that it will be easy to move home at 35?  No.  I know what I am up against, but in the scheme of things, I have lived with my parents most of my life.  I know them and they know me.  The freedom from financial worries and the stress that accompanies lack of direction will make me a much easier person to live with than ever before, and the excitement I’ll have oozing from my pores about the new things I am learning will trump any challenges the adjustment will surely bring.

I considered this decision this time last year when my lease was up, but I wasn’t ready yet.  Now, as I am thinking about the kind of life I want for myself and for the child I plan to have in a few years, this is a necessary move to get me to where I want to be.

So, I’m headed home folks.  For a little while at least.

Wish me luck.