You know you belong to the Land

You know you belong to the Land

Indigenous understandings of the world and of life are woven deeply into the American experience in ways you simply don’t notice. Here’s an example, one that should give you a lift of powerful joy. It’s from the very end of the main number for which the movie “Oklahoma!”(1) is named. The scene takes place at the end of the story. Watch it once, just to enjoy it and feel the lift it gives you. Then read my explanation below, and watch it a second time with new eyes and ears. (See footnote for full citation.)

The Land itself speaks to you through this little film clip. Here is why I say that. First, the word “Oklahoma” is in the Choctaw language. I have always loved it that this production has all these non-Native people crouched down and rising up, chanting in Choctaw. What they are saying is “Indian Nations” in Choctaw, the language of one of the Five Tribes sent in the 1830s to what has since become the state of Oklahoma (2). The non-Native people in the movie represent settlers who moved into Indian Territory, despite promises it would always be land set aside for Indians. In the film clip, they are chanting “Indian Nations” in the Choctaw language! And here is the salient point about that: we Native people see our languages as having been given to us by the Land itself. So there’s actual, real power in this chanting.

Second, these non-Native people are doing what sure looks to me like part of a Round Dance. At the beginning there, when the people in the middle are crouched down, there are two lines of people moving in opposite circles around the outside of the crouching group. You see that in a very big Round Dance that winds far enough to turn back on itself. The people who choreographed that scene might say they hadn’t ever seen one of our Round Dances or weren’t thinking of it if they had. But we Native people believe our dances were given to us by the Land, too. So I would ask, “Where do you suppose the idea to have people circle this way during this chanting came from?” I think there are things moving here a lot of people just don’t see at first.

By the way, if you want to say there are, in your own homeland’s culture, dances that circle this way . . . well, that Land of your culture’s home provides people with dances too. That’s how we see it, anyway. It’s not just our Land here that does this. A Circle is a very important shape and often shows up in dances, designs of many kinds, and in natural structures such as nests, dens, and lodges. The point is: a circle is an important natural shape that manifests important attributes of the Land, and that therefore shows up in dances the Land inspires. And there it is, right in that movie scene. The Land is literally moving through those dancers and the choreographer.

Finally, listen to the words the people sing when they stand up at the end of the clip. “We know we belong to the Land” is not at all typical of the way people in the dominant culture see Land ownership. They say “I own this piece of land. This land belongs to ME” — not “I belong to the Land.” No, that phrase “We belong to the Land” expresses a particularly Indigenous view of reality. And to say “We know we belong to the Land” . . . well if that’s not the Land itself speaking through the song lyricist’s pen, I don’t know where those words came from. You might be able to explain away the two previous things I’ve pointed to, but this phrase “we belong to the Land” defies any logic of Western worldview. Added to that, the phrase is preceded by a strong statement that “We know this” to be so.

The words of the song are telling you that you know the thing it’s telling you — the thing that runs counter to one of the most fundamental principles of Western culture, that people own the land. It’s telling you that’s not how it is, and that you already know this. The song’s words say, literally, that we all know, deep inside, that we belong to the Land. Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote these words, was of Jewish and Scotch-Irish descent (from what I was able to learn). He certainly didn’t seem to be of Indian descent.

Now watch the clip again, hearing the Choctaw chant and seeing the Round Dance and the strong assertion “We know we belong to the Land.”

Taking all these things together, maybe you can start to see why, if you look at this clip with Native eyes and ears, you start to hear and see the strong presence of the Land moving through all the people involved. Why does this matter? After the people sing “We know we belong to the Land,” they sing, “And the Land we belong to is grand.” That’s also a true statement, and a very important one. It’s true the Land is grand because it is literally the ground of our existence. It is written into your body — your bones, your teeth, your blood, your muscles. Where do you think the atoms come from that form your physical body? The Land is written into the bodies of all the people who somehow staged this incredibly Native piece of song and dance, too — a production number that brought audiences to their feet in live theaters and probably brought your heart to its feet just now. Because you could FEEL it, couldn’t you? A little like the way you felt something powerful moving in you when you played the videos of quarantined people calling and singing and clapping together from their apartments? You felt the power of knowing that we ALL belong to the Land, and the Land we belong to is grand, and that this connects us in a fundamental and essential way. The Land is grand, not for its military might or its economic muscle or its scientific prowess, but for its genuine life-giving POWER. This is why yesterday I said that we Native people are drawing on the Power of the Land to help us through this time, and suggested you might join us in doing the same.

You may not have been consciously aware that the Land is part of who you are, and you are quite literally a part of everything around you, but your heart knows this truth. It leaps with emotion when you perceive the deep connectedness between us. This is what Indigenous people mean when we say “we are all relations.” It’s an essential concept for these times. It’s what can help us, as a nation of people — not a nation of political ideologies or a nation of economic agendas, but a nation of people — to triumph over the challenge facing us now. There is great wisdom in the Land, and in real reciprocal relationship that can guide us through this time of terrible danger — if you can learn how to perceive and respond to it. More importantly, this wisdom can lead us into a powerful time of renewal on the far side of the events unfolding today.

Remember the power of paradox.


1. “Oklahoma!” 1955. Fred Zinnemann, Director. Sonya Levien, William Ludwig, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Lynn Riggs, Writers. Magna Theatre Corporation and Rodgers & Hammerstein Productions. Oscar Hammerstein is the lyricist who wrote the words sung in this film clip. However, “Oklahoma” itself — Okla Humma — is Choctaw. This video clip is used under the Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

2. That forced migration is known as the Trail of Tears, and it was a hard time for many people. It’s estimated that about 2,500 of the 15,000 Choctaw alone (not counting the other nations) died of exposure, disease, and hunger on the Trail of Tears. That’s a fatality rate of over 16%. By comparison, the fatality rate of COVID-19 is roughly 2% of those infected. But not everyone is infected with coronavirus, which is why our actions now can make a difference. If we can reduce the numbers of people infected, it will make a huge difference in the number of people who die. Everyone who went on the Trail of Tears, however, was at risk for fatality. No one escaped the “infection” of forced relocation.

Together We Are a Strong People

Together we are a strong people. Our actions provide hope as we face COVID-19.Today, Sunday the 29th of March, we finally saw the projected numbers for possible deaths that I have long known* were the reality we face. I expect these numbers gripped many Americans in a physiological shock response. Here is how to know if that’s what happened to you. In a shock response, you feel all the energy in your body drop into the pit of your stomach like ice water. At the same time, you feel the blood drain out of your limbs as if someone pulled a plug somewhere. All this happens in the space of a fraction of a second. If you’re standing up at the time, you feel you may faint. A shock response is the body’s reaction to traumatic levels of fear. If that happens to you, here is what you must do.

First, breathe. Focus on the exhale. Don’t just think about it, but do it right now. Exhale longer than you inhale. At first it might be hard. You might even feel like you can’t get a breath to come IN to your lungs at all. That’s why it helps to focus on the EXhale at first. If you have to, push in your stomach with your hands a little, to help drive the air out of your lungs. Close your eyes when you do it. Feel the air coming up out of your arms and legs as well as your lungs. Yes, I know technically, physically, that isn’t what happens. But in other ways, it is precisely what happens. Try it, and keep trying it, and you’ll see.

Eventually you will be able to draw in a nice breath. It might even make you shiver or hiccup when you do. When you can get a nice breath this way, make that next exhale even longer. Focus even more on the sense that all the rigidity in your arms and legs is melting or dissolving, and being blown out of your body with your breath. Once you get this process going, keep it up until you can feel the relaxation spreading through all your body, finally up through your shoulders, then your neck, and at last your jaws and face and scalp. Then shake your arms and hands loose, and shake out one leg at a time. Shake yourself all over. Yawn. Stretch.

Now. We don’t need to go into the biology of how or why that works. But it does, and you should be feeling a bit better as a result. Any time you feel your body grow rigid in the coming weeks, or you feel you can’t take a breath, repeat this process. It’s very important to keep your body relaxed enough for blood to circulate properly. This also keeps your body from secreting hormones that increase your sense of anxiety and fear. Feeling calm is a losing battle if you are fighting your own body. Breathing like this helps you and your body be on the same side. It helps you work together. This is important because fear actually makes us less able to think clearly.

So here are some clear thoughts, now that your mind and body are calm: Human beings have faced much worse pandemics than this one many, many times over the millennia. Most of them were from diseases that were a lot more lethal than this one. We all carry the genetic memories of those earlier times of plague — what we now call a pandemic. So of course our bodies respond with fear. But THIS time we humans know more than we did then. We understand how to short-circuit the disease’s transmission. In the past, people didn’t know any of the things we know now, that can help us protect ourselves and our families.

  • We know that the disease is caused by a virus, not by some strange characteristic of the air (called “miasma” — the place people of the dominant culture used to think diseases came from). Because we know where the disease comes from, we know that the key to staying healthy is avoiding close contact with someone who is sick, and also not spreading the disease ourselves through our own actions. That may seem very simple, but it’s something people did not know in the past.
  • Many, many researchers and physicians have been studying this particular virus for about three months. They have learned how it is passed from one person to another, what it takes to kill it, how long it can live on a surface such as a doorknob, and many other things. They have used this information to prepare all those guidelines you’ve been hearing: to wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds, to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, and to wipe down non-porous surfaces such as shopping cart handles, cell phones, and doorknobs. All these pieces of life-saving information are things people did not know in the past.
  • We know how diseases move through populations. By now you are hearing terms like “exponential growth” and “doubling time.” These are terms you will come to understand soon, if you haven’t quite wrapped your mind around them yet. They help all of us — and will help you — be able to SEE when our efforts to slow this virus’s spread actually take place. This will encourage us to not quit too soon. Some places are already seeing this slow-down happen. The measures we are taking have been taken in other places and they’ve worked. They will work here, too — IF we follow the guidelines.

The biggest threat to all of us is for some of us to act like we are still living in the year 1220 instead of the year 2020. Follow the guidelines. Live.

We also have many ways to treat viral pneumonia now that we didn’t have in the past. It’s true that our hospitals may be short on the equipment that can treat the sick, but that’s even more reason to follow the guidelines. Slowing the spread of this disease “flattens the curve” (as you’ve also heard) and allows hospitals to keep handing the influx of people who are ill. Again, if we pay attention to the things we know now that we did not know in the past, we humans can triumph over this pandemic.

Now for the non-medical parts of dealing with your shock response. Indian experience of being ravaged by new diseases is pretty recent. European settlers brought many diseases to America that had never been here before. Sometimes entire villages were wiped out within days by diseases such as smallpox. If any group of people in the world should be in a panic about this pandemic, it’s Indians. Let me share the way many of us are trying to see it, how we are talking about it to one another. Of course, that is what I have been doing for several posts already, and will be doing for many more to come. But right now we are talking about the way to handle this fear response, this sense of shock.

When you read the following words, I give you permission to “repeat after me” and say them (or some version of them) for yourself:

We have survived epidemics before, and we didn’t know as much then as we know now. We will survive this epidemic. It cannot beat us. We are a strong people.

We know that what matters is caring for our helpless, our very old, our very young, our mothers bearing babies. We know that those of us who are young and strong must be certain these others have food and water, shelter and clothing, and medicine. We are a people, not just individuals. We are relations. In our quarantine, yet we are one people and we let ourselves perceive this. In this unity is a strength that can overcome any challenge.

We know that the mind and body work together to keep people whole and healthy, to give people strength and keep people strong. We know we must rise each morning and pray for guidance and strength, and then pray again at night before we lie down to sleep. We must take good care of our bodies through this time in order to have the strong, calm wisdom these times call upon us to have. We must thank our bodies for helping us to be strong. We must thank our minds for helping us to think clearly and without fear.

We must breathe in the air of this Land and ask for its strength every day — for the strength of the mountains, of the rivers; of the skies and the forests, of the vast grasslands, of the deep lakes, of the seas that beat upon the shores and everything in those waters. These things are part of us, and we are part of them. They will help us in this time of trial. We must thank them for their help every day.

We must set aside time each day to do an act that reminds us to focus on these things. We Native people like to burn sage, but you can light a candle, pray or chant using beads, ring a bell, kneel, sing a sacred song, recite a poem, read a sacred text or tell a story from your own religious tradition, or any other thing that is an ACTION that calls your entire being into a focus on this one moment. And in that moment, rise up within yourself and feel the absolute KNOWLEDGE that you can face this time. For you were born into it, and here you are. So of course you can face it. More, you can help everyone in your family face it. Engage them in these actions with you. Include the children, for they are afraid too. Teach them these ways of your ancestors, who are also their ancestors. You can be the one who helps them find this strength within themselves, as you have found it.

Make no mistake, the strength to walk this road is within you. Fear can drive you away from that Knowledge. Fear can make you forget the Knowledge researchers have given you so you know what to do to protect yourself, your family, and everyone in your community from the ravages of this plague. Fear can make you forget the Knowledge of our ancestors that tells us how to live as strong human beings, with pride that we are part of a greater and very mighty whole. It is important you REMEMBER these Knowledges. Do not let fear make you forget them.

You are a human being. You can do this. WE can do this. TOGETHER.

—-

* I knew the numbers of expected fatalities because I am an evolutionary biologist. And, yes, I am enrolled Choctaw.. Those things are not mutually exclusive. If this seems puzzling or illogical to you, please read our pages on Different Ways of Knowing. It’s what we are all about, here. Thank you.

Some COVID Hope in Quarantine

We’ve talked about how important it is to slow down and start living in Real Time if you want to get in touch with the beneficial wisdom of Indigenous Knowledge that can generate COVID hope. Here’s your opportunity to experience Real Time, at least a little bit, and the peace it can bring in a time of great anxiety. We all need COVID hope while we’re in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place.

Play the video below. Focus on the sound of the wind in this video. Listen for the birds. Look at the grasses moving. Breathe. Let your body relax. Open your heart to the earth and the sky, the wind and the trees. Let the Land give you a sense of calm peacefulness. Exhale.

Now play the video again. See the area on the hill to your left at the beginning? There are fewer trees there because some years ago there was a very large and devastating wildfire that burned through this entire area — even the place where the photographer was standing to make this video! Why is this important? Because it reminds us all that sometimes things change, and in ways we consider devastating. That’s simply a part of life. But life goes on. And somehow there is beauty again. The world isn’t exactly the same as it was before, but the wind still blows through the grasses and the pines, the birds sing their winter song, and the sun shines even in a clouded autumn sky.

Life will come back again. Breathe. Relax your body. Release your anxiety. Resist the habit impulse to engage in displacement behaviors that will only make make your body more tense.

Watch this video whenever you want. It’s the Land’s gift of Real Time peace for COVID hope.

Filmed by Jo Belasco on the Pine Ridge of northwestern Nebraska, November 2019. The view is to the south and southwest, which are the directions associated with Experiential ways of knowing and Spiritual ways of knowing, respectively. If you look at the directions of south and west on our Circle model, you will see why these directions will help you receive healing from this video.

It’s About Time

Let this stone help usher you into Real Time, the doorway to Indigenous Knowledge that can ease anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic.Yesterday I shared some video clips of people all over the world singing, chanting, and clapping together in shared solidarity and hope. I asked if seeing and hearing these things made you feel something moving inside you, and suggested that what you felt moving was the deep Knowledge that we are all relations. I also said it’s possible you feel nothing at all when you see and hear such things, and that there’s a physiological reason for this. That reason is rooted in anxiety that takes people out of Real Time — and Real Time is the doorway to Indigenous Knowledge that can help ease anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Real Time is the actual, natural speed — or speeds, since it’s not uniform but ebbs and flows — at which events unfold or take place on their own. Flower buds, for instance, open in Real Time. You can’t peel back the closed petals to unfold a rose or a zinnia like a piece of origami. Tides come in and out according to rhythms that humans have nothing to do with. The sun rises and sets according to processes we cannot change, only pretend to change. So we might set our clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time and agree that the next morning it’s going to be 7 am and time to leave for work even though it’s still dark — but our bodies operate on Real Time, not human clock time. So that first Monday of DST sees the start of a day in which people are more likely to have a stroke, fatal car accident, or heart attack (the rate of which jumps by nearly 25% that day). The dissonance, or lack of agreement, between Real Time and the schedule the clock tells us to keep literally throws our bodies into chaos. Then body chemistry and the nervous system don’t work the way they usually do, with serious consequences. Yet we continue to think we can simply change our clocks and somehow change Real Time. Why?

Normally we feel fear during threatening events that have a beginning and an ending. The fear and the body’s physiological response to that fear also have a beginning and ending. But low-level stresses of many kinds can produce a sort of “hum” that stimulates the body to engage in a fear response that never really ends. It just rises and falls, depending on what’s going on. This is the type of stress you’ve probably read about, that over the long term seems to cause an increased likelihood of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Taking the subway to work, navigating jostling crowds, racing to meet a deadline under the watchful eyes of a predatory boss you feel wants to fire you, trying to balance your checkbook to pay your child care provider . . . all these sorts of daily events trigger the body’s fear response systems at an almost constant level. And of course the demands of our relationships with family and friends whose lives are equally hectic generate a whole other set of equally challenging stressors. The near-constant level of low-level fear associated with all these different stresses — not a fear of immediate death or injury, but a more vague and general fear of threats that can seldom be avoided or resolved — is anxiety.

People often respond to anxiety by engaging in quick activities called displacement behavior that permit the person (or animal, for these behaviors are documented in animals too, especially ones in some zoos), to “bleed off” the distress of being unable to find genuine relief from their stress. If you’ve ever been so anxious while awaiting urgent news or a medical report that you leapt to your feet and began to pace, then you’ve experienced a form of displacement behavior. Real relief for most people’s stresses would involve taking action such as quitting your hated job, not paying the bill you can’t afford, or not talking to your spouse about a problem you know will start a fight. As you can see, in modern life most people would say these are not real options. Almost everyone feels trapped by many aspects of daily life. So the average person’s body does something else, instead of the thing it really wants to do that would truly relieve the stress. Displacement behaviors are that “something else.”

Displacement behaviors like pacing use rapid activity to compensate for an inability to escape stress. Fast-paced displacement behaviors are actively applauded in contemporary culture. We are taught to pour the energy of our displacement behaviors into productivity. At work, we are rewarded for multitasking and taking on tight deadlines that require us to work overtime. Society rewards our children for engaging in extra-curricular activities every weeknight and most weekends. As you can see, the displacement behaviors we engage in to escape the stresses of daily life wind up generating even more stress. The system exacerbates itself.

When people speed up the pace of their lives this way, they step out of Real Time. They may work or be online far into the night, eventually experiencing chronically disturbed sleep patterns. Meals are often irregular or missed and frequently don’t provide necessary nutrients at the times the body needs them. When people engage in habitual displacement behaviors, their activities, meals, and sleep-wake cycle no longer mesh with the daily and seasonal rhythms of daylight and darkness that our pineal glands still sense and respond to with hormonal and other physiological changes. Ultimately, disengaging from Real Time this way causes a mental state called dissociation. A person who’s dissociated has a difficult time connecting to their surroundings and being fully aware of what’s going on. They feel “split”, as if part of them is not fully present. There are many explanations for dissociation, but one way to understand it is to see that a person living by the clock and appointment book rather than by the sun and the seasons experiences a very real split between their mind –which is living by human time — and their body, which can’t help but live in Real Time. That’s precisely the split responsible for increased heart attacks the first Monday of DST.

Because dissociation interrupts or interferes with the mind-body connection, severe dissociation often makes it harder to feel our emotions. So people who have been stressed for a long period of time, who have pushed themselves into a faster and faster pace of displacement activity in order to outrun their own helpless sense of unbearable stress, typically don’t feel many emotions. What emotions they do feel are generally negative ones associated with the stress itself.

This is why I wrote the post I wrote two days ago, when I said I cannot adhere to the constraint to “be short and amusing because people are too busy to sit and read.” It is the frantic pace of our displacement behaviors, which only worsen our levels of stress and make us dissociate even more, that create the inability to take in more than a simple meme or a short tweet. And the more we do this, the farther we pull away from Real Time — and the Real World itself. Indigenous worldview lives in the Real World. I can’t share it with you or tell you about it by racing around at your heels in the artificial world of Human Time. They are two different systems of reality, and the one the sun, moon, tides, and seasons also happen to inhabit is the one that’s Real.

You have the right to feel the sense of connection that exists in those videos, and you have the right to feel it all the time. Because it’s there all the time.

A great deal more, that is healing and restorative, comes with that feeling. The terribly dangerous crisis that’s come to us arrives trailing powerful paradox. There is something here worth paying close attention to, and it can’t be done while you multitask. Let us go on, together, in Real Time.

 

Isolation and Connection

Left Hand Creek in Buckingham Park, Boulder County, CO. Photograph by Jo Belasco.

Now that I’ve explained myself, let’s return to the second blog post of this nascent series about the power and potential of the crisis we face at this time. And at the end of this post, I’ll explain the presence of this photograph.

First, I want to say very clearly at the outset that seeing power and potential in a challenging or even tragic event does NOT mean that event has happened “for our own good” or is “not so bad.” It is that bad, it is that painful and dangerous. And it cannot have “been done” for our own good because, quite frankly, we’ve done it to ourselves. Of course we didn’t do it on purpose. But neither did anyone else do it to us on purpose. So let’s be sure to set those ground rules for what I mean and don’t mean as I try to explain what people have asked me to talk about.

The starting point is this: that in our isolation and enforced social distancing, we are discovering the bonds of our common humanity. Let me give you a couple of specific examples, in case you aren’t sure you agree with that observation. Let’s start with American politics. Farmers and bankers, television personalities and assembly line workers, moms and dads, even the politicians themselves, have worried over the increasingly vitriolic rancor between people of different political parties the last few years. Bipartisan cooperation, whether in town halls or the halls of congress, seemed increasingly to be viewed as nearly an act of treason. Yet last night the U.S. Senate passed a relief package for Americans by a vote of 96-0. According to NPR, “Ahead of the 96-0 vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told lawmakers, ‘Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory.'” In other words, in a crisis, we come together. 96 to 0. You may say, “Well, that’s a no-brainer. Of course no one is going to vote to withhold help from people in a crisis.”

Well yes. That’s the point.

It’s not just the politicians, and it’s not just the “big” things like passing relief bills. In countries all over the world, people living in social isolation to prevent contagion have begun singing and even clapping together from apartment windows and balconies. A Common Dreams article links to videos from Italy, Lebanon, and Spain that show people “seeking out human connection” that maintains health and hope in a time of social isolation and separation, The Guardian posted a video (please watch it!) that shows how “In January in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have begun, residents chanted ‘jiāyóu,’ or ‘keep up the fight,’ for the city and its people.”

Did you feel something move within you when you watched these videos? If not, please read tomorrow’s blog. There’s a physiological reason for being unable to feel a response to such videos, just as there’s a physiological reason for feeling moved by them. It is interesting that simply viewing such things on a video can elicit almost the same response as participating in them.

For now, I want to focus on what it was you felt stirring inside you when you heard the people of desperate Wuhan, back at the beginning of all this outbreak in January, calling to one another from their balconies in solidarity and hope — literally in the cold darkness of a deep winter night. Back in January, this kind of isolation had never happened before — nowhere in the world, and at no time in history. The move to shut down an entire city with millions of residents was unprecedented. It turned out to be so effective that of course now it’s being practiced worldwide. Epidemiologists and other health professionals know exactly what the alternative outcome to this pandemic looks like, and quarantine on a massive scale prevented, and is still preventing, literally horrific loss of life.

At the same time, there’s a different cost — and not an economic one, either — to quarantine on such a massive scale. Whether you call it quarantine, social distancing, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, a requirement that people put distance between themselves and other human beings strikes us as somehow unbearable. I can’t count the number of times over the past few weeks I’ve had friends say some variant of, “I can’t imagine not going to my office!” or “I can’t imagine not at least going out to dinner at our favorite restaurant!” Or, more insistently, “There’s no way I can keep my kids from hanging out with their friends! I can’t imagine such a thing!”

Of course, reality is teaching our imaginations what’s actually possible. And if we refuse to retrain our imaginations, the very real threat of literally millions of deaths on unattended gurneys in overwhelmed hospitals is going to make local law enforcement start using hefty fines and future jail time to teach our imaginations new ways of thinking.

But here’s the interesting question: Why do cities and states have to make rules to keep people from being in contact when they know perfectly well they could catch a fatal disease from that contact? Why do people who know what could happen violate these rules, on purpose, to be together anyway — to the point where the rules have to be tightened to ensure enforcement? Why, when the lockdown tightens, do isolated people sing and clap and chant from their windows and balconies? And why does seeing those videos make something powerful move deep inside you?

Because relationship is essential. No, I am not saying you should break quarantine. I am saying that quarantine has taught you something your body and your heart and your soul have known all along, that even your imagination remembered — but that somehow, at a social and political level, this culture forgot: we are all relations. We are deeply, vitally, inextricably connected to one another through a strong-flowing river of Life itself. It is that River we feel stirring and flowing within us when, in the midst of our own fear and isolation, we hear the people of Wuhan calling out to one other and together, chanting in the darkness of winter and the night of a terror that now visits us all: “Keep up the fight! For the city and its people!” And we can FEEL that river of relationship.

Now look again at the picture I posted to express this true thing, at the top of this page. You can see the separate stones on the riverbed, and the sun glints off the surface of the water in beautiful ways that create additional shapes and colors. Yet, within and moving through this beautiful mosaic, is the water of the river itself.

So: In forced isolation from one another, we have discovered our deep and literally vital connection.

Paradox of this type should always make us stop and pay attention. For paradox is the hallmark of spiritual ways of knowing. Powerful paradox such as we are experiencing now signifies the presence of Knowledge from a particularly powerful source. You may think of that source in any of a number of ways, depending on your own religious or cultural traditions. But most traditions see that source as the author of, or expression of, Life itself.

This is not the end of the paradoxical power inherent in the situation moving through our world at this time. Nor is it the end of the ways the situation can be viewed through a lens of Indigenous Knowledge.