Reflections: The 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon
Vaishnava janato tene kahiye je, Peed paraayi jaane re
One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu – God of Dharma (Duty) and Protection),
Knows the pain of others.
- Narsi Mehta, also in Mahatma Gandhi’s prayers each morning at the Sabarmati Ashram
I spent most of my childhood running towards India. There was something I felt pulling me there – my land, my ancestors, the stories, and the strong pull to understand who I am and where I came from.
It wasn’t until the year before last that I had the shocking realization that I was only trying to come closer to myself, to my faith and spirituality. I was on my spiritual path long before I even know what it was. In addition to learning about my roots, I found the same sentiment through craving to learn and know more about the mysteries of the world. One of those mysteries were the practices of indigenous cultures, whether in the east or the west. The very same resonance I found in my own, I found in others, especially American Indian ancestry.
In her books and lectures, Marianne Williamson teaches that we are on a journey of remembering who we are. Through years of conditioning, we have simply forgotten and the rest of our years are spent becoming that person again or perhaps becoming someone we’re not.
Similarly, in meditation, the practice is returning the breath. Meditation is a lot like life – it is a practice of returning to our true, authentic self.
The 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon was one such experience that played a role in my ‘returning to’. The experience was a returning to the land, our natural habitat. There was something about going to sleep each night under the stars, camping, eating amongst kin, and running, not just to run, but also to remember. To remember where we came from and to honor the land and the people who came before us.
When we ran, we ran for all sacred life. To honor the land, life, and traditions before us. Although age didn’t seem to matter, there were 30 of us running from the ages of 11 to 65. For five nights and six days in the middle of June, we had the privilege of being accompanied by elders from the Pitt River Nation and the American Indian Movement. Elders who had worked directly with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union. We learned the stories of these movements and why they began. We learned about the people who lived on the land long before it was called the United States of America. We learned history about the history and founding of this country that children don’t learn in textbooks.
It wasn’t just a run, but a prayer. Although I was taught to pray my entire life, seldom did I understand the power of prayer until recent years. During the run, we each felt the power of prayer – of deep intention and surrender to a higher force at play. We felt the interconnectedness of humanity and our natural habitat.
We also experienced what humans have done to our natural habitat and to the practices of indigenous peoples. Certain practices and traditions that were cultivated for generations were wiped out or remembered by few in just one generation. The stories reminded me of my own experiences learning the wisdom of my own ancestors in India. While not always perfect, the close tie between economic, cultural, and political well-being of the community was driven by a close connection between the people and the land.
Often the destruction to the outer world is a projection of the inconsistencies within us. We spend time looking to fill a void and looking for home somewhere in some place when all we need to do is look at the natural world around us.
One phrase from the run that has stuck with me has been “a place for the people to go to”. In order to heal our own wounds, we must find and create space for one another. As Gabrielle Bernstein says, “we are in sore need of spirituality”. However, at a human level, we are in sore need of culture, language, traditions, and community to root us and keep us tethered or else we will be sent flailing.
Now more than ever, will our children and future generations need to know who we are, where we came from, and what makes us human. The 500 Mile Run was a reminder for me – a reminder to connect with myself and humanity, the people who came before me, and the natural world surrounding.