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Indigeneity and Belonging, By Charles Eisenstein

Three weeks ago I taught a five-day course at Schumacher College. The title was “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible,” which is pretty open-ended. The theme that emerged in the course was really more about reclaiming a sense of belonging in the world, or even in the universe.

Here are some ways that modern society, education, media, technology, and economy erode our sense of belonging:

(1) Indoor lifestyles, air conditioning, and motorized transportation distance us from the rest of nature, making it alien and other to us.

(2) Similarly, digital media substitute material, embodied experience with virtual experiences, further separating us from participation and belongingness in the material world.

(3) The commodity economy immerses us in a world of standardized, uniform things, stripping away uniqueness and aliveness.

(4) The money economy also destroys community, replacing gift interactions with paid services and casting us into a world of strangers. Because it is fundamentally competitive, it also creates the experience of a hostile world in which no one cares.

(5) The industrial food system distances us from nature in its aspect of generosity, so that it is no longer a friend or partner, but rather a resource from which food is extracted. It turns food into a “product,” reducing plants and animals into mere elements of production and obliterating any sense of kinship.

(6) The ideology of reductionism teaches us that the universe at bottom is a thing, composed of generic building blocks devoid of consciousness, purpose, agency, or intelligence. We are alone in the universe.

(7) Modern medicine makes the body into something to be dominated and controlled through pharmacy or surgery, and holds us in a position of dependency on experts. The body becomes “my body,” a separate thing.

(8) Patriarchal attitudes toward love, intimacy, and sexuality, along with their associated institutions, cut us off from deep connection to each other. Even non-sexual touch is severely circumscribed in modern society (I’ve noticed that the less modern a society is, the more people touch each other.)

This is but a small sampling. All of these come from what I like to call the Story of Separation, that defines us as separate souls in a universe of other. For that self, alienating systems of domination and control are second nature. Such a self yearns to recover its lost connections, to belong once more to the land, to the tribe, to the planet, and to the cosmos. Not to be its separate master, overseer, dominator or, ultimately, victim.

Another way to look at it, is that we yearn to recover our indigeneity. What is it to be indigenous? Is it to have “Native American blood”? Is it to adopt a traditional name or practice traditional rituals? What are people longing for? Is it merely to be excused from the guilt of the dominating civilization, to count oneself among the oppressed rather than the oppressors? Is to feel special? Maybe those motives are present for some, but I think ultimately, people are longing to belong again, to be at home in the universe.

Indigenous people have a strong sense of belonging. It comes from intimate connection to nature, to the ancestors, to their communities, to the plant, animal, and geological worlds, and to unseen beings as well. It comes also from a less rigid demarcation between self and world, a fluidity of boundaries and identities.

We seek to move from the self of separation to the self of relationship that knows that everything outside is also inside. Then we are not alone.

How can we accomplish this? One of the key ideas of the course was that this is not something we can accomplish in the normal sense of the word. It cannot be another achievement of the separate self. Rather, it is a gift we can receive – and it is a gift we can pass on. Any time we give another person an experience of non-separation, of kindness or generosity or love, we are passing it on. We also pass it on  when we confront someone with the harm they may be causing through their actions. (If, that is, we communicate it in a way that can be received.)

In the course we opened to receive the gift of a new step into interbeing. For example, we created conditions where we tapped into our intuition to obtain information beyond the range of ordinary evidence and reason. We practiced using the eyes of non-separation to no longer see nature as thing. We used the technology of story to puncture the normalcy and seeming reality of the mythology of separation, and the theory of change that goes along with it. We also played with time – but I’m not going to try to describe that one here.

For me though, by far the most potent induction into interbeing was the energy of the group itself. Three weeks later, I can still recall that circle of twenty-five faces vividly, as well as a twenty-sixth entity – the collective being of the group. I think we all experienced directly the feeling of belonging we’d been talking about. That to me was a more powerful lesson than any of the course’s content.

I feel grateful to Schumacher College for hosting this course, and to the land of that place, which always suggests to me an attitude of gentleness, patience, and forbearance. I’m also happy to have helped generate the field to support their September program on Becoming Indigenous, which will be led by people far more qualified than I to speak of indigeneity. Like most of you reading this, I was born far, far away from the kind of belongingness that indigenous people know. Fortunately, there are still many of them on earth to help us find our way back.

The core of indigeneity is to be actually from a place, to be of a place, to belong to a place. It is for one’s identity to draw from deep relationships to community, ancestors, plants, animals, and the land. It is to be embedded and inseparable, not just as a concept, but as an ongoing experience lived through ceremonies, social relationships, and technologies of giving and receiving to the other beings of nature, both visible and unseen. It is to be at home again, not in a home-as-box, but at home in the world. We in modern society have wandered very very far from our home, and now as we approach the mortal crisis of our separation, we are ready for the return journey.

Learn about Indigenous Wisdom Courses at Schumacher College this autumn:

Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Beyond Intellect, Into Relationship

With Pat McCabe (Standing Woman Shining) and special guests including Mac Macartney | Join us for this two-week course on how we can develop our 'ways of knowing' beyond intellect in order to develop right relationship with place. This deep inquiry will involve theory, practice and ceremony from Native American traditions and will not only help us with our own sense of 'indigeny to place' but will look at ways that our species might live sustainably on the earth as have the cultures who have lived in health, harmony and happiness for thousands of years.

Sundance and Sacred Ritual: Teachings from the Lakota Tradition

With Mac Macarteney, Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook and Karonhienhawe Linda Delormier | Join us for this very rare opportunity to explore the teachings and protocols that surround the sundance and other sacred rituals of the Lakota people and demystify these practices and look at how parallels in these teachings exist in everyday modern life wherever we are in the world.


Our Indigenous Story: Mapping and Re-Telling World Narritives

With Atossa Soltani and Louis Fox | Our world is in crisis with an endless stream of issues crying out for our attention. But the worldviews and cultural assumptions that underlie these issues often go unexamined. Is it time for an examination, for an understanding of why we think what we do and for a new story that combines the best of the wisdom and knowledge alive in the world today.  Join media strategist, global advocate for indigenous people and founder of Amazon Watch, Atossa Soltani and celebrated film-maker, Louis Fox for this deep exploration and questioning of the competing worldviews that shape the world we live in, the stories we tell ourselves and the issues we face



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