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Peace is the Human Way: Native American Contributions to Healing, Peace and Living in Balance with M

I am here to invite you to participate in creating a vision of our future in which we embrace the truism that peace is the human way.  What do I mean by this? I mean that if I were to walk in a room and ask a group of 20 people if they think violence is “normal,” they would adamantly disagree and say that peace is normal and violence is abnormal.

This is precisely the opposite of what happens in my univerrsity classes on the contributions and M. K. Gandhi and the Native American peacekeepers.  Indeed, they think violence is normal.

Native Americans have experienced for 4.5 centuries how abnormal and destructive violence truly is.  With nowhere to hide, nowhere to run to, instead most succumbed to the desecration of their cultures and lands until the survivors were driven into prisoner of war camps often called “reservations.”  Others managed to survive by assimilating or by fleeing into remote areas and retaining what they could of their cultures.  A very few, like the Hopi, retained some semblance of their lands and cultures.

From out of this destruction and despair, great teachers and teachings of peace have come forth.  Peace is the Human Way is a project devoted to putting their work and messages on the same footing as the contributions of great peacekeepers such a the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thich Nhat Hahn, the Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela.  In this newsletter, I am introducing you to this vision and inviting you to join me in building the foundation of a movement based on the compassionate and caring foundation of this spiritual wellspring that is native to this continent.

The journey that led me to love the teachings of healing, peace and how to live in balance with Mother Earth offered by Native Americans started in the early 1990s.  On a beautiful summer day, I found myself sitting on a meditation cushion in a musty domed tent in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  There was a raised dais in the front. On it sat a beautiful Native American woman with sparkling eyes, a gracious manner and a melodious speaking voice.  She is called the Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo.  She is Cherokee.  I was entranced by the chanting, visualizations and teachings of peace she offered.  Because the Ven. Dhyani is also recognized as a khandro–the reincarnation of an enlightened teacher in two Tibetan Buddhist lineages–I thought I had come to Vermont to study Buddhism.  I had been exposed to Buddhism from a young age by my maverick mother and came because I had decided it was time to sit with a living teacher.

But it was not Ven. Dhyani’s teachings on the Buddhist Heart Sutra that captured my heart, it was the prayers to the 6 directions and what she calls the crystal teachings.  Much to my chagrin, I, an American White Anglo Saxon Protestant through and through, had become both New Age and “discovered the Indian.”

Since first meeting Ven. Dhyani in 1993, I have been the lucky and grateful recipient of the teachings of various Native American teachers and their non-Native students. Like many of my sisters and brothers in spirit around the world, I look to the natural world as my sacred text and listen for messages and inspiration from myriad other-than-human, not-in-the-body spiritual teachers and sources.  I pay attention to dreams and visions as teachings and road signs along the spiritual path. I believe in an immanent, un-nameable, universal, creative power that I alternately refer to as Wanka Tanka, from the Oglala Sioux, Great Mystery from the English translation of the latter term and other Native languages, God from my Christian background, or Creator, a gender neutral term now used among many faiths.  I include in my beliefs the Sacred Feminine, Gaia, or the Goddess that is incarnated and expressed, among myriad other forms and emanations, in our Mother Earth.

This growing movement in the West is sometimes called “Native spirituality,” “earth spirituality” or “shamanism,” depending upon the individual teacher and the cultural source.   Names like Sun Bear and Ed McGaa Eagle Man may be familiar to readers from their extensive publications.  They were the inheritors of the literary and spiritual legacy of Ben Black Elk whose life history and explanation of the seven sacred rites of the Lakota people was recorded and published by Richard Niehardt in Black Elk Speaks in 1929.

Almost 20 years after first meeting Ven. Dhyani and five years after leaving my tenured position as an administrator and faculty member at the University of Virginia to become a shamanic healer in a tradition adapted from the Peruvian Andes and Amazon, I have committed my life to bringing Native American messages and tools for fostering healing and peace to the rest of the world.  I believe these perspectives and practices can help us ameliorate violence, address trauma, and develop more psychologically and physically healthy and balanced lives. In short, they can help us end suffering.  I have seen firsthand their transformative power when used in private client healing sessions, when brought into the undergraduate classroom dealing with cultural and racial conflict and violence, and into training settings with professionals who deal with problems of violence, trauma and human suffering. It does not matter what religion, race, ethnicity, or beliefs an individual comes with–they still benefit from the energy and vision of the Native path.

The core messages of Native American spirituality–the urgent need to develop compassion for the plight of the world through practical daily practices of meditation and self-reflection–give it the potential to be as influential in our society as any coming out out of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism.   The teachings of Native American peacekeepers can be summarized this way:  We are at a crucial turning point in the evolution of human consciousness where we have an unprecedented opportunity to build a world based on compassion, love and peace.  The past has proven over and over again that violence fails to create lasting peace.  Recognize and embrace myriad examples from history that peaceful solutions to conflict are not only possible but far more enduring.  Come back into balance with Mother Earth and all her creatures.  Do this by going inward to heal the conflict in our own minds and hearts, to forgive old hurts, and to build the force of love in the heart.  If each of us commits to doing this, a day will dawn when peace will be the norm and violence the exception.

As Native American teacher, healer and activist, Rolling Thunder puts it: “If enough people prefer peace, there will be peace. If spiritual people get together and put things back in their proper order….when the right time comes, some people will be there to help put things back in their proper place. People of all races will join together to fight for peace.  It doesn’t matter what color you are, but rather where your blood flows.”

Since I first Ven. Dhyani almost 20 years ago, I take seriously the charge given to her by her family and teachers and that she shared in her book, Voices of Our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire:  “In 1969, after generations of secrecy, it was decided to share the teachings of the Tsalagi [Cherokee] tradition with non-Native people, so that our children would have water to drink and a place to walk.  The intention is to strengthen individuals’ relationships with their families, communities, nations, and the land, the Earth herself.  We do not invite people to become Indians. We invite people to be in good fellowship and to respect the teachings of their family of origin. Thus may we all cooperate in manifesting a vision of peace.”

Peace is the Human Way will be a digital archive and resource for scholars, educators, activists, and spiritual seekers of the contributions Native Americans have made and continue to make to promoting peace, nonviolence, and responsibility towards the environment.  It will compare and contrast these contributions to the works and actions of M.K. Gandhi and other well-known peacekeepers and activists in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The project will discuss how their perspectives support or challenge present day nonviolent movements and will link the discussion of environmental responsibility and sustainability into an historical, anthropological, and religious studies framework from a Native American point of view. To that end, it will put Native Americans on the same footing as contemporary spokespeople for peace and Nobel Laureates such as the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

A portion of the project will be to present the history of the genocide of Native peoples in the Americas and ongoing onslaughts against their cultures and lands and to discuss how the invisibility of Native American contributions to conversations about nonviolence and environmental sustainability are an ongoing form of racism and ignorance about their religions, cultures, and contemporary involvement in these issues.  It will also be an archive for the digitized and transcribed teachings of living and deceased Native American teachers, including the Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, Ed McGaa Eagle Man, Sun Bear, Chief Seattle, Chief Joseph, and others.  To this end, it will be involved in the preservation and dissemination of Native Americans’ work and will make this material available for purposes of research, education, and activism.

In offering to take the lead in developing this project, I hope I can walk humbly and in the spirit of one of hundreds of peacekeepers trained by Ven. Dhyani and other teachers, both Native and non-Native.  May the vision of their ancestors come to pass.

If you are interested in helping out with this project, contact me by email ( or call 434-227-0538.

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