This is a time for deep questions. In the last year especially I have been in deep inquiry about how we got to this moment. A lot of us are asking how we can get through this mess and come out thriving.
While I wish the answers were written in a fortune cookie for me, it’s not that simple. Lately I’ve been inspired by Tema Okun’s suggestion that revering the written word as the only source of valid information is even partly how we got into this mess.
So let’s do something radical and pay attention to the type of knowing that happens off of the written page. This is wisdom that is carried through the oral tradition.
I think practicing something that requires you to learn in the oral tradition will help wake up more of your inner problem solving resources and open you to the many forms of untapped wisdom in our community.
I’m still slightly surprised by myself that I have become so passionate about the oral tradition. It’s taken me quite a while to recognize that this is how I am doing my most important learning and teaching.
From the time we are babies and mirroring the people in our lives we have been in the oral tradition. Yet somewhere along the line I lost the sense that I could really learn this way.
In school I struggled to learn anything if it was not written down or visual in some way. This was especially true when learning unusual names, different languages, music, or really most academic subjects. The idea of oral tradition sounded terribly vague to me. I couldn’t see what I was to learn or how I was going to learn it.
Waking up the senses
My qigong practice and dance practice have both required that I learn in the oral tradition. It took me quite a while to appreciate that even though I knew where my feet or arms should go, I still hadn’t learned the spirit of the movements. I have learned the most from practicing with masters healers and dancers (and through lots of repetition).
These practices have made me awake to how learning about the Dakota language place names for my region is really an invitation to learn in the oral tradition.
The Twin Cities area is also known as Mnisota Makoce. There are several translations: Land of sky blue waters. Land where the waters reflect the heavens. Land of smokey waters. I’ve sweated about getting the Right one. And then I realized I was trying to capture a certain kind of knowing with the written word.
There is a special relationship between the water, earth, and sky where I live. This is what I’m being invited to understand and experience by learning this place name.
The first thing I realize is how much I don’t know. I cross over the river much more than I notice its moods throughout the day.
This is an invitation to wake up the senses. To smell, taste, feel, listen, and look at my environment in an alive way. It is enlivening to use the senses! The water and sky around me start to come alive.
As my senses come alive, I feel more alive, and more connected with what I do know. This aliveness doesn’t fit on the page yet means so much.
As I have practiced opening my sense of connection to this place I have become more alert to the wisdom carried by my indigenous friends who share their ceremonies with me. They are at home in this place in a way that I still find hard to imagine for myself. Yet I recognize that this sense of connection is a vast spiritual resource for our collective resiliency.
I’m still learning what Mnisota Makoce really means. I hope to one day really know it in my cells.
Embodied knowing now and for the future
One of my greatest hopes is that future generations feel ease and joy and a profound connection to place. An embodied practice is the best chance I have at not only finding this feeling now but also passing it on to the future.
There is so much wisdom within and around us to help us through these times. I encourage you to consciously use learning something in the oral tradition to practice awakening yourself to this wisdom.
There are many entry points to practicing learning in this way. It could be learning music my ear rather than sheet music. It could be practicing orally telling a story previous generations told you. And of course it could include learning dance or qigong.
Blessings to you, wise one.
You are welcome any week to join Healing Waters Qigong, a Spring Forest Qigong Practice Group, or the Wisdom Dances practice, based in Laura Shannon’s approach to women’s ritual dances as sources of healing and transformation.