Monday, February 6, 2012

Medicine Story's Berlin Meditation

"I think we are here to be helpful. We do need to help life in general, the environment to sustain life, but the biggest job seems to be helping each other. We are here to help each other. That’s it, as far as I can tell. That’s what it is all about, plain and simple. All of morality, religion, justice, law, education, arts and sciences, what’s behind everything human beings do, our most basic instruction, is helping each other."

Saturday our friend Manitonquat (Medicine Story) sent us this reflection that we’d like to share. Manitonquat, a former Farm resident and sometimes Christiania resident is a Wampanoag elder teaching in Green Mountain College and working with Native Peoples in and out of prison. He is now writing a book about childcare. We have trimmed the size of his post to better fit this space. The longer version will be available in his Talking Stick Newsletter and in his book. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012, 7:48 PM
Circle Way, Greenville, New Hampshire

Medicine Story, photo by Albert Bates,
The Farm News Service, 2009
This is a summary, as I recall it, of what I said at a small circle in Berlin two weeks ago. I would like to make it a circle with all of you, here in cyberspace so you can read it, take the stick and respond if you choose by email.

I would like to open this circle, as always, by giving thanks to our Mother the Earth, to all her family – our plant, animal and human relatives, to all the unknown relatives in the large family of the Universe, and to the Mystery that is responsible for all of that and for our own miraculous gift of life.

I am so grateful every morning when I waken from my generally intense and interesting dreams and rejoice in the amazing fact that I am alive again. 

I wanted to tell you all what I think we are doing here. In this life on Earth, I mean. This is a basic question that only human beings can ask, and it seems we have a need to do so and decide what our lives might be all about. What are we doing here? What is this incredible gift of life about anyway? What is its purpose? We all have to answer that question for ourselves, but I want to share with you what my answer to that is.

I think we are here to be helpful. We do need to help life in general, the environment to sustain life, but the biggest job seems to be helping each other. We are here to help each other. That’s it, as far as I can tell. That’s what it is all about, plain and simple. All of morality, religion, justice, law, education, arts and sciences, what’s behind everything human beings do, our most basic instruction, is helping each other. When we get away from that – in morality, religion, justice and so on, we start to mess it all up. When we forget that everything we do is to make life better for each other (which makes it better for us) we get away from the simple purpose of our lives. The purpose of all morality, religion, law and justice, of all institutions, politics and economics is supposed to be just to make life better for us, for people.
I see that human beings have an inherent need to be helpful. We are born that way. It comes through evolution, through a hundred thousand years of becoming human by being in circles to protect and support each other.

It comes because those circles had the job of caring for babies, and human babies take longer to grow to where they can care for themselves than any animal. Its part of what makes us human, helping babies grow and caring for them. For fifteen or twenty years we learn to love and care for and help them. The years of caring for children are at least that long and it affects us. It makes us concerned, compassionate, tender and loving. The babies teach that to us, because they have started to love right there in mama’s womb and they need us and love us and want to connect deeply with us. That’s where our “humanity” comes from. And it reaches out from the parent to the family to the clan to the whole circle, the community, the village or the tribe. So we are born wanting to be helpful, we are born cooperative and caring and compassionate. And when we stick together it grows. Fear, anxiety, separation, loneliness reduce our caring and our humanness, our human response to life. So that is part of what we have in our genes coming into the world.

A stranger falls in the street and we run to help. We hear a cry and look to see if someone needs help. The most hardened criminals in our circles all want to be helpful. When we hear stories of people who pass by and turn a deaf ear to cries for help, we all shake our heads. How could they? That is not human, we agree.

When I lived in New York City I was wakened by a woman;’ scream around in the morning. I leapt from bed without thought and started for the door, my wife screaming to put on pants, which I did, feeling foolish about it. I met the superintendent outside and together we raced upstairs in the net building where a woman was screaming that she had been attacked in bed by a man who had come in her open window. I went up the fire escape and he went up the stairs and we caught the man on the roof and held him for the police. I am not especially brave, I acted only without thinking. Someone desperately called for help, and I felt very good about my natural human reaction to that.

Morning Circle, UN Climate Conference Windows of Hope,
Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2009
It is this inherent need and purpose of human beings to be helpful that informs the Original Instructions which our elders transmitted to us from their elders: respect for all Creation, for individual lives, and the supporting of those lives through the circle, and giving thanks which brings everyone joy.

There are consequences to be considered if it is indeed our basic human need and purpose to be helpful. One important consideration is connection: to get as close as we can to one another. To get as close to as many of us as we can manage. To communicate our needs, as Rosenberg says in his non-violent communication teachings, and to listen with care to everyone, to invoke our natural caring and compassion and see how we can help each other.

When I am not doing so well at that I usually realize it. I need sessions to discharge on what is getting in the way of my being completely close with others (and also to affirm that I am a good man who struggles with patterns like everyone and that I am doing the best I can at all times). Then I review for myself all the ways in which I am being helpful, the things I manage to accomplish that actually achieve some good in the world.

Another consideration is to notice how our patterns, born of fear, urge us to isolate ourselves from each other or to form cliques and in-groups and separate our group from others, creating bigotry, racism, chauvinism and all other oppressions.

And so the major thrust of my life is and has been to bring people together, to reach across the walls and boundaries to other people. … I am falling in love every day, with old friends, new friends, complete strangers, with my sons and their partners, with my wife. The closer I get to everyone, the more I listen to them and open myself, the more my heart expands and the more love I feel for them. There is joy in that feeling and also pain sometimes, but I have you to share it with so all is well. More than well. It is splendid.

So what is it with your circle? Is it hard to get everyone together there? Well, of course it’s a problem with all circles in our stressful unsupportive culture. It’s our patterns of isolation, discouragement, stress, confusion. Not our fault. Not your fault. I have a fine circle here, but I have to push myself to go sometimes. I feel overwhelmed with work, not enough time. But then I remind myself that being in the circle, listening and helping others with my caring and my perspective outside of their patterns, feeling the support and encouragement of others, all that will give me strength, focus my thoughts and my will and help my work. But most of all I will feel helpful, and that reminds me who I really am.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Am so glad I found your blog & especially enjoyed this post. Only last week did I find and have begun studying Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Coomunication and then to find it referenced in this post.




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