Journeying out of the alienation caused by Imperial forces begins with the opening of the heart and the willingness to engage in a fellowship between peoples.
My friend and South Indian collaborator, Ramasubramanian and I are learning, traveling, and storytelling together to enable a deeper harmony to emerge. We do this as the ramifications of colonization, commonly described as "crises" such as climate change, poverty, and global inequalities hurt our bio-communities. Such suffering demands it. But we do this not primarily out of response to suffering but, rather, out of a search for truth. We both sense a truth in the cracks in the asphalt: that there is beneath the concrete a ground of abundance waiting for those willing to work with their hands as well as their minds to mold it - and to let themselves be changed in the process.
From the depths of the soil comes the people. From the people comes language. In India, one of those old languages is sanskrit. In sanskrit, one of the old words in the old language is "samanvaya." We might translate it to English as "harmony." But not a momentary harmony. It is the harmony that was there in the beginning of time and the harmony that will be here in the end of time and the harmony that is always here, if we but open ourselves to it. A harmony that is within as well as without.
Ram has been doing practical work to realize samanvaya in his local context for over 20 years. We met when I was a world bank consultant turned seeker in India, questing after answers to such queries as how do we create the beloved community in the midst of climate change, and what is missing from the west, and how do we reclaim that which really is sustainability, not only in thought but in practice. At that time, when I met him, my heart was very open, and he treated it gently, and took my questions, as well as my singing, seriously. We became companions and collaborators in our journeys.
Many years later, when it became clear that I was to start my own initiative, he recommended the term "samanvaya" to me. It was an honor. But it took me a long time to be able to use the term. I first had to have my own relationship to the term separate from its origin in India. Because I do not live in India. I live on the historical homeland of the Lenape people, aka New York City. I let the word sit with me for many months. And then, one day, the word began to speak to my heart, and my heart began to open to it, and the pattern of the word began to make sense, not in English or Hebrew or Greek - the sacred languages of the Christian European traditions with which I have some relationship - but in the language of my/our heart and the language of my/our hands, a language that words can only gesture to. Within that silent-loud language, the name Sequoia Samanvaya became part of my own language. Then and only then did it became a good invocation for this company that is also a ministry and a community and a way of communicating - sometimes, it is even an expression of communion. I now have a song that goes with it.
He recently arrived here in what many people call Turtle Island, where we are going deeper into this question of samanvaya in this context that is both local and also a global context. We travel towards the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, Canada.
Indian to "Indian"
We are engaging in what we keep calling Indian to "Indian" dialogues. What does it mean for ancient cultures to talk to each other - peoples to peoples - not within the "common framework" of the colonial-infused global market, but as coming from deep lineages where ancestors are honored, water is recognized as the source of life, and we protect seed diversity because that is the only option for continued life? What forms of exchange - what kinds of co-ordinated harmony - might arise when we engage, listening to one another? When we come with an open heart: deep unto deep?
Surely that will help us reMember.
We did our first dialogue with the Center for Earth Ethics' Original Caretakers Program with Geraldine Patrick and Mindahi Bastida. We allotted 2 hours for the conversation and it felt like we barely got started. I will aim to write another piece on that conversation in particular. In brief: watching the conversation, I could feel the depths of each of their lineages present in the room. There was a soft heart beat that was bigger than any of us, and, once in a while, I could feel like it was actually peoples and not just four individuals sitting in a room who were coming together.
We have been so disconnected from our true heritage that many of us experience ourselves as disinherited. And yet in the work of ReMembering and reEnchanting, I keep finding ways that we can re-connect to those depths, even if the names and places are lost to us, or if we no longer remember the songs that were traditionally sung to the seeds as they were planted and sprang from the earth to give us food. There are blessings upon blessings along this journey.
ReStorying the land
What story do I tell this guest, this new comer to this land that shapes who I am, a land from which I traveled to his land, all those years ago? The connection between our two parts of the world is so deep it is the stuff of dreams and fantasies and longing. I feel my ancestors heavy upon me when I go to the airport to pick him up. What is this land? What name do I call it? I do not repeat what my ancestors did. I do not say "America" or "New Jersey" even though the signs everywhere say that is what this place is. For that is only one part of the story, and we are seeking a deeper harmony with both people and place.
I reMember, in the way we remember dreams, fragments of what my ancestors felt when they first came here. In that fragment of a memory, the land and the people of the land, speakers of the Algonquin language group - including the Wampanoag, Pequot, Nipmuck, and the Massachuset peoples - were mostly welcoming, especially because my ancestors came early, and the causes of distrust had not yet been established.
May that tradition of welcoming continue. In honor of that welcome extended to my ancestors, and in honor of the food my ancestors ate, I tell him this is Lenape land. When I see him, I open my arms in welcome - an outward expression of the welcome in my heart.
It is in this language of heart and hands as well as minds that I take him out of the airport and onto the land itself.
Join and support us
There are many ways you can participate in our journey, and I hope to see many of you along the way. Upcoming offerings include:
UN Church Center Samanvaya Dialogue, 10-11:30, Sept 23 (NYC)
Everyday Mystics/ samanvaya Satsangha, Sept 23, 6:30-8:30
Samanvaya dialogues, Yale School of Forestry, 5:30, Sept 24 (CT)
Boston, Sept 25-26
Bar Harbor, Maine, Sept 26-30
Parliament of World Religions, booth 510, Nov 2-5
This journey, of course, is not without its costs. We have recently set up a crowdfunding campaign. Please do support us in it. It is to generate funds for our expenses.