Allies Share Both Sorrow and Joy

Birch light and dark DSC07802If we seek to rebuild our relationship to this land, I think it is also vital for non-Indians to rebuild their relationship with Indian peoples. To do that non-Indians must become committed allies to Indian people’s struggles. Real relationship involves interaction with the whole of a person and community, sharing both sorrow and joy, struggle and celebration.

Indian people want us to move beyond stereotypes and learn more deeply and accurately about Native issues today. They need allies in their struggle against racism and colonization. We can use our advantage and position as people living in mainstream society, to be a resource for Native peoples’ concerns.

When we can learn to share the pain, and share the struggles of Indian peoples, then we also will find ourselves sharing in the celebrations. In her novel, Solar Storms, Linda Hogan begins with a story of an unusual feast given by the woman named Bush. This feast was a grieving feast: Bush was grieving the loss of the young child, Angel, after she was taken away by the white county authorities from their tiny Native community. She held a feast in which she prepared food for her whole community, and then she gave away all of her possessions to them. Hogan writes, in the voice of one who had been to the feast:

…I watched the others walk away with their arms full. Going back that morning, in the blue northern light, their stomachs were filled, their arms laden with blankets, food… But the most important thing they carried was Bush’s sorrow. It was small now, and child-sized, and it slid its hand inside theirs and walked away with them. We all had it, after that. It became our own. Some of us have since wanted to give it back to her, but once we felt it we knew it was too large for a single person. After that your absence sat at every table, occupied every room, walked through the doors of every house.

By this sharing of sorrow, the sorrow became bearable. Native American people are too often bearing the sorrows of our history alone. If we want to share in feast with them, we too must carry the burden of sorrow. Once we let ourselves feel this grief, we realize it is much too large for one people to carry alone. But the more of us who carry this sorrow, the more of us who carry the struggle, the more bearable it will be.

When we open our hearts to the earth, we are opening our hearts to relationship with all who live here with us. We are recognizing the brokenness and the sacredness of each person and each being, each place and each story in that place.

Human Beings Are Part of Nature

Many of the ecological problems we face are rooted in a foundational assumption of western culture that human beings are separate from nature. We see ourselves as distinct and superior to nature, and imagine that the earth is like a resource bank to exploit for our own use.

Starhawk, in The Earth Path, notes that some environmentalists go the opposite extreme. Because of the devastation that human actions have caused, they see human beings as a “blight on the planet,” and suppose that the earth would be better off without us. But, as she points out, “it’s hard to get people enthused about a movement that …envisions their extinction as a good.”

What we need to understand—emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually—is that we are not separate from nature at all. We are part of nature. She passes on a story from Allan Savory, about land management in Zambia and Zimbabwe in the 1950’s.

People had lived in those areas since time immemorial in clusters of huts away from the main rivers because of the mosquitoes and wet season flooding. Near their huts they kept gardens that they protected from elephants and other raiders by beating drums throughout much of the night… [T]he people hunted and trapped animals throughout the year as well.

The herds remained strong and the river banks lush …until the government removed the people in order to make national parks.” The parks set up rules to protect all the animals and vegetation from any sort of disturbance. Within a few decades, the vegetation had disappeared from miles of riverbanks. What they discovered was that the fear of human beings kept certain grazing animals on the move, and that prevented over-feeding that damaged soils and vegetation. With the removal of one species—the human farmers and hunters—the ecosystem had lost its balance.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

This story illustrates the truth that human beings belong to this earth—we are a part of the ecosystem, for good or ill. We can be a part of the balance as well as a cause of the imbalance.

Some Indigenous stories of North America say that we are like a younger sibling on this earth. The other beings and species are more acclimated to their purpose and their relationship to the whole. And so, when we are feeling overwhelmed by these messes we have created, we might turn to our older relatives on the earth to find wisdom for our journey.

To Be Whole We Must Experience the Broken

Sun in branches DSC01449If I believe that all people, and all beings are connected, then in order to be whole, I must open my heart to that larger whole, to the connections between all people and all beings. However, when I open to the whole, I experience more profoundly its brokenness, the ways we hurt each other and our earth, the ways we are not in harmony. It is tempting to retreat, to draw a circle around myself to try to achieve some sort of individual harmony and balance—but that would cut me off, into the brokenness of separation.

I realize in this tension that there can be no individual salvation. If we want to heal ourselves, we must be healers of our world. If we want to heal our world, we must be connected to all the broken people. We must embrace the broken to heal the broken. Relationship is at the heart of everything. So, to be whole is to experience the broken. To be whole is to be broken.

It might be too much to bear. How do we find joy in the midst of it? Always, I remember the sun. The sun shining on each being, the sun the source of all life on earth. When I feel the sun warming my face, I realize that I am connected to the sun. Each moment of connection can be a source of joy. Each moment of connection rings true to our deepest purpose. To be connected to Mystery, to each other, to the earth, awakens joy.

And the truth is, even our brokenness, our limitations, can become doorways into connection. We are all incomplete without each other. We each have just one small piece of the puzzle. Alone, all we see are jagged edges and random colors… and maybe all together we see just a jumbled pile of jagged pieces—but sometimes we catch a glimpse of the puzzle box cover—what we might become all together. That glimpse can fill us with joy. And sometimes, we find another piece that fits together with our own jagged edge. We have to find our joy in each moment of connection.

Our jagged edges teach us that we need each other. When I reach the limits of my knowledge or ability, it is a gift to reach out to another person, whose knowledge and ability might balance my own. All returning soldiers from the battlefield need the tenderness of others to find self-forgiveness. One day, when I was weary and sad about my recurring impulse to tell my partner what to do, my partner said, “I know you can be controlling sometime, but I love you just the way you are.”

We must embrace the jagged edges, embrace the broken pieces. Forgive and be forgiven. Ask for help. This is the path to wholeness. The sun shines down on all of us, each day, whether cloudy or clear, making no distinction between the good and the bad. May we return to the great circle of life, may we hold each other and all beings tenderly, for we are one.

The Sun Shines on All

Reconciliation and forgiveness require us to seek out those whom we have hurt, or who have hurt us, to make things whole again. We must mend the threads of connection between ourselves and other people, between ourselves and the earth, between ourselves and the Mystery of life.

This is not easy work. It is not just big societal evils that we face. We also face the everyday betrayals and regrets. Self-forgiveness may be the hardest of all. We face the perennial faults that are unique to us, yet common to so many. We mean to be kind, but find ourselves cranky and rude instead. We mean to be supportive to a friend or family member, but feel judgmental instead. We mean to be honest, but tell little lies to avoid upsetting someone. We mean to be generous, but feel greedy about our pleasures.

Can I forgive myself the belief that I am right when I argue with my neighbor? Can you forgive yourself the angry words shouted at your child as you are trying to get out of the house to make it to school or work on time? Can we forgive ourselves the end of a relationship with a partner or spouse? Can I forgive myself for needing help when I don’t know how to face a situation on my own?

Sun and Snow DSC06016What helps me to forgive is to remember the sun. The sun shines down on all of us, each day, making no distinction between the good and the bad, making no distinction between when I am in tune with all my values, or when I fail. Its light is constant, never changing because of virtue or vice, but merely following the rhythm of the seasons and lighting up the blue sky or the gray clouds. Its light keeps shining, giving life to all creatures. When I remember that I am accepted as part of the circle of life, it seems easier to open my heart to forgive myself.

And if I am a part of the circle of life, so is everyone else. If I believe that all people, and all beings are connected, then in order to be whole, I must open my heart to that larger whole, to the connections between all people and all beings. This is the heart of spiritual practice—to open our hearts to the larger whole of which we are a part.

Broken Shards of Light

The Jewish practice called Tikkun Olam has been translated as the mending of the world. This practice draws from the Kabbalistic ideas of Isaac Luria, a sixteenth century Jewish mystic.

He believed that when God created the world, God formed vessels to hold the Divine Light. As the light began to fill the vessels, they were unable to contain divinity and shattered. Sparks of Divine light were trapped in the shards of these vessels; they scattered throughout the cosmos and formed our world. The task of humanity is to reunite the scattered sparks of Light, to repair the broken world, and thus participate in finishing God’s work.

Light in HemlockBy acknowledging our brokenness we take the first step toward returning to wholeness. I observed this so often during my practice as a psychotherapist. As painful things happen in our lives, we learn to block off the memories and feelings that cause our pain. We become divided from ourselves, and divided from others. Perhaps we may shut down the angry feelings we feel, or despise the needy child that is deep within us. The first step in healing is to acknowledge those parts of ourselves that we have broken off.

According to the healing process of psychodrama, one might begin by imagining the broken off parts of the self as separate entities. A woman came in for therapy, anxious and lonely, and we chose an empty chair to represent her loneliness. I invited her to talk to the loneliness. At first she is dismissive. “I don’t need anything from you,” she says to the empty chair. “Just stop bothering me.” But then I asked her to move over and sit in the chair of the loneliness, to imagine herself as the loneliness talking back to her. In that other chair, tears start to fall, and something like a light dawns in her eyes. She has brought the loneliness back together with her own center.

People often come to therapy thinking they are going to get rid of the pain inside themselves. But they find healing only when they have learned to embrace the brokenness with love. It is that embracing of the pain which finally eases their pain, the return to wholeness.