How Authenticity Falls Prey to Put-ons

By | January 25, 2011

In our culture, we learn to meet others’ expectations by acting certain ways in certain environments. At a very young age, mom and dad taught us what was proper and not in public, at grandma’s house, and in church. School soon took over, and then it was the military or a job. Martial arts played a role for some, and for others it was social or special interest groups such as scouts, role-playing games, or hobby clubs.

Those of us reconnecting with our original way often get caught between our inner guidance and this “guidance” of others. Guardian-Warriors, those who tend to hang around the periphery and keep a watchful eye, face the dilemma often, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places. The traditional role of Guardian-Warrior is to make sure their people are safe and provided for. At meal times, they will direct the elders, women, and children to eat first. According to Keewaydinoquay, the Ojibwe elder who taught me about her people’s Guardian tradition, the food serving order is practiced both out of respect and to assure that those in most need of nourishment will receive it in times of scarcity. The Guardians, the most capable of going without, will serve themselves last.

A couple of days ago the Teaching Drum staff was invited to a holiday feast by one of our neighbors. Right as we were escorted into the dining room, one of our young Guardians walked up to the buffet table, grabbed a plate, and started to serve himself.

Later, when I asked him about the incident, he replied that he thought our tradition was just for when we were together. He, of course, was being true to his lifelong chameleon training. Had he grown up in a traditional culture, he would have known intrinsically that a Guardian serves his people no matter where they are. And that his people are all people—that other elders, women, and children deserve the same respect and consideration as ours.

How can we help ourselves remain true to our calling no matter where we are? How can we work through the lifetime of conditioning that causes us to act a certain way around certain people? How can we be authentic rather than having our newfound awareness end up being just another role we play?

1 Comment

Nan on January 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm.

Well, on some levels our newfound awareness IS a role. The difference is that it is a role we choose with the guidance of our mentors, the support of our circles, and it is a meaningful commitment rather than merely another part we are taught to play.

As a child in a below poverty-level nomadic family in the 1950s & ‘60s, I was taught how to stay alive (which focused first on physical safety and proper nutrition in sometimes sparse and dangerous places) and, as you say, how to do what was expected of me in a variety of settings. The focus was on “what” I was, not “who” I was.

When it came time to raise my own children, I wanted them to know the “who” and balance it with the “what”. I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that, made most of it up as I went along, but that was my intent, and it turned out fairly well. When I spent time in camp with family groups during the last Wild Ricing Moon at Teaching Drum, I saw a similar parenting style – people mindfully encouraging their children’s self awareness in a balanced way, with the added support of the whole clan.

My mentor used to say intent is everything. I felt the need to embark upon a spiritual path in large part because knowing self wasn’t something I was taught in childhood. You ask how we can work through a lifetime of conditioning; to me, it feels like an undoing and then a doing. Often I forget that sometimes I have to go back and unlearn before I can learn, and that’s much harder than simply learning something new. Any carpenter can tell you it’s easier to build a new structure than it is to remodel an old one.


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