1. How does one learn the teachings
of your tradition?
I was first introduced to native teachings through several books - "The Medicine Cards" by Jamie Sams and David Carson, "The Sacred Path Cards" by Jamie Sams and "The Thirteen Original Clan Mothers" by Jamie Sams. These books and cards were a terrific way to learn some of the basic foundational concepts of Native American traditions, teachings and beliefs. Along the way many other books reached out to me to continue to feed my hunger for these teachings. Because this new "language" of native spirituality spoke so sweetly to my soul, I was able to incorporate many of the teachings into my daily life, empowering my individual spiritual practice. When I looked around me for teachers, there weren't any that were in my line of sight so I began sharing the teachings as I was working with them with others who were interested.
Through this evolution of becoming more and more comfortable walking and talking some of the native teachings, my inner resonance was more finely attuned, ultimately guiding me to my teacher, Will Rockingbear, a Cherokee healer of the Beauty Way, after many twists and turns. I am beginning my 12th year of studying with Rockingbear and my understanding, clarity and ability to dance with these teachings to heal myself and others continues to unfold at a greatly accelerated pace than if I were still studying by myself. Rockingbear shares, "If we know we don't know something, we can find out how to learn it, but we need a teacher to show us what we don't know we don't know."
2. Does your tradition accept an authoritative body or council? If so, how active are they in the every day life of the practitioner?
In the native teachings, the elders and wise men and women appointed to councils are there to help all the people and the community as a whole without taking away each person's individual right to express their sacred point of view. To honor our ancestors, respect the traditions that have been handed down through the centuries, to learn from our elders while they are still in physical form are basic tenets of how we keep these teachings strong and undiluted. But equally important is our personal connection to Great Spirit, to our animal totems and spirit guides so that we can truly be a "hollow bone" and not interfere in how the truths of our teachings are to be lived in this time and place. I remember one time at a Vision Quest ceremony, a quester on the mountain came down a day early to pass along a communication she had received from Spirit that needed to be taken care of and which involved a different way of doing the ceremony for herself. Rockingbear agreed to it. A man who had attended many ceremonies approached Rockingbear saying that he had never seen that done before in a Vision Quest ceremony and why was the ceremony being changed. Rockingbear smiled and simply said, "Go tell Great Spirit that it's not doing this ceremony correctly, you know the way its to be done and you'd like for it to stop interfering." Needless to say the man nodded, understanding that we aren't here to tell Spirit how we want these traditions to stay written in stone but to listen and really hear what Spirit is sharing with us.
3. Does your spiritual tradition acknowledge a higher power? If so, what is the nature of this higher power? Is it a personal divine being or a non-personal energy or state. How do you refer to this higher power?
From my understanding, at the core of native spirituality is our connection, relationship, and two-way communication with a divine intelligence/divine love, one that breathes through and animates all expressions of life, equally but differently. As a sacred human being, I have access to this divine intelligence everywhere I look - in the plant beings, the tree people, the Clan Chiefs of Air, Water, Fire and Earth, the creepy-crawlers, the winged-ones, the finned ones, the four-leggeds, the cloud people, the star beings and planets, Mother Earth, all the beings of the invisible realms, to name a few - each endowed with divine consciousness and ability to be in relationship with us to help us learn and grow - these are called our "relations". We live in a family of conscious beings, neither higher nor lower than any other. There is no hierarchy, simply a never ending circle where each connects to and impacts every other consciousness. Most commonly you will hear "Great Spirit" or "Creator" as ways to address this divine intelligence or "All my Relations" but beyond that there is Great Mystery - an intelligence so vast, so huge that it dances only at the far edges of our ability to comprehend. I honor and communicate with all expressions of Divine Intelligence/Divine Love.
4. What is the relationship between Divinity and humanity?
I often hear that we are a divine being, soul or spirit sent to Planet Earth to have a human experience which usually means that it is natural and okay to suffer, to be ignorant, to be less than our divine self. To me, we are here to have a sacred experience - everyday! As a sacred human being, I am living and breathing a divine experience to the best of my ability. To be a human being means I have an opportunity to learn and grow, to live my clarity, understanding and truth. I am a soul or spirit being, the sum total of every experience I have had throughout eons of time, that can be neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. When I take on a physical body I embody the state of consciousness that I have attained for myself thus far. When I leave my physical body, I return to my natural state of spiritual beingness. Each time I incarnate, I get to see how well I put into practice what I know to be true within myself. I am a spiritual being in a physical body not a physical being that has a soul or spirit residing within. This difference in how I see myself completely changes how I see myself in relationship to the Divine. I am the Divine - a unique expression in this time and place, never to be exactly recreated or duplicated, in relationship with every other uncountable expression of the Divine.
5. What is the relationship between humans, animals, plants and elements?
We are all members of the same family and as such have great responsibility and accountability to one another. The animal totems that assist me I treat as my elder brothers and sisters because their kind have been on earth longer than the two-leggeds. In fact we are the babes with much to learn from all those who have come before us. I seek the wisdom of panther, of butterfly, of a standing person (a tree), a medicine plant person, a stone being, the water beings, etc. equally to that of any human being. No wait, let me restate that last part to use perfectly honest language! I ask for and receive guidance from non two-leggeds much more often that I do my fellow human beings. The wisdom I receive from the elementals, plants and animals is crystal clear, without bias or prejudice, without influence from the ego, transcending the cultural and societal mores and beliefs that define this time and place I call my life. They are my teachers, my guides, my closest helpers who have never led me astray. And the two-legged teachers I have the honor of having in my life, all have a complete and encompassing relationship of their own with this universal family where they elicit wisdom and guidance for themselves and others.
6. Is there something that stands out to you that people "outside" of your tradition misunderstand about your tradition. If so, please set us straight.
One misperception that comes to mind right away is the notion that all native teachings and traditions are basically the same. From tribe to tribe there are many similarities and common core teachings but there is also quite a variance. I would never presume to speak for all native teachings or even Cherokee teachings, only my own way of living and understanding these teachings. We each have our own sacred point of view. I speak only from mine which is liberating because as my sacred point of view changes, elaborates, clarifies, deepens and expands, I think, speak and act differently.
Several year's ago at one of Rockingbear's public teaching circles here in Winston, a woman came up to him at the end and expressed her surprise that he was Cherokee "because he didn't look Cherokee." He later wondered what a Cherokee is supposed to look like to be "authentic." We come in all colors, sizes, shapes, personalities and traditions so we can learn to clearly receive the message, not become enamored or disdainful of the messenger.
These are my words.