Recently, I’ve come upon the work of two authors, Stephen Jenkinson and Martin Prechtel, who write about this particular problem from an indigenous perspective: Jenkinson exposure to First Nations tribal teachings in Canada; Prechtel having grown up with a Pueblo Indian mother and a Swiss-German father, and then having lived in a 10,000 year-old intact, indigenous, Mayan culture in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan before foreign-funded civil war, and missionaries, destroyed that culture in the 1980s.
Human spirituality was generally practiced as part of every day life, had a history of stories to go along with the spiritual practices, and was integrated and woven into every part of daily living: the food, the clothing, the vocabulary (often three different words for each object, and differing according to whether they were used by men or women, so six words actually) feasting and fasting, etc. The language has no word “to be” and no isolation of past, present and future. In place of the verb “to be” were the verbs “to carry” and “to belong.”
People had a living knowledge of the history of every object in their homes: who made it, where the materials came from, how the maker learned to do the process of making the object, etc. Similarly, in Mayan Guatemala, they knew the stories of the origins of their villages and cultures, and of their interactions with Holy in Nature or the Divine in Nature, and the stories of the lives of the people in their families and villages. This helped them to feel as if they were at home, and belonged.
The Mayan view, according to Prechtel, is that we can offer two special things to the Divine that plants and most other animals can’t: the gift of beautiful language, and the gift of the beauty created with our heads, hands and hearts. I’m beginning to figure out how to start doing this as part of my own spiritual and life-affirming practice, and as a way of expressing gratitude towards the Divine. It’s not an easy process and there’s no readily available, real instruction in how to do it.
I find today’s spirituality to be, unfortunately, as atomistic, separate, individualistic and isolated as our general culture is. Somehow, people like me (and perhaps you) who have fled from their traditional ancestral nations, and then once in the U.S., have fled from their traditional religions and spiritualities, have felt orphaned, isolated and alone.
Past spiritual communities that I tried to participate in were often ‘top heavy’ with some religious leader or spiritual figure trying to make themselves the focus: trying to be worshipped as a ‘guru’ or to run everyone’s lives. The results were less than stellar and often horrifying. As a result, the spiritual practices I adopted were those I could do on my own.
One reason that I offer small groups and teach meditation at Unity Barn is to begin to create a more dynamic, and democratic sense of spiritual community. After all, here we are practicing meditation among a group of people, in a particular time and place. I’ve requested that people introduce themselves, and I do my best to remember names and talk to people after meditation, because spirituality has not ordinarily been practiced solely in isolation. It’s practiced in isolation at times but, also needs the richness brought by individual personalities and vibrational fields coming together, communicating and mixing.
I continue to be hopeful, and hold out the intention, that we can create our own indigenous spirituality in this time and place: 2019, and at the Unity Barn in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I hope you will consider breaking the isolation of the general culture by getting to know your neighbors, and the spiritual isolation of the culture, by getting to know those in this time and place who’ve gathered to practice meditation together.
Now, any questions?