The Old Way and Civilization
The Old Way is the way of living common to the Native Peoples of The Earth, no matter what the era, culture or region. It is also the way of the plants, the animals, the Air, and the Water. It is the way all things natural were, are, and will be. This timeless Way is called "old" only by those who have abandoned it and now measure time in passing. Few Humans in this day know it or live it.
Civilization is the lifeway of Peoples who control and regiment the natural order. It is the current lifeway of most Humans, and of the animals, plants, and environments they have harnessed or domesticated to live it.
In these next few pages we will explore both Ways in order to gain a perspective on the crest we Walk between the Path behind and the Path ahead. Then we will leave Civilization for the rest of our Walking together. (This chapter is an oversimplification of the two Ways and in some cases a comparison of incomparables. I am taking license for effect—to bring us quickly to the Spirit and Fire of our Journey.)
I recently met an Elder who gave me a most beautiful description of the Old Way in two words—sharing and kindness. Exploring the folds and reflections of those two words gives a full and lush view of that lifeway. The same day another Elder was speaking of the concerns she had for her grandchildren being exposed to the dominant culture. In elaborating on her fears, she gave a succinct, three-word definition of Civilization—individualism, (the accumulation of) possessions, and commercialism.
This dichotomy leaves little wonder that the Conquerors' first reaction to Native Peoples is often one of revulsion and sub-human classification. The Conquerors see them as crazy savages, fighting against all odds in a war they cannot win. The most spiritual often appear to be the most warlike. The intruders cannot grasp that the People are defending what they see as their clear right to follow Spirit. They are fighting for the very life and health of their Mother. They see it as better to die in Her defense than for them, and their generations to follow, to live a life of subjugation and encagement. Such a life would mean being forced not only to witness, but to be an active part in, the slow poisoning and dismemberment of the Sacred Mother-Source. In the end the People can find pride in losing, while the Civilized hordes can only find shame in winning.
Civilized People are still conquering Native People, though with the complexity of the contemporary world political-economic structure, perhaps not as conspicuously as in past centuries. With the consumption of every fast-food burger goes a chunk of South American Rainforest four times the area of my Lodge. (The Rainforest is one of the last holdouts of the People.) The purchase of every Japanese product pushes the Ainu—the indigenous (and Caucasian) Old Way Japanese People—closer to the sea on the last, northernmost island they inhabit.
Conquerors are prone to defining their morality quite narrowly, which helps justify their ways. For instance, they found it hard to reconcile the fact that the Hopi, whom they viewed as a peaceful, agricultural, and very spiritual People, commonly had extramarital relations; while the Apache, whom they regarded as heartless plunderers, were morally conservative and very strict concerning mated fidelity. Even something as seemingly innocuous as dance was intolerable to the Conquerors; they could not accept it as being more than just social entertainment. (Native Peoples, for whom dance is a central spiritual, psychological, and cultural expression, were equally surprised when they found out that Civilized dance was just social.)
Some primary distinctions between Civilized People and Native People: The Civilized change the world to suit themselves, while the Native adapt themselves to the world as it is; the Civilized are ever discontent with their present situation and dedicate their entire lives to changing it, while the Native are ever thankful for the beauty and bounty they find themselves immersed in; the Civilized dwell in the errors of the past and the hope of the future, while the Native bask in the fullness of the moment; the Civilized draw everything toward themselves while the Native become of everything about them; the Civilized grovel and beg as they contritely pray, while the Native pridefully sing in praise, thanksgiving, and wonderment; the Civilized have psychologists to help them adjust to their unreasonable lives, while the Native live in the harmony of their environs; the Civilized have religion, the Native live religion; the Civilized talk a lot, the Native listen and learn. The Civilized admire each other for what they are; the Native admire each other for who they are. The Civilized meet death lying in bed expending every effort to further extend life, while the Native greet death upright, if possible, with their Song of Passing on their lips as they greet the New Cycle.
Civilization is based on Human-made things that keep breaking down; the Old Way is based on natural things, which keep growing, renewing. Human-made things need regular input, while natural things keep giving. Civilized People become enslaved to their possessions, ever working to maintain them, while Native People are as free and unencumbered as the natural things that provide their needs.
Work as a concept is known only to Civilized People. It was born of the necessity to support the individualism and material opulence intrinsic to the lifeway. Where Natives avoid unnecessary duplication by sharing tools and other resources, Civilized People strive to individually possess what-ever they use. They lead a catch-22 existence—they buy houses and cars so they can get jobs, then they have to keep their jobs so they can support their houses and cars. Their houses bulge with specialized rooms that are little used, while the lodges of Natives are small and open, designed for multiple usage of space (more in Wigwam chapter of Book III).
The material comparisons go on, but this will suffice to illustrate that Civilized People are working largely for things they don't use. They are committed to payments, taxes, insurance, maintenance, utility bills, and so on, no matter if or how much their material goods are used.
Their "labor saving" devices actually save them little; the time saved is consumed by working elsewhere to pay for the tool, its fuel, maintenance, and the costs of storage. Some appliances, such as the washing machine, are not timesavers for an additional reason—their advent enabled more consumption. Now people have more clothes, and change and wash them more often, spending just as much time on laundry as before the machine.
Native People require but an average of two hours a day to provide their needs and desires, no matter whether the environment is lush tropic or desert. Their rich cultures, strong families, and lavish handiworks attest to their bountiful spare time. Their labor applies directly to their needs, as opposed to the more abstract Civilized concept of "going to work" to provide needs in a less direct way. Simply put, Natives transfer energy efficiently by direct involvement in what they need; whereas Civilized People, through a complex and non-personally involved process, expend much more time and energy to meet the same need. For instance, when Native People desire fruit, they will simply go and pick it, whereas Civilized People will buy land, and go through the process of raising the fruit before picking it, or "go to work" to pay someone else to raise (package, store, and transport) it for them.
Those who have lived both Ways talk of the richer, more fulfilling life of the Native Way, with its direct involvement in the process of existence, as compared with the detached, indirect means of the Civilized Way. I first felt this difference when I was invited to share a meal with a Native family. The food had a life and a spirit that was given to it by their hands as they hunted, gardened, foraged, stored, prepared, and served it. This was reflected in the Blessing of the food, the way it was presented, eaten, and enjoyed, and in the way it was valued and respected, without a bite being wasted. What a blessed experience when compared to my hollow store-bought meals!
There is little sacred in Civilized societies. They are systems-oriented; they look to structure for answers, not knowing of the ways of Elders and the Talking Circle and the Inner Voice. The once-sacred becomes lowered to the Civilized society's secular norm. Drugs, alcohol, and sex become objects of pleasure, where in the few Native societies where drugs or alcohol are used, they are used sporadically, and as part of sacred rituals (see Alterants chapter in Book II).
Civilized People are ego-sensitive; self-recountings of their adventures and successes often come across as self-aggrandizing and ego-threatening to the listener. In cultures where the Warrior and the Healer and the Seeker still exist, stories of their Journeys and triumphs are regularly told and eagerly awaited. Beyond entertainment, these recountings serve as teachers and examples to inspire and emulate. Perhaps because Native People have more opportunity for self-fulfillment than their Civilized counterparts, they are less threatened and more inspired by the success of others.
My impression is that the unspoken Civilized objective is to fashion an Earth (and beyond?) that is under total Human control. What Native People see as their natural realm, Civilized People see as uncontrolled, wild. Their neighbors are no longer the animals and plant People, but other Humans. So the natural realm is truly wild to them, and their isolation from it isolates them from its care, and from its wisdoms. For an example, with many non-Human People, staring into another's eyes is-a sign of assertiveness and dominance, or of aggression. It is also a giveaway to the stalked and a preoccupation that puts one out of contact with the Greater Circle. For these reasons, Natives consider it foolish and disrespectful to stare into the eyes of another, particularly an Elder. No longer knowing the animals to gather these lessons, Civilized People suffer inter-actions plagued with the friction of their eyes and the imbalance of their perception.
Civilized Peoples' care for the Source of their goods is not sensitive to Her needs because they do not know Her needs. For example, when logging for their lumber and paper, they don't know to let some of the big, hollow trees stand, so one-quarter of the varieties of our bird kin are left homeless.
One reason for the "success" of the Civilized Way is its willingness to adopt the ways of other cultures that work to its advantage. This approach has created functional cultures but without the Ancestral roots and spiritual bases of the cultures from which they borrow. For example, they have borrowed practices from the people of India, such as what they call Yoga and Transcendental Meditation. They are fragments of a Hindu People's life-approach, surface techniques which are a reflection of the underlying philosophy. Only the exercise is desired; its spirit is left behind. This allows for Civilization's penchant to commercially exploit other cultures. So we see these borrowed practices being promoted with such lines as "Reduce stress, increase productivity, lose weight, be a better yuppie or salesman by practicing … " The Civilized Way could benefit greatly from a deeper look at and understanding of the ways of other cultures, but instead it is content skimming the grease off the top and using it to lubricate the worn-out mechanism of its lifeway.
The Civilized Way can be characterized by such contemporary cliches as, "the me generation," "self-development," and "I do my thing, you do yours." The most powerful contemporary response that I've heard is Albert Schweitzer's, which echoes Old Way wisdom, "Life outside a person is an extension of the life within him. This compels him to be part of it and accept responsibility for all creatures great and small. Life becomes harder when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier."
Where They Diverged
If we are all the same People, where did our Paths diverge and some of us turn from The Mother to see if we could do better? Perhaps the answer lies in the way we look at a seed. Agriculture is the basis of Civilization; with it came permanent settlements and the concept of land ownership. The Earth became "property"—a despiritualized, inanimate commodity. Now Civilization had a foundation upon which to lay its cornerstones-the concentration of wealth and power, predatory trade and warfare, and the enslavement of Humans, animals, plants, Water, and minerals.
The Old Way, based on foraging economies dependent upon a respectful relationship with Earth, can give no root or nourishment to the above-mentioned Civilized traits. Nor can it support cultural, economic, and political stratification. Instead, its small interactive groups, which share in spirit, strife, and pleasure, encourage a more personally involved, less bounded lifeway.
Native village soil-tillers became the transitional step between the Old Way and Civilization. It is here that we first see powerful leaders, class systems, and wealthy individuals. It is also here where interest, rent, currency, and animal and human sacrifice make their entrance, as they are largely absent from the lifeways of foraging Peoples.
Old Way Primitive
The term primitive is often associated with People Walking the Old Way. Many who use the term in this context define it as crude, unevolved, basic; whereas it actually means nothing more than first. Leading a primitive life involves a high degree of mental, physical, and spiritual attunement, sensual acuity, and skills development.
To illustrate this point to the skeptic, I ask him to make Fire, and I in turn do the same. As he is digging in his pocket for a match to strike or a Bic to flick, I am preparing my bow and drill Firemaking kit to release the Sun Spirit locked in the wood. A few seconds after his match is burned out, I'm blowing life into the coal nestled in my tinder. Then I invite him to try my method, and I ask to try his. I master his technique in mere seconds whereas he has trouble grasping even the rudiments of mine. Not surprising, as it takes weeks of practice—even when coming from a place of attunement—to become proficient at the bow-and-drill method.
I can draw examples from all the aspects of spiritual and physical life to demonstrate which way of life really fits the Civilized definition of primitive, but the above usually proves adequate.
Civilized People live in linear fashion, with their lives and fortunes beginning at birth, progressing through life and ending at death. They view the life of their societies in the same way. The Circle symbolizes the way Native People perceive these things.
Essay taken from the book “Journey to the Ancestral Self” by Tamarack Song, found of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. www.teachingdrum.org