I’ve recently read these three books by Nnedi Okorafor (and Binti, of course, but that was earlier.) Reading is a good occupation in between bouts of ‘not-quite-conscious’ periods of being concussed. It’s with relief and familiarity, laced with deep comfort that I sink into Ms. Okorafor’s books. As far as I know, I have no connection to any part of Africa, and while it can take time to get the rhythm of some works, such as Lagoon, it’s the indigenous mindset I sink into with ease. Like too many other people, I am beyond weary of stories with the same rapacious, colonial mindset, populated with the ever ubiquitous straight white males. Even authors who don’t mean to write in that mindset tend to slip into it, because we’ve all been trained that viewpoint is best, it’s good, it’s great, pat on the head, now sit down and be quiet. Ms. Okorafor’s protagonists are all too human, even when they aren’t quite human. They suffer with their flaws, and struggle to cope with them, as we all do. Her protagonists are often women, which is yet another comfort. I don’t have to struggle with often squirmy, unwelcome moments when a protagonist character is male, and does something cringe inducing and deeply embarrassing. This isn’t to say there aren’t such moments in these books, there are, because there are people like that all over the place, and we all have to deal with them. They are better in the background though, where we can’t always relegate them in real life.
These books coincided with my camp life, and a strong theme through all of them is the same one at the center of the protection going on here in Ndakota: Water Is Life. Aman Iman. Mni Wiconi. There’s a natural spirituality suffused throughout the books, and I find that familiar and comforting also, because it’s the spirituality of indigenous people all over the world. She understands the need to keep traditions alive, and the fight to remain community based while embracing the wider world. This leads me into contentious territory, but I don’t see a conflict, and I don’t see the need for one, either. People were having a good talk about these issues in this thread, and while I’ve had thoughts swirling about in my shaken brain, I haven’t felt the coherence needed to tackle it. I’ll complain yet again at what a remarkably lousy language English is when it comes to certain concepts. Even when it doesn’t suck, terms are so loaded with baggage that a great many people simply can’t move past the baggage to even try and understand.
I don’t believe in gods. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe in the physical world, I believe in the universe, and I believe in life. There’s plenty of room in that for spirituality, and without any need whatsoever to worship anything, or be a Crystal clear running rainbow unicorn summer rain star type of person. Atheists often bring up Carl Sagan, and he always struck me as a very spiritual person, who often spoke of the numinous, a word used in an attempt to get away from the overly laden ones, like sacred or divine. Sagan was science based, but he also lived a life in appreciation and awe of life, all life. He got it, he grokked what was important – the connection of all things, of all life; the importance of all life, and the need for responsibility, care, and respect. Indigenous people believe we are obligated to care for our earth, and it’s a responsibility which has always sat seriously albeit lightly on the shoulders of indigenous people. That responsibility has become a terrible burden ever since colonialism came into the picture, bearing down with a ruthless brutality and no respect at all, for anything. If anything, the colonial attitude and way of being has become increasingly rapacious, with care for nothing except money-filled pockets. Those of us without money-filled pockets find ourselves constantly bruised from being tossed about by marketing and the propaganda screech of always needing more, more, more, more. More and more people find themselves in living situations where they have none to little contact with nature in any way, and have no sense of community, either. There are whole generations now who don’t have the slightest idea of what a community is like. That came up a lot at camp. I met people from all over the U.S. who did not want to leave, as they had never experienced anything like the camp, the community which has grown there. They were blown away by how community works, and many people were fired up and determined to go back home and start building a community there. I saw people who had definitely felt they had been missing something, but didn’t know what. When they came to the camp, they found it – community. So, can you have a sense that’s there’s a hole in you somewhere? Yes, of course you can. Will being part of a community fix everything? Nope. It will sure as hells help though, and simply being part of something larger can help to heal much of what ails people. Being a bunch of communityists is good for our non-existent souls.
There’s every reason in the world to work on a spiritual connection to our earth. When you have that, when you understand that all life is sacred, important, and connected to you and all other life, respect happens. When you have respect, you have care, awareness, mindfulness. When you have respect, you have thankfulness. Thankfulness for the energy the sun provides, for the light and the warmth. Thankfulness for the water, which is life. Water to drink, water to bathe yourself, water to cook, water to create. Thankfulness for the air, and all the plants and trees which give us so very many gifts. Thankfulness for the earth, which provides us with a foundation, and the means to grow and nourish ourselves. Thankful for all the species we are related to and their gifts to us. When you have respect and gratitude, sustainability and care are built in. It’s part and parcel of your everyday beliefs and actions. When you have that spiritual connection, you understand that you need to give at least as much as you take. A balance must be kept. This does not mean you need to turn yourself into a credulous, babbling critter. It does mean you are aware of life, all life, and the connectedness and importance of that life. Indigenous people don’t find themselves afflicted with a sudden societal based mania to poison the land they live on to destroy dandelions, or decide to pour poison all over to get rid of groundhogs. That’s because there’s a deep understanding of how things work on our earth, and they aren’t removed or disconnected from it, the way many people are now. It’s not wrong to question these idiocies, like having to maintain a golf course lawn, or why anyone would want to do that in the first place. Allowing native plants to grow is good for many other beings, like all the pollen gatherers and transporters, who in turn, help to nourish our crops so we can feed ourselves. It’s one tiny chain among many which maintains health in all of us.
Sometimes, sitting on the sidelines and listening to people talk (translation: reading along without commenting), I’m often bemused by the atheist voices I’m part of. Over the years, it’s been increasingly popular for atheists to adopt a dictionary only not in the least emotional stance. I’ll admit to being befuddled by that, because it seems a sterile isolation to confine oneself to, for no particular reason. If that really makes a person happy, okay. I have my doubts about that making anyone happy though. I’m an atheist who finds the dictionary only argument to be utterly idiotic, and it’s seriously not my thing. I want things to be better. I want people to be better. I want people to be content, more self sufficient, more thoughtful, more community based. I want people to care, and I want to effect change. That means changing myself, too. I don’t see the attraction in sitting around, sniffily denouncing this, that, and the other, while claiming not to give a damn about anything at all. I don’t see the point of that, either. There’s already enough resigned apathy afflicting people, and I don’t see any virtue in promoting that as a way of being. It’s not impossible or wrong to be spiritually connected as your way of life, your way of living.
I know this will get its fair share of sneers, disdain, and bad ‘jokes’. If that’s all you have in you, go for it. I have more inside myself, and I am not ashamed to care and expect others to care as well. I think it’s perfectly possible to be an atheist and to be spiritual as well.
I recommend reading Chief Arvol Looking Horse on the current situation we all face, the constant assaults on our earth, and the increasing destruction going on everywhere. I had the honour of listening to Chief Looking Horse at the camp several times. I first read the linked piece some time back on ICTMN, and wanted so much to share it, but I gave into fear because it is deeply spiritual, and all I could think about was mockery from those who would read, and I let that fear rule me. No more. This sickness must stop, and I must fulfill my responsibility to our earth. One of the lawyers currently working on the pipeline problem here and in Iowa has a good column up at ICTMN, which includes an excerpt from Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship:
“Who guards this web of life that nurtures and sustains us all?
Who watches out for the land, the sky, the fire, and the water?
Who watches out for our relatives that swim, fly, walk, or crawl?
Who watches out for the plants that are rooted in our Mother Earth?
Who watches out for the life-giving spirits that reside in the underworld?
Who tends the languages of the people and the land?
Who tends the children and the families?
Who tends the peacekeepers in our communities?
We tend the relationships.
We work to prevent harm.
We create the conditions for health and wholeness.
We teach the culture and we tell the stories.
We have the sacred right and obligation to protect the common wealth of our lands and the common health of our people and all our relations for this generation and seven generations to come. We are the Guardians for the Seventh Generation.”
For anyone who has missed the basics of what’s happening, Kyle Powys Whyte has an excellent article here.