Love in the water.
I was blessed to know and work closely with Grandfather Leon Secatero, the late Headman of the Canoncito Band of Navajo, whose reservation is located thirty miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I make my home. Leon was the kindest and sweetest soul I ever met, a man of great love, wisdom and patience. Like many Indigenous people, he was thankful for the gift of life and offered prayers each morning to the light, air, water, and earth that we are made of (he considered the elements to be the creators). But of the many lessons he taught, perhaps the one that had the greatest impact upon me was a prayer he regularly made to the west direction each day. He prayed to the ancestors, thanking them for everything that has happened to bring him (us) to this moment in time. I found this prayer so powerful because it taught how to accept all of life experience, without exception, to be a blessing.
Glenn Aparicio Parry, PhD is the author of Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again (SelectBooks, 2020) and the Nautilus award-winning Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature (North Atlantic Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Original Love, of which this essay is partially excerpted from. Parry is an educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher whose passion is to reform thinking, education, and society into a coherent, cohesive whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the president of the think tank: Circle for Original Thinking www.originalthinking.us and the host of the Circle for Original Thinking podcast.
This was not only a prayer Leon made, but the way he lived. He never complained or held grudges. His own children told me he never got angry with them. The fact that a Navajo elder could do this—whose ancestors had been rounded up at Canyon de Chelley in present day Arizona and forcibly removed to Fort Sumner, New Mexico on a deadly 300-plus mile journey known as The Long Walk—was remarkable. Here was a man who had every right to be suffering from historical trauma, but instead had moved beyond it. Leon held in his heart a prayer for all humans (five-fingered ones) to unite and walk together in beauty. I think of Leon every day, and especially during these challenging times we are living in.
Clearly, during a pandemic, it is extremely difficult to accept everything that happens as a blessing. Fear predominates, and many of the things we ordinarily hope for seem remote and unattainable. The same is true for love. It feels out of reach. We are not even supposed to touch, hug, or share in-person time with friends and loved ones outside our home. Anxiety, isolation, and despair have become more widespread than the virus itself. The public suffers, both health-wise and economically, while the media cashes in on the sensationalism. The economy can never rebound if the virus is not brought under control—something the previous administration did not seem to grasp. A vaccine and a new administration bring hope. But things are never as simple as they appear.
The Biden administration brings hope to those that were afraid of the direction the country was going during the Trump administration. Our new president represents a return to a semblance of normalcy. The majority of Americans remember the Obama-Biden administration as Hope and Change; many of those same people saw Trump as representing Fear of Change. Many, but not all. Some of the people who feel most hopeless in America—people living in rural America where the system is no longer working for them—voted for Obama twice, then turned around and voted for Trump. How could that be?
One possible explanation is that the relationship between hope and fear is reciprocal. Our hope is our fear unmasked—and our fear is our hope unmasked. We hope that the pandemic will end soon; we fear that we or our loved ones become ill or die. We are either hoping for a better situation or fearing that things will get worse. In both cases, the present is somehow unacceptable. The way to break this impasse is to accept what is happening right now as it is—as a blessing. Accept our hopes and fears as they are—as a measure of how you feel now, without trying to change anything. All our experience is grist for the mill, something to learn from and grow. It is in this sense that fear is the beginning of wisdom. If we recognize that fear and hope are both ways to psychologically escape our current situation, this is what enables us to transform discontent over what we do not have (or what could go wrong) into seeing what we do have as a blessing (such as our health, home, food, and loved ones).
This is not to say that the pandemic presents unfounded fears of loss of job, income, home, or lack of healthcare in case of emergency. With whole sectors of the economy being shut down, these anxieties have a basis in reality. Other primal fears are stored in our reptilian brain—such as being chased by a mountain lion or bear. These kinds of fright and flight responses are necessary and real. However, most fears in modern life are quite different than this. They have complex, psychological roots: fear of failure, fear of being unloved or uncared for, fear of losing one’s status in life. Most modern anxiety concerns being hurt not physically, but emotionally.
Our hope is our fear unmasked—and our fear is our hope unmasked.
These fears are defense mechanisms that buffer us from life’s harsher intrusions. They are typically rooted in unresolved, unseen parts of our personality. Instead of accepting the unseen parts of ourselves, we typically project them (see the unrealized trait in others). If we were to confront our fears, particularly the unresolved, unrecognized shadow aspects of our personality, we would become more whole. This is why Jung purportedly said, “I would rather be whole than good,” a recognition of the importance of self-awareness through integration of opposites. If we unify and accept opposites within ourselves, we are likely to become kinder and more compassionate toward others. We also become more accepting of ourselves and our present circumstances. We would not fall back upon hope of change so much.
This is not to say that hope, like fear, is all illusion. Hope also has a biological purpose. Without hope, we can sink into depression, wither and die, like flowers without water. We sometimes need hope to keep us going. Hope also has a relationship with inspiration. When there is hope, there is openness to spirit, insight, and vision. A hopeful spirit is an optimistic one. There is no great vision that did not begin without opening to something larger than oneself.
Love: The Greatest Transformative Force
A love that is based in acceptance, not circumstance, is unconditional. With this form of love for life, all things are capable of being transformed, including our fears and hopes. Unconditional love for life itself is the greatest transformative force; however, it is much easier to speak of than do, especially during a pandemic. But this is when it is needed most.
Love in nature.
Of course, love can also be wrapped up in hope and fear, particularly when our understanding of love is limited to a personal level of feeling secure and protected. If love is treated as a personal protector or savior, it will be reduced to wishful thinking and romantic daydreaming. I’m speaking instead of a love that extends beyond the interpersonal human context, and originates in nature.
A key to understanding the depths of love is to understand it is an original energy in nature. Without love—the unseen force that binds things together—the solar system, our galaxy, and, for that matter, all galaxies, would simply break apart. Nothing would work. Instead, everything holds together. Scientists call this force of attraction gravity. But gravity is not something that has ever been understood—not by Newton, or by anyone since. All we know of gravity is that it exists. What is the force that makes the moon want to be with the Earth, and the Earth want to be with the Sun? You could call it gravity, but that is such a grave term for allurement. We might as well call it Love.
Speaking to the beloved in all of creation is the highest expression of love. “Love is the water of Life; jump into this water,” implores Rumi. Water is an excellent metaphor for love. When the underground rivers are thirsty, they cry out to the Cloud People, calling for the rains to come down. It is the love between the Groundwater and the Sky Water that brings the rains. We humans cannot go without love any more than we can go without water. If we hold back expressing our love, eros will wash over and drown us, like a tidal wave engulfs the shore. Love is an unstoppable force as powerful as the moon and tides.
ReVisioning Fear, Hope, and Love
It might seem counterintuitive, but these times of uncertainty and heartache offer us the greatest opportunity to reimagine fear, hope, and love. The crack in our routine allows in new light. An alternative way of thinking is emerging. For the way we were living—our so-called normal—was untenable. It was not only the political, economic, and healthcare systems that were not working. Our personal relationship with the living Earth was dysfunctional. We were destroying life.
When a global pandemic threw everything into disarray, the incessant activity of human industry ground to a halt in an effort to save lives. Then, a police officer kept his foot on George Floyd’s neck, causing him to die, but giving birth to a renewed social justice movement. This was a metaphor for what humanity had been doing to the Earth. We had been keeping our foot on her neck, paving over the natural world to pursue our short-sighted economic interests. It was Mother Earth that could not breathe. If we did not change, much of the natural world would die.
It is always a challenge to fully grasp the moment we are living in. “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards,” according to Kierkegaard. We have never lived through a time exactly like this. But we have lived through crises before. We know from experience that every crisis presents both danger and opportunity. The opportunity now seems clear.
Sounding the alarm about climate change has not worked; but the people will protect what they love. This is the moment to rekindle love for each other and for Mother Earth. There is no time to waste. The ancestors and spirits of this land are aware of the urgency. This is why they whisper messages to us or our loved ones: “do this now: save this lake, river, old growth forest, frog, or bird—rebuild the soil, plant this garden, buy this farm, write this book.” It is up to all of us to listen and do our own part.
Love is what we need when the universe feels hopelessly complicated, chaotic and random. Complexity need not be scary. To be complex is to be surrounded, encircled, embraced, and braided together. All of creation is woven together with love, in a myriad of patterns of interconnections and feedback loops that self-organize and organically replicate in countless fractals of repetition.
The natural world is composed of relationships upon relationships upon relationships. Some of these are predator and prey relationships, and involve aggression and fear. But if you ever watched the dance of predator and prey, you will observe the moment when the prey submits to their fate. They seem to give themselves up in an act of sacrifice. It is that sacrifice that makes the predator-prey relationship sacred, even loving.
In most activities in nature, it is not fear that predominates. The preponderance of interactions are based in a profound degree of cooperation and respect, what could be called love. Is it love when a fruit tree senses a bee approaching, and increases her attractiveness, secreting a burst of sugar into her nectar? If it is not love, it is at least seduction or courtship, because it works. The bee is attracted.
The ultimate symbol of love in nature may be what the Keres-speaking Laguna people of New Mexico call their original being: Tse Che No, or “Spider Woman.” It is from the belly of Spider Woman that all the world was created. During these times of separation and social distancing, I find the image of Spider Woman viscerally appealing. I can feel Spider Woman in my own gut. I too was once attached by a similar thread, which we refer to as an umbilical cord. Imagining this form of creation is pleasing—not a violent explosion like the Big Bang, but a gentle weaving. The silky thread that Spider Woman spins is flexible, yet strong. It creates all things while maintaining a connection to its mother. Life that comes from life and is connected to all things feels whole, beautiful, and loving. My hopes and fears dissipate. There is just oneness, undivided oneness. All is connected. All is whole. All is love.
All images courtesy Pixabay.