Let’s see…I think it was about eight to ten years ago. It happened outside my mother’s house. I was living in her basement after the divorce, woe is me. Anyway, I was walking home from the bus-stop and about to open her gate, when I felt the beingness of the tree that stands outside of her house. I don’t know how it happened, but one moment, I was Tai, and the next, I was Tree.
It happened so quickly, like the tree caught me, or I caught it when one of us wasn’t looking. I don’t know who was groovin’ who exactly, but in that moment, we were one. Even though it lasted only seconds, the strength of the experience was undeniable. Afterward, I just stood there looking at the tree, wanting to hold onto that connection. I think I remember saying out-loud, “I felt that.”
Yes, I felt the tree from the inside. Believe me, if I could willingly re-create that experience, I would gladly give away every possession I own and move to the nearest park bench. I remember Ekhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, describing how, after his enlightenment experience, he spent two years on a park bench in a state of indescribable bliss. I wonder if he felt that sense of oneness that I felt briefly with the tree, but with everything, every squirrel and person and rock and roller-skate.
Oh, to know the spirit of things. My heart weeps in longing for this. For this more than anything else. And for a split second, I had a taste of it, for which I am deeply grateful. I know it’s there. I know I’m not crazy to want that connection.
That connection with the spirit of things, the spirit of nature, is what I mean in the broadest sense when I speak about indigenous culture. I have a faint remembrance of that somewhere in my dna that cries out from time-to-time. Actually, all the time lately.
Modern people misunderstand indigenous culture. We think their lack of stuff makes them primitive and I mean that word “primitive” in all its ugly implications. But the reality is that we think this because we can’t see what they see. It’s like we’re all stuck at home sober, on a rainy day, doing math homework, and they are outside in the middle of June, tripping at a Grateful Dead concert, except that what they’re tripping on is a Human Consciousness free from literal thought that allows them to feel the tree and everything else.
Of course, their ability to see beyond the surface of things, to see with their knowing, with their hearts, to see the luminous spirit of things and in others, to have this higher consciousness, is not so simple as just being born into it. It doesn’t just happen, like a good poop. You see, they are aware of the great gift of their sight. They understand that it must be nurtured and taken very seriously. While we are busy sending our kids off to school teaching them how to See Spot Run, they are teaching their children how to SEE with a capital S.
We think that the indigenous are illiterate because they don’t have a choice in the matter. Oh, the poor little brown people. The least we could do is introduce them to the Good Book! The implication is that they do not have the mental capacity to create a written language, whereas the reality is that many of these cultures do not write things down out of choice. They understand the true power of creation behind words. They understand what is lost when words are written, important things like power, memory, the creative birthing fire and the fire that destroys.
Of course, from our perspective, many beautiful things are created with written words: books, the Declaration of Independence. I love to read. I love few things more than to be curled up on the couch with a good book. But again, if I could re-create what I glimpsed with the tree, I would happily go bookless for the rest of my life.
Martin Prechtel says that writing allows people to forget. With technology, we’ve taken our forgetting to a whole ‘nother level. Not only are we forgetting how to do stuff, we are forgetting how to learn in the first place. We are starting to mistake acquiring facts for learning, which it ain’t. I wrote in a previous entry about how I see this every day: students thinking that learning dance is another thing they can just click on.
Anyway, another thing that happens when we start saving our words by writing instead of memory is that those inner pathways of Seeing that we had as a child get shut down. Small children have a natural inclination towards this kind of Seeing. The Seeing of the Is-ness. To some extent, this naturally becomes dormant a few years before puberty, around age eight, followed by a resurfacing during adolescence (Ken Ludden).
In our modern world, while most of our teens are off struggling, rebelling, fucking and smoking their way through this confusing time (myself included), indigenous cultures are outside in nature taking their youth through a profound initiation experience that helps them to open up and nurture their third eye’s sight. This is only one aspect of initiation. It also involves a very real confrontation with death. Accepting one’s mortality apparently does wonders for teenagers. It may sound harsh, and from what I’ve read, it is terrifying, but also beautiful and real and ultimately empowering for the individual as well as for the community. Actually, in these cultures, there’s really not such a separation between oneself and the village.
The more I learn of indigenous wisdom, the more I feel a deep sense of loss. It’s not that I idealize this way of life. It is certainly hard. And I’m not suggesting that all indigenous people exist in a perpetual state of oneness. Merely that they can and do get there and not just at Christmastime. It’s just that I live with a kind of daily, constant stress that doesn’t feel natural. I’ve given it a little name: Persistent Low-Grade Anxiety Syndrome or PLGAS. You can remember it by thinking of plate-glass, which is what I want to constantly knock my head against.
Anyway, yes, indigenous people have worries, but I doubt that they are walking around with this constant tension. Most of the people I know suffer from this. So one of the reasons why I am so fascinated by this indigenous way of life is because I want to heal myself and others from the plate-glass and I want to do it in a way that we don’t just take a pill, but such that we actually blossom into being fully human, with all our senses, our memory, our connectivity tendrils intact.
When I read about indigenous cultures, I do it from their perspective. Ironically, the ones that have someone to speak for them, to act as a bridge between their world and ours, are the ones that are changing because we are in a moment of time in which they cannot avoid being up against us, the moderns. So, because they have to rub up against us, they have learned our languages and our ways.
Someone, a writer/communicator, is born out of a need they have to understand our ways and learn to live alongside us. They also have to adapt to our ways while trying to maintain their own wisdom. It is extremely difficult for them to communicate with us because of the limitations, the sheer lack of poetry and sacredness in modern language. It would sort of be like me trying to describe dancing to someone who has been blind and paralyzed their entire life.
And you know what really breaks my heart? The colonizers (which are all of us, regardless of race, who have colonized nature if not people) called them savages, barbarians, primitives, even indigenous, for lack of a better word. But while the intelligence of these people was insulted out of arrogance and ignorance, each of these ambassadors of indigeny, each of these human cultural bridges, called us his brother. Even as we destroyed them. They may have called us their crazy brother and a lot of other well deserved adjectives, but brother, sister, mother, grand-father, family, nonetheless.