Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanks giving is for every day

In the indigenous North American way, giving thanks is a practice for every day, not just for an annual holiday. Here is a little of what I learned after I was called in dreams by an ancient woman of power to study the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois.

Orenda is the power that is in everything and beyond everything. It clusters in certain things – in that tree, in that stone, in that person or gathering – and if you are sensitive you will feel its weight and its force.
    People come from another world – in the Iroquoian cosmogony, they call it Earth-in-the-Sky – and the origin and purpose for life here below is to be found in that Sky World. Tosa sasa ni’konren, they say. “Do not let your mind fall” from the memory of that other world where everything is directed and created by the power of thought, and everything lives in the glow of a great Tree of Light.
    The first person on Earth who was anything like a human came from that Sky World, after she fell – or was pushed – through a hole among the roots of its great tree. As she fell, she was caught on the wings of great blue herons, who carried her gently down to a chaos of water. Animals, diving into the black deep, found earth for her, so she could begin to make a world. Turtle offered its great back and First Woman danced a new world into being. Under her feet, a handful of soil became all the lands we live on.
    The memory of Earth-in-the-Sky in no way blurs the knowledge that orenda – which is power, spirit, energy, consciousness all at once – is in everything. In the way of the Onkwehonwe, the Real People (as the Iroquois call themselves) we must remember that our relations with our environment are entirely personal, and require appropriate manners.
    If you want to take something from the Earth, you must ask permission. The hunter asks the spirit of the deer for permission to take its life and wastes nothing from its body. I once watched a Mohawk medicine man gathering healing plants. He started by identifying the elder among a stand of the plants and speaking to this one, seeking permission. He offered a little pinch of native tobacco in return for the stalks he gathered for medicine.
    In this tradition, the best form of prayer is to give thanks for the gifts of life. In the long version of the Iroquois thanksgiving, you thank everything that supports your life, and as you do this you announce that you are talking to family.

I give thanks to my brothers the Thunderers
I give thanks to Grandmother Moon and to Elder Brother Sun

In the Native American way, as Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, said, “the center of the world is wherever you are.” For him, that was Harney Peak. For you, it is wherever you are living or traveling. You may find a special place in your everyday world. It may be just a corner of the garden, or a bench under a tree in the park, or that lake where you walk the dog. The more you go there, and open both your inner and outer senses, the more you will find that orenda has gathered there for you.
     A woman who lives near the shore told me that she starts her day like this: “I go to the ocean in the morning at sunrise and put a hand in the water and say Good morning, thank you, I love you. I feel a response from this. The tide will suddenly surge up a little higher, hugging my feet, which is kind of cold in winter but wonderful in warmer weather. I talk to everything out loud like this.”
     The simple gesture of placing your hand in the sea, or on a tree, or on the earth, and expressing love and gratitude and recognition of the animate world around us is everyday church (as is dreamwork), good for us, and good for all our relations
    It is good to do something every day, in any landscape, to affirm life in all that is around us. This may be especially important on days when the world seems drab and flat and even the eyes of other people in the street look like windows in which the blinds have been drawn down. The Longhouse People (Iroquois) reminded me that the best kind of prayer is to give thanks to all our relations, to everything that supports life, and in doing so to give our support to them. When I lived on a rural property, I began each day by greeting the ancient oak on the dirt road behind the house as the elder of that land.
    These days, it is often enough for me to say to sun and sky, whether on the sidewalk or in the park or by the sea

I give thanks for the morning
I give thanks for the day
I give thanks for the gifts
    and the challenges of this lifetime


For more on indigenous tradition, please read my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. For more on everyday practice, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.

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