Friday, October 5, 2012

My Pink Underbelly

Okay, time to get a little personal and admit my own vulnerability.  I have gotten a little nuts lately.  Okay, maybe a lot nuts.  I’ve been on a revolving door of various anti-depressants for four years and lately I’m starting to wonder what’s real and unreal, what do I truly think and feel, and what is merely imagined or a by-product of the medication I’ve chosen to take in order to silence my inner critic.  Over the last few months, I seem to have developed unhealthy obsessions with alternative news sources, strange opinions and theories borne of little more than fear of the unknown.  While there may be merit in considering alternate explanations for events in the world, losing sight of the all-important nature of the universe while doing so is the very definition of madness.

Within this crisis of faith, however, is the kernel of truth that I feel is the purpose of this journey of mine.  You see, I have long subscribed to the idea that we as a collective species are one.  In fact, I believe that the entire universe is one.  There is a difference between stating that as a theory, though, and truly waking up to the realization.  There are many troubles in the world, and there is suffering nearly everywhere.  Now, when you have the luxury of seeing the world as an “other”, you have the option of driving past this car accident of grief and sorrow, rubbernecking a tad and then moving on with your day.  When you become one with the universe, when you feel it in your bones and in your cells and in your consciousness, this doesn’t work.  You’re no longer looking at the accident from a distance.  You’re in the accident itself.  It becomes difficult not to see the dire emergency of the situation and not feel the compulsion to turn to your fellow passengers in the car and scream at them, “We are going to die!!!!!”

But this is useless.  And it is false, for it is only our perspective that has dreamed up the accident.  Instead of seeing the oncoming storm and the calamity it brings, why not choose to make the sky clear, the sun bright?  For our perspective is ours, and it is within us, every one of us to see what we will.  Instead of a car accident, we can be in a garden of warm grass listening to the songs of the birds and the blowing of the breeze.  It is our fear alone that prevents this.

This is not to say that calamity will not strike.  As much as we are one with the universe, the yin and yang of creation and chaos is not going to pause just because we are near.  Change will occur, and the upheaval it brings will sometimes move the ground beneath our feet.  But you cannot stop the earthquake by screaming at the ground.

I’m going to fall back on a comic book analogy here, because at 35, I’ve finally allowed myself to embrace my inner nerd instead of ridiculing it.  I spent my youth subconsciously building a morality rooted in the mythos of Marvel comics.  And, you know, as far as worldviews go, I don’t think it’s that bad.  That said, I never cared for the Silver Surfer.  While I love Jack Kirby, his creator, I always thought the character was way too goofy for words.  I mean, come on, cosmic being drifting through the universe righting cosmic wrongs and he does so on an Earth-based surfboard even though he’s not from Earth?  Ridiculous.

But I was missing the point.  I was criticizing the tree and failing to see the forest.  There was a reason Kirby put him on a surfboard, and it had nothing to do with marketing to the Beach Boy generation (well, maybe it had a little to do with that).  It’s because, from a cosmic perspective, that’s all we can do.  The waves are going to come, the waves are going to go.  Some will be strong, some will be weak.  Some days you’ll hang ten, some days you aren’t going to do much at all.  Some days the Perfect Storm will rise up out of the water and crash you, Marky-Mark and George Clooney right to the bottom of the ocean.  But you can’t yell at the sea.  You can’t shake your fist and wonder why the water is so unforgiving and cruel. 

All you can do is get up on your board and ride the wave.

“Ride the spiral to the end
You may just go where no one’s been
Spiral out, keep going…”
-          Tool, Lateralis, 2001

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Means Something

“They still don't want to admit to the world that this isn't the best and the fairest and most equal justice system. And that they are guilty of railroading people into jail. They don't want to, or never will, admit these things.”
-          Leonard Peltier, 1994

Let me begin with an understatement: what we have done as a nation to the Native Americans is appalling.  I know it was another era and the politics and attitudes of the day, like slavery, allowed good people to be complicit in evil deeds.  I am not going to bother to wrestle with the morality of manifest destiny or the atrocities perpetrated on either side of this bloody battle of our past.  It happened.  There is nothing we can do about that.  However, it is 2012 and there is absolutely no reason nowadays to allow further oppression.  It makes no sense.

In August of this year, the white Reynolds family that had owned and controlled sacred lands of the Lakota Sioux people since 1876, put 1,942.66 acres of this land up for auction to the highest bidder.  Despite being an underdog, the Lakota actually won the auction for a sum of $9 million.  However, that was just a bid.  The Lakota, an extremely impoverished people, do not actually have the money and are frantically trying to raise it in order to secure the land before the deadline expires.  They have until November 30th, just a few days after the Thanksgiving holiday our nation loves to dress up in the feathers of the people we slaughtered.

Call me crazy, but it doesn’t seem like this should be an issue in 2012.  Just give them the land back.  You see, this parcel of land that no one is using just happens to be known as Pe' Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota (just west of Rapid City) that is considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of their creation story. It is a sacred place. They perform ceremonies at Pe' Sla which they believe sustain the Lakota way of life and keep the universe in harmony.  To deny them ownership is to deny them who they are.

Now the Lakota had managed to work out arrangements with the Reynolds family over the years in order to continue their use of the land.  But if the land is turned out to the next highest bidder, the likelihood that land would be developed for either mining or road construction is quite high.  In fact, the Dallas-based Hyperion Refining has been mentioned as the next likeliest bidder.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say Hyperion wouldn’t bother working out any sort of arrangement for Pe’ Sla to continue as the Lakota’s beliefs demand.

Of course, this is nothing new.  This tale has been told and retold so many times on this continent, it’s pathetic.  For those of you who have never seen the movie Thunderheart or heard the tale of Leonard Peltier, let me state a quick lesson.  Peltier was born of a Lakota Sioux mother in 1944 and grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  In 1965, caught up in the sweep of civil rights movements throughout the US, Peltier joined the American Indian Movement.  He became involved in the 71-day siege of the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1971 known as the Wounded Knee Incident.  After his escape from the area, he was listed as a fugitive.  Despite that, he returned to Pine Ridge in 1975 on a quest to calm the divisive factions of the reservation that had sprung up in the wake of the Wounded Knee Incident.  Over 50 of his people had been murdered between when the incident occurred and when Peltier returned.

Shortly after he came back to Pine Ridge, FBI agents entered into a shootout with members of the reservation.  Peltier was arrested and charged with the murders of two of the FBI members.  Peltier and numerous witnesses claim he was awakened by shots as he slept in a tent nearby and that he never picked up a weapon.  Regardless, he’s been in the federal penitentiary ever since.

I know in this day and age that if it hasn’t happened in the last two weeks, its ancient history.  But this isn’t history, its present.  Peltier is still in jail and the case against him is thoroughly flawed and politically motivated.  It’s wrong and it is indicative of a continuing racist act of aggression on the Native American people.

I made peace long ago with the fact that no amount of protest, or letter writing, or movies starring Val Kilmer, or gripping music videos by Rage Against the Machine will ever result in Peltier’s release.  But, somehow the irony of Bill Clinton parading around with Nelson Mandela back in the early 90s when Peltier’s case for clemency was before him seems to have escaped everyone.  Fine.  He’s never getting out because I’m sure a 68-year-old man is a real danger to us all.

But, for the sake of our own humanity, I hope the Lakota are allowed ownership of Pe ‘Sla.  Seems the least we can do.