Time and the Machine

June 25, 2014

As I know it, being “Indian” – as Indigenous People have been called in the West – means being deeply aware of one’s relationship to everything. Knowing that an unseen force appears when we live this way. One begins to understand that the divine lives inside of relationship – which means that everything you are in relation to is sacred.

While difficult to practice in every moment, just striving for this ideal creates a better world.

So what has disrupted the Indigenous way of being in relationship?

Here are two quotes that may be clues:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

Something happened to us humans. Something that changed how we feel – or don’t feel – about the things we’re in relation to. We started to feel smarter and more powerful than nature itself. Nature can be harsh. We learned how to tame it. We grew crops that allowed us to live through the winter. Nature became something outside of ourselves that we could control…it had power we could use.

Over time, we internalized this idea of dominion over things. Because we could harness the power of the seasons, we marveled when we learned to harness the power of water and steam, electricity and the atom. Animals were domesticated and harnessed. People were harnessed as well.

All these things continue today, but in the last 500 years we have also been surprised and impressed by our ability to create artificial versions of the natural world. The horse became the automobile…firelight became the LED.

Science tells us that plants, fish and insects have been on earth for the last 300 to 500 million years…birds and flowers and animals for about 150 million years. From what we know so far by digging around, humans like us have been on earth for about 200,000 years.

If doing things for a longer time makes you better at it…it’s clear that rocks and trees and bugs are a lot smarter at living on earth than we are.

I think everything needs a purpose…a reason for being. So in this sense, the rocks and trees and bugs have definitely got it figured out. A stone is not trying to be a beetle. When a seed of corn is planted, a rose doesn’t come out of the ground.

As humans, we often seem to question our purpose. We keep trying to “figure it out” even as other species appear to have reached their point of perfection.

Maybe we just haven’t been around long enough. Someday maybe I’ll feel as sure of why I’m on earth as my cat seems to.

Our purpose seems to be measured by progress – and how it’s defined.

Over the last 150 years we’ve made great strides in science and art… farming methods and education…how markets meet demand…All of these achievements seem to, at least in part, reflect an intense desire to create a better world for more people. Especially as the global human condition becomes interconnected and visible…

But many people – in the name of progress – have lost their sense of purpose.

In America, when the country was formed, nearly everyone was a farmer. We all basically understood each other – and our purpose. Life for most has changed very dramatically since our great-grandparents were children. Our sixth President regularly bathed naked in the river near the Capitol Building. Can you imagine that happening today?

Time may be the most radically changed thing of all. 150 years ago we had no sense of a common time. Other than our agreement of where the sun was in the sky and what phase the moon was in at night. Phase… that word is common to me from audio recording. It’s an aspect of a cycle or musical vibration. For nearly all of our existence on earth, our time was deeply connected to the natural rhythms of the planet, cosmos and the small community we were a part of.

But with steam and electricity came time. The need to be “on time” became necessary for things to happen with regularity that machines – or men with machines – seemed to dictate.

Over time, progress had to turn a profit. What was better had to be new.

This is where time and the machine must be reconsidered…as do the quotes above.

To many, there is something that feels unnatural about what’s happening in the world today. Many people don’t “fit in” in some way. Or life just seems a lot harder than it should be. Or worse, people feel completely disenfranchised – unseen and unheard. People considered “mad” or “crazy” are most likely missing their “indigenousness” the most. Like the canary in the coalmine…they’re telling us that something in the culture is getting too toxic…too unnatural.

There are various antidotes that our culture offers to forget these feelings of separateness. But where does the Indigenous disruption begin?

When boys – and girls – are told to not feel their feelings…or that their feelings shouldn’t matter…they start to forget what feelings feel like. That creates the opportunity to make false impressions of feelings seem real. Like playing a game in virtual reality. Many of the sensations that surround us are processed and amplified in an attempt to recreate natural phenomena – but hyped to hypnotize.

Imagine it this way. There are many foods that have been grown… picked out of the ground and then processed to last a very long time or travel a very long distance. The original flavor is lost. In its place, science has discovered natural and unnatural ways to create a flavor that make the food taste good – or acceptable to many. It fills our stomach, but what the plant had to offer our system – blood and muscle, organs and bones – is gone.

As children grow up in a world that has become “processed” – the same logos on every street corner, more apps than toys, parents in debt – they enter a world of transactions…not relationships.

As we remove our children from the natural world… fresh food… elders that bring out the child’s innate wisdom, the more they forget what being in relationship means…what it feels like. As they get older they forget what happens when time slows down and connection…meaning…purpose…begin to show up in deeply profound ways.

We are separating ourselves from each other and the natural world around us – we’ve lost many subtle forms of feeling and communicating. We’ve lost the relationship to our nature.

It wasn’t that long ago that we understood… felt… that we were simply a part of the natural world we inhabited. Nothing more… nothing less.

Through embracing a common understanding of what it means to be indigenous, what has recently become a planetary-wide human relationship can begin to become a tribe.