Befriending the Universe

Published in Friends Bulletin, 1999.


____________________Do dogs have souls?
____________________Do trees have feelings?
____________________Is the universe friendly?

_____Long time ago__the mountains
_____thought they were People.

_____Long time ago___the trees
_____thought they were People.

_____Long time ago the birds & animals
_____thought they were People.

_____Some day___they will say:

_____Long time ago___the human beings
_____thought they were People.

________________________________________And that is all.

This Spokane story raises the question, what is People? Many native tribes call themselves The People, for example, the Dine and the Lakota. Other groups may call themselves The Chosen or A Peculiar People.

But in this story, no one is special; everyone is in the same humble boat. Native Americans, even if they forget sometimes, believe that we humans are no better than the animals and birds, the trees and plants, the mountains and rivers.

Nor are we separate from, but related to all the other strands woven by God the Everywhere Spirit into the sacred web of life.

Quakers have always practiced Visitation. Suppose we visited not only our families and other Quakers, but all my relations,as in the phrase found at the end of every native prayer?

What if we thought of relations as including all of nature? What if we thought of the universe and everything in it as a relative?

Sophisticated science tells us everything is inter-connected and inter-related; native world-view tells us everything is in relation, and symbolizes this as all is alive.

This sophisticated animism, which confers life as a sign of respect, makes living so much less lonely and so much more fun.

Rather than separating and isolating humans as superior, native belief adopts and embraces the rest of creation as equals, as friends.

So why not try an experiment in Truth? Why not befriend the universe, starting with one small part?

First, a whimsical example to illustrate a specific choice. I decided to adopt an intrusive light pole, which blocked my ocean view, as a relative.

Instead of cursing, I named her Electra, and began to treat her as a sister. What began as whimsy became a profound experience, changing forever the way I deal with frustration.

Another example illustrates a total opening to the Spirit. Imagine you are on a four-day vision quest, standing on a hill above a grassy plain, the trees down in the gullies grasping for water.

Imagine space — nothing blocks your view for fifty miles in all directions: white cliffs topped by pines and cedar, hills, valleys, fields, roads, badlands gullies barren of life.

Smell the fragrances — newly-turned earth, water over mossy rocks, new grass, heavy alfalfa, sweet wild plum blossoms, wild crocus and lilies and roses, peppermint and tart horse-mint, sweet-grass and cedar and sage.

Imagine a sunset, not a garish Hollywood sunset, but subtle pinks and blues. Imagine this sunset as a bowl of sky rimmed with pale purple, with pink above it to the northeast and south.

Now imagine this sunset bowl as alive: when twilight nears, the purple-pink fingers rise as a deeper indigo pulses from the earth to rim the world. Night’s cloak envelops you, the stars draw near enough to touch, and thirty miles away a town’s lights twinkle.

Next, imagine silence — broken at last by the dull whine of a semi-truck shifting gears on the road five miles away. Add birds — owls, loons, and then as day comes, meadowlarks, bobolinks, killdeer, sparrows, gulls, magpies, crows, kingfishers, herons, hawks, eagles.

Add the rattling-water of the creek, which becomes a waterfall roar after rain. The plink of rain, the soft rustle of cottonwoods, the whosh of wind in the pines, low and lonely.

Horses’ loud whinnies, buffalo’s quiet snuffle, coyotes’ high yips, and camp dogs’ answering barks. Crickets, grasshoppers, and frogs — the beepers and the bulls.

Listen closer for other sounds, reed flutes on the wind, electric crackle in the sky, the magnetism of the earth, the power and pull of sacred places. After a day or so you can hear the earth’s breath and heartbeat, much slower than ours, as slow as the roar and suck of the ocean tides.

Listening and tuning to it slows a vision-seeker down to a dream-time and dream-space. All senses become acute in this heightened and slowed place.

Out on the tall-grass prairie, you can stumble into ruts made by herds of horses years ago when they ran free on the plains. You can hear the thunder of spirit buffalo racing just over the hill. Ear to earth, you can feel the trembling from ancient hooves.

By now you can hear the ants and grass and stones talk. When cold pure spring water is poured on the sweat lodge rocks, these born-and-ancient-ones hiss, spit, gurgle, moan, and sing.

If you stand on earth for four days and nights, earth talks. And if you crouch in the darkness of the vision pit, you feel how the earth shifts, stretches, breathes, beats, enfolds and holds — you know that earth is our final blanket.

Perhaps you will be visited by the invisible helpers: the spirit plants, spirit animals, and spirit people. If you befriend rocks or plants or animals long enough, you begin to see and hear as they do, think and feel as they do. You find ways of communicating, you learn from them and acquire some of their powers and qualities.

They can become spirit guardians, even when not physically present. If you receive such a guardian, you give in return. You learn to live in relation with all.

You have no desire to save or be saved (to or from what?), only to be in tune, in harmony, in balance, anchored in place, part of the whole.

Ceremony honors this balance. When you gather your friends the herbs, you leave an offering for them and pray for their renewal. As you pick your friends the berries, you sing a berry-thanking song for them. After you eat your friends the salmon, you take their bones back home to the sea.

You give thanks for the sharing of friends’ lives as an act of return and renewal. With friends you honor the cycle of seasons, the ebb and flow, death and rebirth.

In that honoring, you come to know that, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, the dead are spirit, here now un-seen, and that there are but two worlds, the here-and-now and the spirit world beyond. All has skan: spirit, breath, soul.

All is sacred, all is related, all has pattern and meaning if we but see and hear it. Brother Sun, Sister Moon — every morning star, every meal, each day, each moment, can be a relation.

This is the message, and silence the medium.

Do dogs have souls? Do trees have feelings? Is the universe friendly? Learn the answers experimentally.

Why not befriend the universe? For long time ago the stars thought they were People.

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