I am not Native American, but was raised with spirituality based strongly on teachings found in various Native American lessons. Years later, I would marry a man who is 50% Native American. I strive to teach my children the same lessons that guided my growth.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, below are some of my valued lessons of childhood. To learn more about Native American Heritage Month, visit http://www.nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov.
“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
This saying hung on a wall in my parents’ bedroom for years and is revisited often, for example with new construction or unnecessary deforestation, water pollution, relaxed environmental policies, and so forth. It all returns to this lesson. Perhaps due in part to this poster, money has never been a real motivating factor of mine beyond life necessities. Money serves a purpose, but is not a driving force for me. Taking care of our earth has been.
To a much larger extent than my parents probably intended, I have sought out using products free from chemicals. We used g-diapers with our babies, always have a mountain of recycling waiting to go to the bins, try our best to avoid foods with ingredients we can’t pronounce and attempt to teach our kids materialism is not what life is about. While we are far from perfect, we try and we draw attention to what is unnecessary. That is a good start.
“Oh Great Spirit, let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.”
Poignant and one of the most pointed lessons of my childhood. This has been used to paint lessons of loss, of life, of dark times, of strength, of tolerance, and on and on. In this wisdom, I was taught there are lessons to be found in all of earth, that what we need will be shown to us if we quiet our internal chatter and just sit quietly.
My mother used to wake up and sit outside and just watch the trees. She would tell me it was her church and now being about the age she was, I understand. There are secret lessons I uncovered by a sunrise – gorgeous and captivating. Speckles of frost painted the ground and the stained, beautiful streaks of color complemented the iced canvas below. Then, out of place and ugly against the portrait, is a blood red bush. Clearly, it did not belong. The sky changed colors quickly and the frost melted until the bush no longer was out of place. The miracle of the morning passed – missed by most.
What struck me so hard was the bush. This was the morning of a national tragedy and the bush stood out against the beauty. Then gone, eclipsed by the mundane, lost in the sea of normalcy. How many bushes are there, quietly waiting, overlooked? Are countless miracles missed due to the quickness of life, just as the morning sunset? Does the intensity provide captivation, but is fleeting and a distraction to what is right in front of you?
This is one of many lessons in plain sight. Our daughter is just now being taught to uncover them.
“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?”
This quote takes me back to 8th grade music class. “You think you own whatever land you land on. The earth is just a dead thing you can claim, but I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.”
When we discard the idea of “owning land” and instead acknowledge it is on loan to us, the natural inclination is to respect it and take better care of it. Like borrowing your best friend’s dress or staying at friend’s beach house – you treat it a little better than if it were yours.
Seven Generations Principle and “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
The basic concept of this principle is every action we take, every product we use, we must take into account the effect in seven generations. Basically, leave our children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children an earth equal to ours to enjoy.
What can we do to reduce the amount of a footprint we leave so years from now, the same beautiful stream we skip rocks into is there as we watch our grandchildren wade in it? How can we ensure these memories can continue for our children’s children?
“The Great Spirit gave you two ears and only one mouth so you can talk half as much as you listen.”
Since my kids are not quite into teen years and my one child is highly spirited and energetic, this lesson will be revisited again. Her fiery determination will serve her well, but to know which battles are worth the fight, she needs to learn to listen more than talk. As she sneaks toward thirteen, I suspect I will be revisiting this lesson myself.
“When man moves away from nature, his heart becomes hard.”
Henry David Thoreau would have liked this quote. Do we not feel the most grounded and breathe the deepest when outside? Picture the silence of a stark white, frigid day. Feel the crisp sting on your cheek and the catch of air as you attempt in inhale deep, only to cough from the cold. Now switch to the sticky, dampness of summer. If you lose yourself in the imagery, you can almost feel drenched hair clinging to your neck as the wind cannot even bring relief. The almost-too-ripe watermelon and thirst-quenching lemonade paint the day.
Take it all away and what is left? Imagine the grey, pictureless cubicle, illuminated by a flickering, fluorescent light. Stale air scented with Clorox from yesterday’s cleaning. The quiet hum of your computer, whispers and clicking keyboards.
Which awakens your soul?
“There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
This has given comfort to those who have passed and we wait to revisit. Whatever the next realm is or how you name it, if you do, it has always given me comfort to read these words.
Tale of the two wolves.
In our household, we ask “which wolf are you feeding?” as a quick reminder we become what we chose to become.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you… and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
So in honor of Native American Heritage Month, I leave you with one final quote – one that only now would I pause to reflect on.
“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”