Standing Humbly Before the Mesa

January ThawI often work with individuals and families who identify as both Native and European, what some call “Metis”. These folks find themselves walking a path that is neither traditional nor assimilated, and wondering why they feel confused and uprooted. Maybe they grew up in Evangelical churches where good, loving people, including preachers, worried about a wrathful god and Hell. Perhaps they put Traditional Native beliefs away out of fear for their souls, or simply to make life easier. Often returning to traditional ways of healing is helpful to them.

When we work with people in a Traditional manner we pray, asking the spirits, Ancestors, and Creator to take pity on us little people. Sometimes folks misunderstand that, thinking we are demeaning ourselves. The truth is we humans are small beings in a very large universe. We need help finding our way, and especially in healing. It is good to be humble, especially when approaching the spirits and Ancestors who like us to come to them with humility. This can be a difficult lesson in a mass culture that encourages hubris and places self-importance over concern for all beings.

When engaged in Traditional healing we often stand before the altar/mesa with a patient and introduce her/him to the spirits, Ancestors, and Creator. The spirit beings are already very aware of the person with whom we are working. We are standing there to ask their attention, blessing, and healing. We are humbling ourselves so as to allow a connection, perhaps even a conversation with the spirit beings. When we stand before the mesa we are acknowledging our relationship with those who have gone before, those who will come after, and with the Creator. We are putting aside separation and standing in connection.

Humility and connection are challenges in our mass culture. It is hard for us to acknowledge the web of relatedness in which we live, and the impacts of our actions on others in that web. We are even more unlikely to claim our ignorance and powerlessness in the face of the difficulties in our lives. I know this well. As a Polio survivor I grew up endlessly struggling to make a space for myself in the world. My family, school teachers, and mentors always said I must constantly strive to make my way, never asking for aid, or be doomed to invisibility, powerlessness, and loneliness. These messages are nearly constant companions even now, and make the crucial task of finding humility very difficult, indeed. I have discovered these messages are not all that different from the beliefs of the dominant culture, ideas that profoundly influence all  our lives.

It is good to have compassion for ourselves, and our struggle to be humble. Standing before the mesa we are humbling ourselves, acknowledging the limitations of our perspective, our inability to heal things as they stand, and our trust in the spirit beings who work with us on behalf of the Creator. Perhaps we will remember that were we able to heal our selves and loved ones through our own efforts, we would already have done so. Standing there, perhaps we will glimpse the wholeness behind the confusion of our lives. Maybe we will suddenly understand that everything is just as it should be, and paradoxically, allow ourselves to return to balance.

When we stand in the presence of the spirit beings we acknowledge we are all connected, separation is an illusion, and our suffering is the suffering of all beings. In doing so we open doors to healing and joy.

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18 thoughts on “Standing Humbly Before the Mesa

  1. Thank you for this post, Michael. I resonate with your message about humility as a condition that allows interconnectedness. I think I told you that I was raised secular Jewish and that my father was what I’d call a “virulent atheist.” A few years ago I started attending a Christian church where many people present feel a real and personal relationship with God. I used to cry during the worship (singing) time, simply to be with hundreds of respectable adults who had the humility to publicly show that they yearn for the Spirit. Before then, I hadn’t put my finger on how much hubris and arrogance there is in a Spirit-less world-view, how much lack of humility.

  2. Beautifully said, Michael. Only when we find the strength to open ourselves up completely to Spirit, can the true healing take place. Rugged Individualism is NOT a spiritual term, yet many feel that the best way to please the Creator is to leave Him alone to tend to “important” matters.

    If we cannot ask the Creator for assistance for ourselves, we can, in no other place but our egos deem ourselves worthy to ask Him for assistance for others…

    • I imagine the challenge is to ask for the right things, in a humble way, then go out and do what we can for one another and ourselves. There are First Nations traditions of not asking anything for oneself, ever. There are also traditions of only expressing gratitude and never making any requests. The idea is the Creator has given us everything we need and the problem lies in our choices about distribution and caring. Like everything else, its complicated. So we work in the ways we were taught and respect other paths.

  3. Every time we stop here we find deep things to ponder. They often reveal themselves in a few words, smack in the middle of your text: “Acknowledging the limitations of our perspective.” Acknowledge is the key word. Seeing the world clearly demands much honesty. Pleasant read, as always. Thank you.

  4. beautiful and powerful reminder–
    it brings me back to the value and necessity of narrative research and narrative therapy– as reflections of our place in the web of life, at the same time.

    • I often think about my brief conversations with Michael White, who credited his contact with Indigenous people for much of the development of his thinking. I imagine were he still with us he would be very engaged in placing Narrative Therapy in a global, ecological context. I hope that still happens, even in Micheal’s absence.

  5. Hi Michael

    Oh yes, narrative therapy is becoming increasingly a way of relating to Indigenous people in Australia.

    The subject of your post is something I’m really focusing on at the moment. I have such an eclectic spirituality but have not got a real sense of the Divine or the trust that you speak of. It’s a work in progress!

    • Hi Narelle,

      I’m thinking that there are lots of us people in the world who have Indigenous roots and find themselves displaced into the non-Indigenous world. I imagine many of us have picked up bits and pieces of spirituality that sort of fit. The trust is what comes in the moment of standing before the spirits. It is a practice and I do better with it sometimes than others. Best to do the practice and be kind to one’s unknowing.

    • Oh, I love that Narrative Therapy has roots in the Indigenous world, yet creates a bridge between multiple worlds. I am supposed to be teaching Narrative approaches to disability and the arts in Hong Kong in a couple of months. I am curious what will happen.

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