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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, December 2019

A World Out of Balance

by: Dr. Greg Little

Climate change, global warming, disruptive protests, income inequality, endless wars, & political outrage: All are symptoms of the natural world and society out of balance. Many ancient societies dealt with the same issues. Their climate changed; often dramatically. Their rulers became brutal, abusive, or lax. Food, water, and necessities were clearly unequally distributed. Some of those ancient societies vanished. Some of them moved. Some adapted and adjusted. What can we learn from ancient people? In the book “Freedom To Change” some ideas were presented that directly relate to possible individual responses to a changing world and changing society. In addition, the ideas partly come from very ancient Native American beliefs. It might be surprising, but some of the answers from these ancient societies are exact opposites.

In “Freedom To Change” we gave two basic rules about making decisions that are derived, at least in modern times, from medicine and health professions. These are: “First, do no harm.” Secondly, “Do the best you can with the resources available to you.” In a quote Theodore Roosevelt used in his writings, he stated, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” That’s all pretty good advice, right? On the other hand, unless you are somehow trapped, you can move to a better place. If you have the resources to move and that is the ultimate solution to a dilemma, it might seem to be the obvious path.

One of the techniques stressed in “Freedom To Change” is mindfulness. In one sense, mindfulness tells us to focus on the present moment and the present conditions we find ourselves in. Ultimately, it tells us that all we ever control is what we do in the present moment. You don’t control the past, the future isn’t here yet, and the true control you have at any given month is limited to your response and only to your response. None of this is really new. A chaotic and often unpredictable world has faced humanity forever.

Many thousands of years ago in America’s Southwest, several groups of Indigenous Native American tribes settled into an area that today is hostile desert. In that area of the country are the Badlands. Lots of people think that the name “Badlands” comes from outlaws that hid in the canyons and caves, but that isn’t the case. The “Badlands” got that name because it was “bad land.” Nothing useful grew there and water was nonexistent. However, the Southwestern deserts were not always desert. There were areas where careful cultivation and water management techniques yielded great amounts of food and also permitted grazing. When the climate changed, some of the “old ones” disappeared, some moved, and some adapted.

Few people are aware of this, but the Hopi and Navaho had a virtually opposite view about what to do when the natural forces of the world seemingly became out of balance. The underlying philosophy of both the Hopi and Navaho stressed that achieving balance was important, but the response to an out of balance world was different. The Hopi believed that some rituals following the old ways combined with intentional behavior could bring things back into balance. On the other hand, the Navaho believed that steering away from areas out of balance was the best path and seeking out a place that was balanced in nature and spirit was the best path. They believed that trying to force things into balance was ultimately futile. Of course, all of this is a simplified and distilled version of exceeding deep ideas. And the current actions by the tribes have gradually become more “Americanized” and “modern,” something some view as a good thing, and others, not so much. However, it all leads us to the dilemma many people see in today’s world. Many people see a world out of balance. Do we try to force the world and nature to change, or do we somehow adapt and adjust?

Wednesday, May 29, 2024