“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” ~ Chief Seattle
Today I wept for my ancestors. And with my ancestors. Today was the day that a militarized police force was scheduled to arrive at Standing Rock to forcibly remove and arrest all the dissenting remnants of a months long prayer vigil, a powerful stand to honor and protect the Waters, the source of Life. While in my office, I received a notification of a video just live streamed directly from Standing Rock, capturing the situation as it was unfolding in real time. I tuned in, and watched as small numbers of prayerful, undefended people were surrounded by the kind of police force that I would expect to see as a response to some kind of armed riot. Wearing heavy gear and face masks, and carrying automatic weapons, they surrounded the camp with military type vehicles, and rounded people up like cattle. Songs broke through the narration of the video’s creator, including Native chants, and the old gospel favorite, I went down to the river to pray. One woman cried out for her grandmother, trying to find her in order to give her a cane for stability. She was not allowed to help the old woman, and it wasn’t clear to me if she was ever found at all. After periods of waiting and wondering, the narrator takes the viewer to an atrocious scene: a young man seated on the ground, burning sage, fanning with feathers, in prayer. He becomes surrounded by the militant police, who aim their enormous guns at him, and though their voices raise, he remains seated in deep prayer. Shortly after this, the video is terminated.
In sitting with this, I ran through the full spectrum of emotion. Fear that something violent would happen in front of my very eyes, that someone would be injured or killed. Doubt that the world will ever wake up beyond this kind of madness. Fury that somehow we have not yet learned from hundreds of years of mistakes, as white men have done their best to decimate indigenous peoples. Desperation for all that I read about in the daily news, one horrific situation after another, each evoking more and more shock that this could happen in the “land of the free.” Hopelessness, having no idea what I can do to help, sitting here in my chair, thousands of miles away. And deep, deep sorrow for the ignorance of humanity, with our twisted values and closed minds causing ever more trauma and heartbreak, seemingly more mentally ill by the day.
Many years ago in meditation, I began to witness scenes of war, bloodshed, and horrible violence. I would see the individual faces of suffering people in the most dire of situations, feeling everything they felt. Given that I did not watch television or violent movies, I couldn’t understand why this kind of scene filled my awareness when I sat in silence. Sending my inquiry out into the universe, I was finally given an answer. You are a woman who weeps for the world. In that, it all made sense. Many of the most horrific situations in this world are never witnessed. Many of those who suffer are never seen, held, comforted, and loved, and they continue to suffer in invisible silence.
Today, many people in the relatively affluent, post-industrial western world have largely been removed from scenes such as these. Most westerners are able to live in denial, or at least in comfortable complacency, unable or unwilling to open to the atrocities that are very alive in this world. And it’s a luxury that we can do that, for sure. People seem uninterested in knowing the reality of war torn countries such as Syria, with its refugee crisis. People are unwilling to understand the conditions that push people from Latin America to come to the US illegally, or overstay a visa. People are also too deluded to believe that inner city life could be so hard, pushing people into gangs and crime. Or that life in the US as a person with any skin but white could bring a constant stream of discrimination, threats, abuse, and violence. Or that a group of Indigenous Americans could be justified in taking a stand for land that was already stolen from them once by the government over a hundred years ago. In the vast ocean of consciousness from which we are all born, the wounds, traumas, and suffering of every single person affects the whole of humanity. So, with a heart open wide, I have embraced this role, woman who weeps for the world. As this turbulent time has unfolded around us, I now know that I am not alone; many sisters and brothers weep too.
What is true is this: a noble group of Indigenous Americans stood on land that was a part of their legally recognized ancestral nation. They stood alongside other Indigenous and non-Indigenous Americans in humble prayer for months on end, claiming the role of Water Protectors, devoted to the protection of the Earth and all Life. Unarmed, humble, and aligned with simple values, these men and women courageously stood up against the greedy corporate backers of a project that was dated and nearly obsolete before it even began. They came together to pray for the awakening of humans everywhere, that we may eventually remember that poisoning the Earth is poisoning ourselves. They stood on land that had been given to the Lakota as a part of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and even though this land was previously stolen from them, and even though the US Supreme Court eventually acknowledged those injustices with a multi-million dollar settlement, the rights to this land somehow remain contested. It is obvious that the powers-that-be in the US government have historically lacked the integrity to acknowledge and respect the way of life of the Indigenous Americans. In the movement at Standing Rock, the government and police have gone way beyond any kind of decency, attacking the Water Protectors as if they were attacking a terrorist force, or attempting to overtake a hostage situation.
Who are the actual terrorists, though? Google tells me that a terrorist is “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” And who is the hostage? “A person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition.” For a moment, I invite you to imagine with me that instead of Indigenous Americans, we were looking at Christian Americans. And instead of the lands of the Lakota, we were inside a vast church. And imagine that a megalomaniac corporation had determined that their right to pursue their project would require that church and its community to abandon its sacred grounds, questioning that those grounds were ever the church’s property in the first place. And imagine that the government and protective forces of your country showed up to support the corporation in advancing its project, fully dismissing the rights and perspective of the church goers. And imagine that the leaders of the church would take a stand for what is right, defending their sacred grounds without weapons, in song and prayer, and in speaking the truth. And imagine those people being violently attacked by a militant police force that was hell bent on shutting down any protest. Imagine what it must feel like to be told that your values don’t matter, that your way of life is irrelevant, and that you will lose in any attempt to stand up for your rights. Imagine what it must be like to be involved in such an intense and lopsided battle for months on end, and to be forced to leave your sacred land, arrested, and held at machine gun point. Who are the hostages, and who are the terrorists, indeed?
Water is Life. Literally. We are water. We cannot live without water. And as we have polluted and poisoned the waters of this world, unprecedented levels of sickness and disease continue to plague humanity. Somehow, in spite of scientific evidence and basic human intelligence, corporate forces have betrayed the basic needs of every living being on Earth. I find it ever more baffling to understand how we, with our advanced technologies and vast knowledge have come to a point where we know that we are perpetuating truly stupid and destructive choices, and yet we fail to make new choices, ignoring the unfolding reality in front of us. This is the ultimate mental illness, telling us that somehow we are exempt from the laws of nature, and that we are intelligent and powerful enough to escape the results of our own foolish actions. It’s the basic rules of cause and effect. But in human arrogance, the wealthy and powerful believe that they can escape the inevitable result of their choices. Other people will suffer, but not them. And through pharmaceuticals, they can escape illness and disease. And through greater artificial living, including foods and environments, they can escape the destruction of nature. Perhaps another planet would be a better fit anyway, and since they have already taken over every inhabitable distant corner of this world, why not just continue? With technology and endless resources, anything is possible, right?
Arrogance says I’ll take what I want, no one can stop me. Arrogance says your needs don’t matter as long as my needs are met. Arrogance says nature is simply a resource to fuel the wants of a greedy humanity. Arrogance says stand aside, this is necessary in the name of progress, which must be supported at all costs. Arrogance says your culture, traditions, and values are irrelevant in the world we are creating. Arrogance looks in the face of reality and denies what it sees, creating fantasies and lies, and making an enemy of anyone who would stand tall and point out the truth.
I sat in meditation for a long time this afternoon, hoping to gain some insight into what has happened at Standing Rock. Past the sorrow, I came into a force of anger, seeing threads of white Christian conquest in these actions. I cannot think of even one Indigenous nation that has not been invaded and damaged by the forces of white Christian men, or their descendants. Through a shameful series of Papal Bulls, the Catholic Church historically authorized an unbelievable stream of discrimination, forcing the doctrine of the church upon any and every person with which its members crossed paths. Many of these declarations condemned those judged guilty of heresy, which is defined as a “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.” There are Papal Bulls against Jews, Pagans, “heathens,” witches, Mongols, and Muslims. One particularly gruesome declaration “prohibited Crusaders from dismembering and boiling of the bodies so that the bones, separated from the flesh, may be carried for burial in their own countries.” Another authorized a Portuguese king “to reduce any Muslims, pagans and other unbelievers to perpetual slavery.” With an ideological base such as this, it is not difficult to see how the current state of affairs has come about. And yet, how far this is from the original teachings of the supposed incarnation of God? From a doctrine that also states, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
And so, the final insight I received: humility. Those who are leading the US right now stand with arrogance, determined to do whatever is needed to create the America that best fits their own personal priorities, especially in the name of wealth and power. But in humility, we return to our authentic humanness. We come to understand that humans are all equal, and all have the rights to live as they see fit, so long as it doesn’t harm others. With a humble heart, we learn to listen with openness instead of dominating the conversation with our own ideas and agenda. With a humble heart, we come to understand the needs, values, and lives of others with love and respect. Indeed, Christian doctrine encourages humility: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) And with a humble heart, we accept our limitations and flaws with the willingness to learn, to grow, and to forgive ourselves and others in walking through the challenges of life. It is only with a humble heart that humans will ever find true, abiding peace. Gratitude to our Indigenous American brothers and sisters at Standing Rock for being such a stellar example of humility in action.
I leave you with a Cherokee proverb that is one of my favorites, asking each of us to look within and come to know ourselves fully. Only from there can we choose to walk the high road, and serve as much needed leaders for these times of upheaval and potential transformation.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson
about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between
two “wolves” inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute
and then asked his grandfather:
“Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one you feed.”
To watch the video by Christopher Francisco that inspired this writing, please click HERE!
Photos from Standing Rock were taken from Christopher Francisco’s video.
For an overview of the incident in the video, please click HERE!