My eyes moisten and salty water drips down the glowing sun on my face. Sitting on a bus in Central America, compassion stirs the wellspring of those tears. With much joy in my heart, I poise myself on the bus that reeks of diesel, swerving this way and that, full with friendly people and boisterous music. I take in the vibrant living with gratitude after spending a couple weeks with very special people of the indigenous Amazonian basin. And it is here, on the stinky bus running on petrol that I begin to try to share my inner gratitude on paper.
I imagine the faces of the Elders in my life. The jungle wizards and masters of deep silence to the endless jokes, chants and wonderful stories of a Traditional Navajo Medicine Man, my life has been deeply touched, deeply blessed by having time-honored Elders in my life. The wisdom is carved into their faces and shone in their eyes. It is these people, the Elders, who have dedicated their lives in service to the greater picture. These people who have spent a lifetime of learning, accumulating experience and carefully arranging the lore of the plant medicines to be passed down like a packaged gift through the generations for as long as humans are alive on this planet. They are like the flute that plays, encouraging the plant medicine knowledge to dance from one generation to the next. These people have seen so much. They have shared in experiences and can see beyond our fathoming. They are the link between generations. They are the central core of our existence. I embrace the cherished opportunity to participate in a tradition that is so ancient. I acknowledge the requirement to humbly be part of something much bigger and older than myself. A gift beyond words. We call this the oral tradition. It is the original form of education.
I know it and I feel when I participate and listen to the pure oral traditions. For me, sitting next to a time-honored elder can be the most fascinating of experiences. It’s like an unseen transfusion of timeless wisdom. I feel the tingle of the transfusion in my body as I listen to the words or the songs or the silence. It’s like being transported to another place in time as you experience the story first hand. I can feel the strong link between generations and hear the song of creation that holds the essence of a deeper truth. The stories, songs, become reference points for an inner and outer experience. I know that by listening and participating in the oral tradition I am helping to keep the stories alive.
People have worked so hard to preserve, sustain and grow with these teachings. With much effort, attention to detail, and impeccability through each passing generation. What is it that we do to support this process of allowing the oral traditions to maintain life? Why is it so important? What is the oral tradition? It is defined as the passing of knowledge from person to person, from generation to generation, through word, music, story, art, dance, ceremony, prayer or the deep knowing that comes from sitting silently next to somebody that has paved the path with their time-honored livelihood. The oral tradition can come through in many creative ways. In my opinion, the oral tradition is more than this. It is the woven threads throughout human and earthly existence that keeps us alive.
I have always intuitively felt that the teachings of the plants were best transferred through the oral tradition. This is how the spirits of the plants and other spirit helpers can be most effective in helping us to learn. This is the exact reason I am so drawn to learning with Doug. Doug teaches so elegantly in the oral tradition. He has been taught directly from the plants, through apprenticeships with special elders and apprenticeships with the spirits. It takes a huge effort to learn in this way. Trials, tests, discipline and commitment. This life path is not easy, it requires unimaginable strength. Doug has been more than willing to endure the path to bring the information back to our communities so we can continue to learn to become better relatives and keep the teachings of the plants alive. I am deeply grateful for all you give us Doug… gratitude from the bottom of my heart.
While writing this , I really want to maintain the integrity of this blog with a felt sense of gratitude, of honoring the Elders. At this very now moment, I don’t think I could write a blog or speak of the oral tradition without mentioning the urgency of rediscovery through connecting to the timeless wisdom of the elders. The essence of the oral tradition becomes more important with each passing day. Bombarded by choices or encroachment from outside influences (like the petrol corporations overtaking the land where the Secoya people reside in Ecuador). Each culture across the world with their oral traditions in tact are consistently faced with the disintegration of their way of living, their communities and therefore threatening the health of our forests and our planet. In raising the awareness of the oral tradition maybe, just maybe, we can create a little change for the better of the future for this incredible planet.
“Over the years, I have been working on what I call The New Ethnobotany, an emerging discipline that seeks to enact new methods of cultural transmission to revive, validate, and strengthen the vast plant lore among and within Indigenous and rural peoples’ communities. I believe that the preservation and attentive transmission of Indigenous plant knowledge both among forest communities and the world at large are crucial links in ongoing forest protection. Ultimately millions of hectares of priceless tropical Rainforest lie in the hands of Indigenous peoples’ communities undergoing rapid changes and cultural dissolution, and the fate of these forest lies directly in the ability of Indigenous People(s) to continue renewing their relationship and sustainable approach to living in the forest. Consequently much work is necessary among these communities to, at the very least, strengthen traditional plant knowledge. The problems of deforestation are tremendously complex, yet, that shouldn’t stop people from finding practical solutions to this global concern. We are seeking to discover effective techniques and strategies towards these ends.” Jonathan Sparrow Miller Weisberger
I’d like to offer a great big thank you to Greg Berlin for the two awesome photos of the Secoya Elders!