By Helene Szabados
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” – Chief Crowfoot
Peaceful World Foundation’s humble breakfast conversations have been getting more attention around the Tides’ nonprofit sector. This past Thursday we were delighted to see some members of different organizations taking advantage of the invitations we sent out through the Tides’ email list. We also had special guests from two different organizations that Peaceful World funded in 2016. Marcela Sabin, Executive Director at Circle of Ancestors; a nonprofit that reconnects people to ancestral traditions. Both the President/CEO Melissa Nelson and Vice-President Nicola Wagenberg from Cultural Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring indigenous cultures were also present.
Our topic of conversation was embracing the question, “How can we incorporate indigenous practices of mindfulness to increase inner peace and well being in our modern lives?”
Melissa started, “…by connecting to more than just the human world; being conscience of animals, plants, wind, water and all the aspects of the natural world.” Dave, a board member of Peaceful World, remarked on an icebreaker that was used in the Peaceful World Conversations when they were originally hosted by Sami herself. “What do you see when you look outside a window in your home?” explaining that the purpose of the icebreaking question was to get people reflecting on the wildlife in their home communities.
Lily, a participant from the Tides’ community, described a trip to Uganda where she noticed that although the people of Uganda lived a life of poverty in the slums, they were still some of the happiest people she had ever met. Melissa talked about a youth program that Cultural Conservancy offers where they bring a group of young adults to the Indian Canyon to reconnect with the earth. Her observations were that the youth were so attached to their cellular devices that they became worried and anxious when the phone reception was cut off. After a few moments, however, the young adults were easily reconnected with mother earth because they are wanting this connection, we all are.
Melissa also spoke on the importance of having gratitude for the things that give you life, such as the sun, family, community, etc. Kenan, another member of the Tides’ community, explained his perspective of life in the states. He said that it can be difficult for people in the states to have gratitude because they are stuck in their heads. The fight or flight mentality does not allow a place to be present. Nicola brought up a story of her commute. With the heavy traffic making her frustrated and uncomfortable, Nicola noticed a speckled hawk sitting on a street light. Her frustration was released when she appreciated the hawk’s beauty.
Marcela related with her experience in the same traffic that morning. “Stay with your practices and ceremonies”, she said. Marcela works in a mental health clinic. “When I am feeling stress I go anywhere there is earth and I put my feet on the dirt and talk to mother earth; praying to keep myself connected. How do we keep the prayer alive for those who cannot pray yet?” She went on to say “We are all vibrations. We must learn to be in a relationship with earth and her vibrations.” She described a practice which involves the use of plants, explaining that some plants have very strong vibrations like rosemary, basil or California marigold. She uses these plants to sweep off vibrations and then steeps them to start a bath for cleansing.
Charles, a member of the Tides’ community, said that prayer wasn’t very present in his upbringing because his family wasn’t very religious. He does, however, practice a certain mindful eating technique where he chews the first bite of a meal 20 or so times to really get a full appreciation of the food. Brandon, a member of Pachamama, described a mindful technique he practices with pictures that he learned through a workshop at Pachamama. Using a picture of someone you admire, you write the characteristics you value of that person on the back of the photo and pray to those people to give you strength in those characteristics. “Everyone has indigenous roots, even if we don’t know or don’t remember it is in our blood”, Marcela said.
Heidi posed the question, “Where do I begin that relationship with the things around me?” She depicted an experience watching her son grow up in a village of Madang Province. Her two year old son was squatting down watching ants crawl on the ground. When she asked him what he was doing he responded, “Mom, I need to give these ants my attention. They need my attention right now.” Heidi added that everything is alive, growing and it requires a silent attention in which we offer love and appreciation to our natural world.
Marcela related an experience she had when she asked an elder how to go back to the heart. The elder told her that if she wants to return to the heart she must spend a day playing with a two year old. Following instructions she tried her best to keep up with the energetic curiosity of a two year old. Although she found herself worn out after the experience, she came to understand the lesson.
Dave wrapped the conversation up with one last question. He stated it must be difficult to maintain practices in an urban environment versus a rural environment for indigenous people. “What do indigenous people do to maintain their practices in an urban environment?” he asked Melissa. She responded, “One needs to be careful not to make such distinctions because there a so many urban natives and the number of indigenous people in the urban areas are growing.” She gave the example of Tibetan people who are exiled and are unable to return to Tibet, “…but through their practices, their songs and the knowledge of their landscapes they are transported back to their land through spirit.”
One needs to remember that everything we need is already provided to us by the earth. Our practices, whatever they may be and however frequent we may practice them, is how we give back to the universe and show gratitude for what the earth offers.
“May the sun bring you new energy
May the moon softly restore you by night
May the rain wash away your worries
May the breeze blow new strength into your being
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty, all the days of your life”