Rituals in Indian country


Rituals have been essential for the preservation of life and culture in
Indian country. They were there at our birth and they will be there at our
death. Rituals will also be there along the way as we go through the
different stages of life. Let us take a moment to reflect on the nature of
rituals and the role rituals have played for the survival of our people.

A ritual is a way to do two main things. The first is to create a protected
space where each participant can drop from the head to the heart. The
second is to encourage each participant to bring his or her deepest self to
the open.

The protection is in how the ritual has a beginning and it has an end.

The opportunity is there. For a moment, conventional time and space are put
aside. One enters what numerous tribes call "dream time."

Here, there is no pretending. This is no role-playing, or psychodrama.
Here, everything is for real. Intensity, a key factor in traditional
healing, brings the participants of the ritual right to the moment, and
into a non-ordinary world. As they go through the ritual, the experience
allows them to become aware of non-conceptual elements of their being.

In today's world fear, vulnerability and misunderstandings are not unusual
consequences of this lack of ritual. Much of the alienation that has become
epidemic in our modern world has to do with the absence of meaningful
rituals in our lives.

Compulsions may be the way wounded souls survive the absence of meaningful
rituals, the equivalent of the vanished individuals of their tribes. They
have no communities to return to, that is, the ground of ritual, and the
individual feels deprived of social meaning.

And what does a vanished person do?

One sees his or her life end with one's self. There is no transcendency nor
companionship. One does not experience solitude, but isolation and

And in this aloneness, there is still a community life that keeps trying to
reach others, like the salmon trying to swim up the dams built on the path
to their original rivers. They are just exhausting their lives there, not
going anywhere.

For awhile, western psychologists, having seen the dark side of collective
life - like the nationalism that gave rise to totalitarian systems -
emphasized the "individual," autonomy, independence and self-reliance.

With time, we have seen devastating consequences. Extremisms tend to be
devastating to society. Individualism was not the exception. What we have
found is radical hedonism, the endless search for personal gratification.
Greed and a disregard for others and for nature.

This social character, so in tune with capitalism has taken us to the edge
of consumerism and human survival. There are not enough resources for
humanity to lead a life like the one of industrialized nations, nor a need
for people to live as they have been living in Western civilizations.
Having as a way of living. Corporate systems, driven primarily by profit,
have generated human beings that view their humanity as a handicap for
their social advancement. Modern man has turned his back on his soul in
order to succeed.

The Hopi Indians described this state of life long ago. It was the time of
Koyaanisqatsi: Life without balance. During this time, a particular force
would grow to unprecedented proportions. Like with all ancestral
prophecies, the one of the Hopi tells us that our way out of this mess is
our return to balance: To discover our essential unity with each other; to
listen to the earth; to cultivate peace: To return to ritual.

We will do well to listen to our ancestors.