Uncivilized

Galena, Alaska sits on the north bank of the Yukon River on the 64th N parallel, just two parallels shy of the Arctic Circle.  Flying out of Galena’s now inactive Air Station in the summer of 1973 in my T-33, I once saw the sun set and rise within a 15-minute stretch.  As I climbed to altitude, the sun dipped briefly below the horizon for those few minutes before it rose again.  I will always remember that event.

Forty years later, I live in the Sonoran Desert.  I physically watch the sunrise every morning from a quiet place hidden in petroglyphed rocks.  Most frequently, I play my flute.  As the sun crests the Catalina Mountains to the East, I bow to it, the sun and place my trust – all of my trust – in God.

I find great similarities between the Arctic and the Desert.  Both are still and quiet.  In his foolishness, humankind has attempted to tame and exploit both.

Why do ‘advanced’ cultures always force their perception of civilization on the rest of the planet?  Answer:  control.  Human beings feel compelled to be in control.  That is our original sin, our bite from the apple:  to attempt to control everything and everybody.  Control spawns conflict, and conflict is the breeding ground for anger and hatred.  No good comes from either.

OhiyesaOne of my favorite books – a book I read again and again – is The Soul of an Indian by Native American writer Ohiyesa, born in 1858 on a Santee Dakota reservation in Minnesota.  The Dakota tribes were Eastern Sioux.  When he converted to Christianity, Ohiyesa took the name Charles Alexander Eastman.  Ohiyesa – I prefer his Native American name – was educated in European-American style schools and graduated from the esteemed Dartmouth College in 1887.

Ohiyesa’s book The Soul of an Indian – one of more than a dozen books he penned – was published in 1911, well after he became and ‘educated’ man.  The book is filled with insightful observations from a Native American who became ‘civilized.’  His observations will open your eyes.

In my quest to achieve a sense of minimalism in my life, I have become fond of Ohiyesa’s observation in 1911

“It has always been our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome.  Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way it will in time disturb the spiritual balance for which we all strive.”

Take stock of your possessions and the importance you place upon them and you will know what Ohiyesa meant.

Ohiyesa speaks often of religion and writes

“Long before I heard of Christ or saw a white man… I knew God.  I perceived what goodness is.  I saw and loved what is really beautiful.  Civilization has not taught be anything better.”

I believe we are born with that knowledge of goodness in our hearts.  We learn things that are not good – things like hatred and anger – from cynical adults who don’t know we are watching as children as they spew vitriolic tirades about their personal lives, politics, religion and everything else.  We have become a race that seeks to control and anger and hatred are extensions of that objective to manipulate and manage everything around us.  We pass that on to our children.  It is time for each of us to re-evaluate that part of our birthright.

I want to believe our Native Americans were not manipulators.

Joni Mitchell’s chorus continues to play repeatedly in my mind

“We are Stardust, We are Golden, and We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.”

As I wandered through the early morning desert, I was awed by everything I saw; everything I heard, the wind through the Saguaro cactus, the birds; everything I felt, the heat, the touch of the wind, the cool stones in the wash; everything I smelled, the sweetness of the acacia, the pungency of a nearby javelina ….

Is the desert here for me, or am I here for the desert, I ask myself.  I conclude that I am here to learn its lessons and to serve it even as it serves me.

If civilization is an advanced state of intellectual, cultural and material development, I think I prefer to be uncivilized.

“We are Stardust, We are Golden, and We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.”

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  1. Thank you, Gene. Very timely for me, and one for me to share with so many others.

    Greg