The Native American View of the Heart
Walking the Good Red Road
The metaphor of Walking the Good Red Road is held in common within the many native peoples and traditions in North America. The good red road is the human experience of the heart in relationship to life on earth.
In order to understand the Native American View of the heart a helpful connection can be made between Indigenous science and some of the newer ideas in Western science. For example the work of physicist David Bohm in the late 1960’s presented the idea that there were are two levels of activity taking place in reality, in contrast to the Newtonian idea in classic physics which focused on the immediate, perceivable world. Bohm suggested that reality exists at its deepest essence in both an implicate, and explicate order. He coined the term holomovement to capture this concept, which is not a collection of things in the environment, but rather a process or movement of the whole.
The holomovement shows itself to us through explicit forms that we recognize through our senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. Bohm argues that these explicit forms are only a small portion of reality, that there is an underlying implicate order of reality that the explicate order is a temporary expression of. Thus the oak tree in one’s front yard is an expression of the larger universe in which the idea of oak tree, and trees in general, as well as the concept of everything in the universe, lives. In each object that is manifest one can therefore find the whole of the universe, and in the whole one can find all of the parts.
David Peat, the author of Lighting the Seventh Fire – The Spiritual Ways, Healings and Science of the Native America, gives the example of thinking that the vortexes in a river exist of their own right, and are not connected to the flowing river, is the same as thinking that the outer manifestation of things is the primary reality. He mentions in his book that David Bohm met with his Native friends Leroy Little Bear and Sa’ke’j Henderson, and all were struck by the deep underlying similarities in their visions of the nature of reality.
It has been my experience that walking the Good Red Road is a path where head and heart must work together. I have been privileged over the years to attend a Sweat Lodge lead by Native elders, and have sought and been given advice that was always about the connection to heart/mind/body in a total sense: the heart of myself and all around me, clear thinking for myself with others in mind, care and consideration for my physical body, all creatures of the earth and the earth herself.
I felt impelled to include this lens as part of this research because I am living on traditional land of the Kootenai and Sinixt peoples; and in honour of the thin line of Algonquian blood that runs in my own veins.
Pictographs Kootenay Lake
I want to let the Native voice speak for itself, and as I was not able to interview an elder within the time frame that I was working with, I will present the Native American Traditional Code of Ethics. This was presented to me years ago at a gathering, and I found it again to present here:
NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITIONAL CODE OF ETHICS
- Each morning upon rising, and each evening before sleeping, give thanks for the life within you and for all good things the Creator has given you. For all the opportunities to grow a little each day. Consider your thoughts and actions of the past day and seek courage and strength to be a better person. Seek for the things that will benefit others (everyone).
- Respect: Respect means: “To feel and show honour or esteem for someone or something; to consider the well being of, or to treat someone or something with deference or courtesy”. Showing respect is a basic law of life.
Treat every person from the smallest child to the oldest elder with respect at all times.
Special respect should be given to Elders, Parents, Teachers, and Community Leaders.
No person should be made to feel “put down” by you; avoid hurting other hearts as you would avoid a deadly poison.
Touch nothing that belongs to someone else (especially Sacred Objects) without permission, or an understanding between you.
Respect the privacy of every person, never intrude on a person’s quiet moment or personal space.
Never walk between people that are conversing.
Never interrupt people who are conversing.
Speak in a soft voice, especially when you are in the presence of Elders, strangers or others to whom special respect is due.
Do not speak unless invited to do so at gatherings where Elders are present (except to ask what is expected of you, should you be in doubt).
Never speak about others in a negative way, whether they are present or not.
Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother. Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world. Do nothing to pollute our Mother, rise up with wisdom to defend her.
Show deep respect for the beliefs and religion of others.
Listen with courtesy to what others say, even if you feel that what they are saying is worthless. Listen with your heart.
Respect the wisdom of the people in council. Once you give an idea to a council meeting it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the people. Respect demands that you listen intently to the ideas of others in council and that you do not insist that your idea prevail.
Indeed you should freely support the ideas of others if they are true and good, even if those ideas are quite different from the ones you have contributed. The clash of ideas brings forth the Spark of Truth.
- Once a council has decided something in unity, respect demands that no one speak secretly against what has been decided. If the council has made an error, that error will become apparent to everyone in its own time.
- Be truthful at all times, and under all conditions.
- Always treat your guests with honor and consideration. Give of your best food, your best blankets, the best part of your house, and your best service to your guests.
- The hurt of one is the hurt of all, the honor of one is the honor of all.
- Receive strangers and outsiders with a loving heart and as members of the human family.
- All the races and tribes in the world are like the different colored flowers of one meadow. All are beautiful. As children of the Creator they must all be respected.
- To serve others, to be of some use to family, community, nation, and the world is one of the main purposes for which human beings have been created. Do not fill yourself with your own affairs and forget your most important talks. True happiness comes only to those who dedicate their lives to the service of others.
- Observe moderation and balance in all things.
- Know those things that lead to your well-being, and those things that lead to your destruction.
- Listen to and follow the guidance given to your heart. Expect guidance to come in many forms; in prayer, in dreams, in times of quiet solitude, and in the words and deeds of wise Elders and friends.
I will close this part of the research with a poem that I think beautifully describes a path of a thinking heart:
TO WALK THE RED ROAD:
Long road winding began in the stars,
spilled onto the mountain tops,
was carried in the snow to the streams,
to the rivers, to the ocean
It covers Canada, Alaska, America,
Mexico to Guatemala,
and keeps winding around
The Red Road is a circle of people
standing hand in hand,
people in this world, people between
people in the Spirit world.
Star people, animal people, stone people,
river people, tree people
The Sacred Hoop.
To walk the Red Road
is to know sacrifice, suffering.
It is to understand humility.
It is the ability to stand naked before
the Creator in all things for your
wrong doings, for your lack of strength,
for your discompassionate way,
for your arrogance – because to walk
the Red Road, you always know
you can do better. And you know,
when you do good things,
it is through the Creator, and you
To walk the Red Road
is to know you stand on equal ground
with all living things. It is to know that
because you were born human,
it gives you superiority over nothing.
It is to know that every creation carries
a Spirit, and the river knows more
than you do, the mountains know
more than you do, the stone people
know more than you do,
the trees know more than you do,
the wind is wiser than you are,
and animal people carry wisdom.
You can learn from every one of them,
because they have something you don’t:
They are void of evil thoughts.
They wish vengeance on no one,
they seek Justice.
To Walk the Red Road,
you have God given rights,
you have the right to pray,
you have the right to dance,
you have the right to think,
you have the right to protect,
you have the right to know Mother,
you have the right to dream,
you have the right to vision,
you have the right to teach,
you have the right to learn,
you have a right to grieve,
you have a right to happiness,
you have the right to fix the wrongs,
you have the right to truth,
you have a right to the Spirit World.
To Walk the Red Road
is to know your Ancestors,
to call to them for assistance
It is to know that there is good medicine,
and there is bad medicine
It is to know that Evil exists,
but is cowardly as it is often in disguise.
It is to know there are evil spirits
who are in constant watch
for a way to gain strength for themselves
at the expense of you.
To Walk the Red Road,
you have less fear of being wrong,
because you know that life is a journey,
a continuous circle, a sacred hoop.
Mistakes will be made,
and mistakes can be corrected –
if you will be humble,
for if you cannot be humble,
you will never know
when you have made a mistake.
If you walk the Red Road,
you know that every sorrow
leads to a better understanding,
every horror cannot be explained,
but can offer growth.
To Walk the Red Road
is to look for beauty in all things.
To Walk the Red Road
is to know you will one day
cross to the Spirit World,
and you will not be afraid.
Peat, David F. 1994. Lighting the Seventh Fire – The Spiritual Ways, Healing and Science of the Native American. New York, New York, Carol Publishing Group