Yet again, my heart is bursting.
So much has happened in the last couple weeks. As I’ve gone along this journey I have felt again and again like the universe is whispering hints in my ear, letting me know I’m on the right path, and if I just keep walking through the many open doors I will learn something unimaginably important to me.
Showing up at the Lakota Spirit Camp with my snow boots, my heavy backpack, and my banjo, I was honestly both beautifully overwhelmed by the potential for learning and terrified that I would plagued with the guilt of being a privileged, white person in a place where colonial oppression is palpable. And true enough, the guilt was there, but it turns out that was just part of the learning I had to do.
On one of my first nights at the camp, as I sat around with some of the organizers, the conversation drifted towards the suffering of Indian communities, as it often did. On the Rosebud reservation, life expectancy is lower than that of Haiti, unemployment can be around 80%, about 60% of people are diabetic, and alcoholism and suicide are prevalent. But the ability of people at this camp to openly discuss the problems they were struggling with, and just laugh out loud about them together, was inspiring.
One organizer, Keith, said this. He said “the feelings we were born with are the feelings that we’re supposed to have for all of our lives, but after we’re born and we start learning and we see all these other things that make it easier to get through life for ourselves, kind of a greedy thing to just be in our own little aura, you know to make it feel like life is easy for us… it’s easier for us to hate than it is to love. I mean, people can’t even say that word these days, love. I mean, that’s what the world is about, it’s love, love for everything and everyone, and respect. But you never hear that anymore. It’s almost like a forgotten word. Love makes me complete…I like to share it. In every aspect of my daily life. I choose to share it with humor, and through doing things for other people, and with being close to their needs, and satisfying my needs to show compassion for everyone and everything.”
As I was preparing to leave home, when I was in Boise, and as I’ve come east, I have heard this again and again, in so many different ways. It seems to me that loving is a vulnerability, and that we are so terrified of that because we see vulnerability as weakness, and yet what it really is is strength that allows us to open ourselves to the winds of the world and let ourselves be blown away. Writing words like this feels vulnerable to me because, yeah, it sounds corny as hell, but why should something so universal and so powerful be written off as corny? We protect ourselves from vulnerability by cracking racist jokes, by listening to music or watching TV ‘ironically’, by conducting our lives through our electronics. We take almost nothing seriously. If we can’t even take love seriously, we’re just straight up doing it wrong.
There is so much to unlearn.
One of my fellow campers was a grandmother and fellow hitchhiker who I learned to love very much during my time at camp. She was the first person in her family to go to college, but due to the overwhelming social pressure to fit into a certain mold and be able to afford certain luxuries, she became depressed and turned to drinking. She said she got wrapped up fighting to have the material things that culture tells us will make us happy, but was never happy. She ended up spending time in prison for drunk driving, and when she came out, plunged into depression that led to a suicide attempt. Surviving that lowest moment gave her the courage to turn her life around, to let go of the need for money, to start loving herself without caring what others thought, to start hitchhiking around and being happy with absolutely nothing. She learned to freely love herself.
For me, part of letting myself feel freely is to accept the shame I feel as a white, privileged person whose very existence on this continent is tied up in a history (and a modern day reality) of genocide, imperialism, and capitalism. Allowing myself to feel that shame is a crucial part of tearing down the walls that I put up to protect myself from really listening to the stories of real suffering happening right now and recognizing my complicity in that suffering.
I experienced a very real struggle entering a community of people who have a strict set of gender roles that determine responsibilities for men and women. Coming from a radical culture that denounces gender itself, I was shocked and scared and angry, and I could feel it in my body. And yet the suffering I was experiencing was very secondary to the shame I carried around the suffering my culture has caused in this community. Part of acknowledging that shame was acknowledging that it was not at all my place to inject my own views about gender in this space. That could come from someone who was a real part of the community, but coming from me it would be nothing more than hollow and disrespectful.
And part of letting myself feel freely was also acknowledging that I was hurting from the expectations of femininity, and that it was time for me to take some time away.
And all of this was the universe whispering.
A couple days before I left, a sweetheart of mine drove all day to meet me at the camp, and my heart melted and melted and melted. Having them there also helped me vocalize the feelings I was having and helped me decide to take the space I needed. And I’m so glad I did because they drove me back to Rapid City to take a couple days off, and brought me back to the house with the cave, where I met this incredible woman who has just reiterated to me, yet again, that I am on the right path.
This woman is eight months pregnant with the child of man she is very much in love with who is in prison for drunk driving. She used to be a social worker before she got overwhelmed by the suffering she was around every day on the reservation she worked on, began drinking and using drugs to cope with the pain, and now has a felony drug charge that has her under house arrest and deprived of voting rights. Her experiences on the reservation and now with the criminal justice system have demonstrated to her that there are massive structural problems that cannot be addressed within this system. Her love for her baby has driven her to reject the system that has created this culture of suffering, and listening her talk about love helped me recognize, yet again, the role that love plays in revolution. Our hearts burn for something better, and we fight because we haven’t shut off the feelings we were born with.
The love, the trust, the words of these strangers is moving me forward, even though sometimes I am so overwhelmingly scared to be traveling by myself in a world where so much of what is on the surface is hate and fear. But again and again I am finding myself taken in by the people who are working to unlearn the lessons forced on them by authority, patriarchy, capitalism. And I am so inspired.
Unlearning is fun, too!
I also have had to come to terms with my privilege again and again, and one of the big things I’ve been struggling with is my very real privilege as a traveler with a tremendous safety net. Several very smart people in my life have called me out for essentially romanticizing poverty by telling dramatic stories of hardships on the road that I am enduring by choice, without acknowledging that it is by choice. I am dumpster diving because I want to subvert industrial agriculture, hitchhiking because it involves less gas and entails meeting strangers, camping because I like the stars. But I have the money to do this trip differently, and that sets me far apart from the culture of vagabondage that arises from real poverty and the need for survival. I still very much intend to keep making the choices I have, but readers of this blog should know that this is purely a choice for me, while for many it is necessity.
Poverty is fucking real; it is not a fun adventure.
I have a lot of shame around my class privilege, and hiding from that shame only leads to dishonest engagement with myself and the world. I hope I can commit to using that privilege to fight the conditions of racism, sexism, exploitation, and alienation that lead to class difference to begin with. I look forward to sharing the generosity I have received with other travelers as I move through my life, and hope I can commit all my resources to meeting the needs of my community as well as my own emotional needs. Love for everyone, everything, and myself.
There is much more to say. In the last two weeks, in addition to being fundamentally shaken to the core by the power of the love the people at the Lakota Spirit Camp shared with me, I also watched the stars in the clear South Dakota sky outshine an absolutely gorgeous lunar eclipse, I fought a fire, I prayed for the first time in probably a decade, I watched a lightening storm tear up the horizon, I learned to build a tipi, I learned to chop wood, I took a shower, I camped in the snow, I made lifelong friends. But this post is already long and ramble-y, so come sit with me by a campfire sometime and let’s share stories, because I’m just as excited to tell my stories as I am to hear yours.