Our True Inheritance
What does it mean to be educated? What is the purpose of education? When does it begin and are we ever done? We imagine that our children are being educating when we send them off to an institution where they learn (first and foremost) how to behave, where they are told what is important to know (and by this, what is not relevant or worthy). In this process they are not asked what they think about what is important to know or what it is they already know; what they came into the world knowing. Of course there is a need for a common language, common practices and shared wisdom which allow culture to be a container within which we are held accountable for the vitality of all life. Education that has true relevance must be a process honoring and cultivating what we are each born knowing within a cultural context that allows this wisdom to weave with, but equally often transcend, what already is.
The first and most crucial step in the process of relevant education for our children is a deep understanding of the web of life, of their integral place within it and of their necessary care-taking of it. Not only (according to most indigenous cultures) is this our responsibility but it is our birth-rite; the largest possible story of how and why we are here. Within this inheritance, shared with us by our elders/adults, we are positioned in the lineage of our ancestry. Here in this lineage we both grow and are called into the fullest understanding of our individual and collective purpose as sextons and caretakers; warriors, fearless bell ringers and relentless grave diggers, protecting, celebrating, grieving and praising all this is beautiful and breathtaking, all that is inexplicable and wondrous. Without this lineage, thrashing loose outside the rich context of our human lives as inextricably connected to the largest possible story of life itself, we are doomed to make decisions as if nothing we do matters. We are doomed to believe the deadliest of modern fallacies - that our breath, our tears and our dreams have nothing to do with the Ruby Throated Hummingbird's migration or the Bog Turtle's hibernation or even, if you can imagine, the vibrancy of translucent life at the ocean's floor.
I have recently spent a week with the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and of all the pieces of wisdom, of all the tearful, heartfelt offerings they made, the most moving was their insistence that we MUST remember how to be the teachers of this critical body of wisdom. And we must prioritize this as if life depended upon it, because it does.
Listening to the grandmother's say this however, despite the fact that I knew this to be true, I felt the deepest grief filling me.
The only way our children can inherit their true birth-rite, of course, is to see themselves as perfect, individual expressions of this miraculous web of life - to feel themselves as deeply valuable, relevant and whole. Just as they are. I became grief-stricken because I know that a culture cannot possibly teach its children this vital body of wisdom if the individuals within it do not feel this to be true about themselves. We, parents and adults, must see ourselves as deeply valuable, relevant and whole if we are to teach our children that they are.
These grandmothers did not stop here. They offered that it is the mother who, whether consciously or unconsciously, teaches this wisdom first, simply because it is the mother's body through which the child enters this world. The first education a child receives is how to respect and honor the body that brought her here, to which she owes her life, upon which her survival now depends. From there, growing within a culture which practices this, she learns how to respect and honor Mother Earth's body. Of course, men play a vital role in the education of our children that all life is sacred. But the Grandmothers believe the mothers must do the first, critical installment which begins even before birth. It begins when the soul of each child is called by the song of its mother’s soul. It is right here, in this immeasurable map-less place that the child has his first teaching of the sacredness of all life. If all life is unequivocally sacred then that means him too. He grows in the world without a language that would allow for anything other than his perfection.
So, while our beautiful men, our fathers, brothers and uncles have a place in this conversation, I want to ask you...WOMEN...to pay attention. The most important, the most prestigious education we can offer our children - the wisdom to love and dutifully tend the planet upon which we depend for our survival - must start with the critical re-education of ourselves. Our culture has taught us to prize the smallest possible story of our female-ness, a story that requires we fit into the smallest possible box. We have been trained out of our wildness and into a Size-4 domestication. We have been told only to love those bodies that nearly kill us to achieve, bodies that - in reality - only a fraction of us can attain, bodies that are so unhealthy we no longer bleed or orgasm. We have been told only to love the most neutered of our female expression, the one that insist we get along, get over, make love, make do, make up and make over but above all make sure that, through all this, we do not ever acknowledge the screaming truth inside us that questions the exorbitant cost of all of this.
We must reclaim the older story of our gender and we must love our real bodies and our authentic truth-telling expression; our round bodies, our tall and short bodies. We must love our large-nippled pendulous breasted bodies as much as our small-nippled round-bellied bodies. We must love our big bones and our small bones, our sharp noses and our flat noses. The round blue, almond-shaped, brown eyed, high cheek-boned, long-knecked, short-legged, crooked-toothed, dimpled, flat-buttocked, wide-footed, well-muscled calf, open-hearted, lone-wolvish, loud shrill laugh, quiet full-moon sobbing, gutteral moaning, ecstatic head thrown back, shy impish, claiming, stomping dancing sweating, raging perfection offered up through each and every physical manifestation of the female form. Yours included.
We must do this and we must do this NOW. Years ago I began being visited by a liminal council of elder-women. these women came to me as I was leaving South Africa after a pivotal, life-changing experience in the grief-stricken and beautiful red dirt of that place. This council often came to me in the middle of the night and gave me explicit instructions as to how to mobilize and empower women. Now, seven years later, they come to me in the waking day and they tell me, without any drama or hyperbole, “We are running out of time. We are wasting time. Risk everything. Risk it all. Do not stop risking it all.” To love ourselves, to imagine we matter, to believe we were each born perfect, equipped to do a glorious task without which the world cannot be whole, is to become the most important teachers of our children. Simply in our acceptance of our own importance and endowment, we are this. Please know this now.