“If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, don’t blame the mirror.” Tao Jones
More or less full disclosure: This essay came into being thanks to my having perused Calvin Luther Martin’s The Way of the Human Being. It’s a whopper of a book deserving attention, not that I am the one to do it justice. Monsieur Martin’s observations concern the intrinsically deep connections between humans and the kaleidoscope of what we call Nature. That many of his observations were seasoned by first hand experience adds gravity to his pithy tome.
On the other hand, what follows is my own interpretation and in no way should be seen as accurately reflecting the book’s complexity and/or insights…..
We have become spectators in a theater of the absurd. Politics, religion, philosophy, materialism – all instruments of fragmentation, designed to split the world into pieces. A fragmented world needs suturing, or so we are told. For every fracture there is a ready-made poultice, even if the results are sham and fleeting.
For this surgery, they tell us that the price is right, the credit easy, the power of consensus being the implied warranty. We must only believe. And consent to relinquish who we are and accept the mantle of the New Tribe, where no one is anyone unless they are everyone.
Homogenization comes with a silent warning. To be a member of the New Tribe requires a blindness to the world-as-it-is. In return, we are afforded every fantasy. Yet, in the process, we forfeit the “awareness of wholeself.” And find ourselves adrift in the cosmos.
The ubiquitous flicker of pixillated media both numbs and invigorates. In exchange for the sacrifice of our souls, our consciousness is channeled into a narrow band of programmed pseudo-reality. We are voyeurs inside the simulacrum of the New Myth. And this myth has been denatured, stripped of the throbbing gristle of unfettered spirit. Thanks to science, we have measurements to show us the way. And what we have lost.
Of course, no quantum measurement can be made without collapsing the probabilities. Measure, maya, illusion: the splintering of matter and spirit by the hammer of reason and time. The pieces are reconstituted and sold to any and all bidders, thus keeping the Game in perpetual motion. In the end, the rich are no saner than the poor. Perhaps even less so, as they have endless means to purchase their identities.
The New Myth is a vast tapestry of stories that tell no story. Except the stories of pain and pleasure, gain and loss, failure and redemption. If, by the end of the plot, we are redeemed, what are we redeemed from? The trickery of self-imposed displacement? Or do we, with a straight face, point to some invisible Out There as the instigator of our condition, and ignore that we are the thieves of our own souls?
These are difficult, perhaps even dangerous, questions to ask. They should be left for the experts to resolve. Unless we want an answer.
We say that time is money, and then pursue both commodities in a relentless whirlwind – the dog chasing its tail. Paradoxically, we enjoy wasting time, often to the point of killing it. We punch clocks, watch the clock, even try and beat the clock. We are obsessed with the mirage of time.
Due to a collective phobia about running out of time, we become possessive to the point where greed is considered an admirable mode of behavior. Entire institutions revolve around the axis of greed, propelled by an insatiable hunger for the acquisition of material objects. Power is the leverage, greed the fuel, money the abstract symbol of success. The New Myth resembles an emperor with no clothes, other than a corpulent balance sheet.
The cosmic Law of Thermodynamics requires a quid pro quo. Something gained requires something given. The dog never catches its tail, but receives a shekel for every full rotation. If the dog were to bite its own tail, would he find the victory worth the effort?
Time begins with the invention of the sun dial, and proceeds with haste. Tillers of the soil need assurance that the celestial realm is properly aligned, ready for this year’s seed. But once the genie of time is out of the bottle, only the most ludicrous bribe can lure it back into captivity. We have become children of the furrows.
Legions of tillers bent their backs to the dictates of time and their celestial sky king, jump-starting the so-called agrarian revolution; a revolution which has no end, but becomes more sophisticated with the passage of time.
Agriculture is only cyclical in the abstract. A single minute is represented by the second hand imitating an hour. The invention of mathematics: counting the grain. The concept of work appears. A division of labor and leisure. Plant, tend, harvest, and rest. Until next time. Assuming the solar god shines his favor on next year’s calories.
Four seasons, one cycle – spinning on towards the Great Harvest. Today’s religions evolved from the marriage of plow, sun, and soil in a co-opting of the Old Myth. Priests look at the celestial clock in order for farmers to set their course. The Bear cult retreats into deep hibernation, where Old Smokey sleeps amidst the campfires of the Dream Time.
The indigenous inhabitants of North America were forced into servitude by men bearing potatoes, guns, and small pox. The symbol of freedom, the Buffalo, was replaced by the genetically inferior cow. The infamous closing of the frontier was a result of the New Myth’s requirement of uniformity – maps with lines, grids, and certainty. Law. You are here. Plant now. Keep your rows straight.
We no longer live in the Round. Modern lives are delineated by geometric determinism. We live and work in a rectangular world, watch rectangular screens, cheer as our vicarious tribes clash on rectangular fields. Four lines equals a perimeter, the boundary in which nothing wild can live. We die in rectangular hospital rooms, are buried in rectangular boxes, and are lowered beneath the ground into a rectangular hole.
Free roaming indigenous Americans followed the Roundness, accepting the cycle of the Gift and in turn reciprocated. Unlike the interlopers with their Good Book, the Old Tribe had no sky god directing the pageant of life like an omnipotent puppeteer in the Control Room in the Clouds. They saw the Great Spirit moving through rocks, wind, Elk, and across the waters. All were relations – Salmon, Horse, Bear. Respect and reciprocation kept the cycle in motion. The individual was only so in relation to the Whole.
The New Myth is predicated on a strange morbid fascination with eternity. The key to the Kingdom is a rejection of temporal life, a turning away from the biological shapeshifting of forms. The Old Myth is holistic, watching the Cosmos through a panoramic lens. The New Myth prefers to stare into the wrong end of a telescope, narrowing the view, imagining a just reward on the other side of the dark curtain. Death is the cost of eternity.
As one Yup’ik artist put it: “They sent us their missionaries and killed us with John 3:16.” And the Yup’ik myths dissolved back into the void soon thereafter.
Stepping out of holism is to abandon the Other, which is ourselves. Holistically, we are Bear, Salmon, Raven, and Coyote. The dividing line is penetrable, crossed through. The cloak of identity isn’t one’s to possess, but to be worn until the shapes shift in accordance with the Great Mystery’s unfathomable gyrations.
The hunt is a taking. We take a life and become what we have killed. In the final season, we give back our temporal mask and dance to a different frequency, always part of the song. A far cry from being yoked to the plow and our beasts of burden, our backs arched, praying for rain, sacrificing to an all-seeing angry father.
To lose one’s Bearness is a serious breach of protocol. To forget one’s kinship with Fox, Crow, or Crane, is to stray onto a path of existential confusion. There is no GPS to guide us on such a path. We are on our own. A lost people, seeking artificial cohesion, create holding patterns in churches, clubs, even digital social friendships. Virtual life for virtual people.
The Oglala, Cheyenne, and Nez Perce followed their own stars until those constellations were robbed of their light by men with superior hardware and numbers. None of America’s indigenous People went gently into that dark night. The New Tribe was simply too formidable to repulse.
As the Old Myth dissolved, so too went Bear and Wolf, Salmon and Crane, Beaver and Bison. The hoop was broken by the rectangular powers, wielded by a people closed off from their own inner rhythms. Standing behind the symbol of their mythos, the bisected rectangle of the cross, these people came to conquer. And succeeded by spilling the Old Myth’s blood, insulting the Mystery that had held the Earth intact for untold eons.
Today, we are initiates into a culture of perpetual youth, relegated to whatever passes for fashion/identity. We stare into a menagerie of fickle identities and wonder who we are. A landscape of children in a game for adults.
But the pursuit of happiness was never meant to be a game show. There is no Door Number 3, no Wheel of Fortune. The faster one runs, the more the scenery seems to speed up, always one step beyond. The Great Mystery is not a thing that can be possessed.
The awakened know they are being tricked, while dreamers look to the sky for answers. Do they see an infinite sparkle of stars, a magnificent blazing awareness? What are the stars thinking?
The songs of the Old Myth still echo within all beings. Much like a radio, one must adjust the tuner to find a signal. Those songs carry the dreams of Bear, Trout, Firefly and Skink. We live in a world of stories and Roundness. Where tree frogs become raccoons and fly away on gossamer wings. Where planets come and go in orbits leading to the other side of a dark star.
An innumerable assemblage of suns cast photons into the Void, then explode in a final burst of fire. These explosions carry the stuff of matter. The shapes of things. We are those things. The boundaries are imaginary, much like the convictions we defend, often with our own lives. Or someone else’s life. We must not become casual with the Gift.
Salvation is not difficult to reach, nor particularly exclusive. It’s simply a matter of looking and seeing. Roundness.
Notes: A nod to Paul Shepard’s Coming Home to the Pleistocene; Candy Morton’s Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People; Gary Snyder’s Earth Household; S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History; Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years; Nanao Sakaki’s Break the Mirror. And, of course, a bow to Calvin Luther Martin’s The Way of the Human Being.
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