I have had the great honor and privilege to participate in traditional Native American gatherings, teachings and ceremonies. My teachers have been men and women of all ages, including influential medicine people and cultural leaders. Most all have passed away but I remember each with love, respect and gratitude for the generosity with which they shared their insightful views of not only their own culture and circumstances, but about the world as well. What they taught does not belong to me but to everyone.
As I ponder what I could pass on to you that would be of most value from these humble yet strong mindful and steadfast people, I think of Mad Bear (Wallace Anderson), my earliest mentor. He was a member of the Bear Clan of the Tuscarora Nation of the Six-Nation Iroquois Confederacy of the United States and Canada. He served as a member of the Spiritual Leader’s Advisory Group to the United Nations and was on the Advisory Board of Planetary Citizen’s. As well, he was an advisor, research guide and coordinator to the Cross-Cultural Studies Program, founded and directed by Doug Boyd, author of several books including Rolling Thunder. and Mad Bear. Mad Bear was a medicine man, spiritual spokesperson, diplomat and leader for intertribal communication.
He envisioned the coming together of all races and colors of the world as critical for forging a sustainable planetary future. Even though many lives were lost in the struggle for the Americas, in his words this, “erased the karma of many generations on all sides.” In his view, the human race now has the opportunity to recognize its collective wisdom, spiritual traditions, sciences and technologies to create a new and humane world. He believed that the safety of all people could only come through sharing, mutual protection and respect for all cultural traditions.
In 1979, Mad Bear wrote:
“…we have much to share, one tradition with the other. The day is here when my people, and all people, must look beyond the affairs of the red or white race and consider the Human Race. Having traveled many times around the world, I can only conclude that we are truly one people who could only benefit by meeting together to work out the solutions to the benefit of all, including the many creatures, birds, animals and plant life which were given to us by the Great Spirit – the Creator of all. We must all share in the wisdom teachings and instructions of our ancestors who knew and practiced the secrets that kept our sacred Earth Mother clean and in balance and good health.”
The path to sharing the wisdom teachings of our ancestors begins when each of us takes a hard look at ourselves. We can then only conclude that we are all, by some degree, out of balance. Ironically, this becomes the starting place to a path of balance. In the Native American Way, this is referred to as, “walking the Red Road.” This road is narrow indeed, and is easy to fall off of. Elders repeatedly tell us, ”get up and start again.”
There are a number of traditional Native American ceremonies that, by their very design born of specific and wise intent, help one come into and maintain balance. Some of these ceremonies are the Vision Quest, Sweat Lodge, healing, drumming and talking circles. Most Native people are willing to share these ceremonies with those who approach them in a humble, non-assuming and respectful manner. Such an involvement takes time, however. I have consistently found that it is very important to listen, observe quietly and refrain from questions. Native people are very keen observers. They do not barrage their teachers and elders with questions. Instead, they watch and listen. It is a cultural learning modality born of experience and one worth noting.
Mad Bear and other elders I’ve worked with have said that people from around the world share the same fundamental teachings, “given by Creator.” We come, they tell us, from the same root so, “go and find the traditions and practices of your people that have been forgotten.” We are alive today because our ancestors maintained the original teachings. Sadly, these traditions are slowly being overshadowed by a global culture of rampant consumerism, but they are not lost to us. They can be revived. Mad Bear often said that the most important single thing we can each do is, “respect and maintain the traditions of all people.” As a tree in the forest needs all the organisms in its interdependent ecosystem to survive, likewise the human race requires intricate cultural diversity to survive in a healthy way. Each culture has a vital piece to provide the whole. In our fast-paced world, we too frequently overlook the great natural beauty that surrounds us and forget the wise ancient teachings of our own traditions that lie beneath our noses.
In the hectic world that surrounds us now, it is we who have the opportunity to restore balance to life. Now is our point of power. We must return to the principles of non-judgment, love and compassion. It is also incumbent upon us to restore balance between the sacred masculine and feminine and to restore the values of diverse cultures. They are part of the Great Circle of continuing life.
I believe that through our individual practices and explorations, we can each come to recognize and manifest our collective wisdom and, by our actions toward one another and Mother Earth, create a balanced, sustainable and happy future for ourselves and coming generations.
The Native American teachers that I have known taught me never to give up. There is always a way to survive and get through hard times. These indigenous peoples have been around for millennia and have gone through very difficult periods and still they are here, and still many are practicing their traditional way of life. To do this they maintain the “original instructions” they were given. They believe that all traditions have grown out of their own like-minded instructions. We must strive to do the same. Tools and teachers are all around us. All we need to do is continue to show up in places that deeply nourish our spirit and keep genuinely asking for our assignment.
When you look sincerely you will discover that you intrinsically align with the deepest callings of the universal human heart. You do so because there is a thread that connects you not only to the Earth but to each other, past, present and future.
“We are all related”
Tim Ballingham "Chanku Washte" (Good Road Walking)
left his body in 1985
photo by Tim Ballingham
photo by Pamala Ballingham
left his body in 2006
A Mexica-Tolteca elder, teacher, heir and guardian of the oral tradition, author, and spiritual guide.
photo by Bert Gunn
Tlakaelel left his body July 26, 2012
Some of my teachers and mentors:
background photo - Tim Ballingham
The Importance of Cultural Diversity in Challenging Times
Dad is my hero and mentor. As a young man, he taught me how to repair a car, build a house, plant a garden, work with wood, make kites and resourcefully repair just about anything. He consistently taught by example that there is a way to fix everything as long as you persist and use your creativity.
Now over 92 years old, he continues to fix things that break. Amazingly, he also makes design changes to improve how things work. If a technical part is needed he fashions one with precision and expertise often using only the materials at hand. So impressive to me is the way he applies what he has learned from working with mechanical things to dealing with the complexities of his life. He is a master at survival and self-discipline.
Working in his well-equipped woodshop nearly everyday, he loves to create new and intricate designs. His joy is to give them away to family and friends. He lives alone in a large home with a breathtaking garden filled with hundreds of flowers that he plants and tends himself. He’s the neighborhood handyman and “project consultant,” and gives parties on his large hand-built wooden deck.
Most important of all, my Dad has always been kind, forgiving, loving and supportive, helping me with anything I’ve ever needed. The world is a better place for his being here.
Below are photographs of a few of his exquisite works of art, all made while in his 80's and 90's.
Turned and inlayed wooden vase
Turned and inlayed wooden bowl
Turned and inlayed wooden vase
A varienty of turned and carved creations:
clock, pen set with case, oil lantern pedestles, vase and frame
George and Tim Ballingham
in Dad's workshop