Reclaiming the Sacred | Spirituality | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

In his new book, Reclaiming the Sacred: Healing Our Relationships with Ourselves and the World, Jeff Golden pulls together three decades of meticulous, wide-ranging research, spiritual practice, and lived experience into a prescription for our current situation, starting with an overview of the science of happiness and an examination of our longstanding epidemic of toxic materialism before forging onward and offering measures we can take to get back to center, all of it clearly stated and refreshingly free of jargon. In this excerpt, Golden, a Beacon resident, explores how all inhabitants of Earth belong to this planet we call home. indigenous (adj)

1: to be of the first people of a place
2: existing naturally or having always lived in a place
3: to be deeply, inextricably of a place

From the Latin indigena, "sprung from the land."

We are every one of us indigenous to this immense, gorgeous planet. We have all of us sprung forth from this land and these waters. Every nuance of our bodies is composed of the body of this planet—the earth, air, water, other plants and creatures—each transformed into our skin, blood, bones, electricity, pheromones. We are all children of this planet, children of the mountains, the rivers, the forests.

We are each of us part of an unbroken chain that connects us back to the very first forms of life on this planet, to the moment they sprang from the womb of this planet's waters. We each carry an inheritance passed down to us from those earliest ancestors; tucked away in each of our DNA are some of the patterns, the gene families, of those very first beings.

This is true not just for us but for all living beings; every form of life on Earth contains that same genetic inheritance carried forward from the first ones, every living being part of our extended family—every dragonfly, cactus, salmon—all of them connected with first life, all our relatives.

For the entire history of humanity, we have existed in an intimate dance with these relatives. Who and what we are has been shaped by the 8.7 million species that share this planet with us, and those that preceded us, a brilliant coevolution, in this tiny, beautiful nook of the universe, home to all of us.

Indeed, we are children not just of this planet, but of the broader universe, of creation. Every particle in our bodies came bursting into existence in the same moment and same place as every other particle everywhere, regardless of the transformations and journeys they may have experienced since then. In a sense your body was there—every particle in your body was there, witness to and participant in the birth of all. Every particle in the most distant stars and worlds and moons is a sibling to the ones in your body, as is every particle here on this planet with you. Every particle in every canyon, breeze, mouse, starfish, volcano—each is your relation.

This is you: indigenous to this world, relation to all of life, relation to all of creation.

We are also, every one of us, descendants of indigenous people. Indeed, almost all of our ancestors were indigenous. All of our ancestors for most of the 300,000 years of human history have been indigenous. The earliest any of our ancestors took up agriculture, a major part of the shift from that way of living, was less than 12,000 years ago, and for most people an indigenous way of life continued well beyond that, for some right up until and through the present.

For many of us, our connection with our indigenous roots may be deeply obscured, whether because our more recent ancestors assimilated into nonindigenous cultures, or because our indigenous cultures were violently denied to our ancestors. Author and activist Lyla June, who is of both Diné and European heritage, and who grew up with a strong connection to her Native American ancestors, writes movingly of her awakening to her obscured European indigenous roots.

I have been called a half-breed. I have been called a mutt. Impure. I have been told my mixed blood is my bane. That I'm cursed to have an Indian for a mother and a cowboy for a father.

But one day, as I sat in the ceremonial house of my mother's people, a wondrous revelation landed delicately inside of my soul. It sang within me a song I can still hear today. This song was woven from the voices of my European grandmothers and grandfathers. Their songs were made of love.

They sang to me of their life before the witch trials and before the crusades. They spoke to me of a time before serfdoms and before Roman tithes. They spoke to me of a time before the plague; before the Medici; before the guillotine; a time before their people were extinguished or enslaved. ... They spoke to me of a time before the English language existed. A time most of us have forgotten.

These grandmothers and grandfathers set the ancient medicine of Welsh bluestone upon my aching heart. Their chants danced like the flickering light of Tuscan cave-fires. Their joyous laughter echoed on and on like Baltic waves against Scandinavian shores. They blew worlds through my mind like windswept snow over Alpine mountain crests. They showed to me the vast and beautiful world of Indigenous Europe. This precious world can scarcely be found in any literature, but lives quietly within us like a dream we can't quite remember.

This is you, whoever you are, whoever your ancestors, whatever parts of the planet were home to them: you are the child of indigenous people. For countless cycles of moons and suns, for centuries upon millennia times millennia, your people have lived in intimate relationship with the land and seasons, the moon and stars, the flora and fauna, have lived on the land where their parents lived and theirs before them, have lived their ancestors' languages, stories, rituals.

To be clear, very few of us in the US are Indigenous (capital I), as in Native American/Indian. Only about 2 percent of us are descendants of the first people of this land. To be Indigenous to this land is to have a particular connection with place, culture, and ancestry. It comes with a particular political, economic, and historical reality, with both deep blessings and deep wounds, all very much alive and continuing to unfold. This is not about infringing on, or in any way claiming, that identity for any non-Indigenous people. This is about those other very different but also critical understandings of indigenous (lowercase i), which contain very important truths for all of us. It is about recognizing the beautiful and essential ways in which every one of us is indigenous to this world, to our lives, to all that is.

It is about recognizing that you can never be separated from your inherent belonging or sacred place in the order of life and creation.

No matter the things you've done or haven't done. No matter what your parents or grandparents have done, what your people or your society have done. No matter the things that have been done to you. No matter how wounded you or your people are.

It doesn't matter how superficial or consumptive or violent the culture is that you live in. It doesn't matter how ridiculous or ineffectual or hurtful the economic or political system is around you, or the media or the educational system, or your family.

It doesn't matter if you live in a forest or in a skyscraper, on the edge of the ocean or in a shantytown or a prison. You don't need to travel somewhere special, meet with someone special, read or watch something special, do anything special. The truth and miracle of you are never any further than where you are, never any further than right there inside you. You carry it with you, always and everywhere.

This truth can be obscured from us. It can be hidden or buried; it can be ignored or denied. Our culture of consumption, our economy of ownership, our language of resources and utility—these can all obscure our awareness of our fundamental sacredness and belonging. So, too, can the profound disconnect from nature that many of us experience. As well as the pace of life, the stimulation of technology, and the distraction of information. And the disregard...and the insult...and the violence directed at us personally and flowing all around us.

At the same time, many experiences and places and people can help us to remember who we are, to feel it, and to live into the truth of our sacredness.

Still, none of these obstacles or supports can ever change the truth.

Your belonging and sacred place in the whole of everything cannot ever be lost or diminished. You can never be an outsider to life or to the universe or to the sacred. You are as intimately indigenous to them—and they are as intimately indigenous to you—as anybody and anything that has ever existed.

Jeff Golden

Jeff Golden has been teaching and writing about these topics for over thirty years, most recently at Vassar College. He was a Fulbright Scholar in sustainable development and a recipient of the State Department’s Millennium International Volunteer Award. He is a prison reform and animal rights activist, and has...
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