Honoring First Nation – Native American Spirited-Wisdom
American First Nation or Native American People (according to how they wish to be named) have a strong spiritual traditions honoring life, the earth and the heavens. Naming these wise peoples is a problem; out of respect one would call them First Nations, Native American, or a specific tribal name. Since this is a post, and since my efforts to obtain preferences have ended in the three “namings” above, I shall use First Nations. I do this out of deep respect. If my choice offends, please accept my deeply felt apology.
In this post I hope to note just a few areas of rich spiritual traditions, especially around the circles of the camp fires. In philosophical terms, First Nation Peoples followed (and follow) certain sacred practices: conservation, preservation, taking/using only what is necessary, giving back/restoring, and forever giving thanks – deep gratitude for what the earth and the heavens have provided. In today’s so-called modern, technological world of greed, “me first,” and sometimes hatred – we all could learn MUCH from these wise-minded and collective practices.
These wise people also practiced special spiritual activities to deepen their understanding of “the way things are.” Such beliefs and practices of energy balancing, sacred healing locations, long-silence, four directions/winds, vision questing, passing the pipe, talking sticks, medicine bags, sweat lodging were all part of their very rich traditions. WE, so-called dominant white people from Europe almost annihilated them; however, now we seek and deeply value many of their spiritual traditions. As an old First Nation close friend once told me: “You white people tried to completely destroy us, but now you are quite interested in how our spiritual experiences conserved our spiritual powers and identity – and you WANT to take those traditions also!” Thank you my friend Dana Pictou for reminding me! Speaking for myself, I want to take nothing BUT I do want to experience what they offer spiritually. There is no question about WHO owns these traditions. They belong to First Nation peoples.
In the central areas of British Columbia there are “medicine ways gatherings.” There, certain Tibetan Buddhist and First Nation ceremonies have been integrated to pursue earth healing and world peace. Under the facilitation of Spirit Dance Center for Spiritual Ecology, people gather to participate in ceremony and ritual around open camp fires. In fire circles they meditate, chant, drum, pass the pipe, have dyadic discussions, and personal consultations – ALL in deep respect for authentic spiritual power, and to better understand “the way things are.” Others in different parts of North America participate in body awareness concentration, cleansing breath rituals, and feather meditations. Additionally, the sacred fours are active: four directions, four winds, four seasons, and four states of the self. This last focus includes our mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional experiences of the self. I find it so, so interesting that First Nation peoples – like the Buddhists of 2,500 years ago – developed a “psychology of self” as part of their forward progressions. In Buddhist beliefs there is no concrete, independently arising, enduring SELF. It is real in a sense of mind-time, but subject to impermanence, interdependent arising, and essential emptiness. All part of illusion and delusion as we strive to experience sensory pleasure and avoid pain and suffering. These understanding – both First Nation and Buddhist – are quire complex. Mastery of them may reduce personal suffering and increase personal happiness.
So sit quietly with others at camp fire circle and practice some of these powerful ceremonies. For authenticity, consider finding a First Nation person to lead you through some of these wonderfully powerful rituals. As Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…”
For more information see Cohen, K. – “Bear Hawk” (2003, 2006). Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing. New York: Ballantine Books.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness