19/05/2014

How are you?

It is quite common to find in ethnographic readings on indigenous peoples how they establish links close with their environment or territory. In issue 34 of the AETG (Spanish Association of Gestalt Therapy) magazine, dedicated to the Mother, there is an article by anthropologist Peter Rawitscher from Berkeley describing the relationship of the people of Sierra Nueva (Colombia) with their territory and environment.

For these peoples (Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo) territory and environment is the Mother, they work to heal and care for Mother (Nature) and, simultaneously, the human body is the same material and spiritual body of the territory. Thus, land management and well being of the body are part of the same spiritual order. Every action, thought and emotion of the person affects the territory, and, conversely, any characteristic of the territory affects the person.

At one point, he says that at a meeting of the Wiwa was discussed what to do with neighboring peasants that were fishing and carrying out illegal mining activities in the rivers, threatening both the indigenous territory and communities. While some indigenous proposed a denounce, the shaman said, and I quote: ‘We are responsible. We are attracting the problem, thinking evil among ourselves, without respecting the law of origin. We are affecting the Mother, and She is taking us in the form of theft of our territory. We must confess and clean this’. According to the author, they decided to make some personal healing work following the shaman’s instructions and achieved to disappear external problem generated by neighboring farmers.

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Inhabitants of Vanuatu, near New Guinea (photo Jimmy Nelson)

This type of look, which shares a common sense of the experience of being affected and be affecting an environment —including people—, a look of care and respect, contrasts sharply with the western look. I do not want to fall into the myth of the noble savage and superstitions that accompany about living closer to nature (a way of saying they live closer than instinctive), living better with little and be happier than us. Maybe in some ways yes, in others no. Maybe the weight of the group can sometimes be overwhelming for people who compose this type of societies.

Many years ago I was told, and I hope not an urban legend, that the American Indians (I do not know which one concretely) were posed how their decisions could potentially affect the seventh generation of descendants. In our Western societies, where what it prevails and exalts is the individual and the immediate, we are at the other pole, engrossed in ourselves, lost in what happens to me in particular. Lost also mentally, explaining it all in a logical and rational way, running away from any situation that sounds or smells emotional. We are also lost in the game of appear, creating an unquestionable and unwavering picture of me: from the obsession with our physical presence —a monotheistic conception of beauty—, giving the impression that we have everything under control or that things are going very well. What matters is what happens to me, what matters is success. We not see or look beyond our navels.

Often strikes me how little we ask each other how we are, not to look good, but with a real interest in the other. It seems the other exists just to compare us with him, or to solve the own needs. Ironically we feel very alone and one of the diseases most diagnosed is depression.

We Westerners might regain some of that group sense, careful and respectful, and consider how our attitudes, decisions and individual actions affect others and ourselves. Also in our environment. The paradox is that to begin to see the other, we must begin to look at our inside. Although with different eyes.