I often work with individuals and families who identify as both Native and European, what some call “Metis”. These folks find themselves walking a path that is neither traditional nor assimilated, and wondering why they feel confused and uprooted. Maybe they grew up in Evangelical churches where good, loving people, including preachers, worried about a wrathful god and Hell. Perhaps they put Traditional Native beliefs away out of fear for their souls, or simply to make life easier. Often returning to traditional ways of healing is helpful to them.
When we work with people in a Traditional manner we pray, asking the spirits, Ancestors, and Creator to take pity on us little people. Sometimes folks misunderstand that, thinking we are demeaning ourselves. The truth is we humans are small beings in a very large universe. We need help finding our way, and especially in healing. It is good to be humble, especially when approaching the spirits and Ancestors who like us to come to them with humility. This can be a difficult lesson in a mass culture that encourages hubris and places self-importance over concern for all beings.
When engaged in Traditional healing we often stand before the altar/mesa with a patient and introduce her/him to the spirits, Ancestors, and Creator. The spirit beings are already very aware of the person with whom we are working. We are standing there to ask their attention, blessing, and healing. We are humbling ourselves so as to allow a connection, perhaps even a conversation with the spirit beings. When we stand before the mesa we are acknowledging our relationship with those who have gone before, those who will come after, and with the Creator. We are putting aside separation and standing in connection.
Humility and connection are challenges in our mass culture. It is hard for us to acknowledge the web of relatedness in which we live, and the impacts of our actions on others in that web. We are even more unlikely to claim our ignorance and powerlessness in the face of the difficulties in our lives. I know this well. As a Polio survivor I grew up endlessly struggling to make a space for myself in the world. My family, school teachers, and mentors always said I must constantly strive to make my way, never asking for aid, or be doomed to invisibility, powerlessness, and loneliness. These messages are nearly constant companions even now, and make the crucial task of finding humility very difficult, indeed. I have discovered these messages are not all that different from the beliefs of the dominant culture, ideas that profoundly influence all our lives.
It is good to have compassion for ourselves, and our struggle to be humble. Standing before the mesa we are humbling ourselves, acknowledging the limitations of our perspective, our inability to heal things as they stand, and our trust in the spirit beings who work with us on behalf of the Creator. Perhaps we will remember that were we able to heal our selves and loved ones through our own efforts, we would already have done so. Standing there, perhaps we will glimpse the wholeness behind the confusion of our lives. Maybe we will suddenly understand that everything is just as it should be, and paradoxically, allow ourselves to return to balance.
When we stand in the presence of the spirit beings we acknowledge we are all connected, separation is an illusion, and our suffering is the suffering of all beings. In doing so we open doors to healing and joy.