Autumn is in full swing here in the northern U.S. And the colors are spectacular.
They are also a wonderful reminder of the circle of life, the passing of time, and how the earth always renews itself.
Indigenous peoples didn’t use a linear calendar; the year didn’t start with January 1 and end with December 31. And there wasn’t an old man carrying a scythe and hourglass to symbolize the gloom of another year over.
Native people noted what’s going on in the natural world by the change in the landscape around them and the movement of the sun, moon and stars.
And that in turn helps them remember the circle of all life; everything dies and returns.
“Birds make their nests in circles; we dance in circles, the circle stands for the Sun and Moon and all round things in the natural world. The circle is an endless creation, with endless connections to the present, all that went before and all that will come in the future.” Black Elk
“I was Crazy Horse in a past life.”
No, that’s not me saying that. But it’s a statement I’ve heard several times from people I’ve met through my years of walking the Native American spiritual path.
Sometimes they say they were Sitting Bull or some other famous Native American Holy man, but never a shepherd or pony boy or woman.
It’s not my place to judge whether they’re right or wrong, but I always have the same thought when I hear it: “But who are you in this life?”
Because that’s the only thing that’s important: who are you now?
Not, what’s your title or job. Rather, what is your character?
Becoming a human being
In 1993 I accompanied Lakota elder Grandfather Wallace Black Elk to Australia to assist him as he taught a workshop and ran purification lodges.
One day Grandfather asked me to teach the people how to make tobacco ties. As I was teaching it, one of the students asked, “What’s the point of our learning these things? I’ll never have the opportunity to be a medicine man.”
Do you ever look up at the night sky and feel a longing? A familiarity? As if perhaps you came from the stars?
Whenever I look at the Pleiades I feel a calling to home. And there’s a reason for that.
We come from the stars. The carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms found in all life on earth, including humans, was produced originally in stars billions of years ago.
That is scientific fact.
The universe is in us. The universe is us.
Stars that collapsed, exploded and scattered over the universe became part of gas clouds and formed the next generation of solar systems.
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.
“We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” Carl Sagan, in the 1980 PBS series “Cosmos.”
I’ve been reading with alarm the stories of radioactive fish being caught in the Pacific Ocean as a result of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan in 2011. Including radioactive bluefin tuna caught recently off the California coast.
Fukushima is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, both measuring Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Even after the initial radiation leakage that occurred in 2011 as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima plant has continued to leak radiation into the Pacific Ocean.
There are no signs of it stopping because Japan can’t even figure out why it’s leaking.
All fishing off the Fukushima coast has been banned by the Japanese government, though restrictions were eased in June 2012 allowing fishing of 16 types of marine life.
But here’s the thing: fish swim. And they can swim from Japan to the U.S. coastline. A bluefin tuna tagged by scientists was found to have crossed between Japan and the West Cost of the U.S. three times in 600 days.
Japanese and U.S. officials claim that the amount of radiation found in the bluefin is safe. But the overwhelming scientific opinion is that there is no safe level of radiation.
So there isn’t a consensus. But here’s what you can rely on: governments will lie to us and downplay the danger.
So we’re on our own and have to fend for ourselves on what to eat and how to stay healthy.
Most of us have heard the Native American term “it is a good day to die.” It was usually said in the movies by a Native warrior as he rode off into battle.
But how often do we think about what that really means? Do we live as though each day is a good day to die? Are we ready?
Most indigenous cultures understand that death is a natural part of the life cycle, and don’t fear it.
Modern American and European cultures do not have that understanding. While everyone knows they’re going to die, no one actually believes it.
And it’s a shame really, because being ready to die at any given moment means your life is spiritually rich and vibrant. It means you’re living with purpose and contribution.