By Rita Bober
In these trying times, it is so important to the future of all life on Earth for each of us to create balanced relationships with the land, with each other and with Creator. Is it possible to do this? I look to the teachings and life story of my spiritual grandmother Keewaydinoquay (Kee) for guidance. Grandmother Kee was of Ojibwe and Scottish descent and grew up in a traditional Native community in northern Michigan. She was born in a boat on Lake Michigan during a storm. From her first breath, her life followed the will of nature. Here is an example as described in her life story: Keewaydinoquay: Stories from My Youth, edited by Lee Boisvert.
Kee's parents had agreed that their children should be brought up with the knowledge of all faiths so that they could wisely make their own choices as adults. "It was for this reason that I was neither christened nor named when the time of the blueberry harvest approached... No prudent Anishinaabe ignores the pleasure and benefits of the Blueberry Moon... I was left suspended in a blanket nest while they (my parents) harvested — safe because I could not walk, or so they thought. On one return to the blanket area to empty buckets, they found I was gone. A short investigation revealed me standing between two bears. They were pulling blueberries into their giant maws, and so was I. When the bears left, baby grabbed hold of bear hair on either side and went along!" Thus from that time until she received her adult name, she was called "Walks-With-Bears".
Native peoples look to nature to understand life. If we throw a rock into a pond, concentric rings form in the water — to Native people this represents the circle of life — that all things are interconnected. In order to preserve life on this Earth, consider following this philosophy as well. Everything we do to the Earth affects some other part of life. So what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. If we are gathering medicinal plants in the wild and remove all the plants, there will be no plants there in the future for we have removed all the seeds (or roots). To live in balance, we must not take more than we need and we must leave some for the next seven generations as well. What about other elements of Earth like the waters, the air, the sun, and the animals? I can lose my hands, my legs, and my eyes and still live. I can lose my hair, eyebrows, nose, arms and many other things and still live. But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the Earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my physical body. So we see that we do nothing by ourselves. Together we form a circle. We must all help to make the water, the air, and the land better.
What are some other ways that Native people lived in balance on the Earth? One thing they did was eat the foods they found in their own area. They were hunters and gatherers. They hunted and dried meat and fish for the cold winter ahead and dried plants they had gathered. These plants could be used as food or medicine. There are not enough wild animals and wild plants today for everyone to hunt and gather. But we can grow our own food in our gardens or buy from local farmers. And if we have more than we need from our garden, it will be important to share what we have as sharing our blessings with others is very important to the balance of life. As in Native communities, it is important to take care of all who live in our community especially the Elders and children.
Native American traditions say that it is not necessary to understand or control the world. Understanding is not the key; experiencing is the key. Everything happens in its own time, and everything happens for a reason. People need to be aware of their experiences. So perhaps part of living in balance is stopping what you are doing and paying attention to what is happening right now. Being in the moment — am I doing what I am suppose to do? Am I happy? Am I sharing love in a positive relationship? Do I feel a spiritual connection to something beyond myself?
Native spirituality tells us that we are all part of creation. We need the power from the ongoing creation to keep ourselves and our world balanced. We are emissaries of the Great Spirit and part of the great circle of creation that has no beginning and no end. All power comes from the Great Spirit. Trees, plants, animals, and other life forms in nature are one part of the expression of the Great Spirit. How do we connect with the ongoing creation? I found in reading Grandmother's early life stories that she spent a lot of time out in nature interacting with the animals, learning about the plants and helping her family with everyday chores for survival. At an early age, she participated in a vision quest in which she learned her purpose in life as well as receiving her adult name: Keewaydinoquay, Woman of the Northwest Wind. In our interactions with nature, we can connect directly with Great Spirit/Great Mystery/Creator. How many times must a spider land on us for us to become aware that that spider is trying to tell us something? Perhaps we are walking in the woods worrying about an illness we or a loved one has and we suddenly notice a plant standing out in a field. We identify it and learn it would be helpful for that illness. Some would say these are just coincidences. But are they? Perhaps they are signs from Creator that she/he cares about us. Communication is also a two-way street. If we want an answer to a question we have, we need to stop, quiet our minds, and listen. For me this can best happen in nature.
I'd like to end with a saying from Grandmother Kee's tradition: Blessings and Balance. Balance and Blessings. For from Balance, comes all Blessings.
Printed in Natural Balance Magazine, Fall 2008.