We see ourselves on a road, moving forward, progressing down some linear track that promises constant improvement and discovery, from cancer cures to life on Mars. Our eyes are forward, the past is of largely academic interest, the present only an instant we race through to arrive at a different tomorrow. In our belief system we dedicate ourselves to a single task: creating change.And this:
But what if we did not have that conviction underlying our every thought, the conviction that tomorrow, for each of us, if we all work hard, there will be more and better everything? What if our conviction was not that we were born to continue travelling down an infinitely changing road, but instead, that our destiny was to repeat what had been done before, to walk in the footsteps of all who had gone before, to think the same thoughts they had already thought; to take, in effect, their place on the slowly revolving wheel of eternally repeating existence? What if we defined our lives not as occupying the new ground of our own discoveries but as revisiting ground already occupied by all our ancestors? … Each generation’s turn at the wheel might include performances better or worse than those of the last, but they would be essentially the same performances, with the same set and script and plotting.
Man, we think, is by definition a restless soul always in search of new frontiers, new challenges. We suspect we would go mad doing only what our fathers and mothers did, repeating their lives. How, we ask ourselves, can Native people lament the passing of a time when they lived under those limits?Indeed one of the things that strikes me most about our age is that even conservative politicians run on a platform of “change.” Nobody ever says that what we need to be is exactly what we are and what we have been, and that our task is not to change things but to experience them more fully.
I suspect, however, that they had no such sense of limits. In fact, they may have perceived their lives as holding a virtually limitless scope for challenge and accomplishment. We don’t see this, if only because we don’t share the same definition of accomplishment. As I suggested in the last chapter, their lives did not centre on building things but upon discerning things. Life’s challenge lay in observing and understanding the workings of the dynamic equilibrium of which they were a part, then acting so as to sustain a harmony within it rather than a mastery over it. One aspired to wisdom in accommodating oneself to that equilibrium, and that pursuit quite clearly promised unlimited scope for exploration and self-development.
Further, I suspect that they sought that wisdom not only to better ensure survival but also as an end in itself, as something in itself exhilarating. I recall how I felt after accurately predicting that violent hail-storm, and it was exactly that: exhilarated. It was not just that I was thankful to have side-stepped its full, destructive force. More significant by far was the excitement I felt at being able to say to myself “I was right! I am learning! I am becoming more open and discerning, more in tune with the workings of this universe around me!” Even that one, small accomplishment was thrilling. I’m not certain why, but I do know that the feeling far surpassed what I have felt in other endeavours, such as getting good grades or delivering a well-received speech. The sense of achievement seemed to come not because I had done something, but because I had become something. In some way, I felt that I had become more a part of our vibrant universe in that I had grown more attuned to it.