Eco-wisdom

Native-American traditions present us with several important keys to the wise use of assets. One is the concept of the gift, which we’ve already seen appearing in other traditions, such Tzedakah, tithing, and stewardship. Jacob Needleman, among others, points out ways a gift becomes distinguished from a commodity. Drawing on Lewis Hyde, for instance, he stresses a linkage of gifts and artistic creativity, or a person’s essential nature: “The hallmark of a gift, as opposed to a commodity, is that the gift must be reciprocated or given away to someone else; it cannot be hoarded or stored up as capital wealth.” Perishable food becomes an example: ”the gift must always move.” The original “Indian-giver” understood this; it was the Europeans, who took back what they extended, reclaiming it as capital, who became the corrupt “Indian-givers.” You see the environmental consequences. When the potlatch worked efficiently – rather than the dysfunctional version that was recorded after the system had been upset by Europeans – wealth was redistributed to an entire village: everyone shared. What modern Americans fail to recognize is that every gift carries a hidden price; we often acknowledge the price to the giver but fail to see any to the receiver.

The challenge, then, is turning your resources to the eternal Light and to divinely led uses. In that manner, you repay the gift and it moves on.

Out of this comes the second great Native-American insight, that the Earth itself is a gift, one that is repaid with consideration and caring. Consider the Great Law of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Such a perspective also requires insights of the previous seven generations. It demands environmental awareness. It applies a Biblical concept of stewardship and accountability. In such calculations, money remembers in a new way. It becomes truly green.

In many Native-American households it is customary to have a Money Can near the doorway. Here guests may leave cash or take some, without question, depending on their financial situation at the time. It’s another way of acknowledging that none of us is on this planet alone; we are involved in mutual exchanges.

Eco-awareness as a spiritual practice is hardly confined to Native-Americans, of course. Many Judaeo-Christian circles have been recovering and sharing a prophetic environmental consciousness within their own traditions; the jeremiads today often have more to do with global warming and the consequences of ozone depletion or overpopulation than with idol worship – at least, until we fully see where the contemporary idols really are.

In the long-run, our economic health and that of the Earth are inseparable. The word economy itself arises from Greek words meaning “management of a household.” In eco-awareness, the household embraces our planet and all that dwell therein.

Think of the seven-generation imperative. Do any of your investments or spending patterns honor consequences 150 to 200 years down the road?

Are there ways we can apply that vision to a computerized workplace where the hardware and software seem to be obsolete a week after their installation?

Do you compost? Do you recycle? Have you found ways to reduce your trash? Cut back on energy consumption? Other earth-friendly strategies?

Have you ever planted trees in devastated areas, such as former strip mines? Helped clean up litter from roadside?

What lessons from childhood shape your eco-awareness today?

Thomas E. Mails’ Secret Native American Pathways: A Guide to Inner Peace (1988) presents exercises and insights from many tribal traditions, bringing spirituality, possessions, and the environment into harmony.

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