A Spiral Path
Adrián Villaseñor Galarza
A few years back, a wise friend gifted me a rolled set of papers for my birthday. My friend referred to the parchment-like papers with great respect, mixed with a sense of mystery and great significance. At some point it seemed that he was almost doubting whether he should hand me the gift. Largely ignoring what the papers were about, when I received them, it felt like a transmission of sorts, as if I was allowed into the inner chamber reserved for those that managed to cross an invisible threshold.
Although deeply grateful and moved by the gesture, I didn’t pay particular attention to my friend’s gift for some time. When the time came to carefully read its contents, I was delighted to find a version of a fairly known Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address1, alongside some personal notes and incantations. The Address, passed on from Mohawk Sub-Chief Tekaronieneken Jake Swamp, is a beautiful prayer that honors the many non-human peoples we share our planet-home with and the great powers that animate life by way of the word that precedes all else, gratitude. In addition, the manuscript referred to a Lakota prayer that, similarly to the Thanksgiving Address, pays respect to all life through naming, in an orderly fashion, the different layers of creation.
Of particular interest here is the prayers’ structure and the intent behind them. Both prayers suggest that an attitude of gratitude serves as the foundation to connect to the sacred core of existence, and to a respectful, more loving way of life filled with direction and purpose. Equally, cultivating a sense of gratitude provides the clarity of mind and openness of heart needed to recognize our place amidst the many Earthly creatures and the cosmic order. A grateful heart is connected to the present moment, activating our bodily senses and allowing the mind to actually pay attention to the miracle of existence. It’s as if gratitude is the “salt of life”.
While reflecting on the prayers, they also conveyed a deep pattern, a particular order or structure that made sense at an intuitive level. A glimpse of the rich Haudenosaunee and Lakota cosmologies came alive through recitation, and something within me made “click”. I found something that brought solace and inner rest; a way of ordering a deep yearning and making sense of the many strands of my own work and interests. Let me explain.
Offering sweet words of acknowledgment and kinship to the many layers of creation allowed me to sink deeper into a sense of authenticity and uniqueness, while reflecting on a curious realization. It’s by way of honoring not only the human family, but also the other-than-human powers that a healthier sense of self, of who I may be and might become, is allowed to emerge. By naming and honoring the many powers—the winds and thunders, the Earth, the Moon and the Sun, the stars, the wisdom keepers, humans and the Creator—the Thanksgiving Address serves as a thorough reminder of the intimate interdependence of the world.
The Lakota prayer offered up a simpler structure, yet equally inclusive in its scope and heart-felt intent. The Spirit world, creation, the human family, and the particular person performing the prayer are all nourished by a caring intention of vibrant health, balance, beauty, and fulfillment. The prayer served as catalyst for upholding the value and need of structure and order when dealing with the spiritual worlds.
This reminded me of a conversation had at the upper Putumayo region of Southern Colombia, at the house of a Taita or traditional healer. One of the participants casually conveyed that, in his experience, the powerful effects of Grandfather yajé or ayahuasca were made manageable by way of the ritual structure of the evening. The different stages and activities of the evening journey opened a passageway for processing and integrating the visionary experiences and consensus reality. Equally, the structure surrounding the ritual communion with “el remedio”, as yajé is commonly referred to, heightens a sense of communitas or a felt-sense of solidarity and togetherness resulting from venturing together into a transformative experience.
The deep structure that was made available through the prayers in my friend’s gift and first-hand experiences in ritual and non-ordinary states of consciousness highlights the importance of a certain etiquette, intention, and scope of a well performed prayer. In general, it seems that the right etiquette is connected to a sense of humility and gratitude, and an effective intention and scope has to do with the welfare and highest good of all our relations.
To my mind, alongside the proper, life-honoring etiquette and intention, the ritual logic of naming and experiencing the many layers of creation and its countless inhabitants all the way to the Source, can be simplified into three domains. This was the chief realization that offered a framework or template to organize my ideas and work, that often extended in different directions with no apparent relation. This tripartite template is made up by three domains: human, more-than-human, and the Great Mystery, in my mind echoed in other wisdom traditions, such as the Taoist teaching of Human, Earth, and Heaven.
The human domain deals with the various personal, familial, and cultural dimensions that shape our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It may be obvious for some, but there’s an urgent need of reclaiming what it truly may mean to be a human being living in this particular, periled time in history, while honoring our particular trajectories as biological and cultural creatures. The more-than-human domain is based on the straightforward, yet habitually obscured recognition of the vast array of organisms that make up the Earthly web of life. This in conjunction with the breadth of subtle or spiritual beings that populate the many ecosystems of Spirit. Lastly, the domain of the Great Mystery refers to the sacred origin and final destiny of all creation, as well as the nourishing, sustaining presence that permeates all.
The framework of the three domains is, in my view, not only a powerful referent to organize our efforts, our prayers, and our work, but also a necessary, irreducible, and integrative perspective to better tackle the challenges we’re faced with. The three-part framework—human, more-than-human, Great Mystery—may be of particular interest for people dedicated to the healing arts in service of the welfare of our world.
Rather than linear, the framework may best come to life by following a spiral motion.
Fragment of a Chapter of an upcoming publication entitled, “The Spiral of Ancestral Reconnection”.
1. The Thanksgiving Address is readily available. Here’s one version: https://americanindian.si.edu/environment/pdf/01_02_Thanksgiving_Address.pdf