March 24, 2009

Shaken Loose

In the early days when I first came to Zen practice, N. Scott Momaday's WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN was published.  Momaday is a Kiowa writer and studies Native American spirituality from a literary standpoint.  There were numerous poets among the Sangha, and everyone was talking about this book and about Momaday who, I believe, was in residence close by at Stanford for awhile.  My memory could be fuzzy on this.  Momaday was hosted for a poetry reading at San Jose State and I got to hear him and be in his company for a brief moment around that time.

In any event, later when I came to teach world religions at community college, I always included a section on Native American spirituality.  This is the original religion of this land and the teachings and natural wisdom inform us and seep into us whether we know it or not.  But I was happy when a particular text I had chosen for the course had a part of an address by Momaday, "The Man Made of Words" delivered at and published in The First Convocation of American Indian Scholars (San Francisco: The Indian Historian Press, 1970, pp. 49-62).  

In the address, Momaday speaks of the relationship between language and experience and moves to the moral idea of human beings and the expression that idea takes in the way we react to one another and to the world around us.  He speaks of a land ethic and the importance of how that land is captured in and is not apart from the very blood and sinew of the human being.  The land itself resides in the imagination, expression, and regard for the land.  He recalls an event that resides in the Kiowa calendar as The Year the Stars Fell.  The Kiowa had suffered a massacre and had their most sacred medicine stolen.  It was the beginning of their decline which saw epidemics of smallpox and cholera, loss of half the tribe, buffalo left to rot on the plains.   

On the night the stars fell, the tribe stood aghast as a great meteor flew across the sky lighting up the entire landscape and all thought that it was the end of the world.  In most ways they had been broken.  They stood watching as meteors as large as the moon fell through the sky.  It was a great event and it entered the imagination of the tribe and became part of the racial memory and story of the land.  Momaday points out that when the imagination and the event come together, they take on a deeper meaning.  In this terrible moment they recreated themselves, imagined themselves anew and were able to go forward and endure the most terrible suffering.

Momaday writes:  "They could say to themselves 'Yes it was all meant to be in its turn.  The order of the world was broken, it was clear.  Even the stars were shaken loose in the night sky.' The imagination of meaning was not much, perhaps but was all they had, and it was enough to sustain them."

Oh, oh oh, we have so much to learn and with our culture and regard for pavement and surfacing, the thickness of boots, it will take awhile for the teachings and wisdom of the blood in the soil to seep up through the soles of the feet.  But indeed, in the reclamation of the imagination, the idea of the human and our deepest fulfillment of humanity can be realized.