A Letter to My Elders

There were thirteen of us and Marlene, plus Gater. The Elders had specific roles: two Teachers, one Firekeeper, and a Singer. Sheila was our Chef. MP performed her customary on-demand interventions in addition to behind-the-scenes support and logistical planning.

Spotted Eagle’s Land
New Mexico

Thank you for calling things what they are: “violence,” “mendacity,” “personal issues.” Such blights on beauty must be removed if one would live in a good way.

I am saddened that you had to witness and forgive my carelessness and ignorance. I am horrified that I needed you to witness residues of sheer ugliness. I strive to close the kindness-to-self gap. I am this way: originally un-parented and yearning to feel joined. I will myself to be better.

Everything is a Lesson

Nat's Cairn in the San Juan River
Nat's Cairn in the San Juan River

I arrived into a whirlwind of preparation, barely getting to chuck my gear into the sacred pop-up before being put to work. Pulling on the only pair of work gloves visible, I remember thinking I would need to be careful to avoid a blister, as the hole at the base of the left thumb was significant. Must be why no one else is wearing them, I thought to myself. A few hours later, I was reluctant to stop and go down to the river. The five women cooling off and chatting by the San Juan were all new to me; I didn’t know what to talk about yet didn’t want to be held back by insecurity, either. It took awhile for my mind to recognize this as probably the only opportunity to rinse off before the official commencement of Ceremony. Could I have anticipated that acting on such thoughts would become profound learning opportunities?

Which comes first: listening or observation?

In terms of my developmental biography, I have needed repetition and convergence. tree (facing west)If explanatory language accompanies direct observation, then I might absorb the lesson at once, otherwise the behavioral evidence shows that I have a systemic weakness at absorbing important information upon first telling. Sometimes, depending on my internal relation to the content of the message, I might miss the point several times. My stunning ability to not notice visual information cropped up at several junctures – weakening the group, sometimes crucially. Ouch. On the second day, five of us got into the yarn: Carolina anchored the 90- and 180-degree weaving sweeps of, respectively, me & Athena and Joanne & Mary. My casual handling of the yarn invited critique.

“Matter is sacred.”

“We’re like that, aren’t we.” Margarita gazed steadily into my eyes once I realized that my zeal to line the gardens around the house with stones from the river had caused me to forget that she was not supposed to labor. It seems I couldn’t balance a focus on things equally with a focus on people. Remembering instructions – all of them always and the specifically relevant ones in particular – remains a high-priority goal for me. Passing on instructions given to one or a few of us to all of the rest of the members of our group seemed even more difficult. We were confronted not only with extending trust equally between Spotted Eagle and Viviana, but also with acting among ourselves on the basis of a similarly presumed and reciprocal trust.

There were thirteen of us and Marlene, plus Gater. The Elders had specific roles: two Teachers, one Firekeeper, and a Singer. Sheila was our Chef. MP performed her customary on-demand interventions in addition to behind-the-scenes support and logistical planning.

Two of the participants – Betty and Mary – were tasked exclusively with tending the fire; the rest of us were supposed to be interchangeable. Athena was drafted to assist with the fire, and Nat got to enhance the chicken coop. Otherwise any and each of us did whatever needed doing. All participants had been instructed to prepare in advance by fasting and considering questions of what we hoped to bring to, and gain from, Ceremony. I had come asking to be honed. Thank you (uncomfortable though it was) for not missing a single chance to plane through my rough spots so that what I seek to give can be more accurately focused. Now I know what it means to receive tough love!

“We have gusts.”

Several storms punctuated Ceremony. One instruction that was difficult for me to absorb came from Nancy. “Don’t look out the windows. Don’t invite the lightening to fall in love with you.” There were several instances when an instruction given to one or a few of us was not passed on, culminating in confusion and sometimes resulting in a public admonishment. At least twice, I found myself discounting a message from a peer, and once I failed to pass on an instruction that had been faithfully passed to me. We improved steadily, but chaos managed to overtake us (briefly) near the end, when nature joined the contest between those of us eager for Ceremony to end and those of us wishing it could continue. Given the alternatives that we had been discussing, I was absolutely relieved when Viviana discovered it was ‘just me’ who had misplaced the special folder.

“We measure time in moments.”

desert flowersIt has taken decades to come to terms with the valence I have of manifesting underlying tensions in a group through things I say or do. My awareness of being immersed in group-level dynamics began to develop by accident and happenstance. Twenty years ago, Spotted Eagle presented me with an embodied lesson of “what fear can do.” The first experiment catapulted me out of a job and onto the road, launching me into investigations where I have probed a range of boundaries. No sphere of social interaction has been off-limits, from interpersonal relationships with family, lovers, and friends to the structural hierarchies between democratic freedom (individual independence of thought and action) and institutionalized authority – my own (such as with students and colleagues) and with/against ‘the system’.

Spotted Eagle’s original lesson to me was about the risk of being incapacitated by the irrational emergence of feeling frightened. Since then, I have used the visceral sensation of unfounded fear (throbbing pulse, weak legs, rising anxiety in the presence of no identifiable threat) as a guide for activism.  Somehow, I decided that this kind of intrapersonal emotional reaction suggests the presence of an alternative timestream to the typical flows engendered by the technologically- and socially-constructed momentum of the last half-millennium.

Over the years, I have learned about my proper place in society and the world from the reactions of others. Just as with the physical and hormonal changes wrought by the monthly reproductive cycle, the ‘good’ (desirable, preferred) and  ‘bad’ (undesired, dispreffered) responses – especially from people I care about – provides crucial information for the process of unifying consciousness (perceptual awareness) with occupying this/my body. For me, such self-knowledge has become foundational to ethical action in our increasingly diverse, interactive, and rapidly-changing societies.

Many of my attempts to work deliberately with the energy of these valences have been failures, some of them excruciatingly so. Nonetheless I learn from each mistake and take hope with each tiny hint of success. My awareness of consequences remains fledgling, although I work diligently to accept responsibility for conscious choices as well as my less- and un-conscious behaviors, most especially those that lead to unintended effects and unwanted outcomes.

“Laugh and free the dolphins!”

The honor of being invited to participate in a Menopause Ceremony in an Indigenous way, smiling stonefollowing rituals taught to a properly-chosen person who was raised and trained traditionally, is a gift that exceeds my capacity to comprehend. The mix of meaningful discipline and unconditional love in the Ceremonial Way gives special rigor to the task of shaping a life worth living. Additional gifts – being knighted, for instance (to Pay Attention! ) – nearly overwhelmed my limited emotional resources. Thank you for showing me some of the junctures I missed, where my selfishness or ego took us through chronotopes less beautiful than other options. The record shows that, at times, I operated in sync with a Puberty Ceremony rather than in celebration of acquired wisdom.

How perfect that you were kind enough to let me know, before sending me back into the world, that I needed to wipe the boogers from my nose!

One thought on “A Letter to My Elders”

  1. Ah Steph,
    Brave of you to try to encapsulate/process with written words…
    May the transformation continue to resonate and blossom in all of our hearts and cells.
    Thank you for all of the lessons.
    Bright Bright Blessings to you, Athena.

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