Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Cleansing of America


When the Great Spirit created us,

he also gave us instructions or laws to live by.
We promised to live by his laws so that we would remain peaceful,
using them as a guideline for living happily upon that land
where he created and placed us.
But from the beginning he warned us that
we must not be tempted by certain things
by which we might lose this perfect way of life.
- Dan Katchongva, Hopi Sun Clan -


Americans and their land are undergoing a deep and involuntary self-cleansing. Such is the way of rebalancing in any ailing natural system. Human societies and their environs are equally natural systems and thus subject to the laws of life, which are heeded still by Native peoples worldwide.

Hopi Indian traditionalists have long predicted an inexorable macro-shift into a restorative period of natural cleansing. They base their conclusions on the recurrent cycles of human history and upon natural signs – omens – to the advent of what Hopi teachings call the Purification.

Indicators from their oral histories suggest that this deep healing of land and people will occur in our current era. Our breakdown in social cohesion, lack of empathetic awareness and despoilation of the environment have been expected by them as prophecy, part of the process of imminent “emergence” into an new and fresh Fifth World.

While this prognosis might seem to be a welcome idea, Hopi knowledge holders do not take it lightly. It is understood to be a powerful kind of purification based on the disintegration of the current way of life and its perspective on the world. For the Hopi, attaining the fresh Fifth World likely means undergoing a painful and mandatory cleansing of the present fourth way of existence.*

This process is well known to the original peoples of this hemisphere, including the Hopi and their neighbors the Navajo. They preserve in their respective histories essential lessons from their pasts, telling of the cycles and trials of previous worlds and how to be responsibly engaged in the dance of equilibrium among land, life and humanity.

They know implicitly from the histories that humans are not above this world. The treasured narratives handed down by their ancestors describe a beholding of reality that is essential to their very survival. No wonder that these form the fundamental template, still, of how to interact with one another and in the world.

Living as I do among the congenial and eminently practical Navajo people, I sometimes think about the dramatic narratives from their origination teachings, the Diné Bahané. These meaning-filled Navajo reality lessons begin in the oldest days of world creation and pass into recent eras. And, they continue onward into implied future human conditions.

They tell of periods of happiness and calm, and of times which sorely tried people’s lives. In these oral narratives there is beauty and balance, and there is death and suffering. But a vital subtext is present through them all. It speaks of how to maintain the cherished goal of life and thought, the state of equipoise without and within, which the Navajo call Beauty or Hozho.

For the Navajo, Beauty is a wonderful ideal requiring lifelong attention in maintaining it. But it is not an easy path to tread. The Navajo poet Nia Francisco once remarked that “life is a whirling with many unexpected events.” The sources and forces of disintegration in life are frighteningly real. But we can ameliorate them through our outlook and intent.

The respected Navajo medicineman, Old Man Buffalo Grass, told anthropologist Aileen O’Brien in 1928: “you look at me, and you see only an ugly old man, but within I am filled with great beauty.” This statement sums up the purpose and responsibility of Navajo life: to attain a contented old age, constantly imbued with the blessings of Beauty. But the goal requires strength of motivation to attain it. As such, Navajos are often heard to remark on the conduct of life, that “it’s up to you.”

Native American, Asian and Oceanic lifeway traditions generally aspire to synchrony with the way of the universe, leading to harmony within while not trying to control it without. Since it’s not easy to attain equipoise amid life’s many challenges, getting there requires systematic help through a conscious practice in living.

In these cultures, there are numerous “ways” through which one can participate in the practice of beautiful living. Navajo call theirs the Beauty Way. Through this process comes a daily cleansing and blessing of bodymind, then the refinement and resumption of one’s personal presence and relationship with the world.

American society is today collectively asleep to such age-old processes. We surge blindly ahead into an uncertain future, not wishing to see reality for what it is, no less in making it beautiful. But we have reached a point now where our way of life has finally become too toxic to collectively bear and deny. A national healing crisis is upon us and it is taking numerous forms, including economic woes, epidemic disease, antisocial behavior, personal dementia and the absence of an integrating and healthful communal vision.

It is time to accept that we are now in a collective (and individual) state of “dis-ease.” But disease can be healed. The remedy begins with reintegrating ourselves, re-membering whom we are by reflecting on the “whys,” as well as the “whats and the hows” of daily living.

The cleansing of America will take great effort and much good will. We will need to let go of the dark mental baggage of the seven deadly sins, and especially of the “I and thou, good and evil” cast of mind, which has “biblically” plagued us for so long. In seeking the beauty of balance in the world, we must come to realize in our very bones that our suffering – and that of others - is no longer an adequate state of affairs and that we must resolve to free ourselves of it.

Up to now, a great spell of sleepwalking has kept Americans away from a healthy quality of life and genuine peace of mind. It is time to make the communal leap from the darkened building into the greening light of heart, mind and conduct of life.

An Organic Renaissance awaits us amid this sorry state of being. It will sprout and flower once a critical mass of humanity resolves to make the journey into the fresh, Fifth World that beckons from the horizon.


The next move is ours:
the gates of the technocratic prison
will open automatically,
despite their rusty hinges,
as soon as we choose to walk out.
-Lewis Mumford-


…Therefore they think well of it,
they respect it very much.
And they love it very much,
since it directs their lives and enables them to live.
In this manner they tell about it.
…Therefore I believe it and it is sacred to me,
because through it things which happened far back in time became known.
-Frank Mitchell, Navajo medicineman -


*That the astrospiritual accounts of the classic Maya indicate the coming macro-shift occuring around the winter solstice of 2012, makes it all the more imperative to listen to what the Hopi have to say in this regard. Indeed, at least one Hopi clan reckons its origin to an ancient Mexican site called Red House. An aged Hopi priest told me in 1983, that they believe it to be Palenque, the great Mayan city in Chiapas, Mexico.

2 comments:

Gambolin' Man said...

Peter,

Wonderful essay and keen insights into our peculiar plight of the third millennium. We in deep doo-doo!

This is the time of QOYANISSQATSII.
Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya tells us, “if man keeps himself in balance, the earth will keep itself in balance.” But we've long since tipped those scales!

Whereas Western peoples tend to view the Gotterdammerung of civilization with horror — as they do with individual death — the keepers of the prophecies and those who revere the traditions herald the coming of earth changes as a great purification of the planet, as you point out. A time to start all over. Old, corrupt worlds destroyed, a new cycle of civilization beginning. It won’t be the first time. Some have foreseen this before, perhaps having sensed similar disasters already occurred millennia before their own lifetimes. Seneca, a contemporary of Pliny and mentor of Nero, wrote, “a single day will see the burial of all mankind. All that the long forbearance has produced, all that is famous and all that is beautiful, great thrones, great nations, all will descend into one abyss, will be overthrown in one hour.” Netzahualcoyotl (“Hungry Coyote”, the poet-king of Texcoco in ancient Mexico) proclaimed, “all the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it. . .filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of men.”

Out of the rubble a few human survivors will emerge, trying to pick up the pieces, and learn from past mistakes. Over millennia, the reality that was our contemporary global civilization will become “creation myth” or “religious allegory” as new generations regroup, repopulate and rebuild. The Fifth World will be our next chance to walk again in spiritual balance with the earth, our last chance to hopefully be a part of, not a part from, all Gaia-inspired life.

Delia said...

Dear Peter,

Thank you for the thoughtful essay.


Since I feel like the homely old man who inside was filled with beauty, and know many people configured in this way, (et tu) I can't take a woeful view. Instead I feel joyful; now at last we can look forward to a path worth walking.

Of course change was demanded for some time. You knew it, I knew it, who didn't? but as a society it was denied. Now individually or collectively, we don't really have a choice. Can we make the crossing? I think maybe we can squeak on over.

My poor old feet are already shuffling forward!

much love to you,
Delia.