By Jack Wolf
I was reminiscing today about my late uncle, Emmett.
Emmett was an adoptive relation of mine and by ‘adoptive’ I mean that we became kinsmen through a Native ceremony long ago. Amongst many Native groups ceremonial adoption is a powerful thing and once it has been performed those involved consider their ceremonial relations to be just as authentic as their blood or marriage relations. So it was with Emmett and I; he was close to fifty years my senior and could possibly have been considered as a great uncle or grandfather, but we went with the uncle-nephew connection.
Emmett was a full blooded member of one of the Manitoba Cree nations back in those days but he had in his younger years, traveled west, eventually ending up in my home province of British Columbia. Emmett walked in a very traditional way and spent most of his life as a trapper and as a traditional hunting guide. He took me on my first hunt and was the main source of teaching for me as a young fella when it came to getting by in the woods. Emmett was a pretty direct man: He didn’t sugar coat things and for the most part spoke his mind. He was honest to a fault and I learned a huge amount about life from him. Emmett was not Thornish though he was good friends with a number of people who were. Instead he walked his own road, one which was steeped not only in the old Cree traditions, but also in the many deep and profound experiences he’d had over his many years in this world.
One of the things I was thinking about today, was a set of teachings that my uncle gave me back then, when we were spending a fair bit of time together – either at his little house at the riverside, or out on his trapline. I thought that I would share this wisdom with my readers in the hope that it might be of some help to them on their own individual journeys.
Emmett’s Counsel: Ways to live a good life and be a good person.
- Don’t blame, don’t complain and try to live in the now.
- Less talk, more listening.
- There is great value in silence.
- Family and tribe come first, especially children and elders.
- You alone are responsible for how you react and what you do.
- Life is a gift and everything in the world is alive on one level or another, so behave accordingly.
- Emotions are a horse better tamed.
- Your ancestors are watching.
So, what can one get from the simple list shown above? Well for me I gained a metric tonne. Sometimes things which appear to be understated can have layers of meaning so if you ponder them closely you’ll see that there is much to be gained in making use of these seven principles.
Don’t blame, don’t complain: This described my uncle to a ‘tee’: I have a hard time remembering him complaining or blaming at any point during the years that I knew him. His logic was that if you are busy blaming or complaining you are wasting valuable time and energy and as well, probably not taking responsibility for your own acts in life.
Try to live in the now is also valuable advice. We humans don’t tend to do that and as far as my late uncle was concerned, when we are living in the past or pondering the future we aren’t living in the now. The now, as uncle reminded me quite often, is ALL we will ever have. The past and the present are conceptualizations we make so that we can learn from our experiences and so we can prepare for what ‘may’ happen. However modern people have gone too far with this to the point of living in the past or the future more than in the now. Uncle Emmett called the act of spending too much time thinking about the past or future ‘hiding inside the mind’.
Once, when walking the trapline we came upon the remains of a male Mule Deer that had quite obviously been killed and eaten by wolves. My uncle and I had been talking about the past and the present not long before and he chose this discovery to use as a teaching point – to drive the lesson home.
“When our wild brothers go about their business they are always in the now.” He said. “And even then they sometimes end up as dinner for somebody else, so can you imagine how dangerous hiding inside one’s mind can be for a human being?”
Lesson 2 tells us that ‘Less talk’ and ‘more listening’ are the best ways for us to be. This should be pretty self-evident, but when you look at how modern day people communicate you see the opposite for the most part. These days a lot of people are so busy trying to get their own messages across that they don’t often bother to listen to what anyone else has to say. Maybe this is a product of general overpopulation or perhaps is a development of our overexposure to modern media – I’m not sure – but it is indeed wise to bear in mind that when we close ourselves off we are depriving ourselves of potential knowledge and wisdom too.
There is great value in silence: Well, this one is related to the lesson we just discussed but again, if you look deeper you will see that there is more. Uncle taught me that in silence we gain perspective and strength. We also get to know ourselves and become better observers, both of the inner and the outer worlds. Uncle used to say: “Noise closes doors. Silence can open them.”
Family and tribe come first, especially children and elders: Here is one that despite what many might immediately think, is very much worth pondering. Our society here in the so-called First World has changed considerably over the past century or so and really, there are a lot of ugly examples seen in news and other media and indeed right in our own personal experiences, where we can see that the above mentioned line of advice is not adhered to. Human beings are all, at the root, tribal animals and yet as a result of the industrial age (and now the corporate age) human tribal groups have been mutated and damaged over time. Our values are not always the values that were so esteemed by our ancient ancestors and in the thinking of many tribalists, myself included, it is time to put a concerted effort into rekindling and fully embracing the value of our closest folk. My grandfather for instance, used to say that our elders are the people who are responsible for us being in the world. We are standing on their shoulders. The little ones are the new generation and we owe them the chance to survive and thrive, just as our elders tried to do for us. This is the true meaning of balance in the human social matrix my friends, not to mention the honorable way to go about doing things.
You alone are responsible for how you react and what you do. This is a powerful one – at least it was for me, way back when, when I first fathomed its import. So many people these days go about RE-acting rather than acting in a knowledgeable, measured way. We often look before we leap and a lot of the time (go back and have a look at the first line of Emmett’s wisdom there) we are quite busy complaining about the acts/deeds of others or pointing fingers of blame at others or other situations. While we are doing that we are away from our core; away from the self in the now. People in today’s society often rant against things they can’t control when instead, as my uncle suggested, we focus on those things we can control and try to use wisdom to deal with those things we can’t control. When we start thinking more strategically we realize that everything in the individual’s personal universe comes from within and it is only from within that we can make sense of the situations we find ourselves in. When we bite that proverbial bullet and start realizing that we – and only we – are responsible for our actions and reactions – then we actually start to achieve a level of measurable control in life.
Life is a gift and everything in the world is alive on one level or another, so behave accordingly. Again a powerful perspective to have. As the animist and tribalist that I am, I have come to these understandings many years ago. Yet these are lessons that we need to keep reminding ourselves about from time to time. Life. Think about it. It is an astonishing, magical, powerful thing and in modern times there are so many who take it for granted. Just have a look at the news – and all the wars going on, whether these are wars between humans, wars on the environment or otherwise – and you get the picture that life is not seen as being so sacred by some human beings. Again as an animist I have long believed that literally everything is alive on one level or another. When you start seeing the multiverse in that way – and realizing that not only is everything alive; possessed with spirit – that you begin to see the myriad of connections…and you realize that its ALL connected; WE are ALL REALTED in a fathomless web of reality – everything changes. When we reach that threshold of knowing that we are each but a tiny part of the web of life then we act differently, not only to those who are outside of our bodies and perceptions (and that too is a community of organisms, not just a solo act) but also within ourselves.
Emotions are a horse better tamed. Emotions are beautiful things but in the human animal at least they can sometimes get out of hand – especially the nasty ones. Emotions are a way in which we react to outside things and they are a big part of what make us human, yet we can see with all of the impulsiveness and hatred in the world; all the bigotry and prejudice out there, that in many cases, emotions are indeed like a wild horse. When my uncle suggested that emotions be tamed he was certainly not talking about the stifling of one’s inner fires. My uncle could (and did) laugh and cry just like the rest of us. What he was saying is that while the positive emotions like love, joy, affection are true gifts to be embraced and enjoyed (and shared) it is the other ones, like hatred, anger, spite, jealousy and other kinds of malicious things that need to be held under a firm hand. Indeed it takes willpower and strength to learn how to keep these darker urges in check but it is well worth the effort.
My grandfather used to say “Think before you act. Ask yourself why you are feeling this way or that and whether any bad thoughts have the right to be let out into the world through words or actions.” And he was right to suggest that. Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if people would just ponder their inner thoughts and darker emotions before allowing them to manifest? Wow, I bet it would be a great place to live.
Your ancestors are watching. This one should be self-evident….for those of us who believe in the spirit world anyway, and even for those who don’t there is the consideration of DNA and bloodlines…and leaving good memories behind when you go…
I personally do believe in the spirit world. To me it is a very real thing. I have had far too many experiences in my life that have shown me the veracity of spirit, to believe otherwise. And I do believe that my ancestors – some of them anyway – are watching. Many people believe that their ancestors are watching and with that in mind I wonder how many of them consider their words or actions accordingly. I think that the idea of living honorably, doing one’s best for kin and tribe – and the world – and then at last, leaving this world with a good reputation, is certainly something to be considered.
And so there we are. These are a set of suggestions for living a good life and they are something that I have tried over the years of my own life to consider as I travel along. It’s not always easy and we all make mistakes, the Gods know I have certainly made my fair share of them. But you know, it’s the will to get back up and keep going that defines those of us who are truly great…and I believe that a lot of us have the potential to be truly great.
As such it is my hope that these little bits of wisdom from my late uncle might also be of some guidance those who might find them of interest.