The Stories that Guide Us

Winter_RiverI awoke from a night filled with dreams to a day of broken overcast and seasonal chill. The late January light is much diminished by cloud and the wane sun throws no shadows.

There are narratives among Native people that we are living in the fifth or sixth iteration of the world. Not unlike the Bible story of Noah and the great flood, these ancient stories tell us that the people repeatedly made a mess of things, leading to the destruction of the world. Each time, the survivors must go in search of a new, inhabitable world, long, difficult journeys that often take place in the dark. Eventually they emerge into a new world.

Last week I read that some paleoecologists have speculated that we primates may not have been the first “higher life forms” to evolve on our small blue-green world. Some believe they have found evidence there were earlier times when the planet’s atmosphere contained the right mixture of gasses, including oxygen, to support the rapid evolution of life. Of course, proving that hypothesis would be very difficult indeed, give the inevitable destruction of the evidence caused by the continuous cycles of destruction that occur in the Earth’s crust.

Here in the U.S., policy is increasingly generated by people who believe the Earth was created 5,000 years ago, that the Creator wants us to use all of the available resources to accrue wealth, and that the destruction of the Earth’s living systems will hasten the return of the Creator. This narrative conflicts with the scientific consensus, which puts the Earth’s age at about 4,500,000,000 years, and that during the last couple of billion years most life on Earth has been destroyed at least five times. I don’t think our Native stories say just how old the Earth is, just that She is old and we have suffered the consequences of mistreating her many times.

I was raised in an Appalachian style Evangelical church. I remember the pastor preaching that the Bible said the Earth was 5,000 years old, but the pastor was proud of his first generation college education and I doubt he actually believed the Earth was that young. Rather, I think he understood the  story to be a teaching story filled with metaphor, as did my Native identified father. My settler identified mother, on the other hand, most likely did take the narrative as literal truth. My dad was largely silent about his beliefs but my mother was an enraged follower of the literal.

It is easy to forget that the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, about the nature of life, the world, and the universe form the basis for our decisions; policy arises from story! We must be thoughtful about the stories we tell, and those we choose as the basis for our actions.

Yesterday an elder called, wanting to talk about the stories being told by the current government. She was concerned about the fate of the world, and that of Native people here in the U.S.. She’s getting older and feels increasingly vulnerable. “They’re coming after us Natives,” she said, then asked, “What are we going to do?” Given I have no idea what we are going to do, I simply listened and agreed things might well get really bad. Then I reminded her that Jennie and I will do our best to aid and protect her.

I’m getting older, too. I’ll be seventy come the fall, and the new administration’s war on the aging deeply concerns me. I try to notice that they seem to hate everything I care about, especially the vulnerable: Natives, immigrants and refugees, ecosystems, women, children, two-spirited people, the arts, and elders. They seem Hell bent on bringing on the end of the world as we know it. I suspect the Earth, the Grandmothers, and the Creator are not going to be happy with this. I also imagine many of us may face much heartbreak.

My elder friend also wanted to talk about dying, saying she was thinking a lot about death these days. I suggested that was something all us aging ones think about. She said there was a lot left for her to do and not much time. I suggested the tasks that really need to be done take many hands. She said she does not like the stories that are guiding the decisions the government is making. I agreed.

I’m not certain what happens after death, but experience teaches me that awareness continues. I imagine our consciousness journeys to other worlds. Maybe we meet with the Grandmothers who ask us to justify our actions when alive; I rather hope so. Maybe we then go on to new adventures and learning. This is a story I find useful in that it encourages me to do my best while I am here, to be try to be kind to all beings, given we are all journeying together. It also holds me responsible for my actions, and for creating a good place for future generations. Finally, it puts hardship and fear into some perspective.

Oddly, all the stories the elders told me after I became an adult share two themes. They suggest that our time in the womb and our journey through the birth canal are reflective of larger processes at play in the universe, and that since we shall, individually and collectively, repeat such travels many times, it is best to be thoughtful and compassionate. It used to be that the women would choose chiefs based on those attributes. Maybe it is time to begin to do so again.






9 thoughts on “The Stories that Guide Us

  1. Even though you shine a light on how scary things are moving, I felt an incredible peaceful energy from your words and it makes me remember and believe that the things we focus our energy on become stronger. I really think, Michael, that this may be the only way to traverse these times. Thank you.

    1. Lorrie, I hope that we can make a difference. Although I also feel rage, this seems the time for building hope and a the possibility for a better future. Ideas of the end time are so dangerous. Desperation must follow the loss of hope and possibility, and that is truly frightening.

      1. I know, Michael! I find myself falling into that negative energy and having thoughts that are not in my heart!! That is why it is frightening…because I would never think I was capable…and then I know that energy can be overwhelming…and it can be piwerful! So we have to make sure we stay in the energy we want to see. Thank you…I can feel your truth!

      2. Lorrie, we humans can get nasty when we are scared, and the world is frightening right now. This practice of being careful of what we say and do is a good one. Much work!

      3. Thank you, Michael. I find myself standing on a wire at times and it wouldn’t take much to tip. The old me was reactive and quick with my tongue. But that is not who I Am….but some habits die hard!!
        Blessings to you ♡

  2. This reminds me to look at the story my life and my actions tell my children, and maybe one day their children. Will it be a bedtime story that helps them to take the journey into sleep peacefully? I hope so…

    1. I’m wondering where and when our stories will be shared by those who come after us. Maybe they will be told around the fire in the heart of winter. Maybe at bedtime. Maybe when evil arises yet again.

  3. Very deep and thoughtful post, Michael 🙂
    I do also hope, that our united positive and loving energy will be, what is needed to change the world situation, as it is looking now.
    We can only do our best to send out and act positively and with love in our soul.
    I do understand, that some souls become nervous for the outcome here, but we need to continue minding in the right for both Mother Earth and all the souls, as are living here.

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