(Disclaimer! This is long as it covers a lot of ground, all related. I’ll venture a guess that you’re either going to like it all, or not like it at all. Let me know what’s on your mind either way!)
But ya doesn’t has ta call me “Chief”! Even though I’m well over 6ft (OK, used to be) with green eyes and blond hair (again, used to be), I am allegedly part Native American. My last generation that would know first-hand chose not to talk about it. Back then there was a stigma assigned to those who associated with godless savages, but in spite of the silence there are early, early photos of a family reunion on the prairie, with familiar ancestor surnames written on the back. Several in attendance sported suspiciously Native-looking dress and had distinctly Native features.
Right….if they were pictures from a Halloween party, kudos to the props and makeup team.
Something about the Native American—the First Nation—beliefs system and simple but sophisticated spirituality has always gripped me. My real awakening came in the early seventies at the University of Iowa and I had a chance to study Native American Literature through the Writers’ Workshop. The professor wore buckskin-fringed desert knee boots and shortly most of the students did too. We sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle for classes. We learned the finer points of story-telling. We listened to long recordings of Native music in the pitch-black orchestra room.
We read and discussed several classics, Black Elk Speaks and Seven Arrows among them. And we explored the First Nation’s beliefs system in great depth, total immersion mode. That one-semester experience kicked my Vision Quest off in earnest.
Personal Perspective. I had twelve years of Catholic education. Result: I cannot buy into any formal, dogma-laden religion, Catholic or otherwise. Man-made interpretations and human-authored rules are behind too many wars and petty disagreements haunting us—people killing people in the name of my religion? Please. But I am highly spiritual; I live by a very strong personal beliefs system that I’ve later learned quite accidentally borrowed elements from the mainstream religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… and Native American. To me, deep down the core values and beliefs are all compatible. Human-created dogma is the trouble-making differentiator.
BUSINESS and ME, INC. IMPACTS! For my day job I study and practice human behavior as it relates to organizational and individual development. I’ve had two major “aha” moments along the way, both are substantiated by tons of studies and data:
1. We all want to leave a legacy. We need a purpose in our life, we need real and relevant meaning, a feeling that we are somehow earning our way. We need to know we are making a meaningful contribution toward the greater good. All of this just oozes higher-order spirituality. Impact and Legacy have become essentials in my vision statement.
2. Humans are social creatures (we’re pack animals!) and we are driven to connect with not only our world but with others around us. We need a sense of community, of belonging. We must be part of something important and “bigger” than me alone. The alternative: gang membership and, even worse, radicalization becomes extremely appealing to both young and older disenfranchised people who have been given nothing better to belong to or believe in. A true, full-time Lone Wolf human animal is a little bit sociopath…or a lot. Again, a higher-order level of spirituality is in play.
Both of those ‘ahas’ have sky-high relevance for organizations. Companies that tap into these two spiritual motivators are rewarded with (1) a more highly engaged workforce (major bottom-line payback!); (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice (candidates stand in line to get in) and (4) barring major marketplace meltdowns, nearly guaranteed long-term sustainability because their culture is on an absolutely solid foundation.
These two ‘ahas’ are also wildly important for individuals. They ensure longer, healthier, less stressful and more productive lives. Google Blue Zones and check out the research, studies and findings—it’s not just my opinion, it’s well-researched and well-documented.
Two-level challenge, I seriously hope you take this personally and professionally:
(1) companies and their leaders have a moral obligation to promote those two ‘aha’ points among their employees in the spirit of true servant leadership, corporate social responsibility and impacting the greater good. Those long-view organizations that do so will be rewarded with insanely better bottom line results and that other good 1-4 stuff mentioned earlier;
(2) Each of us has the potential to have a real influence on others…see “The Ripple Effect–One Pond, One Pebble”. Talk about impacting the greater good!
Back to the First People.
Bet you’re wondering how this is all connected, aren’t you? Following is a sampler of key Native American beliefs. I’ll leave it to you to establish organizational and personal relevance. It’s there. Self-discovery is the most effective learning experience there is!
Vision Quest. People on a spiritual path—their Vision Quest—know they are here for a reason but may not yet know what it is. The journey is all about finding that purpose and understanding their intimate connection with the Medicine Wheel. “We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world….The most important thing is being clear in your heart as to what you are seeking for yourself and the people of the world.”
Circle of Life, Medicine Wheel The Native American beliefs system and spirituality is based on inter-connectedness of all forms of life and the relationship of all living things with Mother Earth in a circular / cyclical / systemic relationship. An early precursor to systems thinking: to understand the parts one must examine the whole.
The Circle of Life (from Black Elk Speaks)
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves…. “
So the circle holds a place of special importance. Human beings live, breathe and move, in a continuous cyclical pattern. Every seeker’s journey is to find their own harmonious way of traveling through and interacting with that cycle.
This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life / Medicine Wheel are based on the four directions: North, East, West and South with each having special attributes, a way of perceiving things. Those on their Vision Quest explore all four, seeking to thoroughly understand their place in the world and make their own deep connection to The Four Great Ways:
NORTH: wisdom and truth, strength and endurance.
EAST: illumination, the new dawning sky, enlightenment.
WEST: introspection, looking within. Rest, recharge, renew.
SOUTH: warmth and growth after winter is over, a new beginning.
Religion “vs” Spirituality
I’ve been part of a highly engaging online conversation on whether we would be better off without religion and had spirituality in its place. Interesting thoughts, a couple of mine follow.
I have faith, very strong faith. But I do not trust that any religion has “the” direct line to God. And I especially do not have faith that the words of the prophets, whether Jesus or Mohammed or any other you can label as such, were accurately captured, preserved in their original wording and meaning. Humans have mucked that all up by reinterpreting interpretations, sometimes twisting words and meaning for personal / political gain.
One discussion participant issued a challenge to name one good culture that did not have an organized religion governing its norms and values / beliefs system. I offered up the Native North Americans, the First Nation, as an example of a rock-solid and highly spiritual beliefs system that governed a very good people. The First Nation ran headlong into the “white man’s” greed, their need for elbow room and an arrogant, dogma-fueled obsession to tame the godless, savage beasts, saving their souls by giving them “real” religion to replace the pagan rituals.
The level of spirituality and depth of the beliefs system of the early native North and Latin Americans was incredible and flourished prior to conquistadors, colonization and attempts at conversion to Catholicism and other models of human dogma. It was an undeniable way of life, not based on any book. It was shared by an entire people regardless of tribe or location. There were wise old shamans but no prophet mouthpieces serving as middle men with the inside track on communicating with an all-powerful. No one “owned” the Word, it was commonly shared. Everyone told the stories and legends around the campfire with little difference in interpretation. Even my American Indian Lit class was blessed to share in that tradition.
They / we managed to do that because Native beliefs were / are so strong and they were / are a way of daily life, not just dogma or memorized and repeatedly recited words.
(Right turn, Clyde…) Permaculture and Reconnecting. I am an Iowan. We’re blessed with a large piece of land for being in town, living in what was once the farm house whose original family once owned all the surrounding land that was finally sub-divided into mini-suburbia. Our garden plot is where the hog lot was over 100 years ago, still very fertile ground (pig poop is powerful medicine). The past two weeks the green beans have needed picking every other day and now homegrown tomaters are coming in too. Gourmet dining, and it’s all natural. Not quite enough to get me off meat altogether, but close.
The actual growing and consumption of natural, wildly healthier fresh produce is just a small part of the permaculture system and a very small piece of the personal health and psychological benefits in doing so. The systemic / social benefits are incredible too! The greatest benefit to me is what this stands for. My Native blood drives me to fully buy into this notion of reconnecting with Mother Earth and becoming somewhat responsible stewards again.
Right now Mother Earth is crying from the pain we’ve inflicted on her soul, both physical and social. You have to wonder when she will finally give up on her children.
Two Questions for Later…
(ONE) Was the First Nation Gnostic?
Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia by Bette Stockbauer
(TWO) Where Do We Go From Here?
Decolonizing Humanity by Reconnecting with the Earth