Posts Tagged ‘indian’


Bill Elwell

On our youtube channel “zookinesis49” I have a sample video of the “Native American Sacred Sweat Lodge Ceremony”. Several comments by Native Americans have expressed the view that this ceremony is only for Native Americans and other races should not be allowed to participate in this ceremony. This is my response to those comments.

I am a teacher of Tai-chi-Chuan. In my efforts to become a better teacher of this system I spent many years studying the teaching methods of traditional cultures. Each of these teaching methods had a common goal – to help the student become more aware of the world of spirit both within him/her and in the world as a whole. Each taught how to participate in the common spirit of humanity, with its many expressions.

While my goal was to specifically teach Tai-chi I realized that the other cultures I experienced had the same goal, although at the surface the paths to getting there were very different. Even different Tai-chi teachers have very different ways of expressing the same principles.

When you become more aware of your spiritual nature, you become more aware of the common bond of all humanity on that level. You tend to become more open to and appreciate the diversity of humanity. Anger towards those who express their humanity in different ways seems ridiculous.

There is a tendency in Tai-chi to just memorize forms or push hands techniques rather than to understand the underlying principles. In other cultures there is the tendency to emphasize the mechanics of a ceremony rather than the underlying spirit. (Not to say this is necessarily the case with those commenting on the Sweat Lodge video).

I understand the desire (and need) to maintain the individuality of one’s culture and the pride in one’s culture, but at some point, doesn’t the awareness of the common spirit of all people play a part in the practices?

Everyone who practices Tai-chi understands that it is of Chinese origin. No one thinks they are going to become Chinese by practicing Tai-chi. But people are attracted to this method for improving their health, their spiritual awareness and yes, their self defense. I don’t know of any Chinese person who says that only Chinese should be practicing Tai-chi.

When my Jewish family and friends have our Passover ceremonies, we welcome anyone to the ceremony. We don’t expect them to become Jewish but are happy just to share the tradition with others. Their participation increases our pride.

Both Native Americans and Jews faced a holocaust (although the Native Americans lost so many more millions) and I remember the anger my parents had towards the German people. But should a person of German descent want to participate in the Passover they would be judged as individuals – not on the basis of their background.

The teacher on the Sweat Lodge video is a close friend of mine of Indian background who loves his tradition so much that he shares it with others. His behavior is not guided by anger but by love and I believe that he has truly learned to express the principles of his Indian heritage in his everyday life.

Certainly those who have known him and who have joined him in his tradition have benefited greatly. Some have been “stopped in their tracks” in the sense that they have suddenly understood how our society’s way of conflict and aggression have affected their lives. And their lives have changed for the better.

Bill Elwell teaches with gentleness and humor. There is no pretense in any bone in his body. There is no reason to be angry with him.

Certainly most cultures in the world have experienced violence against them and it is anger that perpetuates the violent feelings, if not the violence itself.

Can we remember the common humanity that each tradition tries to teach us and not turn each tradition into another reason to separate ourselves from that common bond? There can be diversity AND unity.

I would suggest that the central conflict in our society is not between the many cultures, but between those who would destroy the earth for their individual profit and those who would protect the earth for all creatures. It is not so much about protecting tradition against “outsiders” but of all people protecting nature. If we fight each other and hide our wisdom from each other, how are we to have the wisdom and strength to protect the earth?

Many conflicts between cultures can be traced to small groups of people who profit off of that conflict. Let us not fall prey to that game! It is common, when an outsider visits a village, to “break bread” with that person; to offer them some of your food. Is the sharing of a ceremony any different?

When I approach a person I am looking for the qualities of his humanness. Is he nasty and violent or is he kind and relaxed? Is he comfortable with himself or is he filled with unease? If he is a beautiful human being I want to know him and will enjoy spending time with him.

When I see a ceremony I look for the same things. If it is a beautiful ceremony, expressing the best of the human spirit, I want to spend time with it. I don’t view a ceremony as a roll of money, to be hidden and kept away from others lest it be stolen. Its value to me is in what it expresses and how it leads us to our own humanity.

To those who have made comments on the Sweat Lodge video on youtube – do your practices lead you to your own humanity and to the connection of your humanity to our common bond?


Another episode of my experiences learning from the people of the jungle forests of Central America:

Carlos came down from the hills to our little “town” early in the morning.  Eduardo handed him a cup of coffee and we all waited for the cow to be milked for the cream.  When Eduardo’s son came running over with a bowl of cream, he spilled a little into each of our cups.  Carlos told me that he wanted me to come with him to his cousin up the river so as soon as the coffee was finished we began to walk up the trail alongside Rio Chepo.

A couple of hours later I asked Carlos how long it would take to get there.  He asked, “What difference does it make how long?”  I suggested that we could get there quicker by taking the canoe taxi which was a dugout canoe powered by a motor that took people up and down the river.  He said, “So?”  I explained that back home in the U.S. we tried to find the quickest ways to do things.  He turned and kept walking and reminded me that I was not home anymore.

On the way we met a troupe of howler monkeys in a tree.  Carlos extended his arm and several of the monkeys came over to him and they patted each other on the back.  I was surprised.  He motioned to them to pat me on the back and two of the monkeys actually shook their heads, “No” as if that was out of the question.  But Carlos convinced two of them to climb over to me and pat me.  They then quickly retreated into the tree as if they had just survived a daredevil act.

We then went up a trail away from the river and into the hills.  I was a little worried.  I knew that there was a little store along the river trail and I was hungry.  I asked Carlos if there was a store along this new trail.  He assured me that this was not a shopping trip.  When I told him I was hungry he simply said we would have something when we got there and that was that.

We passed a few huts along the way and they were starting their evening cooking fires.  When we stopped at one hut I could see a little stream about fifty feet away.  Carlos sat down and began talking to the people, two men, two women and a few children.  They were not speaking Spanish but I understood that Carlos was explaining who I was – a zoologist from America who came to study reptiles. 

One of the men came over to me and started speaking but I didn’t understand him until he asked, “Don’t you speak English?”  I told him I wasn’t expecting anyone to speak English so I wasn’t prepared to hear it.  He told Carlos what I had said but Carlos said he knew enough English to understand me.  They both looked at each other and nodded and Carlos told me to just sit by the fire and relax.

An hour later both men came back and told me they had bought some cold soda from a nearby store that had a gas powered refrigerator.  They mixed it with some juice and gave me the mixture.  “You said you were hungry,” said Carlos.  I didn’t feel they were very good hosts.  A glass of juice and soda after a whole day’s walk?

They then brought me about ten minutes up the little stream and told me to sit on the earth.  Carlos said that Hector was good at explaining things.  That’s why he brought me here.  “Hector can explain things in English,” he said.  I asked Carlos why they use Spanish names for themselves when they are Indians.  He explained that they were “modern” Indians and needed modern names. 

Hector told me that I have to learn to hear the “old” language of the forest.  I am expecting to hear a “modern” language from the forest.  I told Hector that I don’t expect to hear any language from the forest, unless he means the noises of the animals.   He told me to just sit there and remember that I couldn’t hear his English because I wasn’t expecting to hear English.  There was some type of communication that I could hear or feel from the jungle that I wasn’t expecting.  He then left.

I was still hungry and the juice and soda didn’t satisfy me much.  In fact it was making me a little sick.  I must have fallen asleep and when I woke up I was still sitting on the earth.  It was very dark and I didn’t see Carlos or Hector.  I began to worry that a jaguar or other animal could attack me.  My specialty is the reptiles and I certainly wouldn’t mind a big boa crawling nearby.  But I wasn’t that familiar with jaguars.

The sounds of tree frogs and howler monkeys began to die down and all that was left was the sound of many insects.  It was an intricate orchestra of sounds and became louder and louder. 

Suddenly I became aware of the presence of an animal off towards the right about fifty feet away.  I couldn’t see it but my whole body responded to its presence.  My whole attention was focused on where I thought it was and dared not to move or I would give myself away.  But I somehow realized that it knew I was there.  My belly began to ache and pound.  My fear grew to such proportions that it became a huge presence of its own right in front of me.  I could not help but concentrate on that fear.  I forgot about the animal I thought was there and felt that I would be consumed by the fear itself.  Sharp pains and aches filled by belly.

When I heard a branch break I suddenly remembered the animal and realized that the fear had become a separate issue from the animal.  Fear fed the pain in my body and the pain fed the fear.  The two became partners against me.  Now the animal itself, which triggered the fear, didn’t seem so threatening.

I realized the idiocy of allowing fear to grow out of proportion, as if it were a real thing and I was able to let it go.  The pain in my belly subsided.  All that was left was the feeling of strong connection from my belly to some unseen animal in the forest.  There was no fear left.  I thought that there may actually not be any animal there but soon heard twigs breaking as the animal moved away and our “connection” broke. 

My experiences seemed very odd and then I fully understood the problem.  For some reason I was afraid that I experienced a communication with the animal that I could not see.  It was as if my sight needed to identify the animal that my “belly” felt and my sight itself became afraid. 

I now felt a very complex interaction of the forest with the center of my body.  Slowly my body became warmer until it felt as though I had no skin and was completely connected to the forest and aware of every part of it.  I didn’t need to see because the information coming in was, if anything, more detailed than what I could know with my sight. 

Hector suddenly appeared, pulled me up by the arm and walked me back to the hut, where everyone was sleeping.  He explained that I was afraid of the “old” parts of me, the parts that could “hear” the forest.  I asked him what those parts were and he replied, “The parts that can hear the forest”.  I wanted to know what specific parts of the body he was talking about but he shook his head and said, “Even when you know I am speaking in English, you can’t hear me!  You felt those parts tonight.  I sat behind you the whole time.  I could see you speaking to the jaguar.”

I asked him if it were a jaguar why it didn’t eat me.  “He was talking to you.  It wouldn’t be polite to eat you.”  He laughed and then said that jaguars don’t eat people.  Hector suggested that I pay attention to how my whole body felt the forest so that I could be as comfortable with the night as with the day.  “We have senses for both the night and the day.  People fear what they can’t see because they can’t feel.  They have been taught that feeling is the devil.  So they have a battle inside themselves.  What they see fights with what they feel.  Silly, isn’t it?”

He pointed to a plate of chicken, plantain, rice and vegetables on the table and finally let me eat.  Before going to bed he said, “Carlos wants you to stop fighting against yourself.”  I stayed up a couple of hours more because I didn’t want to lose the feeling of the forest.  The next morning I awoke on the patio floor.  The feeling of connection was gone and I was extremely tired.  Over the next month, more lessons would drive home this new sense of talking to the forest so that the feeling would never leave me again.