Inseparability of Native American Spirituality and Everyday Life
I’m updating my original article because it gives another viewpoint of spirituality that is quite different from how many Americans and Europeans think of it. I find these concepts to be thought-provoking and profound. The more knowledge you can gain about a subject, in this case the broad area of “spirituality,” the more understanding you can come to.
I learned about this aspect of Native American life through the writing of Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman), a part Santee Sioux who lived from 1858 to 1939.* He was raised in a traditional Native American home and was later educated as a medical doctor in American colleges. He wrote eloquently about Native American life. He wrote that daily life and spirituality, as lived purely by original peoples, were not really even two elements tightly interwoven. Rather, the people viewed their existence and lived their lives AS a manifestation of spirituality and spiritual creation. To them, there was no difference; they were inseparable.
As I understand it, and according to Ohiyesa, every activity and element of life was recognized as a participation in the spiritual world. All aspects of living were felt to be a manifestation of the spiritual world, and all the objects in the natural world were viewed as having Spirit – humans, animals, plants, birds, even stones and other inanimate objects. All creations were recognized to come from, or BE extensions of the spirit world. In other words, there was no abrupt division between the living of daily life and the people’s practice of spirituality, because being alive and going about daily living in the way that their elders taught them was spiritual existence and expression.
Even religious rituals and ceremonies at their root were always understood in their proper perspective as symbols of, and recognition and acknowledgment of, spiritual realities and the Great Spirit without being mistaken for the only, or most important part of spiritual practice or expression. A symbol for something is not the thing itself. To the American Indian, it was just as much a spiritual observation to take a few moments to appreciate the majesty and beauty of the (natural) world, or a colorful sunset in the wilderness.
I find this idea of the inseparability of Native American life and spirituality to be remarkable and admirable. Unlike our modern society and culture, to the original peoples, spirit was life, and alive, and very real. Many had an inner knowledge and conviction that spirit and the spiritual world were more real than “this dream called life” (in the physical universe). While that may be difficult for many to grasp or agree with, I feel that it shows that Native American peoples had a firm and deep grasp of existence – more so than many in the current age.
The original peoples had a tradition of wisdom about every aspect of life that had been passed down in oral traditions for eons. Young children were taught these truths and wisdom. They were taught how to become competent members of the tribe, able to survive and defend their people, and how to make decisions about every aspect of living.
Perhaps that knowledge passed down that has so often been branded as “primitive” by supposedly modern scientists was really “advanced” knowledge. I believe it was. This can partially be evidenced by the stories of advanced spiritual abilities demonstrated by shamans and spiritual initiates through the ages. These are not all just legend. Stories of shapeshifters and wise men who could instantly transport themselves from one place to another have their roots in actual spiritual ability.
This is where the past meets the future head-on – as in science fiction and fantasy. It is also probably the connection point between far Eastern religions and the Native American traditions. In my life I have been privileged to meet people with advanced spiritual abilities and awareness. What they can do is truly amazing and awe-inspiring.
My own belief is that all people contain within themselves the potential for virtually all the advanced abilities that anyone can imagine. These abilities are Divine, meaning that they do not come from “demons” or the devil. Rather, they spring from the limitless potential within each of us. And they do not originate in our brains, but in ourselves as knowing, sentient spiritual beings. A very wise man once observed that the evil, if they have such abilities, do not retain them for very long. But the good can, and may.
My wish is that the wisdom and traditions of the various Native tribes who lived in North America for thousands of years before the Europeans came will not be lost, but will be preserved and will become more accessible to those who wish to learn.
Check out my short novel written about the Tongva, the original, almost forgotten people of Los Angeles – a story about one young Tongva brave’s own spiritual journey in the days before the Spanish came.
Very best and all for now!
*Note that I refer to American original peoples in general, while acknowledging that there were certainly differences from one tribe and nation to another, and that what I say here may not be true for all American Indian tribes.