Lessons on getting back to what matters from a Native American storyteller, coach and corporate trainer.
By Marc Choyt
Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblo) is the founding director of HAMAATSA, an indigenous learning center in New Mexico; a master storyteller; Native filmmaker; painter and author of Hunting Sacred, Everything Listens.
He is also a coach and corporate trainer, specializing in seminars and story camps inspiring transformative leadership. Over the 20 years we have known each other, his views as a Native American elder have shifted my perspective. Most recently, I sat down with Larry to discuss climate change.
Marc Choyt: It is hard, when considering climate change, not to feel hopelessness and grief. Reading the latest news about the polar caps, or polar bears, is almost too much.
Larry Littlebird: We are alive in a time when we are going to have our opportunity to discover choices. The reality is that climate change has been coming for a long time and up until now, many people have been totally unaware.
Isn’t this a result of a breakdown in our relationship to our “relations,” the connection to the web of life that sustains us?
Climate change is the result of Western thought, Western intellect – which has not been happening very long, in relation to human existence. Our efforts to control the environment are breaking the structure of something that is already so perfect.
Climate change is the Earth’s idea. The Earth is a living being. What are humans going to do with this idea? For the first time, human beings, no matter where we are living, are going to be faced with the same experience. We are all being provided the same opportunity to discover our flesh and bone.
We are all becoming “Indian.” The trauma that indigenous people have faced for thousands of years as “progress” marches “forward” is now slowly becoming collective. We can now confront the shortcomings of the intellectually driven attempt to control life through technology and power.
Is that why we have to get out of our anthropocentrism – looking at what is easy, more comfortable, is better for us and instead see benefit in suffering – cataclysmic forces, typhoons, tornadoes?
These things are confronting human beings, pounding the human spirit. We can start to feel the collective anguish. Adapting to the Earth’s changes is our greatest opportunity to make choices.
Now, over 80 percent of people in New Mexico and even Texas see the weather extremes resulting from global warming.
Human beings are like scattered seeds. These seeds are sown and they require time. All things, all creation, is given the gift of time and it is endless. That outer protection of a seed has to be softened so that what is alive inside may germinate.
What is alive inside of humans that will bring well-being? It is not all advancement and technological wonders or our man-made sense of intellectual mind. The mark of a true human is compassion. Compassion cannot be conditioned. It is in the seed that was sown from the very beginning. It has to be cared for and nurtured by a culture that brings forth health and well-being.
It seems like at least at certain points, like in the 1960s, there was this attempt to create this—the counter culture, the hippie culture, summer of love...
In 1959 and 1960 in San Francisco, I was meeting the beat writers—poets, intellectuals immersed in their own history of bards, troubadours. Some were writing in opposition to where things were politically.
I was listening to them and thinking, this is incredible, but what is their action? It was drugs. That became this movement across the country – you got to get high to have a different view. But most everyone could not speak about a natural high, based on a more intimate relationship with what is natural.
Our natural state is something like pure water. Water, which is what life is formed in. Water, air, earth and then fire. Those elements are what people can learn from.
How can we find a new direction, or home?
I believe that we are collectively attempting to rediscover this starting over place. One people’s starting over place is all too often very different from another people’s. Whatever you are caught in is greater than you are, but you are in it at the same time and part of it.
The starting-over-place, or what you call home, is discovered in the chaos, when everything is blown apart and you are grabbing at planks—and finally there is just a relinquishing. You let go. And that is where that first inkling of, “I have to do something” begins.
It is so simple! You are being tossed in this ocean and a wave flips you way up in the air for a moment and you see something in greater trouble than you. Something within you says,
“I have to do something.”
The chaos brings you in relationship to a place where all our needs are always met – a place between what has happened within and the contact with the need that will provide a starting over point.
Photo Credits: (1) Photo by Ryan Heffernan, courtesy of Sacred Fire Magazine.
(2) TeePee photo by Deborah Littlebird, courtesy of Hamaatsa.
(3) Tipi lodge at Hamaatsa photo, Larry's Indigenous Learning Center just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.