Linear thinking, paradox, contradiction, the ego, and serving others.
The thing that is interesting about a spiritual way of knowing and being is valuing the cycle of life rather than the linearity of life. In the Anishinaabe tradition we have many sacred beings and teachings that inform us about the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in the cycle of life. These teachers and teachings rely on ‘paradox and contradiction in practice’ to point out the pervasiveness of linear thinking because far too often we default to it – yet we think we have this more enlightened understanding of the Creator and the creative process.
One never knows when linear thinking will sneak up and manifest in practice. One such example of linear thinking is judging a person as egocentric and self-absorbed when they consistently rely on their concrete lived experiences to expose ongoing structural oppression and the genocide of their nation. What the person who stands in judgement fails to appreciate is that the person being judged may not be engaging in an ego driven agenda at all. Rather, this person is possibly relying on their ancestral teachings about truth – that it is personal, as well as their responsibilities toward other people in terms of giving back.
Contrary to what you may think, this process of personal truthing and concretely identifying structural oppression and giving back through personal stories in this way is not at all egocentric. In fact when someone judges another person in this way they are the person who is thinking in a linear way and for that matter quite possibly in an egocentric way. This is an example of the trickster paradox in action. Just when you think you have it right you realize you are the selfish one.
That said, you can be sure that often times the people who are being judged harshly as egocentric and self-absorbed quite possibly do not wish to be in the centre of things. Contrary to what you think, many people who opt to work for the people are shy, nervous, and reluctant to be placed front and centre. Regardless, they do it because someone has to speak up for people who are disenfranchised and abused. These people stand up and speak to preserve the cycle of life and in this way they are not egocentric and self-absorbed.
I can say this in another way.
We are selves in relation. All models and theories have limitations, even of the spiritual kind. When someone is able to move on a spiritual journey in a way that they no longer allow their ego to interfere, this is an excellent goal for the self. The limitation of this model, though, is that we are responsible in terms of serving the needs of other people. As we move forward we need to look back and offer support, love, guidance, and affirmation to people who are like us. While I value the need to remove the constraints of the ego, I also know that it is also an important “vessel of truthing,” that serves when identifying and explicating matters of structural oppression. Being spiritual is more than removing the ego and for that matter being selfish in this process. In our spiritual journeys we also need to be unselfish and come back to the self as a mechanism to serve others.
Miigwetch All My Relations.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She recently published a book entitled Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, and her second book, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, will be published in March 2014. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.
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