Peace within oneself and all of creation – an indigenous perspective

Although this lakota word, WOLOKOLKICIAPI, might be defined by the title of this chapter, the translation is insufficient to capture what it truly means to the people whose language stems from the landscape of their ancestors. Nonetheless, it serves here as a guide for understanding the idea of inner peacefulness. It helps teach us about what conditions can bring us to it and then how to breathe it into all our relations. It offers a teaching for realising a way of being in the world that guided human beings for most of our history on this planet, in spite of what history books have taught us. The energy in the vibrations of this term might lead us into our own versions of the lifeways of our Indigenous ancestors and of those who have, against all odds, managed to hold on to them.

An indigenous understanding Of Peace

Various Indigenous cosmologies express what it means to be human. They vary from culture to culture, but they are generally based on the belief that there is a spiritual force in the universe that permeates all that exists. Each person’s mission, then, is to live in harmony with how this force expresses itself in the visible and invisible energies that dwell in a particular place. The ability to focus on and learn from the relationships in one’s own environ- ment in order to live in balance is what being Indigenous is all about. This ability then can be expanded throughout the universe as wolocolkiciapi.

Building on the wisdom of people who lived in an area prior to colonisation, Indigenous people today – that is, those with authentic ties or identifications with this ‘original’ understanding – struggle to hold on to this wisdom. Although colonisation and the dominant worldview that separates humans from the natural world have undermined this understanding for thousands of years, more and more people are now starting to recognise it, and want to learn about it and protect it.

However, walking a path of harmony is not an easy a task. It is especially difficult for humans compared to other life forms. I am not sure why this is, but I think it has to do with how easily we can use our most powerful abilities for surviving and thriving to destroy ourselves. For example, our unique talent for imagining can too easily be used to deceive ourselves.

From this, we have lost our sense of interconnectedness with all and have created a hierarchy over Nature that is unnatural in many ways. In 2010, in a peer-reviewed article co-authored by my daughter and grandson, I described how we can rediscover how plants and animals can help us prevent such misguided behaviours.54

This is why, for Indigenous peoples, non-human lifeforms are considered to be our teachers. Walking a path to learn this way requires a courage (wohetike) and respectfulness that gives significance to the self and to all that is other than oneself (wowayuonihan). Nonetheless, living in harmony with all our relations, both human and non-human, has been a powerful goal of all primal cultures. It is sustained by observations of the comple- mentarity, symbiosis and interconnectivity present in natural systems. The Lakota refer to this journey towards harmony as walking along ‘the red road’ or chanku luta. The way of being in the world that results from chanku luta is wolokolkiciapi – peace within oneself and with all of creation.

Such an effort to live life this way was practised under the worldview that guided humanity for 99% of our time on this planet. In spite of schooling, academic books, media and folklore’s attempts to suggest otherwise, this worldview and its diverse cosmological representations did lead to peaceful relationships.55 As this book sets out to question such hegemony and to show that a negative conception of ourselves is itself a barrier to peace, it is thus important to counter the messages that teach us that humans are intrinsically warlike, and, indeed, there are significant studies that prove otherwise. Unfortunately, such scholarship rarely makes it into mainstream publications because of the established hegemony.56 Indeed, Dennen writes in Origins of War:

I shall argue that the claim of universal human belligerence is grossly exaggerated; and that those students who have been developing theories of war, proceeding from the premise that peace is the ‘normal’ situation, have not been erring nincompoops or starry-eyed utopians; and that peace – the continuation of potentially conflictious interactions between discernible groups of human beings with other means – in primitive peoples is just as much a deliberate and conscious and rational political strategy, based on cost/ benefit considerations and ethical judgments, as is war. 57

This normalcy of peacefulness in human groups and communities is like- wise recognised by other scholars. For instance, Leavitt’s classic study58 is one of many that show war was absent or rare in 73% of hunter-gatherer societies. Equally, in 1915, Hobhouse, Wheeler, and Ginsberg concluded their extensive study of 650 ‘primitive’ peoples, saying:

The question has been raised whether the traditional view of early society as one of constant warfare is really justified by the facts. There is, in fact, no doubt that to speak of a state of war as normal is in general a gross exaggeration.59

Then, in 1956, Hobhouse supported this finding in the British Journal of Sociology.60 On the University of Alabama’s prestigious Department of Anthropology website is a list of the 25 most peaceful societies today for whom scholarly studies show the consistent ability to effectively foster interpersonal harmony and which rarely permit violence or warfare in their lives. All but one, the Amish, are surviving Indigenous cultures. Most have a significantly deep relationship with their natural environment. It is not a coincidence that 80% of the biodiversity on Earth is on the 20% of landmass still occupied by Indigenous peoples.

When people say that such societies are peaceful because they are primitive, I reply that it is to the contrary. I say it is more likely that they are primitive because they are peaceful. War is adaptive to an anthropocentric, material- istic worldview, one focused on hierarchy and profit that began when we started waging war against Nature. The impact of war is not only tragic as it relates to the loss of human life, but also because of destruction to the environment. When Nature, and harmony with it, are appreciated and prioritised, people tend to make lifestyle choices that are less negatively impactful to their environments.61 To make peace with ourselves then is to make peace with all of Nature, recognising that we are part of it. From the Indigenous perspective, this begins with establishing a relationship with the energies surrounding the particular environment one finds oneself occupying. It works because such a relationship reveals that Nature is a representation of harmony. We can do this today, even without the benefit of the wisdom of the ages in places where Indigenous peoples no longer dwell.

Of course, many people do not see Nature in the way I am describing. Many see it as a representation of violence, an idea often considered to be the opposite of peace. However, from the Indigenous perspective, peacefulness is not mere tranquillity, or an absence of forceful action. ‘Violence’, depending how one defines it, can be complementary to peace. For example, consider the violence of a storm. It works in harmony with the quiet before it and the refreshing calm after it. Its intentions are ultimately about flowing balance and healthfulness. If we use the more common definition where violence is intentional hurtfulness (as in war or domestic violence), anger, or a villainous motivation comes before and suffering follows. The idea of wolokolkiciapi allows for Nature’s violence or fierceness, which is never malicious, jealous, angry or fearful. It is accepting of the intense forces of Nature and under- stands its part in purifying, healing and offering mutual aid in the long run. It is about a continual giving of significance and relatedness to all. It sees humour, love, and beauty in the natural struggle for survival.

Thus, peace is not perfection. Nor is it individualistic. It is ultimately about the whole. It sees the Earth as a microcosm of the universe. It sees the human body as a microcosm of the Earth. Perhaps contempla- tive practices and spiritual traditions like yoga or tai chi may have emerged when Indigenous worldviews became overshadowed and God seemed to move indoors. Wise elders might have realised it was more difficult to achieve peacefulness (wolokolkiciapi) in the cities that had replaced more natural environments, but they knew that a focus on harmonising the body/mind/spirit might lead to the more holistic orien- tation of a life in balance.

Seeing the human body as a metaphor for place is still a powerful way to rekindle the gentle flames and cool water that are the strength of wolokol- kiciapi. Of course, seeing the human body as a metaphor for place has long been a part of Indigenous spiritual understandings, even when immersed in the natural world. Greg Cajete, a noted Tewa author and director of Native Studies at the University of New Mexico, writes in his classic text, the Natural Laws of Independence that, “Native cultures talk, pray and chant the landscape into their being” when living in “the place Indian people talk about.”62 He explains that the psychology and spirituality that inspired the ability to harmonise with all relationships was:

Thoroughly ‘in-formed’ by the depth and power of their participation mystique with the Earth as a living soul. It was from this orientation that Indian people developed ‘responsibilities’ to the land and all living things […] Spirit and matter were not separate; they were one and the same.63

This may be why, in spite of what revisionist history tells us, pre-contact Indigenous peoples treated their own bodies with such reverence and were noted for their fitness, hygiene and holistic wellness.

Practices such as those in various yogic traditions allow one to work towards a mystical participation with the Earth by working on one’s body/mind/ spirit, which is a mirror of it, even within doors and apart from the outside world. Cajete writes that:

Since yoga is a form of energetic and spiritual exercise like tai chi […] I would say yes, it develops empathy with your body and the world at the same time […] this would be especially true if it is done in the natural world and on the ground […]. This is why native ceremonies are done outside or in a structure like a hogan or kiva connected to the earth and made of the earth.64

Thus, with the intentionality that connects personal body/mind/spirit work with the ‘Oneness of All’ and the deep respect for the gift of life on Earth, we can re-envision our appropriate responsibilities to the land, even when we are not necessarily where we can interrelate with the living soul in Nature, such as near trees or rivers – although, even in big cities, one can usually find other-than or more-than human entities with which to interact. Imagine that each of us starts with our own commitment to the harmony of our body/mind/spirit, and then we connect this to our local place and the community that occupies it, and realise the interconnectedness with all! This may well be a stimulus for transformation.

However, this has not proven to be enough if the state of our world today is taken as evidence. I wish, therefore, to offer two specific ways the Indigenous perspective might help with this process, beyond the vital need to start with one’s own body/mind/spirit self. These are: (1) Seeking complementarity, and (2) Trance-based learning with self-hypnotic techniques.

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