I had a dream last night that I had gotten busted for speeding. Neither the actual infraction nor any people were part of the dream. What I knew was that I had been doing 28 mph in a 25 mph zone. What bothered me greatly was that my punishment was three days in jail, one for each mph over the limit. It seemed so unfair—especially since we all know that you can usually do 7 mph over the limit and get away with it. Three days was a big hole in my life, and it really grated on me that I would be out of the race for that long. (That, even though I am not actually doing much racing these days.) I then found that I would be doing my time out in the woods.
The allegory started to reveal itself as I sat in the woods. This was not a speeding violation as much as an intervention courtesy of Mother Nature. The first thing I realized was that even a small breach of our limits was not okay. The second was that the jail time in the woods was not punishment as much as sensitivity training. I was to sit there until I started to understand that there were other beings in my midst that I was not paying any attention to, something all too easy to miss when you are rolling down the road in your car with all the windows up and the radio blasting. That was the way I was interpreting it in any case.
It seemed that my subconscious (or whatever it is) was telling me that I was being unintentionally rude to the others that I didn’t recognize in my midst. I think we all want to be hospitable and accommodating with others when we can. If we are scared or insecure, we may not, but it may also be because we just aren’t aware that somebody is there. If you walk into a room and turn the music up loud only to discover that somebody else is in the room, your immediate reaction will probably be to apologize.
What I’m getting at is that I think we have a hard time cutting back on the disproportionate share of resources that we humans use because we haven’t personally granted “personhood” to the others in the room. “Personhood” is something that you grant to the old person next door that you check in on as opposed to your chainsaw, which you also attend to and care for. The old person next door may give you nothing but the satisfaction that they are well, but the chainsaw that does no work for you goes on the junk heap. There is a personal relationship that we all need to have with nature if we are going to willingly and happily share what we have, up to now, claimed for ourselves. We’ve been treating nature more like our chainsaw. The benefits of sharing with the rest of nature may not always be immediately apparent, but if we realize that its welfare is our welfare, it shouldn’t matter.
Many Native American tribes seem to have a strong acceptance of the personhood of sister raven and brother beaver. I think we have all intuitively understood the value of their cosmology in being much more environmentally respectful than what our popular culture goes with. How can we incorporate that into our lives? One way might be something similar to what some tribes call a “vision quest.”
As I understand it, adolescents are sent off alone into the wilderness to seek a vision, which might reveal to them a totem animal, which may inform the nature of the life they will lead. They usually go alone and may fast and be exposed to the elements for several days before they receive their vision. This can be a difficult and scary trial, but the very difficulty is probably what lends weight and authority to the experience.
This brings me back to my dream. My three days jail time seemed to have some resemblance to a vision quest. I’m not saying that we can have the same experience of a Native American vision quest simply by calling it that. Most of us are not part of that culture. But the general procedure should be valuable for anybody. Find a place in the woods devoid of human evidence other than yourself. No big vistas—better in my mind that it is mundane, small scale, and close. I’m picturing soil, some bushes and maybe a tree trunk, but it can be whatever suits you. Sit there for an hour, a day, three days with fasting—however far you want to get into it. Empty your mind, observe, be open to receive, get to know your neighbors. The more you invest in it, the more you receive. If we all did that, we would have a different world. I think the Wilderness Awareness School and the Cedarsong Way/Huckleberry Kids preschool are on the right track.