Vocation is an essential component in the transition from childhood to
adulthood. In traditional Indian psychology, it is the ability to listen
and follow "the voice within" that determines the emotional health of the
individual. And that is the crisis that many youngsters are facing in
Indian country, a crisis in vocation.
Youth is a time characterized by the intensity of energy, and therefore the
need for channels for it. When youngsters find channels that meet their
needs, their energy works for them, they unfold their skills and become
more talented individuals. When they are unable to find channels to meet
their passion, their energy works against them and they suffer a split
between the being they were meant to be, and the one they actually become:
They become alienated from their true self. The way back to their true self
is found in their vocation. Many tribes have ceremonies and rituals that
help to get in touch with this voice. These procedures provide valuable
social structures to assist individuals during the transitions of their
lives, their rights of passage. They also serve two purposes: On the one
hand they provide the individual with the opportunity to get in touch with
himself; on the other one, they assist the individual in finding a path in
While this voice tends to emerge during our adolescence, it can speak to us
at any stage of our life.
The Huichol Indians tell us that there are two kinds of human beings: those
who listen to their inner-voice and those who ignore it.
The ones who listen to their inner-voice move in harmony with the flow of
life, which the Huichols represent by a magical deer, "hicuri."
The Huichol Indians tell us that when we ignore our inner-voice we become
ghosts while still in the body, mere shadows of ourselves. Since we have
lost our integrity, we become "beings of duality," and we are never at
peace with ourselves.
But no matter what we do, and how much we may ignore our inner-voice, our
heart never gives up on us. The Mayas tell us that within our heart lives a
Quetzal, the bird of life, and the Quetzal goes on talking to us. The voice
becomes clearer during the night as we sleep and dream. It becomes clear
also when we take time to be in silence, when we fast or when we spend time
in solitude. At times it may even assault us when we deal with pain or
suffer a breakdown. Our sickness may be an attempt of our heart to
straighten our life. For some, the only way they are going to listen to
their inner-voice and return to their true self is to "hit bottom," to
reach the end of the road.
These are the two paths that lead to our vocation: The "smooth way," the
one where vocation has been followed since it's early call. And the "hard
way," the one we find after we hit bottom.
The smooth way is facilitated by instruction and education; the hard way
requires healing and transformation.
With so many of our youngsters losing their vocation the first time around,
what we are in dyer need of is culturally appropriate strategies of healing
and transformation. These, often come from individuals who have followed
the "hard way," that is, individuals who have arrived at "good judgment"
via "bad judgment."
Nevertheless, the main goal is that every one of our members, sooner or
later, finds their way back to their vocation and their communities. In
this journey home we all have a role to play.