Living in a Western culture your life is compartmentalized. Maybe not across the board but largely so unless you’ve made a concerted effort to change what’s handed to us. That means creative expression is separate from work, which in turn is isolated from spirituality. Possibly the closest overlap may be spirituality relating to family or relationship. Or if you’re in a creative field of work where your deeper needs may be unleashed. Such disconnection results in dissatisfaction—an underlying sense of emptiness and lack of freedom that snowballs over time. Containment. I’m quite sure it wasn’t always that way but probably began with the Industrial Revolution and a move away from the land and community. The fact remains: it’s undeniably present. People attempt to fill the hole with ways that don’t work and are often quite harmful.
I had two reminders recently that initiated this post. A young woman from Los Angeles came into The Gallery in Williams, an artist cooperative where I’m a member. I happen to be on duty. When we struck up a conversation, I identified myself as one of the artists.
“I’m an artist,” she said then gestured to her partner. “But he’s a fine artist.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“He’s a full-time artist. But I work in a corporation. If I ever have time, then maybe I can do a little something.” Her shoulders slumped, and I could see she rarely had the time or energy left over to devote, given her hours and pressures at work.
I told her I used to live the same way. But over time I made conscious decisions to realign my life to what I believe, care about and what gives me energy rather than takes it…that it’s truly possible…that I had to do it for my own wellbeing or suffer the consequences. She asked for my contact information and said, “You’re going to hear from me.” Whether I do or not, I sensed we weren’t just making small talk. In those few moments, possibility created a crack in a previously closed space. And as Leonard Cohen said, “That’s how the light gets in.”
The issue: We don’t have many role models within our culture for those who lead an integrated life. I feel fortunate that I’ve had ongoing influences over twenty years. But it didn’t come from my own culture. I began to understand there was another way to live because I witnessed it within traditional Indigenous communities, especially those where I’ve spent consistent amounts of time. That’s how I know what I’ve seen isn’t isolated. Spiritual beliefs aren’t relegated to one day or a few minutes a week. They permeate everything: the way fields are tilled, the manner food is cooked, how children are raised, the things they create, and how communities interact.*
All is soundly grounded in such a way that gives life meaning and depth throughout. I have so much gratitude for this exposure, which has taught me the “how.” After a time of repetitive experiences, I consciously began to change how I live my own life. In the beginning, it seemed radical and difficult. Now it would be so to live any other way. Any aspect of my life organically dovetails into another.
I’ve just returned from this year’s spiritual travel program in Bolivia and Peru. Our Hopi program is coming soon in March, an opportunity for a solid week of witnessing what I discuss here. So my thoughts on integration are very present.
In closing circles I’ve heard concerns from travelers whether they’ll be able to experience the same depth at home. Of course, you can. Any deeply spiritual experience lives inside you always—no matter the form of its delivery. It becomes part of your identity and can be readily called into consciousness if you need a reminder.
I’ve also heard comment about withholding such spiritual consciousness, as though it would become tainted, if carried over to another aspect of life—usually work. Why would you want to keep it in the closet? That would cause internal conflict. (Understand I’m not talking at all about proselytizing, a different matter entirely I find an offensive intrusion.)
When you live through your spiritual values, there’s a trickle down effect shaping who you are in the world, what you believe about yourself and others, how you approach matters, what you create. It doesn’t even involve talking about those values. Yet, all shifts. It’s often visible to others as well. Even if they can’t put their finger on the difference.
I long ago realized folks come to engage in these journeys for reasons they may not be able to articulate but are present throughout all the same. It may play out in different forms but the desire for clarity, resolution and integration are primary and inform re-entry home.
We’re all tested all the time. It comes down to belief about possibility, choice and knowing the “how to.” It means staying strong so you can walk through life with grace. It means knowing the full sense of your birthright and giving yourself a chance to own it.
*That doesn’t mean influences for Indigenous peoples to get off track are nonexistent. There are, mostly coming from Western ways. If they give in to them, the same angst occurs and harms wellbeing…maybe more so because their blood knows another way.
Invitation: Join us for our December 4-5 Spirit Keepers Series in Phoenix where Eli PaintedCrow, Yaqui-Mexica Wisdom Keeper, and I offer a primer on ways to walk in two worlds—Indigenous and Western—and live through spiritual values. Donation basis.