Indigenous Mysticism Helps Us Realize that Even Our Own Thoughts Arise from an Ancient Past
"I sometimes imagine that I AM my ancestors. That as I write I am speaking what my ancestors spoke or would speak through me . . . It’s not something of which I am intellectually aware. That’s not the best of it. It is something of which I’m instinctively aware, I think . . . I think sometimes that my voice is the reincarnation of a voice from my ancestral past. Not only when I write but when I lecture, and even when I speak on a one-to-one basis, I sometimes have that feeling, and I think, 'Yes, this voice of mine is proceeding from a great distance in the past'. . . When I have this awareness that I am speaking from an ancestral point back in time, I feel very peaceful. I have the feeling that I have entered into the flow of things."
N. Scott Momaday
Whenever I hike, camp and photograph in Lakota country, I can't escape the feeling that I am surrounded by ancient presences, and that even my own thoughts are arising from a very distant past. I find this a helpful balance to the current "present moment" fundamentalism, where people get a little Eckhart Tolle under their belts, and then begin acting as though every thought in their minds that deals with past or future events is somehow "bad" and needs to be excised.
I wonder how this faddish movement would deal with the experience of Native Peoples, who are very much in tune with the "old ways," and who are consciously aware of the presence of the ancestors who inhabit both their lands and their psyches? I'm not indigenous by blood, and yet even I can feel those ancient presences inhabiting the landscape. This past weekend, I experienced this phenomenon in the two places where I camped: at the Badlands and then at Devil's Tower (Bear Lodge) In fact, the entire time I had the sense that my own thoughts were not fully mine.
Obviously an obsessive concern with the past (or future) can be just as fundamentalistic as focusing solely on the present. An overly optimistic (or pessimistic) view of the future can blind us to the realities of the present, just as an obsession with "doing things the way they've always been done" can have an unhealthy ring about it. But when I experience my own thoughts as echoes proceeding from an ancient past, and then see my own creative input as a sort of addition of "new words" to those echoes, or as a "new voice" that is different than the ancient originals, I feel a sense of wonder in the paradoxical combination of the two.
For myself, I find that all of reality is filled with magic when it carries this ancient, echo-like quality to it. And yes, for those who specialize in the present moment, we can all agree that even thoughts of past and future events are ALSO occurring in the here-and-now! :)
Photos: Badlands National Park (SD) and Devil's Tower National Monument (WY), May 20-22, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.