STANDING ROCK: Being in a Living Prayer & the Art of Collective Resistance

Standing Rock is an Indigenous led resistance through the power of collective prayer and ceremony. Its context is the 500-year long impact of Colonialism on First Nation People, which inflicted one of the largest genocides in human history, alongside mass invasion of Native lands, a litany of broken treaties, legislated cultural oppression, including removal of children through forced Christianized education at boarding “schools”, and ongoing marginalization of Indigenous rights. This generational domination remains firmly in place illustrated by the State of North Dakota attempting to force, through intimidation and violence, the Sioux Tribe to accept what white society, a few dozen miles away at Bismarck city, rejected; the Dakota Pipeline through the heart of their community. The assurance of Energy Transfers Partnership, who are laying the pipeline, that there will not be an oil spill into the Missouri River, which the line traverses, are empty given that that there have been hundreds, if not thousands of pipeline spills, including those from ETP pipelines.

campStanding Rock, one of the most unique gatherings ever, is a front line against the most powerful corporation ever, the oil industry. Certainly, this is the first time, since the Battle of Little Bighorn in the 1800’s that Seven Lakota and Dakota Nations have come together, alongside over 30 other Indigenous Nations. This gathering of Indigenous Nations from all over Turtle Island (the Native name for America) has not been known in historical memory. The tribes represented have been joined by First Nation peoples from South America, New Zealand, and beyond, and allies from around America and further afield. Also joining are over two thousand military veterans who have vowed to protect this courageous and determined community.

sr-stand-offAt the heart of this resistance is commitment to break the cycles of violence born of a colonial mindset, which feels entitled to extract for self-benefit regardless of the impact. This mindset is now the front line everywhere, within and around us all. Increasingly, our choices will be influenced either by a colonizing, psychopathic corporate agenda servicing extortionate amounts of wealth for a minuscule percent of the global population, or they’ll contribute to a necessary resistance upon which our survival now depends.

Standing Rock offers an indigenous template for wise choice from seven Lakota values around which the camp orientates itself. These values, elaborated on by what I experienced and heard at Standing Rock, speak to collective resistance as both an inner training as well as guidelines for family, community, society, and business:

  1. Prayer: Honor and respect the sacred within all life, which includes nature, the earth, the elements of fire, water, air, and those living beings that are not two legged. (The reductive term animals, is not in indigenous language.) Purify the heart, connect with ancestors, and the overall indwelling spirit of creation while aligning within community through ceremony. This involves resistance as ceremony.
  1. Respect: Respect begins with deferential listening, and from that, a willingness to shift into new ways internally and behavior externally. It means not pushing ego agendas and strategies. Instead be willing to listen to wise elders, to feedback, to what is needed for the overall good of the community.
  1. Compassion: Take care of one another. Be compassionate towards ones self, and to self and others when making mistakes. The stronger let the physically weaker go first, for example, at meals, the elders, women and children go first. As a practice, step aside from assuming entitlement due to race, gender, class, wealth, and instead tune into the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable.
  1. Honesty: Be true and authentic with each other, while being self honest about our conditioning and how that plays out in ways that generate harm, even subtly, to others and the environment.
  1. Generosity: Put in more than you take out. Generosity is not just sharing physical goods, but is essential to generating sustainable life for all. It is the direct opposite of colonization, which is based in domination and ownership at the expense of others.
  1. Humility: Be grounded in your own being, while checking your expectations of others and what is around you. Hold off from pushing your agenda, particulalry if it is dominating the space with “I have a better way”, “My idea is best.” Be sensitive to internalized colonized conditioning, and be willing to own it.
  1. Wisdom: We all carry wisdom within us, but within the context of Indigenous or Elder wisdom spaces, listen and be guided by the understandings offered. Resist an “extractive” mindset, or cultural appropriation, of what is not offered. Be respectful of elders and learn to listen to all voices, even those you don’t agree with.

At the heart of this sacred, prayerful and ceremonial resistance at Standing Rock is a commitment to complete non-violence. My understanding of this, from what I witnessed, heard, and experienced, is that there is an invitation to align with a deeper power. This power, articulated as guidance of ancestors, forces of nature, and the overall guiding intelligence of the Great Spirit, pulses within us. At Standing Rock, I experienced my heart being stripped down to its essential rawness. In place of socialization strategies, what arose was strength of authenticity, of sharing, of camaraderie, and a wonder at the resilience of human beings rising up.

Here’s some of what I heard from an Indigenous man who is a Water Protector and leader of the heart and spirit.

What should be remembered about Standing Rock is that it began with children calling us to pray with them. Elders too. We must mean and do what we say. Fighting from violence disrespects the ancestors. The ancestors are fighting the battle also, and they need us to be here without violence. You must pray for yourself, to take out your pain and have love put in your heart instead. As we unify with nature, she will heal us. Respect Mother Earth.

He also said,

One day, at the height of the Iraq War, an Elder Grandmother prayed to the ancestors at the sacred fire to ask that the war stop. They responded by saying to her that her prayer was a good prayer, but it was not enough. That everyone must pray to stop war. We are at a precipice. Everyone must now pray.

to-waterWater is Life. This meme is the underlying stream of consciousness at Standing Rock. The pipeline threatens the clear and beautiful waters of the Missouri River. Every morning, as day broke, the pre-dawn circle around the sacred fire, buoyed by shared wisdom from Elders and water protectors, enacted a ceremonial and collective walk to the bank of the river. There, offerings are made. Sometimes formations of geese fly across the limpid snow grey sky as the still glass waters and spirit of the Missouri responds. It is felt as a subtle jubilant uplift within the heart. This earth is alive and she feels our intentions, our actions, and our hearts.

sr-missouriEveryday we use water. We depend on it for life, and yet we entirely take it for granted. One late afternoon, a woman spoke at the fire. She had come from Flint, Michigan to join forces. She spoke of poisoned water in her city, of people drinking and having their teeth dissolve, of people getting sick, dying, and of her own infertility and pain at not being able to mother children due to the poisoned water.

Standing Rock is not just about Standing Rock it is about everywhere and our struggle to reclaim the sacredness of water, of the elements, and of the Earth. It speaks to our need to reconnect with each other in more direct, generous, authentic and respectful ways, and it speaks to our true spirit, which seeks to release from the mechanistic, disassociated, drudgery of a desacralized life, by undertaking acts of loving service and sacrifice.

Bring it Home! Not everyone can get to Standing Rock, and not everyone at Standing Rock can go on the front lines. But every one of us must now pay heed to what is unfolding there, because all of us need to play our part to ensure a livable planet for future generations. We can’t rely on politicians or other leaders, instead we have to all pull together. We are on a precipice and the lights are going out. We are losing the Arctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the great forests, most wild life, and we are being threatened by a craven political and corporate agenda that cares for no one, except it’s own profit. Those who crave money will find out soon that they cannot eat their money. Those standing at Standing Rock stand for them too, and for their children and their grandchildren.

protectWe do this for all of us. The Army Corps of Engineers, who claim the land of Oceti Sakowin Standing Rock, have stated the intention of evicting the camp on December 5th. It now looks like the peaceful Water Protectors will be confronted by a highly militarized police force, alongside a private, mercenary army on behalf of the State, the pipeline and the oil company, who have already proved their capacity for shameful, wonton violence. Chief Arvol Looking Horse has asked us to join together in prayer and ceremony. To do so can help to help avert this potential catastrophe. Please do what you can.

Whatever happens on that fateful day: whether Standing Rock and its incredible blazing heart stands of falls, what is assured is that voluminous, potent seeds are fast growing in support of collective resistance. The Indigenous People are showing the way, as have many oppressed people throughout history, and for this, words of gratitude seem paltry. What one is bequeathed through the gift of Standing Rock is a clarified, strong, heart, burning with a light of commitment and hope in the face of incalculable odds. This then, is our offering of gratitude. To pick up the flame of hope, and to carry it long into the shadowy night that is fast encroaching us all.

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Here is a fund raiser to support the Dharma Dome @Standing Rock, for practitioners, meditation, and prayer in support of the camp and water protectors. Donations beyond needs of the Dharma Dome go to www.standingrock.org and will distributed according to priority by Indigenous leadership.

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11/9: The Day America Fell is The Day We Rise Up.

It’s been a very long night-day-evening-night (is it day or night?) … I can’t remember how long since the sinking and rising horror evoked by the disappearing blue and bleeping red states. As we grasped the straws of “urban votes still to come in”, it was the text from my friend that broke the spell, This is terrifying Thanissara! What is going on?! This, our most terrible nightmare, is going on.

This weekend isn’t the moment for strategies, (though Michael Moore’s Morning-After-To-Do-List is good.) First, we need a breather to feel what we need to feel – all of it. To let the full impact sink in. It is incredibly, incredibly painful. Words from my Facebook feed: scary, torn down, devastated, dark night, despair, rage, implode, collapse, praying, danger, damage, heart-break, robbed, coup d’etat, cracking, catastrophique et funeste, shocked, leaving U.S.A., I cannot believe, disconnect, armageddon, horrifying, toxic, etc, etc.

We have to allow the full cellular body blow of anxious, grief-rage waves of feeling so we really get the heart of this shadow energy that we emotionally feel, instinctively know, and intellectually appraise as a profound threat to all we hold dear. A friend just wrote the phrase “the age of the dangerous psychopathic masculine is breathing its last through many leaders, male and female, around the world.” This election result friends, is the deep cry of resistance at the heart of white supremacist patriarchy that knows it’s on history’s losing side. Yes, it is also from those who feel utterly run over in the march of Reagan-Thatcher neoliberal capitalism that has unhooked itself from ethical constraints, social responsibility, environmental care, and increasingly, from sanity and reality.

This shadow energy, that at its heart pulses with anger and disdain, is rippling around the world and finding its foothold through legitimisation by those politicians who crave power and greed. This, as succinctly termed by Van Jones, is the whitelash of our times, the attempt to “take back” what was put in place by colonialism, racial supremacy, and class division. This is an anger and sense of entitlement that justifies utter disregard for the vulnerable and marginalised. Except now, the vulnerable and marginalised is going to be pretty much everyone, even those who voted to try and hold onto the illusion of control.

The greatest loser from this election though, the most gut wrenching blow, the true victim of the ultimate witches hammer of inquisitional sadism, is our beautiful, and now deeply vulnerable Mother Earth and her innocent species. As new cabinet members are being lined up, we are bearing witness to the psycho-fest and ghoulish nightmare of the twisted and deformed soul at the heart of this shadow patriarchy. This shadow patriarchal mind set, now emboldened, is aiming to plunder her completely, to take it all. Friends, feel it, feel the utter grief and shock of what we have done.

We have to feel this full impact, this terrible dark night of the soul and planet, to know this shadow energy that is fast focalising in America’s halls of power, because we have to face down its tentacles within our own psyches. We have to feel the blow to be woken from our deepest recesses of denial and our lingering allegiance to our comfort zones that are literally costing the earth, and are throwing disenfranchised communities, people of color, immigrants, the poor, and future generations under the bus.

We have to wise up to how this shadow energy operates at systemic, psychological, political, legalistic, and emotional levels. How it psychopathy manipulates, divides, intimidates, and distorts our natural heart energy. How it seeks to control and destroy the soul for its own fetid gain. Friends, we have to know that the power elites, the corporate fossil fuel oligarchs now emboldened, the war machine marching to tunes of the debauched masculine and crazed feminine will not give up until there is nothing left; no beauty, no wild places, no humane, sensitive and dignified modalities of relationship, no sacredness.

We have to know that we have reached the bottom.

Only then can we be stripped down to our blazing true heart, our invincible courage, and to the absolute certainty of what actually counts; our love of each other, our willingness to sacrifice for each other, and the bedrock of our humanity, which is the ethical commitment to protect what needs to be protected — the environment, nature, all other species, each other.

So, this election has had the result of fast forwarding us into an urgent curriculum. These are some of its central themes:

  1. Keep the heart strong
  2. Gather together in sacred community
  3. Resist
  4. Organize
  5. Overcome the machine (sorry, I am friends, from the wave of the 1960’s!)

This is what we practice for. When times of crisis and extreme challenge is upon us. This, friends, is what mindfulness is ultimately for. To hold steady at the face of the inferno.

We are in uncharted territories… but the walk has been walked by heroes before. We have their blessing. Our ancestors are here, the legions of earth defenders, seen and unseen, are here. We will hear the guidance as we listen.. listen in, listen out, listen…

Listen, because we are exactly where we need to be. We are the immune system that has just been given shock therapy so it can rise up.

One more word from the twitter storm and facebook scroll of that dark night: A word my nephew in Dublin signed off on at the close of our WhatsApp, what the feck’s going on, chat.

Reality.

My friend Andrew Harvey says, “Let’s get real.” Friends, let’s get real. As real as we can. Our real hearts together will lead the way.

Before I wrote this, I didn’t know what would be written. As I sign off, I now know that for the first time I feel something as really true. It’s banded around as something we should feel, but frankly, while giving lip service, I wavered all over the place around this. But signing off, I realise there is a true bedrock that I now do authentically feel. It is encapsulated in this one word.

Hope.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever we’ve done — I love you, I love me, I love us all, and in this moment, I love the frightened heart of the “craving to be seen” vulnerable masculine, and the confused contraction of the disempowered feminine, within and without. So, yes, one last word for our revolution.

Love.

Take courage friends, show up, rise up, and with your blazing heart in full operational mode, together, let’s meet the challenge of our times.

Let’s do this thing!

earthheartbeating