What Does It REALLY Mean To Be “Outdoorsy”? (a Native American secret)
(p.s – that ain’t it )
“Outdoorsy”, “earthy”, “nature-lover”, “hippie”… all names—for whatever reason—I have been called too many times to count. And being completely honest, most of the time it bugs the hell out of
It’s mostly because “outdoorsy” is more of a trend—like top buttoned shirts—than an actual way of living.
People who would never spend a week in the woods sleeping in the dirt and eating ramen are now in a frenzy to get outside and take pictures of themselves—posing a look which appears like an uncomfortable juxtaposition of Bear Grills and Kylie Jenner.
Now, I’m not here to bag on anyone trying to be “outdoorsy”—I try hard not to judge people. Nor am I pretending to be some outdoorsy guru.
BUT, I do feel a deep…well…let’s call it stirring… to try and clarify the difference between being “outdoorsy” and actually having a true passion for our sacred earth.
To do this, I’ll turn those who have truly lived in harmony with nature…
Most Native Americans believe in an ancient story about a how the earth was created and they keep it close to their hearts to remind themselves of the sacred gift our earth is. I’ll do my best not to completely botch it and offend any natives as I give my 30-second summary:
Skywoman and Turtle Island
There was a pregnant woman who lived in the celestial sky realm with the sky people.
For reasons unknown, she was cast out of the sky realm and sent to the water realm below (each tribe has their own version of why she was cast out—but I’ll leave those out for times’ sake). But before she was cast out, she grabbed as many plants and seeds as she could from the sky realm.
As she was falling to the water realm below, a flock of birds came to catch her and laid her gently down on a turtle’s back.
As she laid on the turtles back, water animals like otter and beaver brought mud from the bottom of the ocean and placed it on turtle’s back until solid earth began to form and increased in size and formed land.
The Sky Woman then began to plant the seeds and plants she brought from the sky realm until the land was flourishing with plants, flowers, trees, and herbs of many kinds. She blessed the earth and taught her children that if they took care of the land with love, the earth would continue to grow and flourish and give freely to them what they needed to survive.
Now I know this is quite different from most creation stories you’ve ever heard. And I’m not proclaiming this actually happened.
But what is significant in this creation story is that the earth and humans grew together. As humans cared for it and gave back to it, the earth grew and took care of them in return. It’s a story about giving freely and receiving life in return. A story about the power of reciprocity.
Most Native tribes have lived in this state of reciprocity with the earth. They saw the earth and everything it gave to them as a gift.
The key word here is
1. a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.
Think about it this way:
When someone gives you a gift, what is it that you feel almost immediately?
And not just gratitude, it’s a feeling of reciprocity where you want to give something in return. It might not be right in that moment, but you’ll remember that gift—more importantly, you’ll remember how you feel towards the person who gave it to you.
Now, what if that person gave you a gift every month? Every week? Every day for the rest of your life? What would you feel like then? What would you want to do for that person?
Here’s another example to emphasize the most important point I’m trying to make:
Imagine you’re walking through a street market filled with farmers, bakers, artists, tailors, and merchants of every kind.
You walk up to the farmer with his table full of corn, squash, and other vegetables. You pick three ears of corn, squash, and a few strawberries. You ask how much you owe him but he just smiles and tells you it’s a gift. Feeling a little thrown off but extremely grateful, you thank him and tell yourself you’ll pay him back someday.
Needing a new coat for the upcoming winter, you go to the tailor and pick a nice big coat that will sure to keep you warm. But as you hand the tailor your money he, too, shakes his head and smiles insisting you take it as a gift.
Imagine, how you would feel at this moment?
Definitely a sense of gratitude. But more than just gratitude, think of how you’ll approach each merchant knowing they’re going to give everything you ask for free…
You’ll now approach each merchant who has something you need with a sense of consciousness. Being conscious of your needs and only taking that which you really need—nothing more.
That is the secret. That is why Native Americans live in such harmony with the earth and carry such a deep respect for her.
In the old times, when people’s lives were so directly tied to the land…
… it was easy to know the world as a gift. When fall came, the skies would darken with flocks of geese, honking “here we are.” It reminds the people of the Creation story when the geese came to save Skywoman. The people are hungry, winter is coming, and the geese fill the marshes with food. It is a gift and the people receive it with thanksgiving, love, and respect.
But when the food does not come from a flock in the sky, when you don’t feel the warm feathers cool in your hand and know that a life has been given for yours, when there is no gratitude in return—that food may not satisfy. It may leave the spirit hungry while the belly is full.
Something is broken when the food comes on a styrofoam tray wrapped in slippery plastic, a carcass of a being whose only chance at life was a cramped cage. That is not a gift.
The Gift of Sweetgrass
Sweetgrass is a sacred plant used in many Native American ceremonies to this day. But in order for sweetgrass to be used in a ceremony and retain its essence, it cannot be bought.
Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth and sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen. The sweetgrass is kept in motion and retains its essence and pure tie to Mother Earth.
The problem with our society today…
…is we DO NOT view the earth as a true “gift”. Even if we claim that we do view the earth as a gift, we don’t understand the true gift economy.
We think a “gift” is deemed to be “free” because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the true gift economy, gifts are not free.
The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.
In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a “bundle of rights,” whereas
The commodity economy has been here on Turtle Island for 4 hundred years, taking without giving, consuming without thinking. But people have grown weary of the sour taste in their mouths and of the emptiness growing with each gratuitous thing they buy. A great longing is upon us, to live again in a world made of gifts.
Here’s my theory…
I think this whole foray of people trying to be “outdoorsy” and wanting to connect more with nature (whether for honest intent or just for their Instagram) is, in fact, the human race trying to return to its roots (no pun intended).
It’s a restless yearning in each of us to restore a long-lost connection with the earth. A connection that was forged over thousands of years but abruptly destroyed with industrialism and “progression”.
The problem is we’re channeling it in all the wrong ways (i.e. social media ).
But I truly believe the healthiest way of living (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) is living with a sense of community—looking out for one another and taking responsibility for our actions. And living in that sacred state of reciprocity, the “gift economy”—with the earth and with each other.
In all honesty, I have no idea what the solution is…
The only thing I can think of is to do everything we possibly can to return to our roots. To return to respecting and, even more importantly, living in reciprocity with our sacred earth.
I really don’t think there is any class of government or societal structure that can do it. The “system” will never cease as long as we continue feeding it with our superfluous buying and consuming.
Be conscious of what we consume, plant gardens, live off the land as much as possible, and plant as many trees as we can!
We can also raise awareness wherever we can and just show we actually care. I guess you could say the real reason I wrote this post is to do my part in raising awareness and taking my initial steps back to my roots.