It all comes down to this: no matter how you parse it—art, politics, spirit, planet; body, mind, heart, and soul—the realms that are reckoned separate in the official version of our current reality are in truth a unity, and recognizing that is the path to wholeness. When we violate—ignore, deny, falsify—the absolute indivisibility of our lives, we pay a crushing price. Daring to live into wholeness doesn’t guarantee happiness, of course. But it does confer freedom, the kind that comes from within and radiates in all directions. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.” Our specific birthright is freedom in the service of compassion. And wholeness is our aspiration, just as the seed aspires to sprout.
I have been thinking hard about this lately, as friends share with me the work of artists whose approach is embedded with this knowledge as beads are laid into the wax and wood base of a Huichol mask. And even more as I observe political work that is simultaneously spiritual work and simultaneously art work and the three are braided so closely that it is impossible to pass a hair’s-breadth between them. For instance:
The wonderful media artist Mona Smith (her heritage is Sisseton–Wahpeton Dakota Oyate; check out the Bdote MemoryMap for an interactive embodiment of Dakota people’s relationship to Minnesota) sent me a link to Gyasi Ross’s “A Guide to Idle No More for Dummies,” published last month. It’s a concise and straightforward explication of a movement that is anchored in centuries of resistance to exploitation and expansive in its vision: “this movement belongs to anybody who wants to stand up for the Earth and women and also make a positive change in the community,” Ross writes.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Hawaii’s Poet Laureate and founder of HawaiiSlam, Kealoha, whose work embodies a rejection of corporate values in favor of the continuity and vitality of indigenous, earth-centered values. I was especially taken with his performance of his poem “Chances,” which captures my own truth too (and probably yours) with its refrain, “What are the chances?”:
I come from a long line of impossibilities
A circumstance that happened to manifest because random chance allowed it to.
Which reminded me of my friend Bob Holman, a wonderful poet who founded The Endangered Languages Poetry Project (and with linguists Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins cofounded the Endangered Language Alliance). Bob has been working on a series of documentaries about endangered languages. The first few videos are available at one of his sites, with a full PBS series to come.
To see a whole range of work that asserts the inseparability of art, spirit, and positive social change, visit the website of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation and click on the link for 2013 Artist Fellowships. You will find writers, media makers, visual artists, dancers, musicians, and others whose work foreshadows the world being born.
I feel very strongly that soon, enough people will perceive this to reach a tipping-point. I can almost see the old divisions start to fall away, crumbling under the weight of their own arbitrariness, freeing our common culture from their grip. But I am impatient for it to happen. I find myself sitting like a mother bird waiting for that first peck to crack the shell and release new life into the world. I think it will help to crack the shell if we name things as they are: to begin saying that a project or organization or event falls into the category of wholeness; rather than choosing between art, politics, and spirit, refusing the distinction and choosing them all.
Beyond all the other ways my heart lifts at this emergent reality is the spirit of generosity than infuses it. None of this work conceals or minimizes the damage done, genocides, colonial powers’ indifference to the cultures they trampled, injuries to Mother Earth and life itself. But neither does it sink to revenge, neither does it become the thing it opposes. When I think about the sheer weight of generosity required to desire the enlightenment of those who have injured you, I understand moral grandeur and the healing it can bring. I breathe in hope grounded in reality.
Oh, Jesus, this is my final plea
Yes, Jesus, this is my final plea
You know I’m still beggin’ you
Don’t let the Devil get the best of me