One of the concepts central to Native American beliefs is the principle that “we are the land.” Woven tightly into many aspects of Native American life and spirituality, this fundamental idea goes beyond being close to nature or seeing the world through an environmental lens. The American Indian dogma of “we are the land” centers around the belief that the Earth is the mind of the people and the people are the mind of the earth. It is impossible to separate the two and our destiny can’t be isolated because the Earth is a part of our being and a reflection of ourselves.
“We are the land” is not a romantic analogy meant to convey that one is a “nature lover” or “close to nature;” rather, it means that we are literally the same being, composed of the same connections and consciousness that ties the roots of the Earth to the roots of human bodies and minds. Just like the base chakra, if these roots are not grounded, it is impossible to create connections with the world around you. Because we are one and the same, everything is sacred and must be honored, loved, and respected. From mountains and oceans to honeybees and flowers, all living things are made up of the same five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Native American Indians see nothing standing between them and Wakan Tanka, which can be loosely translated as the “Big Holy.” Wakan Tanka is not a god of punishment, but the ruling power of Good.
At the time of creation, the Creator to the Native People gave these sacred instructions:
- Do nothing to pollute our Mother, rise up with wisdom to defend her.
- Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world.
- Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother.
- Take full responsibility for your actions.
- Be truthful and honest at all times.
- Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
- Look after the well being of mind and body.
- Do what you know to be right.
- Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.
- Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.
- Show great respect for your fellow beings.
- Remain close to the Great Spirit.
- Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
Everything is a part of us, and we are a part of everything – complete unity. Indigenous oral traditions passed down through generations preach the need to be humble in the face of Mother Nature, a wise mindset indeed. In fact, it would do “modern” society good to take a page out of the “we are the land” guidebook; by completely ignoring its directives, we continue to treat the Earth as an owned asset in a capitalist race to the bank. So far, we have polluted the air with harmful industrial emissions, poisoned the land with pesticides, and contaminated the water with chemicals. We have unleashed the destructive power of uranium by mining it and making bombs that are capable of complete annihilation.
By living close to the land, the First People understood the natural laws that govern the elements and knew it was wrong to dig up powerful substances buried deep within the Earth. Today, we live in a state of constant disconnect – from the Earth, our bodies, the beating heart of the All – and are finally being forced to face the consequences of years of disrespect to the laws of nature: massive superstorms and extreme climate changes unleash wind, fire, and flooding on an unprecedented scale.
Possibly the most important lesson we can learn from Native elders is the idea of harmony, that is, living in relation to the earth, the sky, the animals, the spirits. When you are dedicated to maintaining harmony – both within yourself and in your outside world – you are walking on what the Native traditions call the “path of beauty.”
To walk the Earth in harmony, in balance both within yourself and externally in the environment, requires purification to correct any discordance or “dis-ease.” You need to heal wherever you have not followed the natural order of life on Earth.
The Navajo “blessingway” teachings lay out this natural order in the four cardinal directions:
- East is the sunrise, the season of spring and new growth, when a child learns spiritual and moral standards.
- South is noon, the season of summer, when a youth receives an education and starts to work.
- West is sunset, the season of autumn and harvest, when the parent maintains the family and home, and becomes the storyteller and conducts ceremonies.
- North is midnight, the season of winter and endings, when the grandparent reflects on the Self, and teaches reverence for the natural order and how to restore resources and maintain the right relationship to the elements.
In the Center of the natural order is the hearth, informing all the directions through the central position of spirit and love.
Our modern tradition is radically different, comprised of competition, plunder, and despair. When you walk in harmony with all of the creation, you feel your connection to everything and everyone around you. You don’t plunder the resources of Earth or rape her for your own pleasure. You don’t strive to be or have more than anyone else. You live in the love of harmony and community, not the despair of failure, separation, isolation.
Walking in Beauty is the closing prayer from the Navajo Blessingway Ceremony, the main healing ceremony that is designed to bring forth positive blessings and prevent bad things from happening.
Walking in Beauty
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful…
Heal and Live in Harmony
Today we fail to invoke the sacred. We seem to be counting on technology to fix the problems we have created: a machine to collect all of the plastic littering our oceans; better detection systems to warn when hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, and tsunamis are approaching; slightly less harmful pesticides and herbicides; a way to inject the CO2 we have emitted into the atmosphere back into the ground. Compare these short-term solutions to what the elders are trying to teach us: new scientific discoveries will not necessarily be the change that leads to the betterment of all living beings.
What is needed is a change in attitude – a change in awareness.
It is only when we understand and live the true meaning of unity that we will bring our inner lives into harmony and heal our “dis-ease.” When we learn humility and stop treating our Mother Earth like a personal treasure chest to fund our every whim and desire, will we recognize a change in attitude. Coming into balance with all living beings and respecting their right to be here as much as our own will reflect a change in awareness. When we stop thinking we are safe and secure from the consequences of our own actions, then, and only then, will we be getting down to the root cause rather than simply treating the symptoms. Then, and only then, will we too walk in beauty.