One of the things I really appreciate about my Sun Dance chief, Sam Fastbuffalohorse, is the way he teaches during the breaks at the Sun Dance. One of the things he said recently had to do with addiction. He said that many Native people use drugs to hide from the trauma of their early lives, and that without those things they would likely have died, being unable to cope with normal life from the standpoint of an unaltered consciousness. The fallout is addiction, he says, and the hellish lifestyle that comes with it. He offers the significant and unique prayer of the Sun Dance as a way of healing the trauma of the past while simultaneously using it as an opportunity to instigate change. Many people in my tiyospaye (tee-OH-spy-ay), or ceremony family, are in recovery. I think that they, to a person, would agree that the Sun Dance has dramatically helped them to get clean and stay that way. It is a critical tool in their collective toolboxes
This got me thinking. What if we are all like that?
Let me explain. What if the guy that cuts you off in traffic and then makes it a point to turn around and give you the finger is addicted to anger to cover up his fear of not being good enough to please an overbearing parent when he was a child? Is that possible? Is it probable? I think it could be. And what if the young woman on the corner was raised to identify her self-worth primarily through her sexuality, and has therefore no choice from her current paradigm but to continually find new ways vis-a-vis new men to remove her doubts about that worth? What if this man and this young woman were never presented tools that really helped them address these underlying beliefs? Are these healthy, soulful ways of addressing issues of fear and self-worth?
Not at all.
But in these cases, their actions are at least partially a matter of not having proper information or tools to experience the truth about themselves. We can talk about personal integrity, personal respect and accountability, but I submit that without the consistent experience of innate worth, particularly early in childhood, these things are nothing more than concepts. The individual is then left to their own devices – usually that of an ego and/or the pain body – to fill the void where self-love might be in an emotionally healthy individual. For those of us who are pained by the actions of others acting out, and for those of us that pain others by our own acting out… compassion is the only way.
A couple years ago a dear friend and trusted advisor of mine was driving her car in a small town in Central Oregon when a burly, tattooed, biker whom she was following motioned for her to back off. He apparently felt she was tailgating him. She honored his request, but to no avail. At the next opportunity, he jumped of his bike and walked towards her, menacingly twirling a long strip of leather that had something heavy at the end of it; the kind of thing that could crack a windshield, or worse. He strode up to her window and said something that was so unusual that it struck her instantly, even though she was quite scared at the time.
He yelled in her face as he twirled his weapon, “Don’t you know how vulnerable we are out there?”
Vulnerable? From a biker?
My friend was able to get out of a bad situation by letting him have his say. But she herself was rather traumatized and was shaking so badly that she had to wait a while before she could drive again, even after he sped off.
Most people I know, the religious and spiritual in particular, believe that we are “embodied spirits”. This means that they believe that our essence, the thing that really makes our bodies animated is not the body itself, but a spirit or consciousness within it. Anyone who has seen the body of a loved one who has passed has had the feeling that “they” are not “in there.” Is it too much to believe that our spirits come here to earth, gain a body as infants and are appalled at what we find here almost immediately even though we are unable to adequately communicate our distress? Have you ever walked into a room and felt that something was not right - that the energy was off kilter, or violent, or ill in some way? Is it too much of a stretch to surmise that we, as infants, are hyper-sensitive to our environments in a spiritual sense? If that is the case (and I believe it is), each infant, comprised mostly of spirit in a brand new body, observes and experiences the world as it truly is, with no or minimal egoic filters. If that’s true, it wouldn’t matter what kind of parents you had. Even perfect parents, and I know none, would be unable to fully protect the infant from traumas and messages that are untrue or unhelpful. We are all, as the biker put it, “vulnerable out there”. Or, more accurately, our very essences are vulnerable here on earth, and particularly within Western culture.
This is not to diminish the particular hell that my Sun Dance siblings have gone through with their birth families. One of them recently told me that his mom completely cold-cocked him – knocked him flat out- in front of his friends when he mouthed off to her as a teenager. He said that even though she was only five feet tall, she routinely got into fistfights with men - and won. This illustrates to me the contrast between my childhood and his. Mine was worlds easier. But did we both come to this earth as sensitive embodied souls? I think so. And is it possible we all find conditions here so untenable that we turn to anything that can save us from the incessant messages of “you are not good enough?” Yes.
The fact is that we are good enough, right here and right now, by virtue of the fact that we are still here on earth, still breathing, still striving. I submit that we are loved, deeply. We have value beyond what we see or can describe with words. But until we feel these truths deeply in our bones, until we are able to get away from our addictions long enough to see underneath them to their causes and address the wounds at their source, we will continue to act out in ways that do not become us. We will continue our addictions because they are our source for dealing with our supposed lack. Whether that addiction is to meth or porn, to cocaine or anger, to alcohol or shopping, to sugar or sex, to “being right” or to war, to sports or work, we will continue to act beneath our innate dignity until we find the tools to help us feel in our hearts who we really are, beyond words.
My call today is for compassion for all. Today, I am a cosmic, karmic Communist regarding this particular virtue. If you have extra, give it to someone who is lacking. If you don’t feel it today, my prayer is that someone rich with it will give compassion to you in the form of a smile, a hug, a listening ear – or information about tools to help you know your innate worth, tools we have largely forgotten. From our seriously messed up world leaders to the biker we tailgate, from our estranged family members to the complaining woman at the cashier in front of us (when we are in a hurry), from the struggling teenager to religious zealot to the wall-street tycoon to our life partners, most of us are addicted in one way or another. And we are doing the best we can with the tools we have.
May we be open to the messages of Spirit that come to us. May we find the tools and strength to step away from our addictions, no matter what they are, to look deep within ourselves and hear the stories from that wounded little boy or girl that was ourselves so long ago, that experienced such difficult things. May we begin to bloom like we were meant to, right here and right now. And may we thereby live the lives we are meant to live, addiction-free and fearless, with love for all of Life blossoming from our very souls as is our nature, a nature we share with God.
Eric Aspen Marley