Jun 05 2012

Reading Gustafson’s Dancing Between Two Worlds: Jung & the Native American Soul

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Below is an excerpt from “A Personal Search” from Dancing Between Two Worlds: Jung & The Native American Soul by Fred Gustafson.

Gustafson is treading a very fine line in this article at times.

As he so rightly claims:

“Today it is common for enlightened technologized peoples to talk about the indigenous peoples throughout the world as being keepers of the land not only today but for thousands of years. What we must now realize, however, is that we also of the technologized world are indigenous peoples at some forgotten place within ourselves and, at one time, had a living indigenous past with a sense of intimately belonging to the earth. [(An interesting way that this can go horribly wrong, of course, is in völkisch thought – I think it was either Himmler, or Goebbels, who claimed that once they’d purified Germany, he wanted to return to the simple life on his farm)] Indigenous really refers to an attitude and a way of life that respects the unity and relationship of all things on the earth.

“For us to forget such roots can result in sentimentalizing the remaining six hundred million indigenous peoples of the world. It promotes an us/them division that keeps projections of our own forgotten ancestral life actively placed on ‘them.’ At the same time, it is true that we have much to learn from such known keepers of the land about what we have long forgotten.”

An unnamed Australian Aborigine as quoted in Dreamkeepers: A Spirit-Journey into Aboriginal Australia by Harvey Arden (also reading from this class):

“You’ll never discover the blackfella’s secret…So don’t you whitefellas come round here sniffin’ after our Dreamtime stories like all those others do, those anthros and those journos and all them. Sure, maybe you get me to tell you a story from our Dreamtime, then you take it and write it down in your book and sell it for a million dollars. You white blokes are all the same. Can’t you understand? It’s not mine to give you, that story. I don’t own it. It’s the property of my people…

“It’s like…it’s like a watch, a gold watch. Like I’m wearing the gold watch my father gave me and you ask me the time. So I tell you the time. But I don’t give you the watch, too, do I? Whitefella now, he asks for the time and then he wants to take the watch, too! That’s the Gadia way, the whitefella way. So don’t you come here askin’ me for any of our Dreamtime stories. Get your own Dreamtime. Don’t take ours.

“…white man’s religion, now…me, I say that it’s better’n blackfella’s. Blackfella’s religion’s no bloody good. Whitefella’s God is better’n blackfella’s, don’t you think? I’ll tell you why I think so…I was Catholic for thirty years and that’s about the only thing I liked about it – the whitefella’s God, this Jesus fella, all this Father and Son and Holy Ghost and all that….I liked that. Better’n blackfella’s God, better’n Rainbow Snake and all that. That’s all gone now. Whitefella’s God won out over blackfella’s Snake. So Gadia’s God is better’n blackfella’s, eh? There are some who’ll tell you different, but that’s what I think anyway…

“So that’s why I say you better stop lookin’ for the blackfella’s secret and stick with your own whitefella’s God. That’s why I say you’ll never discover the blackfella’s secret. And even if you did, you’d only be sorry. It’s not your secret, and it could hurt you, could even kill you. Same with the Dreamtime stories. They’re not your stories. They’re not for children like your fairy tales. Don’t write your book about those like all those anthros and journos do, comin’ here and stealin’ our stories…

“…And I prefer you don’t use my name, either…That’s mine, too, and I’m not givin’ it out to just anyone. Look at your notes on what I said, write’m up, then send me your bloody book when it comes out and I’ll read it.

“I wanna see how you lie about what I say.”

Get your own Dreamtime.

That’s quite the trick, isn’t it?

Here in the Bay Area, there’s no shortage of opportunities to “explore” alternate belief systems. Yet I wonder if we’re not all stuck in some of what Gustafson describes above. (In the article, though, I think he’s at times guilty of the very sentimentalization he warns against, postulating an internal archetype of the “Indigenous One”. He’s walking quite the tightrope, and does sway a little.) I don’t see this just with the ability to buy dreamcatchers at the mall (though this was more prevalent back east, I think, than what I’ve noticed here), but also with the overwhelming number of “Transformational Workshops” in the area in yoga, meditation, etc.

This is a damn tricky thing.

Shortly after I got out here, I got into an argument with someone no longer on my friends list, who accused me of sanctioning “cultural imperialism”, because I’d referred to Huston Smith’s (“An imperialist white man with a beatific smile,” I think were her words) descriptions of Judaism in a journal post. I come from a semi-Jewish background (though I don’t identify with it, since it doesn’t identify with me), and had had no problems with Smith’s descriptions. Her reactions were near hysteric. How DARE Smith even ATTEMPT to write anything about Judaism, not being a Jew.

Yet she failed to see the hypocrisy of her own situation, writing endlessly about her love of Tibetan Buddhism, and her own budding practice (she is of ethnic Jewish descent. When I tried to apply her line of reasoning that she “couldn’t possibly ‘get’ Tibetan Buddhism, by not having been raised in that culture”, it mostly went over her head, as I recall).

What about my own attraction to Sufism?

Peter Lamborn Wilson talks about the “Renegadoes”, thousands of Europeans who converted to Islam during the 16th-19th centuries, for sundry reasons in his book Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, trying to find their motivations.
-Was it simply “rebellion” against social norm?
-Was it the “romance” attached to the life of being a pirate?
-Was it some form of what Said would probably call “Orientalism”?
-Should these conversions be taken on an individual basis, or collectively?

My own attractions to Sufism are because what I’ve read in the literature makes the most sense to me. Yet in the wake of 9/11, am I sure it’s not reactionary? I didn’t really begin looking into Islam or any of this until after the attacks, and as a way to help me try to understand what happened.

Yet Ya’qub ibn Yusuf also has a point, in his article Sufism in the West and the Question of Religion: Do You Have to be a Muslim to be a Sufi? (Gnosis magazine, Winter 1994):

“…[A]lthough it may appear to be desirable, it is simply not possible for us as modern people to appropriate a wholeness that belongs to another time and place…

“We may, for example, admire the quality of hospitatlity, or the brotherhood and sisterhood that we have observed in travels to the Islamic world. We may sincerely wish to submit to the world view of the medieval Sufi masters, or that of the Hasidic masters of the eighteenth century. But try as we may, we cannot make their world entirely our own. We can endeavor to become more and more religiously observant, but we remain cosmopolitan people trying to fit into forms external to ourselves and the world in which we live.

“…When we endeavor to maintain a religious practice over against the outside world, we introduce an element of self-consciousness that interferes with our sensitivity to the greater whole. Yet it is precisesly the natural harmony with one’s surroundings that is expressed in a traditional way of life that makes it graceful and attractive.

“…Try as we may to impose traditional virtues upon the modern world, we cannot turn back the clock. [This might be an important thing for fundamentalists of any religion to consider] How, then, can we work from where we are? The wisdom of Sufism (or of any such teaching going by another name) recommends that we adapt to local conditions and build with local materials. Our best hope is…to learn to distinguish the essential principles that informed the great traditions of the past and apply them to the materials and conditions at hand.

“…And while I believe it may be a mistake to narrowly identify with the religion of one’s ancestors, there is also a price to be paid for ignoring one’s own ancestral heritage. Our religious background is very much a kind of ‘local material’ out of which we are constructed.”

And this, I think, is the key. As much as I don’t identify with either my German or Eastern-European Jewish background, these things have (at least subtly) influenced the way I was brought up. In addition, as much as I don’t identify with American culture, it has shaped me (even by giving me something to not identify with).

Too often, I think, it is easy to throw these things away that we “reject”, and consider them “bad”, because we fall into what I (and probably others) call “Noble Savage Syndrome”, projecting onto other cultures (be they Indigenous, “Eastern”, or what have you) all the qualities that we feel are lacking in our own lives, shopping for belief systems like others shop for new shoes at the mall. As much as we lay out this idea that we must respect other cultures and traditions (and we should!), we also need to make sure we are respecting ourselves, and our own backgrounds, even if it’s only a general nod in their directions, as we embrace something that resonates more strongly with us, or as we attempt to create our own systems. Demonizing our past, whether it be out of guilt, rebellion, or other, only fragments us further, as we deny some of the very foundations that (whether we would have liked it or not) made us up. To borrow a phrase from Ken Wilber, “transcend and include.”

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