Indigenous Wisdom Keepers Share Their Philosophies
Manari Ushigua (Sápara)
Before there was day, before there was night, the world was one; the world was spirit.
Today the world has become two. There is the material side, made up of things, objects, and bodies; and there is the spiritual side, made up of selves, souls, persons, and the dense webs of communicative connections that sustain them.
The tropical rainforest of the Ecuadorian Amazon is home to the greatest concentration of spiritual life on our planet. The rainforest is one vast ecology of persons; it is teeming with a multitude of souls. From the smallest ant to the tallest tree, the forest is a great interrelating network of communicating selves. Some of these selves are readily visible to the naked eye, others, like the protectors of the animals, are equally real but more easily seen in dreams and visions. Those of us who are attuned to them are able to understand them, to feel their pain, and to transmit their messages. These beings are part of a greater, cosmic society of which we, the Sápara, are the spokespersons.
Encountering the spirit world personally, through dreams, through walks in the forest, and through an intimate connection with the animals and especially plants of our forest, can help shake off the habituated sense of self that stifles the soul when one gets too caught up in the trappings of the material world. As the forest opens itself to heal you, you come to recognize your role in healing it. You come to appreciate the ways in which the relationship we need to have with the forest is reciprocal; our health depends on the good health of the spirit ecology that we are struggling to protect.
Woman Stands Shining/Pat McCabe (Lakota, Navajo/Diné)
My grandparents were Diné and Lakota. They were taken to boarding schools where they were severely punished if they practiced their culture in any way, shape or form. So they launched me out into the world with a very different perspective. Like many people, what became the emphasis of my life was to be well-educated, to have a career, and success was defined by financial situation. One summer I decided to go to the place and people where I grew up. People weren’t so concerned with status, or education, or any of those things. What really mattered was how you were relating to each other and your knowledge of the natural world around you. It was a whole different system of thought, and something started to change inside of me.
It used to be that you’d go to college and you’d be set. Well, that has broken down. These systems may have started out with some kind of true idea of helping, but almost all of them now have turned to profit-making as their primary goal. Eventually these systems are going to fall. They can’t keep growing the way that they’re growing and so many of them are on the brink of that already. We can wait for that fall or we can be proactive.
Being proactive will bring us back into a relationship—an actual relationship—with the land. It is an invitation to come back into a deeper connection with our original design for a thriving life. It is an opportunity to have a real, live, profound relationship with Mother Earth. It’s an incredibly mysterious, magical, and interconnected world, but you have to have the eyes to see it. Once you have a glimpse of that, nothing will ever be the same for you.
John Perkins (multiple traditions)
We are related to everything, and everything is related to us. We are all interdependent upon each other as family. The Native Americans think of the Earth as their mother, the beasts of the plains as their brothers, and the winds and rains as their sisters. They are not foreign or unrelated objects but family members who take care of us and must in turn be cared for by us.
We are intrinsically connected to the stones, the planets, the Earth, and the stars. The Earth itself and the rocks and plants on it support us, just as our human mother and father, siblings, and friends do. They feed us, protect us, and nourish us, and in turn we either shelter and nurture them or destroy them. If we chose to destroy them, then we find ourselves depleted and harmed. Our responsibility to protect this planet that is our home is a deep and sacred one. The ancient indigenous people have warned us about the consequences of ignoring our relationship with the Earth, and we are beginning to truly see that prophecy come true.
We live in the most revolutionary time in history. It is a revolution in consciousness, a time for us to wake up to our true potential as human beings, and free ourselves from dysfunctional patterns that are destroying our planet. In the past we experienced individual geographic
crises—hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, civil wars. Today, the global crises challenge all of us together. It’s a time of changing consciousness and a time when we are called on to take appropriate actions to make it a sustainable, just, peaceful, spiritually fulfilling world that’s thriving for all living creatures.
Join the Conversation
On November 3 in San Francisco, these three wisdom keepers, Manari Ushigua, Woman Stands Shining/Pat McCabe and John Perkins, will engage us in a collective conversation into how humanity can move into a healthy, peaceful way of living in right relation with all living beings.