Soon after I left my family in Michigan and moved to California at 20, I went on a memorable 4-night backpacking trip with the Sierra Club into the High Sierras. Our destination was Kingsley Cave, the site of a massacre of Yahi Indians who made their home around Lassen Volcanic Peak.
The genocide of the Yahi was the final extermination campaign waged by the American government and people against Native Americans. The sole survivor of his tribe, Ishi, was labeled “the last wild Indian.” Starving, he walked into the nearby town of Oroville at the beginning of the 20th century.
As Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and social activist wrote in 1967, “The Mill Creek Indians, whose country came within a few miles of Vina, where the Trappist monastery in California stands today…once seen as bloodthirsty devils, were peaceful, innocent, and deeply wronged human beings.”
“The fact that the last of the Mill Creeks were able to go into hiding for 50 years in the woods and canyons during the war of extermination against his people is extraordinary enough. But the courage, the resourcefulness, and the sheer nobility of these few stone-age men struggling to preserve their life, their autonomy, and their identity as a people rises to the level of tragic myth.”
How were they able to sustain themselves? Merton asks: “What makes for stability? For psychic strength? For endurance, courage, faith?” These questions echo within everyone who remains inwardly alive in this culture and world.
Part of the reason was that “the Yahi were on their own home ground.” However “of very great importance to their psychic health was the circumstance that their suffering and curtailments arose from the wrongs done in them by others. They were not guilt-ridden.”
What a contrast between the Yahi and the American people today. Two fabricated Gulf wars by father and son presidents, with the latter reacting nationalistically and starting a ‘global war on terror” rather than rightly treating 9.11 as the crime against humanity that it was. Torture and rendition, which Trump wants to reinstate, were the final nails in the nation’s moral coffin, making a mockery of what America once stood for.
The two great original sins of this nation were slavery and the decimation of Native Americans. The legacy of both persists to this day.
As long as America cared about the rest of the world, and at least attempted to lead with respect to human rights, we retained our soul as a people. No more. How does a nation recover its soul?
There is no going back to some image of what we once were as a people, and the more we try to do so the more divided and corrupt we become.
Without the romantic idea of returning to our True Selves or Great America, we have to begin with the basic questions. What does it mean to be a human being? And what does it mean to be a citizen in a global society?
We need to understand, and teach children, that one can no longer be first a citizen of a particular country without a being a traitor to all of humanity.
Many people these days avoid the news as much as they can. I know one young man who refuses to hear about anything that’s going on in the world. That’s irresponsible, a futile attempt to insulate oneself from the world.
On the other hand, I understand the urge to withdraw from the world. There are two reasons I can see to do so: to dedicate one’s life solely to the contemplative life; or because spiritual survival, much less making a difference in the world, are not possible.
The known is conditioning, experience, beliefs, opinions and psychological memory. Speaking for myself, one leaves the stultifying stream of the known on nearly a daily basis now, but the mind and brain revert and return to it.
I’m not sure why, but leaving the stream of the known happens like this. Passive awareness in the mirror of nature allows the senses to become acute. Awareness quickens and ends the infinite regression of the observer.
Unseen, undirected attention gathers, thought yields, and the mind falls silent. Time ends, and one sees and feels the actuality of death, which is in every breath. There is wholeness, peace, and “union with God.” This is the only thing I’m entirely sure is true, inviolate and incorruptible.
Without separation, the work of bringing about a revolution in consciousness that changes the basic course of humankind has become very urgent. Are enough people awakening, and can the match be struck at this time?