The Power of Change

“As long as there are rebels in our midst, there is reason to hope that our societies can be saved.”

– RenĂ© Dubos

The old man passes me the pipe, hesitating long enough to study my face like some kind of roadmap to nowhere. It felt like an eternity, and maybe it was, before he let go and began, again, to sing. Now it’s my turn to honor the spirit, the great unknown and unknowable, the mysterious, timeless, and dangerous world beyond human logic. I smoke the old man’s mix, swallowing his world deep into the entrails of my own body. The smoke swirls in my mouth as I face east, blowing in the direction of new days and new learning. Turning to the south, I blow smoke for strength, growth, and healing. Now to the west, where spiritual wisdom resides and where I will travel one day. The north is birth place of all, a white blanket that covers me during winter. To the earth and sky, for all my relations, and back to the old man.

Inside the lodge, a vision of the hawk attacks me three times until my flesh melts off and I am nothing but skeletal remains. The hawk has a message and I am becoming its messenger. Unable to respond, I know I must listen. Now I am raptor soaring over a ravaged landscape. I see the dying forests, the disappearing animals racing toward extinction like children running for the bomb shelters of my youth. Industrial pollution fills the sky and poisons the water. Corruption runs rampant as the few take control of the many. I see people everywhere, lost and confused. It is the young who wake up first, protesting the greed and corruption. It has always been the young searching for truth in a world grown apathetic. It is the young who value freedom over comfort, happiness over discontent, and action over apathy. I see layers of people built one on top of the other, the bottom carrying the weight of humanity while, at the top, an elite few flourish. Youth sees the truth. Upon the backs of many, the few laugh at their good fortune, deceiving themselves that it is nature’s way and those below are commodities bought and sold.

Human history rushes before my eyes, passing by at an ever-increasing speed, culminating in my existence. Generations come and go but the story remains the same. The fight for individual freedom never sleeps. I awake to ordinary reality wondering what to make of the vision when the old man speaks up, telling me it is time to go, where I do not know and he does not seem to care. I am to leave now, back to my life.

I was born into a house filled with anger, abuse, and neglect. Unprotected, I was left to fend for myself. I gathered with other kids from similar circumstances, others without boundaries, curfews, or accountability. We were the gypsies, the outliers, the wild ones, the rebels, tearing through the night in search of truth. We formed a posse that served as safe haven, exploration, and escape, a rag-tag bunch glued together by the desire to belong. It was here that I first saw the world of suffering as far ranging and capable of infiltrating any family. Broken homes, violent homes, distracted homes, poor homes, religious homes, good homes, privileged homes, and prominent homes. Combine this with the changing times of the sixties–the music, the protests, the deep division between generations, and the search for love–and you will understand me in ways that chance encounters do not reveal. I am what I am because of that crazy world in which a group of us came to represent the collective spirit of freedom.

I now feel blessed to come from such a place. It opened me to a deep compassion for others and gave me insight to a part of life usually locked behind closed doors. Suicides, addictions, incest, assault, theft, and violence were common to us, out front and in our faces. I witnessed fathers beating their kids, brothers sexually assaulting their sisters, mothers running off with neighbors, siblings torturing siblings, and an indifference that allowed all of it and more. Many of the kids I grew up with have suffered through adulthood from the scars of those times, struggling to find an identity out of the flames of early experience. I am one of them and they are a part of me. We will forever be joined through the common bonds that came from finding one another.

Mine was a microcosm of family life. Children have always been victims of parental neglect and abuse. The history of humankind is not so kind to children, spawning generation after generation of hurt kids, who become adults only to repeat the familiar. We are what we learned in childhood. Early experiences are the framework through which our brains develop. Positive or negative, right or wrong, good or bad, the brain of a child adapts to the circumstance of birth and becomes hardwired for that environment. The adult is a grown up version of the child, changed physically but intact in the mental responses learned early on. The learned responses to our birth fate guide us as adults, often confusing ourselves and others.

Most of us can learn to change the old, reflexive responses into reactions better suited for a life of meaning, purpose, and contentment. But change is difficult. It resists the new in favor of the status quo until sufficient pressure is applied to create new pathways of thinking, new reactions to the world, and new beliefs about the self. Self-liberation can lead to self-acceptance and self-realization. Through daily practice of compassion, love, and purpose we become the ones we have been waiting for. Each of us can turn the wheel with enough support and practice.

I am a spokesman for the hurt and pain many of us suffered. I witness the struggle adults face to make a world free from the past, trusting the present to bring them equanimity. I am a voice of change, encouraging others to step outside of past constraints and embrace a universe that is loving, but only when engaged in loving ways. The truth is that the world is both loving and impartial. The world will not stop abuse; it cares not if one individual makes it while another does not. The world is not a savior. The world is the template of existence rather that an omnipotent force watching over me. I waited years for the world to rescue me, insisting it recognize my pain and mend it without my involvement. Like the petulant child holding his breath, believing a parent will take note and come to the rescue, I remained alone and lonely. Learning to breathe, it turns out is the way of life.

The world is willing to embrace change, willing to provide individuals with support once they are actively engaged with it. Passivity, the great robber baron of abused kids, does not awaken the world to our needs. The world waits for us to find it. It will give to those who actively seek, to those whose pain forces a change, and to those who are willing to do daily practice of self-love and self-acceptance.

The old man comes to me often. He tells me a new time is approaching, that it is time to turn to the east and await a future already on the way. It is not a matter of if, but when, according to the old man. This is the time of transformation. Gather with your tribe and make plans. The writing is on the walls and caves for all to see and contemplate. Let your animal nature take you on the journey of discovery. The wilderness of mind remembers how to live with conscious connection to the rest of creation. The sacred knowledge is coming alive and spreading through individual consciousness, one person at a time. It is the time of the rebel. Across the globe rebellion is the answer to the greedy few. It is time to awaken, renew our commitment to those seeking change, and remember we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Two hawks dance in the air above me. A mating dance for all to see, but I am the only one looking. They dance for me, brother and sister, reminding me of what I am. I close my eyes and take flight with them, dancing the dance of life. Below I see lizards sunbathing on red rocks, deer running through forests, ants working on the hill, owls hooting in three part harmony, and children playing. It is a new day. Mitakuye Oyasin.