Them and Us- Thoughts on September 11

Each morning as I do my prayers, after I have prayed for all those who have suffered because of the September 11 attacks, I ask, "How can I BE the peace I want to see in the world, today?" Not, how can I CREATE the peace- but how can I BE it- because it becomes clearer and clearer to me that violence and war are not just "out there" but also inside me. And being with the war inside me, taking care of that, is where I have the most influence (although some days it's not much) and where I can do the most immediate good. I believe that how we are ripples out. When I yell at my son for breaking my tape recorder (again!) instead of sitting with my feelings of anger- the war ripples outward. When I find a moment of calm, am able to be with myself and the world as it is and be still- peace ripples outward. I have become more and more aware of how our words, actions, attitude, demeanor, and thoughts either water the seeds of violence or the seeds of real peace in ourselves and in the world.

And peace- the real internal peace of accepting completely what IS in the present moment as simply what IS within myself and in the world, so I can hold it tenderly and take the war our of it- is rare.

In the next few months I will be travelling extensively in the United States, speaking and listening to Americas. It is a great priviledge and blessing to have the opporutnity to do so. I will, to the best of my ability, offer people a place to be with all of their own feelings about what is happening- to be with the anger or fear or despair or grief- to hold these feelings like one holds a hurt child, to deeply BE with themselves and see where that takes them.

But I am also going to offer to all of us a challenge- a simple practise in our speaking-based on the premise that there is only one race, the human race. I find myself physically wincing everytime I hear someone explain to me that "they" (the Taliban)just don't value freedom, that "they" (the Americans) want to wrap themselves in their flag and bomb somebody, that "they"(Americans or the Taliban, depending on who is speaking) hate "our" way of life. It's not that some of the facts aren't accurate, (although I think we claim to know far more about "their" feelings, motivations and beliefs than we can possibly know unless we have actually sat and been with "them")- it's that we are separating ourselves from a part of ourselves, drawing lines in the human family that cause the separation that inevitably leads to (and has lead to ) violence and great suffering.

I am not asking myself, or you, or those I meet on the road to see the potential terrorist in ourselves. That feels like post-graduate work and we are in kindergarten. I am asking us to change our language to reflect the reality of being part of one human family, to say "some of us" in every place where we might say "them" (or "the Americans," or "the Taliban" or "the terrorists," or "the Muslim extremists". . . )I'm asking you to try this with me and see what happens. Every time you find yourself saying "them" and "us" try saying "some of us" and see what happens, no matter how derrogatory the statement may be. I'm not even asking you to evaluate the truth of your statements, only to consider that whatever we say about "them" is really about "us" in that we are part of one race.

So- instead of "They (or the Taliban) hate democacy," it becomes "Some of us hate democracy."

Instead of "They are crazy and filled with hate," it becomes "Some of us are crazy and filled with hate."

Instead of "They want to mindlessly bomb someone and demonstrate their power," it becomes, "Some of us want to mindlessly bomb someone and demonstrate power."

Instead of "They don't care who gets hurt so long as they get to live their lifestyle- at anyone's expense," it becomes "Some of us don't care who gets hurt so long as some of us get to live our lifestyle- at anyone's expense."

You get the idea.

I don't know about you but when I do this two things happen: First, I suddenly feel very sad where I might have felt very angry- I feel great grief over the suffering we cause ourselves. And second, hearing it this way, not excluding the other as something other than another member of the human family, I want to ask, "Why?" I want to know more, not less about what goes on in the hearts and minds of some of us that could result in beliefs and feelings that seem incomprehensible to me. To say or hear, "Some of us don't value freedom," confronts me with a statement that simply does not make any sense. Why would some of us- any of us- not value freedom? And I realize that the truth is probably closer to, "Some of us define and see freedom in a way that is different than I have been taught to define and see it."And now I am open to more information, wanting to understand what has and is happening in the hearts and minds of all of us. This is not a solution to the world's problems. It's not even going to make us feel better. But maybe - and I do mean maybe- it's a way NOT to close our hearts to the other who seems to see things differently than I do .

Love and peace,

September, 2001 (c) Oriah Mountain Dreamer


-To listen to Oriah’s interview with Mary Hynes, host of CBC Radio’s show, Tapestry, click here.

-To listen to excerpts from Oriah’s interviews on New Dimensions radio shows, click here.

-To listen to Oriah’s interview with Penny Calcina, click here.

Questions and Answers: Oriah Mountain Dreamer

In Chapter 1 of The Dance you mention that you wish you'd had the insight from the Grandmother before you'd gone through the whole process of seven chapters. How did your writing, your ideas, and insight change after the Grandmother's visit to you in your dream? How has your life or your sense of your life changed since then?

Well, the Grandmother in the dream told me I was headed in the wrong direction. She said, "The question is not why are you so infrequently the people you really want to be but why do you so infrequently want to be the people you really are." And then she answered the question saying, "Because you have no faith that who you are is enough." And she continued, "But it is. Your true nature as human beings is compassionate, and this essential nature makes you capable of being intimately and fully present. Who you really are is enough." I have doubted, questioned and quibbled with this insight a thousand times since that night but the truth is that I knew when she said it that it was true and I also knew that it would change everything- what I was writing in the book, how I lived my life and what I had to offer to others. If who we are is essentially flawed then the task is to change, to transform our essential nature. But if who we essentially are is enough, our task is to unfold, to become who we are.

Of course, you cannot help but ask- if my essential nature is this wonderful compassion than how come I behave so badly some of the time? The Dance is my exploration of some of the times when my actions are not directed by this essential compassionate nature. It is an examination of how we can remember who and what we really are even when we are frightened. If The Invitation was a declaration of intent, The Dance is about how to live this intent in a human life.

The Invitation has been such a phenomenon, has its success changed your life at all? Did it bring any unwanted consequences?

The success of The Invitation has brought change, and change- even when it is for the better in many ways- takes some adjustment. It is lovely not having to figure out how to hustle up the money for my son's unexpected school trip, or the increase in the phone company's rates. It has given me the opportunity to focus on writing and then, as the books come out, to travel and speak to many people. All this is good and I feel very blessed. The hard part is really what is always hard- staying in touch with my deepest self and maintaining my connection with that which is larger than myself in the midst of a busy life. It's not so much that my life is busier but the form of the busyness has changed and with new situations- like being on the road- I have to have new strategies for making sure I carve out enough silence, enough time alone to do my daily practises and stay deeply connected to who I am. I am learning now to do this in the midst of a changing life.

What do you hope people will get from reading The Dance and how do you hope it will have made an impact?

When I write a book my first prayer is that it do no harm, and I feel that in writing The Dance I came very close to writing a book that could have done harm. Before the Grandmother's insight and direction I was at risk of writing- out of the sincerest good intentions- yet another book that would say to us all, "This is our problem. This is what is wrong with each of us. This is what we need to change in order to live our soul's intentions." I don't think the world needs another book urging us to move faster, try harder, change more. I know I don't.

I hope that reading The Dance will give others a sense of their inherent nature as compassion, will give us all a sense that who and what we really are is truly enough. I also hope it will help us pay attention to how we lose this sense of ourselves and our connection with that which is larger than ourselves so we can consciously cultivate remembering who and what we are. I hope The Dance will be one of the many places where we feel what the Sufi poet Hafiz calls the "encouragement of light" that helps us unfold and be all we truly and essentially are.

What are the origins of your beautiful name?

Oriah was given to me by the Grandmothers in the dream many years ago when I was very ill. It means, amongst other things, She Who Belongs to God. Mountain Dreamer is my medicine name. It was given to me by a Native American shaman with whom I apprenticed. He told me when he gave it to me that it meant, "one who likes to find and push the edge."

I have some ambivalence about using this name in my writing and my speaking and I admit to being as prejudiced as the next person. When someone comes up and introduces themselves as Ophelia Morning Gloria I think, "Flaky!" which is pretty cheeky for a woman who goes around using Oriah Mountain Dreamer. In my daily life I use my family name, generally introducing myself as Oriah House.

In many interviews the first thing the interviewer says is, "Oriah Mountain Dreamer's not your real name is it?" to which I reply, "Well, it's my real name alright. It's just not my birth name."

The truth is that there are many cultures where the birth name is considered a temporary and secondary name used for convenience until more can be seen and known about the person's nature, gifts and role in the world. In spiritual communities- for example, convents- new names are taken to indicate a major life change, or they are given as a guide, something to challenge the person to be all they essentially are. So, Oriah Mountain Dreamer it is.

Do you have any frustrations with the concept or term 'New Age' and its philosophy? How do you see yourself within the 'New Age' framework?

I would use the term "New Age" in two very different ways. The first is a description for the wide range of spiritual inquiry that has taken place outside the traditional mosques, churches and synagogues over the last twenty-five years. As an umbrella term for this search for spirituality outside the mainstream western religious traditions it applies to everything from Buddhist meditation to crystal healing, from Sufiism to angel communications, from shamanism to channeling.

Of course many of these things are not "new" at all but part of ancient traditions. I would put myself and my own seeking within this community of those seeking their own spirituality, although there are aspects of some of these methods I am clearly more comfortable with than others.

The other way I would use this term is to define a more narrow set of beliefs that have come out of all this exploration- a set of beliefs that I would call New Age fundamentalism. They include things like- everything that happens, had to happen and happened because you needed it for your spiritual development; or you create every aspect of your own reality all of the time. These are beliefs I do not share and when they are presented as The Truth I become very uncomfortable. They offer simply answers for complex problems. I do not think we can know with certainty why many things happen in our lives, although I do think we always have a choice about how to respond and we can learn something- cultivate meaning- from all that does happen. I feel the task is to keep our hearts open, to show up for all of life, without knowing with certainty why everything that happens, happens.

And where will your next writing journey take you? Can you let us into any secrets about the next book?

I always knew that this would be a trilogy. Shortly after finishing the manuscript for The Dance I had a dream where I received the title of the next book, The Call. I have had glimpses of where this next one will take me in my writing and my life- since I tend to live these things in order to write them- but they are just glimpses at this point. I do know that it is about our place in the bigger picture, our response to the world's need, and our ability to hear and heed and go home to that which is larger than ourselves.

Excerpts from An Interview with Thorson's, Oriah's publisher in Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa.

  • "A remarkable book. . . . A fierce and tender presence, The Invitation’s wisdom could become a lifelong companion, engaging and awakening the original and unique rhythm of your mind and soul."John O’Donohue, author of Anam Cara

  • "The Call. . . . is a gift to us from a wise, funny, and honest teacher who knows the territory of the human heart and soul like few others." Joan Borysenko, co-author of Your Soul’s Compass

  • "To read The Dance is to invite all of the far flung part of yourself. . . . back onto the dance floor for a slow, sweet waltz. At the end of the dance, you have whirled yourself back into one whole person." Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open

  • A spiritual exploration and practical guide to unleashing your creativity.

The story of how Oriah's poem travelled the world and, unbeknownst to her, touched people's lives.

Oriah On CD

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