The Thursday evening class I attend at a Presbyterian church on my route between work and home continued tonight with Native American spirituality, which I find fascinating and wish had more influence in our culture and Christianity. There is much to admire about the Native population's reverence for nature and focus on personal mystical experiences rather than handed down written doctrines that people are required to believe, which have nothing to do with one's own life experiences. How different would our country look if we had a more Native American spiritualist approach to everything?
In a post from last month about why I'm a New Age spiritualist, a big part of it is an open-mindedness to any spiritual idea that is "good" / "constructive" and even "inspirational". In the New Age bookstore that I go to, there is a section on Native American spirituality, which includes animal totems, vision quests, smudging, art / jewelry, and music. When I helped move my brother into the nice apartment he got into a few years back, a young couple from the evangelical Christian church he attended also helped him move. When they saw his big dream catcher with a painting of a wolf on it, the young Christian lady told him to throw it away. My brother asked her why, and she responded, "It's kind of New Agey." To my brother's credit, he refused. He may be an easy person to con, but on some things, he'll refuse to budge. I smiled when he refused, glad that the evangelicals hadn't completely brainwashed him. However, the lady's comment only reminded me of everything I hated about the evangelicals I had to deal with as a teenager. I've come a long way, myself. There's no way I can go back to believing their crap again.
Dream catchers are "New Agey"?!? Now that's some crazy talk right there. It's only "New Agey" because New Age spiritualists are accepting of Native American spirituality. In fact, New Age spirituality seems to be a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American spirituality. It's all about the personal experiences with the world of spirit. The idea of a vision quest is very strong with me. I would love to go on one. That should've been the birthday gift to give myself for my 40th (well, I'm still in my 40th year, so maybe?). I don't think I'm ready for it, though. But, its a good concept worth exploring.
In our discussion groups, one elderly lady seemed to not understand Native Americans because she mentioned a Native American boy that her son knew, who went to school and to college and seemed to assimilate well, but after college, instead of taking a career, he returned to the reservation and hasn't amounted to much. Others shared about the depressing nature of the reservation with high incidents of alcohol and drug abuse. What is it that has devastated the Native American population? I mentioned that it was probably difficult for Native Americans to assimilate into our materialistic / consumption based culture. We've stolen their lands, killed native species of animals, established permanent buildings / houses, built up an artificial world that takes most modern people away from nature. How are they to function when we've deprived them of the sacred land?
I also mentioned that the pull of one's culture is quite strong, and used the example of the Amish, where teenagers are allowed to go off to experience life among "the English" before deciding to commit themselves to the community again. The Amish have a 90% retention rate. The Amish teens indulge in our worst habits for a time and then decide to return to the closed off communities that they grew up in. You don't just see it with Amish, but also with other groups, such as Mormons, Native Americans, Jews, etc.
Unfortunately for the discussion, we did not get to other ideas that were presented in the film we watched because of the lady's lack of understanding about why Native Americans just don't assimilate and get educated and have careers. To my surprised, she basically asked, "Why can't the Indians be more like the Chinamen who come here and get successful?" Uh, "Chinamen"?!? Wow, I actually cringed when I heard that. To me, that term is like running nails down a chalkboard. I remember my grandmother using it, so it is a term from an older generation. But still, hearing it makes my ears hurt.
This was one of those nights when I wished that I went with the other discussion group, because from what I was told, they had a far more interesting discussion about Native American spirituality. We only get a taste of the spiritual ideas behind each religious tradition we've been watching videos of for several weeks now. There's certainly a lot more worth exploring.
One guy asked me what I thought my animal totem was. I said that I didn't know, but added, "I keep thinking its a raccoon for some reason." He asked me why I thought that. I have no idea, other than it keeps coming to my mind. I'll have to check to see what it means. Someone who actually did my animal totem for me a few years ago came up with Goose, which I would have never picked in a million years. But when I read the description, it certainly sounded like me. Perhaps. Who really knows? I heard that a vision quest is where you come into contact with your animal totem. With my luck, it'll be a raccoon. Or a skunk.